Food Buzz


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Homemade Goodies for the holidays!

Today was a great day to bake... It's been raining for a few days, it's cold and wet out and what's better than a house that smells like cinnamon and chocolate!

I am cooking for a great event that I am doing with a few other small business owners...  It's a Holiday boutique in Woodland Hills and we will have Stacie Bass embellished Havaianas, Couture Keys, Designer wrap bracelets by Pat Jennings, gourmet nibbles courtesy of moi, Eyelash Extensions by Deb and "Cash for Gold."  If you bring your old (even damaged) gold, you will have money to spend on all the great stuff we will have for sale and GREAT prices!!   Pick up some last minute Christmas gifts or something nice for yourself - you deserve it!

I am making some savory vegetarian and vegan bites for people to sample (mushroom and artichoke crostinis and avocado and olive vegan quesadillas) as well as some delicious baked goods for sale (cranberry white chocolate biscotti, vegan chocolate mini cupcakes and home made chunky granola).  If you are in the area you should come down!  You can find out more by going to and click on my "events" tab.

I must share this granola recipe from Bon Appetit because it's easy and delicious with Greek yogurt, almond milk or even over ice cream!

Chunky Date, Coconut, and Almond Granola

Yield: Makes about 6 cups

2 cups old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup whole almonds, halved
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup (packed) pitted dates, each cut crosswise into thirds

Preheat oven to 300°F. Mix first 7 ingredients in large bowl. Melt butter with honey in heavy small saucepan over low heat. Pour over granola mixture and toss well. Spread out mixture on baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add dates; mix to separate any clumps. Continue to bake until granola is golden brown, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes longer. Cool. Do ahead Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

biscotti and cupcakes
Hope to see you tomorrow!

Chow for Now.  :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday parties and brand new website!!

Wow - I've been gone for 2 1/2 weeks.... Guess I've been busy!To start, class is over... had an A going into the final so I feel pretty good about that. While I was finishing up school I was busy! I have been working on my website along with creative website and branding geniuses, Jennifer Zappia and Margaret Mak. The combination of their professional and creative expertise and my food photos and descriptions will hopefully get people's mouths watering! Check my site out for yourself! Http:// If you or someone you know is in the LA area or vacationing in Big Bear for a weekend, contact me and I'd be thrilled to cook for you!In addition to personal chefing I am also helping to cook for small parties. My chef partner in crime, Mandy, helped me with my first party last Saturday... it went really well and client and guests seemed to really enjoy the food! It was an hors d'oeuvre and wine/holiday themed martini party and the house was really beautiful. I started everyone off with a beautiful cheese and charcuterie platter:
My hors d'oeuvre menu included:
Carrot and coriander soup shots
Blue cheese and walnut stuffed dates
Tuna tartare on wonton crisps
Tomato, mozzarella and pesto on garlic toasts
Lamb meatballs with a mint yogurt sauce
Carrot soup shots
Tomato, mozzarella and pesto with balsamic reduction on garlic toasts
Desserts included:
Coconut laddus
Green tea Christmas tree cookies
Unfortunately, I didn't get pictures of everything due to the chaos of setting up, but it was a beautiful display of food.  In fact we made more food than necessary so my client got to keep some leftovers.  I have to say - this experience introduced me to a bunch of new (to me) grocery stores including 99 Ranch and Super King which carry Asian and "International/Middle Eastern" foods, respectively.  It was truly eye opening...and I look forward to shopping at both markets again under less pressure. :)
Mandy was a huge help and kept me focused when I was feeling "all over the place"... it's so lovely to find a partner to work with who you can read your mind and really get things done!  Thanks again, Chef Mandy!
I am so looking forward to more parties and meeting with future clients to get my business rolling.
A gift certificate to Chow for Now makes a great gift for new parents or a friend that might be working too hard and eating poorly as a result.  It's also a romantic gesture for a loved one - perhaps a special occasion dinner for two?  I am also making my way up to Big Bear pretty regularly - would be happy to help make your vacation even better by providing a picnic basket of goodies, dinner for two or six!
Looking forward to talking with more of you!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Warm food, cold weather and happy family. Gobble gobble!

This past week I spent five days in Big Bear with my family for Thanksgiving.  It went from cold to colder to 3 inches of snow while we were there, but the days felt warm while we spent time enjoying each other's company and the insane amount of Thanksgiving food that we prepared.  What a feast!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays!  It is a time to remember how thankful we are for health, family, friends, and life in general.  It is also a time to eat like a pig.  What a combination!

Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a time for us make many dishes that have been part of the family for years, and then I typically add one or two new dishes to make it interesting.  I can always count on my brother in law to make a brussels sprouts dish (before eating his sprouts, I told people I was allergic to avoid having to taste them, now I crave them!), my sister's cranberry chutney (this year pomegranate seeds were added for a great tart crunch) and my dad's rutabaga (he mashed them with potatoes this year for a new version of the savory treat).

I always make mom's stuffing (this year subtracting one stick of butter to make it "healthier"), not one, but two small turkeys with an herb butter spread under the skin, bourbon sweet potatoes with walnuts, just like last year.  I added for a fresh twist: baked buttermilk biscuits that came out really great, Giada's spicy parmesan string beans and kale, gravy and for dessert an apple and a pumpkin pie with cinnamon spiced whipped cream.  To save on time and frustration, I bought crust for the apple and made one for the pumpkin pie.  Home made crust really is better.

Did I tell you all of this food was for just four people (and one six month old who is just starting solid foods)?  Yeah, we ate well for three days and there were leftovers when I left to come back to LA.  Time to get back to eating healthy!

Here are some photos of the spread...  Pretty proud of this year's feast!

What were some of your favorites at dinner this year???

Chow for Now! :)

*** Stay tuned for some exciting website news about Chow for Now personal chef service!***

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Please vote for me (and Murphy!) so I can win a KitchenAid mixer!


The economy sucks, I am trying to start a business (and don't have tons to spend on kitchen gadgets) and this chef does not own a KitchenAid stand mixer (insert sad music sound byte here).   If you don't already know, the KitchenAid mixer is sort of the Ferrari of kitchen mixers.  It is a must have for anyone who considers them a home cook, let alone a professional chef.  Here is a picture of one from

Isn't it purty?  And shiny?  And beautiful?  Well, I think so, too.  So, I want one and there is a very simple way for me to get one for FREE!  Remember the dessert tasting/cookbook signing I went to last week with the Bite Me sisters?  Well, in addition to their awesome book and recipes, they are running a very cool contest which I have entered but I need your votes to win!

If you could just go to this website and vote for me (my entry is the photo of my dog Murphy with the "Bite Me" sign on his sure to "like" the picture to make your vote count), and if I get the most votes, I will win!  I am currently losing to a very cute baby biting the Bite Me book, so I really need your help to reach the winner's circle!  Also, while you are on their site, be sure to check out the Bite Me Cookbook and their recipes.  They totally rock!

What's in it for you?  Well, you will have the joy of knowing that you have helped me to enhance my skills as a chef by giving me the top of the line equipment that I need! Isn't that enough?

Thanks for your help everyone!!  And speaking of "thanks,"  Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Chow for Now! :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Surfa's + decadent sweets = this chef's fantasy!

Last night my friend and fellow blogger, Ellen, and I attended a great tasting/book signing at Surfa's.  For those of you who don't know of it, it's in Culver City and is basically a warehouse filled with chef porn.  You laugh, but if you are someone who must have the coolest new kitchen gadget or needs just about anything related to cooking or baking, including gourmet sauces, cheeses, vinegars, spices, candy making supplies, tableware, catering items, pots, pans, you name it, they've probably got it.  They also hold food related events year round.

This event was free (such a nice thing to find in LA) and was held by the Bite Me sisters, Lisa Gnat and Julie Albert.  The cute, funny and talented chefs have a new cookbook out and if all the recipes in the book are anything like the delicious fare we sampled last night, it is SURE to be a hit.

We got to try their "go to" cookie, cranberry white chocolate.  It was so tasty!  Crispy on the bottom, chewy on the inside and bursting with tart cranberries and sweet, delicious white chocolate.   This recipe is definitely something I will attempt for the holidays.

Julie holding a platter of amazing cranberry white chocolate cookies!
Apple cake with (wait for it.....).  Butterscotch sauce!!!  OMG.  This cake was moist and sweet and smelled of autumn spices.  The butterscotch sauce added an other layer of good stuff.  Being a huge fan of quick breads myself, I will try and recreate this one at home for sure. Forgot to take a pic :(

We also tried a decadent chocolate pecan pie.  I am not typically a fan of pecan pie but the addition of chocolate really put up a notch in my book.  Simple and decadent at the same time.

