Monday, January 31, 2011

You Are What You Drink

This week for Eat.Live.Be. we are discussing our favorite healthy change. And while other bloggers are talking about all the ways they've changed their eating habits, if you look back to my goals, you'll notice that a majority of them focus on my liquid intake. There's a pretty good reason for this.

Back when I was a much younger Thatgirl, our house never had the typical "kids drinks" floating about. Thatmom was pretty focused on 100% juices, so there was no kool-aid, no hi-c, not even a capri sun to be found. But what we did have, was diet soda. (Well diet caffeine-free soda, but my lack of caffeine is a story for a whole 'nother day.) And so that's what Thatbrother and I drink. Juice, milk, water, and for dinner/after dinner there was soda. No big deal, right?

Then I got a little older and became a woman (if you know what I mean.) And my world turned upside down. Not just because of the curves popping out everywhere, but because every month, without fail, I was missing school, spending a majority of the day hugging the toilet, and the rest of the day cursing my luck for being a girl. That's right. I had cramps so bad they caused me to spend an entire day vomiting. Every month.

And after a couple years of this, we sought expert advice. Thatmom took me to see my very first gynecologist. Who told me I was perfectly normal, I just produced too many pain receptors. Fun times, huh? She also told me that often times the cramping could be controlled by diet, and cutting out artificial sweeteners usually led to a less painful period.

And that was the day I cut soda out of my diet. It was really difficult at first. You get cravings for the stuff. But after a few months, I didn't even like the taste anymore. And sure enough, the cramps got better. I actually could attend a full month of school! This was around the same time I started drinking water as my primary drink of choice.

The combination of less artificial sweeteners and more water didn't just affect my monthly visitor, it also helped clear my skin and believe it or not, it helped me retain less water. It kept me fuller between meals. It made it clear to me that sometimes what's healthy isn't just what we eat, but also what we drink.

Now I have a soda every now and again, but not with any sort of regularity - and I tend to go with the regular kind instead of diet. But I haven't given up the water thing. And cutting back on alcohol I'm hoping will have the same effect as cutting out soda. After all, your body is mostly water, so it makes sense to keep it flowing!

Next week's topic is all about tips on what to do when you get in a healthy goal rut.

And here are a list of the other bloggers participating:

And when you're not drinking water, it's fabulous for cooking. In general I reserve my boiling water for eggs, pasta, and of course, shellfish!

Boiled shrimp just couldn't be easier. OR healthier! No butter, no oil, and shrimp are naturally low in fat. All you need to do is bring some salted water to a boil and add the shrimp. You only need to cook the shrimp for about 4 minutes - don't overcook them or they'll be as rubbery as one of Thatdog's toys. I boil mine shell on - because it helps them retain a lot of flavor. Just wait for them to cool a bit before taking the shells off.

Because this is such a healthy and light dinner, I feel justified in pairing them with some sauteed artichoke hearts. Sure sauteeing is the exact opposite of healthy boiled shrimp, but it's a trade off!

Sauteed Artichoke Hearts
1 pkg frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
3 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp parsley, minced

1. Cook the artichoke hearts in 1/4 cup water, covered for 5 minutes.
2. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the drained artichoke hearts. Stir so they are coated with butter.
3. Sprinkle with salt and parsley.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beach Day

Thatboy hasn't been surfing since he hurt his ankle, but he's been anxious to get back in the water. When his surfing buddy got stuck up in LA, he asked if maybe Thatdog and I would like to join him at the beach. Thatdog and I had recently returned from our morning run and it was beautiful out, so we agreed.

When we join Thatboy on the beach, I spend most of the time reading. Thatdog spends the entire time keeping an eye out for Thatboy. Because the ocean is dangerous, and you never know what could happen. I can tell when Thatboy gets out of the water, because Thatdog perks up and his tail starts going crazy.

Once Thatboy got out of the water and changed out of his seal suit, we noticed the skies getting ominously dark. We packed up and headed to the car JUST as the skies opened and the rain started pouring.

We headed to check out a new burger place, Smashburger. There are fried pickles on the menu - we will return. There is also a lime milkshake on the menu. LIME MILKSHAKE? Why hasn't someone thought of this before?

We ate our burgers in the car in the rain. Thatdog found his own little spot to curl up in. He found a box of clothing that is earmarked for donation and curled up right inside. He didn't exactly fit, but well, you take a look:

Keeping with our seaside theme, dinner is a gift from the sea, shrimp! A shrimp wiggle to be exact. Don't worry if you've never heard of a shrimp wiggle. I hadn't. A google search turned up the fact that any hot dish served on "crackers." I still don't know why that makes it a wiggle, but if any of you know, I'm all ears.

