Sunday, December 12, 2010

Virtual Cookie Exchange

Once again, it's that time of year when the one holiday tradition that many bakers look forward to is upon us. The annual Holiday Cookie Exchange! Remember those? If you’ve never experienced one before, let me tell you, you’re missing out – unless, of course, you chose the month of December to start your diet, in which case I suggest you stop right here and go find something else to read such as “How to make celery last throughout a Holiday Cocktail Party.”

I’m of the opinion that cookie exchanges exist so that a bunch of friends can get together catching up on all the "goings on" in their lives and eat cookies till they split. Aside from getting to spend time with friends, additional benefit is that you go home with a cookie tin full to the brim and a pocket full of recipes. I’ve been to many variations of these parties over the years and remembering back about parties from years past made me homesick thinking of my special friends that don't live in Texas. That’s when the idea popped into my head about taking advantage of our virtual world and do my own cookie exchange with a twist.

So a week ago, I asked some of my out-of-the-area girlfriends that I correspond with online if they’d be willing to share one of their "tried and true, make it every year" cookie recipes. I told them that I wanted to bake each of them to feel like I was in the kitchen with them. Naturally, they were up to it and the recipes started coming in. As I was baking each recipe, I started soulfully thinking about each recipe and each wonderful friend that it came from. Before I knew it I was laughing out loud and feeling this overwhelming warmth - and not because the oven was on! It was certainly no substitute for the real thing, but it eased my heart and gave me a feeling of kinship with each lady as I worked through their recipes – and of course, I still walked away with more than a pocketful of recipes and a tin full of cookies. For this holiday season, it provided me with a sweet reminder as to why these ladies are so important to me – I’m jus’ sayin’!

Anise Biscotti - This recipe comes from Karen Bushaw, a childhood friend that grew up across the street from me. We had lost touch for about 9 years before reconnecting this past summer and it was if we never skipped a single heartbeat. I think some friendships can just do that. Her Italian family played a very strong role in my life. Growing up, I watched them and their cooking more than they probably will ever know and I still make some of their recipes today for my family. She is a very beautiful lady inside and out and I am honored to call her my forever friend.

Anise Biscotti

Mix in One Bowl:
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 cup shortnening
4 3/4 cup flour
3 tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. anise flavoring
6 eggs

Pre-heat oven to 350º

Form dough on cookie sheet into a long log and flatten till about an inch thick. Bake at 350º for 15 minutes or light brown*, let them cool slightly, and cut diagonally and place back on the cookie sheet, side down, browning both sides of cookie and turning when brown - about 5 minutes each side.

* I find that 15 minutes is not always enough ;)

Cranberry Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip Cookies - My friend Lisa Marks shared this recipe with me. She lives in Northern California and along with her daughter, join Johnee and I every summer for our annual Mother/Daughter trip. Although I've known her since our childhood, our friendship has grown over the last ten years and I value her guidance, wisdom and amazing listening skills every day. We try to chat every other day online to stay connected.

Cranberry Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups oatmeal
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (craisins)
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds

Beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add to butter mixture. Mix well. Stir in oatmeal, cranberries, chocolate chips and almonds. Drop by teaspoonful onto un-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown.

Grandma Mahugh's Candy Cookies - This next recipe comes from my friend Katie Dickson, also in Northern California, who continues to bake her Grandma's "secret recipe" every year. Giving away the "family secret" comes as no surprise to me because in the nearly 30 years that I've known her she has always been the kind of friend that will give you the proverbial shirt off her back if she thinks it will bring you comfort. Her Grandma had a special home filled with love and I know that if Grandma were still with us she would be filled with joy to know that Katie continues in her legacy to embrace kids who need love and acceptance and focuses every day in giving of herself.

Grandma Mahugh's Candy Cookies

4 cups rolled oats
1 pkg (1 lb) brown sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 cup crushed wheaties
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 tsp almond extract

Mix all ingredients together with electric mixer. Refrigerate over night. Roll into balls. Keep the mixture cold. If it gets to warm, pop back in the refrigerator. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. If you do not use parchment you will see the brown sugar caramelize. Be careful not to burn the bottoms of the cookies. If you use parchment, it won't burn but it also won't be the original cookie. So experiment and see which you like best. I personally like the parchment cookies better. My uncles like the caramelized version.

Orange Coconut Balls - This tasty recipe comes from Amy Hadley, a very special lady I met here in Austin a few years ago. Wait! Before you think I broke the rules by including a "local", let me explain. Last year, she and her husband made a bold move and decided to pack-up and live for a year in Prague. She is an amazing and talented woman and if you would like to follow her "Prague Adventure", please visit her website at She is funny, witty, crafty and organized and her contagious personality will grab you in a minute. She says this recipe is one of the most popular in the Bowlin house every year... "my brothers pop them like they're... well, candy".

Orange Coconut Balls

1 stick butter (1/2 c.)
1 lb. box powdered sugar
1 6 oz. can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 lb. box vanilla wafers, finely crushed

Mix well and form into balls. Roll in shredded coconut mixed with finely chopped pecans (or walnuts).
Store in airtight container. Can be frozen.

Soft Molasses Cookies = This last cookie recipe comes from another Austin friend who moved away to Arizona - hopefully to return home soon! Amy De Medici is someone that brings a tremendous amount of light into a room and fills it with love. I truly appreciate her insight and believe her to be a true gift. She recently lost both her grandmother and father and this particular cookie was one her Grandma always made.

Soft Molasses Cookies (Granny Wallace)

2 1/2 cups shortening
3 cups sugar (white)
3 eggs
3/4 cup molasses
6 cups flour
2 tbls soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 to 1 1/2 tbls of ground cloves
1 to 1 1/2 tbls of cinnamon

Roll pieces into small balls, flatten a little if you want and place on cookie sheet*. Bake for 8 minutes at 375 degrees.

* I tweaked this a bit by rolling the balls in sugar before placing on the cookie sheet

Peppermint Crinkles

This blog wouldn't be complete without including my own. Here's my recipe for Peppermint Crinkles (my new personal favorite). I found this link with the same recipe so I've simply pointed to it here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Texas Sheet Cupcakes!

About eight years ago I found myself at my first Texas church potluck. It was there that I was first introduced to the "Texas sheet cake". Funny that in all my years of baking and having my Daddy share all of his Southern recipes with me, this one somehow passed on by me. I first started noticing this odd looking sheet cake at church potlucks. Then when we'd go to friends' houses for parties I'd see it there too. I never saw it in the bakeries and quite honestly, it never looked that appealing to me. Then one Sunday, as I was last in line at a church picnic and the peach cobbler was all gone (and I just don't care for bananna pudding), someone handed me a slice of this Texas sheet cake. It was then that I found pure joy in this little slice of heaven (and not because I was standing on Holy ground - well, maybe). My fork went deep into this fudge-like consistency before hitting this dense, moist, chocolate and almost brownie-like cake with a subtle hint of cinnamon. Wow! Who Knew? It was then and there that I felt somehow deprived of a Texas specialty. It was also in that moment that I decided to learn more about the "Texas Sheet Cake". Some say it got its name from being as "big" as Texas because it's made in either a 13"x9" or sheet cake sized pan. Or that Lady Bird Johnson brought it with her to the White House. Some say it's so sweet that you only need one little piece to satisfy the sweet tooth, which means one cake is enough to feed a crowd, and Texans are always feeding crowds. Which brings me to my theory. I think - and I will quote from "Steel Magnolias" - it's because "it freezes beautifully" as well as transports easily, whether it's to a church potluck, a graduation, a funeral or a family reunion.

So not too long ago, I got a request to make this recipe. My friend Meaghan's family celebrates her Mother's birthday on Thanksgiving every year. She wanted to surprise her Mother this year with her favorite cakes. Earlier in the month, she secretly got her Grandmother's Texas Sheet Cake recipe from her Mom (as well as her recipe for German Chocolate Cake, as I was asked to make that too). Normally on a recipe so tried and true, I will not change anything - I mean, why mess with perfection, right? Besides, this was all about Meaghan's Grandma so I needed it to be baked from the heart. That said, I couldn't help but to try and put a new spin on it (insert sheepish grin here). I thought, why not cupcakes? Everyone loves cupcakes and I knew this cake would be sharing a dessert table with many traditional Thanksgiving desserts. My twist on this traditional cake turned out as I had hoped and was enjoyed by all.