Chocolate pecan pie
Next up were two cupcake recipes.  The pumpkin cupcake was perfect, sweet, but not too sweet, great cinnamon and nutmeg flavor, moist and pretty to look at.  Making them in a mini muffin pan was genius.  They were adorable to look at and maybe you won't feel so bad popping two or three of those little guys in your mouth.  They would be a perfect addition to the Thanksgiving dessert table.

The secret of the s'mores cupcake is to bake the graham cracker cupcakes, then cut a small hole in top, fill with marshmallow fluff (yum!) and top with chocolate icing.  What a nice surprise inside!  They looked amazing, but unfortunately by then my sugar level had hit dangerous heights so I didn't get to try it.

The chefs gave great stories and also gave away "Bite Me" swag... I didn't win an apron or a book (bummer!), but I everyone in attendance received a Bite Me shopping bag filled with Surfa's goodies, including a couple of great kitchen tools (each bag was different, but I got a pastry scraper and a silicone basting brush, which I totally needed.)

I hope to buy this book some day to add to my collection, but until then I will savor the recipes which were shared at the event. And I plan on going back to Surfa's again to shop, taste and take a class... very soon.  Check out their schedule for more info!

Chow for now!  :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Did somebody say chili?

I haven't been eating a lot of meat...not a conscious decision but today my body was definitely craving it.  Since I have been trying to approach this holiday season as calorie conscious as possible, I wanted to have something on the leaner, healthier side so I found this great recipe for turkey and white bean chili!

I really wanted the chili to have a ground turkey base so I sauteed some in a pan with a little salt, pepper and cumin before adding it to the recipe.  It was a great addition and as it sits, it gets thicker and more delicious.

White Bean and Turkey Chili

original recipe from Cooking Light
Yield:  8 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium to large sweet onion (maui or vidalia)
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 (15.8-ounce) cans small white beans, cannelini beans or Great Northern beans, rinsed
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
3 cups ground turkey, sauteed  with cumin and salt/pepper
1/2 cup diced seeded plum tomato (about 1)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. 
Add onion; sauté 10 minutes or until tender and golden. Add chili powder, garlic, and cumin; sauté for 2 minutes. Add oregano and beans; cook for 30 seconds. 
Add broth; bring to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes.
Place 2 cups of bean mixture in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Return pureed mixture to pan. 
Add turkey, and cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat. Add diced tomato, chopped cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper, stirring well. Garnish with sour cream and corn tortilla chips!

I thought this chili was delicious!  Not too spicy not too mild, just right.  And it served its purpose - a hearty meaty meal full of flavor, without all the calories and fat of regular chili.
What are you craving these days?

Chow for now!  :)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Brunch with friends old and new

A  couple of months ago, my good friend and new mommy, Diana and I decided we needed to get friends together and cook for them.  Both of us are good cooks (if we do say so ourselves) and enjoy entertaining.  Also, Diana hasn't shown off her 6 month old baby Bryan to everyone yet.  So we decided to throw a little brunch get together today.  It went so well!  We cooked but it never felt like work, we cleaned up but did it together so it went by quickly.  Cooking and eating (and even clean up) is way better with company!

Here are a few pics of the goodies:

Dorie Greenspan's mushroom and shallot quiche (I added spinach) and berries with honeyed greek yogurt

Ina Garten's Cape Cod Salad

Crispy and flavorful potato hash and fragrant pumpkin muffins served with honey butter

moist and delicious buttermilk raspberry cake
Great girls, delicious food and a great afternoon.  I was excited to make pumpkin muffins (again) and decided to make them a little healthier - knocked out about 1/2 the oil and more than 1/3 of the sugar... still ended up delicious, without the guilt!  We ended up keeping the meal pretty light and none of us felt too full afterwards. We provided the right combination of sweet and savory.

I got the recipe from Kirbie's Cravings and when I just went to her site to pull the recipe up, I noticed that she has post titled CINNAMON SUGAR PUMPKIN DONUT MUFFINS... Aaaaaaah I gotta try those next!  !!!  Anyway, here is the recipe and I've noted in bold italics any changes I made.