Shrimp wiggle is a creamy shrimp dish and I love the addition of the peas. Who am I kidding, I love veggies in pretty much anything.

Shrimp Wiggle (from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup light cream
1 cup cooked shrimp
1/2 cup cooked peas

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Stir constantly over low heat until smooth and blended.
2. Slowly add the milk and cream, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, until smooth and thickened.
3. Add the shrimp, peas, and salt, and cook only long enough to heat through.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Just a Small Town Girl

I live in California now, but what you may not know about me is that I didn't grow up here. I know. It's shocking. A Californian who wasn't born and raised in California. From the age of 7 to the age of 15 I lived in a very very very very small town in Pennsylvania. How small was this town? Well, we had to drive 45 minutes to the nearest GAP. And if you grew up in the late 80s, early 90s, you'll understand the importance of this mile marker.

This was a town where great grandparents lived down the street from grandparents lived down the street from parents. In other words, it was a town of strong loyalties. And one of those loyalties was to our football team, The Steelers (or as we call them, The Stillers. Don't believe me? Ask someone from Pittsburgh the name of their team.)

I still remember my fourth grade teacher chasing one of my class mates around the room with a chair or a ruler because he was a Browns fan. Yeah, we were crazy loyal. And after all, the town I lived in was built on the coal mines which supplied the coal which was actually used to MAKE the Pittsburgh steel.

Now that I'm in San Diego, my loyalties have switched. The Chargers are an easy team to love, but they're also a team that can break your heart. Year after year after year. Even though they're not "my team" anymore, there was a feeling of pride that surged through me last weekend when it became clear that The Steelers were going to the Superbowl. Instead of two random teams, to whom I owe no loyalty, I can cheer loud and proud next Sunday.

I'm so very excited for this year's Superbowl, and for more than just the amazing junk food that is sure to be consumed in households across the country. Although, how amazing is that junk food? Buffalo wings, potato skins, and of course, what would Superbowl Sunday be without nachos? These are pure California babies. Topped with fresh carnitas. In San Diego (and much of Southern California) you can pick up delicious carnitas from your closest carneseria. For those of you a bit further from Mexico, try your local market, or even better - make it yourself. We get it so easily here that it's a dish I've never attempted, but carnitas is so delicious if we were ever to move, it would be the first thing on my 'learn to make" list.

Carnitas Nachos
1 lb carnitas, cooked
1 bag tortilla chips
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups refried beans
1 jalapeno, chopped
sour cream
1 diced tomato
Tabasco sauce

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spread chips on a baking sheet and top with carnitas. Heat for 10 minutes.
2. Combine the beans and jalapeno and spread overtop the chips and carnitas. Sprinkle cheese on top and place back in oven for 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
3. Top with sour cream, tomatoes, and a couple dashes of Tabasco.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Everyone Needs a Night Off

This was a pretty busy week for me. I was in and out of court for most of the week. By this afternoon I was just worn out. I texted Thatboy "I'm really tired tonight. Maybe you could help out with dinner? We're having stuffed cornish hens. Can you just cook the wild rice, stuff it in the birds, and throw them in the oven?"

My ever helpful husband quickly replied, "That sounds hard." I wasn't expecting much.

On the way home, the freeway came to a dead stop five cars in front of me, the entire road closed and blocked off by police cars (isn't that always the case?) I called Thatboy to tell him I was going to be late. "That's fine" he told me. "Dinner should be just about ready when you get home."

My interest was piqued. Wild rice does not cook quickly, and then he'd still need to cook the birds. I expressed my skepticism. "Maybe we're not having cornish hens tonight." And sure enough, when I got home, there was a pot on the stove, boiling.

Before I had even texted him, Thatboy had spent his lunch break running all over Little Italy picking up dinner - fresh made gnocchi, fresh marinara sauce, salad, and even a canoli for dessert. He'd apparently been planning this since last week, goaded on by his coworkers (he is the only man in his department). The timing couldn't be better. This is exactly what I needed tonight.

I know we can't all have Thatboys at home anticipating our every need, picking up our favorite foods, making life easier. So I'm here to help you out by giving you another easy recipe you can throw together on a Friday night when you don't feel like slaving over cornish hens. Stirfries are my go-to easy meal of choice. Prepping your veggies ahead of time makes this even easier - and you're far more apt to use veggies when they're all cut up and ready anyway.

