Thursday, June 30, 2011

California Pizza Kitchen Caters to Gluten-Free Eaters

I was at my local California Pizza Kitchen the other nite (enjoying the original chopped salad with the garbanzo beans) and learned that they are coming out with a new menu in the next week that will include (drum roll please) gluten free pizzas!  I'm beyond excited to have a place I can go with my family to enjoy pizza.  They also are adding gluten-free next to all appropriate items on the menu, rather than having a separate gluten-free menu.  Bravo!

Pineapple Thirsty Thursday

For most of us, pineapples come from Hawaii and are in their peak season April and May. However, they’re readily available year round and since they really make us think of summer, we had to do a post about them.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog, where we present our next adult ice pop – the Pina Colada!

57 Chevy

1 oz. Southern Comfort
1 oz. Grand Marnier
2 oz. Vodka

Pineapple juice

Combine in a highball glass with ice, and top with pineapple juice and a pineapple slice.

Great Grilled Dessert for a Barbeque
Planning a barbeque this weekend?  Here’s another way to enjoy pineapple – this time with a bit of rum.  This delicious recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s classic “Forever Summer” cookbook.  It combines so many things we love – including chocolate!

Carmelized Pineapple with Hot Chocolate Sauce
1  ripe pineapple
1  cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated 51457KW2AQL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_brown sugar
For the chocolate sauce:
8 oz bittersweet chocolate (minimum 70%)
1/2 cup Malibu or other rum
1/2 cup heavy cream
14 bamboo skewers soaked in cold water to stop them from catching fire in the heat of the broiler or grill.

Preheat broiler or grill.  Cut pineapple into wedges (Cut the top and bottom off the pineapple; working vertically, slice the skin off the fruit. 

Cut into quarters and then into three pieces again lengthwise to create the wedges.)  Cut out the woody core and thread the wedges onto the soaked bamboo skewers lengthwise. Lay in a shallow dish.

Put the chocolate, broken up into pieces, into a thick-bottomed pan along with the Malibu rum and melt over a low heat.  Stirring, pour in the cream, plus any juice that has gathered from the fruit. When the sauce is thick, smooth and hot, pour into a bowl with a ladle or enough little bowls to give one per person.

Lay the kebobs on a sheet of foil and either broil or grill the pineapple, thickly coating it with the granulated brown sugar first, until it carmelizes and scorches in the heat. 
Take from the broiler or grill and lay them on a large plate and serve the chocolate sauce for dipping.

Note:  I use one of those mini crock pots to keep my chocolate sauce hot and creamy. 
Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What’s In My Pantry? Oatmeal


I have two kinds of oatmeal in my pantry….quick oats (not instant) and steel cut.  Here’s how I use them.

Quick oats are great for an “almost instant” bowl of hearty oatmeal. Takes a bit longer than the instant “add water and microwave” kind, but has such better texture. I also use these for making homemade granola.  This couldn’t be easier – mix a few cups of oats, some nuts, some flaxseed, coat with a bit of concentrated orange juice (from the defrosted can of OJ), some brown sugar and cinnamon, put on a sprayed baking pan, and toss in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When cool, add some dried fruit and you have your own personalized granola. By the way, store brand quick oats are as good,  and cheaper, than the name brand.

Steel cut oats are a different thing entirely.  They take about 30 minutes to cook to a consistency where you can eat them.  Since that requires more planning in the morning than I have, I make a batch the night before. In a crock pot, I add one cup of steel cut oats, four cups of water, a little brown sugar, some cinnamon and some nutmeg. I give it a stir, put on the lid, and turn it on low. In the morning, we have wonderful oatmeal, and it makes enough for us to have “leftovers” the next morning that reheat beautifully in the microwave.
Friday, June 24, 2011

Peach Daiquiri Ice Pops

DSC048951 ½ cups sour mix
½ cup Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
¼ cup peach schnapps
1 15oz can of peaches, in heavy syrup (drain and reserve the syrup)
¼ cup Sprite
3 oz. Dixie cups
Wooden sticks (available at your local craft store)

Puree one can of drained peaches (I used my magic bullet to pulverize them).  Add sour mix, spiced rum, peach schnapps and Sprite.  Pour into 3 oz. Dixie cups. 

