Monday, May 30, 2011

Beer-Battered Fried Avocado Wedges with Mango Salsa


Don’t you love when a particular gift keeps on giving? It is magical how something so small can bring so much happiness. Living in the foodie world, is a gift amongst itself. It brings much joy to make something and share with others. The moment that bite is taken, the sparkle brought into their eyes, the smile on their face and the gentle exclamation they share about how tasty it is. This just lights up my heart.


With the iconic Oprah Show bidding farewell last week, it was bittersweet. After 25 years on the air bringing much inspiration to folks around the world, Oprah decided to end on a high note and begin a new journey. With her new OWN network being launched and I am positive that we, as loyal viewers now have a new platform to engage and participate in the next step of her journey. I believe her show was a gift to all of her viewers.  Thank you Oprah for such an amazing gift.


While shopping yesterday at Anthropologie, I came across a magnificent little inspirational book titled – “Words That Matter”. It is a powerful little book of life lessons and ever day truths that guide and inspire. It is a book to keep nearby, so you can be inspired to find new ways to think about life each time you read it. It is published by the editors of O, The Oprah Magazine.


Thought I would share few quotes that resonate with me about giving from the book:

“The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give.”Walt Whitman

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”Marlilynne Robinson

“I know for sure that when you shift your paradigm to what you can do for others, you begin to celebrate you own evolution and trigger a bounty of blessings.”Oprah

“How we treasure (and admire) the people who acknowledge us! A simple gesture goes such a long way.” – Julie Morgenstern

“If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way. “ – Buddha


The gift from the California Avocado Commission along with Foodbuzz is one of those foodie gifts that keep on giving. While pursuing the website, I clicked on the recipe section and saw Beer Battered Avocados. My eyes lit up. Typically, I don’t do much frying in our household, primarily to keep us healthy, however it is quite a treat every now and then.



To add a bit of creativity, flair and flavor I whipped up a bit of spicy mango salsa. The combination of the deep fried crunchy outside and creamy green avocado inside, with the side of spicy mango salsa, created a flavor explosion.

In honor of Memorial Day, I want to thank all the men and women who have given their lives, time and dedication to keeping our wonderful country safe.

Beer- Battered Fried Avocado Wedges with Mango Salsa

1 C. Beer
1 C. Flour
2 t. Paprika
2 Garlic cloves, minced fine
½ t. Salt
8 grinds fresh ground pepper
Juice of one lemon

Vegetable oil for frying

To make the beer batter, whisk together beer, flour, paprika, salt, pepper and garlic. Let sit for a couple hours.

To make per order. Peel and cut half avocado into 6 wedges. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Dredge each wedge in the beer batter. Deep fry in 350 degree oil until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Drain well and season with salt. Serve with mango salsa.

Note: you can double or triple the batter recipe based on how many you plan to serve. This recipe should process 4 to 5 avocados.

Mango Salsa

1 large mango, cut into small cubes
½ Red onion, finely diced
1 Jalapeno, seeded and diced fine
3 T. Cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 T. Lime juice, fresh
1 t. Honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Let sit at least 30 minutes to help the flavors develop.



Friday, May 27, 2011

Avocado and Grilled Corn Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette


A few days ago, I arrived home from work to find a surprise at my front door. It was a box addressed to me. Typically most boxes are addressed to my hubby, who is an avid Ebay participant. But this one was for me.


I reviewed the package label to realize that is was from the Tastemaker program at Foodbuzz. As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I received a box of fresh and nutritious California Avocados from the California Avocado Commission.


The wheels of imagination went off in my head. What do I make with these beautiful green gems? Several ideas surfaced. Since we are on the precipice of summer, a fresh vibrant salad was my choice.


When I opened the box, these avocados were absolutely perfect. The colors were a rich deep green and just ever so slightly ripe, meaning I could make additional dishes with them. Avocados might just be one of those perfect foods. They have exceptional flavor, texture and nutritional value – not to mention their versatility. Avocados grown in California are always hand grown, hand picked and always delicious.


