Friday, September 30, 2011

Suzie's Autumnal Equinox Dinner, Suzie's Farm, San Diego, CA

Autumn received a resounding welcome at Suzie's Farm in San Diego, California with an imaginative dinner amongst a field of sunflowers.  Arriving in the early evening on September 24th, my husband and I along with another couple entered a maze of sunflowers meandering through the fields.  Not just a simple maze with a few rows of sunflowers, but a maze of flowers covering no less than 2 acres of land and filled with enchanted "rooms" featuring cocktails and appetizers.  In the center of the maze, two long tables draped with white table cloths stood ready to serve the 150 plus guests in attendance. 

Eager to discover the secret rooms, our party wandered through the abundant sunflowers, some bright orange, some the size of dinner plates, and some withering as they prepared their seeds for harvest.  The distant sound of a cocktail shaker gave us direction to the first room where Suzie's cucumbers were beautifully featured in a Cucumber Basil Gimlet prepared with Ballast Point Gin.  Fried vegetables (okra, green beans, and padron peppers) with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt were the perfect foil to the Gimlet, which indeed ended up being my favorite cocktail of the evening.

Lemon Verbena Drops with Chicken Liver Mousse and Watermelon Radish
Meandering our way through the rows of brilliant flowers, our group came across "room" after "room" set into the maze, each room featuring its own cocktail and bite to eat.  A refreshing Lemon Verbena Drop prepared either with or without alcohol seemed extraordinarily popular each time we made our way past the table, and the chicken liver mousse with shaved watermelon radish was a perfect complement.

The beer room, with four selections from Ballast Point Brewery (Yellowtail Pale, Wahoo Wheat, Calico Amber, and Sculpin IPA) served up mini hot dogs... grilled garlic sausages with pepperonatta in a sesame pate a choux bun, and had us covertly reaching for seconds.  And finally, the Mojito Room.  Melon Mojitos with Ballast Point White Rum were paired with a "fish taco" of braised octopus served in a butter lettuce cup.

As the setting sun eased us into the twilight, our party made its way to the long tables and found ourselves sitting with two engaging couples with whom we discovered an amazing amount of similarities.  Wine made its way around the tables along with bread, and the feast was begun.

Kimchi with slow cooked farm egg... Brilliant!
Chef Gavin Schmidt, of Blanca, prepared four courses of locally attained dishes for us, all the while distinctly featuring the abundant fresh produce from Suzie's Farm.  Beginning with an Heirloom Tomato Salad mixed with marinated cucumbers, basil and kefir lime, Chef Schmidt had us eagerly anticipating each and every course.  Following our salad, a tantalizing kimchi dish filled with roasted summer squash and blossoms, a slow cooked farm egg, and baja abalone had the crowd smiling with satisfaction and pleasure.
Lamb and summer vegetables rounded out the entree.  Our dinner plates arrived decorated with a gorgeous swirl of eggplant mousse and were topped with roasted peppers, potatoes and eggplant.  Large platters of tender lamb arrived, served family style, and had most of us going back for seconds (I'll even admit to a small third!).

Ending our meal, an ingenious Goat Cheese Semifreddo found its way to our tables.  Chilled melon and a crunchy Pink Peppercorn Meringue paired with the semifreddo in a way I could never have imagined.  Beyond complementary, the peppercorn meringue enhanced the creaminess of the goat cheese and the flavors of the melon.  Empty plates were found all around us and conversation sparked as the flavors were enjoyed by all.

Making our way out of the maze we found a stream of lit candles guiding our way through the paths.  Truly a magical evening at Suzie's Farm, and one that has left me wishing equinoxes were a more often occurrence.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Buttermilk Oatmeal Pancakes

With school back in session and Liv's dance season heating up, a balanced diet filled with nutrients and fuel has moved to the forefront of my kitchen.  Neither of my kids are particularly fond of veggies, and since they were babies I've worked hard to find ways to sneak greens and other healthy additions into their diets through pancakes.

As babies they had carrot pancakes, zucchini pancakes, banana pancakes, sweet potato pancakes and pumpkin pancakes.  The addition of whole grains (whole wheat flour, spelt flour, ground flax meal, wheat germ, etc) helped bulk up the nutrition and  eggs and milk served to boost proteins and calcium.  Basically, the pancake was a meal in and of itself and they were happy.

