Melissa’s Produce San Diego Food Bloggers Challenge!

Recently, I received an email from Barbara from Barbara Cooks (http://www.barbaracooks.com/) asking if the bloggers of San Diego might be interested in receiving a box of items from Melissa’s Produce (http://www.melissas.com/).  The “Challenge” was to take what was delivered to you and create a delicious recipe.  First, I love getting things shipped to me.  I feel like it’s Christmas!  Second, no surprise, I love food.  Third, I love playing around with food to create something new.  Fourth, I love knowing that a bunch of people out there have the same ingredients and will come up with very different recipes.

I’ve heard of Melissa’s Produce, but I didn’t know much about the company, which the owners, Joe and Sharon Hernandez, named after their daughter.  It’s basically an online grocery store for very unique items.  There’s everything from organic fruit baskets to organic blue agave syrup to Pinot Noir and Chestnut basket.  Can’t find Armenian cucumbers at your grocery store or Farmers’ Market?  Just go to Melissa’s Produce.  There are a ton of recipes online created by their five Corporate Chefs.  Say you bought quinoa at your grocery store and you don’t know how to cook it, or maybe you’ve cooked it a million times and you need a fresh idea for dinner.  Just type in “quinoa” on the website’s recipe search engine, and several recipes are at your fingertips.  Maybe Muscato Cashew Quinoa will strike your fancy.  My only question, are you hiring, Melissa’s Produce???

I must admit that this service is pricey.  Here’s what I received: Fava Beans (shelled, steamed, and ready to eat, 8.8 ounces), Baby Beets (peeled, steamed, and ready to eat, 8 ounces), Brussel Sprouts (10 ounces), Leeks (cleaned and sliced, 6 ounces), Red Quinoa (6 ounces), Dried Chanterelle (.5 ounces), Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes (1.5 pounds), and Ojai Pixie Tangerines (1 pound).  I received smaller quantities than if I were to have ordered the items myself.  I estimate the total amount for the portions I received to be around $40.  For certain items, overnight shipping is required, so you can add almost $20 for the FedEx delivery.  Everything I received was in perfect condition and tasted great.

Melissa Leeks

Melissa Brussel

Melissa Chanterelle

Melissaquinoa

Roasting Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes

Roasting Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes

My mom was visiting from Cleveland, Ohio when the shipment arrived.  She was excited to see what was in the box and what I’d make with it.  A few days after I received the box, I just started sautéing things.  My Mom asked what my plan was, and I honestly wasn’t certain.  It just kind of came together.  We were talking, and I’d roast Brussels Spouts.  We’d talk more, and I chopped Fava Beans.  We’d talk some more, and I sautéed leeks and cook quinoa.  Next thing I knew, I created  Quinoa Stuffed Chicken with a Spicy Soy Orange Glaze and, as I call it, Mish Mosh Potato Salad.

My finished product! This was one tasty potato salad!

My finished product! This was one tasty potato salad!

For the potato salad, I halved the Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes and put them, sliced side down, onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.  I covered the sheet with foil and put them into the oven at around 400 degrees.  Once the potatoes were soft, I removed the foil, flipped those bad Dutch Babies over and continued cooking them in the oven until they were nicely browned.  I roasted the Brussel Sprouts in the oven at around 400 degrees, as well, until they were browned and softened slightly.  Once I removed them from the oven, I did a rough chop on those lovely mini cabbages.  I placed the potatoes and Brussel Sprouts in a large bowl and added the Red Beets which I roughly chopped, as well.  I took walnut oil and balsamic vinegar, whisked it until it emulsified, and added it to the potato salad.  I usually do a ratio of one part vinegar to two parts oil, but I must admit I don’t really measure.  I added a little salt and pepper, too, and that was it!

The final product for the main course!

The final product for the main course!

Like I mentioned earlier, this was a “do whatever I felt like” kind of cooking day.  I love sautéing leeks and garlic, so that’s where I started.  First, I sautéed the leeks in olive oil over medium to medium high heat until the softened and were golden, probably around 6 minutes.  I added a few garlic cloves I had chopped and continued cooking for about a minute.  I added about 2 ounces of white wine (mainly because I felt like a glass of wine while I was cooking), and I raised the heat and cooked for a few minutes.  Right about then, the house smelled amazing.  I had cooked the quinoa in chicken stock earlier, so I added the leek mixture to the quinoa.  Earlier, I had also reconstituted the Chanterelles. I simply boil water, add the mushrooms, turn off the heat, leave the lid on, and let them sit for 30 minutes or until they have softened.  I rinse the mushrooms very well after.  I chopped the Chanterelles and the Fava Beans, and I added them to the quinoa mixture.  I added some ground pepper and salt, to taste.  The amount of quinoa filling was enough for 8-10 chicken breasts.  I didn’t realize just how much it would make, but I love leftovers!

I pounded the chicken and put as much filling as I could in each breast, approximately 1/2 a cup of filling for each.  I folded the chicken breast so that the filling remained inside, and I tied the chicken with kitchen twine.  I put the stuffed chicken into a baking dish coated with olive oil, covered, into the oven (around 375 degrees) for about an hour, or until it reached 165 degrees internally.

