Thursday, December 30, 2010

Buttermilk Pancakes and a Special Hello!

Winter break from school is all about lazy mornings, no alarms and leisurely home-cooked breakfasts of scones, waffles or plain ole buttermilk pancakes.   Liv always loves white flour pancakes, but, preferring to fill her with more nutritious whole grains,  I don't make them for her all that often.  

Golden Flax Meal is my secret weapon here, nearly invisible in the pancakes and having no effect on the texture yet adding a touch of whole grain nutrition.  Light and fluffy with that nice buttermilk tang, these pancakes were a perfect start to our special day!

Yesterday was Mom's birthday, and to celebrate we had planned to take advantage of my husband's layover in San Diego to head to Buster's Beach House in Seaport Village.  Weather though, waved it's magic wand, blowing apart the flight schedules for those planes in the East.  Hence, my husband spent and extra day in Honolulu (can I tell you how jealous I was??) bringing us to San Diego's Lindbergh field a day later along with our own blustery, rainy day.

For years we have sat at the end of the runway watching endless flights arrive and depart as we wait for Daddy's plane.  Once we even got a full tour of the cockpit with my then 5 year old son popping himself into the Captain's seat, grabbing the control and exclaiming, "To Infinity and Beyond!" at the top of his little lungs.

Today brought another special treat for Mom's birthday.  With the weather blustery and rainy, many of the planes "waggled" back and forth as they popped below the cloud cover.  I kept telling Mom that they were "waving" at her for her as a birthday treat!  She had fun watching the little wiggles and we giggled as we teased that they were all for her.  Finally we saw the "Brown Tail"  pop through the clouds and tracking his progress we saw more of the blustery wiggles and then... the immense 767 dipped to the right and back to the left with a full Happy Birthday wave!  

Both Mom and Liv shrieked with glee as my Dad and I smiled.  My husband had planned this a few days ago and I knew that he wouldn't do it unless it was completely safe (he's been flying for 25 years from little fighter-type jets to military cargo planes, then on to Boeing 767's), but I can't even begin to explain the excitement bursting in my heart as I saw that jet dip!  As luck would have it the other pilot's wife was there watching our special treat as well.

Maybe not quite as exciting as our special 767 hello, our golden Buttermilk Pancakes (with the secret golden flax meal!) were a perfect start to our morning and the left-overs warmed beautifully after a few seconds in the microwave to provide a late evening snack.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Skewered Tomato, Cucumber & Feta Appetizer

As the holiday season is coming to a close I'm finding myself craving vegies and healthier snacks.  Well...that's not wholly true... that Mac Nut Brittle is still sitting on it's pretty little plate just begging me to take a little nibble (or two!) and Mom's marshmallow filled Rocky Road gives me the eye every time I walk by.  Not wanting the Rocky Road to feel left out I always make sure to take a little piece of it when I sample the brittle and everyone is happy!

With New Years Eve just around the corner I'm working on appetizers to bring to our annual celebration, and after my holiday sweet overload these healthy Greek Skewers fit the bill.  Fresh tomatoes and cucumber combine beautifully with cubed, salty feta.  Drizzled with a touch of our favorite garlic dipping olive oil and a splash of balsamic, the trio come alive and simply burst with flavor.

Easy assembly of these fresh and heart healthy ingredients is an added bonus making them the perfect "getting back on track" snack!

Skewered Tomato, Cucumber & Feta Appetizers
adapted from Fine Cooking 

cherry tomatoes, halved
Persian cucumbers, halved, then sliced
cubed feta
olive oil (I use a garlic flavored oil)
balsamic vinegar

Skewer a piece of tomato, the a piece of cucumber, and then a piece of cubed feta - sticking the tooth pick into but not all the way through the feta.  Stand skewers on a serving plate and drizzle with the oil and balsamic.  Serve!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Roasted Prime Rib with a side of Ӧstkaka. A magical holiday...

Christmas 2010 was one of those magical days surrounded by family, good friends and glorious food.  Our welcomed guests traveled from near (next door) and far (Maryland) to celebrate this long awaited day with us.  A work in progress for weeks, the menu was eagerly anticipated and definitely a group effort with everyone down to the youngest child participating in some way!

