Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fraternity (or Tailgate) Layered Mexican Dip in a Cup

Liv Life loves blog mail days, but I have to admit some mail days rate higher with the family than others.  Our last mail day?  Jackpot!  Who doesn't love fresh guacamole and salsa delivered right to your door?

The Kroger Family sent us a care package to try their new Peakfection Salsa and Traditional Guacamole.  Made wholly from "real" ingredients (no weird stuff and no added sugar!), both packages already rated highly in my book before we even took a taste.  And I have to admit, with school starting and my son preparing to head off to college, our taste test didn't happen quite a soon as I had hoped.

A full week after receiving the goodies we finally had time to sit down to figure out what to make.  At this point we weren't particularly creative, and between the four of us we polished off both the salsa and guacamole in one sitting.  And, we noted though they had been in the fridge for over a week, both products did indeed remain fresh and abundantly flavorful.

Heading to my local Ralph's (Kroger's store here in San Diego), I came home loaded with new Peakfection goods and we set off to make a recipe decision.  I voted for the Spanish Rice (white rice enhanced with Peakfection's Medium Red Salsa - 2 cups water, 1 cup white rice, 1 cup Peakfection Salsa) or the Peakfection Salsa Chicken (Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts baked in 1 1/2 cups salsa, 1 Tbs Dijon, 1 Tbs brown sugar - 375ºF for about 20 min), but I was overruled.

In honor of my son heading to college, Liv and her brother put together a version of a 7-Layer Dip in a Cup.  Last year one of my girlfriends brought a true 7-Layer Dip to our Super Bowl party, but the layers included sour cream and shredded cheese... as neither of my kids can have dairy, we opted for a simple, fraternity (or Tailgate) friendly, dairy-free version.

Taking 2-ounce plastic disposable shot cups, the kids dolloped refried beans, guacamole and then a topping of salsa.  Adding a few chips to the cup gave us a zesty mini appetizer good to grab and go.

Easy enough for a college kid to put together on his own (though I'm not sure they'd have those plastic shot cups in their dorm rooms or fraternity?  ;) , and portable enough to toss into a cooler for easier transportation and put together at a tailgate, this dip proved immensely popular and disappeared in a flash once I gave the go ahead after our photo shoot.

I'm not totally sure how they do it, but the Peakfection products remained fresh in the fridge until we were ready to use them... perfect if you are like me and tend to purchase items for dinner plans you have which end up changing at the last minute leaving you to forget you had even bought the items until they are now past their prime.

The Kroger Family of Stores new line of guacamole and salsas comes in a variety of flavors:
5 Salsas (red in three spice levels and roasted in two spice levels)
2 Guacamoles (traditional and spicy)

Made with fresh ingredients captured at their peak of perfection and using a special cold water process, these products stay fresher longer and are ready and waiting when you need them.

Our many thanks to Kroger for sending us a care package and giving us the opportunity to try the salsa and guac.  BTW... the Peakfection Insulated tumblers included in the care package have made their way all over San Diego and have spent numerous days at the beach!!

We love your Peakfection Perfection!
Liv's Peakfection Instagram!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

DIY Nut Butters

Find Liv Life  (DIY Nut Butters) on the Blendtec Blog!

From elementary through high school, the all-American PBJ became my lunchtime staple.  Soft bread slathered with peanutty wonderfulness and a large dollop of apricot jam, the combo always (and still does) brought a smile to my face.  Or... how about my beloved peanut butter cup??  The only candy I ever devoured (well... along with a Butterfinger or two) out of my Halloween bag, I remember trading everything else away, then hoarding my stash of pb cups for weeks.

But then I grew up and became a mom, and the ingredients in the store bought jars of brand name peanut butters left me wanting less.  Less ingredients.  For a true nut butter, the ingredient should be - the nut.  And I turned to natural peanut butter from Trader Joe's.  One day though, unpacking my bag and I found I had grabbed Almond Butter rather than Peanut butter and thought, what the heck??  I'll give it a go.  And my world opened just a little bit more.