While the chicken cooked, I threw together a few items I had on hand for a sauce.  In a bowl, I whisked together orange juice (about 1/2 cup), soy sauce (about 4 tablespoons), agave (4 Tablespoons), white vinegar (2 healthy Tablespoons), and a couple of Tablespoons of chile paste.  If you like it really spicy or not very, this amount can be catered to your taste.  After whisking to combine, I placed the mixture into a pan and brought it to a boil while continuing to whisk.  Once it reached a boil, I reduced the temperature and I let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  It will reduce slightly and thicken.  I added the chicken breasts to the pan and continued cooking at a medium heat while basting the chicken with the sauce.  At this point, the chicken is cooked, I just wanted to really infuse the chicken with the flavors of the sauce.  I got the idea of doing an orange juice based sauce because of the tangerines in the shipment.  I decided to simply eat the tangerines as a dessert.  It was a perfect meal, if I do say so myself!

I can’t wait to read what other local bloggers created!  What a fun idea!  A huge “Thank You” goes out to Barbara and Melissa’s Produce!

Take Care and Happy Eating!

Here is the link to see all of the Bloggers who participated: An InLinkz Link-up

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Bake Sale Success?

Another year, another great bake sale for the San Diego Food Bloggers. I participated last year, but I wasn’t there to see all of the action. This year I was able to watch it transpire. It was fun to see so many friends and random people filling grocery bags full of desserts. Awesome job!! I’m still waiting for the final amount raised for Share Our Strength‘s No Kid Hunger campaign.  However, the sale isn’t officially over.  You can still make a donation on-line.  If we raise the most money, Duncan Hines will donate an additional $10,000 to our total!  Atlanta has been winning this bake sale every year, and we, the San Diego Food Bloggers, would love to put an end to that streak!  If you can, please go to http://join.strength.org/goto/SDFBBakeSale2013 and make a donation. Thank you so much for all of your help!!!

This year I opted to make Chocolate-Banana Whoopie Pies. Choosing what to make is a daunting challenge. I wanted to make something that would appeal to the most people, and something that can be consumed on the spot or in a couple of hours. Chocolate is always a big hit, and once I saw a preliminary menu of what other bakers were planning to bring, I made the decision to make Whoopie Pies. Sadly, I’d never made them before. I looked over various recipes, and decided upon one from Good Housekeeping, February 2012.

Whoopie Pie 2013

Here’s the recipe (any changes are noted with **):

Chocolate-Banana Whoopie Pies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 6 Tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg

(** The recipe states to fill the sandwiches with marshmallow crème.  You could do that, but that didn’t sound exciting to me.  I found a recipe that I liked better which is below.  Also, I made another batch of these that I didn’t sell.  I added cinnamon to the batter, and I wish I had done that to the bake sale batches.  I love cinnamon!)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.  From bananas, mash enough for 1/2 cup; finely chop remaining, and reserve.  (**I mashed 1 banana, and I chopped 1 to add to the filling.)  In another medium bowl, mix mashed banana, sour cream, and vanilla.
  3. In a large bowl, with mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until well combined.  Beat in egg until well blended, scraping bowl occasionally.  Reduce speed to low.  Add flour mixture alternately with sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat just until batter is smooth, scraping bowl occasionally. (**Don’t over mix! That’s probably the biggest mistake when baking.)
  4. Drop 1 rounded measuring teaspoon batter onto prepared sheets. Repeat with remaining batter, spacing 2 inches apart.  With wet fingertips, flatten tops of balls to form rounds. (**I tried making rounds with a 1/4 measuring cup, and I baked for about 10 minutes.  I got about 7.5 cookies (sandwiches) out of it.  They were really large, especially when you consider it is 2 cookies and filling.  It made my belly kind of hurt after eating one.  The next batch I used a tablespoon of batter, and I cooked them for about 8 minutes.  I was able to get 15 sandwiches out of the batter.  It was a much more reasonable size, and it is that size I sold at the bake sale.)

Banana Crème Filling

  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening (**I used Spectrum Organic All Vegetable Shortening Non-hydrogenated.)
  • 1.5 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups marshmallow crème
  • 1.5 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 chopped banana
  1. Whip first 4 ingredients together.  Fold chopped banana into filling. Fill sandwiches with as little or as much as you like, or just eat by the spoonful.  It’s all good.  I preferred the pies after they had been refrigerated.  In general, I would suggest to keep the pies refrigerated.

Whoopie Pie 2013(2)

On another note, it was my brother’s birthday on Monday.  Brian turned 50 on Monday.  A HUGE “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!’ goes out to him.  Even though a few miles are between us, I’m thinking of you!!  I hope this is a great year for you, Brian.  The photo below is from my dad’s 80th birthday last year.  I picked the photo below for 2 reasons: 1) Brian was looking quite dapper and 2) for all of the special people present in the photo.  The best birthday wish is to be surrounded by people you love.

Family

Take Care and Happy Eating (and Please Consider Making a Donation)!