Pomegranate Champagne Sparklers started our evening as multiple appetizers including Greek skewers, Southwestern cheese dips and Baking Barrister's Bacon, Blue Cheese & Pomegranate Endive Spears stirred our appetites for dinner.

Greek Skewers - Cherry Tomato, Persian Cucumber, Cubed Feta drizzled with a garlic olive oil
Bacon, Blue Cheese & Pomegranate Endive Spears
My first ever (and very successful!) attempt at roasting a Prime Rib brought a beautiful main dish to our multiple dining tables.  Tender, cooked to perfection and impeccably flavored with rosemary, garlic and a touch of thyme this rib roast was a true treat, stunning and without much work!  The gift of a lovely Zin produced at a friend's vineyard in Oakhurst beautifully complemented the beef and kept our missing friends Tom & Fran close to our hearts.

Juicy turkey breast as a second main course filled out our menu for those preferring a lighter choice.  Enhancing both meat options, one neighbor arrived bearing heaping platters of roasted root vegetables and another bringing their famous, and oh so delicious, shirred potatoes along with a decadent Custard Cornbread.

Custard-Filled Cornbread
Mom, arriving with a beaming smile and a small baking dish in her hands, passed the dish to Liv saying, "Go ask your mom if she remembers this!"  Looking at the creamy, cheesecake-like texture with the soft scent of almond I threw Mom a curious look and asked what it was.  Grinning, she replied, Ӧstkaka.  

A vague, but fuzzy memory of the Swedish name rose to the surface in my mind, but I have to admit that I don't have much of a recollection of the sweet, creamy side dish.  The room chattered and laughed as the name was thrown around a few times and we all eagerly awaited a taste.  First bites brought smiles of pleasure and "Oooohhh's and Aaaahhh's" from the crowd along with a proclamation that this was the best dish of the meal .  (Unfortunately I'm photoless on this dish, but will post the delectable recipe below!).

Lindsay & the cheesecake!
Not to be forgotten, an array of desserts filled any empty spaces remaining in our stomachs.  Becky had put together one of our holiday favorites, Cooking Light's Pumpkin Streusel Cheesecake which she has been making since 1998.  Mom contributed her annual Rocky Road and a box of homemade fudge (Liv's pick of the day!) which we combined with our tropical Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Brittle, and Wendy (the Weekend Gourmet's) hedonistic Peppermint Truffles for our bountiful dessert tray.

Holiday Dessert Tray, Hedonistic Peppermint Truffles, Macadamia Brittle, Rocky Road & Fudge
Truly a night not to be forgotten, we all followed Liv's lead and "Lived Life" to the fullest this Christmas, 2010.  Heading into the New Year we are thankful for the life we have and the friends and family who complete it.

Salad Prep Crew:  Liv, Lindsay, Rachel & Babbles the platapus
Speaking of thankful... I must make mention of my super clean up helper Rachel!  Not only did she scrub her mom's vegetable roasting pans, but armed with a bottle of cleaning spray she helped clean my counters and as the adults rested their tired bodies with a much needed cup of coffee, she single handedly cleaned up each and every spot on our floor.  I'm thinking she definitely deserves a raise in her allowance this week!!  ;)

Miss Rachel, clean-up girl extraordinaire!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas! And Liv's guest post...

Christmas 2010, spent with family and some of our closest friends, ranks up there as one of the best ever.  Days like this remind me of how lucky I am to have this wonderful family and special friends.  Not only was Prime Rib was perfect, the champagne cocktail more than tempting and the pumpkin cheesecake a perfect finish to this wonderful day, but the time together was the biggest treat of all.  After being on my feet for about 14 hours straight, I'm too beat to write a wrap up, but I most certainly wanted to wish you all a wonderful holiday.

