Monday, February 27, 2012

Strawberries, Yogurt and Granola

If you read my last post you might have anticipated my next post would be for creamy mushroom soup.  Hope you aren't too disappointed to see berries instead.  The soup recipe came from a highly credible source, Cook's Illustrated.  The soup turned out okay, but I didn't love it.  I haven't given up on it though.  I have some ideas of what may have held this soup back from being great so I'll give another go at some point.

In the meantime, what I know is great, are fresh, ripe, sweet strawberries straight from the fields to the farmer's market.  Living in southern California gives me pretty good access to local berries early in the season.  The funny thing is I didn't have my first berries of the year at home.  Two weeks ago Hubby and I took a trip to the mid-west and I was pleasantly surprised when some phenomenal strawberries appeared on my yogurt and granola breakfast in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan.  I thought perhaps it was a fluke.  Then last week I was in New Jersey for work and I had more amazing strawberries.  Really, really amazing.  I've had strawberries on the brain ever since.  I knew a trip to my local farmer's market was number one top priority business this past weekend. 

I wasn't disappointed.  The market was teeming with berries, some big, some small, some gi-normous.  I sampled the small berries and they had the most unbelievably sweet flavor.  Sold!  I'll take 3 baskets, please!  Hubby doesn't eat strawberries so that's 3 baskets of berry heaven all for me.  I decided the first order of business was a simple, but delicious, application of my new found treasures.  Vanilla yogurt topped with fresh cut berries and crunchy honey kissed granola.  I plan to rinse and repeat at least a few more days this week.  A great way to start the day!

I always struggle with storing strawberries.  I feel like they start growing mold the day after I bring them home.  So I asked the girl behind the table at the farmer's market how she recommends storing them.  She suggested placing a papertowel in the bottom of a tupperware and placing a single layer of berries down.  Cover with another paper towel and a layer of berries, and repeat.  Store the tupperware in the fridge.  I'm only on day two, but I think it's going to work.  I hope to be posting more strawberry focused posts this week so I'll let you know how this method holds up.


Vanilla Yogurt with Strawberries and Granola

3/4 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup fresh strawberries, washed, stems removed and cut in quarters
1/3 cup granola (my favorite is honey flax granola from Fresh and Easy)

Place 1/2 of the yogurt in a small bowl and top with 1/2 of the granola.  Spoon the remaining yogurt on top and finish with berries and remaining granola.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Parmesan and Black Pepper Biscotti

I missed my kitchen while we were away in Chicago last week.  And I'm already missing my kitchen this coming week knowing I will be in New Jersey for work Monday through Thursday.  I do enjoy eating out, but it can get old.  Since I knew that I would be home for just a few days before hitting the road again, I was anxious to jump into the kitchen and getting cooking. 

One of the recipes I made was for Secret Recipe Club (to learn about SRC pop over to their website).  You may have noticed it's been awhile since you've seen a Secret Recipe Club post.  That's because the group went on hiatus during the month of January to undergo a few changes.  Nothing major, just some logistical fine tuning.  Amanda, the founder of SRC is always looking for ways to enhance the group.  If you're interested you can now follow SRC on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  Though a little break was nice, I am glad we are back in business.

This month I was assigned Erin's blog, A Tale of One Foodies Culinary Adventures.  From the minute I started browsing her blog, I knew I would have a hard time choosing what recipe to make.  With a nice variety of sweet and savory recipes, everything was making me hungry.  Some of the front runners were chocolate tea cakes with earl grey icing, cranberry oat scones, lemon cheesecake mousse tart, gingerbread biscotti, roasted garlic and feta walnut dipultimate spaghetti and meatballs and Parmesan and black pepper biscotti.  They all looked delicious.  It's evident that Erin loves food and cooking and I'm thrilled to have a new blog to follow in my Google Reader.

It was a tough decision, but in the end I decided the Parmesan and black pepper biscotti would be "the one."  I wanted something Hubby would enjoy and as a bonus it would be the perfect accompaniment to a creamy mushroom soup I was also planning to make.  And I was intrigued by the idea of a savory biscotti.  Somehow I had never thought of biscotti being savory, but it's genius really!  Erin makes this recipe on a regular basis, so I was pretty confident it would be a hit here. 

