Monday, July 29, 2013

Pickled Jalapeños - A Seasonal Food Photography Challenge

Pickled Jalapeños

Peter Piper picked a peck of Pickled Jalapeños... and goodness are they spicy!!  Just like my husband likes them.

With this month's Inspired Plate Food Photography and Styling Challenge bringing the subject of "Seasonal", my garden directed my choice of ingredient.  A spontaneous decision to pick up a cute little jalapeño plant at the farmers' market a few months ago has brought forth more spicy peppers than I can handle this summer season.  Turning a stunning red on the vine, pickling seemed to be the proper avenue to avoid wasting.

Pickled Jalapeños
Enter the amazing Bobby Flay and his Pickled Jalapeño recipe from one of my all time favorite books, Grilling For Life.  Quick and easy, I forwent any formal canning procedures and made a smaller refrigerator batch which Bobby says will stay fresh in the fridge for about 2 weeks.  However, with the taste of these beauties, I don't think we'll be testing the 2 week deadline any time soon, and with the ease of this recipe I will most likely have a new batch even sooner.

With just a few ingredients and 24 hours to marinate, these jalapeños add a delightful kick to eggs, nachos, tacos, and whatever else you would like to bring a little spice to.  Pretty and colorful in cute jars, they also make a wonderful hostess gifts or simply a spicy treat to share the wealth of the season with neighbors.

And now won't you join me as we travel the world with our Inspired Plate Blog Circle??  To start, follow me just 30 miles up the road here in Southern California to Laurie Vangoechea, a beautiful friend and one of the most talented photographers I know.

Pickled Jalapeños

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Plain Restaurant-like Pancakes

Plain Pancakes

"Mom... why do our pancakes always have to be healthy?  Can't we for once just have plain pancakes??  You know, like the big white ones at restaurants?"  Such were the questions Liv posed a few mornings ago as we discussed breakfast.

When my son was a baby he lived on pancakes, and over the years I've learned to stuff just about every sort of nutrient possible into those beloved circles of batter.  Pumpkin, with its pie-like spiciness, has always been a favorite (and filled with Vitamin A).  Our buttermilk version included rolled oats (lots of fiber) and even my most decadent version, the one served with the warm maple glaze, is made with whole wheat flour and bananas (potassium and grains covered here).  Fruits of all sorts tend to find their way into the pancakes (Blueberry anyone??) and nuts are a frequent partner.

Plain Pancakes
Instagram shot
Back to Liv's request for plain restaurant pancakes, and my head filled with visions of packaged pancake mixes (not that there's anything wrong with that) and a plate of few nutrients.  On occasion?  Not a problem.

Referring to a basic recipe from Martha Stewart, I glanced at the ingredients of white flour, granulated sugar and lots of butter and began reaching into the pantry.  Somehow my spelt flour came out along with the white flour and my favorite orange blossom honey happened to replace my grasp for the sugar.  1/4 cup of butter?  It seemed a generous tablespoon would cover that, and then I might also have added a little flax meal.

Stirring the ingredients together, Liv smiled as I asked her to put the all-purpose flour away (I had taken care of the spelt and flax) and she proceeded to give herself a generous pour of maple syrup into her favorite pitcher.  Asking for plate sized pancakes, like the restaurant, in place of the smaller sized that I normally do, these beauties puffed up stunningly and had the kitchen smelling like breakfast in no time flat.

Serving up a plate-sized double stack, my girl smiled that, "Oh my goodness I can't believe she made plain restaurant pancakes!" smile, and proceeded to clean her plate.  She didn't oppose the banana and walnut topping, and proclaimed these pancakes even better than her favorite plain restaurant versions.

I gave her a hug as I tossed another one onto her plate and my heart grew just a little knowing that my girl likes healthier things... she just doesn't know it.

Plain Pancakes

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Coconut Banana Ice Cream

Rich and creamy with a taste of the tropics... it was on the menu for breakfast this morning, and with its low-fat calorie count, my nearly bikini ready waistline didn't care.  I must preface that we don't usually have ice cream for breakfast, but the lovely morning light streaming in my window creating an almost perfectly lit photo shoot left me with a semi-soft bowl of photographed ice cream.  And, it was fabulous.

