Friday, June 29, 2012

Skinny Cow Slimited Editions

Where were you in 1987?  College?  Preschool?  Retired?  Not even born?  No matter what your place in 1987, I'm willing to bet that you are familiar with the movie Dirty Dancing.  Amazingly, the classic is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Though I'm not a really big movie fan, Dirty Dancing was one of the few movies that I saw more than once in the big downtown movie theater while I was in college.

Putting 1987 in perspective, Baby and Johnny practiced the jump a year after Maverick flew with Goose.  It was also the year after Buzz landed on Andy's bed, but Harry hadn't met Sally yet.  And while Darth Vader had already announced he was Luke Skywalker's father, Anakin wasn't yet a slave on Tatooine (how's that for confusing?).  Marty had flown Doc's Delorean back in time, but Indiana Jones had yet to go on his "Last Crusade".

Things change over the years, and thankfully, many times for the better.  Jumping at an offer from the Foodbuzz Tastmaker Program in combinations with Skinny Cow, Liv and I have been extraordinarily excited to share some of Skinny Cow's Slimited Editions as we participate in her National Dance Competition out here in hot, hot, did I say HOT?  Las Vegas.  What more appropriate venue could we have to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Dirty Dancing while cooling off with Slimited Editions ice cream?

25 years ago I, along with my Dance Mom friends, would most likely not have been as interested in lower calorie ice cream. However, as I was saying, over the years things change.  25 years ago ice cream was more of a high calorie treat (for example a certain flavor of ice cream honoring the Grateful Dead singer/guitarist Jerry Garcia began selling in 1987), today though, lower calorie options have become more of a necessity for this dance mom, and these fabulous Slimited Editions are fitting the bill.

As luck would have it, the quickly melting cones were also a hit with the dance girls and they hadn't a clue, nor did they care that these fabulous treats were lower in calories.

Enjoying a Dance Moms afternoon out of the heat, a group of us happily took the opportunity to relive our Dirty Dancing memories (as the girls lunched at the Judge's Banquet) while cooling off with Slimited Editions.  Options including Best of Both Swirleds (my personal favorite, 150 totally worthy calories of low fat vanilla AND chocolate ice cream nicely swirled between chocolate and vanilla wafers) and Slimited Oh Fudge Nuts (vanilla ice cream on a cone with fudge and nuts).  Available for a s"limited" time, I've already had requests from Liv just as some of the other moms have had requests of their own to fill our freezers when we return home.

Guiltlessly indulging in our afternoon of Dirty Dancing and ice cream treats the Dance Moms waited for the girls slaved away at Extravaganza Rehearsals.   Skinny Cow then became the ultimate refreshment as the girls retreated to the pool for a cool off and set to give their own hand at Baby and Johnny's famous lift.

Not as easy as we would have thought, Leah and Vanners were dumped head first into the water more than once as first one person, then up to four girls attempted to have them flying overhead.  As graceful as these girls are on the stage, their lift wasn't quite the Spotlight Diamond score.  Technique, however, is hard to turn your back on once its in your blood, and toes were pointed, arms graceful and smiles big, even as these talented girls plunged head first into the water. 

Thanks to Skinny Cow for making our Dance Mom Extravaganza a memorable one and for making me one of the most popular dance moms in the desert as I passed out cone after cone after cone.

Happy National Ice Cream Month!!!

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I received a stipend, DVD, and coupons for free Skinny Cow® product.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cereal Treat Round Up - Living Life

Perusing many of my favorite foodie blogs over the last few days, I've been thrilled to see the red, white and blue proudly displayed in everything from salads to frozen pops to cakes.  I, however, am with Liv in hot, hot, hot Las Vegas for the dance season finale, Nationals.

Liv & Vanners prepare for a group number
Sitting in the audience, I often find myself moved to tears as I watch Liv and her teammates perform their hearts out.  The confidence these young dancers show is phenomenal, and when combined with the skill that comes with those hours of practice, I simply sit in awe at the sheer talent.

As we made our way from San Diego to Vegas, Vanners, whom you may remember from our Sleepover Special, and Liv began reminiscing about the Fruity Cereal Treats - Vegas Style, that they prepared and styled at last year's Nationals.  Fruity Cereal Treats quickly turned into thoughts of Cinnamon Krispie Treats which just happened to be packed in the cooler for our long weekend.  Digging through the mounds of costumes, shoes, accessories, etc, that us dance moms have become all to familiar with, the girls found the Cinnamon Treat package, and I'm afraid there is not much left to share.


What we do have to share though, are some of our favorite Krispie Treats which have accumulated on Liv Life over the years.  Not a fan as a youngster, it was my son who prompted another Krispie Treat attempt years after his first taste with the addition of Peanut Butter.  And he liked them.  So did I.