Here a Kale, There a Kale, Everywhere a Kale-Kale

I love food trends.  It’s fun to see what people create with the hot item of the season, or the month, or the minute.  I over indulged one weekend in New York City when pork belly was all the rage. Bad idea.  My husband and I couldn’t even look at pork belly for about a month.  Then there was the ramp craze.  That wasn’t a big hit with me.  It was just ok. Then kale got the spotlight.  It was (and seems to still be) everywhere!  Is kale even cool anymore?  I will never tire of it.  Of course you could swap it out for turnip greens or Swiss chard, but I still really enjoy kale.  And there are many types to choose.  Check out this blogger who documents 6 kinds: http://www.pigandvine.com/2013/01/garden-6-kinds-of-kale.html

Top Ten Reasons to Eat Kale

  1. It goes with anything! Just Google recipes for kale, and you will find a combination you like.  Say you don’t eat veggies often (a la Ron Swanson), add some quinoa and some grilled chicken.  You prefer sweet entrees?  Make a nice vinaigrette, add some strawberries, maybe throw in some sautéed shrimp, and dinner is served.
  2.  It is super filling. It’s like eating a bowl of rice.  It seems to really expand, and yet I’ve never felt uncomfortably full.
  3. Talk about healthy!? It’s one of the healthiest foods on the planet! It has a ton of fiber, calcium, vitamin B6, A and K, magnesium, etc., etc.  However, I have read that too much kale may interact with some medications and can interfere with the absorption of calcium, so have that milkshake from Jack in the Box another time, and speak with your doctor about drug interactions. I even think you get health benefits for just reading about it!  So well done.  You’ve just increased your magnesium!
  4. You can eat kale, and then feel ok about that Jack in the Box milkshake you will gulp down later!
  5. It’s really tasty, and you feel good eating it.  You know when you donate to a worthy cause or finish a charity run?  That’s how I feel after eating a bowl of kale.
  6. It doesn’t have to be 100% healthy.  Go ahead, throw a pork belly on it.  It won’t judge you.
  7. You can bake them and eat them like potato chips! Or you can have someone else do the work for you.  Thanks, Trader Joe’s! Kale Chips
  8. I think it keeps one regular.  Just being honest.
  9. You can try growing it and talk about it at farmers’ markets so you sound really cool.
  10. It’s so pretty!  You can use it in a floral or table arrangement!

I had lunch the other weekend at Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas.  My husband had a delicious steak, and I thought it was very reasonably priced for Vegas.  I ordered the Frisee, Kale, and Warm Bacon Salad with a Soft Poached Egg. Divine.  Again, it doesn’t always have to be healthy!  However, I’m in love with a recipe that doesn’t clog the arteries.  I discovered this recipe in Good Housekeeping (April 2013).  It’s a Dr. Oz recipe (and I now love him because through his show I discovered the cleanse I did last month), and I think it’s a great one for people who already love kale and for those who are not so sure about it.  Another option with this recipe is to blanch the kale first or add the quinoa hot if you are not crazy about eating kale raw.  I’ve read that it is even healthier to eat kale cooked.  You have so many options with this simple recipe!

Apple and Baby Kale Salad

  • 3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained (*see note below)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I used avocado oil just because I like to mix it up every so often.)
  • 1 medium Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced
  • 6 cups mixed baby kale (Or use any kind of kale you like.  I like them all!)

Cook quinoa according to the directions on the package; let cool.  (I didn’t let it cool that much.  I just threw it in.)

Whisk together mustard, oil, lemon juice, green onion, and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Add apple, kale, and cooked quinoa; toss to combine. And, of course, it’s great topped with sriracha.  Like I even need to mention that (insert eyes rolling).

Why do I love this particular recipe?  First of all, I love the unexpected sweetness of the Granny Smith apples. Second, if you (or someone you know) think you might not like kale, it’s a great introduction.  You could add more quinoa and not use as much kale.  **You could replace the quinoa for something all together – you could add orzo!  Why not?  It would be like a pasta salad with some kale.  Maybe throw in some blue cheese?  OK, I’m just getting hungry now.

Kale and Apple Salad

Even if kale has jumped the shark, I’m not letting this trend go anytime soon!  What’s your favorite food trend?  I’d love to hear about it! And if you head to Vegas anytime soon, check out Mon Ami Gabi.  There’s a patio (no reservations accepted for that area) that is on the strip.  Talk about a great day:  A bottle of wine, steak, kale and watching the lovely people of Vegas walk by!  What could be better?

Take Care and Happy Eating!

Mon Ami Gabi on Urbanspoon

To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse

It’s Day 11 of 30 for me on The Clean Cleanse.  Right about now I’m asking myself “Why did I pick this month to start???”  Reasons why I should have waited: 1) My family was visiting (and they love to eat at new restaurants and old favorites)  2) I’m going skiing with friends for a weekend.  3) St. Patty’s is on a Sunday so that really means it’s St. Patrick’s WEEKEND!

Getting into the St. Patrick's Day mood with my morning shake!

Getting into the St. Patrick’s Day mood with my morning shake!

