Friday, March 29, 2013

Ten Treats and Temptations for your Easter (or any!) Special Dinner

While I love the baking and cooking that comes with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, it's Easter and springtime holidays that really have my heart.  Markets overflowing with the beginnings of our spring crops boast tables filled with ripe strawberries and fragrant citrus.  With flavors so fresh, your meal brings happiness to any special day.

Today we bring you some of our favorite spring treats.  Bright with flavor and perfect for any holiday table, let us know if you give any of them a try, we love hearing your thoughts and experiences.

Liv Life's 10 Treats and Temptations for Spring and Easter
(Click the titles to go directly to original post with recipes!)

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...

Simply filled with baby spinach, fresh orange and onion, the salad is dressed with a bright orange vinaigrette that whips together in a flash.
Spiked with pure espresso grounds and Kahlua, the coffee flavors complement the rich chocolate filling along with flavors of pure orange from the juice and peel.

Easier than it looks, this salmon is perfect for an everyday dinner or a special holiday table.

Expect "Bold" and enjoy the tracings of zest and fresh juices that give this gelato its character!

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake gets a flavor boost from sweet strawberries and a splash of Grand Marnier.

Infused with lemon and flavored with oregano and garlic, these skewers will please the whole family.

Better the second day, this luscious lemony cheesecake becomes a spectacular grand finale.

Garden fresh ingredients tossed with Cannellini Beans and a lemony vinaigrette give you a side salad in a matter of minutes.

A new favorite this season, these beauties have been requested for our Easter Table.

What's on  your holiday table??  Happy Spring 2013!!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Asian Fried Quinoa... A Book Club Post

Asian Fried Quinoa in blue bowl with sriracha and teaI don't gush all that often... you know, the "OMG you have to try this, this recipe is the most awesome ever! type of gushing. But I am now.

Guy Fieri's Asian Fried Quinoa is one of the best, most awesome, totally fabulous recipes I've had in a long timeAnd I've had a lot of good recipes in the last few years, so that's saying something.

Taking a turn in Kita's (Pass the Sushi - you do know her, right?), new Pass the Sushi Cook Book Club, Guy Fieri Food: Cookin' It, Livin' It, Lovin' It received Kita's nod for the month of March and she curated three recipes for the rest of us to choose from.  (Kita's idea is to challenge ourselves to use some of the much loved but often forgotten cookbooks lining our overflowing shelves...)

Cick here to join the club!!
I'll admit to being somewhat skeptical as I originally read the recipe.  First of all, I don't fry... anything.  So I almost didn't continue and gave thought to moving on to the enticing Cherry Cobbler Pizza.  However, glancing down an ingredient list sporting all my favorite Asian flavors mixed up in one bowl (soy sauce, ginger, egg, veggies, garlic, etc) along with my beloved quinoa, I opted to give it a go.

Asian Fried Quinoa in blue bowl with chop sticks
A bit laborious in the prep, the dish flies together once the ingredients are ready.  Never one to leave a recipe as it is, my version substituted chopped spinach in place of the cabbage and bok choy (because I didn't have them on hand), and omitted the celery (because I don't really like celery).  Looking to add a little extra spice, a splash of Sriracha brought a nice finish, and Liv's love of sesame oil had me adding a Tbs or so just for her.

I think it may be the fresh ginger which brings this dish to a new level of total awesomeness, and after only one taste I knew we had a winner.  Popping over to Kita's Facebook page I posted my enthusiastic thoughts on the recipe, and while I used glowing (but probably fairly boring) terms like, awesome, and loved it, etc, Jen from Juanita's Cocina summed my thoughts up perfectly with:

"Holy crapballs!  This is delicious on a level that made my eyes roll back in my head."

Enough said...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Strawberries and Cream Crepes - A Food Photography Challenge

Strawberries and Cream Crepes, chocolate and vanilla versions

Every once in a while one needs to "call in sick" just because.  Because... well, how can you enjoy a sick day if you are really sick?  And, with schedules crazy as they are, sometimes a day off is just what the doctor ordered.

