Saturday, July 31, 2010

Savory Stuffed Sourdough Baguette

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Last night's TGIF Jazz in the Park set a new record for summer cold!  Brrr... I think the high here in Cloudy Carlsbad hit 69º in the late afternoon and brought a light, yet chilly breeze to our usually bright, hot and sunny Friday Jazz in the Park.  The sun teased us with a short visit a couple of days ago, but quickly returned to hiding.  My mom recently told me that this summer has been listed as the coldest and grayest since 1933!  Not a record that I'm happy to be participating in.  While I'm feeling very sorry for myself, it is the people who have traveled to San Diego for a sunny beach vacation that I really feel bad for.  Imagine leaving your sunny, hot, home and looking forward to warm days on a San Diego beach only to be met with endless fog and chilly waters. 

Cabernet was the wine of choice for our Jazz in the Park evening, and between all of us we put out quite a spread.  Our Savory Stuffed Sourdough Baguette blended perfectly with the Cab and other tasty treats as we sat back, wrapped our jackets a bit tighter and enjoyed a local blues band.  The filled bread created a good amount of interest from the ladies all wondering just how I got the filling inside and an equal amount of interest in the men as our good friend Evan commented that this was better than a "high class twinkie"!  I wasn't quite sure how to take the comment, but as he reached for another slice, he assured me that it was meant to be taken as one of the highest of compliments.

Hollowing out the bread was actually easier than I had expected with the help of my long, serrated bread knife, although filling the bread did take a bit of time (but was most definitely worth the effort).  The cheesy ingredients mixed together easily, and by using low fat cream cheese I didn't feel so guilty indulging in a couple of pieces.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chocolate Chip Scones

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A few weeks ago we were in Las Vegas for Liv's dance competition and had the "pleasure" of breakfast at Starbucks.  While I wasn't overly thrilled with my burnt coffee and untoasted bagel, Olivia and her brother made a new discovery... Scones!  Now I'm not sure Chocolate Chip Scones from Starbucks count as traditional, but the kids are thrilled with their new revelation and are now avid scone fans.

Since we have come home, Liv has asked numerous times to try to repeat her Chocolate Chip Scone from that morning.  Today we finally had an unscheduled morning and took to the computer to look for a recipe.  I'm amazed at the number of scone recipes out there, Fruit Scones, Chocolate Scones, Whole Wheat Scones, Gluten Free Scones, Scones with frosting, and even savory scones.  Epicurious provided an appealing Chocolate Chip Scone recipe that seemed to suit our taste and with some adaptations, we got to baking. 

The ingredients come together easily and quickly.  Liv was careful not to over mix her dough as she put everything together and was rewarded with a lovely, tender, light chocolate chip scone.  Although the recipe did not call for extra sugar on top, she felt that it would be a welcome addition (good call!) and we sprinkled raw sugar over the milk glaze for a nice added crunch.  

The dough was a tad sticky, but not difficult to work with on a lightly floured surface.  Once the dough is patted into the round, I found that my pizza cutter, sprayed lightly with cooking spray, made a wonderful cutting tool.  A wide spatula or bench scraper works well for transporting the fragile dough to the prepared pan.

Frankly, I prefer fruit scones (blueberry will be up next!), but these were truly good.  This recipe would work well with just about any variation that you can think of, and I'm thinking that it will remain our base for future scone projects.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Corn Chowder

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Soup is a meal that my husband could eat almost daily... me on the other hand, I'm good with soup every month or so.  However, today I was inspired by a few events to try this new Corn Chowder.  First, the sun came out!  After 3 weeks of July gray weather here in San Diego, we all perked up as the sun hit our faces and brightened up our world.  Second, my husband's schedule didn't really mesh with my kid driving schedule and I needed something that he could heat up easily and quickly.  And last but not least, Deb at Kahakai Kitchen hosts a weekly Souper Sunday roundup that I wanted to participate in (I know... it's not Sunday, but she will roundup on Sunday!).  

Last week's Souper Sunday included a White Corn Soup with Pobalano Cream Sauce posted by Reeni from Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice that looked like something we would love.  Using corn and poblano as inspiration, I settled for a recipe I found in Fine Cooking Fresh.  I used their recipe as a guide and came up with something of my own that we truly enjoyed.

 Grilled corn & Poblano
The original recipe called for potatoes, and as we are not big potato fans, I substituted some yellow crookneck squash that my neighbor brought over from her garden.  We also love grilled poblano peppers and I happened to have a couple on hand so I chopped them up and tossed them in as well.  Bacon was called for, but to make this more of a hearty meal I added some shredded chicken instead.  All in all, I'm pretty darn proud of myself.  Brian sat down and skeptically asked, "Is this one of your creations?" (I may have had a few that weren't so good...), but quickly after his first bite he proclaimed this new chowder a keeper!



