Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Eclipse Chocolat

In a previous post entitled “Candy” I mentioned that I don’t need “fancy pants chocolate.” This is still a true statement, but fancy pants chocolate can certainly be fun every once in a while. This past Sunday I had the privilege of attending a tasting at Eclipse Chocolat in North Park. My friend of Adventures of an Amateur Foodie fame (the one who inspired me to start my blog) invited me as her guest to this food bloggers event. I was quite honored to be her guest and to meet fellow San Diego food bloggers. I had a great time just visiting with everyone, not to mention eating lots of yummy food.

I mustered up my courage and really branched out at this tasting. I first tried a sample of blackberry sage dark chocolate, which after my horrible experience with sage brown butter I was extremely wary of, and enjoyed it! I could taste the sage, but it didn’t overpower the chocolate which I loved.

Next I sipped on a lavender/ vanilla bean lemonade while I waited for my tasting platter…fancy huh?! My first sip just tasted like lemonade…I will admit my palette is not highly trained…but after a few seconds I could taste the lavender seeping through. The vanilla bean was completely lost on me, other than the little black specks in the lemonade. Overall it was refreshing and enjoyable (and also the only thing I had to pay for.) Also the straw is an eco-product made from corn! I never would have guessed. I’ve heard of these types of products, but this is the first time I’ve used one, so that was exciting too!

Right before my plate arrived, samples of a spicy chocolate ganache were given out. It was funny to watch the wave around the table as people popped them in their mouths, and gradually felt the punch of spiciness that hits a few seconds after chewing. It was the perfect amount of spice for me, and I think this was one of my favorites of the day.

When my plate arrived, I went straight for the frozen chocolate mousse. Thankfully mine was made upside down, so the berry merlot goo was on the bottom and I could eat just the chocolate part. Other folks were saying that it was kind of like gelato, but I’ve never had that, so I can’t really say firsthand. All I know is that it tasted good. Next I dug into a chocolate croissant bread pudding that was delicious. It was moist and not too chocolatey. This was my favorite of the day. There was a carrot cake gateau that was really great. It had one those flavors that just makes you feel good. I told the people at my table that it reminded me of something from my childhood that I never could quite put my finger on. It had sort of a sweet cornbread texture to it, but I don’t think that was what I was trying to identify. It will forever remain a mystery:) I saved the white chocolate lemon bar for last, because that was the one I was the most excited about, and it was good, but not my favorite. I think I wanted more lemon goo and less white chocolate.

The whole day was great! I won’t make it a habit of eating chocolate for lunch, but it was certainly a wonderful treat.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cool Treat

Well it has been HOT here this weekend and we have been trying to conserve energy by not turning on the air conditioning. I thought I would look back on Friday night's smoothies to remind me of what a cool and refreshing treat it was. Maybe that will help me cool off. We have a "Smoothie Elite" which is basically just a blender with a spout. It also has measurement marks on the outside to help with proportions of liquid to frozen ingredients. We don't need anything fancy. Orange/ Pineapple juice, Orange Sherbet, and frozen strawberries make the perfect smoothie for our taste buds.

I forgot to mention that the "Smoothie Elite" has a special stirring stick so that you don't have to jostle the whole blender. It has been a while since we last used ours and somehow the spout has sprung a leak so we had to work quickly. You can see the puddle of juice on the counter. It wouldn't be made by me unless there was some sort of mess to clean up:)

I didn't take a picture of the final product. I thought about putting it in cute glasses (I have these great soda fountain glasses that would have been adorable) but the truth is, when we drink smoothies, we always put them in those giant plastic cups you get for free at baseball games. Brett used our new Cubs Spring Training one (thanks Mom and Dad) and I used our Angels World Series one. Who am I to argue with tradition? Giant plastic baseball cups don't make good pictures:) Stay Cool!

Saturday, April 26, 2008


I just read the book, Candy and Me (A Love Story) by Hilary Liftin. It caught my eye at the library near the cookbooks mainly because I also love candy and am a self-proclaimed sweet tooth. Even though I seem to crave cookies and cake more than candy, I thought I might be able to relate to this author’s tale of her love affair with candy.

Now I have a sweet tooth, but this lady has 32 sweet teeth! I could not believe the vast quantities of candy this woman consumed throughout her life, but especially during her childhood. At first I had a difficult time with the book because it actually made me feel a little sick to think about.

