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.


Bananas
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!


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Santa Barbara Getaway - The Upham Hotel and Louie's Bistro

Upham Hotel, Santa Barbara, California

We all have friends with opinions and recommendations for hotels, restaurants, etc, and of those friends we know the ones we can trust, the ones with classy, impeccable taste.  For me, that friend is Marsha.  My muse when it comes to anything travel or food related, I trust implicity what she recommends, and when she suggested the quaint Upham Hotel in lieu of a run of the mill resort for our stay in Santa Barbara I simply picked up the phone and made a reservation.  Dropping my son at UCSB for Freshman Orientation, I'm happy to say I've found my home away from home for the next four years.

Upham Hotel, Santa Barbara, California
Breakfast or wine on the patio anyone??
Built in 1871, the Upham Hotel claims the title of the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California.  Offering some 50 rooms and suites located in one of several single and two story buildings, the hotel embraces its heritage, yet brings a completely modern facility.

Featuring a generous continental breakfast, an afternoon wine and cheese and evening milk and cookies, the hotel brings more of a bed and breakfast feel than a hotel.  From check-in to check-out, the staff did everything possible to make our stay even more comfortable, all with a personal touch.

Arriving after a four hour drive from San Diego with my 18-year old son at the wheel, I don't think I've ever looked forward to a glass of wine more than I did that night.  However, we arrived just after the evening wine and cheese event had been put away.  Describing the last four hours to the front desk, the man simply walked to the kitchen, brought me a glass of white, smiled and said, "I understand..."  I think he did.


Upham Hotel, Santa Barbara, California
With three of us in the room, our only option at the Upham was one of the Santa Barbara Double Queen Rooms located in the Hibiscus building.  A lovely two story structure surrounded by lush greenery and trees, Liv loved that our key was just that, an actual key.

With ample room for our party of three, we unloaded our bags into the spacious walk in closet and once again, Liv loved the "old fashioned" (her words... not mine!) touches.  Using a pull chain for the light in the closet, I had to smile realizing that in her 14 years she had never seen one.  Might I mention that the crystal door handles also brought a smile to her face.


Living in Southern California, we love to open our windows, and the shuttered windows in our room opened to provided a lovely evening breeze enhanced by our spinning ceiling fan.  No need for air conditioning on our early August stay - temps at night fell to the low 60's, days were high 70's.  While we did hear occasional guest walking to and from their cars, everyone hushed their children and we had no issues with noise.

Upham Hotel, Santa Barbara, California

Breakfast, while described as continental, was a delight.  Including steel cut oats with a choice of toppings (my choice included raisins and cinnamon), bagels, bread, muffins, pastries, cereal and milk, hard boiled eggs, fruit (bananas, apples and grapefruit), assorted juices, and coffee and tea, one has a wonderful start to the day, and the choice of patio dining becomes even more of a bonus.


Upham Hotel, Santa Barbara, California
Continental breakfast served 7am -11am
Tucked away on the bottom floor of the main part of the hotel, Liv and I found Louie's Bistro to be our choice for dinner.  Again, we chose patio dining and enjoyed the cool evening Southern California breeze as the sun set behind us.

Louie's Bistro, Santa Barbara, California
In business for over 30 years, Louie's also came highly recommended and after a day of tourist walking adventures we eagerly anticipated our dinner.

While the wine list features wonderful Santa Barbara and Central Coast wines, I asked our server, Patrick, for a hearty IPA.  His suggestion of the SLO (San Luis Obispo) Brewing Company perfectly hit the spot, and our relaxing evening began.

Sharing the Pepper Shrimp with avocado and a fresh tomato salsa, Liv and I chatted about our day and proclaimed our dinner most likely far better than what her brother was getting at his first meal at the UCSB dining commons.

