Thursday, January 29, 2015

Super Potato Bowls (Bites) with Salsa, Black Beans and Avocado

The Super Bowl... what does it mean to you?  Football?  Shopping?  Commercials?

For me Super Sunday has evolved over the years.  As I find myself ever so slightly older than the Super Bowl itself, I don't have many childhood memories of the event, but entering my 20's the Super Bowl stood for one thing... Joe.  Montana that is.

You may remember him... handsome, young guy who could do no wrong (in my eyes) with a football in his hands.  Total calm under pressure, Joe led the 49ers to 31 fourth quarter comeback wins in addition to 4 Super Bowl Championships.  Nicknamed "Joe Cool", Montana remained a vision of calmness in the midst of chaos and simply marched his team down the field to earn those final few points necessary for the expected win.

ESPN's Larry Schwartz describes it best:

"Take the 1989 Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals. The San Francisco 49ers were down by three points with 3:20 left when Montana spotted -- no, not an open receiver -- but a personality. "There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp," Montana said to tackle Harris Barton. "Isn't that John Candy?" And then he led the 49ers 92 yards, throwing for the winning touchdown with 34 seconds left."

Cool and calm under pressure, that's how I'd like to think of myself handling the appetizers at one of our Super Bowl Extravaganzas, and these Super Potato Bowls, much like Dwight Clark or Jerry Rice, make my job easy.

Roasted Potato Bowls

Roasted until tender, potato bowls are filled with either homemade or store bought salsa with added black beans.  These super potato bowls are then topped with diced avocado (did you know that Super Sunday sees the consumption of more than 158 million avocados?) and chopped cilantro... add a squeeze of lime if you like, then sit back and watch these bites disappear faster than Joe could have turned around a score in the last few minutes of a game.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Season 2 MasterChef Jr. Winner, Logan's Chocolate Chip Cookies and a MasterChef Junior Giveaway

Life.   We tend to think we have it all figured out, don't we?  Our flight plans filed, we find ourselves happily headed down nice balanced paths when all of a sudden a fork, or a rock, or even a flood appear out of no where bringing a diversion we didn't expect.  Taking us off our current path and onto another, we sometimes find this new path easy going and blossoming with flowers, however other times we find ourselves fighting to regain our footing in an attempt to get back into balance.

Early December brought a bit of a tumble off of our happy, balanced path when my usually healthy husband found himself visiting the ER twice in three days with the second visit ending up with emergency surgery.  After an emotional 5-day hospital stay he headed home two days before Christmas with even more questions and an understanding that we have no understanding of how to efficiently work the current medical system.

While he's doing much better, he's been off work for some 4 weeks and will probably see a few more before he returns to filing flight plans for real (he's an airline pilot).  Thankful his issues aren't life threatening, Liv and I have settled in to make him comfortable with he's healing and stretch of time on the couch.

Looking for pick-me-up entertainment, Liv took the remote from his hands, fired up HULU on the computer and caught him up on Season 2 of our favorite show - MasterChef Junior.  And just in time as the premier of Season 3 aired last Tuesday, January 6 at 8/7c on Fox. 

Oona from Season 2
I have to admit he scoffed at the show at first.  "Seriously...", he questioned, "How good can watching a bunch of kids compete in a cooking show be?" (I fear he vividly remembers my Girl Scout Troop's adventure in cooking in our kitchen...).

But within minutes 9-year old Oona had him wrapped around her little finger with her confident come backs, kitchen finesse and irresistible personality.  12-year old Sean left us in awe of his restaurant-quality precision and skill, and who could resist 8-year old Abby's love of all things jelly bean?

Judged by the esteemed Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich (whom I read is leaving the show sometime in 2015)MasterChef Junior doesn't go easy on the contestants aged 8-13.  With critiques that would bring adults to their knees, these kids take it and move on to the next challenge with their heads held high simply oozing skills that I can only envy.  Really... how many kids enjoy pâté let alone know how to whip one up?

Finishing up our binge watching of Season 2, we caught the premier of Season 3 last Tuesday (January 6th - 8/7c on Fox) and I love that my husband is totally hooked, even telling us that we will have to wait to watch the show all together when he goes back to work in a few weeks. 

