Monday, April 30, 2012

DIY: Birthday Invitation

For the past month my mom and I have been planning my sister's 40th surprise birthday party.  It's hard keeping a fun secret for that long... so it was a relief to finally let it out this past Saturday.  We all had a blast including my sister and I'll be sharing more of the fun surprise throughout the week.  

This celebration was all based on crafty paper projects, authentic homemade food and drinks.  When my mom and I throw parties, we go all out and do everything from scratch.  So to give the guests and idea of what to expect, I created an invitation out of bright and warm colors with a crafty homemade feel to get them into the spirit of the party's theme. 

I can't get enough of my cricut machine.  I use it for almost every paper project I do.  And this time, I used it to create the birthday cake for this invitation.  All I had to do was find the appropriate printed paper, colored sharpies, 3D tape for extra dimension and pizazz and some double sided tape to put it all together.  And voila!.. a whimsical invitation to send out to our guests.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Roasted Smashed Potatoes

These little guys make a yummy starchy side to any meat dish, but I think these could make a fun finger eating appetizer, too!  Instead of just rosemary, salt and pepper, I thought I would add some color and spice by incorporating paprika.  But these potatoes make a great base for any topping.  I think next time I'll go wild and crazy by adding bacon and chives.  But this time I kept it simple so the rosemary's flavor could steal the show.

What you'll need: serves 2-3

12 small gold potatoes (rinsed and poked with a fork)
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (roughly chopped)
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
Olive Oil

Boil the potatoes with well salted water (about 2 big pinches) until fork tender.  Drain them and place on a foil lined baking sheet.  With a potato masher, smash each potato once.  Drizzle them with a thin layer of olive oil.  Sprinkle on the rosemary, salt, black pepper and paprika (to taste).  Throw them into a 400 degrees oven and bake for about 20 mins or until golden brown and crispy.  Serve immediately because they tend to cool down quickly.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nutella Stuffed Strawberries

I love chocolate dipped strawberries like everyone else, but I don't particularly like making them.... tempering the chocolate just right, waiting for the chocolate to harden, etc.  But these Nutella Stuffed Strawberries are fast to make and you can enjoy them immediately!  Nutella not only adds a decadent chocolatey punch to the sweet strawberries but gives them an extra kick of nuttiness from its infamous hazelnut flavoring.  And to give this small dessert some crunch, a few mini chocolate chips are placed on top.  Now, you know me and citrus... we're best buds.  So to finish this yummy bite off... some orange zest sprinkled on top for a pop of freshness.  I made three batches of these and could have had three more.  Yum!

What you'll need:

1 container ripe strawberries
Mini chocolate chips
Orange zest

With a skinny knife, cut out the center of the strawberries.  But don't throw that part out... that's good meat from the strawberries.  I ate them as I went.  :)  With a pastry bag (fitted with a small tip) filled with nutella, pipe the chocolate into the hollowed strawberry.  Place on the mini chocolate chips and sprinkle with orange zest.  A yummy experience, all in just one bite!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Grapefruit and Orange Cocktails

This past weekend was annoyingly hot!  So after a busy errand-running day on Saturday, I cooled myself down with a Grapefruit Cocktail while my mother sipped on an Orange Cocktail.  And we identified them with colored fish stirrers!  The combo of the citrus juices, lemon slices and muddled mint took the heat off my brow instantly.  And just for kicks, a jigger of Coconut Rum was added to the mix!

What you'll need: per drink

1/3 cup Grapefruit or Orange Juice
Big splash of Squirt
1 jigger Coconut Rum
Fresh Mint leaves + extra for garnish
Lemon Slices

Muddle/crush some of the mint leaves at the bottom of your glass with a spoon.  Add the ice cubes.  Pour in the coconut rum, citrus juice and Squirt.  Add in the lemon slices and top it off with leftover mint leaves for garnish. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Eggplant Parmigiana Sandwich

Happy Belated Earth Day!  This year, the family and I celebrated picnic style at our local arboretum.  As we enjoyed the beautiful grounds and peacocks, we stuffed ourselves with Italian Eggplant Parmigiana Sandwiches.  I used the same recipe as this (but also layered in sharp provolone cheese this time) and simply put it between two pieces of toasted bread.  A bit messy but completely worth it.  It's tangy from the marinara sauce, but a little salty from the parmesan and provolone cheese.  And people wonder why I've never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich... ;)

This particular sandwich has a bit of history.  In the late 50's my grandparents splurged and took the whole family (including a wheelchair bound grandmother) to Disneyland.  Because they were poor, they couldn't afford to feed everyone DL hotdogs, etc.  And because they didn't allow you to bring food in, they snuck in enough Eggplant Sandwiches to last them an entire day in my aunt's stroller and Grandma's wheelchair!  Think about it... 6 people times 3 meals each... that's a ton of Eggplant Sandwiches to hide successfully!!  To this day my mom and uncle remember the mortification of having to eat these Italian "immigrant" sandwiches throughout the day while watching every other child eat American theme park food.  Since then, my mother has gotten over it... not sure my uncle has!  But every time we eat these delicious juicy sandwiches, we get to revisit a funny memory.