Opening my world even further though, was the arrival in my kitchen of the Blendtec Twister Jar which now allows me to make my own nut butter concoctions at will.  Cashew Butter anyone??  Or how about the luxurious and ethereal Macadamia Butter??  Or perhaps a Crunchy Cashew Peanut version??

You can find them all on the Blendtec Blog where Liv Life is guest posting with our DIY Nut Butter post.  Join me?

Luscious Macadamia Butter... it's a snap to make at home!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

No-Cook Summer Heirloom Tomato Sauce with Fresh Herbs

No-Cook Heirloom Tomato Sauce

I'm always up for a good challenge!  However, occasionally the same challenge repeated over and over can get a bit old.  For instance... getting a rainbow of foods into a certain 18-year old boy shouldn't be so hard.  As a high school graduate (one with honors at that...), someone who lives for physical fitness, and one who has been counseled on nutrition his entire life by his mom, it shouldn't be such a challenge to get those good foods into his still growing body.  But it is.

Girard's Olde Venitian Italian Dressing
Girard's Olde Venice Italian Dressing
Which leads me to my next challenge... one in which Girard's Dressings sent me a lovely care package along with a challenge to feature the dressing in some way other than simply dressing salad greens.

With both challenges on my plate, I think I've come up with a fabulous merger... one that features Girard's Olde Venice Italian Dressing in a fresh no-cook tomato sauce (reminiscent of our days in Venice I might add...) and one that will bring a bit of that rainbow of plant-based foods into my 18-year old boy.

While my son has never really been a tomato fan, he does love everything tomato sauce or salsa.  Go figure.  Hence, pasta with tomato sauce has been an 18 year vehicle to add veggetables to the table and have it gobbled up without question.

Living in San Diego I wait all year for tomato season, and right now it's at its peak.  Tables lined with sometimes oddly shaped and oh, so beautiful heirlooms have me arriving home from our weekly farmer's market with bagfuls of tomatoes, and as such, tomatoes enter our menu nearly every day.

San Diego Heirlooms on the left... Italian Romas in Venice on the right!
But back to school, dance and work schedules have my family eating dinner at different times, bringing make-ahead meals back onto the menu board.

Enter our no-cook tomato sauce.  Easy enough that my son could actually put it together himself should he be so moved (he wasn't...), and even easier when prepared ahead and simply added to freshly cooked pasta (he felt this option worked better for him).

No-Cook Heirloom Tomato Sauce
Even my husband gushed as he arrived home from a week on the road claiming the sauce brought him back to our days wandering the canals of Venice where aromas of basil, garlic and tomatoes frequently fill alleyways as restaurants serve up their finest.

Thanks to Girard's - a company with a history closely paralleling my own (we both began in San Francisco, spent time in San Rafael and made our way south to San Diego) - for bringing a bit of my childhood into the kitchen.  With a recipe dating back to the mid 1930's, my mom says her father actually ate at Girard's French Restaurant on Ellis St., in San Francisco, where Girard's Original French Dressing came to be.

Easily recognizable in their familiar triangular-shaped bottles, Grirard's was a staple in our kitchen when I was little, and I smiled as my neighbor's 11-year old daughter pointed to the Champagne Dressing exclaiming, "Oh!  That one's my favorite!".  Her smile grew even larger when I handed her the bottle to take home after she helped me style and shoot a few photos.

Versatile and easy to make ahead of time, this No-Cook Tomato Sauce has been on our menu twice in the last week, and one night my husband spooned the sauce bruschetta-like over toasted ciabatta for an early evening appetizer with a glass of Italian wine.