Friday Night Pork Stirfry
6 oz extra firm tofu
1/4 cup terriyaki sauce
1/2 tsp crushed ginger
4 oz pork tenderloin
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 onion, chopped
1 cup broccoli
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup pineapple tidbits

1. Wrap tofu in paper towels and place between two heavy plates/books/bricks/small children for 1/2 an hour.
2. Mix the terriyaki sauce and crushed ginger
3. Cut the tofu into cubes and marinade in half of the terriyaki mixture.
4. Cut the pork into bite sized strips.
5. Heat 1/2 Tbsp canola oil in skillet. Add pork and cook through. Remove pork from pan.
6. Add remaining oil to skillet and cook onion, broccoli, and pepper until tender crisp.
7. Return pork and tofu to the pan. Add remaining terriyaki mixture and heat through. Stir in pineapple tidbits.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Say Hello To My Little Friends

See those things? Those are my shiny almost-new Vibrams! Thatboy really sucked it up with Channukah this year, but threw in some amazing redemption at Christmas! I really wanted a pair, but pretty much thought they were going to be one of those unnecessary expenditures.

Why did I want a pair of Vibrams? Mostly because of my injuries over the past year. First the knee, then the SI joint. I had read that because Vibrams didn't have the typical support system of regular running shoes, they forced your form to change, and to use different muscles. I thought they might help me hurt myself less.

The thing with Vibrams is, from everything I've read, you really need to break them in slowly - because they change your form, and work those different muscles. So I obviously couldn't break them in when I was training for the half.

During the half marathon, my left IT Band started bothering me. I know some people stop and stretch out soreness, but I'm a talker. So I just gave my IT Band a stern lecture about how it had many more miles to go and it should stop being such a girl. It worked. Except later that night, my right IT Band started pulling the whole "BUT WHAT ABOUT ME?" routine. And this was long after the race had finished, so it really had nothing to complain about. But it was tight and painful and made walking very painful. So I was a little hesitant about trying out the Vibrams.

But I forged ahead, I mean, I was only going for .5 miles. And you know what? NO PAIN! No IT band pain! And no other pain either. Which was surprising for me. I ran 6 miles over the weekend in my regular sneakers, and voila - that same niggling IT band. Back in the vibrams this week? No pain again. So far, so good.

My only concern - and maybe if you've run in Vibrams you can give me some words of advice - is that I don't really feel like I need to break this suckers in. I've run .5 miles, 1 mile, 1.5 miles, and even 2 miles this morning and I'm noticing no soreness, no difference between running in them and in my regular shoes. Am I doing something wrong?

Okay, that was a lot longer post on Vibrams than I was expecting. And if you're still here and reading you DESERVE this treat. Just in time for the Superbowl! Because tater skins make an excellent Superbowl snacker. I roasted my first goose, and stuffed it with potato stuffing. Which uses a lot of the inside of potatoes and not so much of the outside. But you can easily turn those leftover "scraps" into something delicious by topping them with cheese, bacon and sour cream (and really, isn't anything better topped with cheese, bacon, and sour cream?)

Double Cheese Potato Skins
6 russet potatoes
olive oil
2 Tbsp melted butter
2 tsp garlic salt
3 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar
4 strips cooked bacon, crumbled
sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 425. Was the potatoes and rub with olive oil. Place on rack in oven (with some aluminum foil on the rack underneath) and bake for 45 minutes. Cool until cool enough to handle.
2. Cut in half and scoop out almost all the insides (use this to make your own potato stuffing). Brush outside and inside of skins with melted butter.
3. Sprinkle potato skins with garlic salt and bake 8 minutes.
4. Fill the skins with the 2 cheeses and bacon and bake an additional 5 minutes.
5. Top with sour cream.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Very Late Thank You

Outside of the family, I don't really do a lot of holiday gift exchanging. The one exception, is that The Actress and I always send each other gifts. I don't know which one of us started this, but it was probably her. When Thatboy and I had our pinning back in college (yep, we were that couple) she called her mom to find out what the appropriate gift would be, and sat across the street in her car watching the whole thing.

Anyway, I was delighted to receive this year's gift from The Actress - a great set of Christmas cookie cutters. We received the gift just before heading up to the inlaws, and I told Thatboy I couldn't wait to get back home so I could send them a home-made thank you: cookies made with their cutters.

Except life gets a little whirl-windy between December and February, doesn't it? We jumped right back into the swing of things, and this Sunday was the very first day I was actually home and able to be in my kitchen for longer than the time it takes to cook dinner. Better late than never, right?

I had made gingerbread cookies (spiked with whiskey) for my coworkers for Christmas this year and they got RAVE reviews. Thatboy got these virgin cookies for his office and I had several requests for the recipe. I thought I would send them along to The Actress, using the least Christmas-y of the cutters. Besides, it must be snowing somewhere right?