Earth Day Adventures:

Mom playing scoop ball with the local Peacocks

A walk to the Waterfalls

Enjoying Spring bloom: Poppies

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Foodista Feature

My little food blog is slowly making its way up in the world and I have Foodista to thank for that today!  I've been added to their Food Blog of the Day.  Thanks again, Foodista, for a great Feature!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lemon Tarts with Coconut Shells

I'm so excited to share today these incredible tangy tasting Lemon Tarts with Coconut Shells.  Beth Butterfield and her sister Diane were kind enough to allow me to share on the blog their Grandmother's special recipe.  These bite size nests are the perfect little dessert for any spring party or gathering and they're even gluten free!  The filling is not too sweet due to the right amount of refreshing lemon flavoring and the shells have the perfect crunch from the baked coconut flakes.  To die for!

What you'll need:  makes 24

Lemon Curd:
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (6 lemons)
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 large eggs
7 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
4 tbsp butter, softened
Coconut Shells:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup egg whites (about 3 eggs)
2 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut (not shredded)

For the curd: In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and zest.  Set aside.  In a medium nonreactive bowl (glass), whisk eggs and sugar until combined.  Add lemon juice mixture and whisk until just combined.  Set bowl over a pan of simmering water (double boiler method).  Don't let the bowl touch the water.  Cook stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until mixture has thickened to a pudding-like consistency, about 6 mins.  Remove the bowl from the pan and whisk in the butter.  Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl.  Press a piece of plastic directly onto the surface of curd to prevent skin.  Refrigerate until it's time to assemble and serve.

For the Shells: Mix the sugar, egg whites and coconut together.  Put a spoonful in each cup of a 24 mini muffin pan.  Press the dough into the molds to make little nests with sides.  Bake until golden brown in a 325 degrees oven for about 30 mins.  Let cool completely in the pan and remove gently.  

Fill each cup/nest with curd and top with whipped cream. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spring Fruit and Yogurt Dips

My family typically makes Ambrosia Fruit Salad for the Holidays.  But for the past two Easters, we've been enjoying Fresh Fruit instead with sides of Maple and Honey Yogurt Dips.  This time my Aunt Jean went the extra mile and cut up fresh strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, and limes (aren't the zig zag designs cute on the limes?), then threw them all together with blueberries and seedless grapes.  But the trick she used to transform an average bowl of fruit was adding chopped up bits of Chocolate Mint!!  Have you ever tried this?  It's mint infused with chocolate flavoring.  You don't need much, because a little goes a long way.  But getting a little piece of chocolate mint every now and then with a bite of sweet fruit is a refreshing fun surprise!

My Aunt conjured up two great yogurt dips to serve along side the fruit.  I originally thought... "The fruit is so good on its own, do I really need to dip it in yogurt?"  The answer is, "Heck yes!".  Once I dipped a strawberry in the Maple Cinnamon Dip and a grape in the Honey Vanilla Dip, I was hooked and couldn't stop.  The yogurts gives the fruit some tang and a pop of extra flavoring of spice or vanilla flavor.  So perfect for a spring or summer party coming up!

What you'll need:  Maple Cinnamon Yogurt Dip

1 8oz plain yogurt
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/3 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp fresh lime juice

Mix them all together and serve!

What you'll need:  Honey Vanilla Yogurt Dip

1 8oz plain yogurt
2 tbsp honey
1/2 vanilla bean (seeds scraped out)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp fresh lime juice

Cut open the vanilla bean and scrape out half of the vanilla seeds.  Mix that with the rest of the ingredients and serve!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Roasted Tomato Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Who doesn't love a Grilled Cheese Sandwich?  Whether you're 5 or 55 years old, this sandwich is a staple and forever will be.  That's why I'm so excited April is National Grilled Cheese Month!    As a kid, while watching summer reruns of The Wonder Years, I had a grilled cheese sandwich almost everyday with a sliced up pear for lunch.  A bit neurotic?  Probably, but I've always been a creature of habit and I knew what I liked and stuck to it!  But back then, it was kept simple: wheat bread, American cheese, nothing else.  And it was simply delicious.  But as I grew up, my taste buds matured and I was eating any type of grilled cheese I could get my hands on... Mac and Cheese Grilled Cheese, Pear and Brie Grilled Cheese, Nutella Grilled Cheese.... the options are endless.  So as a dedicated advocate and lover, I had to pay tribute to this well deserving food holiday and celebrate with an Italian twist.  Stuffed with roasted tomatoes, extra sharp cheddar cheese and then topped with grated Parmesan cheese, this is one satisfying meal, I must say.

