Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cranberry Lemon Scones

This is one of those recipes that is totally worth it. You won't believe how good these are, and you'll be shocked at how little sugar it takes to make these beautiful fresh cranberries delectable. Part of the trick is chopping up the cranberries first. You'll need about a cup and a half.Once chopped, let them macerate in their own juices with some lemon juice and sugar- you only need 3 tablespoons, which was shocking to me. I thought with their reputation for being super-tart, that more sugar would be needed. Not so.

Meanwhile, they go in these fantastically flaky, crumbly yummy scones- which are really biscuits masquerading as a sweet breakfast treat. Be careful not to overwork the dough, you want it to kind of come together at the end- then stop. This will keep the scones flaky.

Roll out the dough to about a 1 inch thickness and using a biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out as many circles as you can. Keep re-rolling and cutting until you use up the dough. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper spacing about 2 inches apart. You can bake them plain, sprinkle some coarse sugar on top, brush the tops with cream, but any option is yummy. Once baked, cool on a cooling rack then store in a airtight container. You'll want to eat these within a day or two, so if you don't think you will eat them all, just freeze the ones you won't use until you are ready for them again. It won't take long! Lemon and Fresh Cranberry Scones

Friday, December 5, 2008

Butternut Squash Soup

I love butternut squash. I think it is one of those awesome vegetables that is just as hearty as potatoes with a meal, and so much better for you. Also, it couldn't get easier, really. Just halve open that bad boy and roast it for a while at whatever temperature you are already using your oven (or 375 degrees if it's in there solo) and in 35-40 minutes, it's perfectly tender. Slightly sweet, it only needs a sprinkling of salt and a pat of butter to make the perfect side dish.
Therefore, I hardly ever do anything else with it. I have a hard time getting past that preparation, especially when I am doing other, more complicated things. So, when I saw this soup, I thought, I should broaden my horizons. Combined with sweet yellow onions, garlic, and chicken broth, the idea of the soup had me ready to break with habit.
Now, it wasn't bad at all. I just felt like the amount of work required didn't measure up to the end product. I think the next time I will make a few adjustments. Also, if you really want to try this, I would recommend looking for the peeled and pre-cut squash in the refrigerated section of the market. I have seen this from time to time at Costco or Trader Joe's. While fresh squash is good, it was a lot of work to peel these guys.
With such beautiful color, you have to be getting a lot of nutrients from this soup. Finished off with a bit of cream and some toppings (see below) this is a comforting addition to any meal- or with a salad, it could probably be a meal by itself!
Butternut Squash Soup
Makes about 2 quarts
1 & 1/2 - 2 sweet yellow onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced fine
2 tablespoons butter
4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, diced and roasted slightly
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 box (3 cans) low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup cream (at room temperature)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (start with half if you aren't using low-sodium broth)
ground black pepper to taste

Saute the onions and garlic in the butter in the bottom of your largest stock pot over medium heat until translucent, but not brown, about 8-10 minutes. Add the squash and the spices, stir to coat. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is very tender. Add the salt and pepper. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the cream and stir to combine.

Toppings: Dried cranberries, toasted chopped walnuts, chopped sage leaves, chopped flat parsley, and/or grated hard cheese such as Gruyere, Percorio Romano, or Parmesan.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


If you haven't been to Tucson in a while, you are missing out. It's such a fun, funky town, and it moves at a totally different pace than the big cities. It's a great escape for us, and perfect for a 2 night stay, which we did the weekend before Thanksgiving. Watching sports at the U of A campus is usually what draws us there in the first place, but there are so many other things about Tucson that we enjoy. After the game- which was a heartbreaking loss to the Oregon State Beavers on a last minute field goal- we spent a couple days just enjoying the city.

We hiked at Sabino Canyon, which is really breathtaking. It's a national forest park and one of the most interesting ones at that. It's situated within the city of Tucson, unlike most parks you don't have to drive away from the city to get to it. It's a canyon, but instead of viewing it from the top down like the Grand Canyon, you walk in at the floor level and enjoy it from the bottom up.Arizona's national flower is the saguaro flower, but the saguaros aren't as prevalent throughout the state as they once were. These beautiful cacti are the iconic versions of the ones in westerns and cartoons- super green and huge, towering over the other desert flora.
Even though we were warned of mountain lion sightings, we braved the canyon to these spectacular views. We didn't really see any scary animals, luckily, but we did see a few deer relaxing in the shade. I think they picked a good spot to live!