When I explored the California Avocado Commission’s website, they had a section for fun facts about avocados. After reading through, I wanted to share a few of them with all of you:
  • Avocados are a fruit, not a vegetable, belonging to the genus Persea in the Lauraceae family
  • Avocados are sodium and cholesterol-free and have only five grams of fat per serving, most of it the monounsaturated kind. A medium avocado has approximately 5 servings each. 
  • Avocados were once a luxury food reserved for the tables of royalty, but now California Avocados are enjoyed around the world by people from all walks of life
  • San Diego County is the Avocado Capital of the U.S., producing 60 percent of all the avocados grown in California
  • There are about 6,000 avocado growers in California; the average grove size is around 10 acres
  • A single California Avocado tree can produce about 500 avocados (or 200 pounds of fruit) a year although usually average about 60 pounds from 150 fruit
  • There are seven varieties of avocados grown commercially in California, but the Hass is the most popular, accounting for approximately 95 percent of the total crop volume
  • California Avocados grow year-round
  • About 43 percent of all U.S. households buy avocados 


I do have a couple other avocado related recipes that I will share with all of you. In the meantime, I want to thank again Foodbuzz and The California Avocado Commission for their kindness and the lovely avocados.


Avocado and Grilled Corn Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette

Serves 4



5 Ears Corn, husk removed, brush with olive oil and grilled, remove corn with sharp knife
2 Avocado’s, diced and sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent browning
2 C. Tomatoes, red and yellow cherry variety or equivalent
1 Small red onion, finely diced
¾ C. Feta, crumbled
1 ½ C. English cucumber, skin on and chopped small dice

Add to a large bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Cilantro Vinaigrette

6 T. Olive oil
2 T. Sherry vinegar
1 t. Garlic powder
2 T. Fresh cilantro, minced
½ t. Salt
10 Grinds of fresh ground pepper

Add all of the above ingredients in a small glass jar with a lid. Shake really well. Taste and adjust seasoning and ratios of oil and vinegar as you desire.

When ready to serve salad, add the dressing and gently toss.



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Strawberry Lavender Jam


My fascination with homemade jam continues. I love the entire process from deciding which flavor to create to selecting the fruit to processing the jars in the water bath. It brings a sense of accomplishment. In turn, I enjoy sharing with my friends and family the end product.




Sunday was a jam making extravaganza. It was a strawberry festival at my house. My hubby was certainly enjoying the aroma of strawberries. This time of year produces some of the most juicy and flavorful berries. I purchased 16 pounds of strawberries from Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market. I was shocked to see that each 4 pound container was only $3.72 each. The berries were perfectly ripe and delicious.



It is fun to add a creative touch to a staple flavor of jam, such as strawberry. The first thought that came to mind was lavender. I know, you are probably thinking – what a strange combination. The hint of aromatic floral is just ideal with the sweet berries. The flavor is supreme and unique. By the end of the day, I had produced 26 half pint jars of jam.



If you live in the Bay Area, or want to visit and want to learn to make jam, I have two great resources for you. I discovered Happy Girl Kitchen at the Farmer’s Market at the San Francisco Ferry Building. They have a wonderful story of how they got started on the website and it is very inspirational. They offer jam workshops at their headquarters in Pacific Grove along with classes in Oakland and Watsonville. It might be worth the drive depending where you live.



The second resource is Blue Chair Fruit Company. Classes are held at their beautiful Oakland kitchen. The class size is limited to 12 students so you receive personal attention. I just purchased the Blue Chair Cookbook and it is stunning book and I give it high praise. Both Happy Girl Kitchen and Blue Chair are on my bucket list!



While making my jam on Sunday, a cute little saying that my Aunt would often say, came to mind – “Patience is a grace, grace is a little girl with jam on her face”.



Strawberry Lavender Jam

16 C. (4 lbs) Strawberries, hulled and halved
2 ½ C. Sugar
½ C. Fresh lemon juice
1 packet of pectin
1 T. Fresh or dried lavender

In a large non-reactive pan add the strawberries and sugar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.

Have ready hot, sterilized jars and their lids. You can sterilize by placing in a 225 degree oven on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes or sterilize in hot water or the dishwasher. Place 2 or 3 small plates in the freezer.

Add the lemon juice and pectin to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, uncovered, add lavender, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Use 1 tsp jam and a chilled plate to test if the jam is ready. The mixture is ready if it wrinkles when nudged gently with a finger. If it doesn’t, continue to cook for a few minutes longer and retest.

Ladle the hot jam into the jars, leaving ¼ inch of headspace. Remove any air bubbles and adjust the headspace, if needed. Wipe the rims clean and seal tightly with the lids.

