Foodie Feasts Recipe Club: Guilt-Free January

I posted a very long while back about the first meeting of the Foodie Feast group I started and how much fun it was. Since then the group has gotten larger and we’ve had 6 awesome meetings with great people and amazing food. Each event there has been more and more food, almost so much that you can’t even try everything. Some of our themes have been: Best Food Memories, Food on a stick, Brunch, White Hot, Summer Favorites and Fall Fresh. I’m really sad I didn’t have time the last few months to blog about them but they have been documented and well photographed so later on I will have to share some of what I’ve made with y’all for those themes. (and other members creations too if they give me permission).

We all decided it would be best to take a break from the club through the holidays since everyone has a million parties and obligations with family. I’m so excited for tonight and our first Foodie meeting of 2014! This guilt-free theme is a welcome one after the garbage I’ve been eating the last few months.

I’m always a bit excessive and obsessive when it comes to parties, planning, creating and eating. I made a list of considerations to make. I thought of raw dishes, eating clean dishes, low-sodium and healthier versions of comfort food. What was decided on was completely random. I am marinating some english cucumbers as a fresh side dish and am doing a slight variation on Rawmazing’s recipes that you can find here.

I made a couple of changes to her recipe. I like to cut my cucumbers in cute u-shapes and used 3 large English cucumbers. See picture below. I omitted the onion because I’m a cucumber purist. I used 1/4 cup light agave nectar instead of coconut sugar. I also added dill because cucumbers and dill are happy together.

It has a wonderful crunch, a little sweet, nice tang from the vinegar and a slight kick with the chili flakes.

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Chris thought stuffed cabbage sounded good so we are also doing a turkey and brown rice stuffed cabbage.

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For dessert I am making a tofu chocolate mousse adapted from the Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook by Tosca Reno. I know it sounds gross but I promise you would never a million years know there was any tofu in it! It’s chocolately deliciousness with a good punch of protein and my version is dairy free. I like dark chocolate but you could use semi sweet chips too.
Tofu Chocolate Mousse
Ingredients:
1 Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate bar, broken into squares
1/2 bar Ghiradelli 100% cocoa chocolate bar, broken into squares
16 oz organic silken tofu, at room temperature, drained
3/4 cup warm vanilla coconut milk (soy, rice and almond milk can be used)
1 tsp best-quality vanilla extract (I use homemade, so easy and cheap!)

Directions:
1. Melt chocolate in double boiler.
2. Heat milk to warm, do not boil.
3. Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
4. Pour the mousse into individual sized containers and refrigerate to thicken, at least 1 hour.
5. Optional: Serve with fresh raspberries garnished on top!

Lucky Corned Beef and Cabbage Braised in Beer and Apple Juice (and some words on our adoption)

Dinner is readyOh meaty meaty goodness. If you are looking for a meal to impress a man this is it! There is nothing more satiating than a hearty serving of corned beef and cabbage and doubly so when the weather is as cold and dreary as it is right now. I made this the other night and have had it for breakfast lunch and dinner. I’m not one for repeat meals but I just can’t get enough. Yes I did say I ate it for breakfast, I will take it over cereal any day! Call me weird, we can still be friends I hope.  My vegan and vegetarian friends may want to overt their eyes on this post and to you I apologize. I do try to do days on end of meatless eating but it’s hard for me to go more than a week. I’m a hopeless carnivore.

 

 

 

 

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Apparently St Patrick’s Day is around the corner and maybe that fact is what subconsciously made me want this. Hopefully by starting the celebrations early I will be extra lucky this coming month. March is going to be a big month for us. I’ll tell you why if you have a moment. If not then you might as well just scroll on down to the recipe to get started on dinner but I think you have time because you can literally chop of some vegetables in 5 minutes and be done… so March is awesome because of course it’s the last month of this cold and yuckiness and then we have SPRING! I can hardly contain myself to see some green on the trees and have nice grass for my dogs to roll around in! That will make everyone happy right?