Place cups in a 9x9 baking pan and put in freezer.  Insert wooden sticks after 1 hour 15 minutes.  Freeze for an additional 1 to 2 hours until solid.  Tear off cups from ice pops to serve.

Makes 12 servings.
Thursday, June 23, 2011

Just Peachy

The first great peaches are coming in from California. Fresno is the peach capital, with farms not only selling all the varieties we’re used to, but some specialty farmers, like the Masumoto Family Farm ( grow varieties such as the Elberta and the Sun Crest, which is the best peach I have ever eaten. Check them out—you can adopt one of their Elberta trees!

Here’s a recipe by Chef David LeFevre for grilled peach salad.  It looks divine.
I may do a riff on it as well and try adding grilled chicken, swap out the lettuce for baby spinach, the walnuts for pistachios and the ricotta for feta.

For our Thirsty Thursday drink recommendation, try this fabulous Peach Daiquiri recipe  from featuring Captain Morgan Original Spiced rum.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What’s in my pantry? Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is essentially tomatoes that have been reduced, and reduced, and reduced.  As a result, there’s a lot of flavor packed into a small can of paste.  It can be used to thicken, add flavor and add color to recipes.  Just don’t use too much or you will overwhelm the flavor or make it too high in acid.

You can make your own tomato paste from scratch, but it takes a lot of tomatoes and a fair amount of time (like hours).  So, realistically, I just keep a few of the really small 6 oz. cans in my cabinet and call it a day.  For a bit higher price, you can purchase Amore Tomato Paste (approx. $3.50) in a tube, which keeps indefinitely in the fridge after opening.  It saves a lot on waste -- since an opened can of tomato paste is really only good for a couple of days in the fridge.  Because it’s concentrated, tomato paste takes up less space in the pantry or fridge.  Another thing I like about tomato paste is that it doesn’t contain any added ingredients – no extra salt, for example.

I’ve made pasta sauce and pizza sauce using tomato paste by just adding water and some spices, sautéed garlic and onions, etc.  You can also substitute chicken broth and even add a dose of red wine.  Play around with it and see what you come up with; you really can’t go wrong!
I use tomato paste in one of my favorite grilled shrimp recipes:

Barbecued Garlic Shrimp
In a large bowl, combine 1 cup olive oil, 2 T. red wine vinegar, 1 T. tomato paste (although I usually double it), 1T. dried oregano, 3T. finely chopped fresh parsley, 1 to 2 T. minced garlic, 1t. salt, and some freshly ground pepper.  Add peeled and deveined shrimp and stir gently to coat each of them.  Let the shrimp marinate at room temperature for about 2 hours, stirring gently every ½ hour or so. 
Reserve the marinade, and arrange shrimp in one layer in a large grilling basket.  Grill 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 3 minutes, then baste with the marinade.  Grill for another 2 minutes.  Turn the shrimp, baste them with the marinade, and grill for 3 minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through.   They should still be moist, lightly colored, and firm to the touch.  You don’t want to overcook them.

Serve on a large heated platter, garnished with lemon wedges and with the remaining marinade, heated, on the side.  They’re also good dipped in remoulade sauce.

Recipe from “Fish on the Grill:  Easy & Delicious Fish & Shellfish Recipes” from the editors of Time-Life books, 1994.
Friday, June 17, 2011

Watermelon Margarita Cocktail Ice Pops

Our latest "grown-up" ice pops recipe takes watermelon in a whole new, delicious direction.  You're going to LOVE these! 

