Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gruyere & Spinach Pinwheels

These were delicious and easy.  The original recipe used frozen chopped spinach which I've never really liked and the fresh spinach worked really well.  The hardest part was remembering to take them out of the oven since I decided to jump in the pool with the girls!

Gruyere and Spinach Pinwheels (serves 4-6)
adapted from Pepperidge Farms

1 sheet puff pastry
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
3/4 - 1 cup grated gruyere
1/4 cup parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine spinach, gruyere, parmesan, salt and pepper.  Roll out puff pastry approximately 9x13 rectangle.

Whisk egg with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl and brush the puff pastry with the egg wash.  Top with the spinach mixture.  Starting at the short end of the puff pastry, roll up the pastry like a jelly roll.  Try to keep it tight as you roll.

Make thin slices with a sharp knife and lay on a parchment lined baking sheet with the cut side down.  Brush the top of the pinwheels with the egg wash.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Apricot Baklava Strudel

When I saw Lisa's photos of this dessert on Instagram, I immediately asked if she'd write a guest post for me.  I get Sunset too and let me tell you, her photos are better than the magazine's!  You might read her travel writing in Sunset someday but until then, check her out here.

I’m not a cook. Seriously. I like make soup and sandwiches. Cheese and crackers and fruit. That’s my idea of cooking. Luckily I married someone who likes to cook.

I do, however, like to bake. I haven’t been able to lately because I swore off sugary goods for awhile and then I started going back to school. While working. Life was just too busy for me. But a few weekends ago, I found myself in the unusual position of not being ridiculously busy and reading Sunset magazine. Heaven.

I decided to bake a dessert from Sunset magazine with all of its sugary goodness. Simple ingredients: apricots, nuts, honey, sugar, cardamom, and filo dough. Forget that I have never baked with filo dough before. I HAD NOTHING TO DO, REMEMBER?

It actually went pretty well. Except for a few hairy moments of OMIGOSH FILO DOUGH IS FRAGILE and me yelping as I try to lay each piece down without breaking it. Literally, if you heard me in the kitchen, it was me saying ahhhhh please don’t break ahhhhhh followed by the quiet application of butter and nuts only to have me repeat the previous chant.

My store bought apricots weren't as sweet as the ones from my tree.  But the end result was a not too sweet and balanced dessert.  Delicious.

Apricot Baklava Strudel (serves 8)
from Sunset

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 12 ounces ripe apricots, quartered
  • 1/3 cup raw almonds
  • 1/3 cup pistachios
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 10 sheets (12 by 17 in.) filo dough
  • 1/2 cup melted butter 
Preheat oven to 375°. Bring honey and 1/4 cup sugar to a simmer in a saucepan, stirring to blend. Remove from heat and add apricots; set aside.
Whirl nuts, cardamom, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor until mostly ground. Set aside 2 tbsp.
Lay a piece of parchment paper on a work surface. Working with 1 filo sheet at a time, set on paper, brush with some butter, and sprinkle with a scant 2 tbsp. nut mixture; repeat, stacking filo and pressing down to seal.
Spoon apricots with a bit of honey mixture on filo stack along a long side. Roll up. Arrange roll on a diagonal on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Brush with more honey mixture; sprinkle with reserved 2 tbsp. nut mixture.
Bake until browned and juices are bubbling out the ends, 15 to 20 minutes.  Let cool completely before slicing.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Grilled Cilantro-Lime Chicken with Avocado Salsa

Grilled chicken is a quintessential summer meal.  My husband isn't a huge fan of grilled chicken but mostly because it's under-seasoned or over-grilled.  The other night, I took care of the seasoning department and he did the grilling and the end result was really good.  We ate this with watermelon and corn on the cob.  I think it would also be great with Spanish rice and beans.  Get outside and grill . . . it's a lot cooler this week!
Cilantro-Lime Chicken with Avocado Salsa (serves 4)
adapted from Cooking Light 4/09

2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 1/2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder (I used a ground chipotle powder)
salt and pepper

Mix these ingredients together in a shallow bowl and add 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts.  Marinate for about 15 minutes, turning a few times so that both sides of the chicken are well coated.

