Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sound of Music Pasta Salad

Last weekend we went to the Sound of Music Sing-A-Long at the Hollywood Bowl. It was a lot of fun and very interactive - even beyond the singing. People booed, hissed, cheered, laughed, made jokes, and shouted at the main characters. The Hollywood Bowl is one of my favorite summer activities and I didn't think I'd make it there this year so it was fun to end the summer this way (Well, is summer really over if it's 100 degrees out?). What made it even more special was that it was in honor of my mom's birthday and my sisters were in town!

Baby girl got to join the adults for the evening because it was too long to leave her with a babysitter and she was terrific, as usual. I failed to take a picture of her first outing to the Bowl :( There were a lot of kids and families and my sister in law and I agreed to take big sister and her cousin when they're about 5 and 6 years old.

If you're a fan of the Hollywood Bowl, you know that other than the superb main acts they book and the beautiful outdoor experience, a main component of the evening is the food. We kept our menu simple and I made a pasta salad. I feel like I've made a lot of mediocre pasta salad and I was going for something more interesting. The recipe below was the result and I really liked it.

I made it in the morning but left out the basil and only put on about half the amount of dressing that I would normally use. Then, I refrigerated it for the day to let the flavors blend. Right before we left, I put the rest of the dressing on and stirred in the fresh basil. I bet it would be great the next day but there weren't any leftovers.

Bec's Pasta Salad (serves 8)

Combine the following ingredients in a large bowl and toss with an Italian vinaigrette (bottled or make the dressing below):

1 lb farfalle (bow-tie) pasta, cooked al dente
1 c. mozzarella pearls (little balls of mozzarella, packed in water)
3 oz pkg of sliced dry italian salami, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1/2 c. chopped kalamata olives
1/2 c. chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 c. chopped basil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pumpkin Zucchini Carrot Bread

It felt a little fall-ish last week and I wanted to do some baking. I thought of making some pumpkin bread in my new mini loaf pans and then I decided to buy zucchini and make zucchini bread. I really could't make up my mind, so I got the idea of trying pumpkin zucchini bread. Well, I didn't have enough zucchini so I pulled some carrots out of the refrigerator and used some grated carrot too.

My mini-loaf experiment turned out pretty good. Big sister and I ate a whole mini loaf that afternoon but it tasted better the next day.

An added bonus of using carrots is that carrots are naturally pretty sweet so I decided to decrease the amount of sugar I would have used. If you don't want to use the agave or whole wheat flour, increase the sugar to 1 cup and use 2 cups of all purpose flour.

Pumpkin Zucchini Carrot Bread (4 mini loaves or 1 regular loaf)

1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. agave
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. grated zucchini
1 c. grated carrot
1 c. canned pumpkin puree
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. all purpose flour
1 T cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Beat oil, sugar, agave, eggs and vanilla with a mixer until smooth, creamy and yellow. Then add the zucchini, carrot, and pumpkin and mix until well incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients together with a whisk. Add to the wet ingredients until just combined, being careful not to overmix. Divide evenly among four greased mini loaf pans (or one regular sized loaf pan) and bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Weekly Menu

Time to get myself organized and plan ahead a little better. I'm hoping this will result in fewer trips to the grocery store with two kids in tow.

Week of September 27th

Monday: Rosemary chicken in the crockpot, wild rice, green vegetable
Tuesday: Veggie stuffed french bread and salad
Wednesday: Penne with Pumpkin and Sage, green vegetable
Thursday: Grilled fish or steak, double broccoli quinoa

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Roasted Zucchini & Fennel with Rosemary

An easy weeknight side dish! I love having a rosemary plant in my backyard and it was a good compliment to the fennel.

Roasted Zucchini & Fennel with Rosemary (2 servings)

1 medium sized zucchini
1 fennel bulb
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese, divided
2 T pine nuts
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
olive oil
salt and pepper

Cut the zucchini lengthwise, cut it lengthwise again, and then cut across the zucchini in thirds to make spears. Cut the fennel into chunks about the same size as the zucchini. Toss in a bowl with enough olive oil to lightly coat it, the rosemary, and some salt and pepper.

Spread on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer and sprinkle half of the parmesan cheese on top and all of the pine nuts. Roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until tender. Sprinkle the rest of the parmesan cheese over the vegetables before serving.

Monday, September 20, 2010

New cookies & a new photographer

I'd like to introduce my new assistant photographer, my 3 year old daughter. She documented the new cookies we made last week:

The cookie dough

The cookies ready to go into the oven

Finally a photo that's in focus

Head chef and baby sister from the point of view of the sous chef

When I gave my daughter a few choices of what we could do after her nap last week (including a trip to the library), she picked baking. I had some very ripe bananas to use up and as I got the ingredients out, she threw a little fit because she doesn't like bananas (I know - what toddler doesn't like bananas? I don't like to just eat them so I can't give her too hard of a time . . .). I tried my best to explain that these would be chocolate chip cookies and wouldn't taste like banana in the end and it took some convincing. But, finally we got the project underway.

