Thursday, December 31, 2009


This is my last post for The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge by a Gwen at Gwenbell.  Happy New Year Everyone!

December 31 Resolution you wish you'd stuck with.  (You know, there's always next year...)

I had every intention this year to get more organized.  Drawers, closets, my office, you name it.  Maybe I did a drawer or two, but it didn't go much further than that.  Even those drawers have now become less than desirable.  I will definitely be embarking on this endeavor next year (I guess that means tomorrow) with the help of a book I found on a great blog named Unclutter, by Erin Rooney Doland.  Her book, called Unclutter Your Life in One Week, I just received for Christmas and have been devouring it.  When I'm organized, I'm actually a much happier person and don't stress about what I should be doing.  I think of it as a ticket to enjoy life to its fullest!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pfizer Commercial

For 2 more days, I will be continuing on with a challenge posted by a Gwen at Gwenbell, called The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  Please feel free to join in by either participating through her website or by commenting below.

December 30 Ad.  What advertisement made you think this year?

Please take a moment to enjoy this commercial.  It's definitely not all about the medicine and I'm glad I work for a company that recognizes that.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chicken Hearts - pictures may be disturbing to some viewers, but OH SO tasty!

We are enjoying our holiday break by spending time with Mark's family in Newport on the beautiful central coast of Oregon.  The ocean view from their sprawling windows is mesmerizing, as we look out in hopes of seeing a whale making it's trek south.  The day was taking a normal course but suddenly became more intriguing when Mark's father asked me if I liked chicken hearts.  My instinctual reaction was to say "no", but after I thought about it for a moment, I changed my answer to "I don't know".  I may have tried chicken innards at some point in my life (definitely a liver or two), but I was young, and most certainly more squeamish then I am now.  

I was excited to try something new!  And in hopes that my son would too.  I decided this was a must to blog about, although I know I will have some naysayers in regards to this dish.  Completely understandable.  For those of you interested in the science aspect, like myself, I wanted to start with a bit of chicken heart info.  Structurally, the chicken heart is very similar to the human heart with 4 chambers.  However, as with most small hearts, it beats much faster, as much as 400 beats /minute.  On the nutritional aspect, chicken hearts are basically good for you, except for one main factor - they are VERY high in cholesterol.  Otherwise, they are a good source of folate, protein, riboflavin, B12, iron, and zinc, as well as low in sodium.  Not too bad, I thought. 

What's the best way to cook chicken hearts?  As I investigated the internet, I found several ways people cook up these gems, by braising them, frying them, and even cooking them up in a pasta sauce with wine!  As for today, Leo (Mark's dad), was going to whip up his tried and true recipe for scrumptious chicken hearts. 

He began by melting butter in a small saute skillet and adding a couple of crushed garlic cloves.  Next, Leo placed all of those beautifully structured chicken hearts in the pan to cook down in the butter and garlic mixture.  After sprinkling with a little garlic salt, he let them sit until most of the liquid was absorbed.  My fascination grew as I watched him cook up these dark meat morsels.  About 15 more minutes passed as they browned up every so slightly and then we had our bit-size wonders.  I was truly surprised with how much I enjoyed them!  I suppose I was expecting a liver sort of flavor, or something more gamey, but they honestly tasted like the dark meat of the chicken, but just slightly more intense.  I love dark meat, and braised in the butter and garlic, these were scrumptious. 

So the big question - did Ryan try any?  As you can see by the picture, he did.  What you can't see by the picture is that he basically ate the whole bowl himself.  Yes, it was a success!

Leo's Famous Chicken Hearts

2 TBL butter
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 lb chicken hearts
1/4 tsp garlic salt

In a small saute skillet, melt butter and add the 2 crushed cloves of garlic.  While the butter is melting, rinse and drain the chicken hearts.  Add the chicken hearts to the pan and bring to a low boil over medium heat.  Cover and cook until much of the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally.  Once most of the liquid is absorbed, continue cooking on low for about 15 min.  Remove from pan and serve!  Sprinkle with salt as desired.

Monday, December 28, 2009

My list-making obsession

For the next few days, I'm continuing on with a challenge posted by a Gwen at Gwenbell, called The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  Please feel free to join in by either participating through her website or by commenting below.