Pumpkin Bread
(Kirbie says this makes 3-7x3 loaves... I say it makes 2-9x5 loaves OR 24 muffins OR 1 9x5 loaf and 12 muffins)

  1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  4 eggs
   1 cup vegetable oil (i used 1/2 cup oil, 1/2 cup no sugar added apple sauce)
   2/3 cup water
  3 cups white sugar (I used 1 c brown sugar, 2/3 cup white sugar - consistency didn't change at all)
   3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
   2 teaspoons baking soda
  1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon)
   1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
   1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I used a pinch - probably 1/2 tsp... not a huge clove fan)
    1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (I didn't have ginger so left it out)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour three 7×3 inch loaf pans. (see above for other pan options)
  2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar
    until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour,
    baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry
    ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. (I usually use the hand mixer here for a little bit because my flour mixture always clumps.  I only mix it until most of the clumps are out.) Pour into the prepared pans.
  3. Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when
    toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.


What are some of your favorite brunch foods?  Feel free to share with me here!

Chow for now!  :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Healthy comfort food does exist!

You may have noticed a trend in my posts recently... Lots of comfort food!  My guess is it's the time of year... I mean we all reach for comfort food in the fall and winter when the weather gets a little cooler and you feel like snuggling under a blanket instead of going out.   I figured if I am going to keep this up through the winter, my comfort food needs to be healthy... lower in fat and sugar and higher in fiber and vegetables!  I think I found my first truly healthy lasagna!

Cooking Light (online and magazine) has been a favorite of mine for years.  I especially love the magazine this time of year as they help us lighten up holiday dishes! They don't push "diet" foods, just healthier options.  They also profile exercise in addition to nutrition.  CL helps us to become less round and more well rounded. :)  I knew I could find some great comfort foods on the website.

My friend came over for dinner last night and we decided because of the cool night to make lasagna!  How can lasagna be healthy, you ask?  You do this by cutting out the whole milk cheeses, béchamel and high fat ground beef and including skim cheeses and making it a vegetarian dish, using butternut squash to bulk it up!  At only 254 calories, 8.5 grams of fat and 18.6 grams of protein per serving (if you follow the cooking light version of the recipe), you still get the lasagna taste without the lasagna hips.

I made some changes (shown in my version of the recipe below), such as roasting the squash instead of microwaving it, but kept it as close to the original as I could.

Butternut Squash Lasagna 
(original from

Yield:  2 lasagnas, 6 servings per 8x8 pan

Cooking spray
2 cups chopped onion
10 cups fresh spinach
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese (not pre-shredded)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 (15-ounce) cartons part-skim ricotta cheese
3 cups diced peeled butternut squash
6 cups marinara sauce (I used CL's
smoky marinara sauce)
12 oven-ready lasagna noodles (such as Barilla)
1 cup (4 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Place cubed butternut squash on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes (check with a fork to see if it is tender).  Remove from the oven when done, season with salt and pepper and using a potato masher, mash until smooth.  Set aside.
3. Heat a large Dutch oven coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add spinach; sauté 1 1/2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Combine mozzarella, parsley, salt, pepper, eggs, and ricotta cheese in a large bowl.
4. Coat the bottom and sides of 2 (8-inch-square) baking dishes with cooking spray. Spread 1/2 cup Smoky Marinara in the bottom of one prepared dish. Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; spread 1 cup cheese mixture over noodles. Arrange 1 1/2 cups squash over cheese mixture; spread 3/4 cup sauce over squash.
5. Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; spread 1 cup cheese mixture over the noodles. Arrange 1 1/2 cups onion mixture over cheese mixture; spread 3/4 cup sauce over spinach mixture.
6. Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; spread 1 cup Smoky Marinara evenly over noodles. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan. Repeat procedure with remaining ingredients in remaining pan. Cover each pan with foil.
7. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes.
To freeze unbaked lasagna: Prepare through Step 6. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing to remove as much air as possible. Wrap with heavy-duty foil. Store in freezer for up to 2 months.
To prepare frozen unbaked lasagna: Thaw completely in refrigerator (about 24 hours). Preheat oven to 375º. Remove foil; reserve foil. Remove plastic wrap; discard wrap. Cover lasagna with reserved foil; bake at 375º for 1 hour. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes or until bubbly.

This lasagna is not your Italian grandmother's gooey, cheesy, meaty lasagna, but the flavors and textures are still there, and you can have a second serving (or dessert!) and not feel bad about it!

Do you wish you had a "lighter" version of a not so healthy family recipe?  Feel free to post here and I'll do my best to help make it a little healthier.

Chow for now!  :)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Catch up: Greek food in class and comfort food with friends!

