Passionately Pursuing the Good Life

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2010 Recipe Round Up

As the season of giving thanks (and pie!) approaches, I take a moment to reflect on some of the things I am thankful for. Health? Check! Love? Check Check! Good food? Well, thanks to some truly amazing food bloggers and reliable Food Network chefs, that gets a hearty check, too! I am truly thankful for the wealth of food bloggers and recipes at my disposal online. Where I may have felt that I couldn’t live without the Food Network a few years ago, it seems lately that a lot of my inspiration to try new recipes comes via the Interwebs!

Here are a handful of my favorites so far this year.

Recipes from the Pioneer Woman

Penne a la Betsy

Ahhh…this is my favorite kind of recipe – delicious, quick enough for a weeknight meal, and fairly healthy (depending on how much cream you decide to use). This dish is very comforting. Use the Barilla Plus pasta for an added nutritional boost and a side of veggies and you’ve got a really nice meal.

Modifications: Just a pinch of red pepper flakes (or more depending on your spice preference) to the onions as they cook. The sauce is fairly sweet so I like the dimension that the spice brings to it. Additionally, I live in fear of burnt garlic so I don’t add the garlic until after the onions have cooked down.

Olive Cheese Bread

You can definitely file this under the category of “Not Even Remotely Healthy.” Though, olives are kind of healthy…right? This is major decadent goodness, and works really great as an appetizer for a party, especially since you can mix the olive/cheese/butter spread a few days in advance.

Modification: I think you can actually cut the spread ingredients in half. I made the full recipe but wound up using a lot less of it on the bread and it was still very rich.

Recipes from Giada De Laurentiis

Asian Chicken Salad

I LOVE this salad! It’s perfect for an easy weeknight meal because there’s no cooking as long as you grab a rotisserie or other pre-cooked chicken from the grocery store. Just chop your veggies, slice the chicken, whisk up the dressing and assemble!

Modifications: A couple of ingredients here are not vital. I’ve made this salad a number of times without cabbage and I’ve never managed to acquire Thai Basil, but it’s still delicious. I also use regular white sesame seeds instead of black ones.

Lasagna Rolls

This is a great party dish for a couple of reasons – one, it’s vegetarian if you omit the prosciutto (which is not crucial to the recipe) and, two, you can assemble it the day before and put it in the oven an hour or so before your guests arrive. I also love the idea of lasagna "rolls" because it provides you with a perfect portion to dish out. Plus it was scrum-dill-iumcious!

Modifications: I followed a lot of reviewers’ suggestions and doubled the béchamel sauce so that there would be plenty to cover the bottom of the pan. I had a little left over but I agree that you need just a little more than the original recipe provides. As mentioned, you can leave out the prosciutto to make it vegetarian, or you can even add cooked sausage to it for a more classic lasagna taste.

Pasta Primavera

Here’s another great vegetarian meal. There is an unusual amount of chopping prep-work here, but once you get through that the recipe is very easy to complete. Since it’s fairly simple, this is one of those recipes where it’s really important to use good ingredients (i.e., fresh farmers’ market vegetables and really good parmesan cheese). Plus you can stray from the actual veggie ingredients here and use whatever is in season.

Modifications: There are quite a few changes here. First, I’m not crazy about raw tomatoes so at the halfway point when you stir the vegetables, I throw in the halved cherry tomatoes so they can cook down a little bit. I also add a couple of cloves of chopped up garlic at the beginning. In place of the Herbs de Provance, you can pretty much use any seasoning blend that, as Pioneer Woman says, makes your skirt fly up. I’ve been using a blend from Penzey’s called Paris Morning. A couple of crucial notes here – you really need to make sure your oven is HOT when you put in the veggies, or they won’t caramelize properly. Also, the Food Network link has a video which I found helpful to see the shape in which she chopped everything.

Recipes from Annie’s Eats:

Kitchen Sink Cookies

Many comments on this link claim that these are really “Monster Cookies.” Whatever they are, they are delicious and also gluten free as there is NO flour used in this recipe! I thought the use of pretzel M&Ms was quite genius (although in hindsight pretzles probably have gluten so omit those if your goal is gluten free). And this is the kind of recipe that can be a blank canvas to whatever you like or have on hand to put in…nuts, other kinds of candy, etc.

Modifications: I’m not a huge fan of raisins, so I used dried cranberries instead and was very happy with the result. Also, my cookies where a bit puffier than what Annie’s appeared to be in her pictures. I wound up liking them that way because they were kind of soft inside. But if you prefer a crunchier cookie I think you need to pat them down a little before they go in the oven.

S’Mores Cupcakes

Oh, man…if you are looking to impress, this is the cupcake to do so! Dramatic in design, and super delicious! There were multiple steps to this recipe, but honestly as long as you’re organized (and have a small kitchen blow torch) I don’t think it is too difficult for your average baker.