To this day I try to start their day off with a good pancake in the morning and this week Vegetarian Times served up another hit.  Filled with heart healthy oatmeal, these Buttermilk Oatmeal Pancakes filled the kids up and set them off with a balanced start to their day.  The fact that they asked for seconds was a true bonus.

Prepping the night before, oatmeal is stirred with buttermilk and milk and allowed to sit in the fridge overnight.  In the morning the remaining ingredients are stirred into the batter and then dolloped onto a hot griddle.  Before their showers were even finished I had aromas of cinnamon wafting up the steps drawing my sleepy kids down for breakfast.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sleepover Tips and Ideas, Pop Rocks Ice Cream Floats, Fleece Tie Pillows, and Electrolux helps clean up

Sleepovers spell fun.  Pure and simple... a whole night giggling with your girlfriends, doing hair and nails, dancing, doing a craft project, eating fun foods and simply being together, is most every young girl's dream.

Luckily for Liv and three of her girlfriends, the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program and Electrolux offered to sponsor us to host a sleepover and blog about our sleepover tips and experiences.  Liv, beyond excited, immediately set to planning food, crafts and tips.

Highlighting Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Electrolux has teamed up with Kelly Ripa in a Virtual Sleepover PartyYou can help increase funds for Ovarian Cancer Research simply by clicking here to join Kelly's Virtual Sleepover.  For every person who joins the sleepover, Electrolux will donate another $1 to the cause, and you will be entered for a chance to win an Electrolux Perfect Steam washer and dryer set.  From the site, "the Electrolux Perfect Steam™ washers and dryers offer the most capacity to help parents shoulder any load, plus, with just 15 minutes to wash and 14 to dry, the laundry is done in no time."  15 minutes to wash?  Sign me up!

In past sleepovers, and as a former Girl Scout Leader, I have found that being prepared is always a bonus.  A little time spent planning activities, food, what to have the guests bring and where to sleep will give you a head start in your evening and some direction to your event.

Excitement built as the start time drew near our sleepover party, and before I knew it I had a houseful of happy girls, lots of music and an evening of fun in the works. Laughter only increased as the video camera came out and the girls set to the task of making Liv Life's first video:
The Sleepover Special

Sleepover Tips from Liv Life

Tossing the pizza dough.
Food is always an important part of any event, and a sleepover is no exception.  One of our most requested sleepover foods is the make your own pizza.  A quick stop at Trader Joe's provided everything we needed from the prepared pizza dough to the pre-shredded cheeses and a tasty jarred sauce.  Add a package of pepperoni and a few favorite veggies and you are set!  Rounding out the meal, a watermelon adds a bit of nutrition, while the Pop Rock Ice Cream Floats (recipe below) add even more fun.

Additional food favorites include veggies and dips, chips and guacamole, popcorn, Homemade Rice Krispie Treats, and fruit of any kind.

Banana Pancakes topped with a Warm Maple Glaze
Breakfast can be as simple as store bought bagels, or with a little prep you can have the "oohs and ahhhs" that we had with freshly prepared Banana Pancakes topped with a Warm Maple Glaze.

Mixing the dry ingredients before you go to bed has you simply measuring the wet ingredients, cracking an egg or two and whisking it all together before you set dollops onto a hot griddle in the morning.  The girls mixed the glaze and set the table and breakfast was ready before we knew it.

Remember to get the kids into the kitchen.  Many times they really want to help and they truly enjoy mixing, measuring, decorating and simply stirring.

Liv Life Tip:  Paper plates make clean up a snap!

Liv Life's favorite Sleepover Recipes:

Blueberry Banana Smoothies
Fruity Cereal Treats
Grilled Pizza with Semolina Pizza Dough
Cocoa Marshmallow Krispie Treats

Whole Grain Buttermilk Pancakes with Oatmeal and Banana
Whether it be games, movies, dancing, a planned craft, or simply a bag of balloons, the kids will be more directed and hopefully less crazy if they have a bit of direction and something to do.  The Girl Scout Leader in me usually has some sort of craft planned, with this event featuring fleece tie pillows. 

A quick stop at our local craft store found sheets of fleece on sale.  Combined with scissors and stuffing we had no sew, tie pillows for all!