December 28 Stationary.  When you touch the paper, your heart melts.  The ink flows from the pen.  What was your stationary find of the year?

I'm sticking with my tried and true - lined paper.  I just don't use stationary anymore, besides the token thank-you card which lately has had a star wars figure, or something else boyish on it (remember, I have a 6 year old son).  I am addicted to making lists.  It really helps my fading memory and to keep me on track for the day.  And, I get most excited about lined paper.  I like the structure about it and how all my words are neatly lined up in rows.  I've actually tried an online to do list, called TeuxDeux, and was pretty excited about it when I signed up (it has lines) but I've only gone back to it once since I created it.  However, a paper list, I go back to several times during the day.  So for now, I will be sticking to the good ol' standby of lined paper and have the comfort and convenience of the list beside me at all times. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Twitter, tweet, maybe I have cold feet...

On a slight detour from my normal food content, I've decided to embark (albeit a bit late!) on a challenge posted by a Gwen at Gwenbell, called The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  Unlike my Lebanese Wontons, I'm not entering this challenge to win anything, but instead to challenge myself with thinking about interesting questions and my experiences throughout this year.  Please feel free to join in by either participating through her website or by commenting below.

December 27 Social web moment. Did you meet someone you used to only know from her blog?  Did you discover Twitter?

Yes, I did discover Twitter.  But it pretty much ended there.  I tried; in fact I posted 1 tweet.  I guess I have a hard time understanding why people need to (or want to!) know what other folks are doing every minute of the day.  I'm sure there are Twitter fans out there that will let me know I don't understand the concept, and I will fully admit that I don't, but I'm just not sure I'm ready to commit to it just yet.  I post entries on my blog which people can follow via email or RSS feed, I post updates on Facebook, so do I need to tweet about it too?  Or should I tweet when I take a shower?  Which could be somewhat interesting since with a work-at-home job, my showers are embarrassingly late in the day.  As for following tweets, I choose not to.  I love my RSS feeds from my favorite blogs, but that's about where it ends.  So, do you tweet?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Passion - do you have it?

On a slight detour from my normal food content, I've decided to embark (albeit a bit late!) on a challenge posted by a Gwen at Gwenbell, called The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  Unlike my Lebanese Wontons, I'm not entering this challenge to win anything, but instead to challenge myself with thinking about interesting questions and my experiences throughout this year.  Please feel free to join in by either participating through her website or by commenting below.

December 26 Insight or aha! moment. What was your epiphany of the year?

It might seem like a simple one to many, but for me, it was an epiphany.  I learned that in order to be both happy and successful in life, you need to pursue something you are passionate about.  The happiness part seems fairly obvious, but I truly believe in order to be the most successful at something, you need to have passion for it.  I always knew what I was passionate about, but figured I could never pursue it, due to lack of time, commitment to other things in life, such as my real job, my family, etc.  However, making time to pursue my passion has only made me a happier person.  Will I ever become financially successful with it?  Who knows, but I have already grown my relationships with friends and family through sharing a passionate side of me that many did not realize, or at least to the degree they do now.  I would encourage anyone to find an outlet for their passion and develop it.  You never know where it may lead.

Friday, December 25, 2009

SKOY cloths

Merry Christmas!

On a slight detour from my normal food content, I've decided to embark (albeit a bit late!) on a challenge posted by a Gwen at Gwenbell, called The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  Unlike my Lebanese Wontons, I'm not entering this challenge to win anything, but instead to challenge myself with thinking about interesting questions and my experiences throughout this year.  Please feel free to join in by either participating through her website or by commenting below.

December 25 Gift. What's a gift you gave yourself this year that keeps on giving?

SKOY cloths.  If you are like me, then you go through a lot of paper towels.  They are easy to grab, quick to clean up, but very wasteful at the same time.  I wanted to break my paper towel habit in an effort to help the environment and also to cut down on the expense!  I found out about SKOY cloths and was hooked.  They were created by 2 stay-at-home moms living locally to me in Encinitas, California.  They are SUPER absorbent, can go in the dishwasher or wash machine, and have fun bright colors.  In fact, the name SKOY means "just for fun" in Swedish. I hope you try them!

