Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blueberry Orange Muffins

It was my friend, Erika's, birthday the other day so what better treat to make for her than bite size muffins for breakfast.  Whenever I make muffins from scratch, I always turn to Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.  Her muffin recipes constantly turn into the most incredibly moist, sweet tasting goodies, because she doesn't skimp on the berries and adds dairy instead of water.  However, wanting to keep the creativity flowing, I always like to add my own twist to the recipes I find.  Her blueberry muffins call for buttermilk and lemon zest.  She specifically mentions in her cookbook that you won't be able to detect the lemon zest but that it enhances the flavor of the muffins.  Well, if I'm going to add citrus to my food, I want to be able to taste that tangy flavor!  So, instead, I used orange juice and orange zest for a fresh punch and low fat milk for a slightly healthier bite. And these mini muffins were a huge hit.

What you'll need: about 4 dozen mini muffins or 20 regular size muffins

 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups low fat milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 extra large eggs
2 cups fresh blueberries

For the streusel topping:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp kosher salt
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut in small cubes

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl and blend together.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, orange juice, melted cooled butter, orange zest, and eggs.  Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture with a fork, mixing just until blended.  Fold the blueberries into the batter.  Don't overmix!  Scoop the batter into a mini muffin tin lined with paper cups, filling them almost full.

For the topping, place all the ingredients in a medium sized bowl and cut with a pastry cutter, until the butter is in very small pieces.  Then rub with your fingers until crumbly.  Spoon about 1 small spoonful of the streusel on top of each muffin.  Bake the mini muffins for about 12 mins each, until golden brown. If baking regular size muffins, cook for about 20-25 mins.

Juicy, sweet, tangy and with a crumbly crunchy top!  You'll never go back to store bought muffins again!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Citrus Cocktail

Southern California was so hot this past weekend.  And after standing in the sun for two hours at a food truck festival, I was parched and water just wasn't cutting it!  So my mom whipped up a couple of freshly squeezed citrus cocktails that quenched my thirst in no time.  My mom is the best personal bartender I know and I'm learning a lot of quick and tasty drinks from her that I love to share.  The flavor combo in this particular drink is so vibrant and refreshing and I can't wait to drink this again when the weather picks up for spring.

What you'll need: per 1 drink

1 orange
1 lemon
1 jigger of triple sec
1 jigger of coconut rum
1 can of squirt soda
splash of maraschino cherry juice

Freshly squeeze the juice out of the orange and lemon.  Set aside.  In a glass filled with ice, pour in the 2 jiggers of alcohol.  Add half of the can of squirt.  Top with the orange and lemon juice.  Give this a stir and add in the splash of maraschino cherry juice just before serving (to give the drink a sunset glow).  Garnish with a slice of orange, maraschino cherry and an umbrella!

This cocktail taste so fresh with the natural juices you use from the fruit.  And the squirt adds a hint of bubbly grapefruit flavor to add to the citrus theme.  So reviving after a long day in the sun...

Friday, January 27, 2012

An Old Fashion Tribute

Ok, I cheated again with the gluten but for a really good reason!  This week is the anniversary of Madalene's passing and we just HAD to pay tribute to her by baking an old fashion favorite of her's.  In the 50s, Pineapple Upside Down Cakes were a big trend and my Grandma jumped on the bandwagon like every other housewife.  But instead of using a cake mix from the box like many others, she whipped up her own batter, which I would someday like to try.  However, I'm still recovering from tarts last Sunday, so my mom and I went the easy route and used a cake mix, but we jazzed it up with pineapple juice instead of water.  It makes a world of difference, adding more moisture, flavor and sweetness to the cake.

Just a couple of weeks before Madalene passed in 1968, she was still sewing her own dresses for social events.  Pain never stopped her from doing the things she loved.  She fought her illness for 5 years and hardly ever complained.  I can only strive to be as strong as she was.  Madalene really is such an inspiration, so I look to her often and self-reflect.

What you'll need: for a 9 in. baking pan

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 can of sliced pineapple rings
1 jar of maraschino cherries
1 package of yellow cake mix

Place the butter in a round baking pan and put in the oven at 350 degrees.  While the butter is melting, follow the directions on the cake mix box to make the batter.  But remember!  Instead of using water, use the pineapple juice from the can of sliced pineapples.  If it isn't enough, fill the rest of the measurement with water, but it won't be much.  When the butter is completely melted, remove from the oven and evenly layer the brown sugar on top of the melted butter.  Arrange the pineapples and cherries over the sugar/butter mixture.  Pour in the batter and put in the oven at 350 degrees for about 40-50 mins.  Once cooked and while still hot, place a platter on top of the pan and flip it over quickly.  Don't freak out if some of the pineapple gets left behind.  Just remove it from the pan and place it back on the cake.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