Gingerbread Cookies
3 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract (sub in whiskey here if you feel a little risky)

1. Combine flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.
2. Beat butter, brown sugar, and molasses until light and fluffy.
3. Beat in egg and vanilla.
4. Gradually stir in the flour. When thoroughly combined, refrigerate 2 hours.
5. Preheat oven to 350. Roll out dough and cut with cookie cutters. Place on lined cookie sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Two-fer Tuesday

I’m a sucker for 2 for 1 deals. I mean, who DOESN’T need 2 toothpastes? Or 2 margaritas? Or 2 right shoes? (I think the margaritas are probably my biggest 2 for 1 weaknesses, there are so many nights I can’t remember that I blame on them).

So you can imagine my joy when I realized that my entry for “best thing I’ve ever eaten recently” was a soup and therefore could also be submitted to Branny’s Souper Bowl. This may not be very exciting to you, dear readers, but in Thathouse there was a-whooping and a-hollering. (We don’t get out very much in Thathouse. There was also a celebration the first “day-without-a-pantry-moth-sighting.” )

When I first read about Bellini’s challenge to try and recreate the “best thing you’ve ever eaten recently” I was kind of stump. Truthfully, there are very few things that really stand out as the best thing I’ve ever eaten (although thinking about it, I probably could have easily submitted some of the popcorn we’ve been ordering out at restaurants. POPCORN at RESTAURANTS. ARE YOU READING THIS? It must be the most brilliant idea since the flying machine.). And then we went to Arizona. And while everything we ate at NOCA was delectable, one thing clearly stood out – the parsnip soup.

As I thought about that soup, dreamed about that soup, salivated over that soup, I realized I had a similar feeling about the garlic soup we had in Mendocino for our anniversary. And then I caught myself extolling the virtues of the Nordstrom Café Tomato Basil Soup to Thatmom. Seriously, what is it about soup that can bring on such an extreme feeling? Is it the warmth and comfort, like a favorite blanket? The silky texture that slides down your throat? Maybe the ease at which a good soup can come together. Whatever it is, I realize there is something about soup that draws you in, in a way no other food can.

I searched for the actual NOCA recipe and couldn’t find it, so I satisfied myself by using a recipe from Tom Valenti’s Soups, Stews and One Pot Meals. The verdict? It was a tad bit salty. BUT otherwise it was perfect and delicious and perfectly captured everything about that NOCA soup I loved so much. It was creamy and rich, without an ounce of cream or milk. In fact, the most unhealthy part of the soup comes from the roasting oil alone. And the roasted parsnips added an unparalleled flavor, like any good roasted root vegetable. I see this soup being made again and again and again (just with less salt).

Roasted Parsnip Soup (From Soup, Stews, and One Pot Meals)

  • 2 pounds parsnips, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2/3 teaspoons fresh-ground pepper
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into small pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 quarts reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the parsnips, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together and place in a single layer in a baking pan. Roast the parsnips, shaking the pan occasionally to turn them, until tender and easily pierced with a fork -- about 60 minutes. Trim away any burned areas.
  2. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onion, celery, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook until translucent and softened -- about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsnips, bay leaf, and broth, and increase the heat to medium high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, partially cover the pot and simmer until the parsnips fall apart easily -- about 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
  3. Puree the mixture in a blender, in 2-cup batches, until smooth. Return the soup to the pot over low heat and stir occasionally until warmed through.

And because my first soup attempt failed, I am just pleased as punch to be able to enter this in Branny’s Souper Bowl. And since Branny wants us to dedicate our posts to more than just soup (although really my love for soup is quite obvious), I dedicate this post to our favorite mascot - Thatdog!

Thatdog says "Wait till you try this soup."

Monday, January 24, 2011

I am My Own Worst Enemy

This week's theme for Eat.Live.Be. For a Better 2011 asks us to discuss our biggest challenge.

I could tell you my biggest challenge is time. There are never enough hours in the day.

I feel like I start the morning at a mad dash and don't stop running around until about 10 minutes before it's bedtime. And then I fall into bed, anxious about having to start it all over again the next day. I could say my biggest challenge is lack of time. But that isn't it.

I could tell you my biggest challenge is my warm, comfy bed.

I'm worn out from the day before and there's nothing that sounds better than a couple extra minutes of sleep. I've already told you one of my primary motivators to run is that I have to get out of bed to walk Thatdog anyway. I could say that my cozy bed is the biggest challenge I face. But it isn't.

My biggest challenge is my own laziness. Because even with the time constraints, I could always get up early on days I don't run to head to the gym for strength training. And I already do this on days I run, so my bed can't be that enticing.

I have to force myself to get up from my desk each day to fill my water glass because otherwise I'm too lazy to move. In fact, that's the main reason I don't snack or eat dessert - I'm too lazy to get up and head into the kitchen. I have to carry water with me on the weekend because I'm too lazy to go seek it out if it's not on my body.