For the Larsen residence specifically March will be the month when we will be approved by our agency to adopt a baby. Yeah it’s kind of a big deal. Our last meeting with our social worker is this coming Saturday and she will be examining our house, making sure I’m not a hoarder, have guns laying around the house or any meth labs in our garage…at least I suppose these are things she will check on. Luckily I called my drug lord contacts to remove these items from my premises, haha. I’m really not all that worried especially after meeting and talking to her for several hours about my pinterest page and favorite shopping destinations. Yes, my social worker is a real person. She likes nail polish and good bargains and has annoying roommates. We ate pizza and talked about “home life”, what my childhood was like, what my relationship with my parents and siblings are, and if I have any mental issues…hmm jury is out on that one. When I think about our life on paper we are so white bread. We are middle class, stable with two dogs in a nice house in a charming neighborhood. I think it sounds lovely, it is lovely. I hope it stands out though to a woman who will love and trust us enough to give their child to us.

Crockpot Corned Beef and Cabbage

We have a photo shoot scheduled March 10th for our adoption website and Dear Birth Mother letter. I’m really excited and nervous since these photos will speak a thousand words to potential mothers about who we are. With these photos they will be able to imagine themselves and their child in our family. I found a lovely photography company here in Charlotte (actually a friend on facebook is personal friends with them and messaged me after I assumed they would be too expensive, I took it as a sign!) www.loveshutter.com 

Delicious corned beef

Corned Beef and Cabbage braised in Beer and Apple Juice

Ingredients:

Packaged corned beef with spice packet (2-3lbs)

4 Whole Carrots

1 Green Cabbage

1 Onion

4-5 Red Potatoes

4 Cups Apple Juice

1 Bottle Beer (preferably Irish- I actually used NewCastle)

Directions:

Chop your carrots into even sliced rounds. Quarter your onion and potatoes, core and quarter cabbage or into eighths so it will fit into your slow cooker. Put all the vegetables at the bottom of your slow cooker except some cabbage. Rub the spices in the provided packet into your beef and lay over vegetables. Pour in your beer and then apple juice until almost covered and top the remaining corned beef with the cabbage.

Cook on low 7-8 hours or high 4-5 hours.

It’s that easy. I was done in 5 minutes of preparation! The results are an extremely tender, melt in your mouth corned beef with really flavorful and slightly sweet vegetables. The corned beef is so amazing for leftovers making corned beef sandwiches, add a little swiss cheese, some kraut and mustard on rye bread and you have another wonderful and simple meal the next day. Like me if you want to eat it for breakfast then make it into corned beef hash! That doesn’t sound bad at all does it?

 

Just for giggles I wanted y’all to see how patient all my children are waiting for dinner. Kyro is such a ham, all he wants is to lay in someones lap and be loved on and eat whatever falls on the floor when I am cooking. Full on wars erupt over a rogue carrot slice between these two gluttonous dogs. I trip over them constantly when I’m scurrying from one counter to another. I was ready to give Kyro a good lashing when I saw he had completely scratched up several of my beautiful cabinets while trying to garner cheese from the counter…But look at those faces! Who can stay mad at those dopey eyes?

 

Chris and Kyro

 

Chris Kyro and Baby

Lost My Noodles

Have I told you about my kitchen gadget addiction? This is in addition to my cookbook addiction, shoe addiction, massage addiction, pinterest addiction (among various other internet time sucks), coffee addiction, scowering every aisle of Target addiction,  Amazon wishlist addiction, crack cocaine addiction– just kidding! In all seriousness though shopping in general for me is a REAL problem, much to my accountant husband’s chagrin. Shopping and food are my therapy and I need A LOT of therapy! 🙂

My last Sur La Table fix resulted in a very nice loot haul: 1 Mercato Atlas 150 stainless steel pasta machine @$79.95, 1 gnocchi board $5.95, 1 silicon red tongs @ $7.95 and a set of micro fiber kitchen towels on clearance.