Thanks for the challenge Griard's!  I easily fed my family at 3 different times in one day and brought some fabulous seasonal plant-based foods into our diets and... I had them reaching for more.  #success

No-Cook Heirloom Tomato Sauce

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chocolate Dipped Almond Butter Bites

Almond Butter, where have you been all my life???  I know, you were right there on the shelf, just below my beloved peanut butter, but I never noticed you.  And when I did, I didn't have the nerve to try.  Then one day I needed you for a recipe.  You sat in my fridge for a few weeks and I wondered, "What should I do with the rest of this?".  Somehow, thankfully, you talked me into spreading you on a waffle after the kids went to school...  And it was love.  Pure, brilliant, why-did-I-wait-so-long love.  Almond Butter?  I love you.

Such is my relationship with my now beloved almond butter.  We've gotten to know each other so well I've actually started making it myself so I'm never without its awesomeness.  Almond butter hasn't been embraced by my family like me, making me feel like we have something special... Almond Butter and I.

Hence, when looking for treats to bake I frequently reach for the 'ole peanut butter and then everyone is happy.  But yesterday, I didn't.  Yesterday everyone in the family left.  My husband flew himself off to the Big Island of Hawaii for "work", Liv spent the day and night with a girlfriend and my son worked and was out late.  And the Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookie recipe from Cooking Light that flashed through my facebook feed stopped me in my tracks.  How would it be with almond butter?

I can tell you how it would be with almond butter.  Fabulous.  Amazing.  Even spectacular!!  Easy to whip together and baked into little bites, their version of the recipe called for mini chocolate chips.  But I didn't have any, so... why not melt dark chocolate and dip the little guys?  Done.

Tossing the bites into the fridge to firm up I forgot about them for a few hours.  Then finding them as I thought about dinner for myself, I pulled a cookie right from the fridge.  Cold, and a little hard, the chocolate cracked as I took my first bite and the cookie yielded a firm, yet giving texture.

Taking them out to photograph the humidity immediately clung the the chilly chocolate and the chocolate and cookie softened up to a lovely, soft, full of fabulous almond butter taste.  Preferring the fresh from the fridge, though, I replaced the plate after our photo shoot, and while working around the house I'll admit to stopping at the fridge nearly every time I passed.

Leaving a handful on the plate, the pups and I made our way to bed, and I think I might have even dreamed about my new almond butter loves.  The next morning I thought, "Maybe just one before breakfast...", but my dreams were dashed as I opened the fridge to find an empty plate, plastic wrap sticking up just wide enough for an 18-year old male hand to fit through, and a note.  "These are good".

Luckily... I know how to make almond butter.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Piña-vocado Smoothies from Kathy Patalsky's 365 Vegan Smoothies

Piña-vocado Smoothie - 365 Vegan Smoothies
Tuesday Morning Instagram!
Smoothies... our go-to fuel when we need to hit the road fast.  Easy to pop into a blender, easy to fill with that rainbow of fruits and veggies, and in a word, good.  Since my kids were wee ones I've counted on the smoothie or blended juice to get in the greens they won't eat and to help fuel their day with plant-based ingredients.  But after time I'll admit my smoothie repertoire tends to get a bit repetitive.  Until now.

We've talked about of blog mail in the past, and last week a box popped open to reveal my very own copy of 365 Vegan Smoothies by the esteemed Kathy Patalsky.  I've long been a fan of Kathy's blog, Happy. Healthy. Life, and I'm now a fan of her Smoothie Book.  With 365 plant-filled recipes she's single-handedly breathed a breath of fresh air into our days.

Opening her vibrant book, I got all the way to recipe number 6 before finding the recipe to I wanted to post, the Piña-vocado.  Featuring frozen pineapple and banana, it was the addition of my beloved avocado that stopped me in my tracks and had me heading to the blender.  Topped with a sprinkle of tropical coconut, the kids gratefully accepted their snack on the run.

But we didn't stop there!!  Since receiving the book we've experimented with new tastes almost daily and in the process we've increased our rainbow of fruit and veggie by leaps and bounds.  For example... the Spicy Cantaloupe Cooler brings a lovely hue of orange which contrasts with the Blueberry Island Kiss that transported us for a few moments to a sandy beach in the islands.