So how do I handle these challenges? Well, I'm a big fan of accepting your weaknesses. I can't stop being lazy, but I can work with my own laziness. I already told you that I've taken to carrying water with me on the weekends to ensure that I can keep up with my "drink more water on the weekends" goal. And as for the laziness with heading to the gym, well my solution is to go after work. Even if it means eating dinner a little later. Even if it means staying up past my bedtime to get everything done - it's a good thing I didn't make a resolution to get 8 hours of sleep a night!!

Next week's topic is What's Your Favorite Healthy Change - How has a healthy change you've made been helping you?

And here are a list of the other bloggers participating:

I thought this would be a good time to share my ultimate lazy girl dinner. You may have heard of the world famous, often duplicated "salsa chicken." It's got to be one of the easiest dinners to make since you really just combine salsa and chicken. Well, if you want to get even lazier, you make "salsa wings." Why are they lazier than salsa chicken? Salsa chicken requires a fork and a knife, while salsa wings? Just your grubby little fingers. Although, maybe they are labor intensive since you'll have to wash your hands before AND after eating them.

Salsa Wings
12 chicken full chicken wings
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp ground ginger

1. Preheat oven to 500. Cut off chicken wing tips and cut wings in half at the joint. You should now have a wing and mini-drumstick for each wing.
2. Combine salsa, honey, and ginger in bowl. Reserve half of this mixture.
3. Toss chicken with the remaining salsa mixture. Bake 35 minutes, turning once halfway.
4. Toss chicken with the reserved half of the salsa mixture.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Feeling Like Summer Again

This morning, when I went out to walk Thatdog, it was beautiful out. The sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Which of course, always makes me fear for earthquakes, but that's another story.

I almost didn't get to enjoy the day since I spent the first half of it running errands. I hadn't been to the store since we got back from Arizona and we were pretty much lacking in everything. But now the fridge is back to being full and friendly.

The second half of the day I spent in the kitchen, preparing for the week - that meant FINALLY making the cookies to send to The Actress and Armani as a thank you for the cookie cutters they sent us for Christmas. Yes, I am that far behind. (Pictures and recipe to come later this week). I also made muffins for breakfast this week, squash pie to stick in our lunches, soups, dinners, and sides.

But I still managed to get out and enjoy some of the beautiful weather. Around 4pm, I took a little kitchen break to for a run. It was my first real run back since the half (more on that later too. WHEW it is going to be a fun week!) and I wanted to take it easy, but at the same time, not let my mileage drop too much since I've got another half coming up in March. So I did a 6 miler, enjoying the sun, and as I headed back, enjoying the breeze.

It was definitely an unseasonable day. It's been so cold, wet, and gloomy lately, I've forgotten how nice it is to have a summerish day in the winter. It reminds me of one of my favorite summer meals - shish kebabs! Skewered and grilled meat just screams backyard bbq parties, doesn't it? Popping open a cold beer and watching the sun set, late into the evening. The sun was already going down when I got home from my run, but sometimes it's fun to pretend it's summer - in the middle of January.

Ranch Beef and Pepper Skewers
1 cup ranch dressing
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb sirloin, cut into chunks
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into chunks
1 red onion, cut into chunks

1. Combine ranch dressing, pepper, garlic, and sirloin in a ziplock bag and marinate 1 hour.
2. Heat grill (or grill pan) to medium high heat. Alternate threading meat, pepper, and onions onto skewers, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Grill 6 minutes on each side, or until desired doneness.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

With Cheese On Top

Today Thatmom came down to San Diego so we could all go see a show. I love to watch the Tony Awards every year, mostly for the musical numbers from the new shows each year. We usually use this as a basis to determine what shows we want to see.

After the 2009 Tony's Thatboy put in a request of his own. It was the first time he'd done so, and I was certainly not about to argue. What did he want to see? Next to Normal.

The musical number had won us over, so I put it on the calendar as soon as I saw it coming to San Diego. I didn't even bother to look up what it was about. I mean, it didn't really matter, we would have gone no matter what.

Thatmom found out we were going and decided to get us tickets for Chanukkah - and join us! The show itself is fantastic. It's a fascinating look at mental illness - the fear, the pain, the treatment, and of course, how it effects the family. However, the cast was severely lacking. It was painful at times to watch. What's funny, is we actually had the opportunity to see the actress who won the Tony for her role in Next to Normal. And she sounded awful. We winced as she sang - it sounded like she was swallowing, and you couldn't understand a single word she sang. If you haven't played the above video, you can hear her sing there, and she sounds normal. Thatboy thought she must have been sick (or next to normal?).