5 c. watermelon puree (about ½ of a regular size watermelon, diced and deseeded)

½ c. lime juice (about 6 limes)
1 c. tequila
½ c. triple sec
½ c. sugar

Mix all together, freeze 4 oz. each in a cup (Barb tried a little bit bigger cups than in our earlier recipes). As per our other recipes, insert your wooden stick at about the 1 hour 15 minute freezing point. Or, you can use Barb's new method -- cover each cup with some aluminum foil and insert your stick right at the start of freezing.  The foil will keep the stick in the correct position for you.  This recipe made 12 servings.
Thursday, June 16, 2011

Watermelon, Watermelon, Watermelon

Not much says summer like a wonderfully juicy watermelon.  As a kid, Sharon remembers her family going out on a hot summer evening to the local watermelon stand.  They sat at picnic tables eating huge ice cold wedges.  While it’s always great “as is,” there also are some fun things you can make with watermelon.  Here are a couple of ideas we enjoy: 

Mediterranean Watermelon Salad
1 c. watermelon, cubed
½ c. feta, crumbled
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 t. dried oregano
Handful mint leaves, stacked and sliced
Mix together in a bowl.  Serve.

Watermelon Margarita
2 c Tequila
1/2 c Triple Sec
3 c watermelon, seeded and pureed
1 c fresh lime juice
Blend together with ice and pour into glasses.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What’s in my Pantry? Canned Tuna

I always have canned tuna in my pantry…unfortunately, no one else in my house likes it.  I don’t know why…the good albacore stuff in Italian olive oil is quite fantastic.  This isn’t stuff you’d mix with mayo and slap between two pieces of bread.  This is stuff to be savored as is. My fave ways?  Mixed with a drained canned of cannellini beans with a bit of fresh garlic and thyme. Or, my version of a Nicoise salad – so easy:

Nicoise Salad
One can quality tuna in olive oil (drained)
2 eggs, hardboiled, peeled and quartered
4 small red potatoes, scrubbed, boiled until knife tender
¼ pound green beans, cleaned and boiled with potatoes until tender
¼ c. nicoise or kalamata olives
Butter lettuce
Place lettuce on a serving platter. Scatter ingredients on top. Drizzle your favorite Dijon vinaigrette on top.
Friday, June 10, 2011

Limoncello Blueberry Ice Pops

For our second “adult” ice pop option we developed a Limoncello Blueberry recipe that was well-received at a recent taste test.  My sister hosted a lovely cocktail reception for some visiting relatives, so I used them as my guinea pigs to test the Sangria recipe posted previously, and this one.  Both recipes got two thumbs up, with the Sangria version taking a slight lead.

Limoncello Blueberry Ice Pops blueberrypop (2)
3 1/2 cups of lemonade
1/2 cup of Limoncello liqueur
½ cup blueberries (whole)

We used frozen lemonade, but made it with 3 cans of water instead of the normal 4 1/3 cans of water to keep the flavor less diluted.  Mix the lemonade with the Limoncello liqueur.  Pour into Dixie cups to within 1/2 inch of the rim.  Drop in enough whole, fresh blueberries to create a single layer floating on the top.  Freeze.  After 1 hour 15 minutes, insert wooden sticks.  Freeze for another 2 to 3 hours until firm. 
Note:  The blueberries will appear very solid when frozen, but fear not.  They are easily bitten into and should not negatively impact anyone’s dental work.
Thursday, June 9, 2011

Life is a Bowl of Cherries

For most of us in the US, summertime means great summer fruits, so throughout the rest of the summer we’ll spend every Thursday talking about a different fruit, offering up a recipe and posting a fruit-based drink for our Thirsty Thursday column.  

Everything Cherry
Fresh cherries are starting to roll into the markets…the early ones come from Bakersfield, CA and they’re very tart and crispy.  As it gets a bit warmer, northern California farms start shipping, and then the fabulous Washington cherries (Bings, Rainiers and more) will hit the shelves.  Of course, there’s nothing better than just eating them plain, but check out this podcast for other ideas, especially a fruit crisp. You can make up a huge batch of the topping, freeze it and then whip up a fruit crisp based on what looks great at the market all summer long.

Cherry Thirsty Thursday
If you like cherries, you can create some fun summer drinks with cherry liqueur and/or brandy.  We found some great recipes at
Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What’s in my pantry? Capers.

