Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mushroom Poblano Quesadillas

Last night Ellie Krieger fell into my bathtub.  (Well, maybe not Ellie herself, exactly, but her book So Easy).  She came out dripping wet and I knew that her well worn pages would warp as they dried, but the page I had marked was no worse for the wear and as always, she provided me with a delightful foundation on which to build tonight's dinner.

My husband is a meat guy.  Except for rare occasions, dinner without meat is really not dinner in his eyes, and quesadillas are definitely not a meal.  Trying to pull off a meatless version of Ellie's Quesadilla for a quick dinner was going to be a tough one, but with most of the ingredients on hand I thought I'd give it a go.  And low and behold... it worked.

Whole wheat tortillas filled with hearty (meat-like) mushrooms served as the base for my quesadilla filling and seemed to beautifully absorb the southwestern spices sprinkled over them as they cooked.  Onions, cilantro and poblanos rounded out the filling portion of the recipe and combined perfectly with the melted cheeses wrapped in the tortilla.  Fresh pico-de-gallo spooned over a dollop of sour cream with a sprinkle of cilantro finished off the plate as I put the finishing touches on the meal.

Adding a wedge of avocado for garnish, I held my breath as I placed the quesadilla with a salad in front of my husband.  Sparking a little conversation about the day, he dug into his meal and after a few bites he put down his quesadilla, reaching for water.  Still holding my breath I finally exhaled as he commented, "This is really good."  And then moved on to the next topic of conversation.

He didn't say another word about the meal, and definitely never commented that the quesadilla didn't contain any meat.  Leaving the table he even picked up a small remaining slice from the cutting board - a sure sign of something that he likes.  Smiling he rolled up his sleeves and actually started on the dishes as we cleaned up for the night.

Thanks Ellie.  You've done it again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pot 'O Gold Lemon Limoncello Gelatin Shots (Cubes)

I've never been much of a shot girl, well, unless you count the occasional shot of tequila to ward off an aching head after an extreme day of dance (some of Liv's competition days have been known to reach into the 15+ hour figures...).  Years ago though, our social group welcomed my good friend Annie into its folds, and our gatherings were forever changed.

Arriving with a platter of multi colored cups filled with vodka-laced jello shots, the party always started when Annie arrived.  Unfortunately for us, Annie and her family have since moved to Colorado, where I'm sure the lives of her new friends have also change forever for the better while ours will always have a little piece missing.

With Annie's absence, I gave my own try at the jello shot realizing that these little bites of fun are seriously simple to put together, make a pretty splash of color on a plate, and are usually well received.

Research for our St. Patrick's Day event led to jelly shot recipes featuring ingredients including Sour Apple Schnapps and Lime Green Jell-O flavored with Irish Whiskey.  Another shot entitled the "Car Bomb", added Guinness Stout, Irish Whiskey AND Bailey's Irish Cream to packages of unflavored gelatine along with a touch of sugar for balance.  Perhaps it's the lack of Irish blood running through my veins, but I don't really see myself as a Car Bomb girl.

Hence, I moved my own direction, away from green and whiskey, and towards this light, lemony version of our prior success, the Margarita Lime Shot.  Using my husband's homemade Limoncello, we added fresh lemon juice from dad's lemon tree, a dose of sugar, a little water and two packets of our new friend, Knox Original Unflavored Gelatin.

With my plate of bright yellow cubes headed out the door, I mentioned that I didn't feel very St. Patrick's flavored when Liv once again came to my rescue.  It must have been the Irish blood her father passed down to her, but she smiled and said, "Mom, these must be Pot of Gold Cubes left by the leprechauns!"

Thanks Liv...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Chunk Gelato

Living in San Diego has its benefits.  Take for example the sunshine, the beaches, and the lack of freezing winters.  Living on my particular street in sunny San Diego, however, comes with even more benefits.

Having a recently retired neighbor with extra time on his hands occasionally brings freshly made treats to my door.  Last week it was creamy, fresh guacamole and today I was the extraordinarily lucky recipient of this frozen gelato-like confection filled with surprises in every bite.

Chunks of frozen ganache contrast with little pieces of chopped peanut butter cups, and are all wrapped up in a frozen peanut butter gelato/ice cream custard.