Whenever Thatmom comes down to San Diego she usually asks about Italian food. Who am I kidding, Thatmom asks about Italian food no matter where she is. We ended up taking her for pizza, which usually serves as an adequate substitute. We went back to Pizza Port, a place we have been on a regular basis since our first visit, the one where Thatboy made us order a cheeseburger pizza. It sounded weird. And I wasn't expecting it to be any good. But it was delicious. And it made me rethink my view on cheeseburgers. They're more than just meat on a bun. I've taken the idea of a cheeseburger pizza, and used it to create a deal that seems like a natural transition - cheeseburger meatballs! Like the cheeseburger pizza, this is a delicious mix of cheese, meat, and sweet tomato sauce. Served over spaghetti, which is Thatboy's favorite noodle, this was a huge hit in Thathouse. Maybe it will be in yours too!

Cheeseburger Meatballs
1/2 lb sausage meat
1/2 lb ground beef
3/4 cup bisquick
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp minced garlic

1. Preheat oven to 375. Combine all ingredients and form into 1 inch balls.
2. Bake for 20 minutes.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Everyone needs a friend to drink champagne cocktails with

The big news in San Diego this month has been the opening of our very own Sprinkles cupcakery.

Prez was the first to hear about this late last year, especially elated because it was practically around the corner from her house. And yet, she couldn’t quite figure out, based on the description, where this elusive location could possibly be. So we kept our ears and eyes open and we emailed back and forth everytime we heard some further news:

“It’s in the Whole Foods Shopping Center”

“It’s where the yogurt place used to be”

“I drove by and it’s all set up, but it’s empty”

“It’s opening THIS THURSDAY”

The last one prompted a decision as to when we should go on a cupcake-date. (What? You don’t have cupcake dates with your best friends?) Except when we set it up, it turned out to be during San Diego restaurant week. So the query then became “cupcakes or restaurant week?” (An easily more enjoyable choice than “cake or death.”) And since Sprinkles is open year-round and restaurant week is only 2 weeks a year (but is always extended for a second week each time so it’s really 4 weeks a year), we decided to have a dinner date instead of a cupcake date.

And for the record, I heard that opening day, the line at Sprinkles was almost 2 hours long. The nearest Sprinkles is in Orange County, just over 1 hour a way and has no line. You do the math.

Anyway, Prez picked the restaurant, Blue Boheme. I arrived ever so fashionably late. So fashionably late that we probably should have just made the reservations for an hour later. Prez was waiting for me at the bar, sipping a glass of champagne. It’s her latest drink of choice. And actually, I had come bearing a gift – which I proffered as an apology for my lateness. Thatboy and I had discovered Weins’ L’Amour de l'Orange Champagne last summer and I’d been promising Prez a bottle ever since. Except Thatboy and I kept drinking them. This one actually made it into her hands.

She spun around on her barstool excitedly. (Except I’m not actually sure she was sitting on a barstool, it could have just been a chair. And instead of spinning she might have just leaned in my direction. It was dark and I was tired.) “They have champagne cocktails here!”

We were whisked off to our tables where I would soon have my own champagne cocktail. Prez’s was kissed with lavender syrup. I don’t mess around, so I chose the one with St. Germaine liquor. Because lavender syrup? It doesn’t have alcohol in it.

For some reason, even though it seems like Prez and I are having dinner every other week we always have so much to catch up on. So much talking that neither of us ever finishes our meals. I began with the escargot – which was unlike any escargot I’ve ever had before. It was cooked with sausages and chickpeas, the snails removed from their shells. Instead of drowning in garlic butter, they were cooked in a tomato based sauce which gave them a very Spanish feel. How do you say snail en espagnol?

(okay, upon further reflection I see that these are "escargot a la portugaise" so everywhere I wrote "Spanish" sub in "Pourtugese")

Prez had been told the calamari was the thing to get, and so that’s what she started with. And it was also unusual in that it came with an assortment of fried veggies – very similar to one of our favorite snacks at Starlite.

For dinner, Prez had the Boeuf Bourguignone, which she claims tasted like my brisket. Which is good to know in case I ever have fancy people eating dinner at my place. I can whip up a brisket and wow them with my French cuisine. As for me, I got the steak frites. Which was probably the most conventional menu item we ordered. It was just as it was supposed to be – flat flavorful steak served with French fries. And like I said, since we didn’t finish, Thatboy got to enjoy it for dinner the night after.

(In fact, we were talking so much, I forgot to take a picture till I was done, so this is Thatboy's portion)

For dessert we again went in decidedly different directions. Prez got the chocolate mousse and I had the pain d’epice. (which I translated as spice cake and they translated as gingerbread). Their description was just a bit off, for this moist, sweet cake was delicious, but only had the barest hint of ginger.