As I read more, I began to appreciate her passion for candy, sympathize with her struggles, and I did relate to some of her compulsions. For instance she talked about lining up Skittles “abacus style” according to color and number. When I eat from a bowl of M&Ms I will choose a color and eat only that color until they are all gone. Even if I get tired of eating them, I continue until that color is eliminated; it’s a compulsion. Also, when I eat from a bag of Hugs (which I haven’t done in YEARS for exactly this reason) I make a pyramid on the table with my balled up foil wrappers. If I want to keep eating I can’t eat just one more, because I have to keep the pyramid intact. So I often ended up eating too many and my stomach always regretted it.

My favorite candy is Toll-House semi-sweet chocolate chips. I can sit and eat those by the handful. I don’t need fancy pants dark chocolates at all. One of my favorite things to do with chocolate chips is what I call a Choco-dilla. I put chocolate chips and mini marshmallows on a tortilla and microwave it for a little bit and then fold it over and eat it. YUM! I haven’t done it in a very long time…but I’m starting to feel the urge!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Orange Knots

We had an incredibly lazy weekend where the most exciting thing, by far, was our weekend baking project. This weekend was Brett’s choice and he leafed through The Taste of Home Baking Book, as he always does, and decided on Orange Knots. Brett really enjoys making yeast breads, and this was the first sweet yeast bread that we’ve tried.

As sous chef, I got to work on zesting and juicing and thank goodness Brett bought an extra orange for eating because I scraped every last bit of zest in our entire kitchen! It was a very close call, and we were not about to go back to the store. Mr. Scientist calculated how long to heat milk in the microwave to get it to 110 degrees and it was almost exactly right. He got the dough together, with my flour pouring assistance. We have been very lucky so far, because every yeast dough we’ve made has risen perfectly. This one rose a TON!

Brett was kind enough to let me punch the dough (I had never done it before) and it was really fun. That's my fist mark!

Then we had to roll it out and divide it evenly into rectangle strips. At this point we knew that we were making way too many for the two of us to eat, but it’s kind of hard (or maybe we’re just lazy) to half a packet of yeast. So we ended up with 18 rolls. We literally took each strip and tied it into a knot. It sounds easy but it was pretty difficult to get the knot tight. I mostly just did the best I could in one shot, while Brett stood there and fidgeted with his until they were perfect. The pretty ones are of course Brett’s; mine have more of a “rustic” look to them.

Once the rolls were baked and cooled, we made the orange glaze with orange juice, zest, and powdered sugar and I drizzled it over all the rolls.

They tasted delicious! Brett particularly liked the glaze. He said that we should have dipped the whole roll in a vat of glaze- doughnut style. I think they were perfect. They were soft and subtly sweet. They reminded me of the Pillsbury orange Danish rolls that my mom used to make, but better and not flaky. I ate two Saturday night and then two more Sunday morning (reheated in the microwave they were awesome.) Brett took a whole bunch to work today so hopefully they were a hit. I hope he told people to heat them up a little before eating them, otherwise they are a bit hard from sitting around for a couple of days. We have two left here for dessert tonight. I’m so happy when our weekend project is a success!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Black Bean and Zucchini Chilaquiles

This week I tried a new recipe from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook that I had checked out at the library. It vaguely resembled one of our favorites, chili chip casserole, in that it had layers of corn tortillas (instead of Doritos,) layers of bean mixture (instead of beans,) and lots of cheese. The main part of the meal is of course the bean mixture which consisted of onions, green pepper, zucchini, black beans, a giant can of crushed tomatoes, and a tiny can of mild green chili peppers (along with spices.) Most of that sounded pretty good to me, but when I began to pour the giant can of crushed tomatoes into the pan I got very scared. Neither Brett nor I like tomatoes, and this was a lot of tomato product. I even cut out a can of diced tomatoes that the recipe called for, and it still looked like WAY too much tomato. I threw in some frozen corn on a whim, with the hopes of distracting Brett from the tomato.

Once it simmered for a few minutes the mixture thickened up and didn’t look quite as tomato-ey. I got to work on the layers, spilling a good portion onto the stove-top (I still haven’t wiped it up! I’m so bad!) Then I put it in the oven to bake.

The corn tortillas soaked up a lot of the juices, leaving nice thick layers of bean and zucchini chili. I thought it smelled and tasted a lot like enchiladas (with way less cheese) probably because of the tortillas and spicy tomato sauce.