Here's a list of things you need to know if you want to make these delicious cupcakes.
1) Make sure you only fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full of batter. You'll need to use the top of the liner as a lip to keep the warm molten icing in place as it sets up.

2) I do not suggest using Texas-sized cupcake liners. I put the same amount of batter in each one but they baked inconsistently - some were higher and fuller and some sunk down when the icing was poured on.

3) It's important to make your icing as soon as you put those cupcakes in the oven since the icing needs to be finished and cooled a bit to spoon on the cakes as soon as they are out of that warm oven.

4) Last but not least - don't feel the least bit embarrassed over the final product if they look a little off. After all, this is just one of those recipes that every Texan knows tastes better then they look. I'm jus' sayin'!

Texas Sheet Cake
(Recipe from Meaghan's Grandmother)
Archived from Cooking Light

Cooking spray
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup butter or stick margarine
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs

6 tablespoons butter or stick margarine
1/3 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°.

To prepare the cake, coat a 15x10-inch jelly-roll pan with cooking spray and dust with 2 teaspoons flour. Set prepared pan aside.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 2 cups flour and next 4 ingredients (2 cups flour through salt) in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Combine water, 1/2 cup butter, and 1/4 cup cocoa in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; pour into flour mixture. Beat at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Add buttermilk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and eggs; beat well. Pour batter into prepared pan; bake at 375° for 17 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack.

To prepare the icing, combine 6 tablespoons butter, milk, and 1/4 cup cocoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and gradually stir in powdered sugar, pecans, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Spread over hot cake. Cool completely on wire rack.

Note: You can also make this recipe in a 13x9-inch baking pan. Bake at 375º for 22 minutes.

Cupcake Variation
Line cupcake pan with 24 cupcake liners - fill 3/4 full of batter. Bake 15-18 minutes (depending on your oven). When you touch the top and it springs back it will be done. Pull cakes out and spoon 1-2 Tbs. of warm icing on each cake. No worries if some sink down. I also garnished mine with a dollop of regular chocolate butter cream icing (I know it's a bit over the top but what can I say - it's a sugar thing! I also purchased a cute little State of Texas chocolate mold to garnish each cake with. You can get that here. Oh and because I was trying to "mask" some of the cupcake's inconsistancies, I put a few white chocolate curls on top by just using my potato peeler over a cube of white almond bark.

Meghan's Grandmother's Down Home German Chocolate Cake
(Archived from the original Bakers German Chocolate bar)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thimbleberry Bars

My girlfriend Julie brought over a jar of Thimbleberry jam the other day. So naturally I'm intrigued because I've never heard of this berry before. Julie said that they grow all over the area around her home town in Upper Michigan. On a recent trip to visit her mom, Julie and her boys picked the berries and her mom made the jam. Normally these little jewels would be made into jelly because they have so many seeds. Julie, however, says that she only remembers jam and that the seeds are part of the "taste of home" she remembers so fondly. I was a bit hesitant to put them in bar form because of the seeds but that ended up not being a problem at all. This recipe got me thinking that maybe, just once in a while, we can all endure those little "seeds of life" when they are masked in the sweet memories of home. I'm jus' sayin'!

Thimbleberry Bars


  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup rolled oats

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 3/4 cup thimbleberry jam (or any berry jam)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease one 8 inch square pan, and line with greased foil.

  2. Combine brown sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, and rolled oats. Rub in the butter using your hands or a pastry blender to form a crumbly mixture. Press 2 cups of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the jam to within 1/4 inch of the edge. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top, and lightly press it into the jam.

  3. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes in preheated oven, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool before cutting into bars.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Restricted Recipe Project - Update 3

As recipes continue to trickle in, I am consistently reminded of how lucky we are to not be on a restricted diet and yet, at the same time, what a blessing it is to know that even if that were to happen, there is still hope. The following recipes came in from a local Austin blogger who has, on more than one occasion, inspired and encouraged me to eat more locally grown and sustainable food. She is a seasoned cook with just the right amount of common sense to spice up your palate. I highly recommend you check out her blog after looking at the following recipes.

Thank you Kristi at

Spicy Stuffed Zucchini

4 zucchini
4-5 peppers, chopped - I used peppers I bought at the market, but you could use Poblanos if you prefer
1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped
2-3 spring onions, chopped
1/2 bunch of Swiss chard, chopped
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
2 tbsps olive oil
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken broth
chopped cilantro, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut 3 of the zucchini lengthwise. Spoon out the insides so that you are left with a zucchini "boat." Save the zucchini flesh for the stuffing. Set the zucchini boats in a baking dish.

Prepare the quinoa by placing one cup of quinoa and 2 cups of chicken broth in a pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and let the quinoa simmer for 15 minutes. Set the prepared quinoa to the side.

Combine the chili powder and cumin in a small bowl to mix them well together. Do not hesitate to up the quantity if you like things a little spicier.

Dice the 4th zucchini to use in the stuffing. Combine the zucchini flesh, the diced zucchini, mushrooms and green onions in a mixing bowl. Toss with one tbsp of olive oil and the spice mix so that the vegetables are well coated.

Heat the remaining tbsp of olive in a skillet. Add the spiced vegetable mix to the skillet and cook until almost tender. Add the Swiss chard and add until wilted. Take the vegetables off of the heat. Add quinoa to the mix one big spoonful at a time until you get the mix of quinoa/vegetables that you like. (I ended up with about one serving of quinoa left in the pot.)

Stuff the zucchini boats with the quinoa/vegetable mixture. If you'd like to add cheese, sprinkle it on top at this point. I recommend you use queso fresco or mozzarella. Pour a small amount of water into the bottom of the baking dish and cook for 30 minutes or until the zucchini shell feels just tender to the touch.

Farmer's Market Enchiladas
1 Zucchini, chopped
1/2 lb Mushrooms, chopped
A couple of peppers, seeded and chopped - I had a couple of sweet peppers and one jalapeno
1/2 lb Swiss chard, discard the large stems
Salt & Pepper
Corn tortillas
1 Can green chile enchilada sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Saute zucchini, mushrooms and peppers until almost tender. Add Swiss chard, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the chard is slightly wilted.

If needed, soften the tortillas for 30 seconds in the microwave so they don't break while you roll the enchiladas. Place a scoop of the vegetable mixture in each tortilla and roll closed. Place in a baking dish. Pour the sauce over the enchiladas.

Cook for 25-30 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and enchiladas are cooked through.

Poblano Rajas with Zucchini
I originally found this recipe on and have made it with shrimp and chicken as the protein instead of the steak. I’ve also made it with vegetables only and added mushrooms to the zucchini. The original recipe calls for adding cream at the end, but it’s just as tasty without it. Your friend won’t feel like he’s missing anything.

2 large poblano chiles, roasted (see below)
2 12-ounce skirt steaks
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 cup diced yellow or green zucchini
3/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Peel, seed and cut chiles lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Set aside. Brush steaks with 1 tablespoon oil. Mix 1 teaspoon cumin and ancho chile powder; rub spice mixture on both sides of steaks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini, poblanos and green onions; sauté until zucchini is tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon cumin. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in another large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add both steaks to skillet and cook to desired doneness (about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare). Remove steaks from pan. Let cool 5 minutes. Thinly slice steaks across grain.

Transfer steaks to platter. Top with poblanos and cilantro.

Cilantro Soup
from Mexico the Beautiful cookbook

1 Bunch cilantro
1 lb Small zucchini cut into chunks
oil for frying
4 Day old corn tortillas cut into small squares
6 cups Chicken stock
1/4 cup Butter
1/2 Onion, minced
2 tbsps Corn starch
2 Serrano chiles
Serrano chiles chopped

Cook the zucchini in a covered saucepan with salted water for 20 minutes or until crisp tender.


While the zucchini are cooking, heat 1/2 of the oil in a small skillet. When hot, add tortilla pieces a few at time and fry them turning at least once for about 3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. (GGG note: you can skip this step and just crumble tortilla chips in at the end if you don’t want to mess with frying the corn tortilla strips.)