Monday, July 26, 2010

Sangria

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To this day I can remember my first sweet, cold sip of Sangria, enjoyed while dining on a patio in Barcelona, Spain.  Spanish music and dancers entertained us as we sipped our way through pitcher after pitcher of the thirst quenching, burgundy colored beverage and munched on the drunken fruits at the bottom of our glasses.  I was only 18 at the time and didn't have much experience with alcoholic drinks, but I knew that I had found something special and this "foodie" memory is one of my finest!

Over the years I have tried numerous Sangrias, each time hoping to be transported back to my Spanish patio, but not a one has ever taken me back to that first taste.  I began to wonder if my mind was exaggerating the memory, and I even started to doubt if Sangria was really that good.   Maybe my palette had changed over the years?  Maybe it was the whole being on vacation in a beautiful city in a fine restaurant that enhanced the memory?  In any case... I unchecked the Sangria box on my foods and drinks I love list. 

Then one day my friend Waleska had a pool party and brought out a pitcher of homemade Sangria made from an old family recipe from Panama.  It did look beautiful... deep burgundy in color and garnished with an array of chopped fruits (the little apple squares are my favorite!).  She offered me a chilled glass and I accepted.  And there it was... I closed my eyes and I was back in Spain on that sunny patio enjoying the sweet, chilled refreshment that I had so longingly remembered!  Only this time it was better.   Since then I have rechecked the Sangria box on my list, but I'm a bit fickle as I will only drink hers.


A few weeks ago my birthday fell on the evening of our local Carlsbad Jazz in the Park.  We met Waleska and her family at the set location and sitting on our little portable picnic table was a big pitcher of her fabulous Sangria!  Who could ask for a better present?  Good friends, good music, and the best Sangria ever.

Happy Birthday to me!
  
PS... My husband and I hope to take our kids to Spain in the next year or two... I'll be looking forward to some wonderful Sangria, but somehow I don't think it will be as good as it is at home.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fastest Fudge Cake (or cupcakes!)

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Eleven years ago last week the world became a better place with the much anticipated arrival of our daughter, Liv.  Liv made her entrance in San Diego early one morning and has been "Living Life" to the fullest ever since.  Her zest for life is contagious and I rarely see her without a smile spread across her face.

Yesterday we were lucky enough to have not just Liv's happy smile, but the smiles of 11 additional jubilant young ladies as we celebrated Liv's 11th birthday with a pool party that was so wonderful it actually brought out our elusive San Diego sun!  Swimming was the activity of the afternoon, topped off with pizza, fruit and some amazing Chocolate Cupcakes that Olivia frosted and decorated herself.  Specially chosen cupcake wrappers were used along with small, yet colorful sprinkles for a simple finish.

Living across the street from a cake baker has it's privileges.  One of those privileges being access to some really fantastic cake recipes and baking advice.  Claudine Jones, of Frosted, shared one of her successful recipes from Kathryn Kleinman's book Birthday Cakes: Recipes and Memories from Celebrated Bakers.  Last month Olivia made this cake for her grandmother's birthday all by herself with impressive result and she knew it would be the perfect recipe for her own birthday cupcakes as well.  Ms. Kleinman uses a Fast Fudge Frosting that is a bit more like glaze, not quite as thin as a glaze, but definitely not a thick as a nice butter cream.  As Liv likes to use her pasty bag and tips for pretty swirls and designs she chose her favorite butter cream type of frosting for this day.

Cupcakes took the place of a large cake for simplicity and... well because she really likes cupcakes!  The cupcakes bake into a beautiful, chocolaty color with a crumb that is tender and moist.  Personally, I favor the Fudge Frosting that is recommended with the recipe, but either frosting is a perfect complement.  


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Black Bean Soup

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Every once in a while when we go down to the beach and see tourists posing for pictures as the sun sinks into the ocean we pinch ourselves and think "Wow... how lucky are we to live in a place were so many people go on vacation?"  While I don't spend nearly enough time at the beach, I really like knowing it is there, just a mile and a half away.  Somehow, knowing that I can leave my congested bumper to bumper freeway, crowded shopping mall or busy dance center and look out at that expanse of water and know that no one else is out there (well, except for the fishermen, military ships and occasional cruise vessel) makes me feel less hurried and more balanced.  I am able to maintain a semblance of peace with the crowd behind me, but not all around me.  I love to feel the sun on my face as the warm ocean breezes keep me cool.  

