Thursday, June 23, 2011

Limoncello Lemon Cake.... for our dear Monet

Sometimes life just isn't fair.  Running through our everyday lives it's just not fair that the traffic on the highway is at a total stop.  My daughter sometimes thinks it's not fair when a friend of hers may get a special treat and she doesn't.  My son doesn't think it's fair that he has to walk home from the golf clinic he is assisting instead of me giving him a ride.

Be that as it may, one of our special friends in the blog world truly knows the meaning of life not always being "fair".  Our lovely Monet, of Anecdotes and Apple Cores, touches the heart of nearly everyone who is lucky enough to cross her path.  Her blog, filled with enchanting stories and enticing recipes, has me stopping by often and leaving with a smile on my face... except for the times when her stories leave me in tears, my heart breaking for her and her family.  

Life has thrown a few heart wrenching tragedies into Monet's life as of late, burdening her with more than any one person should have to deal with in their young lives.  Our thoughts and prayers continue to flow her direction, hoping to provide some sort of comfort during these ever so difficult times.

Through difficult times though, an occasional ray of sunshine falls.  Lizzy, of That Skinny Chick Can Bake (and yes she can!!) and Kate, of Kate's Kitchen, took on a project to send our love Monet's direction.  With recipes from friends around the world, Lizzy and Kate put together a touching compilation of comfort recipes along with notes of thoughts and prayers in the form of a scrapbook.  Lizzy has a list of these recipes on her site, and Monet requested a reposting of the recipes today.

Limoncello Lemon Cake always brings a smile to our face, and with hopes that the bright, lemony flavors would bring some sort of peace and happiness to Monet, if even for a moment, I was humbled to be a part of Lizzy and Kate's project.  Dazzling lemon essence and a comment of "Like cake from heaven!" describe the textures and flavors and will hopefully bring a little sunshine into your life when in need.

Bright with zesty lemon, this light and tender cake won't last long on your table.  One batch makes three smaller loaves or one large.  Topped with a sweet lemony glaze the cake is nearly irresistible!  Limoncello or lemon juice may be used interchangeably with equal heavenly success.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coconut Mango Granola

Close your eyes and think of the word "coconut".  What do you see?  Swaying tropical palms?  White sand beaches?  Crystal turquoise waters so warm there is no chill when entering?  Ahhh.... yes, my happy place.

Truly a tropical girl at heart, I jumped at the chance to try a sample of Kelapo Coconut Oil.  Never having tried coconut oils in the past I had no idea what I was in for.  The jar arrived with the oil in a solid form, making it an ideal substitute for butter.  Opening the jar released a light coconut scent which immediately took me to back to my happy place - the one with those swaying palms and tropical waters.

A little research showed Kelapo Coconut Oil not only to be organic (always a plus with me!), fair trade and cold pressed from Sri Lanka, but to contain high amounts of immune boosting acids including Lauric Acid.  Ostracized by the medical community in the past due to its high levels of saturated fat (13 grams per Tbs!), coconut oil is recently making a come back with evidence that the oil may even help maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels.  The oil has also been shown to improve the body's ability to absorb important minerals such as calcium and magnesium which in turn will help to build strong bones.

From the Kelapo site:  Mediterranean diets receive lots of attention but the people of the Mediterranean are not the only ones with a healthy diet.  In tropical countries where coconut oil has been consumed daily for hundreds of years, there are fewer cases of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses, than reported in the US.

With my new found information as well as my new jar of Kelapo Coconut Oil, using the oil in my Coconut Mango Granola on today's project list was a no brainer.  Filled with my favorite rolled oats, shredded coconut, nuts, diced dried mangos and ginger, and pepitas, this granola has long been a favorite.  Another versatile recipe where substitutions to what one has on hand is easy.  Have almonds?  Use them.  Out of almonds?  How about substituting macadamias?  Prefer cranberries or dried blueberries to the mango?  No problem, substitute to your hearts desire.

Using my new found tropical scented coconut oil in combination with a macadamia nut honey provided a lovely, coconutty yet slightly sweet granola perfect for my afternoon yogurt, evening ice cream, or fruit salad.  Though I think I'd have to say my favorite way to enjoy the concoction is perhaps simply out of hand, eyes closed and enjoying my swaying palm trees....