4) I always love having a huge brunch on Easter Sunday.  4) A good part of the day is spent reading about things like Croissant Bread Pudding.  Hey, thanks a lot, Seaside Baker – Musings of a Mompreneur!

Seriously, check it out: http://theseasidebaker.com/2013/03/13/croissant-bread-pudding/

I mean come on!!!  The truth is that there is never a good time to start this kind of thing.  Something will always pop up.  Also, I have to remember why I decided to do it in the first place.  I’ve been really down, and I wanted to see if all the hype over cleanses had some merit, and I wanted to see if I felt any improvements in my mood.  Other than the first couple of days when I had a headache, it has been relatively simple.  I do have to plan ahead for lunch.  I never want to be in the position where I’m hungry after a workout and decide to grab a foot long sub.  That does sound good though.  On two occasions, I was in a little bind.  This past Sunday, I realized we were out of leftovers from previous meals I made, and there’s no way on God’s green Earth (that’s an expression, right?) I’m going to a supermarket on a Sunday afternoon/evening.  I had some kale, a red pepper, and chicken breasts in the refrigerator.  I seared the chicken with some paprika, and it was served with an impromptu Kale Salad (I chopped some kale, whisked some lemon juice, a small touch of extra virgin olive oil, and red pepper flakes together, added some pine nuts and chopped red pepper.) Voila, dinner was served.  And then on Monday, I didn’t have leftovers from Sunday, and I didn’t have time to make lunch earlier in the day.  I had some hummus and a green pepper which was enough to hold me off until dinner.  I wouldn’t recommend eating so little, but stuff happens.

No more srirach for the rest of the cleanse!

No more srirach for the rest of the cleanse!

I don’t know if it’s in my head, but I do feel like I have more energy.  The biggest difference is that I’m not constantly thinking about running into the kitchen for a piece of chocolate or a bowl of cereal.  In fact, I really haven’t had any cravings.  I did pass a Starbuck’s yesterday inside Target.  As I walked by, the overwhelming smell of mochas, lattes and cappuccinos wafted over me.  I will honestly say that I just purely enjoyed the smell.  Would I have noticed it to the degree I had if I hadn’t stopped drinking coffee 11 days ago?  I don’t think so.  Last night I did get a little hungry.  I opted for some unsweetened coconut flakes and some roasted pumpkin seeds.

The house menu for the week is: Sexy Cilantro Shake, Peach Apple Cobbler Shake, Millet Risotto with Artichoke Hearts, Acorn Squash with Wild Rice, Tuna Salad with Mixed Greens, Baked Falafel with Tahini Sauce, and Clean Salmon Nicoise.  One day I did the Cilantro Shake with fresh papaya and another day without (my papaya wasn’t ripe enough).  I loved it with the papaya.  With the fruit, I added a tablespoon of Flax Seed Oil and some chopped walnuts.  It has been one of my favorites so far. You can’t have peanuts on this cleanse, but many other nuts seem fair game.  I’ve also been adding cinnamon to all of my shakes.  Why not?  It’s tasty and so healthy.

I would highly recommend the Millet Risotto because it was delicious and hearty.  The Salmon Nicoise is a fantastic meal because it is super quick and easy.  I blanched the green beans for a minute or two, just enough to bring out their color, before plunging them into an ice bath.  I prefer my veggies crunchy.

Millet Risotto was killer!

Millet Risotto was killer!

Just had to add a photo of the BEST shake cup ever!

Just had to add a photo of the BEST shake cup ever!

Not a great photo.  I was very hungry that day!

Not a great photo. I was very hungry that day!

I was very surprised by the tuna salad.  I’m a huge fan, so I was a little skeptical of the recipe.

  1. 1 can tuna fish
  2. 1/2 red onion, peeled and diced (**I just added an amount I felt was enough.)
  3. 2 celery stalks, sliced into 1/4 inch crescents (**I added a half of a stalk and had the leftover stalks on the side.)
  4. 1/4 cup capers (**Again, I just eyeballed this amount and put in what I liked.)
  5. 2 heaping tbsp dijon mustard (I did about 1 tbsp.)
  6. 1 heaping tbsp miso
  7. 1/4 cup almond milk (maybe a little less, depending on the consistency you want) (**I did less.)
  8. Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
  9. A handful of fresh dill (or a tablespoon of dried dill)
  10. Butter lettuce leaves

 

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until well-combined. Keep in the fridge, covered, until ready to serve. Serve in lettuce leaves. (**I squirted a Meyer lemon over the salad.)

Refreshing tuna salad with my lemons from my tree.

Refreshing tuna salad with my lemons from my tree.

If your tuna is heavy on the mayo, give this a try.  I was surprised at how much I liked it. It was light and refreshing, and the miso gave it something I’ve never had before in a tuna salad.  I’ll make this one again.