I usually don't like cake because it's often dry with too much frosting, but I will eat this cake over and over again!  It's soo moist and the caramelized topping just melts in your mouth.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Madalene Missed

Madalene leaning on her sister

Is it possible to miss someone if you've never met them?  I guess my mom and her siblings have done such a great job painting such a lifelike picture of my Great Grandma Madalene with stories after stories, that I feel like I've known her my whole life.  And I miss her.  The famous question people are always asked: "If you were to have dinner with anyone in the universe, dead or alive, who would it be?"  No, it would not be Jesus nor Tom Hanks, but my beautiful, strong and insanely talented Grandma Madalene.  I have so many questions for her that can't be answered by those who lived beyond her time.  I yearn to know ALL her family Italian recipes that she cooked from memory, delve into her early childhood days she spent in her homeland and master the Italian language from her personally.  My mom has done wonderfully passing down Madalene's wisdom and legacy, but there is nothing like actually talking to Madalene myself that I want more than anything.  Where is a genie when you need one?!  I guess I'll just have to wait until the afterlife.  Until then, I will never stop learning as much as I can about her and the creative life she passed down to all of us.  Madalene, if you're watching, I love and miss you more than words can describe.  See you soon.  <3

Madalene and her sisters on each side

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Crispy Ground Beef Tacos

One of my childhood favorites... homemade Crispy Ground Beef Tacos!  When I was younger and ate very limited food groups, these tacos somehow made the picky list.  Of course, I just ate them with cheese, but now I load them up with green leaf lettuce, tomatoes, salsa and guacamole!  The guacamole is key for these, because after the initial crunchy bite of the taco shell, you get a creamy lemon-peppery taste from the guac which is just too good!

What you'll need: for about 12 tacos

1 lb lean ground beef
1 pkg lawry's taco seasoning mix
1 large bag of corn tortillas
green leaf lettuce
shredded cheddar cheese
sliced tomatoes
taco sauce

In a large pan, prepare the ground beef as instructed on the back of the lawry's seasoning mix.  Try to drain as much of the fat as possible once the meat is done cooking.  In another pan, fill it with canola oil so it coats the entire bottom of the pan.  As soon as the oil is hot, place half of a corn tortilla into the pan (holding the other half with your hand).  Place a couple of tablespoons of meat onto the half of the tortilla that is in the oil.  Then fold down the other half over the portion that is filled with meat.  After a few minutes flip over the taco and cook the other side of the tortilla for a few mins.  When the taco is golden brown, you know it's done.  Do the same for the rest of the tortillas.  Drain the tacos on a cooking sheet lined with paper towels to soak up any remaining oil.  Serve hot with all the fixins!

Yes, it would be so much easier to just cook the meat and place it in an already made taco shell from the grocery store.  But frying the tortillas with the meat inside gives the taco so much flavor!  It's worth the effort.  And there is nothing more satisfying than sinking your teeth into a homemade fresh crispy taco shell.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lemon Berry Tarts

My friend Elisse had a birthday yesterday, and knowing that she likes fruit tarts, I thought I would get brave in the kitchen and try something new and daring.  This was my first time "tarting" and overall, it turned out tasty.  However, I did make one boo boo when I tried to cut corners from this 1985 Sunset Cookbook recipe I followed (using egg whites instead of whole eggs).  Note to self:  Stop trying to substitute crucial ingredients for baked goods! Nonetheless, it was still sweet, tangy, buttery and refreshing!

What you'll need: to make 5 small tarts

Sweet Butter Pastry Crust:

1 1/3 cups flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter (cut in small chunks)
1 whole egg

In a bowl, stir together flour and sugar.  Add butter chunks to the mixture and stir to coat.  With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until fine particles form.  Add egg and stir with a fork until dough clings together.  With your hands gather dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.  Roll out chilled dough and press it firmly on the bottom and sides of your spring-form pans.  Will a rolling pin, roll over the pan to cut off excess dough.  Prick the pastry all over with a fork.  Bake at 350 degrees in the lower third of your oven for 22-25 mins.  Place on a rack and let cool. 

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.

What you'll need:

1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup and 2 tbsp sugar
2 eggs

In top of a double boiler over simmering water, melt the butter.  Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and eggs.  Stir with a wire whisk until blended.  Cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and smooth (which didn't happen to mine because I used egg beaters instead of two whole eggs).  Let cool, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Spread filling evenly into the pans and top with blueberries and raspberries.  Serve or refrigerate for up to three hours.