Bora Bora - 2010

Monday, June 20, 2011

Spelt Chocolate Chip Cookies

More often than not if I want something to eat I need to make it myself.  I guess that's why I enjoy a sit down restaurant so much... no food prep, no serving and especially no clean up.  Therefore, when someone takes the time to make something special for me I have true appreciation.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend a San Diego Food Blogger get together and while the food at the meeting was most definitely a cut above, the plate of warm Spelt Chocolate Chip Cookies that awaited my arrival home was even more special.  Liv not only used a recipe that I had set aside, but she made the entire batch herself... assembling ingredients (and she even put them away!), mixing, shaping, and baking.  Placed on one of the plates used for my blog photo shoots all I had to do was pick up the camera and shoot away before settling down to a nice cup of coffee and a few cookies together.

Spelt flour is my new "go to" grain since reading King Arthur's Whole Grain Baking book (one of my favorites).  An ancient grain with a slightly nutty flavor, spelt is an excellent source of vitamin B2, a very good source of manganse, and a good source of niacin, thiamin, and copper.  According to the Whole Foods website, the particular combination of nutrients provided by spelt may make it a particularly helpful food for persons with migraine headache, atherosclerosis, or diabetes. A distant cousin to wheat, spelt flour sometimes doesn't seem to cause sensitivities in people who are intolerant of wheat.  I find spelt in my local health food stores and also at King Arthur Flour.

Note the missing cookie dough!
Chewy, yet with a nice firmness, Spelt Chocolate Chip Cookies have become my new favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie.  My son, a fairly discriminating chocolate chip cookie eater, stealthily obtained a few handfuls of the cookies and has since proclaimed them "awesome", while Liv has deemed the dough "almost better than the cookie itself".

Personally, I love the slight nutty flavor of the spelt, and have been able to talk myself into believing that filled with my favorite ancient grain these little guys are "good for me" as I reach for thirds.  Coming home to a fresh plate of cookies made especially for me though, is by far the best thing about them.  Thanks, Liv!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Grilled Pizza with our favorite Semolina Pizza Dough

Summer vacation... we've been waiting for weeks, literally counting down the days while eagerly awaiting it's arrival.  A time of leisurely mornings, no schedules and ultimately comments of "I'm bored... what should I do?"  Well, Mommy to the rescue!

With her family out of town, Liv's friend Celeste spent a few days with us as we began this year's summer school holiday.  Looking for a project, I set the girls to work making pizza dough, then topping and grilling their creations.  Our favorite Semolina Dough is a cinch when tossed into the bread machine on the dough cycle, but can just as easily be done in a stand mixer, or... even by hand.  Having a full day planned, we tossed our ingredients into the bread machine this time and the dough was ready when we were.

For years I've been "baking" our pizzas on our outside grill. Heating the grill to medium hot, the pizza dough is tossed directly onto the clean and oiled grates for a quick cook.  The heat is then turned down to low as the dough is removed, flipped over to the grilled side up and placed on a semolina dusted rimless cookie sheet (though someday I'm going to have a real Pizza Peel!) to be topped with your favorite toppings.

Once topped, a simple flick of the wrist will slide your dressed pizza back onto the grill for the final cooking.  My grill runs fairly hot, so I turn off the side where the pizza is cooking while keeping the other side at medium high, though for a crispier crust (my preference!) I leave the heat on for a minute or two before turning that side off.  5-8 minutes later you have an ideal, slightly crispy, cheesy and "oh so yummy" pizza ready for slicing.  The girls did a great job with the pies which were topped with cheese and pepperoni and settling themselves down onto beach towels in the sun summer vacation was here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Avocado Mango Salsa or Mango Guacamole?? How about Avocado Mango Guaca-Salsa!

According to one of my new Avocado connections, the California Avocado Commission, June 12 through June 18 is California Avocado Week!  Living in avocado rich San Diego, I'm thinking it might be a sin not to celebrate.  A few weeks ago the people at the CA Avocado Commission in combination with Foodbuzz's Tastemaker program sent me a box of gorgeous California grown avocados.  As shown in our first avocado post (Mahi Mahi with Grilled Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa), here at Liv Life avocados are high on our happy list.