Oh what grand plans were quickly formulated in my over-active imagination: The romantic candle lit feast of fresh pasta, homemade bread and gorgeous marinara made from vine ripened local tomatoes. I will be serving my husband in high heels and my cute little A-Line retro dress, Andrea Bocelli playing on my pandora, Italian is just rolling off my tongue “bellisimo, muah, la dolce vita, amore amore amore”…uh yeah.

What actually ensued might as well have been a scene out of the Godfather. My pasta is sleeping with the fishes.

Mmmm cannolis, I’ll get on making those as soon as I KILL this pasta

I must tell you how sad, how very very sad it was at my first attempt of making fresh pasta. If only you could have seen the look on my face when my dough just turned into this  chalky crumbly no-one-wants-to-eat-this lump, it was like someone ran over my puppy. Dough in trash=FAIL

Going to try Miss Vitale’s “fool proof” recipe next time. She is Italian, of course, she makes it look so easy! What do you know it’s her grandmother’s recipe…no I’m not jealous, no not at all.

I will persevere! I will make some delicious noodles even if it makes me lose my noodles trying- I lost most of them a long time ago anyway. All of my best learning and biggest feats have come through making mistakes, lots of mistakes. Through failure we become better people. Pasta is a very deep food, oh yes it is.

In any case at least I know how to boil water unlike this kid:

I feel better now. Haha, this kid should win an Oscar! Who says you can’t have pasta with a side of beanie? First rule of cooking: Always keep a sense of humor and experimentation!

Ciao for now my friends!

Southern Food Saturday: Biscuits, Grits, Green Tomatoes and Okra

Those of you who live in the South I am about to state the obvious: it is REALLY Freakin HOT here in Charlotte! I said that yesterday I know. Many people warned it would be and it shouldn’t be a surprise but a warning makes no difference when your body is simply not ready for this kind of drastic change. I ventured out of the house for a few hours this morning when it was tolerable and even quite pleasant in the 80’s around 9AM. Chris and I went to The Flying Biscuit for breakfast which is a pretty famous chain ’round these parts. Well known, of course, for their biscuits but their creamy grits are also off the charts! I ordered a goat cheese and mushroom omelet with tomato coulis (Chris jokingly always pronounces things phonetically to irritate me when he reads off the menu- so he says “cooliz”) The omelet came with a biscuit and grits. Honestly the omelet with goat cheese was not very good and way too heavy with the buttery full fat cream grits. About 15 minutes after I was done eating I felt super tired like I could go right back to bed. I had two cups of coffee with breakfast, I figured it just needed a while longer to kick in. I bought The Flying Biscuit Cookbook partially because I just wanted the biscuit recipe and partially because I have a compulsive cookbook obsession.

My grandmother Lillian was a cookbook lover, I inherited that gene. I accompanied her to garage sales whenever we were there on a weekend and she bought them up in scores. She never learned how to drive so my grandpa Lee would sit in the car and smoke and wait for us. “How much shit you got this time, Lil?” I didn’t care about the cookbooks then but I always made out with something cool like a pencil or an etch n sketch or another cabbage patch doll! Garage sales were gold mines.
Several of these belonged to my grandma Lil. I have them on a fairly high shelf in my pantry. She passed away when I was 8 and my mom kept most of them. Since she no longer EVER cooks I finagled a few for myself. SOMEONE has to keep the passion alive, it might as well be me 🙂

After breakfast we took a short drive over the line to South Carolina (5 minutes down the street) for cheap gas and hitting up a local produce stand/gift shop called Young’s. The gas station we found astonished us @ $2.89/gallon!!!! This was the cash price. The credit card price would have been $2.95 but still amazing. Coming from a place where I have consistently paid well over $4/gallon it just makes me want to do a little happy dance. As a matter of fact I am breaking for dance time…..

