Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pesto Pasta Salad... Made special thanks to ClubsGalore (the perfect Mother's Day Gift)!

EVOO and Vinegar Gift of the Month

$5 off of first month using gift code CGMOM5 at check out.  Shipping is free!
*Valid through 5/10/15
Liv Life Note:  I received a sample club gift and compensation for this post.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.  Please know I would not stand behind a product unless I truly liked it!

Do you have go-to gifts for special occasions?  One of my ultra organized girlfriends always has just the gift for everything.  Be it a bridal shower, teacher thank you, birthday gift or Mother's Day treat, she always has something special up her sleeve.  Me?  I'm the polar opposite and find myself usually at a loss as to what to get, let alone where to get it.

Hence, I'm a big fan of "Gift of the Month" clubs.  Easy to personalize, simple to shop online at a minute's notice (procrastination and I are good friends...), and unique, Gift of the Month Clubs can be special and fun.  I've sent a number of subscriptions over the years, but let it be noted that even with all my hints I've been waiting to be a surprised recipient myself until just last week.  

As luck would have it, an offer to review ClubsGalore (arranged by Blog Meets Brand) not only introduced me to a new (to me, they've been around since 1996) one-stop, Gift of the Month shop, but they also sent me my first ever gift!

Faced with a decision to choose from one of their 41 clubs (the tequila club so tempted me....) I plowed through categories including brownies, bath and body, wine, tea, coffee, bacon, fruit, grilling and even a college care club.

I did place that College Care Club (including gift cards, movie sized candy boxes, hot chocolate packets, chips, pretzel crisps, popcorn, mac n cheese, assorted bars and trail mix, and a box of tissues) into my cart and thought how my son in his first year of college would love it, but my perusing continued until I stopped at the EVOO and Vinegar of the Month Club.  Now as good mothers, we try to be selfless and put our kids first, but in this case I selfishly removed said college club gift and replaced it with that oil and vinegar club as a gift to me from me.

Described as "1 bottle of extra virgin olive oil and 1 bottle of balsamic or flavor-infused vinegar each month - 200 to 375 ml. artfully gift boxed", the box arrived on my doorstep just days later, and yes, it was beautifully wrapped with a bow and carefully packaged, and included a card with my name on it.

Popping the cork on the Basil-Garlic Olive Oil, the aroma of garlic sent my salivary glands thinking of salads and dipping sauces.  Paired beautifully with a honey-colored bottle of B.R. Chardonnay Vinegar, the gift sent away any lingering guilt I had for choosing a gift for me instead of my college boy, and simply made my day.
Due diligence for this review sent me to the B.R. Cohn site to check prices, and a little research showed ClubsGalore indeed brought a special and quality product in addition to a fair price. 

So here's a big hint to my family... just FYI, Mother's Day, is right around the corner.  I really, really enjoyed the one month gift I received of the Olive Oil and Vinegar Club.  I'm fairly certain the bottles will be empty within then next few weeks and just so you know, a monthly box with more oils and vinegars would be such a wonderful surprise!

Furthermore, ClubsGalore is offering $5 off of your first month using the code CGMOM5 at checkout (offer valid through 5/10/15) and shipping is always free (note for Mother's Day delivery free shipping is available until April 25th, 2-Day Shipping 4/26/15 - 5/7/15, and overnight available from 5/6/15 - 5/8/15)!  Monthly payment options are available, and their site offers a "Print your own Announcement" feature free of charge.  Moms always have oil and vinegar in the kitchen, but often we won't splurge on that special bottle, so... Hint. Hint.  Hint.  :)

And what would a mom do with a delightfully infused bottle of olive oil and special bottle of vinegar?  She might brush it over artichokes just before grilling and make a lovely vinaigrette, or she might use it in a special Pesto Pasta Salad she's making for her own mom for Mother's Day.  Either way, I know she'll appreciate the monthly doorstep surprise, and you just might become her favorite child.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Strawberry Blueberry Mango Chia Jam... Homemade and Pectin Free!

Strawberry Blueberry Mango Chia Jam

I'm hereby proclaiming 2015 my "year of the chia seed".  That tiny little seed is finding its way into all sorts of my recipes from smoothies to pancakes, but one of my favorite uses is in jam.

A good homemade jam brings the farmer's market to your table, but I've always struggled with the huge amounts of sugar and the use of pectin in many homemade and commercial versions.  I'm not sure why the pectin bothers me so much, heck, it's in apples, right?   But for some reason, pouring that powder from a box into my beautiful freshly chopped strawberries is a no go for me.

Chia Seed
Hence, we've switched to chia for our gelling needs, and I have beautiful jam (though not as "set" as a pectin gelled jam) with only fresh ingredients.  Adding seasonal fruits (or in winter frozen varieties) we can save nature's goodness in a bottle and bring amazing nutritional benefits to a simple PBJ.

Did you know chia brings 70% more protein than soybeans, 25% more fiber than flaxseed, more calcium than milk and more potassium than a banana?

Soaked in liquid, chia seeds (filled with soluble fiber) swell up to 10 times their weight and form a gel-like outer layer which, in the digestive system, actually slows down the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar and in turn helps stabilize blood sugar.  In addition, the seeds high soluble fiber content also helps to control cholesterol levels.  And in addition again, the gelled seeds work to "gel" our jam!

So today we bring our latest jam featuring some of the best local California strawberries of the season.  Plump, juicy and sweet, these berries mixed beautifully with farmer's market blueberries and a handful of chopped mango (we actually used frozen from Trader Joes).  Simple, sweet and good for you, feel free to slather this jam without any of the guilt from store bought, sugar-laden varieties.  Enjoy this spring in a bottle!

