Monday, February 25, 2013

Egg and Mushroom Appetizer ~ A Food Photography Challenge

Eggs... protein packed, vitamin rich, and an empty palate waiting to be dressed, these little orbs are nearly an every day occurrence in the Liv Life household.  Be they scrambled, over easy, over medium or simply hard boiled, the versatility of the egg makes them ideal for nearly any meal, or in this case, an amazing appetizer.

February's Inspired Plate Challenge titled "Eggs" had my heart soaring with possibilities, but looking to step up our photo from the average Breakfast Burrito (that was our last post), the Mushroom Bocadillo provided interesting shape and texture along with a tasty result.  Featuring only a few ingredients this appetizer works nicely into a party menu with its ability to be made ahead of time and served at room temperature.  Quiche-like minus the crust and creamy calories, the dish is baked, cooled and then cut into handy little squares which are just perfect for a cocktail napkin.

Filled with sauteed mushrooms and onions, a touch of Parmesan cheese adds a slightly salty finish and the fresh basil brings a market-fresh flair to the plate - or napkin.  While this recipe will most definitely be saved for our next neighborhood gathering, I must admit that these particular Bocadillos made a lovely brunch after our photo shoot, especially when topped with a dollop of salsa and a few slices of fresh avocado.

Returning to my favorite white background I chose a simple style for our shoot attempting keep the focus on the Bocadillos without distraction.  I've found that my lack of photography props forces me to become creative while trying to create a scene or some sense of a story in the photo, hence using ingredients as props has become my styling choice.  Filling a measuring cup overflowing with freshly grated Parmesan and adding a small branch of basil the shoot was set, and as our hemisphere slowly but surely returns to the warmer seasons I'm relishing every extra minute of beautiful morning backlight. 

And now won't you join me as we travel close to my hometown in Northern California.  Please allow me to introduce The Inspired Plate's newest member, Jayme Franklin.  Jayme is a mom to two adorable little blondies and works as a photographer in the Belmont, California area.  Lets see what sort of eggs she has brought to the table!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Bites

For most of my life I've looked to food to heal me when I wasn't feeling well.  Orange juice for a cold, chicken soup for achy flu-like symptoms, bananas for additional energy, etc.  Pumping rainbows of ingredients into the kids since birth, I've attempted to build strong muscles with lean protein, strengthen growing bones with calcium and ward of disease with organic greens and veggies.  Many of my dance mom friends (Liv dances on a local competitive team) are like minded and together we've done our best to protect our families.  Much as I'd like to think of our food actions as some sort of safety net, making all the right decisions sometimes doesn't matter.

Two years ago my dance mom friend Shelby began feeling a few pains in her side.  A specimen of the perfect eater, Shelby only fed her family organic foods and made sure that rainbow of fruits and vegetables existed to fuel their busy bodies.  However that pain didn't go away.

After extensive testing Shelby was diagnosed with cancer.  She underwent chemo and numerous surgeries, and last May she was pronounced in remission.  She celebrated onstage at our annual studio recital, as any dance mom might, and her smile shone brighter than the lights upon her as she struck a final pose in the tap number dedicated to her remission.

Shelby... the ultimate dance mom and dancer!
However, the lights dimmed only a few months later with the return of the cancer around Halloween.  Struggling through additional surgeries the doctors did their best to remove the toxic cells, but no treatment was enough to beat them.  Thanksgiving brought visits of family along with Hospice.

Today Shelby struggles to live one more day.  And tomorrow she will do the same, until the cancer cells finally win (edited to note that Shelby lost her battle on March 13, 2013).  Her body may be growing weaker, but the light in her eyes and the humor in her spirit are still shining brightly.  Her family has surrounded her with love and last week they put together a Celebration of Life in her honor bringing family and friends together in the pure joy of her being.

Shelby leaves an impact on each and every person lucky enough to be a part of her life, and while I'm not a close family friend, she will forever remain a symbol of strength and an example of someone who truly "Livs Life" to every extent of their being.  I am honored to be part of her dance mom world and will never forget her beaming smile as she watches her girls dance or when she took the stage herself.

Wishing these Breakfast Cookies packed with protein, banana and fiber from oatmeal would make a difference for Shelby, I've made them for my dance carpool girls in her honor.  As we enter this dance season full speed ahead, the girls need fuel for their bodies in training, but something fun and tasty as well.  These peanut butter "cookies" fit the bill.