Okay, moving on. We went to check out “historic” downtown Fort Mill to see what was there and it pretty much seemed like a whole lot of nothing. The interesting thing was noting that even though we were only 5 minutes from the Charlotte city limits it was suddenly very rural, very country. City to backwoods in 5 minutes, hmmm actually it’s kind of like that in Salinas, CA when I think about it…one minute you are in lovely historic old town with cute little shops and the Steinbeck center then you drive a few blocks east and BAM: gun shots and prostitutes. The invisible lines that separates people’s lives and environments. I don’t mean to compare Fort Mill to gang-infested Salinas, that is not my point. It’s just starkly different from that of a short distance away.

Again, moving on…Chris gets irritated with me when we go shopping. So cliche right? I want to pour over every aisle, see all the gifts and think of all the people back home for whom the cute local stuff would be good for. Sometimes, I admit, I am a sucker for good packaging. There was the most darling printed fabric sack of Fried Green Tomater flour mix, a perfect charming little southern present. I held onto it for a few minutes before convincing myself that I could make my own mix better and without all the preservative garbage contained in it and make a cute little sack for it too. ( Will that actually ever happen? Most likely not!) I did buy several green tomatoes though from the market and will be making some fried green tomato BLT’s tomorrow!  I also acquired a few enormous zucchini, a gorgeous eggplant and a pile of Okra on sale for a buck a bag! So for those I plan on making a ratatouille dish and some kind of stewed okra concoction.

Upon arriving back home I read some tips on Okra: You should buy them no bigger than the length of your little finger and blemish free. Mine was significantly longer than my pinky and had quite a few spots on them. Oh no! All is doomed and wasted a dollar, sad face! I made it for lunch anyway with things I had on hand, just making it up as I went along…

I soaked about 1lb of whole okra in 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar about 25 minutes. The acid helps reduce the gummy texture of okra when stewed. Next I sliced the okra, discarding the stems. I roughly chopped 1 medium onion and used 1 can of whole peeled tomatoes (I’m reserving the fresh ones for ratatouille)
I heated 1TBS coconut oil in the pan over medium high heat and put in the okra by itself first to let it brown a little.
The chopped onion went in next and let them brown and mingle for 3-5 minutes. Turning the heat down a smidge and tossing to prevent burning.
Then the canned tomatoes went into the mix. I seasoned with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, ground cardamom, touch of cinnamon, sea salt and pepper to taste. When I season things I add as I go, taste it and add more. If it needs “something more” then I scour through my spices and see what comes to me. Sorry I don’t have measurements for you. Let your creativity guide you and your own palette. What you come up with may surprise you and it will be all yours to claim!

I adore Lebanese food and when this started to come together I was reminded of one of my favorite little hole in the wall places in Monterey called Maha’s. I made quick friends with Maha and her husband Suhail, an Arabic instructor at the Defense Language Institute a short distance from downtown. Maha was a fantastic cook and Suhail would come over and bring me different things to sample and explain various preparations of the food. He even gave me some history lessons on Lebanon and cultural tidbits. Maha often had a stewed Okra and Tomato dish on her lunch offerings and thus my creation has a bit of a Lebanese twist to it. It’s funny now thinking of how my worlds are melding together…Okra is such a southern classic and yet to me it reminds me so much of Monterey.

The texture came out great, not “slimy” at all. The cardamom flavor and red pepper made it pop 🙂
I served the stewed okra over a bed of quinoa to make a nice healthy lunch after our really heavy biscuit breakfast. Make sure you season your quinoa well also or it will dull the flavors of the okra.

There we have it y’all: A Carolina Californian Lebanese Okra Stew. It’s a keeper for me, let me know if you give a version of it a go!

Califoodication: Part 1

For Mother’s Day I went back home to Monterey, California. I was there for 6 glorious days of fun, family, friends and of course all my favorite food. I knew it was going to be too short, there is too much that I love there to do everything I wanted to do, eat and see in 6 days. What follows is my abbreviated version of the past week and I will warn you now it involves copious amounts of alcohol. After all it’s not a vacation if you don’t have a few cocktails.