Sun, that is the magic elusive word.  For the last two weeks we have experienced a deep marine layer that is sometimes referred to here in San Diego as the May Gray or the June Gloom.  As you can see by those references, the gray is supposed to be here in May, or June.  Not July!  Not having seen the sun for weeks is beginning to wear a bit thin and to be honest, I'm feeling quite grumpy.  Reading so many other blogs with stories of their sunny summer days, iced pops, ice cream, lemonade refreshments, etc is making me downright envious.  What I would give for a good, sunny and hot, sweltering day!

To cure my blues and warm up my chilly bones (OK, it is 70º, but I'm still cold!) I perused my books for a good soup and settled on this Black Bean Soup.  I first made the recipe some three or four years ago and had completely forgotten about it.  My notes say that it was met with approval from my "I like lots of flavor" husband and that it was definitely a keeper.  With my recent bounty of heirloom tomatoes waiting to be used, the salsa also seemed to fit our sunless summer mood and I got to chopping.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Black Bean Salad with Peppers and Corn

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I love the bounty of fruits and vegetables that summer brings!  All year I find myself waiting for that first rosy peach, the sweet scent of fresh cut strawberries added to a fruit salad, that ear of corn that is still warm from the summer sun, the bright colors of the heirloom tomatoes on the table at the market.  Living in Carlsbad, I am privileged to have strawberry fields, tomato fields and a fresh produce stand less than a mile away.  Not much remains undeveloped around here, but a few of these fields have stood their ground and kept growing.

In addition to the fields near my home, we have a number of Farmer's Markets that bring fresh produce of all kinds for me to choose from.  I count myself lucky to have no less than 5 markets within a 10 minute drive, so most days of the week I can pop over and fill my basket with fresh treasures for my family. 

Last week's market in Vista did indeed provide a bounty!  With my husband by my side, progressively becoming more and more laden with bags of fresh produce, we perused the tables of mostly local, fresh produce.  Later that evening we put together a meal of grass fed skirt steak accompanied by this Black Bean Salad and grilled asparagus.  Every ingredient except for the beans was purchased at the market providing a bounty of a meal!

Because of it's versatility, this salad has become one of my "go to" side dishes.  The ingredients go together in a flash and can

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Strawberry Crepes

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Since she was a little girl, Liv had had a penchant for all things sweet, but it wasn't until I caught her in the pantry with her fingers in my sugar jar that I understood just how much.  How many people do you know who when asked the question "What is your favorite food?" answer, "Sugar!"

We have a constant battle to put healthy foods into her growing, dancers body and usually make some sort of healthy compromises.  Things like whole grain pancakes for breakfast with extra syrup, a banana for a snack followed by a small sweet treat, finish your vegetables for dinner dinner before that much anticipated dessert, etc.  Strawberry Crepes for breakfast was no different.

While perusing other cooking blogs (which my husband is saying I'm doing way too much of lately!) I discovered this sweet, strawberry recipe.  The crepes were a special birthday breakfast for the author of For the Love of Cooking's son and seemed to be met with equal enthusiasm.   Knowing my Olivia's love for strawberries and sweetness, these looked to be something she would love, and we were definitely not disappointed!


This was my first attempt at making crepes, and amazingly, they were far easier than I had imagined!  The batter whips up quickly and easily, and once I realized that less is better when cooking the delicate wrappers, we were in business.  They cook up in just a minute or two and with a quick flip to completely cook the other side you will quickly be ready for the slightly sweetened strawberry filling.  

Our compromise on this dish was the filling... the recipe called for sweetened strawberries, but knowing that Liv would enjoy dusting (showering?) her crepes with powdered sugar we opted for plain strawberries, no sweetener.  The whole family enjoyed the breakfast treat but my husband said he was left wanting some sort of sauce on top.  For an adult version, our Grand Marnier Vanilla Strawberry Sauce would most definitely add a scrumptious topping to these delightful treats.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sesame-Chile Chicken with Gingered Watermelon Salsa

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Hot, summer weather always brings to mind platters filled with red, juicy, watermelon triangles.  Some 20 years ago my Aunt Vicki was the first person to bring a seedless watermelon to our house.  I can remember her and my mom talking about how much more that melon cost than the "regular" seeded watermelons, but how special it was to have this new variety.  Today seedless seems to be the norm... actually, I don't think my kids have ever had a seeded watermelon!