In a blender, puree the zucchini in the chicken stock. When perfectly blended, add the cilantro and blend until smooth. (GGG note: The first time I did this, I made a tremendous mess in my kitchen. Now, I have a hand blender – the kind you immerse in your pot and blend. Highly recommend as a way to not have stock and zucchini all over the floor.)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and sauté until transparent. Add the pureed mixture, the cornstarch stirred in a little cold water, the whole chiles, and salt if needed. Simmer covered over low heat for 10 minutes.

Stir the cream in the soup if you wish and heat a few minutes more or until very hot. Serve the fried tortillas, cheese and chopped chiles in separate dishes on the side to be added to the soup as desired.

Southwestern Succotash

Olive oil
1 Medium Onion, chopped
1 Clove Garlic, chopped
About 1/2 a container of okra, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1-2 Zucchini squash, diced
2 Jalapenos or other peppers, seeded and chopped
2 Ears of corn, kernels trimmed from cob
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat a pan at medium-high heat and add olive oil. Sauté onion and garlic until clear. Add the okra, corn, zucchini and jalapenos and cook until just tender. Season with cumin salt and pepper to taste and combine well with the veggies. Take the pan off the heat and toss in the cilantro.

Lemon Pepper Zuchhini Shrimp Fettucine

1 Pound peeled, deveined gulf shrimp
1 Pound zucchini, chopped
1 Onion, thinly sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
Olive oil
Lemon pepper
1 Package Lemon pepper fettucine
1 Cup White Wine

Toss the peeled shrimp in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, lemon pepper, 1 clove minced garlic and salt. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to cook.

Start water to boil for the pasta. Cook to package instructions.

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add zucchini and sauté until almost tender. Add shrimp, a dash or two of oregano and white wine. Cook until shrimp are cooked through. If I'd had capers, I would have tossed those in, too at the end.

Toss the pasta in with the sauce until pasta is coated.

Zucchini Fettuccine

2 Zucchini
Parmesan Cheese
Small pat of Butter
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Boil some salted water to blanch the zucchini.

With a vegetable peeler or mandolin, create long, thin strips with the zucchini. You want them just thick enough that they don't tear - like pasta. I was able to do this with the vegetable peeler, but it would be easier with a mandolin. I left the skin on the zucchini, but you could peel it if you wanted.

Toss the zucchini ribbons in the boiling water for a minute or two - just blanch it; you don't want the zucchini to get mushy. Drain the zucchini really well. I let mine sit for a couple of minutes to get all the water out.

Toss with your sauce or, in my case butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper.

Green Curry Eggplant
from Jam Sanitchat of Thai Fresh Restaurant

1 Can (mae sri brand, 4 oz) green curry paste
1 Can Mae Ploy coconut milk
1 1/2 Cups water
1 Pound Asian eggplant, diced (can substitute or add chicken, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp or fish fillets
2 Cups zucchini (can substitute butternut squash, green beans or yellow squash)
Fish sauce to taste
Pinch of sugar
5 Kaffir lime leaves, torn
1 Cup Thai basil

Heat 1 cup coconut cream (the creamy part, which is the top part of coconut milk in a can version, do not shake the can) over medium heat. Stir in curry paste and turn down the heat. Simmer until fragrant and coconut cream starts to crack some oil.

Add the eggplant (or meat). Add the rest of the coconut milk and water and bring it back to boil. Add zucchini (or other vegetables.) Simmer until the vegetables are cooked through. Add fish sauce about one tablespoon at a time and bring it to your own preferred taste. Add a pinch of sugar and taste. Add Thai basil leaves and turn the heat off. Serve over rice.

Moussaka Pasta
I usually make this with a tomato sauce, but think that pureeing the red peppers would give you the moisture you need without the tomatoes. I did not have time to test it, but I think it will work.

Onion, chopped
2 Cloves of garlic, chopped
1 Eggplant, peeled and chopped
1 lb Ground buffalo meat
Sweet red peppers, pureed
1 Bay Leaf
Feta cheese
Penne pasta, cooked (I used whole wheat)

Place the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let the eggplant sit for 30 minutes. (This helps make it tender and not chewy.) Rinse well and pat dry.
Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil until the onions are transparent. Add the ground meat and cook until browned. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, bay leaf and pureed peppers. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors meld.

Adjust the seasoning as necessary - I like a lot of cinnamon(about 1 Tbsp), but other recipes call for much less. Remove the bay leaf.

Plate the pasta, top with sauce and sprinkle feta over the top.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Restricted Recipe Project - Update 2

The Restricted Recipe Project is something that was started to help a couple deal with the realities of an extremely restrictive diet due to a medical situation. Not being able to use the everyday staples that we all take for granted can have an impact not only on the person that's on the diet, but also those that do the cooking. To read more about it, please click here. Here are more recipes from local food bloggers - Thanks is not enough for your generous helping hands in this challenge.

Submitted by EarlGreyTruffle

"This is such a lovely gesture of you. As I read over the lists I found myself asking questions about these seemingly healthy ingredients he can't have and the things that aren't even on the list, I feel so sorry for them! My recipe is simple and so easy I hope its not too plain. I cook this at least once a week for me and my boyfriend. The recipe can go two ways: roasted and savory, or fresh and light."

Roasted Garlic and Lemon Green Beans

Place a whole head or a few cloves, depending how much you like garlic, in a little wrap of tin foil. Roast in oven at 375 degrees until garlic is fragrant and mushes with slight pressure. Cut a lemon in half and place in glass dish and roast alongside garlic until golden(-er).

Take several servings of fresh green beans and blanche for just a few minutes. You can cook them to the level of crunch desired... we like them almost raw.

Once cooked, rinse with cold water and set aside.

Remove skins from garlic and piece apart the cloves until you have little chunks of garlicky goodness. Zest the roasted lemon halves. Mix garlic, zest and beans in a bowl. Squeeze one-half of lemon juice over the dish. ***Toss in a handful of chopped curly leaf parsley till it slightly wilts.

Alternatively, if you cannot roast the garlic or the lemon, try cooking the green beans the same way but lightly cook the garlic in the bottom of a skillet and toss the beans with fresh lemon zest and juice. This is a lighter, springier version of the above recipe and tastes awesome cold and is best eaten with fingers.

***NOTE: Parsley is high in potassium, and as that is one of the restrictions, use sparingly. If you still desire the herbal additive, cilantro, a close cousin of parsley, is significantly lower in potassium yet still delivers a similar texture.

Submitted by

On the list of allowable foods is quinoa which I just love. Originating in South America, the Incas considered quinoa to be a sacred crop. It contains essential amino acids that make it an unusually complete protein from the plant world. It is similar to rice or couscous but it is not a grain since it does not come from the grass family. It has a nutty flavor, is gluten free, and when cooked, the germ separates from the seed in a lovely curl.

A common cooking method is to treat quinoa much like rice, bringing two cups of water to a boil with one cup of grain, covering at a low simmer and cooking for 14–18 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed. The cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it (like al dente pasta). As an alternative, one can use a rice cooker to prepare quinoa, treating it just like white rice (for both cooking cycle and water amounts).

Here is a tasty salad recipe using quinoa.

* 1/4 cup quinoa
* 1/4 chopped red pepper
* 1/4 cup bite sized pieces of snap peas
* 1/8 diced onion (or green onion)
* 1/8 cup fresh cherries or grapes

White Wine Vinaigrette Dressing

* 2 tbsp olive oil
* 2 tbsp white wine vinegar (or rice wine)
* 1 tsp Dijon mustard
* 1 tsp honey or agave
* Salt and pepper to taste

Cook quinoa, cool and toss with red pepper, snap peas, onion, and cherries.

For white wine vinaigrette dressing, whisk together olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and honey. Add salt and pepper. Mix 2 tbsp dressing (or more to taste) into salad.

I did not see peppers on the banned or allowed list so I am hoping the next recipe is something she can use as well. Capsaicin, which gives peppers their heat, is also believed to have a myriad of health benefits including fighting cancer and preventing heart disease. It is also a good way to spice up an otherwise bland diet.