Seems we owe our thanks to Judge R. B. Ord, of Santa Barbara, for introducing avocados to the U.S. with trees brought from Mexico.  By the early 1900's growers were seeing the avocado's commercial potential and the rest is history.  Today, California produces about 90% of the domestic crop with the majority harvested from some 60,000 acres (6,000 growers) between San Louis Obispo and San Diego.  With San Diego being named the Avocado Capital of the nation I'm in avocado heaven!

photo from CA Avocado Commission
Perusing the CA Avocado Commission's site I truly enjoyed putting faces to a few of those 6,000 growers.  For example, Bill and Anne Coy, growers from Cayucos, California, have roots that go back to Anne's father, Bob Blanchard who was the first grower in San Louis Obispo County to test grow avocados and citrus.  While Anne left the groves she grew up with in her early life with her husband Bill, the two returned and created a partnership with Anne's dad and are now the proud owners of 30 acres of flourishing avocado trees.  Passionate about the fruit, Bill professes he is "Living the Dream".

Living my own dream, I'm always amazed at how a few simple ingredients come together to create such tantalizing flavors.  Diced avocados and mangos mix together with chopped red onion and cilantro to bring a most flavorful salsa.  Seasoned with lime and a touch of salt, I'm not really sure what to call our creation.  Sometimes we call is Avocado Mango Salsa, and sometimes we call it Mango Guacamole.  When in doubt though, I just call it lunch...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Buttermilk Pancakes

Ahhh... summer vacation!!  Eagerly awaited by all in our family and arriving none too soon.  For weeks I've dreamed of sleeping until I simply awoke on my own without the help of an alarm clock, throwing our schedules out the window and enjoying leisurely breakfasts with the kids.

Liv's dreams are nearly the same, but but her idea of the ideal leisurely breakfast is not quite the same as mine.  While pancakes rate high on both of our lists, our concept of the perfect pancake varies.  Mine would be filled with whole grains including wheat germ, flax meal and rolled oats combined with a touch of brown sugar, then topped with nice layer of nuts and bananas - like these.  Liv however prefers her pancakes more along the simple line... simple white flour along with a decent amount of sugar combined with the nice tang of buttermilk.  Hers would be topped with fresh strawberries and then doused with maple syrup.

In the past I've taken the basic buttermilk pancake recipe and added a touch of wheat germ  or flax meal and then reduced the sugar in the recipe to make the pancake a bit healthier, however the first day of summer vacation is a special day deserving of a special treat.  With Liv's adorable smile and those long eyelashes batting my direction how could I resist her?  "Besides," she asked, "How often does one receive a 101.6% final score in math?"

Knowing right where to turn for the ideal recipe I pulled out a copy I had saved for just such an occasion.  In early June, Christiane, The Mom Chef - Taking on Magazines One Recipe at a Time, posted Buttermilk Pancakes from the Best of Fine Cooking - Breakfast, 2011.  Reading that these pancakes were Dudette approved was the only stamp of approval we needed and Liv and I got to pulling ingredients from the pantry.

Basic flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda are mixed with buttermilk and eggs for pancakes that puff up to some of the lightest and fluffiest pancakes we've had in a while - just like the Mom Chef said!  Topped with fresh strawberries and maple syrup we had a treat fit for the first day of summer vacation.  I think we just might make them tomorrow too...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Homemade Graham Crackers

I can't tell you how many times I've headed to the pantry in search of Graham Crackers to make some sort of crust only to find that a certain 14 year old boy has beaten me to the punch leaving only the empty box as a reminder.  Time and again I've kicked myself for not buying two boxes, one for him and one for me.  However, the thought of actually making graham crackers at home never crossed my mind... until recently.

Martha Stewart's site had a wonderful photo of Homemade Graham Crackers that piqued my interest.  Upon further investigation though, the one cup (two full sticks!) of butter in the recipe left me less than excited.  Further research brought me to the Honest Cooking site and a far more appealing recipe posted by Brooke Dowdy of Plum Pie.  Filled with whole grains, far less butter, milk and warmed with a touch of molasses, these grahams captivated me on sight.