Meeting the kids in the first episode I must admit I'm somewhat missing the kids from last season, but I also enjoyed seeing the new personalities begin to shine with the first Mystery Box Challenge.  I loved how the kids brought different ideas from the same ingredients with final dishes ranging from entrees to desserts.

Jenna's Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango Mint Compote had me itching to whip up a batch of my own, and Jack's Chard-Wrapped Salmon is tucked away in my mind for a future date.  If only I had the recipe... because unlike him it's not something I'm capable of just whipping together like he did.

Nathan... from San Diego!
And I have to pull for 12-year old Nathan, though we didn't see much of him in this episode.  Hailing from our hometown San Diego, I'm wishing him the best of luck!!  But I think he'll see some serious competition from the intelligent and talented Ryan Kate, 11-years old from Texas.  And one can't help notice little 8-year old Riley, also from Texas who showed skills I can only wish for (I love his little step to get him over the counter!).

8-year old Riley... he's adorable!  And talented.
And easing us into this new, compelling season I have a special gift for us!  Just as we arrived home from the hospital a care package arrived on our doorstep (how did they know we needed a pick-me-up?) and proved the perfect treat while watching the Season Premier.

Opening the box we found goodies the treats including a recipe from Season 2's winner, Logan!  I almost feel kind of like he and I are cooking buddies... right??  Hot Coco Milk Crumb Chocolate Chip Cookies, he's brilliant!

Rounding out our MasterChef Winter Warm Up Box we received two MasterChef Junior Mugs, 4 chunks of chocolate on spoons, and jars of marshmallows, crushed candy canes and caramel chips... all perfect to go with Logan's Chocolate Chip Cookies and warm us to our toes as we enjoy the show.

MasterChef Junior Warm Winter Giveaway
And MasterChef Junior wants you to have a care package too!  Together we are giving away the same box of goodies we received to warm you up while you watch an episode of the show too.  Here's how to enter:
  • Open to residents of the United States only.
  • Giveaway ends January 16, 2015
  • Leave a comment below with your favorite new contestant, or if you haven't watched the show something you cooked when you were little.
  • Please leave an email address so we can contact you if you win!!
  • For an extra entry leave a comment below after you Tweet the followingHave you entered Liv Life's #MasterChefJunior Giveaway? #MCJWarmWinter
  • For another extra entry pin to Pinterest from this post and leave a comment below telling me you did.
  • Giveaway includes:  Recipes, two MasterChef Junior Mugs, 4 Wooden Spoons with Chocolate, 3 jars toppings (marshmallows, crushed candy cane and caramel)
Liv Life's #MCJWarmWinter Cookie Instagram!  (Logan even liked my post... now we really are recipe buddies!!  @logan.jr.chef )

Our thanks to the kids of MasterChef Jr. for helping us heal and getting us back into the kitchen!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Roasted Honey Rosemary Pecans (with a touch of garlic!)

Pecans, they're just nuts right??  Well... coat them with a little butter infused with garlic, honey and rosemary and you now have something other worldly.  Who knew just a couple of ingredients could create eye-popping flavor in less than 30 minutes?

I can tell you who... Lisa of Authentic Suburban Gourmet knew, and I can't even begin to explain my excitement when I received her blog as my assignment for the December Blogger C.L.U.E Event.

Lisa (Authentic Suburban Gourmet) with her husband Charles
The Blogger C.L.U.E (Cook, Learn, Undertake, Eat) Society works similar to other blog events where one blogger is secretly assigned another, with C.L.U.E featuring a monthly theme.  We search the blogger's blog, find a recipe, tweak it ever so slightly to our tastes and diets, and then reveal all on the same day.

My Grandmother, Verle
This month's theme brought me a little reflection.  Assigned to "find something your grandmother would have made" left me a little stumped.  My mom's mom passed away before I was born, hence I never met her.