That brings us to proper watermelon choosing...  Do you thump to check for freshness?  Look for bee stings to prove sweetness?  Lift to feel if it is heavy and laden with juices?  Check for darker (or lighter?) stripes to discern ripeness?  Whatever your method, it's always frustrating to bring home what looks like a perfect melon, only to have it dry and mealy inside.  Personally, I stick to the thumping method with a fair amount of success - definitely not foolproof though!

Luckily... our last watermelon didn't let us down.  With it's bright red flesh, juice dripping from the knife and sweet scent I knew this one was a winner even before I tasted it.  Our mouths watered as we made that first cut and we fully enjoyed those much anticipated triangles with dinner.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lemon Angel Food Cake

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14 years ago yesterday, I received the best birthday present of my life... my son.  Sharing a birthday with my son has been a special gift that I treasure each year.   As I have never been much of a birthday "celebrator", I have come to really enjoy celebrating his birthday day, with mine becoming more of a footnote.  From the magical Buzz Lightyear parties to the skateboard extravaganza, they have all been so much more enjoyable when celebrated with him.  Now that he is 14, parties have gone by the wayside, but we still enjoy a private celebration which is never complete without birthday cake!

Drew... doing what he loves!

My son has never been a big fan of sweets, and as such we frequently have something other than the traditional birthday cake for his special day.  Cheesecake has been a favorite in years past, but yesterday's request was Angel Food Cake.  Growing up, my memories of Angel Food cake come from a box that produced a sweet, somewhat tasteless spongy cake that I was told I could have seconds of because "it's not so bad for you".  Somehow I never really wanted seconds.

Ina Garten has come to our rescue with her Lemon Angel Food Cake!  This cake is light and airy, lemony, and not too sweet with a slightly toasted (for lack of a better word) crust.   The recipe calls for whipping the egg whites to medium-firm peaks with an electric mixer, but with my birthday present of 3 new, medium sized whisks we decided to whip the eggs by hand.  It does take longer, but for some reason I prefer to do it this way... good for the arms I guess!  I am not extraordinarily patient when it comes to details, and Ina's recommendation that the flour be sifted not once, but four times is a bit much for me, so we sifted only one time.  Folding the flour in with my trusty wooden spoon works like a charm, and we folded just until incorporated being careful not to deflate our beautiful hand whipped egg whites.  As lemon is one of our favorite flavors we decided to add a touch of lemon oil for a bit of a flavor boost.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Blue Cheese

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Tomatoes are a new thing for me... while I have always loved salsa and tomato sauce, I spent the first 42 years of my life diligently picking tomato pieces or chunks out of any salad, sandwich, In N Out Burger, or taco.  Something about the texture always turned me off.  In the last few year though, I have been reading about the health benefits of tomatoes, and I started letting those tiny diced pieces on my taco slide by.  I even kind of got used to them and almost missed them when they weren't there.  Then, once I ate a piece from a salad!  Unfortunately it was a winter tomato, white inside, a bit mealy and to me it was just plain... well... for lack of a better word, yucky.  That set me back a few years.  


Last year at my Carlsbad Farmer's Market the man who owns the fields near us offered me a slice of a fresh heirloom tomato.  I have to say his display was beautiful with it's abundant yellow, green, orange, red, and striped tomatoes.  I really wanted to like them, but I was so sure that I wouldn't.  His were simply cut into chunks, drizzled with a bit of balsamic and dusted with a touch of salt and pepper.  With no easy way to say no without offending him I searched out the smallest piece that I could find and quickly popped it into my mouth fully expecting to completely dislike the texture and find that funky "tin like" taste that I had come to associate with some tomatoes.  The flavor that exploded in my mouth with this bite was absolutely nothing like I had come to expect!  The texture was not even remotely mealy, just fleshy and firm, but not too firm.  Wow!  The flavor was so amazing that I actually found myself reaching for a second piece, and then actually purchasing my first 3 heirloom tomatoes.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vanilla Grand Marnier Strawberry Sauce

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Living in coastal Carlsbad, CA we are blessed with sweet, juicy, locally grown strawberries nearly all year around.  My favorite organic stand at the local Farmer's Market provides a smaller, sweeter variety than the fields down the street, and I find that my family devours the 3 baskets I purchase on Saturdays usually by Tuesday... Luckily I have another market I can go to on Wednesday!  

One of my favorite Girl Scout meetings from many years ago was a trip to a local field for a lesson in strawberry agriculture followed up by an afternoon of old fashioned berry picking!  The girls and their siblings ran through the field in search of that perfect berry, comparing their treasures as they went and sampling the fruits from their overflowing baskets.  Most went home with red, juicy lips and fingers along with a few stains on their shirts and Brownie vests in addition to their baskets of berries.