Peanut Butter cookies on a plate with coffee in back ground,

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Super Soft California Breakfast Tacos

Breakfast Taco with eggs and avocado pictured with fruit

With the advent of the internet, I don't often get mail anymore.  The day of the actual letter has disappeared leaving my mailbox filled mostly with unwanted bills and junk.  Hence, when the doorbell rings and my smiling mail lady presents an unexpected package, my heart does a little jump of happiness.

Mission Super Soft Tortillas
The kids are used to me receiving blog "stuff", and frequently show their disappointment when the box reveals something like coffee, or a blender, or avocados.  This time though, the contents of my blog box featured three fresh packages of Mission's new Super Soft Tortillas.  Looking at the over 40 tortillas in all sorts of sizes I immediately thought, "There is no way we will ever be able to eat all of those...", but the kid's enthusiasm spread like wildfire, and before I knew what was happening my son was planning breakfast for dinner.

Ever the teenage boy, tortillas have become his vehicle of choice to obtain fuel for his growing body (have I mentioned shoe costs lately??).  Who knew one could live on burritos alone?  Who knew warming a frozen burrito in the microwave was considered cooking?  Who knew my son can put together a mean Breakfast Burrito?

With comments of, "Fast food breakfast burritos are gross.", and, "All you do is wrap breakfast into the burrito and you can take it with you!", my son showed me that he does indeed have taste as well as a touch of ingenuity.

While the "Breakfast Burrito" per se is nothing new, making them in our house was new to us.  Filling Mission's Super Soft Tortillas with more ingredients than you can imagine, our family of four did indeed manage to polish off each and every one of those tortillas arriving on our doorstep.  Liv and my son preferred the full traditional, folded burrito, while my husband and I chose to make ours more taco style.

Flour Tortillas

Everyone started with a base of fluffy scrambled eggs (or egg whites), but that's where the ingenuity came in.  The boy child added bacon, potatoes, avocado, black beans and tons salsa to his version, while Liv preferred spinach, peppers, avocado and a mere 1/2 tsp of salsa for a little extra kick.  My husband, saying he needs "man-food", went with the eggs, bacon, avocado and hot sauce, and my version blended a bit of all of the above.

Still working to reduce the calories that my middle-aged middle is intent collecting, I stuck to 1 whole egg plus an extra egg white.  Adding spinach, avocado, fresh tomatoes, red onion, black beans and a touch of salsa I found the perfect way to start (or finish) my day.  Reducing the carbs slightly, I stuck to the soft taco sized tortilla overflowing with the fresh ingredients, and yes... breakfast for dinner is perfect.

As for the tortillas, I've been scolded for letting our supply run low.  Wondering why I didn't think of making Breakfast Burritos before, Mission's super soft tortillas have now become a staple in our pantry.  I'm thrilled at how the kids embraced a meal that fills so many nutritional levels all wrapped up and ready to go, and I even more thrilled that my son made it himself.

Breakfast Taco with eggs, avocado and veggies

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lemon Cornmeal Olive Oil Cake

Lemon Cake on cutting board with Lemon Glaze

While I've been told often that I should be morally against the 5 furlough days our local school district is imposing on our schools this year, I'm secretly loving these extra days off.  Sprinkled throughout the year, these extra days seem to come at the time when we most need them, and to be honest, I'm quietly celebrating each and every one of them.

Lemon Olive Oil Cake slice on blue plate
My son, a junior in high school, is working harder this year than I ever did even when in college.   With A/P English, Honors Chem and Spanish along with the rest of his classes and after school activities, his days last long into the night.  I've this year given up waiting for him to go to sleep before closing my own eyes as there is no way I could live on the little amount of sleep that he gets.  He's discovered espresso, not for the flavor, but as the caffeine stimulant that helps his mind stay clear just a little longer, and he's ever so welcoming of Saturday mornings where he sleeps till noon and often heads back to bed hours earlier than during the week.

With Valentine's Day, 2013, being one of those beloved furlough days, we embarked on this President's Day weekend with 5 days of no school.  Heavenly extra hours are being spent resting the kid's tired bodies, and I enjoyed waking to the sun actually being over the horizon instead of just beginning to erase the night.

Sliced lemons

As my boy rested his weary head, Liv and I puttered around the kitchen and she proclaimed the moment perfect for baking.  Our tree laden with at least 50 perfect lemons, something sweet and tart seemed to fit the bill, and a quick recipe search into my mounds of saved recipes found a Lemon Cornmeal Cake by Abby Dodge.  Liv turned her nose up at the sound of the cornmeal, but I told her if she didn't like it we would try something else.  Having found Abby's name attached to at least 4 of the recipes I've used in the last few weeks, I had no doubt that this one would be a winner just like all of the rest.