This ended up being a birthday dessert but V-Day is just around the corner.  These little heart shaped tarts would be a fun way to celebrate the day of love.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Soup Class with Fabio Viviani

Having Fun in the Kitchen with Fabio Viviani

Since I blog primarily on food, I've been wanting to broaden my taste buds.  So, yesterday, my mom, sister, friend Ali and I all went to Fabio Viviani's Soup Class at his restaurant Firenze Osteria.  Not only did we learn how to make four fabulously tasting and easy-to-make soups, but we laughed all the way through Fabio's down to earth two hour class.  I've always been a fan of Fabio ever since he competed on Top Chef Season 5, but now that I've been able to witness his "Fan Favorite" personality in person... his hilarious antics and extreme knowledge of food has left me loving him even more.  I can't wait to visit his next class in February, which is all about meat!

Below are the four soups he demonstrated for the class.  I'm a pretty picky eater, but he got me to eat two cold soups and a lobster bisque that I would have never probably tried otherwise.

Gazpacho Soup:  A raw blend of bell peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes

Lobster Bisque:  A creamy blend of lobster, shellfish stock and fresh vegetables

Fennel Soup with Apples and Herbs: A cold blend of cooked fennel, potatoes and caramelized apples

Heirloom Tomato Soup with Shrimps and Avocado:  A citrusy blend of lemon, tomatoes and shrimp stock

The recipes for all these soups can be found on Fabio's website here.  Fyi, the lobster bisque was blended for us but his recipe online doesn't call for that technique.  After you cook all the ingredients as instructed, take them off the flame and blend in a blender (shell and all), then strain and serve for a creamy version instead!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy National Cheese Lovers Day!

Mm.. a day of cheese.  What a perfect and well deserved holiday.  I can live without bread, but cheese?  Absolutely not!  It makes everything taste that much better when cheese is incorporated.  To help celebrate the cheesy day, below is a look back at some of my favorite dishes that integrate my all time favorite food ingredient.. CHEESE!

Eggplant Parm
Bagel and Cream Cheese
Apples and Cheese
Mac and Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Unbaked Pineapple Cheesecake
Chicken and Potatoes

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Try THIS At Home... Instead

Now, this is a loaf of bread!  Homemade, fresh, fluffy, airy and made with real flour!  That's right... I caved.  But I just had a slice!  Toasted with butter.  And it was divine.  Pure heaven.  But it tastes just as tasty plain when it's warm or in french toast form!

You can easily find Panettone in any Italian market or deli.  But this time we wanted to try making it fresh in our bread machine while using Donna Rathmell German's recipe with a couple minor changes.  And there is nothing like smelling freshly baked bread in your home!

What you'll need:

Bread Machine
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly grated lemon peel
3 cups bread flour
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1/3 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup candied fruit

Follow your bread machine cooking instructions for how to make this recipe using the above ingredients.  There is a science to this.  But 4 hours later after the machine has done its magic, you then get to slice into a warm sweet Italian bread. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Don't Try This At Home

This gluten-free diet is hard!  Mom and I tried making homemade fluffy Panettone bread in our bread machine with gluten-free flour.  What a depressing outcome.  The bread deflated and was solid as a rock!  No good.  I'm about ready to kick the bucket on this diet and go for the real stuff!  We haven't tried making Panettone with the regular bread flour yet, but when we do I'll let you know how much better it comes out than this lump.  Baking definitely is a science that I haven't quite mastered yet.  But like Julia Child once said, "Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chicken Enchiladas

Trying to be good about eating gluten free items now... Mom and I made Chicken Enchiladas with medium green chili sauce, cheddar cheese and green onions.  Now, this is the simple version.  We didn't get all crazy by making our own tortillas and chili sauce.  But this dish comes out just as yummy in a quick and easy fashion!

What you'll need:

12 small corn tortillas
Chopped up chicken breast from an already cooked roast from the store
2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
4 chopped green onions
1 large can medium green chili enchilada sauce

Get an assembly line station going with your chicken breast, onions and cheese.  Quickly, heat up the tortillas in a pan on low heat... just until they're soft.  This enhances the flavors and helps take away the "raw" tortilla taste.  This also makes the rolling process easier, so the tortillas don't crack.  In a 9 x 13 in baking dish, line the bottom with the green sauce.  Dip your warm tortilla into the can of green sauce and place on the baking dish.  Fill the tortilla with chicken, cheese and onions and roll up.  Do again until all 12 tortillas are done.  Pour the rest of the green sauce on top of the enchiladas.  Sprinkle more cheese and onions on top and lay a piece of foil over the dish.  Put in a 325 degrees oven for about 45 mins.  When you have about 15 mins cooking time left, take off the foil so the cheese gets nice and brown.