Dried Chili Pickle Relish

* A good handful of dried chili peppers; anchos are great, but passilla or mulata will also work, as would any larger dried and not too spicy pepper (Great for homemade dried garden jalapenos!) Make sure to clean them off well.
* 1 large white onion, sliced into wedges
* 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
* 1/3 of a cup of white vinegar
* 1/3 of a cup of vegetable oil
* Salt as needed

1. Slice the chilis into narrow strips with a very sharp knife – or alternatively use kitchen scissors to cut them.
2. Mix all the ingredients together in a non-reactive bowl, season as needed with salt and let sit in the fridge overnight.
3. Serve as a table garnish. This goes very well with pretty much any Mexican meal you can think of – but is particularly well matched to grilled meats.

Submitted by

"Hi, Kristina! This is an admirable project you are undertaking. My dad has diabetes and kidney failure as well (it's very hard to accept and I feel for your friends), and some of the things we figured out for him to do, generally, are to use vinegar instead of salt on things like green salad, cooked grain salads, and as a marinade for meat; and he also makes a lot of curries, which are great for someone who enjoys spicy foods. But, jeez, Carl has an even more restricted diet than my dad! No wonder your friend is asking for help."

Specifically, I made a really good chicken marinade last week that was: 1 c peach juice (prob could just use mashed or blended up peaches), 2 T veg oil, 1 T balsamic vinegar, and a T of worcestershire sauce and marinated chunked chicken breasts for several hours before grilling on skewers. Served with a cold chutney-like thing of fresh peaches, cilantro and lemon juice.

I also like to make main dish salads with cooked grains. Barley works really well, but so do quinoa and brown rice. Try this recipe:

Barley Salad
1 c barley, cooked in 2 c water 45 min
1 c diced apple
1 c diced roasted squash (prob would be good raw, too)
1 t pepper
1/2 c sliced green onion
Other things to add: spinach, cooked meat, lettuce

1/4 c cider vinegar
2 T olive oil
1/2 t curry powder
1/2 t harissa paste
1/2 t toasted cumin seeds
1 T honey (or sugar sub or try without)

I also like to stir fry green beans in a super hot skillet in some oil and then add a bunch of garlic and red pepper flakes in the last 30 sec of cooking. Then add sesame oil (but maybe that is off limits to him as it's made from seeds? Though, seeds are not nuts and I didn't see anything about seeds so maybe sesame oil is something she can add to the pantry.)

Also if she finds that he CAN have sesame seeds, flax seeds and the like, I have made low-fat, cheese-less pesto with basil, sesame, garlic, oil and water and it's perfectly fine!

Oh! And a really good soup: 4 zucchini, 1/2 onion, 1 T butter, 1t dried thyme (or another herb), 1 t pepper. Cover with water, bring to boil, cook until vegetables are soft. Blend with immersion blender and season with lemon juice.

Cilantro Pesto
1 large bunch cilantro, large base stems removed
2 tomatillos
1 sprig basil (5-6 big leaves)
2 cloves garlic
1" cube ginger
1 jalapeno
1 T oil, olive or sesame
Put it all in the blender with enough water to make it smooth ( just a couple T probably)

Green Beans Giachni (not sure how to pronounce that. recipe came from the mother of an old student of my husband's)
1 med grated onion
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 lb green beans, stems removed and left whole
2 large zucchini, cut into big chunks (cut each into 4-5 pieces)
Olive oil (doesn't specify but I prob use 2-3 T)

Saute onion and parsley in oil about 5 minutes. Add everything else and pour about 1/2 cup water over. I think I usually cover it at this point and cook for about 30 minutes on medium heat. The recipe says 1-1.5 hours but that is too long in my opinion. I probably also add some fresh garlic with the onion, even though it's not called for. And sometimes lemon juice and crushed red pepper at the end. I've served this as a side dish and as a soup with some fresh bread.

Submitted by NotThatMartha

"What a great idea to reach out to the foodies in this way. My thoughts are with this family, as that is a pretty dang challenging set of limits to work within. Here is a recipe I had on file for Baba Ganoush. I removed the tahini from the list and it is still great. He could have it on whole wheat pita... this was already on file, but I'll try to come up with a couple more."

Baba, my way

3 medium sized eggplant
olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic
2 T lemon juice
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375
Cut the eggplant in half, rub cut side with oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Put in oven and roast for 25-30 minutes, or until eggplant is super tender. Let them come to room temp before handling, no burns please. Using a regular kitchen spoon, scoop everything but the skin into the body of a food processor. (this sentence nearly read: scoop the flesh into the body of the ..., people could really get the wrong idea about this blog.) Drain off excess water. Add raw garlic and lemon juice. Pulse a couple of times to blend. Taste. Season with salt and pepper. Fresh oregano would be great with this. I like to serve this in a bowl topped with good olive oil and fresh pita bread.

Submitted by

"I hope this helps! I have several food allergies so I know what it's like to have dietary restrictions, but this list is so limiting! The fact that he can eat whole wheat really helps! I have a couple ideas. Both include whole wheat pasta."

Shrimp Scampi (chicken could be a substitute)- Recipe modified from this Food Network recipe


* 1 package of 100% whole wheat spaghetti
* 1 1/2 pound jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
* 2 teaspoons minced garlic
* 1/4 cup dry white wine
* 2 teaspoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
* 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes


  1. Boil water according to the pasta package and the number of servings you will be making

  2. Once the water has come to a boil, add pasta in and stir occasionally.

  3. While the pasta is cooking, put the shrimp on a large pie pan or plate and pat them completely dry with a paper towel. Arrange the shrimp so they lay flat and are evenly spaced.

  4. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the unsalted butter or olive oil to the skillet.

  5. When the foaming subsides, raise the heat to high, and invert the plate of shrimp over the pan so the shrimp fall into the pan all at once. Cook the shrimp, without moving them, for 1 minute. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Turn the shrimp over and cook for 2 minutes more. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl.

  6. Return the skillet to the heat and pour in the white wine. Boil the liquid until slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir the parsley into the sauce.

  7. Drain the pasta when cooked (soft) and divide onto plates. Add shrimp on top of each pasta serving. Pour the sauce over the shrimp, season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste and toss to combine.

  8. Enjoy!

Sesame Pasta

1. Cook 100% whole wheat linguini and drain.
2. Toss pasta with sesame oil, soy sauce, scallions, crushed red pepper, and toasted sesame seeds.
3. Voila! Serve hot or cold.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Restricted Recipe Project - Update 1

The Restricted Recipe Project is something that was started to help a couple deal with the realities of an extremely restrictive diet due to a medical situation. Not being able to use the everyday staples that we all take for granted can have an impact not only on the person that's on the diet, but also those that do the cooking. To read more about it, please click here. Here's installment number one of the recipes that have been submitted for the project.

Dilly Chicken
Submitted by

2 boneless-skinless chicken breasts
1 med bunch of fresh dill chopped fine
2 fresh garlic cloves minced
juice of one lemon
1 medium red pepper seeded & thinly sliced
1 cup cous cous (per package instructions adding 1 tsp. of minced garlic
Parchment paper

Combine the above and place all in a large zip-lock bag in the morning or night before to allow all the flavors to marinade.

When ready to cook: Cut 2 large pieces of parchment paper and set aside.

Make cous cous according to package directions using a teaspoon of minced garlic in the water.

Use this guide as a how too on preparing your parchment paper. For each parchment packet, layer the following ingredients

1/2 Cup of cous cous. Marinated chicken breast. Thinly sliced red pepper.

Poke one small hole in top for steam. Place on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated 350 degrees oven for 20 minutes.

Serve with a cucumber salad - sliced cucumbers with rice wine vinegar tossed on top.

Quinoa & Vegetable Salad
*Gluten Free

Submitted by

1 cup quinoa, cooked to package directions, cooled
1 yellow squash, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 ear corn (or ½ cup kernels), lightly toasted in a dry skillet
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
Black pepper to taste
- Really, what ever kinds of veggies you like! You could also roast them in the oven then chop & add them.
- I make this with corn, bell pepper, jicama, black beans, feta or goat cheese, pumpkin seeds

Dressing - Combine all ingredients and mix well
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¼ tsp. pepper
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1/3 cup olive oil

Make salad & toss with dressing; ideally, let sit in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before serving so flavors can meld.

