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!

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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!!

Tractor Room on Urbanspoon

Arrivederci Italian on Urbanspoon

Wine Vault & Bistro on Urbanspoon

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!

Got Thanks?

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I’ve been in a rut.  I’ll admit it.  I’ve been complaining about the heat, that I have too much coming up in the next few months (only to be followed by the busy Holiday months), that my beloved dog has figured out how to maneuver under the front yard fence, that my allergies won’t lighten up, and that I just don’t feel like writing!  And with the extended heat wave we’ve been having, I haven’t been in the cooking mood either.  And when I go for a run, it’s a weak attempt at best.  What else am I forgetting?

In June I wrote a little bit about being thankful.  I think I need to revisit that state of mind!  I got an email from Panera Bread about a contest entitled “What We’re Thankful For” (http://www.facebook.com/panerabread?v=app_272143752885090).  Perfect timing!

Panera on Urbanspoon

So here are a handful of things for which I’m thankful:

1) Pomegranate Margaritas with my sister-in-law, Elisabeth, at Ortega’s in Hillcrest (http://www.ortegasbistro.com/).  I love that I have a sis-in-law that wants to try new food and new restaurants.  Before she left Cleveland, she did some research and read about this place.  It’s in my neighborhood, but I had never been inside.   I wasn’t super crazy about their carnitas, but I will return to sit outside, have a Pomegranate Margarita and some of their tasty chips and salsa.  I snagged a taste of Liz’s Chicken Verde Enchiladas, something I don’t usually order, and it was really tasty.  I think the star of this restaurant is the salsa!  Ohhh, I almost forgot!  They have killer flour tortillas.  I wanted to wrap myself in one – a nice, warm, soft, tortilla blanket!

Ortega's Mexican Bistro on Urbanspoon

2) Going Downtown and checking out the Sand Castle Competition with my mother-in-law, Elisabeth and my husband.  My father-in-law couldn’t understand why we wanted to do this, so he opted to sit on a bench under some trees where he met some very interesting people.  I’ll pass on telling that story!  It only took us about an hour or so to walk through the event, but it was so nice to be near the water and out in such nice weather!

3) Taking another tour at Suzie’s Farm!  Our tour guide this time was Eric, aka “Chicken Man”.  Eric is in charge of the animals on the farm.  Currently, they only have chickens, but that may change soon.  I can’t wait for them to get goats!!!  He told us about the 30 different breeds of chickens they have – some are on the endangered list.  The birds are used for 2 reasons: eggs and to help cultivate the ground.  Being out on the farm is always so relaxing, and I walked away with lots of veggie loot!

4) Getting a sprinkler system installed!!!  Woohoo!  You have no idea how excited I am!!  It deserves a second “Woo-hoo”!!

5) That my in-laws, visiting from Cleveland, Ohio, took a brief trip to Vegas so I have time to clean, recuperate and be able to write something for this blog. The day before they left for Vegas, we had a plumbing issue.  Never a good thing.  A big THANKS goes out to South Bay Rooter!  Thanks, Dave.  Not only did he quickly assess and correct the problem, the bill was very fair.  Greatly appreciated!!

6) That we can celebrate Franz’s parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.  The official date was back in June, so Franz and I decided that we would have to celebrate with them once they got out here.  Later this week, the whole gang will head over to Kaiserhof Restaurant & Biergarten (http://www.kaiserhofrestaurant.com/) to celebrate in the appropriate German style: large pretzels, steins of Paulaner or Hacker Pshorr (which my Dad-in-Law just corrected me the other day because I wasn’t pronouncing the “P” in Pshorr.  Keeping me on track!!), and bratwurst.

7) That I don’t live too close to the best donut shop, but close enough to go every so often!  http://vgbakery.com/

V G Donuts & Bakery on Urbanspoon

8) For my littlest man in the world, Monsieur.

9) That my Dad is able to come out to San Diego for a visit this month!

10) For the delicious Thomcord grapes Elisabeth bought at Trader Joe’s the other day!  They are a hybrid of Thompson and Concord.  Yummy!!!  Go and buy some!!! They will make you smile! (I’m eating them right now and smiling!!)

What are you thankful for this week?  Let me know!

Take Care and Happy Eating!