Dairy free for my lactose intolerant family, those bananas stacking up in my freezer were put to good use.  Trader Joe's Light Coconut Milk replace the heavy cream but didn't lose any of the luscious creaminess.

A delicate swirl of melted dark chocolate hardened in the frozen concoction bringing a bite to each taste, and a topping of crunchy coconut flakes had me swooning.

With visions of tropical locales spinning through my head, I just may put this delight on the menu for breakfast more often.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Lemon and Kale Ice

Lately, I'm all about lemons.  Apparently, my beloved flavor enhancer also packs a health benefit punch seeming to make it somewhat of a superstar.

As far back as Ancient Egypt, people have been juicing lemons to boost immunity, fight infection, aid digestion and cleanse the liver.  The Egyptians actually used the lemon's ability to flush toxins from the body as a protection against poison, but side benefits include potential wrinkle reduction (due to Vitamin C and antioxidants), mood enhancement and fresher breath.

Lemons, with their high doses of pectin fiber, can also create a more "full" feeling, hence, perhaps aiding in weight loss.  Containing significant amounts of potassium, calcium, folate, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, magnesium and copper, my little flavor enhancer really is doing me good.

With lemon water a part of my daily morning routine, choosing the Cleansing Lemon Kale Ice from Cheeky's menu last week while in Palm Springs (a MUST visit if you are in town) was a tempting decision, but the kale ingredient held me back.  However, Dance Dad Pablo (we were in town for the girl's National Dance Competition), ordered the concoction and when his first sip brought forth gushing reviews, the rest of the table soon followed in kind.

Sweet, clean, citrusy, and filled with health benefits, this Lemon Kale Ice went down easily on our 118º day.  With promises from the server that this drink could be easily made at home, I carefully copied the ingredients and promptly played with the proportions when we got home.

Sweetened with pure maple syrup, this drink boasts a rich flavor along with the clean brightness of the lemon.  Not really a kale fan, I admit to concern as to what the green would add, but other than color I didn't detect any "green" flavors and simply smiled at the added nutrients.

While I may not be protecting myself from Egyptian Poison, I'll take every other lemon benefit mentioned.  But in reality?  It's all about the flavor.  Bright and pure, lemon is my happy way to start the day.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Coconut Mango Granola... it's for Muffin.

Coconut Mango Granola

Angels really do walk among us, but sometimes even they need a little help.

Are you familiar with photographer extraordinaire, Kita of Pass the Sushi and Girl Carnivore??  If not, you should be.  Miss Kita is truly one of those angels.

If my son were a food blog reader I know he'd have a huge crush on Kita as her recipes bring mouthwatering responses to all who view her stunning photos, and her writing will have you smiling as you read along.  But her blogs, fabulous as they are, aren't what make her an angel.

Photo Credit: Kita, Pass the Sushi
You see, Kita is adopting a beautiful pup named Muffin.  Muffin (she's about 5), like many pups, craves belly rubs and really wants to be a lap dog even though she's a tad too big.  She has bright, smiling eyes and is working on loving humans again.

Not too long ago, Muffin was found neglected and abused.  How someone can hurt helpless animals is beyond me, but the pain inflicted on this sweet girl is unbelievable.  I'm not in on the whole story, but I know the raw sores on her face were caused by chemicals thrown on her, and her road to recovery is a long one.  Along with that road comes a mountain of medical bills, and our Angel, Kita, is holding a bake sale to help defray some of the costs.

Muffin is all smiles!  Photo Credit: Kita, Pass the Sushi
Won't you help??

Some of the biggest names in food blogging are participating in this bake sale and you can be the recipient of some of their incredible baked goods.  For example... did you ever want the esteemed Chef Dennis to bake for you?? Here's your chance.  He's bringing Triple Chocolate Fudge Brownies (yes... triple chocolate!) and they can be all yours.  Or have you ever wanted to be In Katrina's Kitchen??  I have, and she's got some fabulous S'more Cereal Treat Bars that I'm not sure I'd want to share.  Care to stay Gluten Free??  Not a problem... Carolyn from All Day I Dream About Food has a divine GF Chocolate Orange Swirl Bread.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Check out this link for a sneak peak to see what's coming to the auction block and be ready swoon.