We also checked out the house where Chris lived while going to school there. He and his mom, brother and sister fixed up this super cute house in the Sam Hughes neighborhood near the University. It still looks great, and the landscaping is thriving!
Finally, our trip would not be complete without a trip (or two) to my favorite, Beyond Bread. I got a good roll of the eyes when he spied me taking the camera in with me, so I didn't take as many pictures as I might have otherwise, but I think I picked a good subject for these two photos... would you agree??

Now that is a dessert!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More to come!

Having trouble getting photos to upload, but I have lots to share with you. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thanksgiving Anytime

We had our own little mini Thanksgiving this weekend, and it was such a treat. The cool thing is, that it was so easy and healthy, I had to share it with you. I bought a boneless turkey breast roast at the grocery store. I had gone in looking for a bone-in turkey breast, but they didn't have any, just the full turkeys. We don't really like the dark meat, and that just seemed like a lot of work. I was a little bit nervous about the boneless one, but I shouldn't have been. The roast was simple, defrost (or not, if you have more roasting time) and bake at 325 degrees on a rack in the bottom of the oven. Et Voila, a perfect turkey breast, moist, fresh, lean and healthy.

We rounded out our meal with a trip to Trader Joe's, where the rest of the ingredients came effortlessly together. I wanted to keep it light, just to see if we really missed anything. Of course, since we just had a turkey breast, there was no stuffing, so it wasn't really Thanksgiving. We did, however have mashed potatoes, green beans, a spinach salad, and homemade cranberry sauce. I tried to keep each item true to it's roots, but update it just a tad. Here are the recipes, plenty for two with leftovers.

Creamy and Fluffy Mashed Potatoes with a little less guilt
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced for boiling
1 cup 2% greek strained yogurt (recommended brand, FAGE at TJ's)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons 2% milk
salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
Measure out the yogurt and leave on the counter to come to room temperature. Boil the potatoes until tender, drain and mash with the remaining ingredients.

Crisp-Tender Green Beans in a flash
1 package french green beans (pretrimmed is a bonus, look for them in the fridge section at TJ's)
Spray olive oil or cooking spray such as Pam
Salt, to taste
Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray with the olive oil and add the green beans in one layer. Sprinkle with salt, and mist with a light spray of oil. Bake with the turkey at 325 for about 10 minutes, or until crisp-tender.

Lower Sugar Cranberry Sauce
1 package (12 oz) fresh cranberries
zest & juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 3-inch piece of vanilla bean, scraped
3/4 cup agave nectar (look in the baking section at TJ's)

Rinse the cranberries in a colander under cool water. Add to a medium saucepan. Zest and juice the lemon and orange into the pot. Add the vanilla bean seeds, and place the remaining pod in the pan with the fruit. Add the agave nectar (spritz your measuring cup for a second with cooking spray to make it easier to pour) and heat over medium heat until simmering. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes, or until most of the cranberries have burst. Let stand at room temperature for a couple hours (while the turkey cooks) to thicken. Serve at room temperature, or chilled.

Pictures to come soon!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Finally free

Don't you just love Fridays? Seriously, I think it is my favorite day of the week. If only there was sleeping in involved, it would be perfect. The actual working part of work aside, it is great, you get to see all your work friends, everyone is in a good mood, and then it's like the last day of highschool at the end. Freedom!! You've been saving up your "want to do list" all week and it's finally time. But really, there is usually only time on Friday evening for a nice meal, potentially a drink, and maybe some dessert. But that's all you need. 'Cause it's Friday. You've got time to get to all that other stuff. So relax, enjoy, and savor it tonight. I know that I will.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I used to participate in a CSA- which stands for Community Sponsored Agriculture. For about $120 every couple months we would get a share of the produce from a local farm. I love this idea for so many reasons. 1. The produce is organic. 2. You're supporting local agriculture. 3. By not purchasing from a traditional grocery store, you are helping to conserve the use of fossil fuels. I know that we tend to think about cutting down on fossil fuels by driving a hybrid or carpooling, but we often forget about the miles logged on the things we buy. As nice as it is to be able to get asparagus in November, the fact that it is even at the store means that it probably took some jet fuel and truck fuel to get here. My last bunch said "Product of Peru", so that definitely is not a good thing. As much as I liked my CSA membership, we just weren't using all of the things that they gave us. I am not a big fan of swiss chard or kale, and Chris wasn't interested in the bok choy. The fruit was fantastic and there was always zucchini! Even though I stopped my membership, I did find one store that stocked my farm's produce. Win win.