Since I’ve started, I went out to eat twice.  I was a little nervous because I really have been trying to adhere to the rules.  One lunch outing was at Pita Jungle in Hillcrest.  I ordered the Wood-Fired Salmon Salad, and I skipped the dressing.  In lieu of the dressing, I squirted lemon juice over the salad.  I added some sriracha, but I now realize that there’s sugar in it, so I’m refraining from that as well now.  That is a tough one!!!  My friend ordered the Chipotle Black Bean Burger. I’ve had that before, and I loved it.  Pita Jungle is such a great spot.  If you haven’t been there, check it out.  They have a Garlic Dip to die for!!! You might kill someone later with your breath, but oh well.  The food is very fresh, it’s always delicious, and the staff is really friendly.

Pita Jungle's Wood-Fired Salmon Salad

Pita Jungle’s Wood-Fired Salmon Salad

Chipotle Black Bean Burger at Pita Jungle

Chipotle Black Bean Burger at Pita Jungle

My second meal (lunch) out was Point Loma Seafood.  You can order some of the freshest fish and bring your tray upstairs to large open air deck with great views of the Point Loma Marina and downtown San Diego.  Franz opted for sushi, and he couldn’t stop raving about the California Rolls.  He ordered it because he couldn’t recall ever having it with real crab.  He told me the Spicy Tuna Rolls were great, too.  I had to take his word.  It was a bummer not being able to try some, but I’ll be back.  I’ll be back.  My Grilled Ono on a bed of greens was just what I needed.  I like Ono because it is a little heartier, like a cross between halibut and swordfish.  Every single person around me had a fried fish sandwich with fries.  I’m not kidding.  It looked really good.  One child had a Happy Meal from McDonald’s.  Ugh.  I was perfectly happy with my yummy fresh tasting Ono.  Once again, I asked them to hold the dressing, and I grabbed some lemon wedges to use as the dressing.

Not a bad way to cleanse! Point Loma Seafood's Grilled Ono

Not a bad way to cleanse! Point Loma Seafood’s Grilled Ono

I’m not sure if my eyes are whiter or if my skin is more radiant (yet), but I like the way I feel.  I’m surprised that I’ve lost about 8 pounds.  So far, I’m happy I’m giving this a try and I’m looking forward to the next 19 days! Oh God, 19???  haha

All of the Clean Cleanse recipes by Dr. Junger can be found at http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/clean-program-30-day-meal-plan?fb_xd_fragment

If I could cleanse like this everyday, I'd be one very lucky lady! Great views from Point Loma Seafood.

If I could cleanse like this everyday, I’d be one very lucky lady! Great views from Point Loma Seafood.

Take Care and Happy Eating!

Pita Jungle on Urbanspoon

Point Loma Seafoods on Urbanspoon

Finally Another Fabulous Friday!

Life can be crazy.  Let me rephrase.  Life is crazy.  How do we get through it?  I like to focus on the things that make me smile.  So here are some things that really made me happy recently . . .

January Lemons

Finally our Meyer lemon and Mandarin trees in our front yard is producing fruit!  Unfortunately, people seem to be picking them.  I wouldn’t care, but we aren’t getting a ton of fruit yet, and it took about 2 years to get to this point.  However, when I picked these lemons the smell was overwhelming.  I don’t even want to eat them yet!  They are way too pretty!

The other thing that made me smile was celebrating my little Sweet Pea’s birthday.  Monsieur turned 4 this month.  If you love dogs, you get this.  If you don’t, too bad.

Sir Bday Cake YR 4Sir Bday Cake YR 4 -2

Every year we get cupcakes from Sprinkles in La Jolla.  Sir has food allergies, but he never has a problem with their Dog Cupcake.  Of course, we pick up a couple of Human Cupcakes, too!  This year we opted for a Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcake and a Chocolate Marshmallow Cupcake.  They were not our favorites.  I find that Sprinkles can be hit or miss.  I love the Red Velvet Cupcake.  Maybe I should stick with that one?

Sir Bday Cake YR 4- 4

Sir Bday Cake YR 4- 5Sir Bday Cake YR 4 -3Sprinkles Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

The last thing that made me happy was a simple recipe I found in Family Circle of all places!

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers 1

Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers (Family Circle, January 2013)

7 sweet peppers (red, orange and yellow) (**I went with the Costco bag of red peppers, and I only used 6)

1 cup quinoa (**Recipe recommends Bob’s Red Mill whole grain quinoa.  Also, I used 1 1/2 cups. I like having leftovers if possible.)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 cup diced sweet onion

1 tsp ground cumin (**I put more in.  I like cumin.)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup dried figs, roughly chopped (**I used prunes.  If you are not a fan of either (which is crazy!), opt for dried cherries.)

1/2 cup unsalted cashews, roughly chopped (**I used walnuts just because I had them on hand.)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Seed and dice one of the peppers (**The recipe notes to seed and dice one of the cooked peppers.  I do not like cooking peppers ahead of time for any stuffed pepper recipe.  I like the peppers to have a little bit of crunch and life to them.). Slice remaining peppers from stem to bottom; seed.
  2. In a medium lidded pot, bring 2 cups water to a boil (adjust amount if you are using more quinoa).  Stir in quinoa; return to a boil.  Cover, reduce to a medium-low and cook 10 minutes.  Drain; set aside.  (**Sometimes when I cook quinoa, I replace some of the water with chicken stock or orange juice.)
  3. Return pot to stove; place over medium heat.  Add olive oil.  Stir in one diced pepper and onion.  Cook 5 minutes (**or until they are caramelized and soft).  Mix in cumin and cinnamon; cook 1 more minute.  Stir in figs, cashews, quinoa, salt and pepper.  Fill pepper halves with quinoa mixture and place cut-side up in a 9×13-inch baking dish (**I layered the bottom with parchment so they wouldn’t stick.).  Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking for another 30 minutes or until peppers are as tender as you like.