Here are the details:
At 8AM (EST) July 17th the Muffins for Muffin Bake Sale will start on A list of all donated baked goods and cook books will be shown with information next to them. To bid on an item, you will send an email to kita {at} with the item you are bidding on in the subject line. Minimum bids will start at $15 and all bids after must be $5 higher. Bids will be updated next the item throughout the day, so check back if there is something you are really hoping to win! At the end of bidding, I will email the winning bidders to confirm instructions for payment, and also to retrieve their mailing address for their winnings. Payment will be made via paypal within 24 hours of confirmation (so that I can get your info to the baker asap!). Baked goods will be mailed to winners within one week unless other special arrangements are made or noted.

While Liv Life doesn't have an item up for bid, we did make a granola in Muffin's honor... a wonderfully sweet (just like her) Coconut Mango Granola that Liv dubbed Muffin's Mango Madness - Granola with a Tropical Twist (see below).

Filled with wholesome rolled oats and ground flax meal, the grains are bound together with a brown sugar/coconut oil mixture enhanced with sweet Mango Nectar.  Finished off with a dose of dried mango, slivered almonds and toasted coconut, this granola has the ability to transport you to your favorite tropical place - just imagine those swaying palms and light ocean breezes...

Will we see you at Muffin's Bakesale on July 17th??  I wouldn't miss it!  Help Muffin get the medicine she needs to regain her life with her angel.

Coconut Mango Granola

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Almost Greek Pasta Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Travel... I live for it.  The getting away from home for a few days in addition to getting out of the kitchen brings that relaxation we all need every once in a while.  That said, one of the best parts of traveling is coming home and getting back to food that makes you feel good.  When I'm on the road I tend to disregard some of my regular eating habits (low carb) in favor of "living in the moment" (there's nothing wrong with Brioche French Toast 3 days in a row, is there?), and I find that sometimes I just don't feel right... happy, but not "right".  Hence, as I return from a week in Palm Springs, this month's entry into Wendy, The Weekend Gourmet's, Monthly Salad Bar Club couldn't be more timely.

This month's title of "Potluck Salad" had my mind immediately turning to a creamy Pasta Salad.  Years ago I found the perfect recipe for Traditional Pasta Salad, however my eating habits over time have changed.  Mayo doesn't really enter my diet any longer, and pasta is added more as an enhancement rather than a main feature.

Enter beans and sun-dried tomatoes!  5 years ago I would have turned my nose up at anything sun-dried tomato, but lately I can't get enough of Trader Joe's Sun-dried Tomatoes in Oil.  With a jar always in my pantry, these beauties tend to find their way into all sort of menus, with the latest being this Greek-like version of a potluck pasta salad.

Just a few ingredients toss together quickly for this flavorful side or light lunch, and the addition of spinach, cannellini beans and cucumber add texture as well as nutrition.  Feta brings that lovely saltiness that I love so much, and the sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil have the ingredients melding perfectly in no time.

Wendy... thanks for inspiring me to get back on track with this versatile salad, I'm eager to see what everyone else has brought to the July Salad Bar Potluck.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cheeky's, Palm Springs - Restaurant Review... Best Breakfast in Town!

Croissant Cinnamon Roll from Cheeky's, Palm Springs
Croissant Cinnamon Roll... fresh from the oven.  Can you smell it??!!
Brioche French Toast with Fruit and Marscapone.  Spicy Chilaquiles with Chorizo, Tomatillo and Queso Fresco.  Master Cleanse Ice - Kale, lemon, maple syrup and a touch of cayenne... local, sustainable, organic.

All magic to my ears, and so read the menu at Cheeky's in Palm Springs last week.  Located on North Palm Canyon Dr. in downtown Palm Springs, Cheeky's boasts gorgeous views of the San Jacinto mountains and a lovely patio surrounded by misters for those who don't enjoy the oppressive desert heat (it was 114 the day we visited).  While indoor seating is also available, our 3 mornings were spent on the patio, and even those who don't like heat were comfortable.

Collage of Cheeky's menu items, Palm Springs 2013
With their unique menu and reputation for excellent service, one may expect a decent wait for a table, but in my opinion, the wait is positively worth it.  Situated close to a world-renowned agricultural belt, Cheeky's locally inspired menu changes weekly while serving seasonal, locally grown and preferably organic ingredients (my husband and I shared a serving of organic berries and polished off our plate of juicy black and blue berries surrounded by raspberries and strawberries as our tablemates watched in envy!).