Fleece Tie Pillow Directions:
  1. Purchase 2 pieces of fleece fabric at your local craft store (we found precut blanket sized sheets that were pre-packaged).  Liv chose a complementing pattern and a solid.
  2. Layer the fabric one over the other and cut pillow sized pieces.  Liv and her friends chose a sort of square shape about 1.5 feet by 1.5 feet.
  3. With the fabric still layered, use scissors to cut 1 to 1 1/2 inch strips into the fabric and all around the entire edges of the fabric.
  4. Begin tying the fabrics together with the cut strips and tie nearly all the way around.
  5. When nearly done, stuff the pillows with desired amount of stuffing and finish off the tying.
Easy, fun and a little time consuming the kid are on task for at least a little while, and they can even tie while they watch a movie.

Liv Life Tip:  While some planning is beneficial, try not to over plan... part of the fun of a sleepover is just that, having fun, and the fun will evolve.  Give the kids a camera to record their evening, turn on the music and let them dance! 

Liv, Devi, Vanners and Savy Activity Tip:  Avocado facial masks!  Avocados are known to contain minerals such as iron, potassium, calcium, sodium, copper, magnesium, etc. Factor in the vitamins A, E, B and K and you have a concoction to ease dry skin.  My girls used a recipe of avocado, yogurt and oil, but numerous avocado facials can be found around the internet, find the one that works best for you.

Mom Note: avocados facials are not OK to do over the carpet, nor at 1 AM...

Our 20 year old Electrolux vacum!
An evening of sleepover fun can often lead to a house of disaster if the kids are left to their own devices.  As the kids arrive I always lay down a few ground rules.  Set up what is important to you, but we include, no food, drink, makeup, nail polish or polish remover over any carpeted area.  Clear your plates from the table and don't do anything that you don't want me to talk to your mom about!

Getting everyone involved in clean up is key.  As the ending hour draws near have the kids help fold blankets, replace couch cushions, clean up old balloons, etc, and with everyone helping the clean up goes fast.  Again, turn on the music and have fun in the process.

Thanks to the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program and Electrolux for sponsoring our sleepover.  Liv, Vanners, Devi and Savy had a blast, I survived, and the house is no worse for the wear.

Scoop ice cream, add pop rocks, add more ice cream, pour soda!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Grilled Chicken Kabobs with Bacon

I love the Secret Recipe Club!  I've been lucky enough to meet yet another wonderful blogger through my club assignment, and this month I almost feel as though I've met a soulmate (she just doesn't know it yet!).

Chris, from The Cafe Sucré Farine, is a delightful wife, mother and grandmother with a flair for food and photography.  My first visit to her site had me printing recipe after recipe and she is a girl after my heart with her mouth watering grilled dishes.  Immediately catching my eye was the Tequila Citrus Chicken with Grilled Peach and Raspberry Salad.  However, just a few scrolls down I switched gears and found the Peach and Cherry Scone Shortcake quickly followed by a Yeasted Belgium Waffle.

Having taken Spanish while in high school, my understanding of the title of the blog was left as, "Something foodie with coffee and sugar...".  Chris' story however is far more interesting as it is simple.  A set of canisters in her kitchen with the French words for Tea, Coffee, Sugar and Flour (Thé, Café, Sucré, and Farine) led to a family friend (and frequent lucky "enjoyer" of her treat filled kitchen) to say, "That's it, Mrs. S! The name of your restaurant -The Café Sucré Farine"!  After reading much of her blog,  I'm here to say that's a restaurant I'd visit any day.  Chris' smile and friendly way of writing has you feeling like you have been welcomed into her warm kitchen and you are eagerly awaiting the next treat fresh from the oven while enjoying a nice afternoon chat.

With an ever growing stack of printed recipes our choice was narrowed when we got to planning dinner and I stumbled upon a recipe entitled Fabulous Grilled Chicken Kebobs.  The title alone caught my eye, but it was her photo that pushed me over the edge and got to cooking.

At this point I have to admit that I am not really a fan of bacon, however my family adores the cured meat whether it's a simple crispy/chewy piece of bacon or featured in a dish.  The smell alone does me in, but I especially don't like the "feel" of  the uncooked bacon.  This recipe pushed me to the edge with a requirement to actually puree, yes... puree, the bacon and then rub it over the chicken.  Strange and I didn't really like doing it , but after the first taste, I deemed it absolutely and totally worth it!