I hope you have a good weekend and survive the rain or snow (depending on which coast you are on!)!

Take Care and Happy Eating!

Did You See The Date?????

Date

I’m still eating Halloween candy!  It can’t be December 23rd! When did this happen???  What can I do but roll with it.  I feel like the Christmas Season really started Friday night.  My husband and I stopped into Tractor Room in Hillcrest for a drink and an appetizer.  I love entering the restaurant through the heavy velvet drapes.  I feel like I’ve entered another world when I go here.  It was dark and cozy, and old school music was playing.  We ordered a light appetizer of Braised Buffalo Fries with Griddled Smoked Cheddar Cheese.  I highly recommend this place for Happy Hour.  They have great nibbles, tasty drinks, and good prices.  It’s a great spot for dinner, too.  I haven’t had their brunch, so let me know if you’ve tried it!

Buffalo Fries

We headed down the street for dinner at Ristorante Arrivederci.  It’s been a while since I’ve been to this spot.  I figure that with the Christmas Holiday starting, why hold back now.  Franz ordered a delicious sausage orecchiette dish with broccoli rabe.  I had a craving for gnocchi.  We shared one of my favorite appetizers, burrata.  With a lovely bottle of Sangiovese, what could be better?

Burrata

Burrata2

GnocchiOrecciette

I made reservations at The Wine Vault & Bistro a couple of weeks ago for their Christmas Dinner.  Fortunately, we didn’t have much to eat on Friday, so we had a huge appetite.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I love this restaurant.  If you haven’t gone yet, what are you waiting for???  Make sure to check the website and call ahead for reservations.  Dinner is only certain nights throughout the month, and the food and drink pairings are always changing.  Our first course was marinated tuna with celery root and a clementine ponzu.  It was plated with the second course of crispy white fish and what tasted like a parsley pesto.  The courses were paired with a glass of 2010 Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux, a sparkling blend of Chardonnay (70%), Chenin Blanc (20%), and Mauzac (10%).  I am very particular when it comes to sparkling wines.  My favorite (and always stocked in the house) is Veuve Clicquot.  I thought the sparkling blend we were served was just as delicious and not too sweet.  And at $14, I think it’s a steal!  So we bought two bottles to go.  They were almost sold out when we requested our bottles.

WV Course 1

Next up was an amazing dish of Dana Blue Cheese served with thinly sliced persimmons, toasted pepitas and mizuna.  Accompanying the cheese course was a sunchoke veloute with spice roasted apples and chesnuts.  Oh my.  I was dying at this point.  The cheese was perfectly creamy.  And the veloute??  Imagine taking the taste and smells of Thanksgiving, turning that into creamy liquid perfection, and pouring it into a demitasse.  I guess you could say I liked it.  It was paired with a 2010 Stolpman “Golden Point” White Blend (Roussanne (64%), Chardonnay (21%), Sauvignon Blanc (15%)).  Red wine is my favorite, so whites have a hard time meeting my expectations.  This wine was decent, and the smoky quality was an interesting match with these courses.

Perfection in a Demitasse

Perfection in a Demitasse

The next course served was a perfectly cooked thyme roasted salmon with fennel and beets with a light blood orange dressing.  Plated with the salmon was the 6th course consisting of a pomegranate glazed duck breast, spiced roasted plums, and scallion rice.  I thought the rice was a lame choice.  I changed my mind when I tasted everything together.  The rice was a welcomed texture on the plate, and it was flavorful.  These two courses were served with what turned out to be another wine pairing favorite, 2010 Vine Hill “Santa Cruz Mountains” Pinot Noir.  We were forced to buy a of couple bottles.  Not a bad price at $16!

WV Course 4

I was sad to see the arrival of our last savory courses: braised leg of lamb served on top of crushed kabocha squash, and (my favorite cheese!!!) ricota salata and a sous vide pork loin with rosemary potato mousse and dried fruit.  Even though ricotta salata is my favorite cheese, it was unnecessary in this dish.  The lamb and squash had such amazing flavors that the ricotta salata just got lost.  It’s hard to say which course was my favorite, but these two may have been the winners of the night.  But maybe it was the veloute.  I can’t pick a favorite!!  These bites were served with 2009 Sika Cabernet Sauvignon.

WV Course 3

The last two courses were desserts: a gingerbread cake with mascarpone mousse and quince and a maple pot de creme topped with a cinnamon crumble.  It was served with Wine Vault’s legendary eggnog.  I’m not a huge fan of eggnog, but this was really yummy. Fresh local eggs, dark rum, Cognac, vanilla, cream and spices could be to blame.  I am a huge dessert fan, so I will be honest.  I (and Franz agreed) was not a huge fan of the gingerbread.  It was kind of bland.  The maple pot de creme was heavenly!  It was so smooth and not too sweet.  The crumble put it over the top.  That was a huge hit!