Wishing everyone a very merry and very safe Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays to my Fellow Foodies!
Couldn't resist sending a few of these fun advertisements.  The first two are from Food Network Humor and there are more on their site if you want to check them out. 

This video below was something I remember seeing previously, but just came across it recently again.  It's a commercial from Marks & Spencer, a major British retailer that sells mainly clothes and gourmet food.  The store began it's long history in the late 1800's and is now experiencing a revitalization.  For me, this commercial tantalizes many of the senses and you can almost smell and taste the food as you watch.  So for now, I'll leave you one of their commercials from 2006 since it probably represents some of the best food porn ever!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pear Budget (no, it's not food related) and Google Reader - great web tools!

On a slight detour from my normal food content, I've decided to embark (albeit a bit late!) on a challenge posted by a Gwen at Gwenbell, called The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  Unlike my Lebanese Wontons, I'm not entering this challenge to win anything, but instead to challenge myself with thinking about interesting questions and reflecting on my experiences throughout this year.  Please feel free to join in by either participating through her website or by commenting below.

December 23 Web Tool.  It came into your work flow this year and now you couldn't live without it.  It has simplified or improved your online experience.  

I have to list 2.

#1 - The Pear Budget Spreadsheet:  I must admit, this year I have felt very overwhelmed by my finances.  Since my divorce, my money situation has gone down the tubes - but hey, I'm still happier!  I did the worst thing and turned to credit cards way too much and did not focus on my true income and expenses.  Although I'm still not out of credit card debt and definitely living month to month, I couldn't be happier with my renewed focus on my finances.  I attribute a big part of that to the Pear Budget worksheet.  I had tried to do a monthly budget on my own, but with little success.  This spreadsheet guides you through the steps and populates cells on a tabbed excel spreadsheet where you enter your monthly expenses that correlate to each day in the month.  Yes, it may sound like a bit of work, but if you keep up with it daily or weekly, it is quite easy.  I'm able to see if I made money on a particular month, or overspent.  There is also a tab for the cumulative year.  It's simple, it's all I need, and did I mention it was free?  I'm excited about the prospect of better managing my money.  I found this spreadsheet through The Simple Dollar blog

#2 - Google Reader.  Since I have just recently started reading blogs, I hadn't known about Google Reader until this year.  Instead, I was signed up for email alerts when the blogs I subscribed to posted new content.  That can be fine, but when you sign up for several, you could be looking at a mass amount of emails per day!  So, I looked into RSS feeds and since I have a gmail account, the google reader was the obvious choice.  I still need to trim down on the amount of blogs I subscribe too (next project), but I've successfully decreased the amount of emails to my inbox!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avocado Soup with Chicken and Lime

Ode to the avocado.  When I was young, I couldn't stand avocados (much like my son now) and my parents were thrilled since that meant more for them!  Now, I can't understand why anyone wouldn't love and appreciate this luscious, and healthy, fruit.  There are so many ways to cut an avocado and some people probably change their way depending on how its going to be served.  For perfect slices, I have found my method.  After cutting the avocado in half and removing the seed, gently run a sharp knife along the outside skin lengthwise, basically cutting the skin in half.  The skin will easily pull off in 2 pieces, as long as the avocado is ripe.  As for removing the seed, I've been told I do it dangerously, but I'll share anyway - it's the "stick the tip of the knife into the seed and twist" method.  I find it works quite well, but I've heard it's an easy way to stab yourself. The fate of this particular avocado was to become Avocado Soup with Chicken and Lime