In our thoughts today is Hester, from Comida es me vida, y mi vida es comida.  Earlier this week we learned of a tragic loss for her family.  Her 14 month old cousin, Annabelle, suddenly past away.  I simply can not fathom what Hester and her family are going through at this time.  While Hester is taking a bit of time from her blog, she asked Liv and I to fill in for a day or so.  Liv, after hearing about little Annabelle, immediately wanted to help.  She chose a Candy Cane Cookie thinking that it would have been something that the little one would have liked to make and eat!  We didn't have the best luck with our recipe, but Liv taught me some valuable lessons in the process.  Laughing and giggling through the evening, the two of us had a wonderful time putting the cookies that "didn't look so good" (but tasted wonderful!) together.  Check out Liv's post on Hester's blog if you get a chance!

Happy Holidays, my friends!  I hope this day has found you happy and healthy, and enjoying the treats and treasures of the season.

Liv - 2005

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mauna Loa Macadamia Brittle

The last few day have brought so much rain that I nearly began building my own ark.  Branches and leaves are covering the roads, drainage ditches are swollen and overflowing, and the ocean has been a swirling angry mass.  Today however, it's a new world!  We woke to a brilliant sunshine with stunning clear blue skies.

Sending my son outside with a rake, Liv and I headed back to the kitchen for a little more treat making.  With our swaying palms looking so tropical and glistening in the sun, we chose a Hawaiian themed Macadamia Nut Brittle.  Studded with a chopped mac nuts the perfectly crisp toffee-like candy only takes half of an hour start to finish (well...except for the cleaning the dishes part!).

With the leaves raked and bagged my hungry 14 year old son returned to the house and immediately smiled as he reached for a chunk of the toffee.  Leaning back in his chair with a satisfied grin he said, "Ahhh... I knew you loved me!"  Watching him reach for a second piece, I know all is good...  Happy Holidays my friends!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

Christmas "break" has been anything but a break.  With last minute shopping, gift wrapping, decorating, planning and of course baking, our family has been joyously busy.  Add in a deluge bringing nearly half of our yearly San Diego rainfall in just a couple of days and we even have a bit of chaos!  Hours of pounding rain, which is highly unusual for this area, raised my concerns during the night and my fears greeted me this morning as our normally sparkling blue pool waters now appeared more like our murky ocean.  Luckily it is only a small slide into the water, but it looks like Daddy has a project today!

Welcome to the Emerald City!
Back inside the house Liv and I are making our lists and checking them twice!  Guests arrive on Christmas Eve and we will be having 14 or so for dinner on Christmas Day.  To be fully certain that we have enough holiday treats we have kept the oven cranking.  Peppermint, chocolate, vanilla and orange are just a few of the aromas that have kept the men returning to the kitchen to act as taste testers.

Most everything has been coming out beautifully with the only failure, and it is just a failure in looks, being a special Candy Cane Cookie that we were making for a friend.  In Liv's usual zest for life she commented, "Don't worry Mom, looks don't matter because these taste awesome!  And besides, they were really fun to make and we got to do it together."  Can I just mention how much I love that girl??!!

 With our candy cane cookies using 4 egg whites we had 4 lonely egg yolks without a use.  As I really don't like to waste we began a search for egg yolk uses.  Knowing that whatever we found for egg yolks was likely to be calorie laden I pushed away any thoughts about "light" desserts and we decided to go big!  Liv's search did indeed turn up a lovely calorie laden Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee which perfectly fit our needs!

Calling for exactly 4 egg yolks, the additional calories come from the 2 cups of heavy whipping cream and sugar.  Reminiscent of ice cream custard, the brulee is amazingly easy to put together.  A simple heating of the cream and vanilla beans on the stove culminates with the combination of the hot vanilla cream, egg yolks and sugar.  30 or so minutes later a beautiful creamy custard is ready for a chill in the fridge.

Topped with a crunchy sheet of caramelized sugar, creme brulee is appropriate for any occasion and much to my surprise, not really difficult to make.  Worthy of your best vanilla and beans, this dessert will garner rave reviews from your holiday guest.  Definitely a perfect way to use up those spare egg yolks...

Yep... it was THAT good!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Whole Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken

A couple of rainy days have had us indoors with the fireplace on and the oven cranking out holiday treats.  Tonight we opted for one of our favorite whole roasted chickens and ate like Kings!

Aromatic garlic combined with the roasting chicken and a sprinkle of Herbs de Provence filled the house with with home cooked goodness.  Even my burrito eating teenager was drawn downstairs asking if dinner would be ready soon.