Grill the chicken.  (I don't grill so I don't have much more specific instructions - my husband says it was about 5-6 minutes each side on Medium-high heat on his gas grill).

Mix together these ingredients and serve it on top of the chicken:
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 small avocado, chopped
2 Tablespoons finely chopped onion (I used red onion)
3 teaspoons fresh lime juice
salt, pepper, a sprinkle more of cumin, a little tabasco

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mocha Blondies

The other day, I wanted to bake something to take to the beach the next day.  Big was home from summer camp and she happily agreed to help me make Blondies. She kept asking "Blondie like me?  Like my blond hair?"  Sort of.  Blondies are bars, similar to brownies, but with brown sugar instead of cocoa.  I modified these a bit by adding espresso powder and mini chocolate chips so they were really more mocha than brown sugar (in complexion as well as flavor).  I loved the results.  Usually, I'm a brownie person through and through.  I'd rather have chocolate than just about anything else but I thought these turned out fantastic.

Mocha Blondies 
(adapted from Mark Bittman & Smitten Kitchen)

2 sticks butter, melted
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
2 Tablespoons espresso powder
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9x13 pan.  Mix butter and brown sugar together - beat until smooth.  Beat in eggs and then vanilla.  Add salt, stir in flour, and then mix in the espresso powder and chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared pan.  Bake for 18-22 minutes or until set in the middle.  Cool on rack before cutting them.  Forget to take them to the beach and watch your kid throw a gigantic temper tantrum in the parking lot when she finds out.  Serve them the next night for dessert when you have family over.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Eating on vacation

Breakfast on the lanai on our anniversary - eggs, bacon, toast, and pineapple
I know what you're thinking:  this is where Bec will tell us about all the awesome restaurants she went to in Hawaii.  Wrong.  We had some awesome meals that I'll try to post about at some point, but this is where I'm going to share my tips and insights on stocking a condo and cooking your own food on vacation.

While I love eating out, trying new restaurants, and experiencing local cuisine, it takes a toll on the waistline and the wallet to do that for a vacation of more than a few days.  If you have young kids like me, chances are those meals won't even be that enjoyable because you're worrying about them bothering other patrons at the restaurant, running back and forth to the bathroom, eating chicken strips and french fries at every meal . . . you get the drift!

The past couple of years, we've been trying to stay places that have kitchens and eat in as much as possible.  Here are some of my tips (and reminders to myself for next year) about stocking your condo kitchen and making great vacation meals.

Tip #1:  Plan a flexible menu for about 3-4 days at a time

The trick is having a plan so that you don't either a) go to the grocery store every day or b) buy a  bunch of food that you end up throwing out at the end of the trip.  You don't want to run to the grocery store too much but you don't want to be committed to a week's worth of food if you feel like going out one night or ordering pizza or something.  We usually buy stuff for steaks, pasta, and fish or tacos or something.  Choose recipes without a lot of ingredients (not too many spices or things you won't use up) and simple sides.  If you like to eat leftovers, consider making something that you can eat again later in the week or for lunch.  Write down the meals you want to make (you can even do this before you arrive at your vacation spot) and go to the grocery store with that list.

We had these 3 meals in our condo the last week:
Steak, rice pilaf (from a box), steamed broccoli
Pasta, salad
Stir fry, rice, salad

Tip #2:  Buy more healthy choices and less junk

I try to think of fruit and vegetables that my kids will eat and have them on hand: (baby carrots, apples, raisins, pineapple, cucumbers).  When they ask for a snack, if they know the cupboard is full of chips and cookies, they won't eat the healthy stuff.  I've also noticed that the junk we buy ends up still there towards the end of the trip and I feel obligated to eat a bunch so I'm not wasting food.  You can always get an extra bag of chips, some more ice cream, another package of m&ms later so don't buy too much up front.  We enjoyed checking out some of the farmer's markets in Hawaii and picking out fresh, local produce for that night's dinner.