I definitely have to get back on the workout bandwagon if I want to stay at my current weight this holiday season.  It's barely November and I am already eating comfort food like it's going out of style!

Let's start with class this week.... After a couple of weeks of uninspired meals that were just sort of "eh," our group made up for it by making a delicious Greek meal!  Instead of each team making one dish to share with the whole class, each team made only enough food for themselves.  This meant serious teamwork and organization.  I think we did really well!

Our menu included tzatziki (which I have made before), Greek Salad, Spanikopitas and the grand finale, Moussaka.  Everything came out really delicious! Greek cuisine is known for it's use of fresh vegetables, olive oil, olives, lamb/poultry, nuts, honey and filo (phyllo) dough.  We incorporated many of these ingredients into our meal this week.

The Moussaka recipe was really quite delicious.  A total comfort food which has a similarity to the Irish Shepherd's Pie.  It's basically a layered dish of (from top to bottom) Bechamel Sauce, Meat sauce and eggplant.  Something you'd want to eat on a cold night with a fire going and a nice glass of red wine.

Speaking of comfort food, last night I had a wonderful dinner with my some (old and new) friends who are working on their culinary careers.  It was a potluck/networking/gossip session that was a total blast.  We will certainly have more of these dinners in the future!

We were asked by my friend and occasional cooking partner, Mandy to bring over something with an autumn theme so I decided a few days ago to make Chicken Pot Pie with autumn vegetables (from Anne Burrell of the Food Network).  Little did I know that it would be 95 degrees outside when I was cooking it.  Nevertheless, we all made some form of comfort food and were able to eat most of it despite the heat.  LA may not feel like it, but it is fall in our hearts.  Mandy has some great pics on her blog of everything we made. It was a feast.

It was my first time making a pie crust from scratch and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was.  I think  the most important suggestion I can make is not to handle the dough too much.  Only pulse it until it just comes together in the food processor.  Only knead it until it just looks like it's smooth. Less handling = tender, flaky crust.  I used some bits of the leftover dough to cut out leaves and make the top look pretty.  :) This recipe is a little time consuming but don't be afraid...  it is worth the effort!

What are some of your favorite fall comfort foods?  Feel free to share with me here!

Chow for Now! :)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween! How about a pumpkin scone?

I had half a can of pumpkin leftover from my pumpkin hummus and decided I wanted to make something sweet with it.  I came across a great recipe for pumpkin scones on and made them.  Don't be afraid of making scones (even if you don't bake all that much).  There is no rising, no rolling, no kneading.  And if you have a food processor, all of you have to do is pulse everything then form it into a 9x3 brick, slice and bake.

These scones have the wonderful, warm, autumn flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg.  It also has cloves, which I am typically not a fan of, but a little sprinkling in the dough won't overwhelm you with strong clove flavor.  I felt there was way too much icing so I would cut the icing recipe in half or less (I include the full recipe below).  Also, I didn't have ground ginger and so chose to leave it out. Feel free to leave out one of the spices if you don't want to spend the money on my mind the cinnamon and nutmeg were most important. Otherwise don't change a thing.

Pumpkin Scones (from

2 cups all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
6 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3 tablespoons half-and-half
1 large eggs

  Powdered Sugar Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk

  Spiced Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pinch ginger
1 pinch ground cloves

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
2.  Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Using a pastry knife, fork, or food processor, cut butter into the dry ingredients until mixture is crumbly and no chunks of butter are obvious. Set aside.
3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together pumpkin, half and half, and egg. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Form the dough into a ball.
4.  Pat out dough onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a 1-inch thick rectangle (about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide). Use a large knife or a pizza cutter to slice the dough twice through the width, making three equal portions. Cut those three slices diagonally so that you have 6 triangular slices of dough. Place on prepared baking sheet.

5.  Bake for 14–16 minutes. Scones should begin to turn light brown. Place on wire rack to cool.

1.  Mix the powdered sugar and 2 tbsp milk together until smooth.
2.  When scones are cool, use a brush to paint plain glaze over the top of each scone.

1.  Combine the ingredient for the spiced icing together. Drizzle this thicker icing over each scone and allow the icing to dry before serving (at least 1 hour). A squirt bottle works great for this, or you can drizzle with a whisk.

Happy Halloween everyone!  Enjoy your day (and your candy!)

Chow for Now!  :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Boo-rific Pumpkin Hummus!