Liv will be starting high school next year and we all know how the attendance record tightens up with the more intense pre-college workload.  As such, I'm savoring these last few months of middle school with my girl where taking an occasional day off hasn't been an issue in her straight A grade record.

After waking to the sun instead of the alarm, Liv and I sauntered down to the kitchen which at this later wakeup time glowed with morning sunlight.  Asking her where her breakfast desires led her she immediately exclaimed, "Crepes!"

Making a Chocolate Crepe with Strawberries and Cream
Since discovering crepes a few years ago Liv has learned to swirl crepe batter into ever so thin, perfectly cooked crepes which she occasionally whips up on her own as an after school treat.  And with this month's Inspired Plate Food Photography and Styling Challenge prompt of "Breakfast" looming on the horizon, crepes became my subject of choice.

Choosing between our old faithful vanilla crepe batter and a new Giada chocolate version became too much for our sleepy minds making the decision of both the perfect choice.  Alton Brown taught us years ago to pulse the crepe batter in a blender and then allow it to rest for about an hour for easier to handle crepes, and we've been following his advice ever since.  Tried and true, you can't go wrong with his recipe and process.

Giada's recipe didn't recommend resting the batter, but we gave it a good half hour anyway as we've been so please with Alton's advice.  Adding 1/4 cup of cocoa powder gave the crepes that extraordinary chocolate look, and these beauties cooked up just as nicely as the others.

Filling them, though, is where Liv's and my opinions differed slightly.  With strawberry season is in full swing here in San Diego, the sweet, perfectly ripe, organic berries in the fridge seemed the perfect choice, and what better than a luscious, lemon-laced creamy base for those sweet berries?  Served on either the chocolate or the vanilla crepes, the combination proved almost heavenly, and indeed, the perfect cure for our "sick" day.

Crepes with rainbow sprinkles or jimmies
While Liv enjoyed the Strawberries and Cream, she had ideas of her own, which usually tend to directly oppose mine.  Thinking the berries added just a touch of healthiness to the low in fat and protein enhanced crepes (they contain eggs) I didn't feel guilty for the breakfast splurge.  Liv, however, felt no need for health with her Powdered Sugar Sprinkle version that she lovingly created as my back was turned.  Making me proud that she thought to shoot her version with the already set up set, I returned from a quick dog walk to find a powdery plate with the remnants of rainbow sprinkles sitting in the middle of my set.

Whichever version you choose, Breakfast Crepes are sure to chase away any lingering blues.  For more incredible "Breakfast" Photography, please make your way through our Inspired Plate blog circle.  First up,  Jayme Franklin, a Bay Area Food Photographer with her beautiful breakfast photos.

Strawberries and Creme Crepes on a plate, chocolate and vanilla crepes

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spinach Salad with Orange Vinaigrette and Prosciutto

Spinach Salad Dressed with Orange Vinaigrette

As spring unfolds her wings here in San Diego my yard is stretching its chilly limbs towards the warming sun.  Rose bushes are bursting with new growth, bulbs are nearly ready to bloom, and my orange tree is sending off scents of heaven with its fresh, new blossoms.  We haven't, however, finished the sweet crop of oranges from last season and these beauties need to come off the tree.   As such, most of our meals of late include orange in some sort of fashion and this fresh, flavorful spinach salad has recently become a favorite.

Simply filled with baby spinach, oranges and onion, the salad is dressed with a bright orange vinaigrette that whips together in a flash.  Using fresh squeezed orange juice is always a treat, and combining balsamic, honey and garlic brings a sweet yet savory complement to the spinach.  Prosciutto sprinkled on top adds that salty "pow" that keeps you heading back for more and chopped fresh orange segments bring you right back to the bright sweetness.

From San Diego to you... Happy Spring!

Spinach Salad dressed with Orange

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pasta with Prosciutto and Parmesan

Bowl of pasta with Parmesan, Prosciutto and Spinach

Nothing says comfort like pasta, beautiful carb-loaded pasta.  As a teen, pasta was my ingredient of choice making its way into my meals nearly every day.  Drenched in tomatoes or a cheesy, creamy sauce, it didn't matter, just so long as the base was my beloved pasta.