While the aroma of garlic is strong, the chicken is delicately flavored providing perfectly seasoned leftovers.  A few squeezes of lemon brings an added brightness to this tender and juicy bird.  We thank him for bringing a bit of protein relief to our holiday sugar overload!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chocolate Peppermint Cheesecake Bars

Every year I truly look forward to catching up with distant friends and relatives through the annual Christmas Card.  The photo cards are my favorites giving me a peek at those who are close to my heart but far from my home.  The annual letters are always a special bonus, not only giving the visual peek, but also a few stories and highlights from the year.  Saving the letters for a time when I can grab a cup of coffee (and maybe a nice sweet holiday treat!) with a few uninterrupted moments, a few always stand out from the rest...

So far this year I've caught up with friends from Louisville, KY and I am always amazed at how fast the kids grow.  Family from Minnesota wrote about their latest adventures in Holland, and the Traveling Taylors from Palm Desert caught us up on their latest cruise.  I have to say though, that so far my Father-In-Laws card made me laugh the most.  After a summary of their continuing medical maladies he finished up the letter with the following:

In closing, we leave you with the following questions:
Why is last years Christmas card address list in the linen cupboard with the towels?  Our cars are old.  No keyless entry for us.  So how did we get into our locked car in the Home Depot parking lot, but now can't locate the keys to start the car's engine?

I laughed on and off for about an hour at that one, visually picturing my none too patient mother in law exasperatedly questioning him about how he can lose the keys after he got into the car, then my none too mobile father in law trying to get back out of the car after he had spent minutes settling her into the car and then settling himself in as well.  Him searching pockets and around the seats for the lost keys all the while fielding her exasperated, "How could you?" questions.  I'm looking forward to the live version at our Christmas dinner!

Speaking of Christmas dinner, Chocolate Peppermint Cheesecake Bars are the perfect holiday treat!  Discovered last year on Joe's blog, Culinary in the Desert, these didn't last long on our New Years Eve table.  Last night they were just as well received at a local Christmas party with comments including divine, hedonistic, decadent, and celestial!  All apt descriptions of these dense, chocolaty, pepperminty, little squares.

The secret is the crust... crushed Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe Joe's (oreo-like peppermint flavored cookies) provide the perfect pepperminty base to the rich chocolate cheesecake filling and luscious ganache-like topping.  A sprinkle of crushed candy canes brings a holiday flair and another welcome dose of peppermint.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Peppermint Hot Chocolate Mix

Liv arrived home from 6th grade camp a week ago bringing with her stories of starry skies, afternoon hikes and new friendships.  In addition she brought a sniffly, yucky cold.  Taking a much earned day off of school she informed me that hot chocolate would most definitely make her feel better.  

A few years ago a friend gave us some packets of Hot Chocolate Mix for Christmas and Liv has always remembered those little powdery packets fondly.  I, however, gained somewhat of a different opinion after reading the labels and not being able to identify a few of the ingredients.  Filled with sugar and hydrogenated oils, I have refused to buy them for her again.

Luckily, Liv remembered a Girl Scout project we did making our own hot chocolate mix and we decided to alter it to make it peppermint (good for the cold I was told...).  A little internet research turned up a number of recipes for hot chocolate mixes, but we decided to stick to our Girl Scout recipe that we have been using for years.  A simple one to one mix of unsweetened cocoa, sugar (sometimes we use Splenda), grated dark chocolate, a dash of salt and a little scoop of cornstarch (Alton Brown's idea!) mix together for a nicely balanced, silky cup of steamy Hot Chocolate.  For the peppermint, the general consensus seemed to be crushed candy canes, bringing a big smile to my sniffly girl's face.

We usually make this mix cup by cup, but the concoction works wonderfully layered in a pretty jar and tied with a ribbon as a holiday present, or maybe for a sick neighbor who needs a warm cup to ease a few aches or a stuffy nose.  As pretty as the crushed candy canes are to layer, we tend not to put them in the jars as they seem to get a bit sticky over time.  We simply tie a couple of canes onto the jar and attach a short recipe.  Sure to bring a smile to the recipient's face, this easy holiday treat is not only tasty but fun to make!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Double Ginger Crackles

Continuing my quest for holiday spirit, I turned to one of my favorite holiday spices - Ginger!  Somehow ginger seems to evoke a warm, happy place in my psyche and provides an essence of holiday.  After all, where would we be without the annual Gingerbread House?