Tomorrow, I am going to carve pumpkins with friends who have a 20 month old.  This is my little buddy's first Halloween where he understands that everyone dresses up in cool costumes, there are "punkins" on everyone's front porch and the houses in the neighborhood are decorated with scary but fun witches, skeletons and cobwebs.  Wait until he goes trick-or-treating and finds out he can collect candy from his neighbors!

I want to bring over a snack to eat while we are carving (to offset the candy and sugary snacks he will likely get on Sunday!).  I decided to make something I know he really likes... hummus! To make it more festive, I made a pumpkin hummus recommended by the fabulous blog: Cooking with Trader Joe's.  I used cookie cutters to cut TJ's Olive Oil Wheat wraps into pumpkins and bat shapes.  I then sprayed them with olive oil spray and sprinkled a little salt and cumin on them for flavor and color and baked them in the oven at 325 degrees for about 8-10 minutes (keep an eye on them!).  What a tasty and healthy treat!

Pumpkin Hummus
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 can pumpkin puree (about 3/4 cup)
1 tsp crushed garlic (1 clove or 1 cube frozen garlic)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sesame tahini paste (in refrigerated section next to premade hummus)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon

1.  Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and puree until hummus is smooth.  If mixture is too thick, add water, one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is achieved.
2. Taste and adjust for seasonings.
3. For best flavor, store in fridge for a few hours before serving.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Serves: 8

I used a little more tahini, salt and cumin than the recipe calls for.  This seemed to give it the flavor I was looking for.  I sprinkled a little more cumin and dripped a tiny bit of olive oil on top.  What do you think?

For those of you who are worried about making hummus "from scratch," I will tell you it is pretty simple - especially if you have a food processor.  But, if you prefer, you could take CWTJ's advice and use pre-made plain hummus and mix in pumpkin and spices!  You can also purchase bagged pita chips to make life a little easier.

Cooking With Trader Joe's also lists some other creative and fun recipes for you to try, using mostly Trader Joe's ingredients. I highly recommend checking out their website!

Are you steering away from the sweets this Halloween? Have any healthy recipes to share?  Please feel free to do so here!

Chow for now!  :)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Devil's in the Birthday Cake

My friend, M's birthday was this week.  She had a few people over for cake and wine so I offered to make the cake.  I have made plenty of cakes before but only a few from scratch, fearing a too dense or too sweet cake Or even worse a cake that just didn't taste that great..  

M's fond childhood memories of devil's food birthday cake with vanilla icing prompted me to recreate my own version for her.  It was a lot of fun and a lot of hard work!  I don't know how bakers do it day in and day out!  So much prepping and whisking (my right arm hurts today) and waiting and baking and waiting again.  And don't forget icing!  I literally ate nothing but cake batter and icing until yesterday evening.  Needless to say, I had a sugar high all day.  I guess that's what kept me moving.

I chose to make a recipe I saw on  Food Network's website. I did this mostly because the recipe made a two layer cake, not a three layer cake like many others that I found.  I just think two layers is perfect.  Three layers is a little but over the top.  Also I substituted buttermilk for milk.

I have to say, it came out really delicious.  Moist without being heavy.  Chocolately and sweet, but not too sweet.  The icing was a vanilla butter cream but I ended up adding a few teaspoons of cooled coffee to it in order to cut the sugary sweetness.  It was really delicious and gave the icing a nice "latte" hue.  I also made my grandmother's version of "7 minute icing."   This icing requires whisking egg whites, corn syrup, cream of tartar, salt, water, sugar and vanilla in a double boiler for, you guessed it, 7 minutes.  I used this icing to pipe flowers and writing on the cake.  It was shocking white so made a nice contrast on the buttercream.

I used a pasty bag for the first time.  What fun!  I would love to work with it again - trying new techniques (and of course, perfect mine).  But I think I did pretty good for a first timer, What do you think?

I can't wait to make my next cake!  Do you have a favorite "from scratch" cake recipe?  Please share with me here!

Chow for now!  :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Potato Leek Soup for a cozy day

Third day of rain in LA...and not sure what to do with myself!  Believe me, I am not complaining. We have at least 325 days of happy sunny weather in LA but after a few days of rain and temperatures almost cold enough to put on the heat, I decided to make potato leek soup.