Oh My.  Oh MY!  OH MY!!  Delicious beyond words, I give you Captain Greg bringing us his 2nd Liv Life Guest Post (be sure to check out his first post, Lemon Lime Gelato, from last May).

Bet you wish you lived on my street.


Ask any scientist or 6 year old what's essential for life:  Oxygen.  Chocolate.  Peanut Butter.   If you can hold your breath long enough, you might even do without Oxygen.  Not so for chocolate and peanut butter.

Fortunately, Harry Burnett Reese understood the universal truth that chocolate and peanut butter were meant to be together like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  So in the 1920's, Mr. Reese marketed a small confectionery cup of Hershey's Chocolate filled with a smooth peanut butter blend and the rest is history.   Kids gobble 'em up at Halloween, lunchtime, in fact any time they can sneak a treat.  And like you don't pull a few out of their Halloween loot when they're not looking...

So it's time to legitimize the larceny with a deliciously decadent dessert that any kid or adult kid would die for - Captain Greg's Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Chunk Mortal Sin Gelato.  This is one you need.  It's primal.  It's the perfect capture of smooth and sinewy peanut butter with the sweet, seductive indulgences of fine crafted chocolate.  Throw in a handful of Mr. Reese's brilliance and swirl in an extra bounty of chocolate and peanut butter and this gelato blows away anything you've ever imagined gelato could be.

 My neighbor and dessert muse, Claudine, asked me to "amp up your classic Peanut Butter and Chocolate Gelato recipe".  When I suggested, "Chunking it", she flipped, and said "You've taken it from a Venial Sin to a Mortal Sin!"  So that's the story.  It will take more than a few "Our Fathers" to be forgiven for this sinfully delicious treat!

Sweet peanut butter gelato infused with handcrafted Ghirardelli chocolate, chunked peanut-butter cups, and swirls of more of the same...  I should be arrested for this one.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Splash - Frozen in Time - A Food Photography Challenge

A moment frozen in time.  Droplets suspended in mid air.  An eruption of milk unseen by the naked eye.  And all possible with the simple click of a shutter.

I can freeze time.

A little over 15 years ago a smiling nurse placed a squirming ten pound bundle into my waiting arms, and tears streamed down my plump cheeks as I held my first child.  We got to know each other as he gazed up at me, and I felt that he would be my little boy forever.

I wished I could freeze time.

Five years later he went off to kindergarten and cried the whole day because he missed mommy so much.  As school let out, he ran into my outstretched arms burying his face into my neck and told me how much he missed me.

I wished I could freeze time.

Three years later he needed my help as he studied for various vocabulary and math tests.  We'd sit on the couch together and after I tested him on his vocab he would lean his head on my shoulder and we'd chat about his day.

I wished I could freeze time.

A few years after that, he moved to the middle school campus and was just a little afraid on the first day.  A hug from mom sent him on his way, and I watched him stand tall as he stepped out of the car and walked into school, without me... never looking back.

I wished I could freeze time

Today he is still is my little boy, but that little boy is now 5 feet 11 inches, and chuckles as he gazes down on me while mentioning how short I seem to be.  He stays up at night longer than I do, and while he still asks me to test him on his vocab (Spanish now), I can no longer help him in math.  After I test him, he tosses a quick thanks my direction, but no more does he lean on mommy's shoulder and chat about his day.

I wish I could freeze time.

Two years from now he will head off to college.  I know I've done my job well, and that he will be prepared.  He will be confident, and he will make good choices.  My little boy will head out into the world and he will be successful.  And he won't need me to help with his vocab.

My heart wishes I could click that shutter and freeze time just like I did with the liquid in this martini glass, but my head tells me that its for the best that I can't.  Life was meant to be lived, and part of living is letting go.

I can't freeze time.

While this photography challenge pushed me to achieve an image I didn't think I could capture, it was extraordinarily fun.  The whole family got involved, even that little/tall boy.  We all took turns dropping "things" into various liquids as we clicked the shutter and gasped in awe as we froze time, or alternatively burst out laughing as we ended up missing the glass altogether.  Dropping something and timing the shutter to catch that drop at precisely the right moment is amazingly difficult and I have reams of footage of absolutely nothing.

