Monday, May 27, 2013

Grilled Tomatillo Mango Salsa - A Food Photography Challenge

Usually I'm pretty darn good at following rules.  A traffic light turns yellow?  I almost always stop.  No glass outside by the pool?  Nope, we never do that.  Cross the street at the corner?  Yep, I follow that one too.

However, for this month's Inspired Plate Food Photography and Styling Challenge though, I think I have to give myself a fail.  Our challenge this month of "Herbs, with a clean/messy added element" had me actually failing twice.

Looking at my schedule lately, I think I can explain it all away with "I've got too much on my mind", or maybe it's simply a lack of attention to detail.  Or perhaps this little image sums it up:

In any case, I finished my first (notice I said first...) shoot nearly two weeks early.  So proud I actually completed a project ahead of time and that the photos turned out worthy of a photography challenge, I loved my empty bowl with just the last bits of Coconut Avocado Frozen Yogurt swirled at the bottom to complete the "messy" portion of the shoot.  The spoon was set just so, perfectly balancing off of the ingredients that I had scattered around the shot.

Checking the due date of this project I happened to notice the word "Herbs" right at the top. With not an herb to be found in my frozen yogurt, I scooped myself a bowl and returned to my recipe file to find something filled with herbs.

Last weekends dinner with Mom and Dad proved the perfect opportunity to fire up the grill, and our Grilled Tomatillo Mango Salsa paired with the grilled Mahi-Mahi beautifully.  Cleaning up the kitchen before Mom and Dad got here I was happy that all the dishes were done, the fish ready to grill, the salad prepped and the dessert in the freezer (that was the Fabulous Frozen Margarita Lime Pie we posted earlier this week).

Setting down at the computer with the extra time I had before they arrived I glanced at our challenge prompt and once again my heart sunk once again with failure.  Messy element... well now that the kitchen was all clean and ready for guests the messy wasn't going to happy.  As such I'm settling for this sort of messyish shot of the before of the tomatillos.

Arriving in a papery husk, I've found many of my friends somewhat intimidated by the green fruit.  Tomatillo Salsas, with their slightly sweet flavor, are many times not as hot as other salsas.  (Take care to take a small test bite first though, as you just never know.).  As the tomatillos arrive somewhat firm, I like to grill mine, giving them a richer flavor and a preferable (for me) texture.

A ripe mango on the counter proved to be the perfect complement to the grilled tomatillos, onions and small piece of serrano chili, while also bringing a nice color element to the bowl.  Served alone with tortilla chips or as a topping for a piece of grilled fish, you most likely won't have this salsa around long.  All the better to return to the kitchen for that lost messy shot...

Please join me as we make our way around the Inspired Plate blog circle.  First up, we head to Australia to visit Sabrina Wong a Perth Food Photographer with her photography challenge shots.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Frozen Margarita Lime Pie

Frozen Margarita Lime Pie

Say the word "Margarita" and you have my attention.  A self-proclaimed margarita snob, I like my margarita tart and strong with a heavy dose of lime.  Being somewhat particular, I've been known to send drinks back time and again when they boast only a sweet, somewhat limey and no tequila flavor.  With some 25+ years of margarita experience, I finally know what I like.

And what I like more than the drink itself just may be this Frozen Margarita Lime Pie.  Going against all of my rules, this pie is creamy, somewhat sweet with only a very, very faint hint of tequila (and that might only be because I doubled the ingredient in my pie...).  It does however bring a fabulous lime punch that brings a smile of approval to my face and makes the most perfect summer dessert.

Taking part in the ever popular Pass the Cook Book Club (where we reach to use the sometimes neglected cookbooks already on our shelves, or at least on Kita's shelf), Kita has once again chosen a winner, and another one that I personally don't have on my shelf but after trying this recipe I just might have to buy.  Slushed!: More Than 150 Frozen, Boozy Treats for the Coolest Happy Hour Ever, by Jessie Cross, boasts an Amazon bargain price of under $6.78 (that's under 5¢ a recipe!) and if this Frozen Margarita Pie is a sign of the rest of the book, I'm sold.