Lettuce Wraps
*A gluten free recipe, when replacing the soy sauce with Braggs Amino Acids

1 Tbsp. grape seed or canola oil
½ cup onion, minced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1” piece fresh ginger, minced
1 lb ground chicken or turkey
½ cup squash, diced
2 Tbsp. Braggs Amino Acid (replaces the soy sauce)
1 tsp. agave nectar (can he eat this? I know it said no sugar…)*
1 tsp. rice vinegar
1 head iceburg lettuce

In a large skillet, heat oil & add onion.
Saute about 2 minutes, until getting soft, add garlic & ginger, & sauté 1 minute.
Add ground meat; use a spoon to break up the clumps.
Add squash & let meat mixture finish cooking.
As they cook, combine Braggs Amino Acids, brown sugar & rice vinegar & add to skillet.
When finished cooking, place in a bowl & let cool slightly.
Fill lettuce leaves with mixture.

Spicy Sesame-Ginger Dressing
*A gluten free recipe, when replacing the soy sauce with Braggs Amino Acids

3 medium garlic cloves
3 green onions (use the lower half, not the green)
1 one inch piece fresh ginger (about a tablespoon minced or grated)
3 tbls tahini (sesame paste…..they’re seeds, not nuts)
¼ cup Braggs Amino Acid (In place of soy sauce)
1 tbls sesame oil
2 tbls rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. agave nectar*
½ tsp chile paste (sambal oelek), optional

Chop garlic, green onions, and ginger in food processor.
Add everything else and process until smooth.
Serve with an assortment of veggies (green beans, bell peppers, cucumbers, snow/sugar snap peas, etc.) and poached/roasted chicken. (Also over pasta or buckwheat soba noodles if allowable.)

*If the agave nectar in place of granulated sugar is an issue, I wonder if he could sub a little bit of unsweetened all natural apple juice for the sweetness.

Here are a couple tips from local bloggers

One idea I had was adding flavor with dried citrus zest. I've zested lemons and oranges, placed the grated zest on a paper towel, and microwaved the zest for a few seconds until it's dry. Then, it can be mixed with herbs and pepper to brighten and
season food without salt.

Best wishes for a quick recover to your friend.


It's so sweet of you to take the lead on something like this. I can't wait to see the full list of what you put together to get more ideas for my kitchen too! :-)

The first thing that came to me when I saw the list was lettuce chicken wraps. A well-seasoned grilled chicken breast, sliced up for wrapping in lettuce, and then taking chopped up pear, apple, and bell pepper for a quick saute in butter (or whatever he's allowed to use) and garlic as a chunky salsa on top. A fresh squeeze of lime or lemon juice over everything and it'd be a fairly quick and easy meal too! A little cool chopped cucumber on top might give it a whole new layer of flavor...

I'll be so anxious to see what comes back to you. Have a great day!
Something to Chew on

Monday, October 18, 2010

It takes a foodie!

So what do you do when you're in love with food and you've just been told that, due to your life threatening illness, you have to give up virtually all of the foods you love and change your diet based on a list of strict restrictions? This is exactly what happened to a friend of a friend of mine. I was zipping through another normal day of organized chaos last week when an e-mail landed in my inbox. It began, "Hey Kristina, I know you like a good food challenge - would you like to take this one on?" The note continued, describing the bind her friend was in due to the medical situation of her husband that required he be placed on an extremely strict diet - and when I say strict, this is by far the strictest diet I've ever seen. The letter continued, describing the difficult time that her friend was having putting together meals using such a restrictive list of ingredients. For a couple that truly enjoyed food, this was like being put in culinary handcuffs. By the end of the e-mail, my heart is pouring out for this lovely lady who only wants to bring that passion for food back to the table for her husband.

So wait... let's back up a minute. Yes, I like a good food challenge. However, it always helps when I have some basic options to work with. Even the chefs on "Chopped" get a pantry full of items to pick from when cooking with the secret ingredient basket. But how could I say no? At that point, it was not if I could help them but rather how I could help them. While the chefs on Chopped or Iron Chef have that gorgeous pantry to draw from, I, too, had something to draw on. I decided to reach out to the one group who, over this past year, has done nothing but reach out and embrace me as a food blogger and as a food lover. I called on my foodie village.

Austin, Texas has well over 200 food bloggers that are out trying new and local foods every week. They are creative and soulful. They represent all points of the globe and share a common bond - the love of food. My plea was simple for such a difficult task. Send a mass e-mail out to the Austin bloggers explaining the situation and attach the list of "cans" and "cannots" with the simple request of providing one recipe, if they were so moved. At first, I got a lot of stumped cooks - but only because they were doing what I did in the beginning. They were looking at all the items this man could NOT have. Kind of like the idea of seeing things half empty rather than half full. Then Kristi Willis, one of my brilliant food blogger friends, pointed out that "focusing on the abundance" is really the best place to start. Going back to those 5 ingredients-or-less recipes are a good place to start as well.

In the five days since I've sent my request, this little project has brought in handfuls of useful recipes and tips. A local internet radio show wants to interview me in hopes to get more listeners to send in recipes and many chefs, both local and out-of-town, are working on coming up with tasteful recipes. All of this should help brighten up this lonely table and bring some passion back to her kitchen. After all, bringing stress to the table instead of delicious food should be the last thing anyone would want to do at the end of the day. Whether it was originally intended or simply the by-product of this new age of social networking, the fact that such a large group of people can take a moment to show interest in the needs of a complete stranger in another state for no other reason than to lend a helping hand just fills me with joy and confirms that sometimes you don't need a village, just a family of foodies. I'm jus' sayin'!

I've included both the Can and Cannot have lists below. Over the next week, I'll post the recipes, tips and links to my fellow bloggers that have participated in this challenge. If you happen to look at the list and you find your creative juices flowing and would like to lend a helping hand feel free to e-mail me your recipe and I will make sure you are noted.

He can have

Summer squashes (but not winter)
Green or wax beans
Lettuce or any salad greens
Sugar or snap peas
Any lean protein (but not halibut or tuna), especially chicken, pork or turkey
Qunoa, couscous or brown rice
Bell peppers
Some corn
Fresh spinach but not cooked spinach
Whole wheat bread (but not whole grain)
Fresh mushrooms but not cooked mushrooms
Potatoes or carrots in small quantities, but must be leeched for eight hours

Here's what he's allowed:
45 grams carbs per day
45 grams of sugar per day
2,000 miligrams sodium
1,600 miligrams potassium
No sugar. No salt. And no salt substitutes because they are full of potassium.
Potassium and phosphorous are the other big culprits, so what that means is that
He Cannot have:
Milk or any diary product, including any cheese
Smoked meats, luncheon meats or organ meats; no halibut, trout or tuna; no sardines or anchovies
Bananas, strawberries, grapefruit, oranges
Dried fruits
Bok choy, broccoli, tomatoes (this means tomato paste, barbecue sauce, spaghetti sauce), potatoes, carrots, cabbage
Legumes, which means no soy, garbanzos, black, lim or kidney beans (and nothing made with soy)
Nothing made with whole grains (but he can have whole wheat)
Limited to 3 eggs a month
Limited to 8 ounces of protein a day

Stay away from anything that has lots of sugar or white flour.
Only lean meats, no fats.
Also, he must limit fluid intake to 48 ounces a day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Good Taste Attracts Opposites

Not too long ago, my best friend and husband decided to start his own blog. If you've read through my past posts, you probably already know that one of his passions is tequila. Combine his passion with my food passion and it should come as no surprise that our blogs would eventually cross paths. The funny thing is that I'm not much of a tequila drinker - actually, not at all. That, however, does not in any way stop me from going on little adventures with him to tequila tastings or stopping at the odd liquor store as he runs in to look for rare bottles. After all, if I had a dollar for every time I've dragged him along on one of my strange culinary adventures we would both probably be retired from our day jobs. Just kidding, of course, but the truth is that while our interests in food and alcohol may differ, we certainly love each other enough to explore each other's passions. Besides, there's always more to an event than meets the eye and I find absolutely no reason not to look for a little culinary news where I can.