Strawberry Blueberry Mango Chia Jam

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lemony Kale Salad with Goji Berries, Farro and Pistachio

Lemony Kale Salad with Goji Berries, Farro and Pistachio

If you had told me a year ago I'd be making myself a salad of mostly kale I would have bet you were wrong.  And I would have lost.

Way behind the kale bandwagon, I've finally found a love for this somewhat tough leafy green.  Or in my case, purple.

A farmer's market find of this beautifully ruffled, purple kale has me positively hooked.  We started adding it to our morning blended juice, then it found its way sprinkled into salads, and now it's evolved into a salad all on its own.

Lemon Blossoms
Lemon blossoms setting for next season's fruit!
Dressed with lemons from Dad's tree, a splash of white balsamic vinegar and a touch of avocado oil, the salad balances with chopped cucumber, sweet goji berries that plump resting in the dressing, and about a cup of farro - another new find.

Originating in the Fertile Crescent (a crescent-shaped region containing the comparatively moist and fertile land of otherwise arid and semi-arid Western Asia, the Nile Valley and Nile Delta of northeast Africa, it was also near Asia Minor or known as Anatolia - from Wikipedia), Farro has been found in the ancient tombs of Egyptian Kings and is said to have fed the Roman Legions.  Italian's have used the grain as an valued ingredient for centuries, and farro is now gaining popularity in the US.

My reading on farro has actually left me a little confused as to exactly what it is and how to cook it and I often times have difficulty finding it in the store, but the 10-minute version found at my local Trader Joe's has made easy work and has brought a nice, al-dente grain to my salad.

So, with spring greens (or purples) appearing at the farmer's markets, don't forget to pick up a bunch (or two) of kale.  It's what's for lunch.

Lemony Kale Salad with Goji Berries, Farro and Pistachio

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Coconut Strawberry Chia Overnight Oats... they're meant to travel! #DanceMom

Ahhh.... the weekend!  Those used to mean leisurely mornings sleeping to our hearts content, then casually mixing pancakes till light and fluffy while sipping a second cappuccino.  Yep, those were the days.  The days before I became a Dance Mom.

Now weekends are filled with before sunrise call times, fluttery false eyelashes, a world glittering with rhinestones and duct tape, and meals on the fly.  Many days our mornings begin in hotels which occasionally include a breakfast in the deal, however my lactose intolerant dancer usually can't partake in the dairy-laden breakfast fare leaving us on our own and with not a lot of time to go in search of a healthy meal.

But as any good dance mom does, we've learned to improvise on the fly.  Liv loves her homemade hotel waffles (yes... travel with a waffle iron!), but I'm not much of a morning person and don't usually eat until much later.  Hence, I'm frequently left to what I can fit into my cooler, and Overnight Oats have become my turn to morning meal on the road.

Mixed together before we leave home, I keep my jar on ice and make my way out to my car after I have Liv set in the dressing room.  Packing sides of walnuts and shredded coconut I can close my eyes and almost see myself in some luxurious location... after all, the show is all about illusion, and with Coconut Chia Overnight Oats you can send yourself to the tropics, even if it is only for a few glorious moments.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup

Even here in sunny San Diego we sometimes need a "warm you to your bones" winter soup.  Hot and steamy, this particular soup also adds a spicy kick to heat you up just that much more.

Join me today as we bring you our latest submission to the Blogger C.L.U.E Society and make our way back to Colorado to Lea Ann at Cooking on the Ranch with Western Flair and Rocky Mountain Air!

Lea Ann brings fabulous recipes with a little something for everyone, and it didn't take me long to find a recipe fitting for our C.L.U.E March assignment - potatoes.  And does Lea Ann have some awesome potato recipes on her blog!  How about Potatoes Cooked in Banana Leaves?  Or the one that totally caught my eye, Twice Baked Potatoes with Poached Eggs?

However, with our family dietary restrictions (dairy-free), our quest for mostly plant-based foods, and a somewhat chilly day here in San Diego, it was the Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup that my husband chose as our recipe for the month.  (Funnily enough, we chose sweet potatoes last time we visited Lea Ann's blog in November!)

Filled with sweet potatoes, onions and apples, this soup receives a spicy kick from a spoonful of adobo, and then cools down with a drizzle of creamy coconut milk.  Spiced with ginger and a touch of my new favorite spice, turmeric, the soup bursts with flavors and warms you to your toes simply from the scent alone.

So here's hoping that your winter weather is turning as snow drifts away into warmer breezes and spring flowers.  But if you still need a warm up, this soup has your name all over it.

Now see what the rest of the C.L.U.E Members brought to the table! 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

Homework takes a lot of energy, especially when it includes teenage boys, long hours and cameras.  Preparing for an upcoming Broadcasting Competition, Liv and her group spent the afternoon at our house practicing with a short story on ISIS, and I'm amazed at how these kids can throw 90 seconds together on a surprise subject and end up with a professionally done story suitable for tv.

While I love listening to them, it's hard not to interject my opinions on everything from the subject matter to camera angles.  I've been requested to "hold my ideas", however cookies are always welcome.  And today Classic Peanut Butter Cookies fit the bill.

Adapted from a Martha Stewart Living recipe, I reduced the butter and added oat flour for a cookie that I can serve and watch them demolish while feeling good they are getting a decent snack with a bit of nutrition.

Proclaimed "One of the best cookies I've ever had!",  I loved that the boys suggested they film all their projects here, and I've promised cookies every time.