What you'll need:

White Bread (GF Udi's White Sandwich Bread)
Margarine or Light Butter
Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Firm Vine Tomatoes sliced 1/4 in. thick
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Kosher Salt
Crushed Black Pepper
Parmesan Cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the tomato slices on a foiled lined baking sheet.  Drizzle them with a little bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Then sprinkle them with a pinch of kosher salt, pepper and sugar.  The sugar helps them to caramelize.  Put them in the oven for about 30 mins.  While those slightly cool, start putting together the sandwiches. In a medium size skillet over medium heat, place face down one slice of buttered bread.  Put a layer of thickly sliced cheddar cheese and then a layer of the roasted tomatoes.  Top it off with the other slice of buttered bread.  Flip it over when it's golden brown.  Brown the other side.  Remove from the pan and onto a plate.  While still hot, sprinkle the top of the sandwich with grated Parmesan cheese for a yummy salty bite.

Friday, April 13, 2012

GF Strawberry Layer Dessert

This jello recipe comes from my dear bunco buddy, Betty.  When she made this sweet delight back in December for a monthly Bunco gathering, I devoured 2 huge servings in minutes.  I would have had a third but I didn't want to be rude!  Every single layer has its own distinct flayer, but when melded together... a pure balance of a sweet yet savory wonder.  The top layer is packed with strawberries and crushed pineapple.  The middle is a light and fluffy cream cheese filling and the crust is buttery and crunchy from chopped walnuts.  You can't beat this.  It's easy and made a great addition to our Easter dessert table!  I tweaked the recipe just a bit to make the crust gluten free friendly.  But you can easily use Nilla Wafers or Graham Crackers instead. 

What you'll need: per 9 x 13 in baking dish

1st Layer:
2 boxex GF Lively Lemon Cookies, crushed (found at Whole Foods)
1 cup chopped walnuts

2nd Layer:
1 8oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 9oz container Cool Whip

3rd Layer:
1 6oz pkg strawberry jello
2 cups boiling water
1 10 oz pkg frozen sliced strawberries (or fresh)
1 20oz can crushed pineapple 

1. Combine first layer ingredients.  Lightly press mixture into a 9 x 13 in. baking dish and set aside.

2. For second layer, whip together the cream cheese and sugar with a hand held electric mixer.  Then fold in the Cool Whip.  Spread this mixture over the crust.

3.  Dissolve the pkg of jello with 2 cups of boiling water.  Add the frozen strawberries (or fresh) and let them melt a bit by stirring around.  Add the whole can of crushed pineapples.  Place mixture in the fridge until it starts to thicken.  Pour the mixture over the second layer.  Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ugo's Roast Beef

If ever you want your house to smell like the most incredible Italian Restaurant you've walked into, my Grandpa Ugo's Roast Beef is the trick.  This was our main course for Easter and instead of Jesus rising in our kitchen this Holiday, it was Grandpa!... as it felt like he was right there helping us cook up this Italian seasoned hunk of beef.  I can't give away everything for this particular recipe but I'll give you enough to get something close but just as tasty.  :)

What you'll need:

1 rump roast
several crushed garlic gloves (leave whole)
to taste salt and pepper
lots of dried oregano and basil
tomato paste
baby carrots
onion (roughly chopped)
red wine
olive oil
beef stock or chicken stock

Pat the beef dry with paper towels.  In a large baking pan, line the bottom with a few sticks of celery, so the beef has something to sit on.  It cooks better if slightly elevated off of the pan.  Place in the beef.  Throw in the garlic, carrots, onion, a couple cups of wine and a couple cups of water.  Rub olive oil on top of the beef.  Then rub on a layer of tomato paste.  Sprinkle on the salt, pepper, oregano and basil.  Cook for 1 hour in a 400 degree oven to help sear the beef.  Add more water if needed.  Put back into the oven at 350 degrees for another 3 hours.  It's done when the beef's temperature hits 160 degrees.  Let the beef rest for 20 - 30 mins.  It will continue to cook while it's resting.  Now, time to make the a jus!  Take all the juices from the pan and put them in a separate pot over low heat on the stove.  Add some stock to the pot, salt and pepper and with an immersion blender, blend everything together until it creates a smooth sauce.  Slice the beef and pour on the hot a jus.  These make incredible sandwiches, as well.  And the best part, having a separate bowl with just the a jus and dunking that sangwich (as my grandpa used to call them) into the a jus. 