Brett, of course thought it was too tomato-ey, so for once, I was the one who ended up stuck with the leftovers. I did enjoy it, but it was not hearty enough to stand alone as a meal, and since it did not get unanimous approval, it will not make another appearance at our dinner table. Oh well.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Baby Cakes

Since it has been a ridiculously slow week in the kitchen, I thought I would post about an old project of mine. Just around this time last year, I was in Chicago for my sister-in-law’s baby shower. I volunteered to bake and decorate the cakes for the party. Although I underestimated the amount of time it would take for me to decorate, and the icing got a bit dry from sitting uncovered overnight, I was happy with the way they turned out. After all, it’s hard to make cake taste bad :)

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Brett and I spent the weekend in Lancaster visiting the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. It was incredible! You would not even believe the magnitude of poppies in this place. What is also incredible is that so many poppies can thrive in such harsh desert conditions. It snows there in the winter, gets very hot in the summer, and while we were there we experienced some very high winds (I lost my hat a few times!) We spent Saturday hiking around the reserve learning about native Californian plant life. It was a great weekend, however there was no cooking involved whatsoever, so you'll have to be patient with me this week on posting. Until I get back into the kitchen, enjoy the poppies!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Free Cookbooks!

I don't know how in the world I never thought of this before, but this week I was at the library looking for a new book to entertain me during my lazy afternoons, and it struck me to wander over into the nonfiction section and look for books about cooking. I am a fiction gal through and through, and unless I'm looking for something very specific, I never even glance toward the nonfiction section. It is the motherload of cookbooks! There was a whole aisle full of them! I checked out 2 (on vegetarian cooking as you can see) and will look through them and try a few things and then return them. It is so much more economical than buying a cookbook, trying a few recipes, and then letting it collect dust. It also saves space. I have absolutely no place to store another cookbook (I've got a stack on the floor by the bed,) so this way it's out of my hair in a few weeks. I've always loved going to the library and now that I've discovered their cookbooks, I have no doubt that I will love it even more. What a wonderful resource that so many people are not using! Check it out (literally!)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Penne with Four Cheeses

Yesterday for lunch I FINALLY tried a recipe my aunt gave me. She got it from The Barefoot Contessa and passed it on to me (about 3 years ago.) The reason I hadn’t made it was because I generally try to eat healthy, and when a recipe starts with 2 cups of heavy cream, I say, “Yikes!” and don’t think of it again. But this has been one that stayed at the back of my brain, and I just broke down and made it. I halved the recipe (1 cup of cream looks a lot healthier than 2) with the intention of having one portion yesterday and saving one for today. Brett is not a big pasta guy (especially when it comes to cream sauces) so this was a treat just for me. The recipe calls for 5 cheeses: mozzarella, ricotta, fontina, romano, and gorgonzola. I am not a gorgonzola fan so I just left that out and that’s why mine is only 4 cheese penne. I had some parmesan on hand and rather than buy romano, I just substituted that. The fontina was on the expensive side, and I was leery buying it because I had never tried it before. When I opened it up, I was even more scared because it had that “stinky feet” smell to it. I mustered up my courage and tried a bite, and it was actually ok, so onward with the recipe! I was worried that the pasta was underdone or that it would get too crunchy in the scorching hot 500 degree oven, but it all turned out perfectly “al dente.” I sat down to eat and watch Days of our Lives (an addiction I can thank this same aunt for) and enjoyed an incredibly rich, creamy, ooey, gooey, cheesy meal. Needless to say, it was one of those lunches where you don’t think you can move afterward, but then you feel like you should probably go exercise because your pants suddenly feel really tight. I’ll eat it again today (hopefully the leftovers will heat up ok) but I may have to wait another 3 years before I overindulge in this one again.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Brickle Chip Cookies

I went easy on the baking project for the weekend, mainly because the last 2 weekends’ projects have been pretty labor intensive. We also needed a dessert because my sweet tooth can only handle jelly beans and popsicles for so long. Brickle Chip Cookies are quite possibly my favorite kind of cookie. Of course I got the recipe from my mom, but the recipe is not a big family secret: it’s on the back of the Heath toffee bits package! It makes about a zillion cookies, so they are great to take to a party. However, these cookies are all for us, at least for now, Brett will probably end up taking a dozen to work.

Making the dough always goes well, but for me the hard part is putting the cookies on the cookie sheet. Now I know it doesn’t sound hard, but for some reason I always make my first batch way too big. These cookies are first mashed down and then they spread out even more in the oven. So when I took my first batch out, I was not surprised to see that they all spread out into each other for some really strange looking cookies. I was not surprised because I do that every time. And I forget every time. Oops. So I proceeded to make the rest of the cookies considerably smaller, but no two were exactly the same size or shape. (The picture below is sadly from my last batch...I clearly did not learn how to judge size or space...but this is an improvement.) I needed to enlist the help of my cousin (the sugar cookie king) who can make every cookie exactly the same size every time. I personally don’t care what the cookies look like as long as they taste delicious, and they do!