The first year I discovered crystallized ginger I used perused my books for every recipe I could find using the ingredient.  We had cookies, biscotti, scones, an Asian Chicken dish (which wasn't very good...) and I even took to eating the little golden pieces out of hand.

My most recent ginger discovery was Ginger Beer at the Kona Brewing Company on Oahu.  A friend recommended the beer, making me think of another dear friend, Harry Potter.  I was a bit hesitant to try it, but we felt we needed to.  Spicy, with a familiar warm bite, the beer was excellent and required a second round.  Unfortunately you will have to go to Hawaii to try it as they only serve it seasonally at their restaurants, but it's almost worth a trip to the islands just for a an afternoon brew!

Double Ginger Cookies have been a favorite on our holiday cookie tray for a few years, and I find that they also make a lovely treat with my morning coffee or tea.  Filled with a decent helping of ground ginger in addition to my prized crystallized version, the cookies pack a nice, spicy punch.  Rolled in raw (C&H from Hawaii!!) sugar, they not only look beautiful, but will have a pleasant little crunch to go with the slightly soft cookie texture.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chocolate-Peppermint Thumbprints

Even though Christmas has been at Costco for the last 5 months and the holiday is now only a mere 12 days away, I'm still waiting to feel "holidayish".  We've hung our lights with care, wrapped presents, printed the annual Christmas letter, and decorated the tree.  But I'm still not feeling it.  Somehow the days seem to blur into one another as I write my lists and check them twice, but they are just days... not "holidayish days".

What better way to get me into the spirit than baking cookies?  Cookies with crushed candy canes - even better!  Chocolate-Peppermint Thumbprints have been on our holiday platters for a couple of years and are always well received.  With only a few ingredients to put together, they don't require an extended amount of time (though they do pack an "extended" amount of calories!).  A mint enhanced chocolate ganach-like filling topped with crushed candy confections provide the ultimate Christmas mood enhancer!

Shopping at our local Henry's the other day I stumbled upon (and had to have!) this canister of E. Guittard Cocoa Rouge, an unsweetened rare red dutch process cocoa which provided a robust, rich chocolate flavor that I haven't had with many other cocoas.  Beautifully dark in color, but with a deep cinnabar hue, this cocoa is not only lovely to look at, but definitely a bonus when it comes to baking.  I recently discovered Gittard chocolates when I made our White Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Cups  for Thanksgiving using the white chocolate chips which melted like a dream.  Heading back to World Market where I had just happened to pick up a couple of packages because it was handy I've been faced with empty white chocolate shelves, leading me to believe that Guittard chocolates are not only popular with me...

Here's hoping that you are feeling "holidayish"!  I'm headed to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a Chocolate-Peppermint Thumbprint.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Whole Grain Pancakes with Buttermilk, Oatmeal and Banana

Except for the occasional sleepover, my kids are always home for the night.  6th grade, though, brings something called "Sixth Grade Outdoor Education", or 6th Grade Camp.  Not something I experienced growing up in Northern California, it seems to have been the norm here in Southern California with most of my local friends telling me it was one of the most fun weeks of middle school.  

My son left for his camp experience 3 years ago with a bundle of mixed emotions.  He wanted to go, then he didn't want to go, then he wanted to go, etc.  The day of camp arrived and he wasn't too happy to be going, but luckily it was only for 2 nights (budget issues had cut it from four to two).  An empty spot sat in my heart for those two long nights, and I was fairly certain that he was homesick.  And he was... his experience was anything but "fun" and he was extraordinarily happy to be home.  He did however, talk about many of his activities and adventures for hours end, leading me to believe that it was not all bad.

Last week, Liv attended her own 6th grade camp and thankfully had a wholly different week doing what she does every day, she "Lived Life" at camp.  Not only did she have no reservations about attending the camp and being away from home for the now 4 night/5 day camp, but she literally counted the days until she left.  She has never been away from home for more than one night and while she did show a slight reservation about the length of time, she popped out of the car the morning of and was off in a flash.