Serving only the highest quality ingredients, Cheeky's batters, sauces and dressings are all housemade, as are the decadent array of pastries, including the insanely irresistible Croissant Cinnamon Rolls (ours were fresh from the oven and gone in mere seconds).

And then the beverages... ranging from a simple fresh squeezed OJ to an unforgettable Cleansing Ice (I had no idea kale could be so good), and on to Fresh Bellini's and a Bloody Mary crowned "The Best Ever" by our party, one can't make a bad choice.

Favorites from our three days of visits included a soft Brioche French Toast topped with pears and peaches and a dollop of luscious marscapone and received top honors from all.  The Bacon Flight, featuring Jalapeño, smoked applewood, Beeler Apple Cinnamon and Brown Sugar and a fantastically delicious Thai Sweet Chili variation, made it to our table all three days, and the somewhat spicy Chilaquiles with Chorizo, Tomatillo and Queso Fresco rounded out our top 3.

Bacon Flight from Cheeky's, Palm Springs
Bacon Flight - Jalapeño, applewood, sweet and Thai Chili.  Awesomeness!
More on the simple side, the Steel Cut Oats with berries, the Greek yogurt with housemade granola and organic berries, and the Breakfast Quesadilla with scrambled eggs, bacon, avocado and green onion, each garnered gushing comments, and the wonderful coffee became a perfect way to start our day.

Master Cleanse Ice, Cheeky's, Palm Springs
Unforgettable Master Cleanse Ice
For me though, I find myself longing for the emerald green Master Cleanse Ice - kale, lemon, maple syrup and a touch of cayenne.  Being somewhat green averse, I only tasted my friend's beverage due to peer pressure, and found myself immediately jumping to find our server, the lovely and extraordinarily patient, Genevieve (pronounced Jon-vee-ev), to order a glass of my own.  Sweet, without being too sweet, and vibrant with lemon, this icy beverage will have me trying to recreate it in my home kitchen, and if I'm successful, it will become a frequent morning treasure.

Open only 8-2 Thursday through Monday and serving breakfast and lunch, make time for Cheeky's when you visit Palm Springs.  Best restaurant I've visited in years.  Now if only they would open in San Diego...  

Liv Life Note:  Cheeky's had no idea we would be writing a review for their restaurant and I paid for my meals in full.  We did not receive anything for writing this review, all opinions are from my friends and myself.  Cheeky's won our hearts!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Grilled Mahi Mahi with Lentils

Learning to fly isn't easy, but I think I'd have to say landing is even harder.

Stepping outside yesterday morning, my eye immediately went to something floating in our pool.  Stepping closer, a baby bird floated, wings outspread, feet dangling with his beak barely above water.  No bigger than a mouse, I scooped him into my hands and nestled him in a soft towel.  And then I held him.

With the towel hopefully soaking up some of the water and the warmth of my hands pushing away his chill, his eyes closed and we sat.  Shortly his body began to tremble, but amazingly his feathers slowly began to puff up and dry.

After some 20 minutes or so, he opened one eye and peered into my staring face, and slowly the trembling subsided.  Feathers drying, he began to look around and uttered a small "cheep".  Closing his one eye he puffed his feathers again and huddled deeper into the towel.  Apparently content.

Then suddenly, his head popped up and an amazingly loud "Cheep!!  Cheep!!  Cheep!" came from his tiny body as a larger version of himself fluttered close by in a tree answering with "cheeps" of her own.  Setting the little baby under the tree his Mama darted close by and I left them alone.  An hour later he was gone, hopefully flying a better course than his first one.

My first (and last!) flight attempt... circa 1992
As for his landing, I totally get it.  You see, some 20 years ago my fighter pilot husband attempted to teach me to fly.  Amazingly caring and patient, he guided me through the basics I had learnt in flight school and we embarked on an adventure north to my parent's house.

Taking off wasn't too difficult, though his guiding hands probably had something to do with that.  And turning right wasn't too difficult either, however left-hand banks somehow caused the wing to dip and a loss in altitude.  Luckily, my husband handled anything on the left.