This is the amount of peppers the recipe calls for - 4 jalapeno peppers.  Let me tell you, that makes for one spicy soup.  The flavors in this soup are wonderful, but were definitely overpowered by the peppers.  I do like spicy, but this was way too much for me.  I would recommend using only 1 or maybe 2 peppers and also removing the seeds.  The flavor base for this soup starts with sauteing garlic, onions, and the peppers in olive oil until they are lightly browned.  
Next you add chicken, chicken broth, lime juice, and diced tomatoes, simmering until the chicken is cooked.  After adding salt and pepper to your liking, the recipe calls for stirring in the avocado and cilantro.  We ended up having leftovers and I wish I hadn't put the avocado and cilantro in the soup since it didn't hold up so well when reheating the next day.  I definitely recommend to put the avocado and cilantro in the bowls first and then pour the soup over.  Also, since it was so spicy, we ended up adding a dollop of sour cream to our bowls.  The finishing touch is to top it off with crunchy tortilla strips that you've baked in the oven.  Aside from using too many peppers, this soup was divine.  I ended up adding more chicken broth to dilute the soup, and the leftovers were just as wonderful.  If you like Mexican soup, you are sure to love this.  Oh, and in addition to the taste, the colors were the perfect red and green for this time of year. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday gifts for the cook!

Happy Holidays from our house to yours!  I thought I would take some time to share with you some great gift ideas for the home cook (at least I think they are great, so hopefully you and your friends will too!).  Let's first start with some useful kitchen items and utensils.  I highly subscribe to the notion that you need at least some essential tools in order to produce good results.  Without some of these tools below, I would be up a creek without a paddle.

 The first item that I could not live without is my Microplane Stainless Steel Zester.  I've used several different zesters and I love the Microplane one - it's completely flat, and cleans so easily.  Every time I use it, I'm always surprised at how sharp the blades are.  Zesting is one of those key ingredients that makes a dish come alive, and to me, you can't survive in the kitchen without a zester. 

I must admit that it wasn't until recently that I owned a cast iron piece and now I couldn't live without it.  Personally, I chose the 10 1/4/ inch Lodge Logic Skillet.  Being able to sear a piece of meat or prepare a frittata on the stove top and then finish it off in the oven, just makes life wonderful.  Full of flavor, crisp edges when you want them, I could go on and on.  The best thing about this Lodge cast iron piece is that it comes pre-seasoned.  Okay, so I took a shortcut but I'm loving my skillet.

Another somewhat new item I've put to much use lately is the Taylor Classic Instant-Read Pocket Thermometer.  Now I'm sure there are much fancier versions out there, but what all do you need it to do besides give you a temperature reading?  Mine is basic and works beautifully.  I never used thermometers up until the last year.  I'm pretty good at telling when a steak is done, which for my family is rare, but when it comes to pork and turkey, it's hit or miss.  I dusted off this thermometer that was in the back of my utensil drawer and put it to use.  My turkey roasts this year were a breeze.  I took them off just a bit before they reached 170* and let them rest for 10 min.  Perfectly moist and cooked through.  I also just recently cooked a pork tenderloin, not my most favorite cut of pork since it tends to be very dry if it is overcooked even the slightest, and used my thermometer which resulted in a beautifully moist dish.

As for cookbooks, I plan on posting some of my favorites as I cook some fabulous recipes from them, but the one in particular I want to highlight is near and dear to my heart, Sam the Cooking Guy: Just a Bunch of Recipes.  Sam lives in San Diego and was working in the drug development industry.  Hmm...sounds familiar...anyway, he went after his passion and now has a t.v. show on several networks that is shot right in his house.  Sam cooks with his kids, dogs, and sometimes the occasional neighbor.  He has no background in culinary schooling or television - his recipes are simple, using basic ingredients and basic cookware; and they are AWESOME.  Be on the look out for his new cookbook coming out in April!

So what have I asked for this Christmas?  All-Clad.  I've decided it is about time.  This stuff is pricey, but so worth it.  I'm only asking for 1 piece and I believe I have narrowed it down to the 13 inch All-Clad Stainless French Skillet.  It is a bit on the large side, but I'm not a fan of over-crowding a pan, so bigger is better.  This will be the first pan that I've ever bought (but technically, I won't be buying it for myself) since most of my other items have been hand-me-downs.  I think I've just made Mark's life much easier when it comes to gift giving - add to my All Clad collection!

