Friday, April 29, 2011

Bittersweet Negroni

Some days, you just need a good stiff drink.  All the better if that day is Friday.

This past week has just been completely crazy - work has gone into overdrive and my mind has been swirling as I have been trying to make big life decisions at the same time.  I won't complicate matters even further by delving into all the details, but I will say this - Hallelujah for Friday.  Lord knows I desperately need a moment for my brain to take a rest and my body to relax so that I can get some clarity and focus on what is really important to me.   

As I have explained before, at my core I am not really a big drinker, but I do like a good cocktail now and then - especially when I want to kick back, put my feet up and relax or enjoy a really fun night with friends.  In this case, when I saw this Bittersweet Negroni in the latest issue of Bon Appetit, I knew it would be the perfect medicine for my aching, overworked brain.  I had actually never heard of a Negroni before, but I was intrigued by the short description:

'My first cocktail crush was the Negroni. It was the "adult" taste (slightly bitter, slightly sweet) but also its easy-to-memorize recipe that hooked me. Even today, no matter what bar I find myself in, I know I can get a consistently well-made one. It's all about the golden ingredients ratio: 1-1-1.' 
–Andrew Knowlton

The 'golden ingredients ratio' Andrew is referring to is a mixture of 1 part Gin, 1 part Sweet Vermouth, and 1 part Campari.  I love gin - a simple gin and tonic with extra lime is my boring, but favorite cocktail - and the yin and yang of sweet vermouth with bitter campari was strangely reminiscent of another treat I have been enjoying recently... Kumquats.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sweet Spring Sandwich Cookies, and Food Blogger Bake Sale

So I have been thinking about cookies a lot.  Well actually not just cookies, I have been thinking about candies, and marshmallows, and cupcakes... really all sorts of baked goods and treats.  I have had cookies on the brain because I have been brainstorming what would be the perfect cookie to have at a bake sale.  

The Food Blogger Bake Sale is a national event that was started last year by Gaby of What's Gaby Cooking to benefit Share Our Strength and their efforts to end childhood hunger.  Check out the Share our Strength website for more information on this cause, and to see how last year's bake sales across the country raised more than $1 million dollars.  

This year, the Food Blogger Bake Sale will take place on Saturday, May 14th in cities all across the country.  If you don't live in the greater San Diego area, visit Gaby's site for a list of cities and states that are hosting bake sales to find a location near you.  If you are lucky enough to live in sunny San Diego, then you can come satiate your sweet tooth and support the cause by coming to our Bake Sale!

The San Diego Food Blogger Bake Sale is organized by my lovely friend Marie of Meandering Eats, and a whole bunch of other amazing food bloggers are participating.  Due to a previously planned event, my smiling face won't be there to greet you, BUT I will be sending delicious baked goodies to the sale.  After hearing all the treats other bakers will be making, trust me - You do not want to miss this.  So here are the details: 

Saturday, May 14th 2011


Great News! Discount Cookware and School
Pacific Plaza
1788 Garnet Avenue
San Diego, CA 92109

What to bring:
A smile!
Dollar bills - all treats will be priced on the dollar! 

Hope you can make it to the event, if you have any pertinent questions or would like to participate or donate, don't hesitate to contact me directly by email.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Smashed Peas and Fava Beans with Fresh Mozzarella

Seeing as this is a recipe that embodies spring, it might surprise you to know that the first time I saw this recipe was almost three years ago in the dead of winter.  

I was in Tonsberg, Norway, with my boyfriend and we were browsing around in a popular bookstore.  Naturally, most of the titles were in Norwegian, but there were many English language books as well.  I'm not sure why, but I was surprised to find a huge shelf with American cookbooks - especially those by celebrity chefs.  My eyes scanned the titles and passed over books by Mario Batali, Rachel Ray, and Emeril Lagasse.  But the one book that really caught my eye was Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life, by Jamie Oliver.  I really liked Jamie Oliver back then, and that was even before he started his Food Revolution and I liked him even more.        

I reached up, slid the book off the shelf, and and turned back the tan hardcover to reveal colorful pages filled with beautiful recipes.  The book was divided into larger chapters based on the seasons - which I loved - and since I was freezing my butt off in the cold and snow, of course I thumbed ahead to the recipes for spring and summer.  

My mind danced around daydreaming of warmer weather when I could enjoy asparagus and fresh eggs, rhubarb, and strawberries all while basking in happy sunshine.  But it was when I turned the page and saw a recipe called, "Incredible Smashed Peas and Fava Beans on Toast," that I was really intrigued.  You see, I had never eaten a fava bean before (or actually ever seen one for that matter) and I am naturally curious about most things.  But I had one problem - I was convinced that I hated peas.    

Where this imaginary pea-hatred stemmed from, I have no idea, because as far as I can remember we never ate peas growing up.  (Unlike those awful steamed brussels sprouts that I am sure I hated and had to force down by drowning them in milk.)   When I finally did eat peas as an adult, I was prepared to leave them squarely on my hated-foods list, but my aversion to them disappeared into thin air after I popped one tiny, fresh, springtime pea into my mouth...  

It was perfection.  

It was dense and sweet, not soft but not too hard either, and I adored the way the small kernels just 'popped' in my mouth.  I was in awe.  (Not to mention, those little pea pods are just too cute.  Seriously, who can resist those?)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Quiche: Asparagus, Green Garlic, and Humboldt Fog

Thank God for the weekend.  Lately work has kept me so busy that have barely had time for regular everyday life.  But rest assured, when I have had some extra time I have been spending it in the kitchen creating delicious dishes with the bounty of spring produce I have been getting from the farmers market.  These days the market seems to be a sea of lush green - baby lettuce, fresh herbs, shelling peas, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, spinach - and lucky for us, all those vibrant vegetables are extremely healthy.  