Since I have posted about Boeuf Bourguignon twice in the past week, I thought perhaps I should share my own recipe for it. It's not the world famous Julia Child recipe, and it's even a little different than Toxicesq. recipe that she shared with us over dinner. But variety is the spice of life, right? Or as they say in France - "Vive la difference!"

Boeuf Bourguignon

  • 1 oz salt pork, diced
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • sprinkle of ground pepper
  • 1 lb stewing beef (bonus if you get bones too)
  • 1/4 tsp marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 cup Burgundy wine (THIS IS THE KEY INGREDIENT)
  • 1/2 cup beef broth (This Is Pretty Important Too)
  • 6 small white onions peeled and trimmed
  • 1/4 lb mushrooms

1. Melt the salt pork over medium heat in a dutch oven. When crisp and golden, remove and drain on paper towels.

2. Add the onions to the melted fat and cook till they are light golden brown. Remove from heat.

3. Mix the flour, salt, and pepper on roll the meat in the mixture. Brown the meat.

4. Add the marjoram, thyme, wine and beef broth.

5. Return the pork and onions to the pot, cover, and simmer 1 1/2 hours.

6. Add the onions and cook 20 minutes.

7. Add the mushrooms and cook 10 minutes.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Have you ever BEEN to a botanical garden?

China claims to be a blog reader, but when she makes statements asking us if we’ve been to a botanical garden, it’s clear she hasn’t. I mean, 2010 was clearly the “year of the flower.” And even though we’re in 2011, it hasn’t changed our interest in all things flora. We had some time to kill after dropping Thatmom off at the airport before our flight later in the afternoon. Since the Phoenix Botanical Garden was close, had free parking, and Toxicesq was a member, we thought it would be an excellent way to kill a few hours. China wasn’t in total agreement. Luckily we live in a democracy, and a 3 to 1 vote meant we were off to explore cacti and succulents.

(Poor China, she’s such a good sport. I swear we drag her to a million places she’s not interested in.)

When we arrived at the gardens we were greeted by their Chihuly installment. TMIL is a HUGE Chihuly fan. She has prints, books, she ventures to visit exhibitions as often as possible.

Personally, I’ve never really “gotten” it. I mean, I like glass as much as the next guy, and I’ll never turn down an opportunity to watch a glass blower at work. (I’m sure they have a fancier name than glass blower, but this way you all know what I mean.) But squiggly colored glass just doesn’t send me flying. The Chihuly at the botanical garden though was just PERFECT. I loved it. It’s my favorite of his pieces. Mostly because I love the imitation/contrast of putting it against the natural counterparts.

The green spikes perfectly reflect the spikey palms growing beside. It is both completely organic and completely artificial.

We weaved through the garden, examining the various types the cactus in much the same way as the “party game” Thatboy came up with. It involved partygoers trying to weave their way between tightly planted cacti. The person with the least amount of needles stuck in them would be the winner. I don’t see Milton Bradley contacting us anytime soon.

This guy is honestly called the "old man" cactus. How adorable is he? He's like the cute little old man who lives around the corner. Not the creepy old guy who sometimes forgets to tie his robe.

It was too early for most of the cacti to be in bloom, but this one is an early riser.

Thatboy was amazed by how big these barrels were. They look like cushions to me!

Century plants take 100 years to bloom, and then they die. I'm still trying to figure out if that's a good deal or not.

And in honor of the end of our Arizona trip, this Southern-at-heart girl gives you a twist on the typical southern grit. Cheese grits are a quintessential Southern treat, but stir in some green chiles and you've got the perfect combination of creamy with a kick. Like the Chihuly, it's a little bit spikey, and a little bit natural, and oh so perfect in its environment.

Phoenix Grits
1 cup grits
3 cups milk
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
6 Tbsp butter
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped green chiles

1. Preheat oven to 350. Heat the milk over medium high heat in a saucepan.
2. Stir in the grits and salt, stirring often so the milk doesn't burn. When it is thick, remove from the heat.
3. Add the eggs and 1 cup water, stirring.
4. Return to heat and cook until thickened again.
5. Stir in the butter, cheese, and chiles. Spread in a casserole and bake for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Phoenix: The Phood

Before we headed to Phoenix I beseeched my Phoenix foodies for some awesome restaurant recs. And they were more than happy to oblige me. So a special thanks to Kelsey and Karen because MAN did we eat well when we were there.