One thing I love about being an adult is making that naughty decision to have cookies for dinner. My excuse…we had a big, late lunch :)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Buy Me Some Peanuts...

Baseball season has begun! Brett and I went to our first Padres game of the season last night. Brett’s company has season tickets so we get to go a couple of times a year and sit in fantastic seats. We’re talking 10 rows back, behind home plate, I know that’s a curveball because I saw it curve, seats. Another great thing is that we don’t pay a dime, unless you include parking and food, which is certainly more than a dime!

Traditionally, when you think of ballpark food, it’s gotta be hot dogs, peanuts, and cracker jacks right? And of course beer (or in our case Coke) for drinking. Brett went the traditional way of hotdogs, I skewed a little with a super greasy piece of pizza, and we shared a Coke. Now maybe it’s just PetCo Park because this is how San Diegans are, or maybe it’s because, with our amazing seats, we are surrounded by rich, old people, but stadium food has changed. We regularly see people with their little plastic cups of wine and sushi or a fancy salad with shrimp. One of the new things we saw last night was a guy eating a slice of cheesecake! The other new thing was that the waiter (yes, waiter in a stadium!) brought a whole tray of shots to the front section (not to mention blankets.) Brett made a joke about how some of these folks would get beat up if they were at Wrigley Field. Can you imagine asking for a blanket in Chicago?! Even if it was actually freezing, people would look at you like you were nuts! We had a great time, even though the Padres lost, and it was nice to get a night off from cooking.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Turkey or Beef Debate

To beef, or not to beef: that is the question... (Can you believe I actually got out Hamlet to check my punctuation? What a nerd!) Last night we had taco ring again, but with one small change: ground beef instead of ground turkey. It was not a personal choice or a tasting experiment, rather, the grocery store was out of ground turkey! Apparently it was on sale and got bought out. They did have ground turkey breast (which is even leaner) but we have tried that before and it got a definite thumbs down. So I debated for a while, and finally picked up some ground beef.

I cannot even tell you how long it has been since I have cooked with ground beef. A very long time. It was weird. I had gotten used to the gray color of the “browned” turkey meat, and it’s tendency to clump together tenaciously. So when I began to cook the beef, I hovered a lot more than I needed to, breaking it apart ferociously as if it were turkey. I was also surprised how dark the meat got. It was practically black! The final difference was the amount of fat I had to drain, which was significantly more. Of course it tasted good (c’mon it’s taco ring, how could it not?) but after years of using ground turkey, I think I prefer the turkey now. So my answer to the question is NOT to beef :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Blackberry Crumble...sort of

Those of you who have ever been in a kitchen with me should know that I am not one of those “let me throw something together” kind of gals. I read recipes over and over again, and I’m constantly double checking everything (and I still mess up, but that’s beside the point.) I wish I could go “whip something up” whenever I felt like it, but I’m just not like that.

Which leads me to our dessert Sunday night: blackberry crumble. At the bridal shower I went to recently there were blackberries, however they must have been very tasty, because I didn't get to them in time. Plus, I wasn’t exactly sure what blackberries tasted like and I was curious, so this led me to buy, yes, grocery store blackberries. When will I learn? Brett and I ate them as a healthy dessert one night and decided that they were not something we wanted to eat plain again. If they didn’t work as a healthy dessert, surely they would work as an unhealthy one. I thought to myself, “Hey I’ve watched Ina Garten make a bazillion fruit crumbles on Barefoot Contessa, surely I can throw this together.” So I got to work on the crumb topping WITHOUT looking at any sort of recipe. I should have known an oops was coming. How hard would it have been to open any of the baking cookbooks I own and just look for proper proportions? Well at least I had all the ingredients correct. Butter, brown sugar, and flour. In retrospect, I should have realized that I needed more flour because the mixture needed to be more crumbly. When we pulled the dessert out of the oven it looked like a bubbly, buttery mess. Brett even commented that it looked like his mom’s Swedish meatballs (and I'll admit it did.) Even though those meatballs are delicious, I certainly don’t want my dessert to resemble them. We had to skim off a lot of the butter, but after that, the sugary blackberries were delicious. Live and learn.