Modifications: None. It’s perfection!

Chicken Enchilada Roll Ups

I stumbled upon this recipe while looking for an appetizer for Fourth of July that could be served at room temperature. They were very well received, though I think the brand of chili powder I was using was extra hot because they came out a little picante! It takes a bit of practice to get the rolling technique down (go ahead and insert your adolescent “rolling” joke here). You want to make sure and roll them tight so that when you cut them they stay intact. Yummy, delicious, and overall a fairly low-maintenance appetizer. Win!

Modifications: If you have sensitive palates (or insanely hot chili powder like moi) you might want to halve the amount of spice.

Recipes from Sing for your Supper:

Easy Mexican Casserole

Self designated food snobs (sometimes referred to as “foodie,” ack I hate that word), like to diss on the casserole as it’s an easy target. But you know, it’s darn hard to beat the comfort that comes from a good, solid casserole. And this is a good one. Really simple to prepare with good flavors and the added bonus that it seems to get better the next day! Perfect for a fall weeknight, or even a nice easy Sunday dinner.

Modifications: I made none, though I'm sure you could play with this a bit - use turkey instead of ground beef, use seasoned black beans, etc.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Book Review: "The Sea, The Sea" by Iris Murdhoch

The Sea, The Sea (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh, such mixed feelings about this book. Had you asked me my feelings about this novel half way through reading it, you would have seen my face scrunch up in frustration and I would say, “spare yourself from this novel which is strictly the ramblings of a completely self-absorbed and delusional idiot man for whom you will have no sympathy.” BUT…having finished it I can honestly say if you are able to get past the first two hundred pages (either for being a glutton for punishment or attempting to finish, in my case, for a book group), the “story,” if you can call it that, really does start to get interesting. It’s largely a novel about power…over others, over ourselves, and often, the power we relinquish to other people and ideas. The “sea” being the looming metaphor in this book is both majestic and enchanting, but also fatally dangerous. Such it is with our personal lives and whom we choose to love.

Not an easy read, but definitely one of those books that will stay with you for a while.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Mighty Life List #31: I Played in the Mud!

Glen Ivy Day Spa in Corona is situated, well, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But I suppose that’s part of its charm. You drive through a whole lot a nothin’ before arriving at a picturesque oasis with lush landscaping and friendly staff members ready to make you feel welcome and pampered.

On a beautiful summer Saturday morning, George and I fueled up with a quick breakfast and hit the road. Despite the early head start and no traffic, by the time we arrived at the day spa (about a half hour after they opened) there was a good 20 minute wait just to get checked into the spa. We paid, received instructions on where to find the dressing rooms, and proceeded directly to Club Mud!

Let me tell you, from personal experience and from simple observation, that playing in the mud is not only good for the skin, but good for the spirit. I watched several women transform into giddy schoolgirls as they helped each other get covered with mud and check out their goofy profiles in the outdoor mirrors. As I had George with me, I was also able to get the unique male perspective of this experience. After covering himself with mud, George proclaims, “Hey, it’s like ‘Predator!’ You know, where the guy covers himself with mud so the creature won’t see him?” Ha! Yes, I...suppose it is! To those of you who might be a bit squeamish, fear not, for this is not your average mud. It goes on smooth and actually feels really nice. The hardest part is washing it off. I was finding traces of mud for a good day and half afterwards!

After our mud session, our intention was to grab a fruity cocktail (OK, that part was really my intention) and find a couple of lounge chairs to relax in. Only problem was…there were none left! The vast sea of lounge chairs had all been marked as taken. Apparently if you plan on visiting this spa during the summer on a weekend, you need to arrive at the spa the minute they open and immediately mark a couple of chairs for yourself. Yeesh. Now I know.

Despite this minor setback, we still managed to find a little corner for ourselves to relax in. With drink in one hand and magazine in the other, I put two regular chairs together to form a make shift chaise. It worked out just fine.

I sipped on a delicious Peach Bellini and skimmed through a Real Simple, and George relaxed beside me while catching up on his Sunset magazine reading.

The rest of the day included a trip to the mineral baths for me, round two of mud for George (he really likes that mud!), and some lounging in a floaty chair in the shallow pool. With the beautiful landscaping surrounding us and the weather not a degree past perfect, it honestly felt like we were on a tropical vacation. I can’t remember a more relaxing few hours so close to home. I can’t wait to go back!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mighty Life List #15 – My Week Without Dairy: Reflections on saying “Ciao for now” to Cheese

My hellish cheese-free week starts off with a slight disadvantage because I hadn’t managed all the grocery shopping and prep work I envisioned when deciding to go a week without dairy (i.e. an entire seven days without cheese glorious cheese…did I mention no cheese???). George and I decide spend Sunday at Disneyland, and after a fun filled day in the sun at the Happiest Place on Earth my original plan of grocery shopping and making dinner turns into a “How do you feel about ordering Thai food?” conversation in the car. To my credit, there was no dairy in the Pad Thai, Spicy Rice, or egg rolls, so come next Sunday night I will be planning a full fledged dairy extravaganza! So it begins…