It's crunchy, creamy and perfect for a cool evening at home.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Weekend Brunch

Breakfast Potatoes with Bell Peppers and Onions
We had a slumber party with my sister and nephew Friday night, so when Saturday morning came around we all jumped into the kitchen, including my 10 year old nephew and created a Brunch Feast. 

We divided up the menu to get this meal rolling.  Mom tackled the bacon by cooking them in the oven.  This method is so much easier than preparing them on the stove.  No splattering, less mess...  All she did was lay them on a foil lined baking sheet and put them in a 350 degrees oven for about 30 mins.  Flip them over and put them back in the oven for another 30 mins.  We like ours extra crispy, so it takes longer. 

I was in charge of the fruit because I like to get creative and fancy with the presentation.  On a big platter, I arranged sliced apples and oranges around a bowl full of fresh raspberries and blueberries. 

In the other corner, my nephew was learning how to cook my mom's famous sourdough french toast.  Her egg mixture includes milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange rind and grand marnier.  Thin, crispy and delicious every time.  But, I, of course, ate the gluten free bread which was not the same!  But after being soaked in egg and fried to a golden dark brown... it was tasty.

My sister took on the breakfast potatoes which she cooked with red and yellow bell pepper and onions.  After she let the cubed potatoes brown and soften (in a pan with olive oil over medium heat), she threw in the chopped onions, sliced bell peppers and lemon pepper seasoning.  After those soften, they're done!  They're so pretty with the bell pepper shaped flowers.

We didn't eat again until 8pm after this meal. :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

An Unsettling Food Discovery

So, I think I'm allergic to Wheat!  I have a lot of symptoms for those who are... headaches, fatigue, constant bloating.  I mean, this has got to be some sort of omen... a thing like this happening to an Italian girl.  Downright unfair I should say!   Bread is pretty much the only thing I ate as a child... bagels, pasta, grilled cheese sandwiches, sub sandwiches, rolls.  Goodness, I can't really imagine a life without having a piece of bread everyday.  But, health is important and it's no fun feeling ill.  So, I'm going to try out a Gluten Free Diet and see what happens.  Hopefully, blog friends, you'll bare with me during this process since my blog is mostly about food!  You all don't want to just eat gluten free food, right?  I don't blame you.  But I'll do my best to suggest using regular bread and flour when posting my new altered recipes.  But this is only temporary, I think.  Once I detox, I'm told I can slowly get back into incorporating wheat products into my diet, but minimally.

To help detox and help nurse my digestive track back to normal, I started drinking cultured milk smoothies in the morning.  Cultured milk alone is no fun thing to drink, let me tell you.  It tastes like sour chunky milk because it has been fermented... a treatment that brings back the good bacteria which is super helpful to your tummy.  But when you blend this up with sweet fresh fruit it is completely edible.  There is still a slight tang to it but it's quite tasty!  If this still isn't sweet enough for you, you can always add a little honey.

What you'll need:

1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 banana
1 cup cultured low fat milk (plain)

Just throw it all in the blender and pulse until smooth.  If you don't have the same health issue and/or can't get over the image of possibly drinking something that is described as sour and chunky, you can always substitute the milk for regular yogurt!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Design Around Me

Your design style says a lot about you, don't you think?  I was looking at a few design elements in my bedroom the other day and notice how much they reflect my old but new personality.  There you'll discover vintage furniture, books and pictures but also find a crisp, clean line design with modern textiles, paintings and balanced placement.

Each level on my bookshelf has its own theme for subjects I adore... fashion, music, Harry Potter, Seinfeld.  This helps me stay organized but also keeps things fun and interesting.

The color scheme for the room was inspired by a canvas of Audrey I found at Target.  So when I discovered this feminine, dimensional, floral rug, I just had to splurge and get it.  I figured it's timeless and will follow me where ever I go for a very long time.

My sister passed down her 1970's white desk to me when she moved out.  It's small and creaks but I love it's homemade look and hand painted handles.

I've created little stories around the room that help me stay motivated and inspired.  This Tap Dance corner reminds me of how much fun I have when I step outside of my comfort box and try something new... like dance!  That "boy" in the picture is me, a paperboy on the train!

My bedroom is all about creativity, motivation and fun in an old but new light.  One day, I'll have my own house and finally be able to design every room that reflects my own personal style.  But until then, this space is my inspirational sanctuary.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DIY: Dole Pineapple Whip Float

We're in the middle of winter and I still can't get enough of Disneyland's Dole Pineapple Whip Float and the Tiki Bar.  I can't believe I only just discovered this last year and now every single time I visit DL with my annual pass, I have to get one... even if the line is 30 mins long!  But if I happen to no longer have a pass one day, I now know how to make this creamy pineapple delight in my own home.