Two strips of uncooked bacon are indeed pureed with a little sugar, smoked as well as sweet paprika and salt.  Rubbed over the sliced chicken and then threaded onto skewers, the kabobs are then grilled and brushed with BBQ Sauce for a delicious finish.

Tender, juicy, and simply exuding flavor, these kabobs were indeed fabulous.  The entire family reached for seconds and mommy was the star of the evening (I love those kind of nights!).  Most enjoyable though, was watching my dog salivate as I chopped up a little leftover piece to mix in with his kibble.  He literally leaped to his bowl and within minutes had licked it clean.

Chris, what a treat it has been to "meet" you!  I will forever be an ardent follower of The Café Sucré Farine and I look forward to more delightful dishes coming from your kitchen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ghirardelli Intense Dark chocolate pairings

You know the feeling... it's 2 PM, almost time for school pick up, and in the back of your mind that little chocolate thought begins to bop about your brain.  Try as you might to ignore it, that little thought grows into a big thought and before you know it you are plowing through the "we don't need any sweets because we are losing weight to go on vacation" pantry, searching for any left over pieces of chocolate which may be hiding in the back corners.  Unfortunately, your plan to not resupply the chocolate (because if it is there you will eat it) is driving you into a craving frenzy and you begin kicking yourself as the doorbell rings.

Trying to suppress that little (big) chocolate thought, you open the door to find a box with a notice from the Foodbuzz Tastemaker people that you have been selected to try Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolates.  Stunned, elation is the only word that comes to mind as you rip open the box to find two 3.5 oz dark chocolate bars and two bags of dark chocolate squares.  With names like Midnight Reverie, Sea Salt Soiree and Twilight Delight staring you in the face the world is once again a happy place.

Foodbuzz and Ghirardelli have asked that we try the chocolates with different drink pairing and suggest our favorites.  I have to admit that my first taste of the dark chocolate, which we all know is actually healthy for us in moderation, was not paired with anything but pure gratification and bliss.  With my world back in working order I proceeded with school pickup and the rest of my day was balanced and went well.

In a more balanced frame of mind the next morning (and for research purposes only...) I added a few squares of the Twilight Delight, 72% cacao, alongside my morning coffee.  A little coffee, a little chocolate.  A perfect pairing.  The individually wrapped squares make it easy to stop at a piece or two and any chocolate cravings are warded off and a balanced day is begun.

Even before I had read recent studies stating that scientists have come to the conclusion the a limited amount of dark chocolate and red wine consumed together may actually be good for the brain, enhancing its capacities of resolving complex matters, I had been enjoying the two paired together.  A small piece of Intensely Dark Midnight Reverie, 86% cacao, worked wonders as my husband and I relaxed after finishing up the dishes.  Once again, both in moderation can be a good thing.

Salted chocolates and grilled cheese... a perfect pairing!
The Sea Salt Soiree swung me for a bit of a loop though as I searched for a pairing.  Having my mom over for lunch, we finished our grilled cheese sandwiches with a square of the salted chocolate and truly enjoyed the saltiness after the flavors of the cheeses.  Again, a balanced way to finish our afternoon together.

It wasn't until I read the enclosed pairing guide though, that I had a bit of direction.  Ghirardelli's guide suggested an Añeho Tequila as a pairing with their Sea Salt Soiree and my immediate thought was, "Really?  Chocolate and Tequila?"  Well... yes, really!

The saltiness of the chocolate directly after a sip of quality, aged tequila really did hit the spot.  Again, as is much in life, moderation in both is indeed required.  But a little of each is enough to relax and satisfy your sweet tooth without using up too many calories.

Thank you to Ghirardelli and the Foodbuzz's Tastemaker Program for including us in your taste test.  You truly saved the the day when my chocolate cravings were at their strongest, and with a little piece here and little piece there I've kept a good balance in life. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Silky Tomato Soup with Bacon - made easy with Pomi Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a fairly new addition to my diet.  It wasn't until I reached my 40's that I truly embraced the lycopene-rich fruits and even then it was a slow process.  The thought of eating a whole tomato and especially eating a tomato soup was not on my radar.  However!!  Whether it's a change in my taste buds or perhaps the fact that I've matured, tomatoes are now considered pretty darn good in my book.