Lastly, a thought for the cook that has everything.   I think a very unique kitchen item would be a Emile Henry Tagine, 2.6 Qt.  A tagine is a Moroccan pot entirely made of clay (sometimes glazed), with a flat bottom with low sides and a dome-like or cone-shaped top that fits inside the rim of the base during cooking.  The way the top is designed, allows the condensation to return to the bottom.  It is used to make dishes from all over North Africa, but is probably most widely known for the Moroccan slow-braised stews.  Very similar to the flavors I love from the middle east - lamb or chicken, fruits, nuts, aromatic herbs like cinnamon and saffron.  Beautiful piece and it produces magnificent results.  

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rustic Apple Oven Cake

I'm in awe. I don't even know where to begin with this one. The ease of this dish combined with it's rustic presentation, airiness, and not-too-sweet flavor make for a beautiful dessert or elegant breakfast.  This was literally one of the quickest desserts I had ever made and just recently again, I made it for breakfast.  The other beauty of it is that you most likely have all of the staple ingredients on hand!  Definitely a keeper and one that I do repeatedly.  

You begin this simple dish by combining brown sugar and cinnamon in a cast iron skillet with melted butter.  Next add 1 peeled, cored, sliced apple to the sultry brown mixture and saute the apples for a few minutes, letting them coat themselves in the syrupy goodness.

As they are sizzle on the stove, throw the rest of the ingredients (eggs, flour, milk, salt) in a blender to combine.  Pour the batter over the apples and put the skillet into the oven until the pancake-like dessert is puffed up and browned.  Top with a dusting of powdered sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon.  It is simply divine, and yet ridiculously simple.  Apple Oven Cake - a must for any apple lover!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lebanese Wontons - please view my entry and vote!

I never do these types of things, but something inspired me this time!  I entered a contest where you had to submit an original "party appetizer" recipe and photo.  I did a spin on the Mexican Wontons and came up with a recipe for Lebanese Wontons, more true to my heritage.  So here it is, folks!  I can confirm that people other than myself did try these and liked them.  It may have only been Mark and my parents, but I think they are very good at judging flavors and they are definitely ALWAYS honest!  Please take a moment to vote at this link - I would be forever grateful.  One slight problem is that you have to sign in to vote, and you can only sign in through facebook or myspace (at least that's all I've been able to figure out).  I understand signing in, so they can track to make sure people only vote once per entry, but limiting it to facebook and myspace is a bummer.  Voting ends on 12/16.  Thank you.

Lebanese Wontons

1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 TBL olive oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp salt
4 oz crumbled feta
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 TBL minced fresh mint
2 TBL minced fresh parsley
Vegetable oil for frying
1 (16 ounce) package of wonton wrappers
1 egg
1 TBL water

Toast pine nuts in a small skillet and set aside.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook until soft, about 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add lamb, turn heat to med-high, and cook until browned.  Add cumin, allspice, cinnamon, coriander, salt and cook for a couple of minutes.  Drain any excess grease.  Add toasted pine nuts, feta, and raisins, turn off the heat, and stir until the feta is incorporated.  Stir in mint and parsley and let cool slightly.

Lightly beat egg and water in a small bowl.  Take a wonton wrapper and place about 1tsp of filling in the middle of the square.  With your fingertip, moisten 3 of the corners with egg/water mixture.  Fold up the egg-moistened corner in the middle to cover the filling.  Then fold the remaining 2 egg-moistened corners into the middle to meet.  Dab a bit more egg where the corners come together as necessary to ensure the wonton is sealed.  Repeat with remaining wrappers.

Heat oil for deep frying using an electrical wok, or something suitable, to about 360-375*.  Add wontons in small batches and fry, turning occasionally, about 2 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon/utensil and drain on paper towels.  Serve warm with Tzatziki sauce or mint apple jelly.

Makes about 4 dozen.  Can be made ahead - After frying, let cool and place in paper towel-lined freezer, airtight bags, for up to 1 month.  To reheat, place on baking sheet in a 325* oven until heated thoroughly, about 15 min.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mexican Won Tons

'Tis the season and 'tis definitely the busiest time of the year for my family.  Since before I was born, my parents have owned a retail store.  First a camera store in Point Loma, then a gift store along with the camera store, and now just the gift store, Patina, in North Pacific Beach.