I wasn't disappointed.  The Parmesan and black pepper are both prominent flavors.  The biscotti have a firm crunch, but crumble nicely when you bite into them (no teeth breaking here!).  These savory biscuits pair well with soup (next time I'd like to make them to go alongside creamy tomato soup) or salad.  You could cut them into small chunks and use them as croutons on your favorite salad.  Or just eat them straight up.   This is good stuff!  Thanks to Erin for sharing this tasty recipe!  I'm already envisioning several repeat appearances at our house.

Parmesan and Black Pepper Biscotti
from Food & Whine via A Tale of One Foodies Culinary Adventures

2 cups flour
1 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese (use highly quality, such as Parmigiano Regiano)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground coarse black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
Additional Parmesan cheese and black pepper for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degree F and line large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Combine flour, Parmesan, baking powder, black pepper, salt and cayenne pepper in the bowl of a large food processor and pulse until mixed.  Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small whisk together eggs and milk.  Turn food processor on and stream egg and milk mixture into he bowl through the feeder tube until a sticky dough forms.  Divide dough in half and roll out each half on a lightly floured surface into a 10 inch log.  Place each log on the baking sheet and pat down to slightly flatten.  Brush each log with additional milk and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and black pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes until golden and slightly firm.  Remove from oven and place the baking sheet on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes.

Transfer each log to a cutting and board and cut 1/2 inch slices at a 45 degree angle using a serrated knife.  Place slices back on the baking sheet 1/2 inch apart, cut side up.  Return to oven and cook for 10 minutes.  Flip biscotti, exposing the other cut side and cook for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool completely on a cooling rack.

Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper for up to a week or frozen up to a month.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mushroom and Herb Chunky Tomato Sauce

I had every intention of getting this post published last Thursday night, desperately trying to stay on the schedule I committed to at the beginning of the year.  As you can see, that just didn't happen.  A busy week at work and preparing for a trip to Chicago, while fighting a cold, got in the way. 

Preparation for this trip was a little more involved because we had to get the house ready for my sister who graciously agreed to babysit our three kitty cats while we were away.  This is the first multi-day trip Hubby and I have taken since our newest feline family member, Oliver, joined us last June.  We have been on a couple of local trips, but those don't count since we we took little buddy with us. 
Oliver is technically still a kitten and quite frankly he can't be trusted when left alone for long periods of time.  I've mentioned before he loves to act quite a bit like a dog, eating toilet paper, rooting around in trash cans and even fetching.  His newest trick is pulling the drain stopper out of the bathroom sink and carrying it around in his mouth like a bone or the prey he just conquered.  He carried the thing all the way downstairs to show Hubby and I what he did last week. 

"Look guys! Look what I found!  Isn't it cool?"

He was so proud, I just couldn't be angry with him.  But I must admit, I am completely perplexed at his choice of "prey". Of all the potential things he could have gone after in the house, how did he decide the bathroom sink drain plug was the way to go?   An answer I'm sure I'll never know. 

But isn't he just adorable?  I may be a little biased. 

What I do know for certain is our little guy still needs a watchful eye, so I was thrilled when my sister agreed to supervise the three musketeers.  Thanks Katie (& Luis)!

These three have a rough life huh?

From top to bottom: Kit Kat, Oliver and Chloe
With our kitties well taken care of, we set off for the mid west last Friday morning.  Luckily we landed in Chicago just in time for a snow storm. Guess that's what we get for visiting the windy city in February!  This trip was busy with family activities (Hubby is from Chicago),  catching up with friends (we lived in Chicago for a brief 3 1/2 year stint), lots and lots of eating and trying to squeeze in some time in the city.  Internet connectivity was spotty, so my hope of finishing this post when we arrived was put off a few days.  Despite the chilly weather, we have had a great time.  We spent Monday afternoon at the Art Institute in downtown Chicago and we managed to eat at our our favorite sandwich place, Potbelly's, 3 days in a row!  (I really wish Potbelly's would come to California.)  I do love Chicago.  But I don't miss the weather.  Next time we'll come back in the fall, when the temperature is a little more moderate for this wimpy California girl.

Now that I've brought you up to speed on our kitty cats and our trip, you probably want to hear about the food?  I saw this recipe for mushroom and herb pasta sauce on Sally's blog, A Food Centric Life and it caught my eye for 2 reasons.  One, it looked like a warm, rich, hearty sauce.  Two, I had all the ingredients in house already and it would be a great way to use up a lot of left over parsley (that otherwise would have ended up in the garbage).  I also liked that this chunky sauce was meatless (though I am certain it would taste pretty amazing spooned over homemade meatballs).