WV Dessert

Franz and I thought they had a smart way to make sure the veloute didn’t fall off of the plate!  A dollop of goat cheese as glue!  Franz was the one who figured that out.

WV Cup Holder

We only bought 4 extra bottles, but they gave us a huge box.  Kind of embarrassing hailing a taxi this way.

We only bought 4 extra bottles, but they gave us a huge box. Kind of embarrassing hailing a taxi this way.

WV Wine to Go

As you can see, I kept this weekend very light in anticipation of all of the Christmas goodies I will be eating for the next week.  Let me know what’s on your list of places to eat (no matter where you live!!), and tell me what amazing stuff you or your family is making!  I will post again after January 1st, but you can always see what I’m up to on twitter (@megangillkopp) or on my Facebook page: Monkey Bread and Sweet Pea.

Take Care and Happy Holiday Eating!!

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Fabulous Friday?

My intention was to write about what I loved this week for another “Fabulous Friday” posting.  Yesterday was National Cocoa Day.  So, accordingly, last night I put on my pjs, whipped up a hot mug o’ chocolate, cozied up on the sofa with Sweet Pea, a.k.a. Monsieur, and watched a French movie I recorded months ago.  I was set to write about that amazing hot cocoa this afternoon.  I had a great run on my treadmill this morning.  I’ve been battling some minor knee and heel pain for a bit, and today I ran 3 miles without pain.  I was in a great mood.  I was about to write my post when I noticed a bunch of Facebook postings about a school shooting.  I turned on the t.v. and heard more details.  What started out as such a great day turned dark quickly.  I don’t feel like writing about the cocoa.

Cocoa

But I started thinking about what really made me so happy last night and today.  Last night I was really happy to be with my dog, and eager to see my husband who was coming home a little later than usual that night.  The cocoa and the glow of the Christmas lights inside and outside were just sprinkles on top of the sundae.  And today, I was so happy to have a relatively pain-free run so that I can get back to running with my husband.  I will discuss hot chocolate another day.  But today, let’s all remember what truly makes our week fabulous – family.  And whether family is your Mom, your husband, or your best friend since fourth grade, never forget how important they are in your life.  It’s so easy to forget.  So grab a glass of wine or a mug of cocoa and give those loved ones a big hug.  It’s those people who are truly what makes life fabulous.  Again, it’s so easy to forget.

Gill Fam Plus

Take Care and Happy Eating!

Fabulous Friday Again!

I hope everyone had a great week!  I had a sweet surprise this week.  My husband was craving sweets all week (I’m rubbing off on him!).  Tuesday night he proclaimed that we were going to Jack in the Box for milkshakes.  It was around 8pm, and we were basically in our pajamas.  Life is so good!!  If you haven’t had a Jack in the Box milkshake, I feel very sorry for you.  They are so thick that you have to remove the straw and lick it because the goodness of the shake just won’t flow through the straw.  We always get chocolate.  “Jack” tops the shake with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.  And it’s super cheap!  And you can take it home and sit on the sofa with your family in your pjs will attempting to slurp the cup o’ ice cream and milk down while watching another episode of Law & Order!

Popular Jack antenna ball (Christmas version)

Merry Christmas from Jack!

In keeping with my new Friday “tradition”, I want to tell you about my favorite thing (other than a milkshake) this week: Pomegranate Molasses.  It can be a little tricky to find in the grocery store, but ask around and you’ll find it.  If you have a Middle Eastern market near you, that’s a great place to look.  I bought mine in San Diego at Specialty Produce (http://www.specialtyproduce.com/).

I need another bottle!

I need another bottle!

I love this product because you can use it on so many things.  It has a very tart and tangy flavor, and it is thick (hence “molasses”) so it is a great saucy topper.  You can drizzle it over sweet or savory dishes.  You can take any grain, for example wheat berry, and some dark greens, like mustard greens or arugula, and drizzle the molasses over it.  Or you can go sweet.  The first time I used Pomegranate Molasses was about 8 years ago when I came across a recipe from Big City Cooking: Recipes for a Fast-Paced World by Matthew Kenney and Joan Schwartz.  It is the most simple recipe, but you have to use the highest quality of ingredients.  Hold onto this recipe until the peak of strawberry season.  I promise people will rave!  And, again, it couldn’t be easier!  Don’t wait for strawberry season to buy it! Go out, find a bottle, and start using it.  The next grain salad you make for dinner, pour a little over each serving.  It will be a great addition to your pantry!

Strawberries with Pomegranate Molasses and Fresh Ricotta by Matthew Kenney Serves 4

1 quart ripe strawberries, stemmed and halved

2 tablespoons sugar

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Kosher salt

(My addition: couple pinches of cinnamon.  I love cinnamon and it’s so healthy, so I always try to add it to recipes.)