Monday: I’m finding dairy in all sorts of unexpected places, including the package of instant oatmeal I was planning on inhaling at work. I resist the urge to interrogate the woman at the café at my building on their oatmeal preparation. She tells me they don’t use milk, I take it on faith that she’s telling the truth. Which brings me to my first discovery: Not only do you have to investigate every label for traces of something you are trying to avoid, but you also have to trust complete strangers that they are being honest with you about your food prep. I never considered myself untrustworthy, but as the woman at the café was dishing out my oatmeal I found myself eyeballing the product with intense scrutiny. She wouldn’t lie to me about that…WOULD SHE?

Tuesday: I really miss cheese. And ice cream.

Wednesday: Second unexpected discovery - my temporary parting with said cheese and ice cream seem to have created some extra room in my pants. Nice!

Thursday: I inadvertently come close to falling off the dairy wagon. I remove what I thought was a pork tamale made by George’s mom out of the microwave. When I pull back the husk I am greeted with the unmistakable ooze of cheesy goodness. “This is a cheese tamale!!!” I stare at it. It stares back, daring me to consume it. I sigh. I find George. I hand it over to him.

Friday: My skin is breaking out. What the hell? I thought going without dairy was supposed to improve your skin. I’m peeved. In retaliation for this I allow a modicum of dairy into my system at dinner in the guise of a fried zucchini blossom stuffed with a shrimp mousse. I feel no regrets. I am a dairy rebel! (ok not really)

Saturday & Sunday: The thing I was least looking forward to in this challenge? Weekend breakfasts. How many of my favorite weekend breakfasts have dairy in them? Pretty much all. But I work around it. And Sunday night, I make The Pioneer Woman’s quesadilla with BBQ chicken and grilled pineapple.

Welcome back, cheese. I missed you. Let’s never be parted again, ok? OK.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

The Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novel can be described much like the food that Rose survives on: superficially appealing but inevitably lacking in substance. The premise is captivating (she can “taste” the emotions/feelings of the person preparing the food), and the characters are endearing though often frustrating (especially the parents), but in the end you want so much more than what you are left with. And although I enjoyed the journey of the story, I’d be hard pressed to say what, exactly, was the whole point.

If you really love character driven stories (i.e., no plot), and are charmed by the “magical realism” genre, you might consider picking up this book for a decent, easy read. Otherwise, I would suggest discovering or revisiting “Like Water for Chocolate” instead.

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Mighty Life List #76: Martini at Musso & Frank

Ah, Musso & Frank! One of the last remaining in the endangered species of classic old Hollywood restaurants. If you have an appreciation for the old days of Hollywood, when movie deals were brokered over martinis instead of cell phones, you should definitely plan a trip here, if only to sit at the bar and nurse a cocktail while conjuring the spirit of Orson Welles. Many stories and legends surround this restaurant, which first opened its doors in 1919. My favorite being that Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, and Douglas Fairbanks would race each other down Hollywood Boulevard on horseback from the studio to the restaurant. Whomever lost had to pick up the tab!

The waiters here are possibly as old as the wallpaper, but so long as you treat them with the respect they deserve, they'll take good care of you. And how was my classic gin martini?

I'd say a lot like the bartender...a little rough at first but as the hour went by became progressively more smoooooooth. At first sip I honestly didn't think I would be able to finish it. I surprised myself!

We capped the night off with a walk across the street for a hot dog and chili fries from another Hollywood institution, Skooby's. I love my life...

I also love this guy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Life List #51 – Making like Yogi Bear – It’s a Picnic!

It doesn’t take any great effort to come up with reasons not to like living in Los Angeles. Traffic alone will provide several pages worth of items to gripe about. But one thing we trump all other cities on is consistently beautiful weather. Which is why I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to pack a picnic and go in search of a beautiful place to enjoy it…of which we have many in LA.

Online research for good picnic places seemed a touch uninspired. All the usual suspects were there…Hollywood Bowl, Griffith Park, Hollywood Cemetery for their movie screenings, etc. All fine places but I was looking for something, I don’t know, a little more unique. On a whim I checked out The Getty’s website to see what time they close on Saturdays. I was sold when I discovered that not only do they stay open until 9:00PM, but that parking is free after 5:00PM on Saturdays. That’s a $15 savings! And considering there is no additional fee to get into the museum, the only thing it cost us were the drinks we bought to enjoy with our picnic food.

Check out our view. Not bad. Not bad at all!

Our picnic included an Antipasto Sub, chips and fruit salad.

This was a lovely way to enjoy the evening and time with my sweetheart. I think this may have inspired me to create my own list of “Best Places in LA to Picnic.” To be continued!