Retail + Holidays = absolutely no free time.  That's actually how I began hosting Thanksgiving at my house each year. My mom used to have the huge feast at her house, but then had to return to some of her busiest work days right after, leaving no time to clean up or take a breather.  For Christmas, however, the tradition is to celebrate at my parent's house.  There's obviously still a slight problem with that since their store is open every single day in December through the 24th, leaving no time to cook and prepare for Christmas day.  Yes, you can say things are hectic.

So, to help combat that problem, we try to think of things we can cook ahead of time, in order to make that day not quite as chaotic.  This year, she thought of a fun idea - Mexican food for Christmas.  I love it!  If I had to pick one cuisine to have every day for the rest of my life, it would be Mexican.  Being so close to excellent Mexican joints in San Diego, I've never ventured much into cooking my own Mexican food, but that is all about to change.  Any Top Chef fans out there?  I never knew much about Rick Bayless until Top Chef Masters, but I'm definitely keen on securing a copy of his book Mexico One Plate At A Time.

He has been an inspiration to me in several ways.  Chef Bayless' cooking style is authentic Mexican, more rustic and lighter fare than we get in San Diego, and his delightful personality (and handsomely good looks!) shines through in all that he does.  The charity he played for was the Frontera Farmer Foundation and through his success, he came away with the Top Chef Masters title and $100,000 to give to the foundation. Another one of his cookbooks that sounds intriguing he actually did with his teenage daughter Rick and Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures - family-tested and home kitchen-tested recipes!

One of the make-ahead dishes my mom and I decided to do was a recipe that we haven't made in probably 15 years.  Mexican Won Tons.  I know it may sound strange, but when you think about it, you can basically put anything you want in those delicate skins.  Wrap them up in any fashion, and you have a surprise gift package to delight your palate.

This recipe comes from a Sunset Wok Cookbook from 1979.  Why do they have a recipe for Mexican won tons in a cookbook dedicated to Chinese food?  The main recipe is actually for Chinese won tons, but then they have other variations listed.  Not sure we've ever cooked anything else out of that cookbook!

The ingredients are simple - ground beef, chorizo, green chilies, green onions, and jack cheese.  Cook the mixture together and let cool for a bit.  Next take a won ton skin, dollop about a teaspoon of the filling towards one corner of the square and seal 3 of the corners together in the middle using a dab of lightly beaten egg/water mixture.  Ryan was helping us that day, and in-between playing his computer games, he did make a few.  His were quite unique and pretty looking since he made them look like envelopes (he sealed them using all 4 corners).  We could easily tell which ones were made by him, so he was sure to try one of "his".

Another thing we haven't done in years is fry food.  My mom dug out an electrical wok that worked perfectly.  We used canola oil, the won tons browned up beautifully, and they had a lighter oil flavor then we remember; a pleasant surprise.  After they cooled down, we put them in Ziploc freezer bags to store for Christmas day.  Served with guacamole as a dipping sauce, I know they will be a huge hit! 

Mexican Won Tons (adapted from Sunset)

6 oz chorizo sausage
1/2 lb lean ground beef
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cans green chilies, chopped
1/2 cup shredded jack cheese
1 egg and a little bit of water, lightly beaten

Remove casing from chorizo sausage.   Brown chorizo and ground beef in a pan over medium-high heat.  Discard excess drippings.  Stir in green onions, chilies, and cheese.  Cook, until cheese melts.  Let cool.  Place about 1 teaspoon of mixture in a won ton skin.  Dab at least 3 corners of the skin with the egg/water mixture and seal.  Fry until golden and place on papertowels to absorb excess grease.  Serve with guacamole.  Makes about 2-3 dozen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Feast