Spotted bananas... prized by smoothie makers and bakers everywhere!!  Can't use them fast enough?  Peel, slice into 1-inch rounds and freeze.  (slice into a zip top bag, then spread flat in the freezer for easier use)
But Kathy doesn't stop with just fruited versions.  The Almond Butter Morning shake has become a favorite of mine bringing a dose of protein to the cup with a balanced blend of protein, fat and complex carbs that keeps me fueled for hours.

And 365 Vegan Smoothies isn't just for vegans, it's plant-based foods that will help you blend your way to health and wellness all year round, and is perfect for anyone with a penchant for smoothies.  I think Kathy sums it up best:

"Creating and drinking a tall, frosty, beautiful smoothie is an act of pure bliss.  You start by gathering a few of your favorite healthy ingredients.  Then after a quick swirl in a blender, those ingredients spin into brand new delicious creations.  I look at smoothies as a daily boost.  In one colorful glass you are getting a wide rainbow of nutrients."

With a chapter on "Smoothies 101" Kathy covers all the smoothie basics including kitchen tips, equipment and ingredients.  The pages then take the reader through smoothie themes including Detox Smoothies to start the year of right, and then moves on to Energizing, Slim-down, Calming, Healthy Digestion, Heart Health, Anti-aging and even Beauty Smoothies.  Each recipe includes a full summary of the smoothie's nutritional profile and Kathy goes on to explain the benefits of the included ingredients.  What more could a smoothie-maker want??

Oh... what about pretty pictures??  I'm a sucker for a book with beautiful photography, and while not every smoothie has been photographed, the book is splashed with eye-candy and brilliant colors.

Our thanks to Kathy for sharing her book with us, and for bringing new life to our blended drinks.  We're on a goal to keep up our rainbow every day and with her smoothies we're well on our way.

Piña-vocado Smoothie - 365 Vegan Smoothies

Monday, August 11, 2014

A day in Santa Barbara... The Santa Barbara Mission, Crushcakes Cafe and The Lucky Llama

Left alone in Santa Barbara for a couple of days, what're a Mom and daughter to do??  Why eat, shop and take in the local sights, of course!  Dropping my son at UCSB for orientation, Liv and I made the quaint Upham Hotel (see our review) our home base and took on the town.

Centrally located and just a block and a half off of State Street, the Upham allowed us to leave the car and simply get out and walk.  With camera in hand we set out for our first stop of the day, the Mission Santa Barbara.

The Queen of Missions - Santa Barbara
Growing up in California, all students learn about the 21 Missions that make up a series of religious and military outposts established by Spanish Catholics of the Franciscan Order between 1769 and 1823.  In 5th grade each student is assigned a single mission to study, and some 35 years ago the Mission Santa Barbara was my mission.

Making a field trip out of the project, my dad took me and my family from our Northern California home down to Santa Barbara so I could see my mission in person, and then we returned home to build a replica out of sugar cubes.

Today, more than 200 years after its establishment, the Santa Barbara Mission continues to be a cultural and historical site.  A beautiful church with a large and active parish, the mission also hosts a museum, gift shop, cemetery, mausoleum, and ten acres of beautifully landscaped gardens.  Known as the Queen of Missions, the Santa Barbara Mission is well worth a visit when you are in town.

For a complete history of the Mission visit the 

Hungry after our trek to and around the Mission, Liv surprised me with a restaurant suggestion.  Not one to usually research ahead of time, my interest piqued as she described a cafe "that I know you will love Mom... I read about organic salads and awesome wraps.  I think it's going to be great!".

After about a 10 minute walk through the lovely streets of Santa Barbara we found Liv's cafe suggestion.  Crushcakes Cafe, that is.  Now fully understanding her interest, I smiled at she explained she had seen Crushcakes on Foodnetwork's Cupcake Wars and it seemed to be a must try.  She was right.