Inspiring somewhat of a Krispie Treat obsession, we've used Nutella, Reese's Pieces, Cinnamon, and multiple layers of peanut butter fudge and ganche to provide mouthwatering treats that are anything but average.

Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treat, Marshmallow

Cinnamon Marshmallow Krispiet Treat

Triple Peanut Butter Krispie Treat,

Holiday Krispie Treats
Use different color candies for different holidays

Nutella Krispie Treat

cereal treat

Vanners takes the stage!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Grilled Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos with Mango Pineapple Salsa - A Food Photography Challenge

Fish... growing up, beautiful gold fish swam in my mom's big fish tank, and the Koi in the pond were a treat to feed as they kissed the water's surface to eat their evening meal.  Unfortunately those Koi became a raccoon's feast one night, and then we just had a pond.  Fish, however, was not something that was ever feasted on inside our house.

Dad has always loved fish, but had to get it in restaurants as Mom didn't care for it and therefore, didn't make it.  The one time Dad did make it, a yucky trout that he had caught himself, I remember all of us running to open the windows in the house from the "awful" smell the poor little guy gave off as he spent some time roasting in our oven.

Hence, I'm somewhat of a newcomer to the fish scene.  Just into my 40's, I bravely tasted a very, very small bite of a girlfriend's salmon, and amazingly, I didn't hate it.  Months later, I even more bravely ordered my own Mahi Mahi while dining beachside in Maui, and not only did I not hate it, I really liked it.

The years following have brought Mahi Mahi and Salmon to my own table, but mostly cooked on the grill as the oven seems to bring that cooking smell that permeates every corner of the house and has me still running to open windows no matter what the season.  The kids love their Mahi and salmon, and we eat fillets sometimes several times a week.  Yes... fillets are lovely.

So when my food photography and styling group, The Inspired Plate, brought this month's challenge as "Fish, raw and prepared, a side by side collage", I thought, "No problem!  I'm all over this one.".  Then I read the comments from the other girls chatting about heading to fish markets to by whole fish, or better yet, heading to actual rivers to obtain their raw versions, and I began to cringe.

You see, in my world, fish comes from the store, like Trader Joe's or Costco.  It comes skinned, boned and filleted in little freezer packages that are ready to be marinated and popped onto the grill.  Well... the pre-marinated salmon from Costco does come with skin, but I put that on the grill and the skin just comes off before I serve it, so it's really not an issue.

The thought of buying a whole fish, eyes, scales and all, is something I just couldn't do.  As such, I give you my own version of raw.

As luck would have it, beautiful fillets of sweet Mahi Mahi, all packaged and flash frozen off the coast of Hawaii from Costco's freezer section, just happened to be what was "biting" off our Carlsbad coastline today.  This young man happily shared his catch with me, and I set to making our tacos.

Pulling a pre-packaged packet from the freezer, errr.... I mean bringing it home from the beach, the tender fillet thaws in a flash (just like it was frozen) and is ready for the marinade, and in turn, the grill in no time.  Combined with a few condiments and a tortilla, we have a Southern California staple, The Grilled Fish Taco.  A meal that makes my whole family smile (yes... even the pups like this one).

With flavors of lime, cilantro and chilis, these tacos can bring a kick if you like (and my husband does), or leaving out the chilis you can have a mellow, but flavorful taco that is tastier and healthier than those in many restaurants.

Pre-packaged and flash frozen off the coast of Hawaii, "caught" near Costco at the beach in Carlsbad, CA... no muss, no fuss, and you too can enjoy this San Diego favorite with a tropical flair.  Aloha!

PS... I've heard this type of fish is biting near markets nation wide.  You'll have to figure out your own bait though...

Fish... raw and prepared.  A side by side collage.
Please join me in a trip around our blog circle for the rest of The Inspired Plate's challenge posts including real raw fish and stunning food photography...  First stop, Tammy Bilodeau, a Whitecourt AB Photographer!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tahitian Vanilla Granola

Settling into our more leisurely summer routine, the phrase, "Mom... I'm hungry.  Is there anything good to eat?" has met my ears more than once in the last few days.  As I gaze at my overflowing pantry, I can't help but think, "Yes... there is plenty of good things to eat."  That being said, one can never have too many snacks around.  And if I orchestrate the snack, more than likely it will be a healthier choice than some of the chips and salsa alternatives.

Enter granola.  Earlier this year Liv, my son and my husband all turned up their noses at the thought of granola.  The kids more out of a "I don't eat that kind of stuff" kind of thought, and my husband with a "Have you seen the fat count in granola?" kind of thought.

Our first granola attempt, a pure maple syrup version, put an end to all of their prior thoughts and now has them asking, "When are you making more granola?".  Trying different versions we've come to love Coconut Mango Granola, Pumpkin Granola, and Peanut Butter Granola Bars since our first explorations.