Most tutorials suggest a stobe, or a sort of flash that syncs to your camera but is wireless, however, that equipment remains on my wish list.  Our images were shot with my Canon EOS 60D using my Canon EF-S 60mm Macro Lens
.  Lighting worked far better in the twilight hours of the day as I backlit my subject with a Lowel EGO Light and side lit the subject with Liv's halogen reading lamp (how's that for professional?!!).

While I had the most success with the liquid in the martini glass, I also had a full set up trying to catch drops of milk.  Making my attempt in the late afternoon I quickly gave up as the lighting was less than desirable and left the setup unattended on the table.  Hours later, I returned to the kitchen at twilight to find Liv and her friend Audrey giggling and snapping away while dropping drops of milk into a glass with a baby medicine dropper.  The scene brought warmth to my heart and these talented girls caught the following images.

 I wish I could freeze time...

For more stunning splash photography, work your way around our Food Photography & Styling Group's circle starting with Kay Pickens, a Food Photographer in Colombia, MO.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Brown Butter Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies - Secret Recipe Club

My March Secret Recipe Club submission has been met with extreme research.   Immediately visiting my assigned blog, Mangia, nearly an entire hour was spent getting caught up in Chelsey's posts on subjects ranging from food, to pins, to photos, to her family and on to her brand new iPhone.  Chelsey is truly an adorable 20-something who reminds me of my own Liv with her passion for Living Life and the happiness she exudes while doing it.

A Texas girl, with similarities to me in her recipe style, Chelsey's blog is filled with healthy recipes in combination with hearty dishes and extremely tempting sweet treats.  A recent grad with a BA in Kinesiology (had to look that one up... the scientific study of human movement) she boasts an Italian heritage that had her making meatballs before riding a bike.  Inspired by her sister who has Celiac Disease, Chelsey works to recreate family favorites in a Gluten-Free fashion, and from my perusing, she succeeds.

With my extensive research interrupted by Liv's dance rehearsal schedule and life in general, the publish date for this SRC assignment was on me before I knew it, and not being a gluten-free baker I didn't have some of the necessary ingredients on hand to attempt one of the GF recipes.  Hence, I turned to a gluten-full recipe featuring my beloved peanut butter -  peanut butter, peanut butter chips, chocolate chips, brown sugar and brown butter to be exact.  Ahhhh... I think I'm in heaven!

As such, my second level of research began:  Studying the actual recipe.  Making a few substitutions (simply due to what I had, or rather didn't have, on hand - who runs out of a/p flour??), my dough came out a tad crumbly in my first batch, but was packed with chocolate chips as I may have wonderfully added a few more than required.

Test #1:  The Dough.  Yep... the dough was divine!

Bake and Test #2:  The Warm cookie.  Good, but not as good as the dough.

Cool and Test #3:  The Cooled cookie.  Wow.  Wow!  Did I say, "Wow!!!"?
Actual adjectives used by teenage boys and girls who devoured these cookies include:  Extraordinary,  fantastic,  superb,  excellent,  exquisite,  muy bueno,  delicious,  out of this world, awesome, brilliant and totally killer.

Ok, on with the experimentation and research.  Hearing a famous Dr. Seuss rhyme on the radio as I was baking, I figured Today was my Day.  I was off to great places, I was off and away.


Would I like them on a plate?
Absolutely, it must be fate.

Would I like them in the afternoon?
Most definitely as these beauties make me swoon.

Would I like them in the car?
Yep, especially if I have to drive very far.

Would I like them in the morning for brunch?
Without a doubt, I'll have a bunch.

And lastly,
Would I like them in the kitchen?
You bet!  These cookies are **tchen'!

Ok... so I don't really use words like the last one, but I couldn't think of anything else to rhyme with kitchen, and well, the description is apt and it's the word my teenage son used to describe these beauties.

Chelsey, your cookies rock!  We did a taste and critique test at dance the other night, and with 6 thirteen year old girls in my car we went through no less that 20 cookies in no time at all.  I had 3 requests to bring them again next week and 2 request to send the recipes to the girls' mothers.  When asked what they would do differently, the overwhelming response was, "Nothing!  Don't change a thing!".