Walking through the decadent cupcake shop we made our way to the cafe (lunch before dessert...), where Crushcakes features locally grown produce - indeed organic when possible.  Serving breakfast all day, the Peace, Love and Granola (vanilla bean yogurt topped with our homemade granola, sliced bananas, strawberries and honey drizzle) caught my eye, but so did the offerings of organic scrambles and breakfast burritos.

Crushcakes and Cafe (Get the coconut!!!)
The lunch menu covers soups, salads, grilled paninis, wraps and house specials like Chicken Ranch Quesadillas or Rosie's Tacos.  I'll admit I wish we had time for two meals, but as we had just finished a full breakfast, the Animal Lover Salad did the trick for me (mixed greens, roasted zucchini, caramelized onions, roasted peppers
toasted pumpkin seeds, portobello mushrooms, tomatoes, homemade vinaigrette)
and Liv stuck with the Turkey Club Wrap and could only finish half before proclaiming herself beyond satiated.  After all, we needed to save room for cupcakes.

And save room we did.  Entering the bakery the names of the cupcakes alone made us want one of each (Strawberry Blush, anyone??  Or perhaps a Lemon Drop or Chocolate Bliss??), but we settled for one each - might I just interject here that the Coconut Cloud is one of the best cupcakes I've ever had - and took a set of 4 for the road.  Let's just say that Crushcakes has earned a rating of "must visit" when in Santa Barbara in our book.  #awesomeness

Our last adventure the next morning took us to Carpenteria... just about 10 minutes from Santa Barbara (South on the 101), Liv and I had a tip from one of her girlfriends about The Lucky Llama, and will most likely we'll be making this a regular stop as we hit the road back to San Deigo on future trips.

The Lucky Llama - Carpenteria, CA
Featuring Acai and Breakfast Bowls, the Lucky Llama also serves a fabulous line of coffee drinks that I'm certain is going to take a number of visits so I can try them all.

Choosing an Avocado Bowl (acai blended with avo and banana then topped with more banana, strawberries and some of the best granola I've ever had) and a Mango Bowl (same as avo only with mango - this one was our favorite), we found ourselves perfectly fueled to return trip to UCSB to pick up my son from orientation.

Mango and Avocado Acai Bowls to go...
While Liv has another few years before she needs to make her own college decision, our few days in Santa Barbara did a lot to make her feel at home in the town, and I have a feeling UCSB will be high on her college interest list.

A walk through the campus and visit to the bookstore gave her a taste of college life, then a trek into Isla Vista brought an even bigger surprise.  What was the first restaurant to catch here eye?  Why another Crushcakes Cafe, of course.  UCSB now seems like home.

Storke Tower... University of California at Santa Barbara

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Grilled Pizza with Homemade (DIY) Whole Wheat Semolina Crust

Years ago when we did our backyard my husband designed the ideal grilling island with visions of standing over his yard, tongs in hand and bringing one delight after another from his beloved grill.  However, when he actually took those tongs in hand he found he didn't really love the whole process as much as he loved the dream.

Cooking has always been my area in the house, and after trying out his awesome grill, I gently took the reins and proclaimed the grill to be mine.  Since then I've grilled everything from fillets to kale chips, and this grilled pizza has become a regular in our rotation.

With homemade dough you only need to plan a little bit ahead, and with the versatility that pizza brings, you can have a meal tailored to anyone's taste.

I'll admit that the first time we grilled the dough I had visions of melting dough slipping through the hot grates, but it never happened.  The rolled and pulled dough begins cooking immediately as it hits the hot grates, and a flip before "dressing" ensures the dough isn't "doughy" as you bite into your first piece of pie.

A year round favorite here in San Diego, grilled pizza takes the mess out of the kitchen and gets everyone involved.  Enjoy!

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