My lack of tomato love has been difficult on my husband who adores the fruits and he has been more than thrilled that I've finally begun using them at home.  Tomato soup has been his favorite since I've known him and in years past, the poor guy has had to find his fill from icky cans and at restaurants... until now.

A recent offer from Pomi Tomatoes brought two 750g preservative-free, chemical-free, additive-free, and BPA-free boxes filled with nothing but tomatoes (grown without pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified seeds) to my doorstep straight from Italy.  Frankly, I'm loving the boxes that they are packaged in rather than the old fashioned cans, but my favorite part is the ingredient list:

With an Italian Idyllic vacation a few weeks in my future (my husband surprised me for our anniversary!), these boxes of Italian tomatoes were calling my name, and Fine Cooking's Weeknight Dinner edition from 2010 provided the ideal recipe.  Made easy with either Pomi's strained or chopped tomatoes this soup was a snap to put together and bursting with flavor.

Onions sauteed with a tablespoon of bacon fat are then mixed with spices and finally the tomatoes and chicken broth.  A dash of milk or cream gives the soup a silky finish and a topping of crumbled bacon brings a depth of flavor that brought sighs of happiness from my tomato soup deprived man.

The original recipe calls for cans of whole tomatoes, however, Pomi's strained tomatoes provide a silky smooth soup in a flash with the pure flavor of fresh tomato.  Thanks, Pomi, I have a very happy husband.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My 7 Link Project - Living Life

We are Mad About Macaroons... One of my favorite photos.
The My 7 Links Project recently floating around the blogosphere has had me eagerly reading these posts from many of my favorite bloggers.  Many of the links I remember and some of them I've even made, while so many I had missed the first time around and I have been so happy to have a second chance.   Reeni of Cinnamon Girl, one of my all time favorite bloggers, nominated me to participate and I have to admit that I spent hours reminiscing on my own blog and reliving many of my posts.  I guess it's good to go back once in a while and enjoy what you wrote!

The 7 Links Project was created to "unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again".  One creates 7 links in the below categories and then nominates up to 5 bloggers to continue the links.  My nominations are:

Janet of This is Beige
Hester of The Chef Doc

My 7 Links

Most Beautiful

These bars were the hostess gift for a Holiday party we went to and garnered plenty of "oohs and ahhh's" from the guests.  Using Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe Joe's in the crust of these silky chocolate cheesecake bars brings the holiday to your table, and the crushed candy cane topping makes them simply beautiful.  These guys were featured on Food Porn Daily last year on Christmas Day!

Most Popular

By far, these cute little gems have been our most popular post.  They are indeed absolutely adorable and were a hit at our Super Bowl Party last February (though we need to pump up the tequila next time).  The popularity around the blogosphere has been astounding!

Most Controversial

Like Reeni stated, a food blog doesn't hold much controversy and there certainly is no controversy in that this stromboli is an all time favorite in our neighborhood.  However, our guest poster, Dan (Becky's husband), started in by telling my readers "Move over food internet divas with your stylish recipes … we’re talking about MAN-FOOD now!"  While his two daughters may take offense to the "man-food" comment, they don't hesitate to clean there plates anytime this stromboli is served!

Most Helpful

A quick trip to the Island of Oahu not only gave my husband and I a few days "away from it all", but me a chance to dine at Roy's in Waikiki along with Felice from All That's Left are the Crumbs.

This post gives restaurant reviews (Roy's, the Kona Brewing Company, and the Ocean House), Farmer's Market Tips (The KCC Market is still my all time fave!), and a trip to the Arizona Memorial.  When paired with the prior post in the series, Looking for Five-O, the two posts give a good place to start when planning your Oahu and Waikiki vacation.  Aloha!

A post with success that surprised me:
Custard Filled Cornbread

Who knew Marion Cunningham was such a superstar??  I didn't.  But this post from Ms. Cunningham's The Breakfast Book was a huge success.  Our neighbors brought this luscious cornbread for our Christmas dinner and the plate was cleaned in no time.  I've had more google searches on this title than I ever imagined, and will keep always keep this recipe as a standby.  Truly worth each and every calorie!