Process the jars for 10 minutes in boiling water bath. Remove and let cool on a towel. The lids will pop and that means they are sealed. To test, simply press down on the lid and if no popping happens, they are sealed. Tighten the lids and store in a dark, cool location.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Arugula and Madjool Date Salad


The world today is complex. With technology changing the way we interact, do business and exchange information, it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. Granted, it is very exciting but who can live without their smart phone?  Sometimes the simplest things that life has to offer are quite often the most enjoyed. “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ~Confucius


This quote is quite inspirational and makes you think about your approach to how you live each day. Understandably, we all have crazy busy days with work, family, obligations and commitments. Thought I would share a quick list (the list could go on for days) of the simple things in life that I enjoy.


A few favorite simple things:

  • The euphoric feeling after a good workout
  • The first cup of coffee in the morning
  • The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies
  • A hug from my hubby
  • Doing a good deed for the day
  • Smiling
  • A whiff of my favorite fragrance
  • Reading a "page turner" novel
  • Taking an afternoon nap
  • Playing a card game
  • Laying on the grass looking up at the clouds
  • Listening to my favorite play list
  • Watching a great movie at home with freshly popped popcorn
  • Sleeping in a freshly made bed and the smell of those sheets
  • Having a great laugh
  • Riding a rollercoaster
  • The scent of fresh cut grass
  • Spending time with my family
  • Cooking and baking
  • Watching it rain
  • People watching
  • Enjoying a favorite glass of wine with cheese
  • Driving in my car after it has been washed
  • Petting my doggie
  • Looking at photos of favorite memories
  • Having lunch at a great restaurant with friends
  • Watching television with my hubby
  • Reading cookbooks
  • Going to the farmers market
  • Planting flowers
  • Entertaining and making people happy
What are the simple things in life that you enjoy?


Arugula and Madjool Date Salad

4 to 5 C. Arugula leaves
10 Madjool Dates, pitted and chopped
½ to ¾ C. Shaved Parmesan Reggiano Cheese

Dijon Vinaigrette

4 T. Olive oil
1 t. Dijon mustard
1 T. Lemon juice
½ t. Salt
8 to 10 grinds fresh ground pepper

Put all of the above ingredients into a plastic container with a lid. Shake until well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste level.

Assemble:

In a large bowl add the Arugula, dates and parmesan reggiano and then drizzle the vinaigrette and toss. Taste along the way to find the right balance of dressing ratio to salad.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Crostini with Roasted Tomato Compote and Mozzarella


My hubby and I had a completely relaxing weekend. Every once in a while you just need to unwind and relax. Last weekend was that weekend for me. Between finishing my book for last night’s book club and catching up on some over due favorite television shows, I did a bit of cleaning around the house and baking.




Our book club selection for this month was The Tiger’s Wife. During our discussion last night, I think we all agreed that the book was good but a tad disjointed. It is great to read all sorts of literary styles and I give kudos to the author since this was her very first novel. I have to admit, I am excited about the next selection – Unbroken I just finished hitting the “place order” button from Amazon – along with a few cookbooks. I couldn’t resist the temptation of the new book from Miette – too bad it is on pre-order, so now I wait.



How many of you are Oprah fans? I bet there a quite a few out there in the food blog-a-shere. I am a huge fan. Next weeks final show will be watched with mixed emotions. One side of me is elated that she has made a decision to end the show with top ratings and step into a new phase of her career. The other side is quite gloomy about the prospect of not coming home to watch an episode of Oprah.



She is such an inspiring woman who has changed the dimensions of day time talk shows. She is motivating, smart, insightful, optimistic, positive, energetic and invigorating. I will certainly miss my daily dose of Oprah. The good news is her new network, OWN is live now. Her legacy continues, just in a new format. Cheers to you Oprah and I dedicate this tasty appetizer to you.

Crostini with Roasted Tomato Compote and Mozzarella

1 lb. Grape tomatoes, cut in half
2 T. Olive oil
4 Large garlic cloves, minced
Salt
Pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

Use a 9 by 13 baking pan with sides. Add the sliced tomatoes, sprinkle the olive oil over tomatoes and add garlic. Gently toss together and season with the salt and pepper.

Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes until soft and fragrant.

Let cool and then put in a food processor and pulse until combined.

To make the Crostini, slice ciabatta bread into thin slices and brush with olive oil. Create as many slices as you desire. Gently grill and turn often to prevent burning. Once medium brown remove and rub a garlic clove on each side.