Monday, April 9, 2012


I hope everyone had a lovely Easter.  The family and I ate (for what felt like 8 hours straight) a delicious Italian smorgasbord that consisted of grandpa's roast beef, fresh fruit, salad and potatoes (which I'll share later this week).  But dessert is always the best part, right?  Out of the three desserts that were served last night, this classic Sfogliatelle Italian pastry was at the top of my list.  It's not gluten free but believe me... it's worth the bellyache.  Sfogliatelle means "many leaves/layers" in Italian, and rightfully so!  Its crispy crust is stacked with strips of fillo dough in a beautiful array of rippling layers.  This particular pastry is stuffed with thick custard with bits of citrus, but it's not uncommon to see them sometimes stuffed with a ricotta cheese filling instead.  I personally prefer the eggy custard and would leave the ricotta filling for cannoli!  But instead of making the Sfogliatelle this Easter, we found them at my favorite deli, Claro's, in the San Gabriel Valley.   Besides their fabulous cold cuts and salads, they make the most incredible pastries and cookies.  If you're in the area, stop by and pick up their Sfogliatelle... it's something everyone needs to experience!

Friday, April 6, 2012

GF Pizza Crust

I'm soo happy Udi's has come up with a gluten free pizza crust!  It's thin, crispy and precooked.  All you have to do is pour on the toppings, throw it in the oven for 7 mins and badabing!... you've got yourself a pizza pie hot and ready.  But the trick to making an instant crust taste homemade is a tasty garlic spread and restaurant style toppings.  This time I used fresh veggies (orange bell peppers and red onion), herbs from the garden (basil), grated parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese and freshly sliced cold cuts (Buon Gusto Salami) from the deli.  Just before the pizza sauce is ladled on, brush on a layer of garlic spread (made with olive oil, 1 chopped garlic glove and a big pinch of dried oregano and basil).  And then once the pizza is out of the oven, sprinkle on fresh basil.  It will transform an average pizza to restaurant style heaven. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easter Food Labels

Most Holiday parties at my house always start with a fresh veggie plate with yummy dips and dressings.  So to help distinguish between the two classic white dressings that we'll be serving this Easter weekend, I've created food labels out of the most adorable Easter paper I found at my favorite local scrapbook store.  All you need is card stock paper with a fun print for the background and solid colors for the label, double sided tape flat and 3D, decorative ribbon, a hole punch and toothpicks.  Easy right?!  This little touch adds a big punch of color, festivity and love to your Easter table.

Cut out 3 1/2 x 2 in. shaped tag pieces with your printed paper (2 per tag, 1 for the front and 1 for the back).  Cut out 2 1/2 x 1 in. rectangle shaped label pieces from the solid color paper.  Punch out a hole near the point of one of the tags (the one you'll use for the front) and with a 4 in. long ribbon, double it in half and feed it through the hole.  Now that there is a loop from the ribbon on the back side, cut it to minimize any bulk from the ribbon.  Place double sided flat tape on all of the edges of the tag that will go on the back side of the front tag.  This way it will cover the exposed cut ribbon and the toothpick.  Place the tip of the toothpick onto some of the tape so that most of the toothpick is sticking out, so you can dip it into the food.  Then place the top tag onto of the bottom tag that is lined with tape and the toothpick.  Press together and ensure it sticks.  With a sharpie, write your food name on the label and with 3D double sided tape, place on the front of the tag to create some depth.  All done!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Roasted Ceci Beans

Easter is almost here and this time it's my turn to host.  To help stump the growling tummies before the big feast, I'll be serving colorful bowls filled with Garbanzo Pistachio Snacks.  Instead of just nuts out of the jar, this time I've added a twist by also incorporating roasted garbanzo beans (or as I used to call them as a child, "ceci beans", Italian for garbanzo beans) and fresh lemon thyme from the herb garden.  Garbanzo beans are my favorite and always get thrown on top of my salad.  But roasting them turns these guys into a crunchy morsel that will make your hand gravitate to their bowl again and again.

What you'll need:

A bag pre-roasted Pistachios (salted or unsalted)
1 can Garbanzo beans (rinsed, patted dry and outer skin layer removed)
Olive Oil
2 sprigs Lemon Thyme
To taste salt and pepper

On a foil lined baking sheet, spread out the ceci beans and brush on a light layer of olive oil with a pastry brush.  Sprinkle on some salt (I like kosher), ground black pepper and the leaves from the lemon thyme.  Toss them into a 400 degrees oven for about 20 mins or until golden brown and crispy.  Once they've cooled, throw them in a bowl with the pistachios and you got yourself a healthy snack.