A post that didn't get the attention it deserved:
Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake 

This cheesecake is truly one of the best recipes (savory or sweet) that I've ever made.  Not only is it a neighborhood favorite, but my "I don't really like desserts" husband asks for it by name for his birthday, father's day, Thanksgiving, Ground Hog Day and frankly any other holiday he can think of.  Its luscious, creamy texture combines with the coffee enhanced flavors layered with a Kahlua laced ganache and a crunchy chocolaty crust to produce a dessert worthy of any and all special occasions.  The stats on this post were extraordinarily low and neither Foodgawker or Tastespotting picked up the photo.  I will have to repost one of these days!

The post I'm most proud of:

While this pound cake is a delicious creation in and of itself, it was the story that went along with it that made me proud.  Our submission to Chef Dennis' Guest Post Friday feature had Liv excited to share a myth (Why Ants are so Little) that she had written in English.  From her myth we found our direction as to what recipe we would create for Dennis.  And the photos??  Why do they look so much better on his site than mine??!! ;)  Dennis, thank you again for allowing us to be a part of your blog!

Reeni, thanks so much for tagging me for this project!  I can't tell you how many hours I've spent reliving my posts (My husband will be so glad this post is finished!).  Liv joined me for some of them and we had such fun reminiscing about our photos and stories. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Solana Beach Crush - Solana Beach, California

Oh, how I love a good restaurant!!  Fine food, attentive service and good company all add up to a wonderful couple of hours bound to lift everyone's spirits.  A recent life development has my husband and I luckily spending every Saturday afternoon with my husband's father, a retired doctor.  To remedy a not always wonderful day (we are dealing with a trying family medical issue), we have begun searching out a good meal together to cap off our day and to ward off our troubles.  Hence... Liv Life is launching "Dining with the Doc" as we review and share some of our new favorites places to dine.

Dining with the Doc - Week 1

Last weekend had us arriving at the newly opened Solana Beach Crush Restaurant and Wine Lounge located in the quaint beach town of Solana Beach, California.  Welcomed with smiles and greetings, we were quickly seated in the dining room and immediately took notice of the comfortable decor featuring all avenues of wine.  From the walls lined with wine racks to the bar stools made from old wine casks, the ambiance was inviting and peaceful.

Crush Bruschetta
George, our server, promptly arrived bearing a plateful of bread and a delightful dipping olive oil and vinegar along with plenty of menu tips and advice.  Taking his recommendations to heart we immediately ordered Moms Meatballs (complete with a roasted tomato sauce, sheepsmilk ricotta, basil and extraordinary amounts of delicious flavor) and the Crush Bruschetta (served with burrata cheese and cherry tomatoes smothered in a basil pesto).  Served promptly, the appetizers didn't last on our table long as the three of us began to refuel our bodies.  Doc nearly gushed over the meatballs and wholeheartedly accepted a 2nd serving.  Glasses of wine and beer were poured along with my iced tea and we settled in as our stomachs began to be satiated.

Upon George's recommendation, my father in law and I ordered the Marinated Prime Skirt Steak with fingerling potatoes and an heirloom tomato/arugula/smoked blue cheese side topped with a crispy slice of pancetta.  The steak was tender as promised, flavorful and juicy, though both were slightly overcooked.  That Heirloom Tomato side mixed with the arugula and smoked blue cheese was bursting with fresh flavors and left us wanting even more.

My husband's Roasted Chicken Rigatoni filled with rapini, cherry tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms in a Parmesan broth brought an aroma straight from the streets of Italy.  Swapping part of my steak and potatoes for some of that garlic enhanced pasta was indeed a fair trade and we all doubled our pleasure enjoying both entrees.

Deciding that we could not give Crush an adequate review if we didn't partake in the dessert we immediately fell for George's description of a raspberry, blueberry, strawberry and peach filled Fruit Crumble topped with Vanilla Ice Cream.  I know the men were just appeasing me with the dessert, both claiming to be too full to partake, but I watched with relish as my "I don't really like desserts" husband reached for seconds and then actually polished off the bowl of crumble proclaiming this dessert one of the best desserts he's ever had.  From him that is the highest of complements and Doc and I wholeheartedly agree.

From the decor to the menu to the food and on to the friendly service, Crush is a real pleasure.  Executive Chef Jason Colabove has most definitely accomplished his goal of crafting a distinct menu of fresh and authentic Italian flavors.  Supplementing his ingredients with San Diego's bounty of market-fresh produce, free-range meat and local seafood only serves to make Crush just that much more appealing.