Day 1: Saturday May 12- East Coast to West Coast

We left at 9am. Our flights from Charlotte to Atlanta and then Atlanta to San Francisco were relatively painless (aside from my 6’4″ husband not getting his usual exit row/extra leg room aisle seat- seriously they should have special seating for Big and Tall people, it affects the comfort of all on board. On the short leg of the trip I was dealt my usual middle seat and thus wedged between my lanky husband and another  woman who was more horizontally challenged and really needed two seats to spill into. Luckily that part of the flight was less than 45 minutes so that’s that.

On our two hour drive from SFO to Monterey I contemplated dinner. Seafood, need seafood STAT! At first I suggested Phil’s Fish House in Moss Landing. They were made famous on Bobby Flay’s show Throwdown in the Cioppino battle, Phil won. Moss Landing was a bit out of the way though and after a long ass day of traveling that was sort of a stretch. Better idea: Go to Salinas Fish House!!! Yes, brilliant Kendra, you are so smart. I knew my mom and dad would want to meet us there, it’s their go-to spot. The Salinas Fish House is like a shiny jewel in a worn out dusty town that boasts of not much at all. In fact, Salinas is the butt of many a joke on the Monterey Peninsula. Only two things come to mind when most people think of Salinas: Gangs and Lettuce (and a third, for those who are literate, would be John Steinbeck novels) so needless-to-say when one thinks about seafood, Salinas does not even register as an option. The Salinas Fish House is an exception of which I am a proud patron. We arrived there around 7PM which was already 10PM on our stomach clocks so we were STARVING. I had my heart set on cioppino.

As a concierge I was always surprised at the droves of people who have never had and/or didn’t even know what cioppino was. I would describe it to the would-be eaters as the kitchen sink of the sea in a deeply flavorful tomato red broth. It’s an oceanic symphony of jumbo shrimp, muscles, clams, squid, snapper or salmon, cracked crab legs and scallops in a giant bowl made even better with a big honkin slice of garlic bread to slurp up the soupy sauce.

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Doesn’t it look amazing? Click the link below to watch a video of Phil at the Phil’s Fish house making his famous Cioppino in his restaurant, sharing all his “beautiful” secrets. He thinks everything is beautiful but hey don’t blame the guy, it’s a beautiful life.

Phil’s Cioppino

Before ordering my cioppino first things first, I needed a cocktail. Tequila sunrise if you please. When you want to cut right to the chase tequila is the way to go and I went. Everyone who knows me well knows that I am a cheap date when it comes to alcohol. One and done. If that’s all it takes then mission accomplished, no need to make myself ill trying to keep up with the big guys. My vodka martini parents out do me every time. My dad doesn’t even take an olive anymore, that’s more space precious vodka could be. Our servers and the owner are our friends. They know my parents drinks by heart and ask only what they would like out of duty, not for lack of knowing.  Rum and diet for my mom, more rum less diet. My husband orders a beer, he’s a beer guy and rarely anything else except when I inevitably do not finish my cocktail he drinks the rest. I like my drinks pretty because I’m a goober girly girl like that and I always get a giggle from him drinking my ultra girly drinks. “Hey babe, want my cherry?” Yep, I’m that girl when I drink, all kinds of cheesy and slightly inappropriate even in front of my parents.

To Make Tequila Sunrise:

Stir or shake together 1 jigger  tequila and 3/4 cup orange juice (preferably fresh squeezed). Fill a chilled 12 ounce glass with ice cubes; pour in orange juice mixture. Slowly pour in 1/2 jigger grenadine, and allow it to settle to the bottom of the glass (be patient). Garnish with a slice of orange, and a maraschino cherry.