As some of you may know though, entering your 40's causes the body to process ingredients, shall we say, differently.  Where I could eat pasta all day, every day (even tossing in a glorious side of butter drenched garlic bread) and not gain a pound in my 20's, that same load of carbs now tends to hang around my not so bikini ready middle.

As such, pasta and I have not remained as close as we once were.  Now an occasional treat in place of an everyday ingredient, I choose my pasta dishes with care.  But once in a while nothing will do other than a bowl full of fresh pasta simply adorned with cheese.  To make myself feel less guilty I add spinach, or sometimes mushrooms and sautéed onions to justify an extra scoop.

Whichever way you choose, sometimes beautiful Parmesan Pasta is just a necessary part of your day.

Bowl of pasta with Parmesan, Prosciutto and Spinach

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Candy Cookies

I'm not much of a betting person, but how awesome is it to win a bet and receive a big plate of my favorite crunchy peanut butter cookies??  I'll admit to feeling slightly guilty receiving them as the terms of the bet left me certain that the bet would turn my way, and taking them from a sweet 13-year old girl had me thinking I'd better return the favor.

Vanners flies on the stage!
You may remember Vanners from our Sleepover Tips video.  Part of Liv's dance team, I've grown to love her along with many of the other girls almost like my own.  She beamed as she presented me the plate of my favorite PB cookies that she had researched and made herself, and our conversation turned to other favorite ingredients.  Her mention of M&M cookies led us to this modified oatmeal, peanut butter M&M version that received glowing reviews from our carpool today.

While Liv loved everything about the cookie with the exception of "You try to make everything healthy by adding oatmeal", Molly and I loved the oatmeal simply for its taste and texture and never gave the "healthy oatmeal" part a second thought.  Morgan gave the cookies an 8+ out of 10 claiming that even though she doesn't usually like oatmeal cookies, she wouldn't have known it was there if Liv hadn't said anything.  Leaving me with hugs, thank yous and the request to bring them anytime, these beauties are definitely on our to keep list and will no doubt make the rounds often.  I can't wait to hear at pick-up tonight what Vanners thinks about the recipe as we've sent a heaping plate her way.

Filled with that "healthy oatmeal", these thick, chewy cookies boast handfuls of chunked chocolate along with butterscotch chips which perfectly complement the peanut butter M&M eggs that are currently in our stores as we anticipate Easter.  All combining nicely with the creamy peanut butter, these cookies will most certainly fit the bill if you are ever needing to fulfill a bet.

Peanut Butter Cookies filled with chocolate and butterscotch chips and pb candies on a plate

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Secret Ingredient Mixed Berry Smoothie

Mixed Berry Smoothie in Ocean Spray Glass
For the last few weeks my life has been that of a Dance Mom.  Lucky for me, my Dance Mom world is unlike the popular reality show and fills my days with love and the most amazing support as all of us moms work together to get our girls on stage.

Hours have been spent applying glittery rhinestones, sewing elastic bands and embellishments on hats, shopping for the perfect color socks and hair pieces, and planning menus that will fuel the girls for their moments in the spotlight.

While shopping for and creating the costume items is indeed time consuming, I know the job will get done.  It's getting the proper foods into the girls that requires actual skill.  The intense rehearsals and competitions that these talented girls participate in place them firmly into the athlete category, and their bodies need to be fed as such.

As the girls come off the stage, moms can be heard coaxing water, fruits, and proteins.  Dehydration causes cramping and with the energy exerted the girls can quickly find themselves short on water and fuel.  However, Liv tells me that eating after just getting off the stage and getting ready to go right back on leaves her stomach a bit off, but sipping something seems to work well.

Our girls in action!
Enter the smoothie.  Care needs to be taken though, that the chosen smoothie is filled with healthy ingredients and not topped off with ice creams and/or refined sugars.  Hence we frequently make our own so we can control the ingredients.