I've heard stories, and she sounds like a super fun lady - someone whom I would love to have known.  My dad's mom, on the other hand, lived to the age of 93, and while I did know her, the distance of our homes (me in California, she in Minnesota) left us with little opportunity to really be a big part of each other's lives.

Pairing the grandmother with Lisa I really could have gone either way.  The grandmother I knew, German-born Adella, loved to bake and I have wonderful memories sitting in her kitchen on the farm with big plates of homemade Peanut Butter Cookies.  Lisa has a number of fabulous baked goods on her blog, and I could have easily gone this way.  But my other grandmother, Verle, loved a good cocktail party.  Which in the end led me to my choice.

I've "known" Lisa for years, and her Friday Night Bites feature often leaves me tempted to hop a plane and join the fun.  Residing in the San Francisco Bay Area (my home for nearly 30 years), and with two irresistibly adorable puppies (Marty and Stewart, they are Havanese), Lisa and I have a lot in common.  A love of these Roasted Honey Rosemary Pecans are just one more thing.

Thanks Lisa for a wonderful recipe.  I'm so happy you were my assigned blog, and... I finally got participate in a Friday Night Bite, even though it was only virtually.  Someday, I'm going to make it for real.

Join me with a visit to the rest of the Blogger C.L.U.E. Society!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Greek Salad Sandwiches go Organic with Oroweat's new Organic Whole Wheat Bread

Greek Salad Sandwich

Seems to be a decent difference of opinion when I ask people if they are salad or sandwich people.  Occasionally I get a "both" response, but most of my friends tend to fall into one camp or the other.  Myself?  Definitely salad.  My husband and kids?  Sandwiches all the way.

So today I bring you a meeting of the minds... the Greek Salad Sandwich!  My favorite salad between two slices of Organic Oroweat Bread.

Oroweat Organic 100% Whole Wheat Bread
Choosy about the breads I serve my family, I often resort to making my own.  It's frequently difficult to find loaves in the store that are organic, let alone with ingredients that I recognize.

But especially this time of year, I simply don't have the time to make the bread we need, and an offer from Oroweat to review their new organic line of breads eased my workload.  With product coupons in hand and a giftcard for ingredients, I was on my way.

With an organic ingredient list similar to what I have stocked in my own pantry, I didn't have any trouble letting Oroweat do the work, and I love that the Organic 100% Whole Wheat loaf includes the addition of flax seed, cracked wheat and sunflower kernels (all organic, of course!) in their recipe.

San Diego Guacamole Breakfast Sandwich
Liv loves posts like these as Oroweat asked us to host an Ultimate Sandwich Party, which always translates into a sleepover with girlfriends for her.  Hosting 4 of her friends over the school break we brainstormed sandwich ideas and the girls decided on a an Ultimate San Diego Guacamole Breakfast Sandwich in addition to my Greek Salad Sandwich.

Toasting Oroweat's Organic Premium White Bread they started with a layer of guacamole and topped that with crushed organic corn chips (not sure I'd do this on my sandwich... but I let them go with it), a fried egg, arugula (I love that they used the arugula!) and a drizzle of salsa.  Very San Diego, for sure.

I have to admit, these girls nailed it with this breakfast sandwich.  It's totally awesome, even with the crushed corn chips (I had to try!) and the whole thing is reminiscent of a traditional breakfast burrito, just with bread.

We had differences of opinion though, as to whether the egg yolk should be broken in the cooking process or not, and have decided that it's pure personal preference.  The complaint with the unbroken yolk was that it's messy when eating... the choice is up to you.

San Diego Guacamole Breakfast Sandwich

As for the Greek Salad Sandwich, I used bread from the Organic 100% Whole Wheat loaf and layered my favorite Greek Salad ingredients starting with hummus.  Adding crumbled feta brought a nice creaminess to each bite and the veggies (cucumber, roasted red pepper, arugula, tomato, red onion, and sprouts) gave all sorts of textures to keep each bite interesting.

Greek Salad Sandwich

So which camp do you fall in??  Sandwich or Salad?  I actually have a poll running on my Facebook Page and I'm loving the responses.  Seems a decent majority is in the sandwich camp with a few votes for both, one vote for beer, and one comment from a friend who checked in from a Seabourn Cruise sailing towards South Africa and says "Preferably a sandwich, but whichever, I'd like it to be served with champagne, please."  Not a bad choice.