A perfect example was last month when Casa Chapala in Downtown Austin hosted a tequila tasting event to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of Mexican Independence. Amongst the more well known tequilas (Patron & Cazadores) were the not-yet-famous, but not-to-be-ignored Texas tequilas (Republic, Gran Jubileo). As I was standing there with @tequilabob23 while he was introducing me to the reps for one of these companies, my eyes zeroed in on something culinary. In addition to offering samples of their tequilas, Republic Tequila was also promoting their new Spirit Blends line of organic mixers, made to be combined with their tequila or mixed with other spirits to create uniquely different cocktails. Of course, my mind was moving to what I know best and after sampling the four flavors, each indigenous to the South, my wheels were turning. That was all I needed and the next weekend @tequilabob23 was off to our local liquor store to pick me up one of each to play with.

First on the docket: let's see how well these infused agave-based simple syrups hold up on there own - no doctoring. I poured the first bottle (Pineapple-Basil) straight into the ice cream machine and twenty minutes later I had a sorbet with a perfect consistency. Delicious and refreshing on it's own, @tequilabob23 had to top his off with a drizzle of Republic Plata, which made for a tasty spiked granita. Two thumbs up!

Then it was time to mix a cocktail. Since I don't drink tequila, I used Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka (another Austin-based spirit), mixed in some of Republic's "Jalapeño-Lime" flavor and topped it off with a splash of club soda. Another winner! The "Austin Sidewinder" has a Texas-sized kick that will get your boots-scootin' on any dance floor.

Lastly, I decided to take the "Prickly Pear" mixer and reduce it to a thicker syrup to glaze a simple pound cake. The cake was moist and sweet and left people wondering what that delicious taste was. Still on a roll to create more, I started getting hungry for lunch and craved something on the more savory and healthy side. I mixed up a vinaigrette, once again using the Jalapeño-Lime mixer with a little olive oil and Dijon mustard. I tossed it in a simple mixture of julienned veggies and that became a tasty low-cal lunch with lots of flavor and color. To enjoy with my salad, I filled up a glass with ice and poured in 1/4 cup of the plain Lime mixer and finished it off with seltzer for a refreshing lime spritzer. Overall, I'd say that these four mixers passed my initial culinary curiosities with flying colors and I plan on continuing to play around with them even more over the next few months. So was this a perfect match? I would say so, just like my husband and I, it looks like I've found a winner with Republic's Spirit Blends proving my theory that when you have love and passion, opposites can always find a way to attract. I'm jus' sayin'!

Republic Southern Slaw

1 Bag of Broccoli Slaw (found in pre-packaged produce section)
1/2 Red Cabbage (shredded)
1/2 Red Bell Pepper (julienne)
4 Green Scallions (sliced on a bias)
2 Tbs. Minced Fresh Cilantro

Toss the above in a bowl with the following vinaigrette:

1/2 Cup Spirit Blends Jalapeño-Lime
1/3 Cup of Olive Oil
2 tbs. Dijon Mustard
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Place all in a jar and shake until thick and incorporated.

Prickly Pear Pound Cake

1 Pound Cake (homemade or bakery)
1/2 Cup of Spirit Blends Prickly Pear

In a small saucepan bring the prickly pear mixer to a boil and reduce to half.

Poke holes with a toothpick or skewer all over cake and with a pastry brush gently paint on top of cake. Keep painting until all is gone. Wait 30 minutes for flavors to absorb.
*If making pound cake from a box or scratch use 1/4 cup of the prickly pear mixer for 1/4 cup of liquid used in recipe.
*For a more festive cake - after reducing mixer add 2 Tbs. of Republic Plata Tequila to the syrup before painting on top of cake.

Austin Sidewinder

2 Parts Spirit Blends Jalapeño-Lime
2 Parts Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka
Pour over ice, top with club soda and garnish with a lime wedge

Multi-Tasking Food & Conversation

Lately I find that I'm always in a hurry to get from one place to another. I will be busy with my daily chores and errands before I realize it's time to rush home and put dinner on the table. Because I am constantly on the prowl for new recipes, I always keep my ears open for conversations about food. Whether I'm at the grocer or having coffee with a neighbor, I am constantly jotting recipes down on paper and throwing them in my back pocket or purse, only to pull them out later to try. It's okay if it's just scribbled because I generally tend to tweak them to my taste anyways. I provide that information as a background because this next recipe came by way of coffee talk. I was having coffee at a neighbor's and chatting about food when she told me her son had made this pie. She got the recipe and tweaked it to make it to her taste and then she quickly jotted the list of ingredients down on a piece of scrap paper for me to tweak and make my own. I find this happens more often than not with many Southern cooks. It comes as no surprise to me that in most any conversation, food is somehow, in some way, worked into the dialog. So it makes perfect sense to hear midway through a cup of coffee "Oh I made this really good pie for Sunday supper last week" sandwiched in between "did you hear Aunt June is feeling under the weather?" and "What is going on with those Longhorns?". It's at that point that you stick your hand in your purse for a pen and paper. Who says we can't carry on a good conversation while figuring out what's for dinner? It's called multi-tasking! I'm jus' sayin'!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

Crush 25 chocolate sandwich cookies
mix with 4 tbs. melted butter

Press into a pie pan and bake in a 350 oven 15 min-Cool

(of course you could buy a pre-made cookie crust to save time but you would not have any left over cookies to munch on at midnight)

Mix the following together until creamy and incorporated

8oz. cream cheese
1 Cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/4 Cup confectioners Sugar
8oz tub of non dairy whipped topping

Dianne's Tweaks: she used a chocolate crust and she crushed a handful of butter toffee peanuts to sprinkle on top of finished pie.

My Tweaks: I place half the filling in the pie shell and then drizzle 1/4 cup of hot fudge sauce all over - I then cover that with the rest of the filling, I garnish with shaved chocolate and whipped cream.

How will you tweak it?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bidding Sweet Farewell

Summer is slowly coming to an end and for some, this can be sheer devastation because it means that all those relaxing moments by the lake and lazy evenings with friends will be replaced with scheduled weeks and commitments. I, on the other hand, welcome Fall and every little detail of it. I love all seasons but my heart is most likely to lean more strongly towards Fall. It's the season that my five senses come alive. Whether it's comfort food bubbling from the kitchen or leaves falling from the trees in hues of orange, auburn and gold, it mesmerizes me into a whole new world of warmth in my soul. But since my die-hard summer friends are holding on to every last moment, this recipe is for you. Take something sweet and cool and delicious from summer and give it a flavor that evokes Fall. Pumpkin ice cream is usually something I won't have until I visit our local pumpkin patch in mid-to-late October but I guess today I was feeling particularly in the mood to bring on Fall... but alas, I live in Texas, so I will learn to compromise for the time being. I'm jus' sayin'!

Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream

Mix the following in a large glass measuring bowl:

1 Can of Pumpkin Puree
1 Cup Sugar
3 Cups Cream
1 1/2 Cups Milk
1 Tbs. Vanilla
1 Tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice

Pour into ice cream machine and follow manufacturers directions.

Pumpkin Pie Bars

1 Pkg. White Cake Mix (less 1 cup)
1/2 C. Melted Butter
1 egg

Mix the above and press into a 13x9 inch pan

1 Pound Can of Pumpkin
2 Large Eggs
2/3 C. Milk
1 Tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/4 C. Sugar

Mix the above until blended and pour over crust

1 C. Cake Mix
1/4 C. Sugar
1/4 C. Butter (softened)
1 Tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice

Combine and crumble over filling
Bake 40 min approx. at 350. Cool and cut into squares

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Baking/Cooking Bucket List

Occasionally I will get this wild hair - my pet name for a recipe - that stands on the back of my neck and fighting the urge to pull it out, I instead throw it on the proverbial "back-burner" that I call my baking/cooking bucket list. It usually happens when I see or read about an intriguing food item that is "all the rage" or when some well established chef on "Chopped" says "I've never heard of this," or, "I don't know what to do with this." That's when that little bit of hair starts to stand up and the chef inside me says "Go on! Check it out and see if you can do that."