The sauce lived up to my expectations of being hearty and flavorful.  Hubby gave it a thumbs up too! And it was easy to make (once you get all the chopping out of the way).  The sauce is very versatile in that you can tweek it to your liking.  If you like more garlic, throw in a couple of extra cloves.  If you like other veggies, such as red peppers, toss those in too.  I did a few tweeks myself, which are noted in the recipe below.  You could easily freeze the sauce in ziploc bag and defrost it in the fridge the evening before you want to get a quick meal together. 

I definitely plan to make this sauce again.  We served it over thin spaghetti topped with a few shavings of fresh Parmesan cheese, alongside a simple green salad.  But it doesn't have to be limited to just pasta or a pure vegetarian approach.  As mentioned above, it would be great with meatballs or for a meatball sandwich.  It would also pair nicely with a panko crusted eggplant or chicken cutlets, Parmesan style.  So many options!


Mushroom and Herb Chunky Tomato Sauce
Adapted from A Food Centric Life

Yields about 1 1/2 - 2 quarts sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped fresh parsley, about 1-2 bunches (it was one for me)
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced (I added to the original recipe because I had some shallot to use up)
3 celery ribs, finely diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 28-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes
1 28-ounce can of tomato puree
1 teaspoon sugar (I added this to the original recipe because my tomatoes had a very acidic bite)
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I omitted)
1/2 cup dry red wine

Heat oil in large saucepan or a dutch oven.  Add parsley, onion, shallot and celery and saute until just tender, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for an additional minute.  Add all remaining ingredients (mushrooms through wine) and bring to boil.  Reduce to low and simmer covered for 45 minutes.  Remove cover and continue to simmer uncovered for an additional 20-30 minutes, allowing some of excess liquid boil off.  Serve with pasta, chicken cutlets or meatballs.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mango Salsa

Hubby and I spent Super Bowl at a friends house this year.  They had quite the set up, including an enormous spread of food, tons of cold beverages and multiple TV viewing areas.  We spent most of the afternoon/evening lounging on their backyard patio watching the game, one of the benefits of living in Southern California in January.  The other cool thing about being outside was we were close to the grill and the deep fryer.  Yes.  A deep fryer.  There was ALL sorts of fried goodness going on.  We arrived a little late so we missed the corn dogs (which I'm sad about), but we were there for krinkle cut fries, wings, chimichangas, funnel cake and....

Wait for it.

Deep fried Twinkies. 

I have to be honest.  I had my doubts about the deep fried Twinkie.  I have had one at the Orange County Fair in the past and I wasn't impressed.  But this Twinkie was pretty stinkin good.  It was coated with a pancake batter base with cinnamon, vanilla and other ingredients I can't recall at the moment.  I shared a very small bite of this tasty fried concoction with Hubby and scarfed the rest myself.  It was yummmmmmy. 

There were a few non fried foods at the party too, including this mango salsa.  This salsa is fresh, sweet, spicy and bursting with flavor.  It's super duper healthy, making me feel a little better about eating that Twinkie (and the weenies in BBQ sauce, hot dog, chips and onion dip, fries, funnel cake, strawberry whipped cream cake--good lord!).  This mango salsa is all fresh fruit, veggies and herbs.  It's great on chips of course.  But it also makes a tasty topping for grilled fish or grilled chicken.  Or use it to finish homemade nachos or tacos.  So many possibilities. 

Choose mangos that are ripe, that have a slightly soft given when you press the skin.  The skin may be green in spots but should also have rosy tones too.  I will say that preparing mangoes can be a bit of chore.  I start by peeling it.  But I've seen some people leave the skin on and then score the fruit and pop it off the skin, like seen here.  I prefer to peel it and then cut it so I can get a nice small even dice, which I like for salsa.  Also, a thin, wide seed runs nearly the length of the mango.  It's not a seed like you find in a peach or plum where you can slice down the middle, twist the fruit and pop it out.  You have to cut around the seed.  I usually start by cutting from top to the bottom on the widest part of the mango.  This is where you'll get the most fruit off in one piece.  Click here to see an example.  Despite the extra effort required to cut a mango, it's absolutely worth a little extra work to make this awesome salsa. 