Whichever camp you fall into, I think we have some sandwiches that will make you happy, and the organic ingredients in the Oroweat breads make me happy.

We've been through a number of loaves in the last few weeks and whether it's used in sandwiches like these, folded with almond butter and honey, or simply toasted and slathered with butter, my thanks go out to Oroweat for easing my time pressure this holiday season and for making an organic bread I can feel good about serving.  I think we can make this a forever relationship.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cranberry Vanilla Chia Jam

Certain foods have become associated with the holiday season, but in reality there is no reason we shouldn't eat them all year.  Cranberries, for instance.  How often do you see a cranberry dish in summer?

With the super health benefits of these brilliantly hued berries, it's unfortunate we don't keep them around all year.  The high nutrient and antioxidant qualities of cranberries launch them to "Super Food" status and brings an array of immunity and disease fighting phytonutrients (along with a healthy dose of fiber).

Mix those berries together with chia and fresh orange and you get even more health benefits.  Maple syrup adds a lovely sweetness to balance the tartness of the berries, vanilla rounds out the flavors with its ethereal flavors and a splash of Grand Marnier is simply for pure pleasure (purely optional, of course...).  All put together, this jam is up there with the best I've ever had.

Extraordinarily tart on their own, cranberries are not to everyone's taste, but the rich maple syrup in this jam had even my ultra-sweet loving Liv asking for more.  Whether slathered on an almond butter sandwich or topping as a dollop on goat cheese on a slice of bread, cranberries are good for more than just sauce on Thanksgiving.

Easier than getting in the car and running the the store, this jam goes together with no pectin and is done from start to finish in about 20 minutes.  So next trip to the store stock up on a few extra bags of cranberries and stash them in the freezer for a summertime cranberry fix.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Ninja in the Kitchen... Nutri Ninja with Auto iQ Review

The number of blender and blender combos that have passed through my kitchen over the years seems endless.  From cheap store brand models to expensive high end machines, I've tried them all.  Some exceeded my expectations, some didn't, but mostly I've been frustrated at trying to find one that works for a decent price.

However... I think I've found it!  Meeting Ninja representatives at last fall's International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle, the smiling company representatives brought a sense of community to a room full of strangers, and the Green Smoothie with Pineapple they offered refreshed my over-indulgence with raw nutrients.

Impressed with the ultra "smoothness" of their smoothie, an offer to test and review the Nutri Ninja with Auto iQ had me responding an immediate, "Yes!".  Could a product with a blender, food processor and multi-sized serving cups (with tops) really do the job?  In a word... Yes.

As an owner (and lover) of one of those expensive models, this Ninja had its work cut out for it.  I've become used to ultra smooth smoothies, perfectly blended pesto, creamy hummus and evenly crushed frozen margaritas at the touch of a button.  Now to test the Ninja.

Click here for recipe
First up, one of my favorite green drinks and probably the easiest test for the Ninja, the Apple Arugula Detox Drink.  Placing half of an apple along with handfuls of arugula, goji berries, flax meal and chia seeds along with a few large ice cubes into one of the serving cups I screwed on the blade assembly and fitted the cup into the machine.

Pressing the Ultra Blend button the machine went into action stopping and starting (pure brilliance!) so the ingredients kept falling to the bottom (and I didn't have to scrape any sides) where they then blended up evenly.

That's the "Auto iQ" system where "unique blending, pulsing and pausing cycles deliver consistent even results every time".  And it did.  Time and again the cycle brought smooth smoothies and blended green drinks with no stray unblended chunks of anything.  Even the chia seeds disappeared into the mix.

Pouring a perfectly blended (and I do mean perfect) drink into glasses, my favorite part of the process was simply placing the blending cup into the dishwasher.  Something I can't do with that expensive unit that always needs to be washed by hand.  Score for Ninja.