Using low-fat cream cheese in my version, no one was any the wiser and my calorie guilt reduced.  The addition of lime juice and zest (we did add a little lemon too) brought a wonderful margarita flavor that combined beautifully with the little bit of tequila and Grand Marnier.  Reminiscent of a cheesecake, I actually preferred the pie a bit less frozen, though others liked the fresh from the freezer texture.

Definitely a keeper, this recipe will be making the rounds this summer everywhere we need to bring a dish.  Thanks Kita!  (I just ordered the book...)

Frozen Margarita Lime Pie

Monday, May 20, 2013

Coconut Avocado Frozen Yogurt

We meet under the cover of darkness.  At the agreed upon time he arrives, dimming his headlights as he slides his car easily next to mine - always backing in, never front first.  My heart races ever so slightly with anticipation as I step from my car casually checking over my shoulder looking for the others.  After a quick hug in greeting he asks, "You're sure you want that many?" to which I respond without hesitation, "Yes... Absolutely yes.".

Taking my favorite reuseable bag from the back seat, I make my way to the back of his car and he opens the lift to reveal the goods.  A gasp escapes me as I take in the bounty.

At this moment LeRoy arrives with his bag quickly followed by Todd.  We all share the excitement as Pablo pulls buckets from the back and tells us to take as much as we'd like.  And we do.  Probably more than we need, but I know my neighbors will be happy.

Some  perfectly ripe, others set to be ready in 3-5 days, I gather the beautiful green orbs as LeRoy and Todd do the same.  All the while Pablo takes handful after handful and passes them out to other moms in the parking lot.

Over the years, I don't think I've ever been so thankful for a friend's job.  You see, Pablo works in an area of Temecula, CA that has access to my obsession... the beautiful and healthy California avocado.  Allowed to gather the ones he finds on the ground, the recent Santa Ana winds have dropped an abundance that would end up going to waste, and hence, Pablo has been keeping all of us Dance Moms and Dads happy with the extra fruits of his labor as we meet for dance pick-up on Thursday nights.

With my avocado bowl overflowing, I've searched high and low for avocado recipes and have been enjoying avocados in more ways than I ever knew possible.  Today's special concoction?  A delightful Coconut Avocado Frozen Yogurt.

Pale green in color, the exceptionally creamy - yet low in fat - dessert uses low-fat coconut milk as a base in combination with my favorite, tart Greek yogurt and two perfectly ripe avos.  The citrus zest of limes and lemons brings a bright burst of flavor making this dessert a tropical treat.  Not exceptionally sweet, this froyo may not be a favorite with the kids, but it did the trick for me.

Here's hoping those winds keep blowing.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Clusters

Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Clusters
Shhh... don't tell Liv and her friends, but I made them chocolate clusters from their favorite Peanut Butter Granola for last weekend's dance competition.  Protein packed with peanut butter and filled with rolled oats, these crunchy clusters were the perfect snack to fuel them during those quick changes before they had to run back on stage.

Well, let me rephrase.  They would have been the perfect snack... if I hadn't eaten them all in the days before the event.

I had good intentions, really I did.  I prepped on Friday making the Peanut Butter Granola.  Low in fat and nutritionally boosted with egg whites and ground flax meal, the girls never really know that it's good for them and always ask for more.

Going for something special, I coated the granola with melted dark chocolate and the spread it out to set.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?)  Liv was at dance rehearsals, and I thought I should try one of the clusters.  You know, just to make sure it tasted OK.  So I did.  And then I did again, and then I did almost every time I walked by.

Saturday came, and luckily I still had plenty of the clusters to pack for our dance event on Sunday.  But, as the day wore on, I may have eaten more than my fair share.

Come Sunday morning  as I packed our food for the day, I realized I really didn't have enough of the clusters left to share, so I left the few remaining pieces home.  On Monday I finished them off realizing I hadn't shared them with anyone.

Hence, I have no recommendations from any of the dance girls or my fellow dance moms.  No one in my family had a try, and there's none left for for anyone to taste.  I'm thinking I might make more for them.  I only hope they actually get some this time...

Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Clusters

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Vanilla Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate

Writing a food blog comes with benefits.  Food, invitations, packages in the mail... it's all good.  What I've come to value most though, are the relationships I've formed with readers and bloggers all over the world.  This post is dedicated to two of my special blog friends, Jean, from Lemons and Anchovies, and Christiane, from Taking on Magazines.

First off, without Jean and a random instagram post a few months back this post would not have happened.  Perusing Instagram one evening I stumbled across a photo of a few cookbooks she was catching up on.  The one entitled "Pure Vanilla" jumped right off the page and immediately into my Amazon cart... all in the name of research, of course.  Many thanks to Jean for increasing my cookbook collection with her fabulous recommendation!

Arriving in the mail a few days later, Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques, by Shauna Sever, proved indeed to be purely exceptional and too good not to share.

Filled with an eye opening history of vanilla along with interesting vanilla lore, this book boasts gorgeous photos of many of its recipes making one want to run immediately to the kitchen and prepare each and every one of them.  With chapters covering Breakfasts, Cakes and Pies, Cookies and Bars, Candies and Confections, Custards and Creams and last but not least Drinks, just about all areas of vanilla use are featured.  Recipe after recipe caught my eye, but it was the Salted Vanilla Chip Oatmeal Cookies that sent me to the kitchen.

Here's where my friend Christiane comes in.  Believe it or not, Christiane is not a fan of chocolate.  I know, I know... who doesn't like chocolate?  But since her blog pumps out fabulous recipe after fabulous recipe (even though most don't include chocolate) combined with the fact that she is extraordinarily witty, super supportive and ever so nice, I've let the chocolate thing slide.

Once Liv tasted these beyond awesome Vanilla Oatmeal Cookies she said, "Hey Mom, I bet the lady who doesn't like chocolate would love these!".  And I think she's right.  As such, these Vanilla Dreams are dedicated across the country to Christiane, who I wish lived a little closer so we could actually share a plate with Jean over a cup of coffee.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Grilled Artichokes with Balmamic Vinaigrette

Grilled Artichokes with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Ready for basting, then the grill
Telling Liv that part of her dinner tonight was a "thistle", I received a raised eyebrow followed by a quizzical, "Seriously?  Um... No... I'm not eating a thistle.".  She did though, and she asked for more.

Believed to have originated in North Africa, we can thank the Mediterranean regions of Southern Europe for the cultivation of this partially edible flower head.   While the thorns and outer leaves give the artichoke a somewhat menacing look, it's the inner heart that chefs and diners covet.

Artichokes at the Market
Boiled or steamed, the heart becomes tender and a beautiful canvas for dips and vinaigrettes.  When I was little my mom served our artichokes with a dollop of mayo, but the past few years have introduced me to a variety of dips and cooking methods, all bringing different flavors to that canvas.

Tonight, our version included basting with a balsamic vinaigrette along with a finish on the grill.  Boiled until tender, the artichokes is then cooled until cool enough to handle and cut in half.  Brushed with a balsamic, olive oil and garlic vinaigrette, the artichokes are placed, cut side down, on the grill for just a few minutes.  Flipping them reveals those lovely grill marks as an aroma of garlic wafts past.

Served with a side of vinaigrette, the artichokes serve up tender, flavorful, and worthy of seconds.  What's your favorite artichoke recipe??

Grilled Artichokes with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Grilled Corn Salad with Avocado, Tomato and Lime

Grilled Corn Salad with Avocado, Tomato and Lime

Driving our carpool to dance the other day one of the girls asked, "Mrs. Kelly... if you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?"  Without hesitation I described a tropical island complete with graceful palm trees swaying in the afternoon breeze, a hammock strung between them and a view of sea turtles and dolphins frolicking in the crystal clear turquoise waters.  Back in the present time, Molly gazed at me, somewhat perplexed, and then asked, "But what about winter?  Don't you want snow and seasons?".  Nope... I'm good without.

I think Molly was a little shocked when I explained that life without snow, temps below 65º and sweaters was indeed my little paradise.  I can't remember a time when I wasn't dreaming about that tropical island and the fresh, summer foods that would come along with it.