I hadn't been going to Jimbo's lately, even though I love their selection of organic produce. They also tell you where the items are from, and whether or not they are organic. The majority of things are, but there are a few things where organic doesn't matter as much. I filled my cart with so many wonderful things, broccoli, butternut squash, red cabbage, celery, green leaf lettuce, yellow delicious apples, and these beauties:

Have you ever seen a purple carrot? Or a red one, for that matter? I could not pass these up. Grown right here in California, no jet fuel added. I can't say that I am always perfect, sometimes you just have to feed that craving and give in to the out of season items if it's what you really want. However, sometimes you find something that you didn't even know exists which is better than the other thing altogether. I guess we just have to keep looking- and every little bit helps. Hope you find an unexpected treasure sometime soon!

More info on CSAs, Farmer's markets, etc.:




Monday, November 10, 2008

Rustic Apple Pie

I was rearranging my freezer the other day when I came across a frozen homemade pie dough. I knew it was there, I hadn't really forgotten about it. However, I could have sworn that I had two of them in there. I took it out and put it in the fridge to defrost, not quite sure what I wanted to do with it. Then it occurred to me that I had a lot of apples in the fridge.

As much as I love apples on their own, I hadn't made an apple pie, and figured it would be a nice treat. I really wanted a double crust pie, a la the cherry pie I made earlier this year, but I decided my one pie crust would have to make do. However, I followed a trick that I learned from the King Arthur Flour website in which you just fold the overlapping crust over on top of the pie. You can leave it like this, or fill it in with a crumble topping. I opted for crumble, but it would be great any way.The nice thing about an apple pie is that you really don't need a lot of sugar, because the fruit is pretty sweet on it's own. I only used 1/4 cup of light brown sugar.
The crumble topping isn't necessary, but it's yummy. I used a half stick of butter, 1/4 cup flour, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. There is no need to be too technical with this, I used a pastry blender to cut it all together, but you can also just use your fingertips. Just cube the butter into small dice and squish all the ingredients together. Sprinkle on top right before you bake.

I thought this pie was great, and I used 5 apples. Three granny smith, 1 figi, and 1 golden delicious. I think the trick is to slice them quite thin, and try to overlap the slices as much as possible. For the filling, I also used lemon juice and zest, as well as my favorite new spice blend, Chinese 5 spice blend. Chris liked the layers of apples overlapping each other. The flavors were right on, not classic apple pie, but it was a great update.

One pie crust, store bought or homemade.
For the filling:
5 large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced. Any combination of granny smith and other less tart apples, try figi or yellow delicious.
1/4 cup brown sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 & 1/2 teaspoons Chinese 5 spice blend
1 & 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For the crumble topping:
1/2 stick butter, cut into small dice
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Butter a 9 inch pie plate and assemble the pie. Brush the crust which overlaps with a mixture of 1 egg, beaten with a little cream. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, until filling is bubbly.

Oh and look at who is still hanging around... I thought I had to throw these away when I wrote about them last week, but Chris just suggested changing the water again. It worked! They are still here!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Get Fresh

Remember those flowers that I couldn't pass up at the farmer's market? Well, I certainly got my money's worth! I think I am actually going to have to throw them away after work tonight, but they lasted a long time! They continued to look great almost two weeks after they were purchased. Makes me think that buying at the farmer's market was the way to go for freshness.
I also employed a couple tricks of my own, including a splash of bleach in the water, changed every 3 or 4 days, or when it starts to look cloudy. I only cut the stems once, after I changed the water the second time. The bleach inhibits growth of bacteria which prevent flowers from drinking. If they aren't drinking, they won't stay standing. I'll be sad to say goodbye this evening, but glad that I had their company for so long. Happy Thursday- we are almost to the weekend!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Better than Halloween Candy...