Click here for recipe
Next up, our favorite Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto.  Simple blenders and a small food processor haven't been able to puree the sun-dried tomatoes and basil evenly, leaving nonuniform pieces throughout.  The Ninja?

Again, the blending, pulsing and pausing worked beautifully in the cup bringing a uniformly blended pesto.  So we tried again with a larger batch in the food processor bowl.

A big batch of pesto perfection took less than a minute from start to finish.  And... the blade removed from the food processor bowl they simply popped into the dishwasher for cleanup (note I usually wash the blades by hand to retain sharpness - the dishwasher can dull them over time).  Another score for the Ninja!

But how about a the classic blended margarita?  I'm fairly picky about this one, and many times blenders leave a nearly perfect blended margarita with a few unappealing big chunks of ice floating in the cup... but not the Ninja.  Perfectly slushy, frozen margaritas at the touch of a button.  Having friends over, they kindly offered to be Ninja testers so we blended up another margarita batch, this time with fruit (whole blood oranges) mixed into the ingredients.  Results?  Cheers all around!

Since receiving the machine I've found myself reaching for it multiple times a day, and I love having the food processor bowl attach to the base, making it two machines in one.

Chia Hummus with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Za'atar
Need to process a batch of hummus?  Placing the ingredients into the bowl, the blade system works extraordinarily close to the bottom of the bowl ensuring a smooth, creamy result...  Every time.  My most recent attempt at hummus included those sometimes difficult to blend sun-dried tomatoes, but they proved to be no issue for the Ninja blade system.

On a side note, I used every part of this system for my Thanksgiving dinner prep... Butternut Soup in the blender, small batch Cranberry Sauce in the cup, streusel for the Sweet Potatoes in the food processor, green drink to keep my energy up in the cup, crumble for the Cranberry Apple Crisp in the food processor, etc.  

Oh... and did I mention Acai Bowls??  Creating a thick acai "sorbet" is sometimes difficult.  Maintaining the thickness is key, but in other processors or blenders we've had to add extra liquid to get the ingredients to blend completely, hence making them more into a smoothie, and therefore no longer the desired thick acai bowl consistency.  Again, not an issue for this machine.

Blended Acai Sorbet for Acai Bowl... thick and smooth, just like it's supposed to be!
Here's a rundown of the pros and cons we came across in our month-long test:

  • Smoothies in a snap!  Smooth and creamy every time with no unprocessed "chunks" of anything.  The Ninja has become our "go-to" Smoothie/Green Drink blending machine for its cup on the go convenience, consistent quality and pure ease of use.  See next point...
  • Clean-up.  Pieces come apart easily and wash up in the dishwasher or by hand with ease (no blades to cut your fingers when washing the bottom of a bowl or pitcher).
  • Blender, Cups and Food Processor all in one.  You can get rid of that old Food Processor and blender you have in the cabinet and you're set with this one product.
  • Food Processor blades are shaped process smooth uniform results and clean up easily with little to no scraping of the bowl necessary. 
  • Suction cups on the bottom of the base.  One of my favorite things!  These cups "suck" amazingly well to the counter and the machine won't move unless you want it to.  No wobbling off the counter when your back is turned.
  • Price... You get a blender, ice crusher and food processor all in one along with a kitchen workhorse (Ninja-style!) for less than those other expensive blender models.
  • A little noisy... but aren't all blenders?  However my husband complained that he thought this one was a "little too loud" (note that he's a little sensitive before his morning coffee... ;)  ).
  • Nut butter... while the machine made a decent nut butter, it wasn't quite as smooth as I would have liked it on the first process.  Another processing though and it was fine, and we found it worked better with a larger sized batch.
And there you have it.  Often we give the products we review to friends and family, but this beauty is staying with me.  I've given away my old food processor and store brand single use blender and now I have a Ninja in my kitchen.  Nutri Ninja Acai Bowl anyone??

Acai Bowl blended in Ninja cup

Liv Life Note:  Liv Life received the Nutri Ninja Auto iQ System from Ninja, but we were not paid to write this review.  As always, I would not have reviewed the item if I didn't fully believe in it and unless I could whole hearted recommend it.  Thank you Ninja for the opportunity...  I'm looking forward to a long relationship with this product!