It's a little ironic that I'm calling these "new" cookies because I have three very similar recipes (all banana chocolate chip oatmeal cookies) posted here and here. But, these have no flour at all (almond meal) and coconut which I liked. The end result was pretty crumbly but tasty. It's scary how many you can eat. Has anyone else noticed that if you're cooking without sugar and you don't get that sick "I ate too much sugar" feeling, you eat many, many more of whatever item you just made? Not exactly helping my plan to cut down on the sweets, but they were delicious!

If you haven't checked out 101 Cookbooks, it's pretty great and you can find the recipe there.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chipotle Carne Asada

The title of this recipe sounds more complicated than it actually is. You throw a few ingredients into the crockpot and end up with a great filling for tacos or burritos. Bonus: it smelled so good all day while it was cooking! I overdid the chiles a little bit and it was too spicy for big sister but I thought it was great.

If your family doesn't like spicy, make sure the salsa you use is mild and maybe start with 1 tablespoon of the chiles. Here are some ideas for the leftover chipotle chiles: Stir a little into sour cream or plain Greek yogurt and use the dip for chips, nachos, or veggies. Stir a little into Caesar dressing for a "Mexican Caesar Salad" or stir a little into Ranch dressing to make taco salad.

The cooking time will vary depending on how hot your slow cooker cooks and the cut of meat you use. If it doesn't fall apart or shred easily after 6 hours, let it cook a little longer. I haven't tried a shorter time on high heat with this recipe yet. We made soft tacos with corn tortillas, onion, avocado, and shredded cheese. They'd make great filling for beef enchilladas, burritos, or hard tacos.

Chipotle Carne Asada (4-6 servings)

2 lbs lean beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch chunks
3/4 c. mild salsa
2 T chopped chipotle chili peppers in adobo sauce
1 c. beef stock (or water or beer)
salt and pepper, if desired.

Combine all ingredients in a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 -8 hours. Use a fork to shred up the meat a little bit and use a slotted spoon to serve.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I know the idea of "normal" is a little . . . well, abnormal or strange or weird. I once had a "normal" life and then I became a mom and my old, normal life never returned. Now, I'm a mom of 2 little girls (still hard for me to believe) but things are actually starting to seem normal, like our pre-baby #2 life. Here is some evidence:

Exhibit #1: A jar full of homemade granola, not the gross store bought kind we've been eating for the last month.

Exhibit #2: We took an overnight outing, stayed in a hotel and went to the Aquarium of the Pacific. I wandered around looking at things and feeling a little tired but relaxed. At dinner, we all said our favorite thing from the aquarium. Mine was the jellyfish. Big sister's was touching the anemones, and dad's was the sharks.

Exhibit #3: I had a moment to see the wonder of things through a 3 year old's eyes. Here are her new indoor pots from her birthday and the seeds she planted are actually growing. This is despite spilling the entire contents of one pot on the ground and scooping it back into the pot, much poking, and probably too much watering. But hey, what do I know about watering? I have a black thumb and it's by God's grace that my girls grow like they do! My daughter is already better than me at many things.

Exhibit #4: This is my second blog post in less than a week! With a little help from my friend, I got both girls down for a nap at almost exactly the same time. They have been sleeping for almost 2 hours! Woohoo Saturday afternoon . . . life is good. And, feeling normal.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rosemary Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Tonight I used some leftover chicken to make my favorite chicken salad recipe. I use plain greek yogurt and rosemary from our garden. I like the crunch of the almonds but if you don't like nuts, you can easily leave them out. If you like onions, add a couple tablespoons of chopped green onions (or red onion would be good).

With the yogurt, nuts, and chicken, these pack a big protein punch. Usually I serve it in pita pockets and line the pita with a lettuce leaf but it's also good on bread and by itself. The flavor of the rosemary comes out if it's refrigerated a little while before serving so this is a good make ahead recipe. And, when I get around to that Rotisserie Chicken cookbook, this will be in it!

Rosemary Chicken Salad Sandwiches (4 sandwiches)

3 c. chopped cooked chicken
1/4 c. chopped roasted almonds
1/4 c. plain fat free yogurt
1/4 c. light mayonnaise
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste

Combine ingredients and stir well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pumpkin Cupcakes

It felt like fall for about one day here in Southern California before the weather got hot again and I had pumpkin recipes on my mind. Last holiday season, stores kept running out of canned pumpkin so I still have a little stash in the pantry.

These cupcakes couldn't have been easier . . . and yes, the main ingredient is a boxed cake mix. Big sister and I had fun making them and they got high marks from my friends. I described them to my sister as "cream cheese frosting delivery devices" because you know how I love the cream cheese frosting!

I eyeballed the spices to make my own pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and nutmeg) and added a little cinnamon to the cream cheese frosting. I bet little candy corn or orange m&ms would make cute accents on top of these cupcakes!

My girls helping me bake (baby sister was moral support):

Pumpkin Cupcakes (24 regular size or 42 minis)

1 18.5-ounce box yellow cake mix (plus the ingredients called for in the package directions)
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

Make the cake mix according to the package instructions but omit the water and add the pumpkin puree and the pumpkin pie spice. Line your muffin tins with paper liners and bake. Baking times vary depending on your mix, but typically it will be 18-22 minutes for full size muffin tins and 12-15 minutes for mini muffin tins. Check them early and when a toothpick comes out clean, they're done.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
8 oz package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

Combine with a mixer at medium high speed until smooth.