I first "met" Abby when I made her 4 ingredient Nutella Brownies and have been loving her recipes ever since (our last being those fabulous Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies we made for Super Bowl).  Taking those Nutella treats to one of Liv's dance events, my baking status rose by leaps and bounds as the girls devoured the little bites in mere minutes.  Since then I've noticed that many of the recipes that catch my eye in magazines such as Fine Cooking or various online websites often have the same name, Abby Dodge, attached to the byline.

Olive Oil Tasting
Olive Oil Tasting - Puglia, Italy
Sending Liv out to pick fresh lemon, I set to pulling out the pantry ingredients, and in no time our Lemon Cake was mixed, poured into the round cake tin and headed for the oven.  The only change we made to the recipe was the substitution of my precious Citrus Olive Oil that I carried back from our trip to Italy last summer.

Purchased at the olive field itself, our visit to the family owned business gave us an inside look at the production of this liquid gold.  Deep in the boot of Italy in the Puglia region, this little farm dates back to 1917 and the oil became a must have when I heard the word "organic".  Add to that the tasting we participated in, Liv and my son were the two to insist on the citrus flavor ending up in our suitcase.

Having saved the oil for just such a recipe, we swapped out Abby's butter ingredient for our precious oil and sat back to wait for the finished product.  Mixing together a tangy, lemony glaze, Liv enjoyed creating the perfect drizzle and I have to admit that we didn't wait for the cake to cool before slicing ourselves a taste.  With eyes the size of the giant lemons from our tree, Liv immediately proclaimed this cake "utterly divine", and she completely forgot that she had questioned the addition of the cornmeal.

Sweet, tangy and with a perfect crumb, I'd suggest making two of these cakes as one just doesn't seem to last very long...

Lemon Cake slice with Cirus Olive Oil Bottle

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Roasted Kale with Garlic and Truffle Oil

I seem to have missed the kale boat... Last week I was reading a blog talking about the trends of 2012 they hoped never to see again and midway down the list was Roasted Kale, or Kale Chips.  (Quinoa was top of the list, but with my love of all things quinoa I'm not even addressing that one...)  As I've never even heard of "Kale Chips" up until a few months ago, I'm realizing just how out of touch I am.  That being said, I've just boarded the Kale Boat.

Trying for 12 of her 13 years to get Liv to eat anything green, I had nearly given up when last year she discovered salad.  All kinds of salads, Caesar, spinach, ranch dressing, specialty olive oils and vinegars and tomatoes.  Yes, even tomatoes entered the picture and she has asked for them by name.  Still, her green repertoire remained fairly slim and limited to just few items so I'm always looking for ways to increase the green.

Liv & Miss Abbie
Imagine my surprise when she arrived home from a dance class with her choreographer Miss Abbie (you may have seen Abbie on last season's Amazing Race as part of the team Abbie & Ryan) and asked for kale.

"Kale?", I asked, "You really want kale?".

"Yes," came her response.  "I love kale!  Kale, and do we have any truffle oil??"

Well, no, we didn't have any truffle oil, but we do now.  Seems Miss Abbie roasted her kale with truffle oil and brought the crispy pieces into class for the girls to try.  Ever trying to increase the eating habits of the girls, I'm immensely thankful to Miss Abbie's encouragement, because pretty much anything Miss Abbie does is really cool in her student's eyes.

So Liv comes home proclaiming her love of Roasted Kale with Truffle Oil and we had to try.  Adding a touch of garlic to the mixture, I have to admit that it's pretty darn good, in fact, Liv and I sparred over the last few pieces(I'll admit here the Liv just may have received her green aversion from me.) 

Roasted to a sort of crispness, parts of the kale remain a little softer bring all sorts of textures to the snack, and yes, the truffle oil makes all the difference.  Are you on the Kale Boat??

Roasted Kale, food photography

Monday, February 11, 2013

Soft Whole Wheat Raisin Pretzels... and a Guest Post from Erin, The Law Student's Wife

Every once in a while we all meet someone we identify with.  That person who seems to think like you, eat like you, enjoy the same things you do, and well, seems like someone you'd wish they were your next door neighbor.  Substitute the name, "Erin", for the word "someone", and you have the person I'm talking about.

Today, I have the humble pleasure of introducing you to Erin, The Law Student's Wife With a fabulous Guest Post, Erin brings one of her wonderful treats to Liv Life, one which Liv is asking me to bake as I type.