Somehow seeing her leave so happy made it easier for me... for the first 3 days anyway.  Then I really, really started to miss her.  The house was far quieter, albeit cleanier, my schedule opened up without all the dance driving requirements, and we were all a bit more sedate... boring even.  Life was simply different and all of us noticed an emptiness and our days weren't anywhere near as fun.  Something was surely missing.

Liv had a wonderful week filled with night hikes, rock climbing, all day adventures and really, really bad food.  Apparently the pancakes at breakfast were "edible", but the scrambled eggs (which tasted "powdery") were "disgusting".  The only good part about the Sloppy Joes was the bread, and the pizza had no taste.  Even the ice cream was "just ok".  In essence, she said she lived on "edible pancakes, odd tasting chocolate milk, salad and bread" for most of the week.

Definitely needing to get some decent food into her we immediately got to making one of her favorite meals, pancakes.  My mom-instincts kicked in and I felt a need to load the pancakes with healthy nutrients as we began filling the mixing bowls.  Out of the pantry came whole wheat flour, wheat germ, flax meal, rolled oats and cinnamon all combined with a touch of brown sugar.  Then we opened the fridge and pulled out fresh milk, eggs and buttermilk.  Luckily we even had an over-ripe banana on the counter and we were set!

Hungry eyes watched eagerly as I mixed everything together and set the batter onto the griddle.  All the while, my more grown up than ever girl chatted to me about her camp adventures, never once mentioning being homesick.  As happy as I was that she had such a good time and that my girl is confident enough to go off on her own, I have to admit that my heart was just a touch sad that she didn't seem to have missed me at all.

Her eyes lit up as I placed a plate filled with freshly cooked pancakes in front of her and then filled her favorite little pitcher with syrup.  She hungrily attacked the plate of food and actually groaned with pleasure at the flavors and tastes proclaiming this the "best meal in the world!".  Going back for seconds, she finally began to relax and her eyes grew a bit heavy.

Turning to get started on the dishes I suddenly felt something behind me and then felt my heart begin to melt as my little girl's arms wrapped around my waist.  She rested her head on my chest and said those words that I had been feeling myslef, "Mom, I love you so much...  You can't believe how much I missed you."  With tears in my eyes I admitted how lonely it had been without her and how much we had missed her too.

Living Life to the fullest is a good thing... but it's always nice to come home.  All is now right in my universe.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Beef Stew with Red Wine and Mushrooms

I'm not usually one to plan ahead, but this morning had a busy day in front of me and I actually put a Beef Stew on the stove shortly after breakfast.  Letting it simmer away while I finished up the dishes and other little chores, I got a head start on dinner.  I do have a crock pot, however, I frequently forget to use it - as I did this morning!  But I'm certain that this would be one of those crock pot recipes that would come out perfectly.

Browned beef, sauteed onions and garlic enhanced with a robust red wine and a touch of thyme give this simmering stew a mouthwatering scent that meanders its way throughout the house.  A side of crusty bread to sop up the juices is a nice addition to this one pot chill chaser!

A forgiving recipes that works well with what you have on hand, I have to admit that I have never really measured what I toss in, but the results have always been just fine!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

OK... I'll admit it!  I'm still suffering from a bit of the Island Fever.  Thoughts of warm ocean breezes, surfers lining up for the Pipe Master Competition, and smiling waiters not only serving my food but whisking the empty plates away are filling my head.  I'm having difficulty settling back into my regular routine, and I'm really not enjoying endless sinks full of dishes...

Knowing that the dishes weren't going anywhere, I turned my back on them yesterday and quickly whipped up one of our favorite treats, Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons.  Better the day after they are made, these little coconutty mounds are year round treats in our household.  Minimal ingredients and effort have them ready for the oven before it reaches its preheat temp.  About an hour later a quick dip in a few ounces of melted chocolate finishes them off.  

Bursting with coconut and therefore the essence of any tropical location, our Coconut Macaroons just might ease your Island Fever.  In addition they will make a lovely tropical addition to your Holiday Cookie Tray!