For those of you who have never cooked with leeks before, they are part of the onion and garlic family and are sort of like a thicker, less bitter scallion or green onion.  It's important to cut them vertically and to clean them well as the layers catch a lot of soil when they grow.

I perused a bunch of recipes - most of the ingredients were the same, potatoes and leeks (obviously), milk or cream, water or stock, butter or oil and some spices. So I decided to make up my own recipe and I have to say it came out pretty darn good. I did not have cream nor did I want those extra calories so I used non-fat milk and I still thought it was thick and rich.

Potato Leek Soup

2 leeks, tough dark green leaves discarded and remaining white and light green parts cut in half, cleaned well and sliced into half moons.
1 tsp fresh thyme (leaves pulled from stem)
1 T olive oil or butter
3 small potatoes, peeled and cut into one inch dice (I used russets)
3 cups of low sodium vegetable stock or chicken stock
salt to taste
white or black pepper to taste
1/2 cup cream or milk

1. Place pot over low to medium heat and add olive oil or butter until heated.  Add sliced leeks and sweat them about 10 minutes until tender (don't brown them).  Add thyme during last few minutes of sweating.

2.  Add potatoes and stock and increase heat until simmering.  Lower heat, partially cover and cook for about 45 minutes.  Taste and add salt, pepper as needed.  Turn off heat.

3.  Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until pureed (or alternatively, blend batches in a stand up blender, being careful not to burn yourself).  Taste again and season if necessary.

4.  Stir in milk or cream.  Serve!

This is a much lighter version of some other potato leek recipes (like Alton Brown's) and i am pretty happy with the way it turned out (and I have no guilt because it is low fat)!

You know what happened once I sat down to eat it, right?  The sun came out. :)

What's your go-to comfort food for a rainy day? Feel free to post your favorites here!

Chow for Now! :)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stocking the pantry.

This week I got home from a friend's house, it was drizzling out, and I had "nothing" to make for dinner (or so  I thought).  So, I began opening up my cabinets to see what I had that could be thrown together for a nutritious and fairly quick dinner.

My eyes were immediately drawn to a box of orzo and since it was raining and icky out I thought pasta could be comforting.  I looked at my canned goods and saw garbanzo beans and chicken broth.  I knew I could whip something together...pasta and beans are a natural pair.  So I made a sort of blended pasta e fagioli (with garbanzos in place of white or cannelini beans) using only items that I had on hand.  It was yummy and only took about 30 minutes to whip together.

For singles, couples or family dining, it is a great idea to keep your pantry stocked with items that you can throw together - it really makes life easier when you just don't feel like going to the grocery store.  Having a selection of canned, boxed, jarred and long lasting refrigerated items on hand can make life simple and can help you make satisfying, quick meals.

I recommend going through your cabinets now, check for expired items and throw them away.  Then print a list of items from those below and shop.  Keep these items in stock and replenish them as needed.  Obviously don't include items you don't like (for me that would be sardines) or don't eat very often and buy more of those items that you use regularly (low sodium chicken broth, olive oil, canned diced tomatoes for me).

Beans: An assortment of canned (white, garbanzo, black) and dry.  You can also use the dried beans to help weigh down a pie crust when par-baking!

Oils: Vegetable or canola, sesame and olive oils.  Consider buying a spray bottle to add your own olive oil to (instead of buying those already canned and very expensive per oz).

Mustard: Jarred Dijon or whole grain and dry (dry mustard adds a nice touch to macaroni and cheese!)

Pasta: Assorted sizes and grains (whole grain, whole wheat, and even gluten free rice pasta are available now).

Rice/grains: Arborio for risotto, white/brown and whole grain for easy side dishes.  Also couscous, quinoa and barley for soups and hot or cold side dishes.

Sugar: Brown (sealed tight so it doesn't become a rock), white, confectioners and agave and/or stevia (for those not using true sugar sweeteners)

Honey: to add to hot tea, Asian stir-fry and in place of sugar in some recipes

Canned tomatoes: whole San Marzano's or Italian plum tomatoes for marinara, paste (for thick and rich sauces), diced (no salt added) for a quick sauce to serve over spaghetti squash, fire roasted for zing

Dried and fresh herbs: I have just about every herb known to man in my cabinet, it's important to smell and taste them every few months to make sure they still taste the way you should.  I also buy and grow fresh herbs.  I wash, trim and freeze them in freezer bags (labeled!) for future use.  Trader Joe's also sells Dorot frozen cubed herbs like cilantro and basil that I keep on hand.  These are a life saver!