Spoon about a couple teaspoons of the roasted tomato compote on top of the Crostini and place a slice or two of fresh mozzarella. Season with a bit of salt and pepper on top. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

9 Layer Magic Bar Cookie


There is something to be said about tradition and history, particularly when it comes to favorite childhood memories. How many of you remember the Seven Layer Magic Cookie Bar? I would have to imagine that many of you have favorable memories of this nostalgic bar cookie which is still extremely popular today.



Last weekend I visited my 94 year old Aunt Mary who lives about an hour and half away. You are probably thinking “wow she is 94 years old”. Though she is the age she is, you would almost never know it. She is one sharp lady and quite spunky. At one point, she let me know that she just got her drivers license renewed for another five years. Normally, that would make me nervous, but she is an independent woman and quite capable.


She wanted to take me out to lunch. Although it was my intention to take her, she insisted and I wasn’t going to deprive her of her desire and independence. Aunt Mary use to have vivid red hair that was purely natural until just recently when she decided to go grey. I love her spirit, sense of humor and zest for life. We pulled up to the restaurant and no handicap spots were available – quite unbelievable that all three were occupied.


She was amenable to letting me drop her at the front door where there was a bench next to the front door and I would park near by. By the time that I parked and briskly walked back to grab her hand, a very nice man was already escorting her to the front door. I thanked him. My Aunt Mary and I promptly got seated. Once we had our drinks, she said to me – “Hey I still got it”. She of course was referring to the man who escorted her to the door. Love her spirit!


Each time Aunt Mary would cook something for us when we were kids she would exclaim that “it is supreme”. In honor of my independent 94 year old Aunt Mary, I have made my version of the seven layer magic cookie bar – only with nine layers. Thank you Aunt Mary for a wonderful day - love you!

Supreme Nine Layer Magic Cookie Bars

2 C. graham cracker crumbs
¾ C. butter or margarine, melted
1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 C. flaked coconut
1 C. chopped pecans
1 ½ C. Mini Marshmallows
¼ C. Chopped Heath bar
Caramel (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees F for glass baking pan). In small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and butter; mix well. Press crumb mixture firmly on bottom of 13x9-inch baking pan.

Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly in this order: coconut, pecans, then chocolate chips; press down firmly with fork.

Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Sprinkle marshmallows over the top and under the broiler, leave until golden brown – just a minute or so. Remove and sprinkle with heath bits and drizzle with caramel.

Chill if desired. Cut into bars or diamonds. Store covered at room temperature.

Caramel Sauce

1 ½ C. sugar
¼ C. water
½ t. lemon juice
1 C. heavy cream

Stir sugar, water and lemon juice in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat; boil without stirring until the mixture turns deep amber brown. This should take about 9 minutes. Take off the stove and hold over the sink before pouring the cream mixture into the sugar mixture. It will boil and bubble. Once calmed down, add to back to the burner and reduce slightly over medium low heat for about 8 minutes. Chill until thickened. Put into another container and slightly heat when ready to use.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thai Pesto Crab Cups



I am obsessed with pesto! Anymore pesto is not simply defined as the traditional Italian pesto made from basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil. It is made from sun dried tomatoes, peanuts, cilantro, arugula plus a whole host of other interesting ingredients. The possibilities are endless. The featured Thai pesto is to die for and the flavors are simply divine. I used crab, but grilled chicken would be simply perfect too. I did a combination of the round and square wonton wrappers to add a bit of dimension.



If you have been reading my blog for sometime, you have probably realized that I am just a bit passionate about appetizers. For me, they are the most fun thing to make and of course to eat. The idea of having multiple bites of different flavors is very appealing.


My hubby and I have made a tradition of having wine and appetizers each Friday night. Quite often we entertain friends but have our share of  “alone” Friday nights. Regardless, it is most certain to be filled with appetizers, terrific cheeses and great wine.


For everyone out there who is a Trader Joe fan, they have some of the best frozen appetizers around. From the mushroom tarts to the arancini, they exemplify great quality and a snap to prepare. After a 60+ hour work week, the idea of coming home to sit down with my hubby alone or the nights we have friends over, is a cherish tradition that I look forward to all week.


Do you have any traditions wrapped around food, friends or wine?