If you like rice krispies...If you like caramel...Butter caramel, to be more precise...If you like chocolate and peanut butter....
Swirled together...
If you like chocolate icing...

Then you might think that these are better than any of the candy in your trick-or-treat bag! Find the recipe here. These are from this cookbook, which was in my Amazon cart for a while before it was released. I wish I would have given in and purchased it. I think cookbooks are my biggest weakness as far as "have to have it" kneejerk reactions. I will be thinking about this one all weekend- if I hadn't just bought two other ones this month, I would have ordered it already! Happy Halloween! Hope your holiday is wonderful!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pumpkin Cheesecake

The seasons are dictating my menus these days. Regardless of the weather outside, which changes from- 75 degrees and sunny to so foggy and cold outside I can barely see on my drive to work- it’s fall people. Fall, fall fall. The calendar is calling the shots these days regardless of what it really feels like. And in San Diego, if you went based on the weather, you would be mixed up quite a bit of the time!After the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, I just wasn’t satisfied.
I wanted to do something else with pumpkin, but it had to have cream cheese involved. I don’t know what the obsession was, but they seemed to just need each other’s company. I really liked the cheesecake brownies the other day too, but wouldn’t they have been great with a pumpkin base rather than chocolate? I love the spices, and that is such a huge part of what I think makes pumpkin so great. It accepts all those warmy mulling spices so perfectly, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. So it was set. There were prerequisites to this recipe: pumpkin, spices, and cream cheese. Enter, pumpkin cheesecake, which is a great idea on it’s own, but what if you made the two fillings separately and marbled the two together? Now, that is an idea! But what for a crust? Do you go with the classic, as a nod to the pie, or the graham, in keeping with the cheesecake? Decisions, decisions! Well, I decided to go with the graham, since it’s also kind of fall, and it has cinnamon in it, so it had to be a good compliment. I think the end result turned out great. If nothing else, it is a show stopper. The only problem is that you end up with half a can of pumpkin, and half a can of condensed milk. You could make a mini pumpkin pie with the remaining filling, you could even freeze it. You could use the half can of pumpkin for a half batch of cookies. So obviously this recipe isn’t perfect, but it’s not half bad, either!

For the crust:

1 and 1/2 packages of graham crackers

8 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the cheesecake filling:

1 package cream cheese, softened

1 egg, at room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

the zest and juice of one lemon

a 3 inch piece of vanilla bean scraped or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the pumpkin filling:

1/2 can of solid pack pumpkin

1/2 can condensed milk

1 egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor until finely ground. Press into the bottom of a 10 inch buttered tart pan with a removable base. Using the bottom of a glass or a measuring cup, press the crust into the pan until it is an even thickness around and tightly packed. Bake the crust for 10 minutes.

Make the each layer in separate bowls by including all ingredients and blending with a hand mixer until combined. Once the crust has baked for 10 minutes, start with the cheesecake layer. Pour half the filling into the crust. Then pour half of the pumpkin in the center of the cheesecake layer. Continue with the remaining halves of the each mixture, creating concentric circles. Then using a knife, swirl the fillings together. Bake for 35 minutes or until the edges of the cake have lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack, then allow the cake to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day. Serves 10-12

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jealous much?

I don't think that I get jealous all that often. I am so lucky, and I wouldn't change my lot in life, I know that I have it good. However, there are times when you just kind of ask yourself, "Hey! That's not fair, can I get in on some of that?!" I say this completely tongue-in-cheek, but when it comes to Giada DeLaurentiis, don't you kind of wonder sometimes? I mean, the tiny stature, the great accent and perfect pronunciation of beautiful Italian words, a husband that works for Anthropologie, a successful food career including some of the most loved shows on the food network, and a brand-new beautiful baby daughter, Jade. Okay, yea, I guess maybe I am a little "jelly". However, I can't get too mad, because she shares all this great stuff with us in so many ways. Her books are fantastic, her recipes well written, and her ideas unexpected. So I had to buy her new book. Hopefully some of this magic will rub off through osmosis!