Reminding me of a much "cooler" version of myself at her age (I used to be  Kim, the Jr. Pilot's Wife), Erin describes her soul as being comprised of 78% dark chocolate ganache.  While I know not everyone will swoon over that description, that alone makes her near perfect in my book.  Add to that the fact that she wore red shoes at her wedding, bakes a mean Cinnamon Roll, and strives to produce budget friendly as well as healthy meals, and I'm wishing she lived next door.

With personality plus showing in her writing, Erin's blog takes us on her travels as well as brings a delightful dose of humor to her posts.  The extraordinary food she produces is simply a bonusGiven her beautiful verve for living Erin reminds me of my Liv, and she definitely exemplifies our mantra to "Liv Life".  Please give Erin a warm welcome as we take a moment to enjoy her mouthwatering Pretzels!


Hi all!

This is Erin from The Law Student’s Wife, and I am thrilled to be guest posting for Kim today. I discovered Liv Life a few months ago and immediately related to Kim’s holistic recipes, love of travel, and liberal use of peanut butter.  Also, as a new wife on a mission to sneak vegetables into her husband’s food (it’s not just kids who fight the greens!) I appreciate Kim’s creative uses of healthy ingredients. Plus, isn’t she just a wonderful person?

Although you and I have only just “met,” I suspect this is the beginning of a beautiful (invisible) friendship. Let’s make a day of it and head to mall for some bonding time. Forget Macy’s, Old Navy, and Forever 21—we have a more important destination: the food court!

Before my parents turned me loose with a set of keys and my dad’s rusty old GMC Yukon, my friends and I spent our adolescent afternoons roaming the local mall. Each trip featured three mandatory stops:  Claire’s (cheap jewelry reigned supreme), Bath and Body Works (my then-scent of choice: Sun-Ripened Raspberry), and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels (heaven!). Our mothers would pick us up three hours later, no doubt wondering why we smelled of mixed fruit basket and butter.

Now, when I enter the mall food court, the majestic scent of an Auntie Anne’s pretzel transports me to a simpler time when my most pressing decision was which shoes to wear to with my homecoming dress and no one talked about carbs. Since proper shoe selection still eludes me, and I will never, ever break up with carbs (true love lasts a lifetime), I hope you will join me in my Auntie Anne’s nostalgia with a chewy, tender Soft Whole Wheat Raisin Pretzel.

Smooth on the outside and fabulously fluffy-puffy on the inside, Soft Whole Wheat Raisin Pretzels are both satisfying and sentimental. The kid in you will love their pop of juicy sweetness from the plump raisins, along with the fun of rolling and shaping the dough; the adult in you will love their subtle bounce of bright orange zest and ease of preparation. That tantalizing Auntie Anne’s smell is about to waft wondrously through your entire home!

Though this Soft Whole Wheat Raisin Pretzel recipe is inspired by the classic Auntie Anne’s offering, I have updated it to fit the busy life of an at-home cook. Total rise time is a quick 10 minutes (just long enough to add a second coat of nail polish, text your sister, and pour yourself a glass of wine); a golden egg wash replaces the fuss of soaking the pretzel in a baking soda solution (typical of many soft pretzel recipes); and the recipe uses 100% whole wheat flour (powerful fiber to fuel our day.)

Originally I had planned to add a sweet cream-cheese glaze to mimic the Glazin’ Raisin—my Auntie Anne’s long-standing pretzel of choice—but these Soft Whole Wheat Raisin Pretzels are so phenomenal without it, I decided to omit. We found them to be tastiest with a smidge of softened butter or a smear of peanut butter, but if you would like to add a sweet glaze, this is a lovely one.

After baking Soft Whole Wheat Raisin Pretzels, I wandered around my apartment, trying to complete daily chores (clean the bathroom mirror, fold the laundry, watch another episode of Downton Abbey), yet continually gravitated back to the zip-top bag where I had the soft pretzels stored to snitch one last bite. Save yourself time: Whether your are looking for a healthy breakfast, satisfying snack, or midnight treat, take the entire pretzel immediately, settle in with a big glass of milk or a cup of coffee, and enjoy your Soft Whole Wheat Raisin Pretzel in style.

It’s a pleasure to share this Soft Whole Wheat Raisin Pretzel with all of you! Hope to connect with you again soon.

Erin, The Law Student’s Wife

Friday, February 8, 2013

Strawberry Scones

While I'm not much of a holiday celebrator, Liv celebrates each and every day as if it's a special holiday.  As Valentine's is just around the corner, her love of everything pink and hearts fits the celebration bill, and being that she's still young enough to claim me as her number one Valentine... I'm in.