Thai Pesto Crab Cups

Thai Pesto

1 C. Packed Basil Leaves
1/3 C. Chopped Cashews
Zest of one lime
1 T. Lime juice
2 t. Fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
2 Jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 t. Soy sauce
1 t. Fresh lemongrass, finely chopped
3 T. Olive oil
½ t. Salt

Add all of the above ingredients to a food processor and pulse until well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Wontons

Fresh lump crab meat
Wonton wrapper, round or square
4 T. Butter, melted

To make the wonton cups, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the wonton wrappers with a bit of butter on each side. Press them into the depressions of a mini muffin tin and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly brown and crisp. Remove from the tins to cool and then fill with a heaping teaspoon of crab meat and top with a teaspoon of the thai pesto.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pebble Beach Food & Wine { Part 2: The Wine }


Look – Swirl – Sniff - Taste….these four words are integral to having the perfect wine experience. Using all of your senses to really encapsulate the essence of wine is key to pure enjoyment.



First you want to visually analyze the color of the wine. If it is a rich cabernet sauvignon – does is represent a dark ruby color? Next you want to aerate the wine by swirling it in the glass. It will open up the flavors to more exhilarating experience. Third the inhalation of aromas will rush to your brain and different scents will surface. You may smell cedar where your friend picks up tobacco. Last but certainly not least is the actual taste. Are there tannins or a sense of richness to the wine?

Over time and trying different wines, you will develop your palate for what you like. Perhaps you steer towards California red wines, next time try a Rhone varietals from France. You will be surprised how your knowledge and admiration for a variety of unique wines will widen.

The Pebble Beach Food & Wine was full of wonderful wineries. Over two hundred were represented at the event. Wine definitely out weighed the food. Everything from large, small, boutique and new comers were being poured and tasted by many. Many of my favorites participated including: Far Niente, Heitz, Nickel & Nickel, Staglin Family Vineyards, Stag’s Leap, Twomey Cellars, Barnett Vineyards, Frank Family Vineyards, Grgich Hills, Newton, Round Pond Estate, Sequoia Grove Winery, Spring Mountain Vineyard and Plumpjack Winery.


Sequoia Grove became a favorite last Friday when some friends brought it over to our house. When we stumbled upon the wine at the event, I pleasantly surprised. It was founded in 1980 by Jim Allen. It is an elegant little winery in beautiful Napa Valley’s Rutherford region which produces superb Cabernet Sauvignon. Grapes are harvested from estate vineyards in Rutherford and enhanced with just the right balance of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.


The color is rich, dark and a true teeth staining wine. That is a good thing. Intense aromas of blackberry, dark cherry and currants along with burnt toast, cedar and tobacco can be picked up in just a few sniffs. It is a smooth wine with ripe raspberry tones on the palate. The overall experience is a well balanced wine with a smooth finish. You will want to purchase multiple bottles to enjoy.



Located in the celebrated Rutherford region of Napa Valley, California, Round Pond is a family-owned and operated estate designed around the world-class vineyards, gardens, and orchards. This family estate produces artisan olive oils and limited-production Cabernet Sauvignon. Round Pond offers both reserve and estate wines. These are must taste wines!



I smiled from ear to ear when I saw that Staglin Family Vineyards was pouring at the event. This is one of the premier wineries in Rutherford. With intense fruit and subtle tannins and pure decadence, this is one wine not to be missed. We tasted the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and were delighted with the lushness of this magnificent wine. Thom Elkjer, The San Francisco Chronicle, writes: "Staglin Family Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon-- The vineyard that yields this plush, juicy Cab was once part of the estate that produced Beaulieu Vineyards' historic George de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon--arguably the greatest Cab of the previous century. The Staglins are giving it the treatment it deserves, and it shows in the wine."



The last winery I am going to highlight is also located in Rutherford – I guess it is my favorite region. Nickel & Nickel was founded in 1997 by the partners of Far Niente. They produce single vineyard wines and are highly coveted in the valley. Nickel & Nickel currently produces cabernet, chardonnay, merlot, syrah and zinfandel from six sub appellations including Oakville, St. Helena, Howell Mountain, Rutherford, Stags Leap and Yountville.



Overall, the Pebble Beach Food & Wine event was an extraordinary experience. It was great times hanging out for the day with my foodie friends Jean and Liren. An added bonus was meeting Sara and Gina in person. I was disappointed I missed seeing Trish and meeting Azmina in person. I would like to thank Liren for inviting me and Foodbuzz for the opportunity to attend this terrific event.









 
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