We found the Dole Pineapple Soft Serve MIX online, which comes in the form of a non-dairy powder.  This mix is for a soft serve ice cream maker... which I don't have.  But I do have a Cuisinart ice cream maker that did just as well.  The directions on the mix say to use water, and maybe that's all you need when using a soft serve ice cream maker but I tried this with mine and the soft serve tasted more like sorbet instead of the real deal.  So then we tried using just milk.  Nope.  Still not the same.  Third time's the charm.  Use half and half!  This tasted almost identical to Dole's Pineapple Whip.

To make the float: so, once your ice cream is done, fill a glass half up with pineapple juice and top with the ice cream.  Stick a cherry on top and get ready for pure pineapple sunshine happiness!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A French Rainbow

Yup, still celebrating my birthday.  Two of my best high school girlfriends, Katie and Brie, took me out to dinner over the weekend to celebrate!  I requested Bottega Louie in Downtown LA, because I've been craving their sweet and airy macarons!  Unfortunately, the wait for dinner was over 2 hours and they don't take reservations!  Luckily, there was no wait for dessert (which is the best part anyway), so we picked up a colorful assortment of French Macarons at the patisserie counter and went on our way.  I bought the 13 pack, so I'll be celebrating for a while longer. 

Earl Grey - Earl grey infused milk chocolate ganache (gold dust!)
Lemon - Citrus buttercream
Pistachio - Pistachio ganache
Raspberry - Raspberry buttercream & raspberry jam
Vanilla - Tahitian vanilla infused white chocolate
Gran Cru - Dark chocolate ganache

Monday, January 9, 2012

Post Holidays Simplicity: Part 2

We're still keeping it simple while we try to calm down from the last couple of months.  So, over the weekend we went semi-homemade with Butternut Squash Ravioli in a Brown Butter Sauce.  A couple of years ago my mom and I tried to tap into Grandma Madalene from up above and make authentic homemade butternut squash ravioli with her pasta dough recipe.  Boy, did that go wrong.  Either Grandma just couldn't be there with us that day or we just couldn't focus, but the dough came out thick and gummy... We haven't had to courage to try again, but I think we're gearing up for it soon!  But until then, we rely on Trader Joe's ravioli instead.  Rather than pour on a jar of sauce, I decided to give it some homemade flare with a simple and quick butter sauce to make it even tastier.  

What you'll need: serves 2-3

1 pkg ravioli
1/2 stick of butter/margarine (4 tbsp)
A few sprinkles of poultry seasoning (thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary and nutmeg)
Ground black pepper
 A sprinkle of parmigiano reggiano
Tomatoes for garnish

While the ravioli is cooking (about 5 min) in a pot of boiling water, start the butter sauce.  On medium heat, melt the butter.  Once melted, throw in the poultry seasoning and black pepper and stir.  Let the butter get a little brown and slightly foamy because that's when you can taste the nuttiness than just a melted butter flavor.  But don't burn the butter!  After your raviolis are done, drain them and toss them into the butter so they are all coated with the sauce.  Plop them on a plate and drizzle a little more of the sauce on top.  Sprinkle the top with parmigiano reggiano for a salty but sweet bite!  Garnish with sliced tomatoes.  

This meal takes about 15 mins!  It's so great to come home from a long day of work and know that you'll be eating a comforting plate of food... in no time.

Friday, January 6, 2012

What Does Your Cob Say About You?

My Cob

I'm always intrigued with the way people eat their corn on the cob, what they leave behind when they're done and what it says about who they are.  Have you ever thought about this?  Look at mine above.  Strange, right?  I've been eating corn like this for as long as I remember... in a non-overlapping spiral!  And I've never really thought about why until now.  I'm not a "running my plate" kind of gal and never have been.  There is always something left behind.  Many may think that I'm wasting food, but to me it says, "Christina was here!".   And the spiral lets me know that I'm quirky and artistic!  What do you think this says about me?  Scatterbrained, bizarre, running in circles?  Or just plain fun.  :)

Mom's Cob

Now, here's my mom's corn.  To me this says, perfection, methodical, precise and neat... just like her cooking.

Dad's Cob

My dad's corn tell me that he completes the job once he starts but it's not going to be very neat or in any particular order... just like his paint jobs!  

Next time you eat corn on the cob, ask yourself.. "What does this say about me?"  Then ask everyone else what they think your corn means to them.  Fun family game!  You might get some answers that you weren't expecting.