Wednesday being carpool day (I take 3 fabulous girls from school to dance rehearsal), Strawberry Scones shaped as hearts seemed the appropriate after school snack.  The heart shape of these scones alone made the girls ooh and ahh, but it was a filling of strawberry jam that had the them proclaiming their undying love.  Topped with a sprinkle of crunchy raw sugar, the scones bring a lovely bite with a sweet, strawberry finish.

What's on your list for your Valentine this year??

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cantina Steak Burrito.... Fresh and Flavorful

Cantina Steak Burrito cut in half

With Super Bowl 2013 a thing of the past, Monday morning dawned early as the kids readied themselves to get back to school.  It was probably something to do with my three days in the kitchen prepping for our 45 person super party, but the thought of packing lunches left my desire lacking.  Leaving my son with a, "Bring the guys home for lunch and I'll have burritos",  my husband looked at me like I was a little off my rocker.

Seeing his questioning look across the table I assured him, "I got this".  Last week the people at DailyBuzz Food approached me to review Taco Bell's new "Cantina Steak Burrito", and what better audience than a pack of hungry 16 and 17-year old boys?

While I must admit that fast food has been an infrequent stop for me for the last decade or so, Taco Bell and I have a history that takes me back to my college days.  Working nights at a department store after spending a full day at school, Taco Bell fit my budget and the classic Bean Burrito was a way of life.  Filling in with the occasional Crunchy Taco, Taco Bell became my dinner of choice for quite some time during those busy years.

As sometimes happens with good friends, Taco Bell's and my paths have drifted in different directions, and for the last decade or so our relationships has been more akin to distant acquaintances.  However, it was Taco Bell's newest addition, "The Cantina Steak Burrito" and its accompanying description of a burrito "filled with flavorful ingredients including citrus-herb marinated steak, premium Latin rice, flavorful black beans, guacamole made from real Hass avocados, roasted corn and pepper salsa, and creamy cilantro dressing all wrapped in a warm flour tortilla" that caught my attention.

Cantina Steak Burrito ingredients

Created by Chef Lorena Garcia, the passion put into the recipe is obvious in her videos found on the Taco Bell site"Born and raised in Venezuela, Chef Lorena Garcia credits gatherings with family and friends as a major career inspiration. Traveling to, and working in, places like France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Thailand, China, and the United States further honed Lorena’s cooking style and sensibilities. After establishing herself as a successful restaurateur and television host, Lorena brought her own personal “sazón” to Taco Bell® through our brand-new Cantina Bell™ Menu."  (credit, Taco Bell) 

Spending my post Super Bowl morning relaxing over a cup of coffee and the morning paper, I actually sent my husband to Taco Bell to pick up the burritos for the boys, and was greeted with "What do you have for us?" as the hungry pack swept into the kitchen.  Passing out the burritos, the boys sat around the outside table enjoying the mid-day San Diego sun, and I loved hearing their conversation travel from topic to topic as they polished off Taco Bell's latest offering.

As with teenage boys, not much of the conversation revolved around the food, but when asked their thoughts on the burritos I received rounds of thumbs up and happy smiles.  Making their way back to their cars it was Sam's comment of, "Same time tomorrow?" that had my heart, and off they went.

Overall conclusions...
Avocado Half, Liv Life Logo
  • Teenage boy friendly?    Without a doubt
  • Mom and Dad friendly?   Yes
  • Bang for the buck?          Yep!  At around $5/burrito we call this budget friendly
  • Convenience factor?        Very convenient - good for busy nights
  • Size?                                Huge - I couldn't eat the whole thing
  • Fresh ingredients?           Yes, with actual chunks of avocado (you all know how much I love avocado...) the fresh guacamole was my favorite part.
  • Nutrition?  The sodium and calorie content being a bit high for my everyday consumption, this is a busy night and occasional fast food stop.  But the high dose of protein meets my picky approval.
Happy to have crossed paths after with my old friend after all these years, Taco Bell and I might not be quite as close as we once were back when I was in college, but we certainly won't be strangers anymore.  For those occasional busy nights when dance rehearsals or school activities run till long after the sun has set, the restaurant drive through makes this quick dinner easy on a busy mom, and with the burritos holding lean steak, rice, beans and a decent dose of fresh guacamole, the Cantina Steak Burrito works for me.

And on a side note... did you see the Taco Bell Super Bowl Ad?  I agree.... 
"Liv" Mas!!

This post is sponsored by Taco Bell. See how great our steak is when you try the new Cantina Steak Burrito. Because when it comes to a great steak burrito, it's all about the steak.