With an invitation from DailyBuzz Food to try and review Ocean Spray's Diet Cranberry Juice coinciding with last weekend's Competition Showcase, I took the opportunity to bring a version of Ocean Spray's Mixed Berry Smoothie to the performance.  Cranberry has been a favorite of my kids since they were little, and with 1 cup bringing 100% of the recommended daily value for Vitamin C, it has earned a spot in our smoothie ingredient list, however the full juice version can pack a caloric punch.

Using the Diet version, Liv's smoothie brings fewer sugars, and filling in with protein filled, low fat vanilla bean yogurt and a rainbow of frozen mixed berries and mango even more vitamins are added to the mix.  Missing in my rainbow though was the color green.  But that was an easy fix!

Mixed Berry Smootie collage
Adding the spinach can be your little secret...
Long ago I discovered that my kids don't really care for green foods.  I'm not sure if it's the taste, or simply the color, but more often than not any green foods served on the plate stayed right there... on the plate.  However, sneaky mom that I am, I've tried angle after angle to get the green in and I've discovered that spinach in a smoothie is nearly undetectable if blended properly.  Adding a simple handful of organic baby spinach to a smoothie brings a multitude of vitamins and minerals including a decent dose of calcium which the bones in each of these strong dancers can use.

Packing our smoothie on ice did the trick for Liv's 12 hour dance-filled Sunday.  She sipped her fruits and spinach while chomping on a few almonds, and her energy-filled performance brought tears to my proud eyes.  Together with her teammates, the girls put on a dazzling show showcasing their skill and talent leaving us Dance Moms beaming with pride.
Mixed Berry Popsicles

Monday, March 4, 2013

Orange Mango Sunshine Smoothie

Orange Mango Smoothie with KitchenAid Blender

"Mom... can you make that to go?"  This request seems to come more and more often as teenage schedules become busier and busier.  Hence, finding a quick fuel "to go", or one that can easily be eaten on the run, ranks high in my menu plan.

Enter the smoothie.  Filled with vitamin rich fruits and/or veggies, our versions frequently add yogurt for a protein plus bone-building calcium boost as well as all sorts of add-ins including wheat germ, flax meal, protein powder and nuts.

Loving those thick, smooth concoctions we find at the local smoothie store, I've spent the better part of 15 years searching for a powerful blender that won't break the bank or simply just break.  Over the years, blender after blender has raised my hopes only to dash those same hopes when my frozen smoothie ingredients bring the blender motor to a grinding stop complete with yucky electrical aromas.

KitchenAid Blender Panel
Enter Sandy, the KitchenAid Dream Blender.   Well, to be exact her professional title is the "KitchenAid 5-Speed Blender with BPA-Free Pitcher", but Liv prefers to call ours "Sandy".  I'm not sure why our Tangerine colored blender received the name Sandy, but Liv now asks, "Mom... would you have Sandy whip me up a smoothie please?"

Though my ever growing smoothie repertoire includes a rainbow of variations (another recipe coming in our next post), the family favorite always returns to this original version of the first smoothie I ever made.  A few basic ingredients made even more handy with the seasonal oranges off of our backyard tree, the Orange Mango Sunshine Smoothie packs a powerful Vitamin C punch.  Topped off with a small carton of vanilla bean yogurt, a handful of frozen mango chunks and half of a frozen banana, this smoothie simply oozes sunshine in every sip.

Orange Mango Smoothie ingredients in a KitchenAid Blender
And with Sandy on the job, blending our sunny frozen concoction is as simple as pushing one of the blender's easy to clean buttons.  Over the last few weeks we've put this blender to the test pureeing soups, mixing salad dressings, blending the perfect frozen margarita, and whipping up numerous thick, frozen smoothies.  Not once has the motor groaned in protest or given off an overworked electrical smell.  Not once has the blade ground to a halt, and not once have we had a chunky smoothie that doesn't flow through a straw.

It may have taken 15 years, but I've finally found a blender that works and won't empty your wallet in the process.  Thanks KitchenAid for suggesting the perfect blender for my kitchen and for sending Sandy to our home.

Orange Mango Smoothie with oranges in background