The first recipe I tried caught my eye immediately. A raw salad with zucchini ribbons, asparagus, pecorio romano shavings, and a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. It was totally an ah-ha! moment, I mean all of these ingredients are always in my fridge, but I never use them together, and I rarely use any of them raw! A fantastic combination, totally unfussy and fresh.
Using a vegetable peeler, cut the zucchini across the grain lengthwise into long ribbons. Cut the asparagus on the angle, in about 2 inch slices. Toss both together with a splash of lemon juice, a drizzle of oil (I used my favorite walnut, actually), a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Using the same peeler, shave the wedge of romano over the combination. Serve immediately.

Giada's new book definitely does not disappoint. I have about half of the recipes (if not more) flagged to try. The thing I like about it is the focus on all the fresh ingredients. The photography is beautiful, which is always good for inspiration.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ina Garten's Orange and Chocolate Cake

I needed something chocolate, but different to take to my scrapbooking event last Friday. I usually bring brownies, which everyone seems to like, but I needed a change. I needed a challenge, and wanted to try something new. Enter Ina Garten, who is a dessert expert. I like her style, and I am intrigued by her new show on the Food Network- Back to Basics. Well, if you know me, that is definitely speaking my language. I love basic recipes that I can dress up or down, depending on my mood. This cake was a winner, moist and buttery, but zingy and acidic with the lemon and orange zests. Bright and flavorful, I will definitely make this again!

First you start by creaming the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Look for bakers sugar the next time you are at the grocery store. It’s recipes like this that really benefit from a smaller sugar crystal. The result is a fluffy, whipped base for your cake, which will keep everything aloft and avoid the cake tasting dry. Also, use the sugar called for by the recipe for a dessert. Even though I am a proponent of reducing sugar, this is a cake, not a breakfast. It isn’t coffee cake or a muffin, so you need the sugar to keep the cake moist. Also, your butter should be room temperature. Bakers call this consistency “plastic”. It should be pliable and soft, but should not be oozing or melting. Best bet is out of the fridge and onto the counter for at least an hour. When you don’t have that kind of time, try your microwave on a reduced power for less than 1 minute. If it’s still too cold, turn it around before microwaving it longer. Once you have these two things down, just beat for a little bit longer than normal to get this beautiful fluffiness. About 3 minutes should do.To the butter add the eggs, orange and lemon zests, and vanilla. Beat until mixed. Then you add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, alternating each starting with and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined, using your rubber spatula to finish if necessary. This is a thick cake batter! Pour the batter into a buttered tube or Bundt pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Then cool in the pan for 10 minutes before trying to turn out your cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the frosting on this, a chocolate ganache is the perfect compliment. I love chocolate ganache. Chris makes fun of me for saying the name, but I think it’s the perfect chocolate icing. Denser than icing, and less sweet, it’s a great thing to use when you just want to pour icing on the cake. It’s the perfect choice for a Bundt cake, where it would be kind of silly to frost.

Start with a cup of chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler.I added one shot of espresso...
And a half-cup of heavy cream. Heat over barely simmering water whisking to combine the ingredients.
Once melted, pour over the cake slowly, going around the circle a couple times. You could do this over a cooling rack, but then you'd lose some of the ganache. Since it is so yummy, I recommend just doing this on the serving tray, being careful to not let too much flow in one spot and run off the tray. Don't worry about getting too much in the center of the cake. It gets trapped there and is a yummy treat on the slices with a little extra chocolate. Once ganached, place the cake in the fridge so that the chocolate sets. Slice and serve.


Note: I made a couple adaptations to this recipe. I didn't use the chocolate chips in the cake. I liked it this way, but if you think that would be good, by all means use them! Also, I skipped the orange sugar glaze. I made the cake a day before my event, and everyone remarked on how moist it was. I was worried that the glaze might make it gooey or sticky, so I avoided it.