This weekend was no different than any other except that I had a couple of those "wild hairs" popping up and bothering me. With a relatively free schedule, I decided to tackle a couple of my bucket-list recipes, starting with cheese. Yes, daunting as it may seem. I love ALL cheeses and I'm not ashamed to say that I would pay high prices for a cheese that makes me swoon (which is basically anything artisan). That being said, as some woman have shoe fetishes, I think it's quite possible that I have a cheese fetish. Do to the high costs of artisan cheeses these days, I can only indulge occasionally. So why not try and make it myself, right?

So with my rennet and sodium chloride purchased at Austin Home Brew and a couple gallons of whole milk I was off to try my hand at mozzarella and buttermilk cheeses. It was surprisingly easier than I imagined. I went to Google and found a mozzarella recipe as well as one for buttermilk cheese suitable for my skill level and well, I made cheese. It was as simple and straight forward as the recipes suggest and in the end, it was pretty good. But it was also a bit more expensive than I expected, when all was added up. So outside of owning goats and cows, I think I will stick to making it occasionally and purchasing it with more understanding.

Next, I moved onto the oh-so-cute little French cookies called macaroons - not to be mistaken for the American coconut mounds dipped in chocolate (though those are quite delicious, too!) No, these cute little (non-intimidating) cookies seem to be all the rage right now, along with a lot of "rage" as to why they never come out right when tried at home. If you Google "French macaroons" you will find quite an array of colors, flavors and expert notes on the how-to's of these sweet little morsels. But be forewarned: you will also find many, many notes on why they don't come out and why they are so hard to bake. This is one of the reasons this recipe has been on my bucket-list.

One of the lovely things about many of my fellow food bloggers is how honest they are. They are not like the famous tv personality chefs (on certain well known networks) who, after hours of production and editing, show you the perfect finished product that make you feel like a complete idiot when yours don't turn out just like theirs. Many bloggers tend to tell you how "those" recipes actually did and did not work. Some food bloggers will even photograph their mistakes so that they don't intimidate the reader. Personally, I take alot of photos of my finished product - but that's usually because I am such an amateur at photography and getting the lighting right takes me a bit longer then a professional. However with that said, I did not go into this venture thinking I would master it. I decided I would just "try" it and if they did not come out then so be it. I don't have to master everything, right? I did my homework. I read many recipes and sites from the European to the American and I decided to take two recipes and combine them. I went with this blog because quite frankly, her honesty warmed me and made me feel more empowered instead of like an idiot. I also checked on Martha because, though she tends to be perfect, her staff seems to work very hard at testing recipes. I also chose dulce de leche as my filling because it was pre-made and, well, have you ever tried that stuff? It's pretty darn well close to heaven! My first batch came out great, but not perfect. Along with not being quite the traditional size, they also didn't have the great "feet" the recipes talk about (a crackly, puffed second layer that measures about 1/16-inch high). But looks aside, they sure tasted yummy!

So, were my items a success this weekend? If you ask my friends and family that I served them too - yeah, pretty much it was. Were they perfect? Nope, not at all. But, I can tell you this, checking a couple more of those "wild hairs" off my bucket list sure does give me a sense of completion - and my taste buds aren't doing so bad either! I'm jus' sayin!

Fresh Mozzarella sliced and served with sliced Tomatoes, Basil, and Salami
I drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar as well as sprinkled kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper over the top. A perfect summer antipasto!

Fresh Buttermilk Cheese that quickly got turned into ricotta because the recipe did not seem to care for the cook making it. I used buttermilk, just like the recipe called for, but I also used the same amount of ingredients in the fresh mozzerella. I skipped the microwave part in the recipe and just wrapped in cheese cloth and let drain in a pan in the fridge over night. I served it with champagne grapes, saturn peaches, roasted pistachios, and blue agave nector.

These macaroons just tasted like a little piece of heaven even though they were not as pretty as they could have been. But I did feel good about these, being it was my first attempt. I filled the macaroons with pre-made dulce de leche you can find in a Latin store and dusted the tops with a tsp. of cinnamon mixed with 2 tbsp. of powdered/icing sugar. Without reading all the ins and outs from other bloggers I would have never been able to pull them off. Just another reason why I love food bloggers!

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Sweet Story for a Sweet Bread

One of the many joys in my daily life is to listen to friends tell me stories about when they were young and how food has taken such a profound and loyal place in their memories. Experts have said that of all the senses that we tend to lose when growing old, the sense of taste remains the one that triggers the most memories. I have watched people light up when talking about their mom's special cake recipe or how their dad used to make wine in the basement or those cookies mom used to have on a plate after school. I have even seen that look when someone describes that horrible liver they hated as a kid (no offense liver). The point is, whether it was something baked from scratch with love or just a special time, place, or person you sat with for a meal, it's all a beautiful story in your family's history and it should be shared.

Another perk to being a food lover is that you occasionally get special food gifts from friends. Whenever someone tells me they have something they want me to try, I'm instantly intrigued. Yesterday was like no other. A very special friend of mine drove out of her way - about 30 miles - to bring me one of those special gifts. Elda is a beautiful Latin lady with quiet poise and a sassy salsa in her step. She came to Austin after being born and raised in the city of Acambaro, Mexico. I would have never known about this city nor thought to visit until she handed me this beautiful loaf of sweet bread and rolls. She told me a little about this town and how it's known for its golden, delicious bread. She also shared a sweet story about how every block or neighborhood has a designated bread pick-up location. Bakeries all over town have figured out that having bread accessible to the people is great for sales. In this town, families would send daughters out to pick up bread from the neighborhood "bread house" between 6-8 each evening to get the pieces needed for a late snack with tea or coffee as well as for breakfast and/or lunch the next day. It is very common for men (when they find a woman to be attractive) to ask her: "¿A que hora sales por el pan?" which translates to "What time do you go get the bread?" This is because getting the bread is the only time most young ladies get to be alone and away from the eagle-eyes of the men in the family. If you are a lucky young man, you just might be able to escort one of these lovely ladies to her bread pick-up and then, as they sa,y "El amor está en el aire." Well, maybe not, but when she was telling the story I distinctly visualized a beautiful young lady and her basket of sweet bread being whisked away at sunset. Call me crazy but this is serious entertainment for me!

So write these stories down for your kids, tell them to your friends, remind the old folks or better yet, bake something for them. It may just trigger their memory and then they can tell you a story or two! I'm jus' sayin'!

Acambaro Sweet Bruchetta

For these recipes, try using Panettone or Hawaiian bread.
Slice bread in 1/4 inch diagonal pieces
Drizzle olive oil over slices and grill on both sides.

Spread Mascarpone cheese, diced dates and roasted pistachios.
Then drizzle a little agave nectar over the top to sweeten

Acambaro Dulce de Leche Bread Pudding w/Añejo Tequila Sauce

In a large bowl whisk the following:
5 large eggs
1 13.4oz can La Lechera Dulce de Leche (this is not sweetened condensed)
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp. salt

Then add 1 loaf of sweet bread cubed.

Mix and pour into a greased 9x9 inch pan. Place pan in a larger 13x9 pan and fill outside pan with 1/4 in of water (Bain Marie)

Bake at 350º for 45-50 minutes until top is dry and middle is not jiggly.

Añejo Tequila Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons quality anejo tequila (I used El Gran Jubileo Extra Añejo)

First, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Mix together the sugar and cornstarch and stir into the butter. Pour in milk and cook, stirring frequently until the mixture begins to boil. Continue cooking until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in tequila. Serve warm over the Bread Pudding.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Steel Magnolias & Lunch

What happens when you put triple-digit weather and a southern chick-flick together? How about a smokin' hot movie date to get the pheromones in order. I recently indoctrinated my twelve year old daughter into the world of Steel Magnolias. You know, the 80's quintessential all-time movie about southern charm. My daughter took to it like Anelle did to Sammy's cherry Coke, so I decided it was time to rally together and find others to join in. You've heard of movie night? Well, take one of those lazy summer days and turn it into a movie luncheon. Steel Magnolias is all about small town charm, American holidays, ladies of all walks and ages and of course food! After watching this movie more times than I care to admit, it never ceases to surprise me how so many scenes are based around food. After all, the South is all about comfort food. So grab your sister friends - you know, the ones that have always been a jar of spice in your pantry of life, and design a menu based around the movie. Pull recipes straight from the scenes, like "cupa cupa cupa cake", or get creative and put your own spin on them (bleeding armadillo cake balls). Have each girlfriend bring a dish and let the movie roll. You might find yourself giving some old movies a new makeover. Or better yet, you may find some old recipes that have been needing some reviving of their own... I'm jus' sayin'!