1 cup whole ricotta cheese (***Remember, do not use the commercial stuff.  Go to a cheese purveyor and get the good stuff!!)

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, or substitute balsamic syrup (***But don’t!  And I believe the amount is to taste.  You may want a lot more!)

12 mint leaves

In a large bowl, toss the strawberries with sugar.  Whisk the lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon and a pinch of salt into the ricotta.  Divide the strawberries among 4 bowls, top with the ricotta mixture, drizzle with pomegranate molasses, and garnish with mint leaves.

Have you used this product before?  If so, tell me how!

Take Care and Happy Eating!

Fabulous Fridays!

Happy Friday! I’ve decided to dedicate Fridays to a particular thing (food related, of course) that I have just loved throughout the week.  I feel like Oprah!  Unfortunately I will not be giving away my favorite things to my readers.  I wish.  Sorry.

Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...

My favorite and fabulous thing this week is: Cooking Light Magazine!  You get a subscription!! And you get a subscription!!!!!! And you – wait.  I’m not Oprah.  Again, I apologize.

Cooking Light

Cooking Light (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After Thanksgiving, Franz and I were still craving something sweet.  I know, I know.  We had left over pumpkin pie and a cranberry/rhubarb cobbler, so we should have stopped at that.  We couldn’t let the craving go.  I had the latest copy of Cooking Light staring at me. Sir even used it as a head rest. I usually cook dinner Monday through Thursday.  And of those dinners, about 80% or more come from Cooking Light.  I even own The Annual Recipes 2009 and 2010 Cookbooks.  The recipes are almost always tasty and relatively healthy.  Occasionally I may tweak a recipe, but it usually isn’t necessary.

CL and Sir

The November cover photo is a slice of Baked Chocolate Mousse Cake.  I ran to Trader Joe’s to purchase 2 items I needed to make this devilish dessert: instant coffee and some whipped topping (Cooking light suggested a reduced-calorie whipped topping, but I opted for regular.).  I had everything else on hand.  Word of advice: always have ingredients on hand to make at least a simple cake or a batch of cookies.  It’s the only way to live.

Once again, CL did me proud!  It was easy to make, and it was delicious!  Here’s the recipe . . .

Baked Chocolate Mousse from Cooking Light

Baked Chocolate Mousse from Cooking Light

Baked Chocolate Mousse Cooking Light, November 2012

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa

1 teaspoon instant espresso granules

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

1 tablespoon brandy (**I used Apricot Brandy.  Only kind I had on hand.)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 large egg whites

1/3 cup sugar

Dash of salt

1 1/2 cups frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping, thawed

Baking spray with flour (such as Baker’s Joy) (**I used butter and flour since I didn’t have the specified spray.)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Bring 1/2 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add cocoa and espresso, stirring until smooth. Remove pan from heat. Add chocolates; gently stir until mixture is smooth. Stir in brandy and vanilla. Pour chocolate mixture into a large bowl. Let stand 10 minutes; stir occasionally. (**I didn’t stir occasionally and it was fine.)

3. Combine eggs, egg whites, sugar, and salt in the top of a double boiler, stirring with a whisk. Cook over simmering water until a thermometer reaches 115° (about 2 minutes), stirring constantly with a whisk. Place egg mixture in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until ribbony, soft peaks form (about 5 minutes). (**It took my egg mixture about 4 minutes to reach 115 degrees.  To attain the ribbony, soft peaks, it took about 7 minutes.)

4. Gently stir one-third of egg mixture into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remaining egg mixture. Gently fold in whipped topping. Spoon batter into an 8-inch springform pan coated with baking spray, spreading evenly. Bake at 350° for 27 minutes or until almost set (center will not be firm but will set as it chills). Cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Cover and chill at least 8 hours or overnight. (**I buttered and dusted with flour a 9-inch spring form pan.  In my pan, it took about 21-22 minutes for it to cook.  Franz couldn’t wait the recommended chill time.  We cut into it after it was in the refrigerator for about 4 hours. It was fine.  But it was even better the next night!)

OR USE WHIPPED CREAM: If you substitute an equal amount of whipped cream for the whipped topping, you’ll add 62 calories, 6.7g fat, and 4.2g sat fat to each serving. You will also need to bake the mousse about 5 minutes longer.

Take Care and Happy Eating! (And have a fabulous weekend!!)

Thanksgiving Day Quiz!

Happy Thanksgiving! I know everyone is probably (hopefully) enjoying some great food with family and friends. As I type, the bird is in the oven, and it’s starting to smell like the Holidays! My dog, Monsieur, has a tough time every year on this day.  His body doesn’t react well to turkey, but the smell of the raw bird is an overwhelming experience for him.  He’s a lot like me.  We let him get close to the turkey to check it out and give him an alternative treat: banana.

Now for  the quiz!  Can you tell which one is the turkey??

As I was writing (and cooking), our neighbor stopped by to give us a bottle of wine!  What a great surprise!  It’s awesome knowing there are some great people out there – and people who know I would love a bottle of wine!!  Thanks, Matt and Britt!!

Take Care and Happy Eating!