My summer garden, or at least the summer garden I shop from at my local Farmer's Markets, providing endless fresh, local and bursting with flavor foods, is indeed my favorite time of year.  All winter (and I really can't complain about cold here in San Diego) I crave the brilliant heirloom tomatoes, freshly picked corn and the plethora of herbs that grow along with them.

Grilled corn cut from the cob

Hence, when my last visit to Trader Joe's provided a crate of fresh corn in early May, I pounced on a bagful of ears and promptly popped them on my grill.  Grilling brings out even more sweetness in the already sweet corn, and tossing my grilled corn with the first of the market's cherry tomatoes and some of the avocado left on my doorstep by a good friend, I had summer in my bowl.

Leaning back in my chair I closed my eyes and my heart soared just a little as the dolphins and turtles smiled back at me.

Grilled Corn Salad with Avocado, Tomato and Lime

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Biscoff Biscotti

Biscoff Biscotti on white plate

Mom's aren't supposed to get sick.  It's a fact.  Kids can get sick and moms take care of them.  Dads get sick, the mom takes care of them too.  Even neighbors can get sick and moms help out with shopping or meals or a little treat to ease them on the road to recovery.  But moms They aren't supposed to get sick.

For the last 3 weeks, however, those sick "bugs" haven't been listening to my "moms don't get sick" mantra, and this mom has been sick.  Many thanks to those who left cold and flu remedies on our facebook page as well as for the well wishes that have come from all over the world.  My family has helped out as much as they could with laundry, dishes, etc.  But when it came to meals, my poor family has been stuck with Rubio's or the freezer.  Actually my 16-year old son has been happy as a clam with his frozen burrito bachelor life, and Liv has enjoyed sandwiches and salads from the deli next to the dance studio.  My husband luckily found himself on the road, away from all the germs and frozen foods, and I have been picking at whatever has been easy to put together.

Nutella Biscotti
Luckily, before the "sick bugs" took over, I had baked a batch of these Biscoff Biscotti based on our Nutella Amazing Race Biscotti.  After watching Biscoff recipe after Biscoff recipe churn through my Facebook Newsfeed, I once again seem to be on the tail end of a food craze.

Taking me a while to figure out that Biscoff Spread was indeed made up of those fabulous little cookies that the kind flight attendants on Delta pass out (they gave me extra on my last flight), I figured what could be better than cookies made of cookies??

Biscotti, with its long lasting shelf life and desirable crunchy bite, have long been a favorite of mine, and substituting Biscoff Spread for Nutella in our favorite biscotti version seemed a natural choice.  I found the dough to be irresistible, and the cookies baked up beautifully.

Not being able to wait until they cooled, my first bite of warm cookie brought a nice biscotti texture, but also a fairly bland cookie.  At first I was slightly disappointed and waited for the sliced and twice baked cookies to cool.  Upon second tasting, the texture brought the familiar fabulous biscotti crunch and crumb with only a hint of the original Biscoff flavor.  I did, however, find myself reaching for a second before turning away.  

Biscoff Biscotti
Putting the cookies away for the night I brought them as a taste test for my carpool girls the next day, and received comments of, "MMm!  Just like a shortbread!", "Can I have more?" and "I give them an 8 out of 10!".  Asking what they thought of the flavor, all three girls said that the flavor was light, like shortbread, but that I was welcome to make them anytime.  Little Maggie from across the street, a certified Biscoff-aholic, claimed them to be "dreamy" and says she's going to be making her own.

I found these little guys grew on me as they "aged" a day or two and developed a taste reminiscent of those little Delta beauties, but that it was the texture that kept me returning.  Days later as my cold/flu raged on, I found the biscotti to be the perfect complement to a soothing cup of hot Green Tea or my morning cup of coffee (which my husband kindly prepared for me!).

Perfect a day or two after baking and with a long shelf life, these Biscoff Biscotti are somewhat bland, but bring a nice bite when in need of a little pick me up.  Ideal for those days when Mom is a little under the weather.

Biscoff Biscotti