Making a recipe the day I find it doesn't happen all that often, but before I knew it the dough for these biscuit-like crackers was made and I was scoring the cracker sheets and topping them with raw sugar.  Holes and a seam to break the crackers kept these grahams traditional, but unfortunately without graham flour on hand my "grahams" really should be called "spelts".  Graham flour seemed to be more readily available in the past, but I haven't seen the flour in my recent travels, hence we subbed spelt flour with great success.  The teff flour, used to achieve a bit of a crispness in the cracker as well as a lovely mahogany color, was readily available in the flour section of my local Henry's, a natural food store.

Crisp, not too sweet, and rich in flavor, these Homemade Graham Crackers will have you reaching for more.  After a somewhat suspicious taste test the kids gave the homemade grahams two thumbs up with Liv preferring the more sweet cinnamon sugar version.  I think we're hooked!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Grilled Mahi Mahi with Grilled Tomatillo Avocado Salsa

California Avocados
The avocado photo on the top of Liv Life is a sure hint to our love of the creamy, green fruit.  Imagine my jubilation as I answered a morning doorbell to find a deliveryman handing over a box of California Avocados sent to me from the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program and the California Avocado Commission.  Eagerly popping the tape on the sides of the box I found 5 gorgeous avocados nearly ready for the eating.  Packed alongside my precious bounty the kind people at the CAC included a couple of fridge magnets and a handy avocado scooper that I've used no less than 10 times since my beloved box arrived.

While most of us have enjoyed guacamole, tossing the nutrient dense fruits into salads is one of my all time favorite uses.  Or how about a few avocado slices layered on top of your pizza?  Try it, it's addicting!  Avocado works equally as well with enchiladas, tacos, casseroles, omelettes, soups, stews, chilis... you name it.  Truly, the options are endless as the versatile fruit enhances so many meals.  

Filled with Monounsaturated fats, Vitamins K, C, B6 and E, Folate,  Potassium, Magnesium and Lutein, avocados provide a veritable power house of nutrients.  Higher in fat, we do need to remember the word "moderation", however these "good fats" worked as a butter replacement in Lisa - Korean American Mommy's, tempting Avocado Coconut Lime Bundt Cake.

Once a luxury food served only on the tables of royalty, I'm now lucky to live in the Avocado Capital of the US.  San Diego county grows 60% of the avocados grown in CA where a single avocado tree averages about 60 pounds, or 150 avocados per year.  Luckily the 6,000 avocado growers in the state have the fruit growing year round helping to provide much of those 13 million pounds that are required to fulfill the avocado consumption on Super Bowl Sunday alone.

Inspired with my new box of avocados I took an informal poll of neighbors and fiends as to what first came to mind when thinking of the avocado.  The overwhelming answer was the good ole guacamole.  However, with a bag of fresh tomatillos sitting on my counter and plans for a Tomatillo Salsa Verde already in the works I set out to do the verde with avocado.

Preferring my salsa "roasted" the tomatillos and jalapeños earned a quick trip to the grill.  When done and cooled I processed them with a bit of onion and cilantro fresh from the farmer's market and then squeezed a touch of lime from our tree.  Dicing the avocado, adding a bit of salt and giving the salsa a quick stir, the project was complete.  Working wonderfully with a simple bowl of chips we were already thrilled with our creation, but topping a fillet of grilled mahi mahi with the zesty salsa we knew we had a real treat.  Check below for our recipe for Tomatillo Avocado Salsa and Grilled Mahi Mahi. 

For more of Liv Life's California Avocado recipe ideas check out:
Chicken Tortilla Soup

Egg White Omelette with Spinach and Avocado
Grilled Veggie Quesadillas
Mexican Chicken Casserole
Zesty Black Bean Soup
Quick Corn Chowder
A hearty thank you goes out to Foodbuzz's Tastemaker Program and the California Avocado Comission for thinking of us!  We truly enjoyed each and every slice of the avocados we received and have a Mango Avocado Salsa and Black Bean, Corn and Avocado Relish recipes coming soon.