I'd say we have a winner.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Protein Breakfast - Eggs & Quinoa

Spring has hit San Diego.  Sleepy rose bushes are reaching for the sky with beautiful new growth, the grass is sporting a lovely shade of deep green and the weather has been warm enough for tank tops, shorts and floppies.  While the warm breezes and brilliant blue skies are welcomed,  the thought of sporting a swim suit soon has me cringing.

Months of blustery, cold (I know... we are wimps in San Diego), and dark weather have perhaps put a few pounds on my frame, and while I don't feel bad in regular cloths, a glance in the mirror of my pale, white arms hanging out of my summery tank top was not a sight I cared to behold.

Hence, an increase in protein and veggie filled meals and a decrease in those midlife, pound-adding carbs.  Well, a moderate decrease, but a decrease nonetheless.

Quinoa comes in varying colors
Enter Quinoa.  A native to the Andean regions of Peru, quinoa is truly an "ancient grain" (though it is in reality a seed) with a near 9,000 year history.  Once called "The Gold of the Incas", quinoa is not only high in protein, but a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids.  In addition to protein, the tiny seed is a very good source of manganese as well as a good source of magnesium, folate, and phosphorus, potentially making quinoa valuable for persons with migraine headaches, diabetes and atherosclerosis.  Add the fact that quinoa was used by the Inca Warriors to increase stamina and I think I have a winner.

Lunching at a local restaurant a few months ago, their healthy protein breakfast-like offering included an egg white scramble with a side of plain quinoa, all topped with avocado and what I loved most, a generous dose of salty feta.  Easy to put together, I've prepared a similar dish nearly weekly and have found myself craving my simple protein breakfast even for dinner.

One of those "A little of this. A little of that." recipes, this dish adapts easily to your tastes as well as to what you have on hand.  Using a combination of whole eggs and egg whites, I've added sauteed mushrooms, spinach, peppers and onions to my scramble, while seasonal topping have included avocado, cherry tomatoes, scallions and my beloved Feta.  Sprinkling the toppings liberally over the eggs placed aside a portion of protein- rich and stamina-producing quinoa, I've found myself content, satisfied and with the stamina of a warrior.  Now I just need to work on getting my somewhat floppy arms back in the shape of a warrior and I'll be ready for summer clothes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Zucchini Banana Muffins - Dance Mom Approved!

Our girls lit up the stage!!!
Dance Photos: Kit Chow - San Diego Photographer & Dance Dad

I'm a Dance Mom. And I'm proud of it.  However, while Liv and I can't get enough of the Dance Mom show on tv, I'm happy to say that my reality is far different from their reality show.

Our two worlds do combine with closets overflowing with fancy costumes, rhinestones littering the kitchen floor and talented dancers whom we try to keep healthy and strong.  Not in our world though, are the backstabbing comments, ridiculing teachers, and moms who are above nothing to see their daughter get a better spot in the line up.  

Dance Moms meet Twitch!
I'm lucky to be surrounded by Dance Moms who have proven to be some of the most supportive friends a Mom could ask for.  We are the girls' personal planners for their weekend competitions, we dress them during quick changes, change hair styles and put together costumes.

And it was last week that brought costuming to a whole new level with:

 The Boots

Our own Miss Abbie decided that she wanted boots for her small group tap number.  Not just any boots, but colorful boots.  Neon colors, at that.  I'll spare you the creative details as we tried and failed and then tried again with different tools.  Lets just suffice to say that my husband didn't eat well last week, Liv Life didn't get updated and the house is still a bit messy.

Luckily, Miss Abbie liked them.  But like any good dance teacher, she knew we still had more in us and she asked for embellishments.  Several trips to multiple craft stores and even more hours later we had a finished product.

The transformation.... Paint on, paint off, new paint on, glitter on, embellishments on, laces on.  Taps... on.
My husband laughed at the long hours Liv and I put into these babies (more he grumbled at the lack of homemade dinners...), but Liv and I smiled when we finished and thought, "They look good".

Liv & The Boots rock the stage!
Packing our treasures ever so carefully, last Friday we hit the road for beautiful Upland, California for the team's first competition.  Lacing up our creations, the moms stood back and thought "I sure hope nothing falls off... but damn, those boots look good!"