To be clear I’m not recommending this combination of Tropical fruity drink to go with cioppino. That’s just wrong, really. Tequila just sounded good at the time. A proper person would pair a nice glass of pinot noir. In Phil’s video at the end he recommends Hahn pinot noir, what a smart guy he is. Hahn is a favorite of my mine and one of my best friends brother, Brian Peverini, is a manager on their vineyard. Next time I am there I fully intend on making him give me an ATV tour of the grounds. The place is really beautiful and many weddings and cool foodie events are hosted there. Above all though it’s their wine which is really special for under $20 a bottle. http://www.hahnestates.com/

Day 2: Sunday, May 13th Mother’s Day

It has been a family tradition for the last 4 years to have lunch out on the patio at Baja Cantina on mother’s day. It’s everybody’s favorite place to go, it’s instant vacation. Baja in Carmel Valley, where it is always a good 10-20 degrees warmer than anywhere else on the peninsula and sunny when the coast is still laying under the covers of thick fog. Baja Cantina is one of my happy places, nothing but good memories and what’s not to love? Amazing rosemary chicken enchiladas, enormous margaritas, usually good live music and always interesting people watching. I once sat next to Bill Murray there during AT&T pro-am week. Yes I’m a terrible brag. I’m gonna name drop all kinds in this blog, haha.

This place has personality!

We arrived to Baja about 1:00, but not all at once. As per usual with my family several of our party was fashionably late, some showed up an hour or so later. My mom, and my brother showed up first and garnered our prime location of patio table for 10 people. My husband and I were slightly behind them since I was indecisive on what present to give her that day and then on our way we decided we needed cash and Chris will never stop at an ATM that is not our bank, he hates ATM fees, hates them. Rue the day when he see’s a transaction fee show up on our statement because I opted for convenience. I am a terrible person…. So anyway we were 10 minutes late which was equally both our faults, me in my shopping tizzy and him on his bank quest. My father was quite late, he was at my grandmother’s house planting flowers in her front yard. This is not unusual, the planting flowers for my grandmother part that is. Well okay the late part too, unless he has a tee time, that he is early for. Meanwhile I am trying not to ruin my appetite eating their house made tortilla chips. I think our table has gone through 4 baskets at this point. Then around 2:00 my sister, her boyfriend and their 8 month old baby arrive. We regail them. MacKenzie always steals the show these days in her cute little dresses and bloomers and matching flower bow in her non-existent hair. She has the biggest smile, clear blue baby eyes and the most expressive eyebrows she uses to get what she wants. I call her Mackers, my mom calls her Macaroni, she has a million adoring fans and nicknames. It’s appropriate for the first baby in the family, it’s appropriate for every baby in the world, they’re fascinating. That morning they took MacKenzie to her first trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I wish I had gone, the pictures are so cute! They were late since they had spent a few hours there and it takes longer to do everything with a baby.

I ordered the halibut tacos. These are my favorite thing on their menu tied with the rosemary chicken enchiladas. These are healthier though so I thought I would behave myself. The tacos are piled with yummy veggies: artichoke hearts, red pepper, onions and mushrooms. Winning combination! The coconut rice it’s served with is pretty much heaven sent. I am an a mission to replicate these at home. Okay,  it’s on my list of missions anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are a family of last minute thoughtfulness. Right before heading over to mother’s day dinner my brother and I scower the racks of the Hallmark store to find the perfect cards for our mom, grandma, and my sister since she’s a brand new mom.  We found some great cards, funny ones and sappy ones…however we neglected to locate any kind of writing utensil to make the cards slightly more personalized, at the very least sign “Love you”. My brother just gave them all blank cards because he is so awesome like that. I, however, stole a broken crayon from one of kids at a table adjacent to us because I am awesome like that. I proceeded to scribble out something witty and sentimental in my best childish crayon penmanship. It was a classy moment. I signed it at the table in front of them both and told them not to look, gave the envelopes a good lick, sealed em up and drew big fat hearts on the front. They laughed and then opened them.

MacKenzie started to get a little “fussy” as my sister calls it. I held her for a little bit and did my little photo op with her. She ate a few grains of rice and some beans too. She only has a couple teeth. She got passed around in everyone’s laps for awhile until she had had enough. Then my sister and Geoff had to bring her to the next party at Geoff’s family’s house with a whole gang of kids.I’m sure it was a really long day for her…and her parents. So while they went and had kid time my parents, my husband and I went wine tasting which i will tell you all about on the next post.