Then came time to land.  Making right-handed turns into our approach I actually had us decently set up for final.  Following a glide slope that seemed fine to me, we made our way towards Grass Valley with a runway set up on a bluff.   Patting myself on the back I settled in and prepared for the rest of our descent as my husband calmly asked, "Does it bother you that you can no longer see the runway?".

"Nope!" I responded, "Should it?", to which he calmly stated, "My airplane."  And he skillfully took us back up to where we had the runway in sight, something I've learned is fairly important when not preferring to land into the side of a bluff.  ;)

So my little birdie friend and I have something in common.  Flying, and landing, are not some of the easy things in life.

This Grilled Mahi Mahi dish though, is fabulously easy and anyone, experienced or not, will be able to maneuver their way to a fantastic meal with a few simple steps.

Enter Trader Joe's, my all time favorite store.  Always friendly and fun, TJ's also provides quality ingredients that many times work together like magic.

Mixing together Trader Joe's Steamed Lentils, Fresh Bruschetta Sauce and a handful of Mediterranean Feta, these simple ingredients blend into something other worldly, something beyond fantastic and totally gush-worthy.  Adding a piece of grilled mahi to mix serves to make the dish a complete meal and will have your guests asking for your secret recipe.  You can just tell them, it's all in the landing...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Avocados, they're not just for guacamole... An Avocado Love Roundup

Firm, yet yielding to the touch, my knife slides effortlessly into the dark green, almost purplish avocado skin.  Already suspecting that my California Avo is perfectly ripe, the first slice of my knife is all I need to know that this particular avocado will reveal the lovely rich green color I love so much.  Twisting the avo open, my heart always jumps with a little leap of exhilaration as the interior confirms just what I had suspected and brings a beautifully soft, yet not at all mushy, texture, completely unblemished.  Gorgeous, sophisticated yet humble, colorful, and undoubtedly one of the biggest simple pleasures in my life, the California avocado holds a place of high esteem. 

Posting my stunningly beautiful and perfectly ripe avocado on Instagram along with the above sentiments, I had a few friends gently tease that perhaps I need to get out a bit more, but others identified with my exhilaration while confirming their undying love for the green fruit right along with me.

A California girl through and through, I'm lucky to live near the avocado capital of the world and have been blessed with a constant supply of stunningly beautiful California Avocados for the last few months.  As such, our plates usually find avocado as a healthy ingredient in many of our meals.  Avocados - they aren't just for guacamole any more.

Originating in Puebla, Mexico, the avocado dates back to some 10,000 years BC.  Cultivated in Central and South America since 900 AD, the avocado made its way to California in the 19th Century and has become an extremely successful crop.  With 95% of avocados grown in the United States originating in Southern California, and me a Southern California Girl, I am lucky indeed.

Filled with fiber and essential nutrients and vitamins, the avocado's fat is made up of monounsaturated fats, or the type that help control triglycerides and lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as help to control diabetes.  Also high in folate and luteine, avocados have been said to promote healthy cell and tissue development as well as to help in the protection against cataracts and macular degeneration.  Considered heart-healthy, avocados are now being praised for their Vitamin E content which has been linked to improving brain function and perhaps even helping with Alzheimer's.

While I find the health benefits of the avocado fascinating and definitely important, for me, pure love occurred at first taste. The health benefits are just a bonus.  Rich and creamy, avocados find their way into meals at any time of day in our household and hold prominent positions in dishes from salads to desserts to everything in between.

With many of my friends sharing my avocado adoration, today I bring you a roundup sharing our avocado love.

Avocados... from blossom to table
Avocado Recipes from Liv Life and some of our friends
(Click on the title of the photos - titles are linked to the recipes)

The Café Sucré Farine

Liv Life

Liv Life

Cooking on the Side

The Caré Sucré Farine

An Edible Mosaic

Liv Life

Jeanette's Healthy Living


Liv Life

An Edible Mosaic

Liv Life

That Skinny Chick Can Bake


Liv Life

Mini Bacon Guacamole Cups
All Day I Dream About Food

The Café Sucré Farine

The Lemon Bowl

Averie Cooks


Shugary Sweets

Liv Life
Taking on Magazines

Elle's New England Kitchen

Liv Life

Liv Life
The Café Sucré Farine