 Julia and her berry treasures!
2005

Monday, July 12, 2010

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

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Friends over for dinner always makes for a fun evening!  Last night was no exception with the visit of my parents and some long time family friends.  Appetizers from Mom started our evening and our conversation flowed like the wine Tom brought from his vineyard in Oakhusrt, CA.  Our topics ranged from dog care to river rafting to the fine art of photography.  The wine exceptionally complemented the Marinated Flank Steak and bean salad and we had high hopes that the coffee would complement the much anticipated Coconut Cheesecake.  Unfortunately, this one was a flop... so disappointing!  Drew had been requesting cheesecake for days and after waiting all day it was "just OK", nothing special.  To make up for this lackluster dessert, today we whipped up a Vanilla Bean Cheesecake and what the other cake was lacking in flavor this one more than made up for!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Coconut Bread

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Soon after arriving home from our Vegas adventure my son informed me "Mom.... there is no bread...".  As the thought of returning to my driver's seat was not very appealing and I thankfully remembered a recipe that I had printed out just before our departure. 

This recipe comes from The Virtual Goody Plate, a lovely blog I found while perusing the net before our trip.  The Coconut Bread immediately caught my eye with her lovely pictures of a nicely domed, perfectly cooked loaf, so I printed it off as a must try.

Coconut is a new favorite flavor for me.  My cake baking neighbor, Claudine, makes a divine Coconut Cake that awakened my taste buds to this tropical flavor, but for years I had been saying "No thanks... I'm not a coconut fan" to anything and everything coconut.  I've read that taste buds change as we age, and I believe that something changed in me as I now can't get enough of it.  (Next up Coconut Cheesecake!).  Luckily my family seems to love the flavor and I have been loading up on coconut recipes!


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bobby Flay's Blue and Yellow Corn Muffins

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The simple thought of heading out to a restaurant puts a smile on my face.  Pictures of table cloths and real, cloth napkins enter my head along with an attentive waiter who delivers a meal cooked to perfection... one that is better than I can make at home!  Unfortunately, so many times my fantasy generally remains just that, a fantasy.  With unwelcome consistency, I get that nice table cloth and cloth napkin only to be served a characterless, boring dish that is no where near the quality I serve at home.  Then on top of the dull dish comes a tab that is so not worth the experience I received.  Only a handful of times in my life have I sat at my cloth tablecloth with a dreamy smile on my face as the taste of a divine morsel of food excites my taste buds.  

Ambiance is a factor for me.  Somehow a fillet, dry aged for 3 weeks and cooked to perfection just tastes better when I'm overlooking a beach lined with palm trees rather than peering out a window into a smoky casino.  This was our experience last week when Liv's National Dance Competition took us to Las Vegas where the kids and I grabbed the opportunity to visit Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill in Caesar's Palace.  Don't misunderstand, we had a fantastic dinner!   We had driven 6 hours (including a 45 minute full stop on I-15 for the removal of an overturned big rig), unloaded costumes, suitcases, backpacks and a cooler, changed clothes and driven 10 miles back to the Vegas Strip... all without lunch! 

I-15 Traffic... definitely not 80 MPH!


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Bobby Flay's Sophie's Chopped Salad

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Let me start by saying that Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill is one of my favorite restaurants.  My first visit was 3 years ago in Paradise Island, Bahamas and I loved everything about it, the fresh margarita in the lounge, the warm blue and yellow corn muffins, the signature New Mexican Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with sweet potato tamale, all topped off with the Toasted Coconut Layer Cake.  Even today, three years later, just thinking about it all makes my mouth water.  


After arriving home I purchased the Mesa Grill cookbook and tried to replicate the pork dish, but somehow it just wasn't the same.  I've since decided that this is one dish I will not make at home, it will be my special treat... every once in a while.  Luckily, the closest Mesa Grill is in Las Vegas and Olivia's competition dance Nationals just happen to be in Las Vegas... next week!  Mesa Grill here we come!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Waffles

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I consider myself a fairly good photographer... definitely not a pro, but I take some pretty darn good shots.  This blog has been challenging me though.  I have a new respect for food "artists" and food photographers.  Trying to take into account the scene, background, lighting and then getting the food arranged to make it look pretty just puts me over the top!  Give me a good landscape or smiling kid any day.  Today, luckily, I had a food designer to make my job easier.  After requesting waffles for her healthy, pre-dance marathon day breakfast, Olivia suggested that we take a picture of the waffles for our new blog.  Good thinking, I thought! 
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