Steel Magnolias (menu)

Anelle's Hottest Ticket in Town Shrimp & Hush Puppies

Ms. Kari's Cheese Dip and Veggies

Bleeding Armadillo Cake Balls

Best Cherry Cokes Ever

Bleeding Armadillo Cake Balls

1 Recipe of Red Velvet Cake (baked)
2 Cups Favorite Cream Cheese Icing
1/2 Package of White Almond Bark (found in the chocolate chip aisle)

Take warm cake and place in a large bowl. With a potato masher or your hands, break up cake into fine crumbs. Mix in the icing until a play-doh consistency is formed. Form into golf ball size balls. Place onto wax paper-lined cookie sheet. When all balls are formed, stick in freezer for 15 minutes to firm up.

Break the pre-scored almond bark into chunks, melt in microwave-safe bowl for 1 minute and stir. If still not melted, return to microwave for NO MORE than another 30 seconds.

Dip cold balls into almond bark and shake off excess by gently tapping the ball on a fork over the bowl of melted bark. Gently place on wax paper-lined cookie sheet. Place in fridge for 15 minutes to firm up. Keep in fridge until ready to serve.

Ms. Kari's Cheese dip (Like the Southern stand-by Pimento Cheese minus the Pimentos)

1 Stick Softened Butter
1 8 oz. Pkg. Softened Cream Cheese
1 6oz. Jar of Cheese Whiz
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
Garlic Powder to taste (I suggest 1 tsp.)
1/2 Cup of Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Blend all together with mixer until creamy... serve with veggies and crackers...

Friday, July 16, 2010

When in Rome!

Each year, summertime brings us long days and lazy hot evenings, and if we're lucky enough to get away from our busy schedules, it also allows us to vacation and travel. I have found that no matter where I travel, if I want to find fresh and sustainable food I usually can. This proved again to be true when my daughter and I took off on our annual trip to California. Immediately upon arriving at our destination town (Hollister to be exact) my dear friend Lisa suggested that we go make a visit to her local farmer's market. The beauty of farmer's markets are that they can usually now be found in almost every city or town. If you're really into checking out the local food scene, this is a one-stop shop! Just as all cities are unique and different, so are their farmer's markets. Hollister was no exception! I was intrigued by the array of meats, nuts and produce. I loved that they had local honey and creameries represented as well. I could not help but brush off a little earth to eat a strawberry that had just been picked one hour before I consumed it (absolute heaven). I also really enjoyed the conversation I had with the local sausage purveyor, who was told me all about his fig/gorgonzola/walnut sausage and how he had to play around with recipe after recipe to find a way to keep the figs from breaking down the protein of the meat, which by the way, has to be my new favorite sausage.

Of course, some days I have a plan as to what I am on the hunt for at these markets, however, since I was on vacation I got to let my mind wander. I had remembered from back at the house before we left that Lisa had 2 baguettes that needed to be used. With that in mind, and some fresh produce at my disposal, Panzanella (Italian bread salad) would be a lovely choice. Luckily, I am blessed that Lisa will totally let me take over her kitchen while I am visiting. Lisa's husband George fired up his grill for our sausage sampler and I got to work on the salad. As much as I wanted to eat it as soon as I finished making it, I decided instead to take advantage of their lovely backyard by taking some photos. With that said, I got quite a treat when I started to take photos of the salad. Lisa lives in a beautiful little town that still has a ton of country charm. She has chickens, dogs and cats and they all roam peacefully together in her yard which makes for some curious photo ops.

Reflecting on that afternoon at the farmer's market gives me a sense of satisfaction, both to my stomach and my soul. Reinforced was the fact that I don't have to travel all the way to Rome to enjoy good people and a beautiful Roma tomato salad - I'm jus' sayin'!

Farmer's Market Panzanella

1 Day Old Baguette (cubed)
4 Large Tomato's (cut into large bite size chunks)
2 Small Zucchinis (cut into bite size chunks)
1 Medium Sweet Onion (sliced thin)
1 Large Bunch of Basil (thinly sliced - chiffonade)
3/4 Cup of Grated Good Parmesan Cheese
3 Cloves of Garlic (minced fine)
2 Tbs. Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to Taste

In a large bowl make the vinaigrette by whisking the garlic and vinegar together and slowly adding the oil until it is emulsified. Add the salt & pepper to taste. This will seem like a lot of dressing but the bread will soak it up. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss well. Cover with wrap and let sit in cool area for about an hour to absorb all the flavors. If it looks too dry when time to serve, dash a little more olive oil and one dash of vinegar on top. This is a very hearty and delicious salad to serve anytime of the year, but especially good in the summer when the tomatoes are at their peak. You can also add cubes of fresh mozzarella cheese to this to bring in more texture.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Beautiful Day for a Southern Wedding

Last weekend, my family and I piled into the truck and took off to Bryan, Texas to attend a wedding. This roughly 2-hour road trip was an excellent way to trap our busy family in one place and have some fun conversations. As we were driving, I was reminiscing about the lovely bride and how her family had come into our lives. It's been 9 years since we left California and all of our family and friends to move to Austin, Texas. When we first moved here we literally knew not a soul. I had been praying that God would answer our needs and bring friends to my kids, especially our son who was leaving so many of his good buddies behind in California. So our first blessing was the family that moved in next door. I call this an absolute blessing because they had a son the same age as mine and they would be going to the same school together. Their lovely daughter (Janell, the bride) was the perfect babysitter for my daughter. Even though this family was only with us a few years - the Mom (Lisa) was a student at UT and was finishing law school - it was some of the best and most blessed filled years we've had. I have a handful of neighbors that I consider the best in the world - the ones you go to for more than just a cup of sugar.

We got to watch the bride grow from a sweet teen into a college student during our time as neighbors, but that was long enough to know this young lady was destined to be a woman after God's own heart. Seeing her at the wedding brought that full circle.

So many weddings, no matter how hot the day is, seem to be held outside in the lovely Texas heat. If this is your plan as well, be gracious on your guests and provide a fan so that they do not pass out and miss the ceremony. The fans at this wedding had dual purposes. They provided a bit of breeze as well as having the details of the wedding printed right on them (clever right?). As a foodie, I am always interested to see and try the variety of foods that are provided at weddings. This was no exception and I must say the food was delicious. I particularly enjoyed the wedding favor which was a favorite of the bride. They were little Pan de Polvo cookies (made in Kingsville, TX) and placed in delicate boxes with the traditional ribbons on top. We all enjoyed them so much that I decided to come up with my own version on the ride home. Mine are more of a cross between a snickerdoodle and Mexican wedding cake. But the effect I was trying to go for was a cookie that tasted like a churro. My cookies are light and cinnamon-flaovored, and a bit different than the usual Mexican wedding cake cookies.

This wedding had all the elements that a Southern Wedding should, even down to the Groom's father being the Officiant. The bride and groom read their own vows and my favorite line from the Bride to the Groom was (I hope I got this correct) "Thank you for teaching me to cook without a recipe." That stood out in my mind because I am a firm believer that learning how to cook and enjoying it, is truly a gift of Love, and what better place is there to say it. I'm jus' sayin'!

Thank you Janell & John for letting us share in this blessed occasion!

Churro Drops

1/2 Cup unsalted butter
1/2 Cup butter flavored crisco
2 Tbs. agave syrup
2. Cup flour
1/2 Cup of chopped pistachios
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

To roll the hot cookies in after baked: 2 Tbs. cinnamon mixed with 3/4 Cup sugar.

Preheat oven to 350`

Mix first 3 ingredients until combined and fluffy. Add the rest. Form 1 tsp. of dough into a ball and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake 14 minutes. Take out and toss gently into cinnamon sugar mixture. let cool on a rack. These are very delicate, so keep in an airtight container up to a week.