Tip #3:  Cut yourself some slack - it's vacation!

The flip side of #2 is that this is vacation.  I let the kids have dessert more than I do at home, I buy convenience foods that we don't usually buy because we don't have a microwave at home (instant mac & cheese, microwave popcorn, etc).  We also buy some local beer, a frozen pizza, some Ben & Jerry's and let ourselves indulge a little bit.  It's a lot less expensive than ordering drinks and dessert at a restaurant!  Also, remember that this is supposed to be a break.  Don't slave in the kitchen if you don't enjoy it - use the barbecue if you have one (less mess to clean up, less preparation) and the microwave if you can.

Tip #4:  Commit to a game plan for breakfast and lunch

You don't have to make 3 meals a day for everyone, but we have a strategy about breakfast and lunch:  pick something we'll be happy eating over and over for a week.  We bought those individual cereal boxes at Costco (think Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops), milk, yogurt and oj for breakfast for the first week.  When we were sick of cereal by the second week, we bought eggs, bacon, and pancake mix.  For lunches, we had stuff to make pb&j and quesadillas.  We went out to breakfast a few times, which we love to do and have picked up lunches here and there but it's also nice to be able to pack pb&j to take to the beach or come back tired from a morning at the pool and know there's something everyone will eat.

Tip #5:  When you do eat out with kids, be prepared.

Make sure they've had a nap, you bring something to entertain them while you wait for the food, you pick somewhere relatively kid-friendly, and consider a bribe or treat for good behavior.  Here's what our dinners out looked like . . .

How about you?  What are your ideas for handling family meals on vacation?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Family Vacation

The past couple of weeks we've been to Hawaii.  We visited Kauai and the Big Island and were gone a little over 2 weeks.  There were many highlights, special moments, and fun times so it's hard to pick exactly what to write about.  In no particular order, here are some of them:

A few nights of 9+ hours of sleep (first time in over 5 years )
Watching the girls discover their love of the ocean and the beach
Watching the friendships develop between Big, Little and their 2 cousins
A break from work, from the everydayness of our routine and reading 5 books on my Kindle
Spending time with our little family and our extended family
A boat snorkel trip and my first time trying snub
Seeing the amazing confidence Big is developing in her swimming abilities
The beauty of the creation and miles of shoreline that we got to see on the islands

And, in no particular order, here are a few of my favorite photos from the trip.  It was hard to choose and I had to cut myself off because I know none likes to see vacation photos as much as we like to see our own!  Since I'm home, I'll be back to the blog with some new posts soon.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Enchilada Casserole

How can it possibly be July already?  We're still away but I wanted to share this recipe that I made before we left for vacation.

I always make my enchiladas with green sauce and chicken.  I have a bunch of variations on those enchiladas and enchilada casseroles but this was something a little new:  beef and red sauce.  It was pretty good.  My girls are a little leery of casseroles but managed a couple of bites.  There aren't a lot of ingredients and it's super easy to make!  You can make it ahead of time and refrigerate it (for up to a few days) but if you do that, add an extra 15 minutes or so to the baking time (or thaw it out first).

Beef Enchilada Casserole (6-8 servings)
adapted from Sunset 9/02

1.5 lbs lean ground beef
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 T minced garlic
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 (29oz) can red enchilada sauce
12 corn tortillas
2 cups shredded jack or cheddar cheese
chopped fresh cilantro

In a large skillet over high heat, stir beef, onion, garlic, oregano, and cumin until beef is browned, about  4 minutes. Stir in 1 cup enchilada sauce. Add salt to taste.

Meanwhile, cut tortillas in half. Arrange a fourth of the halves evenly over the bottom of a shallow 3-quart casserole, overlapping to fit. Sprinkle a fourth of the cheese evenly over the tortillas, then top with a third of the beef mixture and a fourth of the remaining enchilada sauce, spreading each level. Repeat to make two more layers of tortillas, cheese, beef mixture, and sauce; top with another layer of tortillas and sauce, then cheese.

Bake in a 425° regular oven until cheese is melted and casserole is hot in the center, 18 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.