Located 437 S. Hwy 101, Suite 112 in Solana Beach, California, Crush is open seven days a week serving lunch and dinner.  Happy hour is featured daily from 4:30 to 6:30 and presents a menu filled with appetizers and specialty cocktails.  The lunch menu features an appealing "Create your own salad" along with a selection of sandwiches and pasta.  And yes... you can get the Fruit Crumble at lunch too!

Note:  Please excuse the quality of the photos... Unfortunately I arrived at the restaurant cameraless, however the meal was so good we didn't want to let the opportunity to review get away from us and all photos were shot on my husband's iPhone.  Thank you George for helping us try to get the perfect shots!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Since the passing of Labor Day, I'm seeing a shift throughout the blogosphere moving steadily towards fall.  Pumpkins and apples are turning up on my favorite food blogs and Halloween ideas are filling their pages.

Living in San Diego, though, not much has really changed.  Actually, since Labor Day we have had our hottest days of summer, less morning marine layer (fog), and more gorgeous warm and clear mornings at the beaches that are now suddenly free of out of town travelers.  My garden is overflowing with flowers, and I think summer is finally here!

September and October are beautiful months in Southern California, and I'm not planning on letting go of my summer any time soon.  The local markets are still filled with summer berries and the heirloom tomatoes are hitting their peak.  However, in an effort to stay with current trends I'm willing to use "fallish" ingredients while still embracing my summer.

Breaking out a leftover can of Trader Joe's organic pumpkin I put together the kid's favorite Cinnamon Rolls.  Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, while definitely exuding the essence of fall, are well received and oft requested at our home year round.  Cans of pumpkin line our pantry shelves just for these sweet spirals and the rolls grace our table numerous times a year.

Based on an October, 2001 recipe from Cooking Light, these cinnamon rolls, while not guilt free, are definitely "guilt reduced" with the inclusion of the vitamin rich pumpkin and whole grain flours.  Though the butter in dough of this recipe is most definitely reduced when compared to many other traditional cinnamon roll recipes, these rolls bake up tender and light and with a beautiful pumpkin hue.  The cinnamony goodness oozes from the spirals and combines with the sweet glaze for a true summer (or fall...) treat.

Summer Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Banana Bread with Spelt, Walnuts and Flaxseed

As a baby, one of the first foods many kids taste is banana.  The smile on Liv's face and her eagerness for a 2nd bite was proof enough that that first spoonful of the mashed fruit was a real winner for her, and to this day that smile and eagerness for more remains.  Banana tops her list of favorite foods (with the exception of pure sugar...) and when I'm in need of a recipe to brighten a less than stellar day for her, I usually turn to banana.

Liv's 1st bday - while this isn't banana, the smile is the same!
With banana being a favorite for our whole family, our bananas only rarely get to the not-so-pretty, brown/mushy stage.  However on occasion I do misjudge and am left with a bowl full of mushy bananas and a family exclaiming that no one would eat or touch "those yucky things".  Little do they know that those not so pretty, over-ripe fruits are the secret to exceptionally tasty breads, cakes, pancakes and even waffles.

Usually I try to whip something up when the fruits are ripe, but a few weeks ago time was short I simply stuck the over-ripe bunch into the freezer for a later use.  At the time I had not idea how handy those frozen bananas would become.  We've dropped frozen chunks into our dairy-free Blueberry Banana Smoothies, thawed (not a pretty process...) and mashed them into Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes (with a warm maple glaze, no less!), and yesterday they ended up mixed with my favorite flour, spelt, in a moist and flavorful Banana Bread with Spelt, Walnuts and Flaxseed.

Picking Liv up at dance after she had been away from home for nearly 14 hours she had the tell tale signs of a really, really tired kid.  5 1/2 hours of dance rehearsals after a full day of school had taken its toll, however a napkin filled with a few slices of the still warm from the oven bread seemed to furnish her little body with some much needed life soon after the first bite.

Topped with a sprinkle of raw sugar the crust brought a slight crunch that immediately pleased her while the rest of the low fat recipe filled with potassium rich bananas, Vitamin E spiked walnuts, and Omega-3 filled flaxseed pleased me.  Whole wheat and spelt flours provide whole grains and the bread bakes up moist, with a nice crumb - the banana flavor deepening upon cooling, making it perhaps even better yet the next day in the lunch box.