For the last few years, I've hosted a somewhat non-traditional Thanksgiving feast.  I love this holiday.  I look forward to inviting family and friends over for a casual, kid-friendly get together.  I call it a Thanksgiving open house since I try (key word - try) to keep the food as warm as possible so people can come by as they can and not worry about walking in on everyone sitting down to a formal Thanksgiving meal.  My main struggle with this event has always been the turkey.  Personally, I'm not a fan of the big bird and really only like the dark meat.  Also, with people coming throughout the afternoon/evening, I don't want the involved part of carving a turkey or worse yet, the turkey drying out, etc.  So this year, I've found the perfect replacement -  Butterball's turkey roast.  It's a combo of white and dark meat, which keeps it extra juicy.  I realize butterball doesn't sound that exciting, but I found a great marinade and it cooks on the bbq.  In this Marinated Turkey Breast recipe, you first rub the meat with a mixture of garlic, fresh basil, and pepper.  Then pierce each breast with 3 whole cloves and marinate them in soy, lemon juice, oil, and brown sugar.  The instructions are to marinate for at least 4 hours, but I let these roasts go for a full 24.  They were moist and had an excellent flavor.  I sliced them up and served them in an electric skillet with accompanying cranberry sauce.  No gravy this Thanksgiving. 

All in all, I think I cooked about 14 items; some were winners and some were just okay.  Hopefully those folks reading my blog that were at our house that day, will agree with me on my selection of dishes to highlight :)   One hands-down success was the Rosemary Roasted Cashews from Ina Garten.  These were slightly sweet and slightly spicy since they were tossed with fresh chopped rosemary, brown sugar, and cayenne pepper.  A definite keeper.

I also enjoyed the Citrus, Fennel, and Rosemary Olives (at the far left of the picture) as well as the Winter Fruit Compote (in the middle bowl). 

Another fun make-ahead dish was Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Fougasse.  Extremely enjoyable for me since I hadn't made a yeast bread in years.  The smell of fresh bread baking was to die for.  This would probably go better at a cocktail party type of function, but I must say we are enjoying the leftovers! 

One very big success was the Awesome and Easy Creamy Corn Casserole.    This was probably the simplest dish I made, and was also a huge hit with the kids.  I did tweak the recipe a bit, but only by adding green onions and a few dashes of green jalapeno pepper sauce.  I also made this one day ahead and took it out of the refrigerator about 1 hour before putting it in the oven.  So easy and very comforting.  This next dish was actually better the second day - Caramelized Onion-Potato Gratin.  The topping of breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, and lemon zest was definitely not crunchy the second time around, but when reheated, melded beautifully with the potato, onion, and cheese flavors. 

A strange, yet flavorful addition to the Thanksgiving menu, was a dish true to my Lebanese heritage - Kibbeh Meatballs.  Ground lamb mixed with bulgur, shallots, parsley, and spices.  Mix it all in a food processor, shape into balls, brown them in a pan, and serve with a cucumber yogurt dip.  These were excellent when eaten right away, but did tend to dry out as they sat in the electric skillet (note to self).  Those of you who read my post from New York may recall the raw kibbeh (kibbeh nayye) that was also made from minced lamb and bulgur.  I highly doubt I'll ever attempt serving kibbeh nayye to any guests (especially at Thanksgiving!), so kibbeh meatballs is about as close as I'll get.  

As for dessert, I only made a couple of items since I knew others were bringing some.  Pistachio Sour Cream Cookies and Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes.    The cookies were a great combination of a not-so-sweet cookie and a fairly sweet frosting (pictured at the top). If you do attempt to make the cookies, just know that it is basically impossible to find pistachio paste.  Your best bet is to make it yourself by grinding up pistachios, powdered sugar, and a little bit of water in a food processor until it is the consistency of marzipan. The Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes are a Paula Deen recipe.  That may say it all, but for those of you who don't know Paula, she could easily take the name "Butter Queen", then you add the word "butter" in the title of the recipe, and you've got to believe these pumpkin bars are loaded with it!  These were rich and decadent and completely satisfied my pumpkin pie craving. 

I sincerely hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and please feel free to share any of your wonderful recipes with me!  Now onto making Mexican won-tons for be explained in my next post. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival - my 3rd year!

Oh, what a day.  I truly look forward to this day all year long.  I've gone now for the past 3 years and will definitely make a point to go every year from here on out. Congrats to the festival volunteers for making this a successful year with regulating the lines to get in!  It's been a bit tough (okay, that's a bit understated) getting into the event in years past - numerous lines, not knowing which one you should be in, ID checks taking forever, etc.   This year, they solved the problem.  