As my thoughts of summer turn to swaying palms and have me reminiscing about my days sailing around the South Pacific, I grabbed the last little bottle of Tahitian Vanilla from my trip a year and a half ago.

Huahine - 2010
A stop in tropical Huahine had us settling into vacation mode almost immediately.  As our ship, the Paul Gauguin, entered the bay, low clouds hung over the lush volcanic peaks as we made our way on deck the first morning following our long flight from Los Angeles.

Coffee in hand, we took in the view of the vibrant waters and swaying palms from the back of the ship.  The February humidity was a treat to our winter-chilled bones, and we grew even more excited about our upcoming tour of the island.

Vanilla Pods
Boarding a vehicle with 8 passengers, Joelle, an American living on Huahine, took us around the island and filled our heads with lore, history, and stunning sights.  High on my list was a stop at a local vanilla bean "farm", where we not only had the opportunity to see how vanilla beans are grown and dried (a labor intensive job done by hand), but also purchase.  With Joelle's recommendation that these were some of the best beans in the South Pacific (a sales pitch?  Perhaps... but they lived up to their reputation) I jumped at the chance to load up on the fairly inexpensive pods in addition to some extract, and sure enough, wished I had purchased even more as I returned home.

Today, a year and a half later, my last bottle now held just one teaspoon of the floral scented liquid gold, and with Vanilla Granola on our minds I couldn't think of a better way to finish up the bottle.  Supplementing with pure vanilla seeds that a friend brought me from Paris, our Vanilla Granola took shape and soon had an aroma swirling about the house bringing memories of Huahine flooding back to my mind.

Now about that empty bottle... here's hoping my husband is reading and realizing that we really need to make a shopping expedition to the South Pacific sometime soon.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate and Apricots

Frequently after a cookie post here on Liv Life I will get an email, Facebook comment or even an actual phone call saying, "I sure wish I had one of those this afternoon!".  Dad enjoys his sweets.  But unlike anyone else I know, he has amazing willpower.  He is happy with just one cookie.  Sometimes even just a half.

While I'm lucky have have him and Mom live only some 20 minutes away, that twenty minutes is sometimes just far enough to make cookie sharing difficult as I make my daily driving rounds some 20 minutes the other direction.  Yesterday, however, we planned ahead, and celebrating with an early Father's Day dinner I had a fresh batch of Martha Stewart's sweet yet slightly tart Apricot/White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies ready and waiting.

Already filled with heart healthy oatmeal, we swapped a little of the all-purpose flour with a dose of fiber-rich spelt flour, and even added a tablespoon or two of flax meal.  And as if that is not enough, I had just a couple of tablespoons of flaked coconut left if my jar, so we tossed that into the mix to bring a slight tropical flavor to the package.

Admitted cookie dough lover's, Liv and I deem it necessary to try every dough we make (take caution as cookie dough does contain raw eggs), and I have to say that Martha hit this cookie dough out of the park.  Sweet, oaty and utterly irresistible, I think I liked the dough ever so slightly more than the cookie, however the cookie was crowned positively enchanting as Liv and I taste tested warm and cold versions... for review purposes, of course.

Dad, these beauties are for you!!  Thanks for being the best dad ever, and now that school is out and I'm not driving so much, let's make that 20 minutes not so far.

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Guacamole Deviled Eggs

With summer upon us, it's time to break out some of our warm weather favorites.  Easy, portable treats are a must with evenings at Jazz in the Park, afternoons at a neighbor's pool, or even just a simple gathering in the driveway.  Two of my all time favorites, avocados and eggs,  have found their way together in this easy appetizer that draws "oohs and ahhs" every time they make an appearance at an event.

Easy to whip together with a ripe avocado and hard boiled eggs, this recipe is versatile and works with what you have on hand.  Hard boiled eggs are halved and scooped with one either tossing or saving the yolks depending on your taste.  Making more traditional deviled eggs, we mash the yolks with the avocado and guacamole fixings while stirring in a few dollops of fresh pico de gallo.  Don't want the yolks?  Simply fill the remaining egg whites with your favorite guacamole for an easy finger food that will be gone in a flash.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Banana Ebelskivers - It's Summer Vacation!

Can you feel it?  Summer just slipped into our lives.  Not the weather per se, as we are in the midst of the annual June Gloom here in San Diego, but the lifestyle.

Done are the early morning rushes to get out the door before the school bell.  Done are the late nights finishing up homework long after the sun has set.  Done is my driving schedule that has me trecking to and from the school multiple times a day.

What's not done, are leisurely mornings filled with new food creations, laughter with Liv, and steaming cups coffee that I actually get to drink before I run out the door.