Mango Salsa
from Weight Watchers

1 large (or 2 medium) mangoes, finely diced
1 sweet red pepper, finely diced
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed and finely minced (for a spicy version, use the whole jalapeno and leave in seeds)
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, or to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  For a less spicy version you can leave out the jalapeno.  I like to make it a few hours before I serve it to allow the flavors to meld together.  Given it a good stir before serving.  Serves 8 people about 1/3 cup of salsa each for 1 Weight Watchers point per serving.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Banana Cake with Nutella Frosting

You probably already know that I'm slightly obsessed with the giant warehouse store, Costco.  Hubby and I find ourselves there most weekends snacking on the tasty samples they hand out while stocking up on fresh meats, fruits, veggies, wine, pantry items, household items, books, beauty products, vitamins and even gas. The list goes on and on.  You think it would be overkill for our 2 person household to visit Costco weekly, but somehow it seems we are always running out of something that is a Costco staple. 

One of my Costco staples is the ever so addicting chocolate hazelnut spread, Nutella.  They sell it in a pack of two 26.5 ounce jars for around $8.99 (bargain!).  Nutella is a go to spread for my English muffin (purchased at Costco) breakfast.  I toast up the muffin extra crispy and spread half with peanut butter (also purchased at Costco) and the other half with Nutella.  Along with a cup of hot tea or a glass of cold milk, it's a salty, sweet and satisfying breakfast.  This preparation is where 90% of my coveted Nutella ends up.  Occasionally I spread it on graham crackers for a snack, but for some reason I have never crossed over into the Nutella baking world.

When I learned that Sunday, February 5th was World Nutella Day, I knew it was just the push I needed to go a different route with Nutella.  Technically I didn't "bake" with it.  But all cakes need frosting, right?  Baby steps.

Nutella and bananas are two ingredients destined to be together.  I first experienced this flavor combination when Hubby and I had a crepe with fresh bananas and Nutella from a street food vendor in France nearly 10 years ago.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  If you are a fan of bananas and chocolate, I insist strongly urge you to give this duo a try.  What I like about Nutella is it's creamy and chocolaty with warm hazelnut tones in the background.  Even if you don't like nuts (I don't generally care for them in my sweets), don't let that deter you.  The flavors in Nutella are subtle and the chocolate is the star.
When I went in search of a Nutella recipe a few days ago, I quickly came across this Banana Cake with Nutella Frosting on the Toasty Biscuit.  With three ripe bananas sitting on the counter and my love of the banana/Nutella combo, this recipe was calling my name. 

The cake is moist and rich with banana flavor.  It's cake meets banana bread in terms of the density and texture.  The cake is great all on it's own.  It would be nice with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, a dollop of fresh whipped cream or this Nutella frosting.  The only change I made to the cake was the size of the pan used.  The original recipe calls for a 10 inch square pan, which I don't find to be standard in most American households.  I used a 9 x 13 pan instead and adjusted the baking time and it worked perfectly.

I have to be honest, I struggled a bit with the frosting recipe.  The recipe took a little tweaking with a little extra butter and Nutella.  Following the original recipe, I found the Nutella flavor got lost in the sweetness of the powdered sugar.  To adjust, I added an additional 1/4 cup of the hazelnut spread to make it more prominent.  I also found the frosting to have a slightly dull finish so I ran my offset spatula under hot water, shaking off the excess, and spread it across the frosting to smooth it out.  I incorporated all my changes into the instructions below.

Guess what I'm eating for breakfast for the next couple of days?  Hint, it's not an English muffin!

I'm looking forward to seeing other food blogger's Nutella recipes.  I have a feeling more Nutella baking is my future.  What are your favorite Nutella recipes?

Banana Cake with Nutella Frosting
Adapted from Toasty Biscuit (originally adapted from All Cakes Considered)

For the cake:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 large bananas)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line 9 x 13 cake pan with parchment paper.  Or alternatively you can butter and flour the pan, knocking off excess flour. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.  Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time and beat on low until just combined.  Add in vanilla and mashed bananas and mix until just combined.  With mixer on low add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until just combined.  Add half the buttermilk.  Alternate flour and buttermilk, starting and ending with buttermilk.  Do not over mix.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake on center rack for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then turn cake out onto a cooling rack and remove parchment.  Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup Nutella
3 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream (or condensed milk)

In a stand mixer beat butter and Nutella on medium, about 1 minute until fully combined.  Add in confectioners sugar 1 cup at a time.  Mixture will appear crumbly.  Add in 2 tablespoons of cream and continue beating on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes.  Add additional tablespoons of cream until the frosting reaches a soft, spreadable consistency.  I used 4 tablespoons in total.  Generously spread frosting over cooled cake.  For a smooth finish, run your knife or offset spatula under hot water and gently smooth the surface, rinsing off it off after each swipe. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Quinoa Tabouli Salad

Have you tried quinoa?  Do you know how to pronounce quinoa?  Cause I sure didn't.  I've been calling it "quin-noah" in my head for a while now.  But apparently I've been saying it all wrong in my head.  It's actually pronounced "keen-wah." 