Onions, garlic and shallots: I use one or more of these in most meals.  Keep them in a cool dry place and they will last a while.

Flour: If you bake a lot consider buying bread or cake flours but an all purpose flour should do well in most cases.  The regular grocery store has an array of different flours available these days from rye to whole wheat to gluten free flours.

Sauces: Low sodium soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, hot sauce (like Cholula or Tabasco), Worcestershire (I mix this with ground turkey, egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper for a great flavor!). Any of these sauces can add more flavor to your dishes.

Broths/Stocks: I keep vegetable and chicken stock on hand either home made and frozen in easy to defrost containers, or bought from the store (low sodium!) and kept in my pantry.  Use for soups, gravy, basting...

Nuts: I always have raw almonds in my cabinet, they can be used as a quick snack, can be ground into almond flour for baking, chopped for cookies and browned with brown sugar and butter with other nuts and herbs for a party snack.  I also like to have walnuts (for salads) and pine nuts (for pesto).

Vinegars: I have white, apple cider, champagne and good balsamic.  Rice wine is also a good one for Asian dishes.  Balsamic can be reduced for a gorgeous thick sauce to put over meats, fish and even strawberries!

Baking supplies: Baking powder and soda, chocolate, dry yeast, various extracts and sea salt are all must haves for me, but leave these out if you aren't a baker.

Frozen items: I always have a bag of frozen, uncooked large shrimp in my freezer that I can thaw quickly to make a stir fry or shrimp tacos.  I also keep frozen corn, peas and fruits for smoothies.  Butter also freezes well.  I buy lots of sweet cream butter when it's on sale and throw it in my freezer.

Other items to consider, depending on your taste and what kind of food you enjoy cooking: olives, anchovies, jarred artichokes, jarred red peppers, capers, clam juice, ketchup, maple syrup, vanilla extract, corn meal...

What are some of your favorite items that I might have left off the list?  Feel free to share with us here!

Chow for now!  :)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Italian class, part II

To quote one my favorite comedians and current regional manager of Sabre (formerly Dunder Mifflin), "CARBOLOAD!".  Last night was a feast that required working out before, during and after the meal. In fact, I should have jogged home after school last night.  Last night was PASTA and CHEESE night in class.

Our team made linguini with white clam sauce and we also made home made spinach ricotta and chicken sausage ravioli.  Other teams made penne with alfredo sauce (cheese, egg yolks, butter, cream, you get the picture), elbows with a spicy Bolognese, CPK's spinach and artichoke dip, Butternut squash ravioli and polenta with roasted pork loin.

I also brought in my homemade foccacia and Chef brought in Tiramisu.  All in all a delicious meal and one that will require that I eat salads the rest of the week.

Making ravioli was less daunting than I thought it would be and a lot of fun.  The dough is pretty simply made in the food processor or by hand and it makes about 20-30 ravioli depending on size.

Spinach and sausage ravioli

1 1/2 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 T olive oil
2 large eggs

1/2 c ricotta cheese
1/4 c dry chopped spinach
1 tsp Italian herbs
1/2 c cooked chicken sausage

1.  Put all ingredients in a cuisinart and pulse a few times to blend.  Remove and knead on counter until smooth.
2.  Shape into a flat disc and wrap in plastic wrap 
3.  Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.
4. Once refrigerated, take out and cut into 4 even pieces.  Using a pasta machine roll the dough through each size from large to small until the dough is thin and you can see the outline of your fingers through it.  Repeat once more so you have two long pieces of equal size. 

5. Put all filling ingredients into cuisinart and pulse until a smooth paste is formed for the filling.
6.  Lay one piece of dough out and using a teaspoon, measure out spoonfuls about 1 1/2 in apart in the center of the dough.  

7.  Lay  the other piece of dough over and tuck the dough around each "hill" formed by the filling.  
8.  Using a round or square cutter cut each ravioli out and fork around the ends to make sure they don't come apart in the water.
9. Cook in a large pot of salted water about 10 minutes or until al dente.

Some pictures from the evening!
Linguini with white clam sauce
Ravioli with a garlic butter sauce
What is your favorite pasta and sauce?  Mine is a toss up between Bolognese and Baked Ziti.....and Vodka sauce..... and marinara.  Ok, so I like Italian food.  But seriously, what is your favorite?  Feel free to share here!

Chow for now! :)