Someone wants his own plate...
In celebration of the first day of summer vacation, Liv and I put together a couple of her favorite things.  Ebelskivers (little round pancakes), bananas, and brown sugar, to be exact.

Whipping out our new favorite kitchen tool, the Nonstick Ebelskiver pan, I felt a little like I was cheating.  For years my mom has spent time seasoning the cast iron ebelskiver pans of her youth, but I just can't get the hang of them.

First, I can't get over the amount of butter required to make the little pancakes not stick, and second, I just can't figure out how to make the temperature right.  Hence, ending up with some ebelskivers raw in the middle while others are burnt to a crisp.

So... I didn't tell Mom, but I ordered a non-stick pan a few months ago, and now ebelskivers have become something I can do.  Actually, Ebelskivers have become something Liv can do herself.

For these first day of summer beauties we used our favorite sweet batter, adapted from Kevin Craft's book Ebelskivers.  Actually, if you wouldn't tell mom that we changed her childhood recipe in addition to the pans I'd appreciate that too...

In any case, Sweet Vanilla Ebelskiver Batter layered with bananas quickly sauteed with a touch of brown sugar rang in our first day of summer in style.  Pajamas till noon, coffee sipped while still hot, and brunch... this is Living Life.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Double Chocolate Quick Bread with Cream Cheese and Peanut Butter Spread

Food styling and presentation have never been a strong suit of mine.  The family was lucky to get dinner on one plate, and hopefully the ingredients somehow worked together.  Making it look pretty?  Who has time for that?

Passing Liv Life's two year anniversary just yesterday, I took a moment to look back at my early photos and posts and, well... I've gotten better.  New camera equipment most definitely makes a difference, but presentation is what it's all about.

Presentation need not be fancy to be pretty, nor does it need expensive props or serving dishes.  Simplicity works well for me, but now I take a moment before setting the plate on the table to perhaps add a sprig of cilantro, to slice the avocado and then fan it out on top of the salad, or spoon the mango salsa nicely on the pork tenderloin rather than just dumping a spoonful on the side.

Hence, I've become somewhat protective of my kitchen creations before they have been photographed for the blog.  The family is now accustomed to asking, "Can I have some of this or do you still need to take a picture?" before diving into a plate of brownies or cookies.  They even occasionally offer suggestions for styling, and Liv has become quite adept at placing the perfect dollop of whipped cream atop nearly anything sweet.

With my protectiveness, you can imagine my surprise upon entering the kitchen where Liv and her girlfriend were working on their broadcasting claymation project.  There, I found one of my perfectly shaped, freshly baked and most importantly, non photographed Chocolate Bread Loaves had been turned into nothing less than a volcano complete with a peanut butter cream cheese lava in the middle of a candy world.  A slight miscommunication of "use whatever you need" had them indeed, using whatever they needed.

While I was lucky to have 2 remaining loaves pristine and waiting for their moment in the spotlight, I do have to admit that this delectable chocolate bread inspired by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito's Double Chocolate version from their awe inspiring book, Baked Explorations, did indeed make an ideal volcano.

Chocolate at its best, we "heathified" our version with the addition of spelt flour and the replacement of some of the oil with a nice, tangy yogurt.  Intense without being too sweet, it was the peanut butter/cream cheese spread that had me gushing and reaching for another slice.  While the spread also made a beautiful lava flow on the girls' volcano, I prefer mine spread ever so lightly across a nice warm piece of the chocolate chunk studded bread.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Rest easy my friend, I will miss you...

Like the tides of the ocean, the earth's population ebbs and flows every day.  Births and deaths occur moment by moment bringing hopefully more joy than sorrow into our lives.

Yet, when deaths do occur, we hope that they are taking place after following a long and eventful life path.  Such is the case with my friend, Old Doug from BC.

Strawberry Ebelskivers
You may remember our Strawberry Ebelskiver post from just a few weeks ago where we dedicated some of Liv's favorite Danish style pancakes stuffed with sweetened strawberries to Doug.  Suffering from a lung disease, Doug's family had emailed to let me know that he was in the hospital, and would most likely be there for the rest of his days here on earth.

Just before we published our post I received an email from Doug himself.  He was checking in on me and letting me know that he wasn't doing well, but he wanted me to know that he was thinking of me.  As it turns out, that email was the last one he would ever send me.

Our Ebelskiver post dedicated to Doug explains our relationship and how our paths have crossed in this lifetime.  And while I never had the opportunity to meet Doug in real life, today I feel an incredible loss at his passing.

Father, grandfather, great grandfather, loving husband, wonderful cook and a good friend.  The angels in heaven received a special new member yesterday, and I'm fairly certain that they are in for a treat when he takes a turn in the kitchen.

Rest easy my friend...  I will miss you.