And they did.  The girls nailed the number, garnering compliments back stage from other studios on the "cool tap boots" and cheers from the audience for their performance.

Apparently the judges liked the boots too.  Well, perhaps it was the performance, but I'm thinking they might have been blinded by the beauty of the boots while they awarded the girls not only a 1st Place overall but also named KixMix the top scoring number of the day.  Way to go girls!!

The boots rock.
Photo credit:  Kit Chow

And these muffins rock too.  Healthy, delicious and fuel providing for the girls, they didn't last long and I've even had requests to bring more for the next event.  Thanks to Savoring the Thyme for a wonderful recipe, I'm thinking these beauties will be traveling often with The Boots.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sriracha Sweet Potato Packets

Growing up, vegetables were not my favorite foods.  Moving in with my husband in my late 20's, veggies were really a big deal for either of us.  However, as my cooking experience evolved and I branched out to try new thing, these roots, stems, leaves and flowers have really grown on me.

While finding myself craving a sweet potato or a grilled zucchini (I know... zucchini is technically a fruit) is something I'm getting used to, my husband has yet to ride my wave.  He's good with a few of the basics - corn, broccoli and most salads - but will still turn his nose up at my favorite Balsamic Grilled Zucchini dish or Cauliflower Soup.  Sweet potatoes have been on the bottom of his veggie approved list... until now.

Knowing that my dear prefers food with a kick, I pulled out my trusty Sriracha bottle to spice up our sweets.  As my time has recently been spent in Dance Mom mode while putting the final touches on Liv's costumes, time for balanced dinner prep has been short.  The grill has been my friend during these Santa Ana breezy days where temps reached into the 80's, and tossing veggies into foil packets and onto the grill with meat or fish has been my salvation.

Sliced sweet potatoes and red onions are doused with a simple sauce of spicy Sriracha, oil and ketchup for a quick to prepare packet that steams on the grill as you get the rest of the meal going.  Within a half hour one has a perfectly cooked side that is now Liv Life Husband approved.  He ate it.  He liked it... He even asked for seconds. Ka-chow!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Peanut Butter Granola Bars - for National Peanut Butter Lover's Day

Happy National Peanut Butter Lover's Day!!

With today, March 1st, being a day of ultimate celebration - National Peanut Butter Lover's Day - thoughts of the luscious, creamy butter were with me as the sun broke through the night sky.  Right up there with Christmas and birthdays on my important days of the year list, peanut butter holds an honored place of high esteem in my life.

As a peanut butter lover since birth, my reverence for Dr. John Kellogg (of the cereal fame), remains high for the simple task of taking the humble peanut and turning it into the luscious, creamy composite that has become an American way of life.  Turning the peanuts into an easily digestible protein for his patients with no teeth, he most likely had little idea that the product would one day sell some 90 million jars a year.

According to the National Peanut Board, it takes about 540 peanuts to make one 12-ounce jar of peanut butter, with a one acre field producing enough peanuts for about 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches.  Statistics show that men prefer the crunchy version while women's tastes tend towards the creamy.  Geographically, the crunchy version remains more popular in the western regions of the US as the East leans towards creamy.

Can you name the two American Presidents who had careers as peanut farmers (see answer below)?  And did you know that peanut butter was the secret behind Mr. Ed, TV's talking horse?  And who knew that Arachibutyrophobia actually stops some people from eating peanut butter with their intense fear of getting peanut butter suck to the roof of their mouth?

1928, another very important date in history, earns kudos with the introduction of the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup by matching "two great tastes that taste great together".  Definitely a match made in heaven and a marriage that will indeed last into eternity, chocolate and peanut butter remain my personal favorite combo as evidenced by some of our most popular Liv Life creations:

While peanut butter and chocolate may be my favorite combo, I'm certainly not opposed to peanut butter on its own...

On this most special of celebratory days, Liv Life wishes you a
Happy National Peanut Butter Lover's Day
as we bring you the newest addition to our Peanut Butter Collection:

Peanut Butter Granola Bars (with chocolate chips, of course...)
PS... Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter are the two American Presidents who were also Peanut Farmers.