For more reviews and Ninja recipes see:
She's Cookin
Let's Dish
Ninja Recipes

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sol Republic Relay Giveaway and Peanut Butter Krispie Treats

Somehow every pair of earphones that sees their way into my life seems to walk off with one or the other of my two teenagers.  Hence I'm left with the ones that came with my phone that don't really fit into my ears.  Hence again, I don't really use them.

Last week though, Sol Republic made a change in my life when they sent a pair of Everyday Active Relays with MY name on the box.  "No," I told both kids, "these have are mine.  This is for work, I need to review them."  And off I went to the gym for a test run and where I listened to music that actually sounded full and rich for the first time in forever.

And they didn't fall out of my ears (Finally... a set that stays in!).  And I changed the volume with the little tab on the cord.  And I love them.

But, good mom that I am, I let the kids have their go this holiday week for a more comprehensive review, and once again I've been asked, "Mom, these sound awesome... can I have them??"

Coming with different sized ear-tips, the relays fit all of our ears, and I love the Sol Republic "Ear-tips For Life" program. Lose an ear-tip?  Need a different size?  Simply fill out the form on the website and they'll send you a new one.

Founded in 2011, the three founders (consumer electronics veterans) have set out to "rid the world of hollow sounding headphones and to make great sound available to everyone."  In my opinion, they've succeeded.

Entering this holiday season, I've enjoyed a fabulous Thanksgiving with my entire family all under the same roof for the first time in months.  My husband made it home just in time for dinner, and my son surprised me a day early as he arrived home from college.  I've loved every minute baking and cooking up a storm, and these Peanut Butter Krispie Treats were requested to bring back to the UCSB dorm.

As I packed them carefully in the top of his backpack, little did I know I covered up the Sol Republic Relays, and just hours ago I received a text from him saying, "Everyone loves the treats.  Hey... I thought you were keeping those headphones for yourself, but thanks!".  Good thing I've already ordered a pair for him for Christmas... looks like maybe I will finally  have a set for myself...

Now with everyone headed back out into the world I'm ready for some holiday shopping and I'm eager to help you too.  Perfect for any active music lover on your list, these relays will bring smiles as gifts are opened.

Sol Republic has kindly offered up another set of these Everyday Active Relays for us to giveaway!  Simply enter the RaffleCopter below and you may have a set under the tree with your name on it... just like me!  And the Peanut Butter Krispies??  Those are just a bonus.

Sol  Republic Relay Giveaway Fineprint
  • Open to USA and Canada only
  • Giveaway Closes at noon on Sunday, December 7th, 2014.  PST
  • Use Rafflecopeter below to enter
  • Product will be supplied by Sol Republic, no guarantee of color, but request can be made
  • Giveaway value $79.99
  • Giveaway is for one set of Sol Republic Everyday Active Relays

Peanut Butter Krispie Treats
A favorite in our family for years, basic krispie treats receive a luscious topping of a Chocolate/Peanut Butter Ganache for something a little extraordinary.

6 cups puffed rice cereal
1 bag (10.5 oz) marshmallows
2 Tbs butter (or butter alternative, we use Earth Balance)
1 1/4 cups creamy peanut butter
2 cups dark chocolate, chopped

Prepare a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl mix the cereal and mini peanut butter cups, set aside. Melt the marshmallows and butter together in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Pour the melted marshmallow mixture over the cereal mixture, quickly stirring well to evenly coat the cereal. Pour the cereal mixture into the prepared pan and evenly press into the pan.

In a small sauce pan melt the peanut butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring to combine.  Pour the melted chocolate over the cereal mixture, spreading with a rubber spatula to cover.
Allow the topping to set, then cut and serve!

Note:  We were too impatient to allow ours to set, so we placed it into the refrigerator for about 1/2 hour to speed up the process!!
Liv Life received one pair of Sol Republic Relays and Sol Republic is also supplying the giveaway product for this post.  All opinions and thoughts on the product are mine and that of my kids (also relay testers).  We wouldn't recommend then if we didn't like them.  
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