So to celebrate spring (and that wonderful fleeting time known as the weekend), I decided to whip up an easy Spring Quiche.  I decided to go sans crust to make it lighter and more airy, and also take out some of the work.  But most importantly, since I was focusing on using in-season, fresh produce, I wanted to make the most of the ingredients.  I used asparagus, green garlic, leeks, dill, Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, and free-range brown eggs.  All the components harmonized perfectly, with the farmers market vegetables accented by the exceptional Humboldt Fog.  

Since this quiche is all about components, lets talk ingredients.  

Asparagus.  In most areas in the U.S., you can get asparagus year-round, but fresh, springtime asparagus is markedly different.  Asparagus always has bright green color with beautiful purple tips, but the major difference is in the texture and taste - the younger shoots of asparagus are sweeter, and more grassy in taste, and have far more moisture than the drier, more 'woody' asparagus found during other times of the year, making the texture more tender.  

When shopping for asparagus, look for stems that are medium diameter (not pencil-thin), buds that are fresh and tightly closed, and stems that are green and fresh (no dark soft spots).  If you break off the bottom of the asparagus or slice into it, it should be moist and not porous.    

Fresh asparagus bundles.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Peanut Butter and Oat Energy Bites

It is Sunday morning.  Hopefully you will wake up well-rested, stretch out your arms, and open your eyes to a sunny day.  Maybe you will have a warm cup of coffee, some eggs with toast, or maybe you will even get really lucky and have some homemade pancakes.  After that you might relax with the Sunday paper, catch up on the news, or watch some cartoons with your kids.  Of course, you will do all that while still in your comfy pajamas.  On Sunday morning, you can rest easy because the next work week is still a distant 24 hours away.  

As the day wears on, you might run some errands, meet a friend for lunch, or do some laundry.  But by Sunday evening, you will have the unfortunate revelation that Monday morning and that-thing-that-shall-not-be-named (ie. work) is right around the corner.  You will start gearing up for the week, thinking about what you need to accomplish, what you will wear for work, and hopefully you will think about what you will eat for lunch during the week.           

Maybe you have a catered meeting on Tuesday, and lunch with a co-worker at that new burger joint on Friday.  The other days you will probably bring your lunch, and I would wager a guess you will eat sandwiches, leftovers from the night before, or healthy portable foods like fruits, yogurt, or hummus.  Some days if you are extremely busy, you might not even have time to eat lunch at all!  Am I describing your week about right?  

I wouldn't call myself a fortune teller, but I can also reasonably predict that by the time 3 or 4 o'clock comes around, you will be looking at your watch - your eyes will bulge with astonishment as you realize there are still several hours to go and lots of work to be done before you can eat dinner, and you are hungry.  Your energy from lunch is gone (if you had time to eat anything at all) and you are seriously contemplating a vending machine run.  It is a situation of serious food desperation, and we have all been there. 

At the root of this problem lies the simple facts that: 
A.) You are hungry. 
B.) You have failed to anticipate you would be hungry. 
C.) As a direct consequence of B., you have no food on hand.  

You could also make the excuse that: 
D.) You anticipated the hunger strike, but had no time to rustle up some grub.

Ok fair enough.  But since this problem occurs on a daily basis for most people (and amnesia is not currently an epidemic), fact B. is clearly ridiculous.  If you are honest with yourself, I am sure you can agree that you know you will be hungry.  So really, the reason we suffer through these late-afternoon snack monster attacks is that we don't take the time to prepare.  

I know we all have busy lives full of very important things to do, but let me tell you how you can feed the snack monster with something healthy and delicious that will give you the energy you need to finish the day strong.  You can make it in 5 minutes over the weekend, and these snacks should last you for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.  Now that sounds like quite the payoff doesn't it?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Easy Herbed Yogurt Dip, and another Chobani Greek Yogurt Giveaway

Lately I have been craving healthy food.  

I don't know if I overdid it with birthday celebrations last month, or if I indulged in one too many brownies, but overall I need to lighten my load.  In case you don't catch my drift, what I am really saying is I think I need to shed a few pounds.  I used to be an avid runner, working out at least 4 times a week, and I felt fit and full of energy.  When I worked out regularly, I could eat whatever I wanted - cakes, chocolate, ice cream - and not really feel any guilt because I knew I would easily burn off those indulgent calories.  But with workouts on the decline and sweet treats on the rise, I don't feel fit, I don't have as much energy, and I don't like it one bit.  

Time to whip myself into shape and get back the healthy balance that I loved.     

I don't know how you do it, but when I really want to overhaul my eating, I turn to a plant-based diet.  I generally love all vegetables, but they take center stage when I want something healthy.  Unfortunately, I wasn't born with a cute pink nose and two floppy ears so I don't really enjoy munching on raw, unadorned veggies.  Instead, I make delicious salads dressed up with avocados, kalamata olives or figs, I roast sweet potatoes and beets, and I munch on crispy kale chips.  I am also a sucker for any sort of veggie dip especially since it is great to eat for a snack and I can take it to work.

Sometimes veggie dips can be deceivingly unhealthy, so I wanted to make an Herbed Yogurt Dip that would be low-cal and low-fat, delicious, and quick and easy to make.  Naturally, I turned to plain non-fat Chobani Greek Yogurt for the base, since it has an amazing tang that pairs well with vegetables, and is high in protein.  

I flavored the dip with some of my favorite herbs, a little lemon juice and garlic, as well as a small amount of goat cheese and extra virgin olive oil for richness.  The cheese also contributes some extra protein, while the extra virgin olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fats.      

The amount of parsley that equals a 'handful.'