So this event is held at the Embarcadero.  Did you know that San Diego had an embarcadero?   I've lived here all my life and until I started coming to this event, I really didn't know what that area was called.  It was always just the park behind Seaport Village, to me.  Embarcadero or not, this area of San Diego is one of the most beautiful.  There are stunning views of downtown, the Coronado bridge, and of the navy ships.  Put it all together with a warm November afternoon, wine, beer, food, and friends and you have pure enjoyment. 

Now I must apologize up front.  I really enjoyed myself to the extent that I only managed to take 1 food photo, and it was the first thing we ate.  After that, the camera was put away.  Managing my wine glass, food, and then throw a beer glass in there too, there was no way I could do it all.  Food pictures lost out this time.  

Grilled oyster on the half shell, with mango and cilantro, I believe.  I'm sure some of you are going to discount me when I say I actually didn't partake in this delight, but it was the first thing we came across, on an empty stomach, and I don't like oysters to begin with.  I may have tried it if it was later in the day, but by the time we made it back, they had run out.  Mark thoroughly enjoyed it and said it was the best oyster he ever had.  This oyster and some great ceviche (which I did have) is from a restaurant in Tijuana called Alta Cocina Mexicana.  Darn, guess I missed out since I highly doubt we will be heading to Tijuana anytime soon.

Aside from the tremendous savory food and the excellent wines from all over the world, there are a few other items I want to highlight that may seem a bit out of the norm, but believe me, they all worked.  First of all, this year probably had the most beer vendors out of the last 3 years; not surprisingly, since I really do think that food and beer pairings are taking off.  Some of the beer vendors included Anchor Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Hornsby (hard cider), Stone Brewing Co., Trumer Pils, and Stella Artois, where they not only had Stella, but also Hoegaarden and Leffe.  With all 3 of the beers that Stella was offering, they gave full pours (not just tasters) and let you keep the glass, which is more of a chalis-shapped glass that you can see in the picture of us above. 

Those of you that know me, are aware that I'm not the biggest chocolate lover.  However, when I do find a good piece of chocolate that I like, I'm all over it like white on rice.  Eclipse Chocolat turned my world upside down with their Lavender Sea-salted Caramel truffle.  Mark tried it first (amazingly enough, quite soon after the oyster!) and told me with no exception that I HAD to try the truffle.  I honestly didn't want to.  Savory foods first, sweets afterward.  I broke my rule this time and I'm so grateful I did since they were completely out by the end of the event.  The lavender was subtle, the sea salt was distinct but not over-powering, and the truffle was incredibly smooth.  It is a masterpiece that I will seek out again, quite possibly for gifts over the holidays as well.  Interestingly enough, upon researching about Eclipse Chocolat, I found a post about them on Stone Brewing Co.'s blog - they paired their IPA with the lavender truffle!  Even at the festival, they were in close vicinity and I wish I had known about this pairing since Stone was offering their IPA at the festival that day.  In my past blogs around beer week, I feel like I've hit on a gold mine with beer and dessert pairings.  This one is not going to pass me up either; there will be an Eclipse Chocolat lavender truffle and Stone IPA pairing in my very near future.

Lastly, I'll end with one of my favorites - Fortaleza Tequila - affectionately known as "my tequila guy" at the festival.  I know this is a wine & food festival, but who wouldn't want to indulge in a tequila progression?  I was worried for a bit since he is always in the same spot, but this year, he had moved.  We found him and all was right with the world.  The progression began with their Blanco, or white, also called silver and it is stored in stainless steel tanks - never touches wood.  Second was the Reposado, or  rested, which has been aged in oak barrels for 6 to 9 months.  Finally, we moved onto the Anejo, or aged, and it is aged in oak barrels for 2-3 years.  Ahh....

After a wonderful afternoon, we strolled along Harbor Drive to check out some of the sites and artwork that our city has to offer.

We even came across a man who made it an art form to balance rocks on top of each other.  Ask Mark; this wasn't an easy task.  The one in the picture was for folks to try out themselves and Mark did - with no success.  I'll blame the tequila though :)  Another wonderful festival and another beautiful day in America's finest city.  I'm already looking forward to next year's event!