I just keep saying it over and over hoping that it will stick.  But I really want to keep saying it the way it's spelled. Oh well, any way you say it, I'm glad I finally gave "keen-wah" a try.     

What is keen-wah anyway?  It looks like a grain.  But it's not, technically.  It's a seed.  But you can call it a grain if you want.  I plan to.  It's a little weird to say you are going to eat seeds for dinner.  This funny sounding little grain-like seed originates from South America according to Wikipedia.  It cooks a lot like rice, using a ratio of 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water (or chicken or vegetable stock). It puffs up into fluffy little bits that have a slightly chewy texture and mildly nutty flavor.  It looks super healthy.  And apparently it is.  It is rich in nutrients, like essential amino acids, phosphorus and iron.  It also boasts a high protein content, making it a healthier alternative to rice or couscous. 

One of my goals this year is to incorporate some new foods into our household.  Not like new candy bars or ice cream flavors (though there are plenty of flavors out there I wouldn't mind trying).  New foods, like healthy stuff.  Healthy stuff that still tastes good, like a candy bar.  Okay, quinoa does not taste like a candy bar.  But it is a great substitute for couscous or rice.  And it does taste good!

I've cooked quinoa 3 times now.  The first time was a bit of a disaster.  We ended up with quinoa mush.  The liquids did not absorb properly.  I'm certain it was operator failure.  The other 2 times have gone much better and the quinoa fluffed up just like it was supposed to.  It can be served hot or cold.  It serves as a blank canvas for whatever flavors you want to combine with it. 

I didn't want to get too crazy in my first attempts cooking with quinoa, so I substituted it in a recipe that I make all the time and normally has couscous as the base.  Tabouli salad.  The funny thing is I actually like the salad even better with my new best friend, "keen-wah." 

I am looking forward to more quinoa experimentation. 


Quinoa Tabouli Salad
adapted from Central Coast Outdoors

For the salad:
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed well
3 cups water
1 bunch of green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 english cucumber, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 15 ounce can of garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
8 ounces crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste (I usually add 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper)

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a 2 quart saucepan.  Add quinoa and return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium/low and cover pan and simmer for 12 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.  Let stand covered for 10 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and set quinoa aside until you are ready to assemble the salad.

In a large mixing bowl add quinoa, green onions, mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes and garbanzo beans and stir to combine.  Pour dressing over salad and stir until evenly distributed.  Lastly, top with feta cheese.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Today marks the 15th recipe Club: Baked has made from Baked Explorations.  Last July we started on a journey to bake our way through all the recipes in this cookbook.  This week is a little different because we are teaming up with the Baked Sunday Mornings group since our schedules matched up for this week's pick, Speculaas

I was excited to see Speculaas on the baking roster because I'm a big fan of sugar and spice and everything nice and that's what I envisioned for these crunchy spice cookies.  I have made a similar spice cookie, Speculoos, the French cousin of the Dutch Speculaas, in the past and really enjoyed them, leaving me with high hopes for their Dutch counterpart.

I'm just going to rip the bandaid off and say it. I didn't care for the Speculaas.  The spice combination just didn't work for me.  Though I'm not quite sure why.  I like all the components but somehow the overall balance of spices was off.  I will say that I didn't use fresh grated nutmeg, so perhaps that had something to do with it.  These cookies also baked up darker than I prefer.  In the Baked Explorations book the authors allude to Speculaas being like the biscoff cookies that Delta Airlines serves as a snack to its passengers.  I have had Delta's cookies, they are delicious and completely addicting.  I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that I don't think the Speculaas live up to the famous airline cookie. 

I'm definitely in the minority here because it seems my fellow bakers had a lot of success with their cookies. You can see how everyone's cookies turned out by clicking here.  For the recipe head over to Baked Sunday Mornings.

I've made 12 of the 15 Club: Baked recipes and this is the first one that I really didn't care for.  Not too bad on the odds overall.

Next up on the baking schedule--Soft Candy Caramels.