Our first meal was at Morning Glory at “The Farm.” It was very different than what I was expecting. I think my Californian is beginning to show. I should qualify that statement, different doesn’t mean bad. I just was expecting a sit down crowded café like most of the breakfast places we go to. This was like a picnic. A delightful picnic underneath leafy trees beside a huge garden. Technically I guess that garden is the farm but it was such a peaceful experience. The tables have cloth checkered tablecloths and most of the vegetation on the menu comes right from beside where you’re sitting. It’s a concept I love. Truly farm to table. The farm itself is expansive and idyllic and we spent quite a bit of time just wandering around. Thatboy said that if we lived in Phoenix, we’d be having breakfast here every weekend.

Saturday night, we hit up Pizzeria Bianco. Kelsey had said that it was supposed to be one of the best pizza places in the country. Apparently she wasn’t the only one who had heard that. The doors open at 5, and the line forms at 3:30.

The gentleman in line behind us was a self-proclaimed pizza aficionado. He traveled the world searching for the perfect pizza. For their anniversary that year, he and his wife had traveled from Oregon to Phoenix, JUST to eat at this restaurant. Friday night they had waited in line 3 hours to have dinner there, and it was so good, they were back again Saturday. That’s a lot of buildup for a pizza!

And these pizzas were good. Maybe not the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life (although pizza isn’t one of those foods I tend to qualify in such an aspect) but certainly delicious. And Thatmom and Thatboy declared that the antipasta plate we started out with was the best antipasta they had ever eaten bar none.

The crust was woodfired, thin, and actually had flavor, unlike most crusts which serve just to transport the toppings to your mouth. Although most of the pizzas we tried were sauceless, they were not stingy with the cheese, which is always a good sign.

Sunday after the race we ate a late lunch/brunch/does-anyone-want-to-eat-today-meal. Toxicesq suggested Barrio Café which was also on the list recommended by Kelsey. You can’t get better than two recommendations! (I know, 3 recs would have been better, but two is twice as good as one. And one is the loneliest number you can ever do.)

I had read the description of Barrio Café which held that it was not your typical Mexican restaurant because it was Southern, and therefore(?) not spicy. Truthfully, the preparation was fairly typical Mexican fare with the exception of pomegranate seeds in the “guacamole” (in quotes because I’m fairly certain that cutting up an avocado into chunks isn’t really guacamole. I believe it’s still referred to as “avocado.” But what do I know, I’ve never been to Southern Mexico.)

Fairly typical Mexican fare does not mean that Barrio Café was no good. On the contrary, what they do, they do well. And Thatmom and I thoroughly enjoyed our huevos rancheros (I think Thatmom may have drank her sauce directly from the ramekin).

And I didn’t hear a word of protest from Thatboy and Toxicesq as they partook in their tacos cochinita pibil.

After looking at all the recommendations for restaurants, my top pick was NOCA. Especially their “Simple Sunday Supper.” Sunday nights they feature a themed prix fixe menu. This Sunday it was a dinner with Denis Soriano. I’m not sure who Denis Soriano is. From the name I would assume he was Spanish or Pilipino, and yet the food was decidedly French. Cheddar gougeres as our amuse bouche were quickly followed by croque monsieurs and frisse salad.

Our intermezzo was a demitasse filled with warm creamy (dreamy) parsnip soup, which could go into the category of best thing I’ve eaten.

For dinner we all had the beef bourguignon served over duck fat fingerling potatoes.

While we waited for our dessert of profiteroles and hazelnut gelato, pink vanilla cotton candy was brought to the table.

And after we were all done, we were sent home with a chocolately chocolate cookie. It was truly a delectable dinner. Although several of the items were rich, the portion size was perfect so none of us felt that we had a lead bomb in our stomachs as we crawled into bed.

I couldn't hope to replicate the food we had in Phoenix, although I am definitely going to attempt my own parsnip soup this weekend to enter in Valli's "best thing I ever ate (recently)." Instead, I found another lobster recipe to share with you. It's a leftover in many senses of the word. Leftover lobster, leftover recipe, but for those of us who don't like fish sticks, this makes a fantastic alternative. And if you've got a little bitty picky eater, or a big picky husband, it's a great way to warm their pallet to fancy expensive food. So they'll be more willing to buy you lobster and jewelery. Because I'm pretty sure the two go hand in hand.

Lobster Croquettes
1 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk, heated
1 cup chopped cooked lobster meat
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dry mustard
pinch of cayenne pepper
3/4 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles, but don't let it brown.
2. Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring to a boil.
3. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes and remove from heat.
4. Add the lobster, salt, mustard, cayenne pepper, lemon juice. Refrigerate an hour.
5. Make small cone-like shapes out of the mixture and roll in breadcrumbs.
6. Heat 1 inch oil in pan. Fry croquettes until they are golden.