Capers are the brined buds of the caper bush.  They are sold in jars and they add a tangy, salty kick to all kinds of recipes.  One of my favorite uses of them is straight from the jar with smoked salmon, whipped cream cheese and red onions on a cracker (or, if you’re not gluten-free, some wonderful pumpernickel squares). 

Another great way to enjoy capers is to fry them.  Just take 1/2 cup of capers, drain them and pat them dry with paper towels (this will keep them from splattering when you add them to heated oil).  Heat up about 1/3 of a cup of olive oil in a small skillet over medium high heat.  Once the oil is heated, add the capers and fry them until they are crisp and have blossomed open, stirring often.  It usually takes about a minute.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fried capers from the skillet to paper towels to drain. 

Fried capers are a particularly delicious garnish to fish.  They also are great when added to salads, pasta, meat, and vegetable dishes – pretty much any time you want to add a salty, crunchy touch to a dish!
Friday, June 3, 2011

Sangria on a Stick!

DSC04853Add a fun twist to your next grown-up pool party or barbeque with these tasty alcoholic ice pops.  
Sangria Ice Pop
3 cups sparkling white grape juice
1/4 cup Cointreau
11 oz. can mandarin oranges in light syrup, set aside 1/4 cup of the syrup
Juice of one lime
Juice of one lemon DSC04844
12 3 oz. Dixie cups
12 Wooden sticks (purchase at craft store, we used “mini jumbo” sticks which were a bit wider and shorter than traditional sticks)
Combine grape juice, Cointreau, mandarin orange syrup, lime juice and lemon juice.  Drop two mandarin orange segments into each of 12 Dixie cups.  DSC04845Pour mixture over oranges, filling to within 1/4” if the rim.  Set filled cups into a 9x9 baking pan and place in freezer.  After 1:15 hours, insert wooden sticks into partially frozen mixture.  Sangria ice pops will be completely frozen in about 3 hours. 
Serve immediately after removing from freezer by tearing the Dixie cup away from the ice pop.  Caution:  these do melt quickly on a hot day, so be prepared for a bit of drip-age. 

Up Next:  Limoncello Blueberry Ice Pops

Easy Corn on the Cob

I need to give a shout-out to my friend Sylvia’s mom – Susan – who turned me on to the most amazingly simple way to cook up a few ears of corDSC04698 (2)n on the cob.  I had always cooked it in a big pot of boiling water on the stove, which still works great for a crowd.  But I learned from Susan that you can wrap an ear in waxed paper and cook it in the microwave for 1 minute – voila, perfectly cooked every time.  I’ve also cooked as many as three to four ears at a time, just tripled or quadrupled the cooking time.

A lot of folks enjoy the taste of grilled corn, but are frustrated by the lengthy cooking time.  The microwave magic also solves this by precooking the ears before popping them on the grill.  Here’s a great site we found that provides simple directions for microwaving and then grilling corn on the cob:
Thursday, June 2, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons …..

lemon (2)
Here in the desert lemon trees are prolific. So much so that when it’s time to harvest, tree owners sneak bags of lemons onto unsuspecting friends’ doorsteps. What to do with this bounty?

Make all things lemon. I zest them, and freeze the zest in 1 t. measures for future use. I juice them and put 2 c. measures in a freezer bag for future lemonade. I use some of the juice and make lemon curd. And, of course, I use a bunch to make limoncello….all you need is lemons, cheap vodka and simple syrup.

Once it’s done, you can give it as a gift, or store it in the freezer and make lemontinis in the middle of the summer. And, non-food related, once you have that lemontini in your hand, you can use lemons to clean with --

o Lemon juice can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits.

o Lemon is a great substance to clean and shine brass and copper.

o Lemon juice can be mixed with vinegar and/or baking soda to make cleaning pastes. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle baking soda on the cut section. Use the lemon to scrub dishes, surfaces, and stains.

o Mix 1 cup olive oil with ½ cup lemon juice and you have a furniture polish for your hardwood furniture.

o Put a whole lemon peel through the garbage disposal. It freshens the drain and the kitchen. Orange peels can be used with the same results.