Patrick happily adjusted the pasta dish to my "I like it my way" requests and suggested the Chicken and Spinach Ravioli for Liv.  Again, both fabulous choices and we polished off both plates along with a basket of warm bread.  Inquiring about dessert Patrick just smiled and said "The Banana a la Louie, of course" (custard filled puffed pastry with caramelized bananas).  As the front desk had also gushed about the Banana dessert it seemed a done deal, and again a fabulous choice.


Louie's Bistro, Santa Barbara, California
Pepper Shrimp with Avocado and Tomato Salsa
Louie's Bistro, Santa Barbara, California
Banana a la Louie... custard filled puffed pastry with caramelized bananas and vanilla gelato
Satiated, tired and happy, my girl and I wandered through the quiet grounds and back to our room.  Texting my muse, Marsha, our thanks for her hotel suggestion, we know we've found our home away from home when when visiting Santa Barbara.

Liv Life Note:  Neither the Upham or Louie's knew we planned to write reviews... all thoughts and opinions are completely our own.


The Upham Hotel, Santa Barbara, CA


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Peanut Buter Banana Cluster Kind Cookies

Peanut Butter Banana Cluster Kind Cookies

Food Blogging is indeed a strange and exciting world... It's one where key connections and amazing friendships grow through online relationships.  It's a world where sometimes boxes of treats arrive at my doorstep having my whole family curiously peering inside anticipating what treasure will emerge.  Much of the time they casually comment, "Oh... cool..." as I extract a jar of mustard or fill a bowl with fresh fava beans and peaches or crack the spine of a freshly printed cookbook.

Our last box, however, elicited a much different response.  Cutting the tape and removing the packaging, hands flew as bags of Kind Clusters along with a few Kind bars were called "this one's totally mine!!" as each family member claimed their favorite.

Peanut Butter Banana Cluster Kind Cookies
You're familiar with the Kind line of whole grain products, aren't you??  A favorite in my family for years, Kind products use ingredients you are familiar with... real food (you'll recognize ingredients as something you would have in your home pantry) that packs perfectly for our on-the-go lifestyle.  Liv always carries either a bar or bag of clusters in her dance bag, and my son tosses their dairy-free bars into his backpack on his way to school or work.

Tweeting a simple comment of:
 

"Have you tried Vanilla Blueberry Clusters???!! Bought a bag for a recipe and Liv and I ate the whole thing before we got home!!" 

led to our Kind connection, and one we couldn't be more thankful for.  And... one that elicited similar results as my Twitter comment (I think the Vanilla Blueberry is still my personal favorite).

For the first time in my blog history, I actually had to go and repurchase the samples that we received in the mail to write a post.  Leaving the samples in the box with a comment of "Don't eat these... I need to take pictures and make a recipe", I will admit I didn't actually hear any comments of agreement, and sure enough, when I returned to the box I found empty  bags and wrappers - and Liv wanting to know why I had never bought her the "Dark Chocolate Chewy with a Crunch" Healthy Grain Bars in the past, and would I go buy more because she really liked them??

After yet another trip to the store I returned with clusters in hand and finally the recipe I had been planning came to be.  Frequently using granola in my baking, I love the texture it brings to softer cookies, and the granola-like Kind Banana Nut Clusters made a perfect replacement to the rolled oats in one of our favorite snacks, Peanut Butter Banana Breakfast Bites.

Packed with protein, banana and whole grains, these cookies are a treat perfect for any time of day.  They curb mid-afternoon hunger pangs, lend a little energy on the way to dance class or the gym, and make a nice midnight snack without guilt.  Adding Kind's Banana Nut Clusters to this batch, I found the texture to be irresistible.  A nice soft cookie, now with a bit of a bite, we've made three batches over the last few weeks and no one seems to be tiring of them yet.

A big thanks to Kind for our Kind Care Package!  With school just around the corner we're stocking up on the kid's favorites and making a care package of our own as we send our son off to college.  Nearly every day is a Kind day for us, and we hope it is for you too.


Peanut Butter Banana Cluster Kind Cookies

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