Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pumpkin-Banana Blender Waffles #vegan - but you'd never know it!

Vegan Pumpkin Banana Blender Waffles

Apparently its pumpkin season... at least according to trending internet searches and the calendar.  However my backyard thermometer tells a different story.

It always happens, doesn't it?  The kids go back to school and the mercury rises... a record breaking rise in this case.  Southern California has been enduring a heat wave of unimaginable sorts the last few weeks, and even I, the self proclaimed "I love the heat!" girl, have caved.  It's hot.

As we live close to the coast here in San Diego and "It doesn't really get that hot here..." we don't have air conditioning.  It's never bothered me in the past as I would only have used it a couple of days a year, but this year??  Goodness... I'd have used it consistently for last few weeks.  I may or may not actually be guilty of visiting the mall on multiple occasions, sitting in the car longer than I needed to, or peering into the fridge a just little longer than necessary to cool off.

Cooking has either been outside on the grill or something salad-like that doesn't require heating.  Breakfast, however, is a different story.  I've always fixed a real breakfast before the kids head off to school. -  Waffles, pancakes, ebilskivers, frittatas, - Breakfast is a must.

Vegan Pumpkin Banana Blender Waffles

However sophomore year homework has had my girl up later than she has been in past years, and with recent lights out around midnight and an alarm blaring at 6 AM, I'm tired, and my "get up and make breakfast for everyone" motivation is waning.

Enter blender waffles.  These guys are a lifesaver when looking to shave a few minutes off the morning routine.  Plugging the waffle iron in as I begin to toss ingredients into the blender (we use a Blendtec with the wildside jar), by the time everything is mixed the iron is hot.  Waffles pump out every few minutes and within 20 minutes I've got fresh, crispy waffles on the table with an few extras leftover for a waffle pbj for the lunchbox.

Filled with banana, pumpkin, and whole grains, I feel good about the start the kids are getting to their day, and not guilty at all when I happen to slather my own with almond butter and a drizzle of honey.

Pumpkin season?  We say that's all year round, but blender waffles are definitely a good thing for back to school.

Vegan Pumpkin Banana Blender Waffles

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mexican Chicken Tortilla and Rice Soup

Chicken soup... it's good for the soul, right?  Liv completely agrees.  A year or so ago she found her love of chicken soup (she prefers potatoes and noodles usually) and has now (finally!)  branched out to flavors beyond the norm.

Her request last night to "make something with cilantro" led me to this spin on one of our favorites, Tortilla Soup.  Filled with her chicken soup faves - carrot, onion and chicken - we thickened the mix with a chopped tortilla.  Substituting rice for the noodles and potatoes, and adding beans and tomato, we had a Mexican flavor of her favorite comfort food.

Topped with avocado, a sprinkle of crushed tortilla chips and handful of the requested cilantro, I pretended not to watch as she hesitantly took her first taste.  Her quick smile told me we'd found something good, and the empty bowl moments later proved it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hot Cocoa Snickerdoodles

Being a Food Blogger comes with perks.  My favorite?  Mail days that bring new cookbooks filled with gorgeous photos right to my door.  Such a day usually calls for an afternoon at the beach or an early stop in the pickup line as I simply can't wait to get my nose into the book.

Many times a certain recipe jumps out and I know right away what I want to make for our review, but with this latest book, Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking
 by Cara Reed, I couldn't decide.  Hence... this is my second recipe (with permission!!) from this book, and to be honest, I'm wishing I could just start at the beginning of the book and simply blog my way through.

Baking is my fist love in the kitchen, but I have to note here that I'm not a gluten-free baker.  As I mentioned in our last post (Cara's Ginger Wafer Thins), Liv thought she didn't like "gluten-free stuff", but this book is quickly changing her mind.  My son is severely lactose intolerant, and as such I'm are always looking for dairy-free recipes, hence I often turn to vegan sources and this book has become a new, highly praised source for me.

Research.... ;)
Seriously... Hot Cocoa Snickerdoodles??  My family is swooning, and I actually had to make a second batch to get a photo shoot in.  Luckily, they are all at school and work this morning, and I'm continuing the taste test portion of this post as I type.  All in the name of work of course... I want you to know how these snickerdoodles taste right from the oven, then an hour after baking, 2 hours after baking, and so on.  (Note: So far every hour is simply fabulous, however I will keep trying just to be sure.)

Tender and with a perfect snickerdoodle texture, these cookies bring what I think of as a Mexican Hot Cocoa flavor with the added cinnamon and chocolate.  Perfect for an after school treat (if there are any left by the time the kids get home), I can also see these cookies on my holiday trays or wrapped in a little bag for a hostess gift.  How perfect would a holiday gift of the book along with a bag of these cookies be??!

Thanks Cara for letting me post two recipes from your book.  I've got my eye on those Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcakes next!!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ginger Wafer Thins from Cara Reed's Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking

"Hey Liv... I'm making cookies today from the cookbook I got in the mail a few weeks ago.  So I'll have some when I pick you and Taylor up from dance and you guys can be my taste testers, OK?"

"Sure!!  Oh wait... is that the gluten-free book you got?"


"Oh... never mind then.  I don't like gluten-free stuff."

So went our conversation this morning, and apparently my daughter thinks she doesn't like gluten-free goods.  Funny, because she's been eating some pretty darn spectacular treats all week, and... they've all been gluten-free recipes from Cara Reed's new book, Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking.  And... she liked them so much she's even been asking for extras so she can share with friends.

Our mail day Instagram!
Today I made Cara's spicy Ginger Wafer Thins (gluten-free AND vegan) and brought Liv what I had left over after performing my own taste test (which may or may not have had less than half the batch remaining...).

She and her girlfriend, hungry after 5 hours of dance rehearsals, gushed as they finished the rest of the gingery crisps, and her face was positively priceless when I told her the cookies were gluten-free.  Her comment of, "Well... I guess I do like gluten-free stuff!" made us all laugh.

While our family isn't particular to gf, I do tend to stick to vegan foods as I can guarantee a dairy-free meal or treat for my severely lactose intolerant son.  Cara Reed's beautiful new book opened our world even further with some 180+ pages of incredible baked goods my whole family can enjoy.

From cookies to scones to cupcakes and even donuts, every recipe we tried met or exceeded the "awesomeness" expectation we had after reading the descriptions that introduced them.  Cara has taken all the guess work out of swapping ingredients to remove gluten, milk and eggs from recipes, and her recipes work.  And she doesn't use "weird" ingredients that are meant as substitutes, just real ingredients using the right techniques.  Once you put together one of her Gluten-Free Baking blends (I did need to buy ingredients I don't usually have on hand for those), you're good to go.

If you are switching to gluten-free or vegan goods, you will definitely have predisposed ideas of what you are looking for in a cookie or cupcake, and I have to admit many times I'm disappointed with the finished products I find in stores or bake myself.  Not so with Cara's recipes.  She's done the research and testing for you, and you can count on consistently fabulous results from her recipes.

With a chapter on Childhood Favorites, Cara brings special treats like Girl Scout's Thin Mints to everyone's plate, and now no one needs to go without due to an intolerance or allergy.  We haven't tried the Strawberry Frosted "Pop-Tarts" or Hot Cocoa Snickerdoodles yet, but they're next up on our list and I'll definitely keep you posted.

Cara... thank you for bringing baked treats back into our house that my whole family can enjoy.  Your book is a treat to read with its gorgeous photos and your recipe descriptions make me feel like we're old friends simply chatting about what we're going to make.  The book is already splattered with batter and has pages turned down for future dates, definitely signs of a new favorite.  Thank you!

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
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