Spring Break 2013.

In hindsight, I should have done a lot less “having fun” and “relaxing” and “spring cleaning” and a lot MORE  “studying” and “prepping for midterms” over my Spring Break…… but alas, I cant turn back time and change that.

The good news is, I had a great, fun, and productive week anyway (regardless of what my midterm grades were).

Here’s a peek into my Spring Break thanks to Instagram:

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coffee. lots and lots of coffee.

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baking. lots of baking.

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I tried out FoodBabe’s Decadent Pound Cake with Chocolate Frosting… which is now a new favorite in our household.

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spent two different days in Laguna Beach with my brother. It truly is a peaceful and fabulous place.

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Laguna Coffee Co = amazing.

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Ziggy loves the beach.. and the City of Laguna Beach is extremely dog friendly.

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I spent a little time day-dreaming of a beautiful home on the beach.

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love brother & sister days of fun.

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checked out the new Stone Company Store in Oceanside… fantastic dog friendly patio!

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and made lots of yummy & healthy breakfasts since I wasnt have to dart out of the house to get to class.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip cookies.

I have been craving some homemade cookies. I havent had the time to bake any due to school, homework, studying, etc….. but since it was the weekend I figured I could find some time to bake while I working on my lengthy Lab Report for Biology. Taking breaks to step away from a Lab Report to bake some cookies sounded like a perfect idea.

I gave Aaron two options:
1. I could make Chocolate Zucchini cookies, OR
2. I could try out a new recipe and bake some Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip cookies.

He chose option number 2.

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies
(recipe from Zesty Cook who got it from Sallys Baking Addiction)

Ingredients:
2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used unbleached all-purpose; next time I will use whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) organic salted butter, softened
1 cup organic light brown sugar
1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
1 organic, free range egg, at room temperature
1 organic, free range egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
16 wrapped caramels, cut into 4 or 5 pieces each (I used Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramels; make sure the ones you choose dont contain High Fructose Corn Syrup or Hydrogenated Oils!)
flaky sea salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Mix the flour and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

With an electric mixer or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and mix well. Gradually add the flour mixture and stir until a dough forms (may take a couple minutes of stirring). Fold in the chocolate chips (do not add the caramels yet). Do not over mix the dough at any point in this process.

Chill dough for at least 30 minutes (or overnight) in the refrigerator. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto un-greased baking sheet (I used a Silpat which made clean up a breeze). Press a few pieces of caramel onto the tops of the cookies. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until edges are slightly browned. The centers should appear very soft and puffy. Sprinkle each cookie generously with sea salt while they are warm.  Enjoy!

*Make sure to keep dough cold at all times while the batches are baking. I kept my dough in the refrigerator in between batches.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

recipe: Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cookies

These cookies are delicious. DELICIOUS!
I absolutely love them! and no, you cannot tell they contain zucchini at all.

If youre craving a gooey, chocolatey cookie but done want something completely unhealthy; these would be a great option. These satisfy any sugar or chocolate craving without loads of guilt (or trans fats or preservatives).

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Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cookies
(from Tasty Kitchen)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tbls unsalted butter (vegan butter works too)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup organic brown sugar
1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
1 large, free range egg
1 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup confectioners sugar (for rolling the dough in)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350*
In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder and whisk or sift to combine. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the butter, vanilla extract and sugars. Use a stand or hand mixer to mix until creamy. Add the egg and shredded zucchini and mix just until combined. Pour in the flour mixture (I typically do this in thirds) and mix just until combined. Add the chopped walnuts and chocolate chips, mix to integrate into dough.

If desired, sprinkle confectioner’s sugar on a plate so you can roll the balls of cookie dough in the sugar. Roll the dough into balls and roll them in the sugar if desired. Space cookie dough evenly on a parchment-lined or lightly oiled cookie sheet.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes.

recipe: Whole Wheat Zucchini & Applesauce Muffins

You already know my feelings on having healthy, filling muffins around the house. Here is yet another wonderful muffin recipe that I love and make often.

Whole Wheat Zucchini & Applesauce Muffins
(adapted from Cooking Light)

Ingredients:

2 cups shredded zucchici
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
1/4 cup organic brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup applesauce (homemade, or unsweetened organic if store-bought)
2 large, free range eggs
1/3 cup walnut or flaxseed oil (I strongly suggest avoiding canola oil)
1 tablespoon + 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350*
Combine flour and the next 5 ingredients (through baking powder) in a large bowl, stir well.
Combine zucchini, applesauce, eggs, walnut oil, and vanilla in a smaller bowl; add to dry ingredients.
Stir just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full and bake at 350* for 17 minutes. If using loaf pans: divide batter evenly between 2 loaf pans and bake at 350* for 1 hour 15 minutes.

*the baked muffins freeze well.

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a day of cooking & baking.

We try to keep a variety of food in the freezer for daily use. Sauces, soups, muffins, cookie dough, fresh fish, etc that we can defrost and use on the days that making everything from scratch just doesnt work.

Our food reserves were running a little low, so we chose to have a “cooking & baking” day yesterday in order to stockpile some foods for the coming weeks. I try to have a freshly cooked homemade meal ready for Aaron when he comes home from work, but there are days when time just wont allow it. So, on these days, I rely on our freezer to help me with a homemade meal.

Yesterday morning while drinking our coffee, Aaron and I made out our grocery list and Aaron went to Whole Foods before things got too crazy (we have learned that its simply not worth going to the Whole Foods by our house on a weekend afternoon).

Aaron came home with our bounty and then we piled everything up on the counter top.  I added the items from our CSA that we were planning on using and then divided everything up based on which recipe it would be going with (organization is key!)

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Yesterday we made:
Spicy Tomato Soup
Roasted Tomato & Garlic Marinara (to be used as pizza or pasta sauce)
Spicy Chipotle Hummus
Whole Wheat Zucchini & Applesauce Muffins
Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cookies
Pizza Dough

Instead of putting all of the recipes on one single blog post, I decided to write up the recipes separately so that they are easier to reference.

Aaron and I plan to have one of these “baking & cooking” days about once a month or so in order to keep a decent amount of food in our stockpile. While, yes, it did take all day. We also had fun doing it. We were able to schedule the recipes out so that while one thing was cooking, the other person was prepping the next recipe or doing the dishes (and boy, did we do a lot of dishes yesterday!) We were also able to have the football game going, once the afternoon rolled around we popped open a beer, and just had fun being around the house doing two of the things that we love to do: cook & bake.

Bran Muffins, a snacking staple to have around the house.

I always like to have some healthy, filling muffins around the house (and in the freezer!) for snacks, additions to breakfast, or even dessert.
So I’m pretty much always on the hunt for new muffin recipes to try out.

I tried this recipe for Bran Muffins that I found at 101 Cookbooks, yesterday.
It turned out great! Most and slightly fluffy but with the density you expect from a good bran muffin. I added walnuts and dried cranberries to mine… but the sky is the limit for what you can put in them.

Yogurt & Honey Bran Muffins
(recipe from 101 Cookbooks, who adapted the recipe from the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook)

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons raw natural cane sugar OR brown sugar
2 cups full fat yogurt (I used Fage greek yogurt)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey, preferably a light honey such as clover
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup of add-ins of your choice – dried cranberries, walnuts, etc (optional)

Preheat oven to 425F degrees, racks in the middle.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, wheat bran, salt, baking soda and sugar.

Beat together the yogurt, egg, honey, and butter in a second larger bowl. Add the dry ingredients and fold in until everything comes together. Fold in any optional add-ins, raisins, nuts, and the like. Resist overmixing.

Either grease a muffin tin with butter or line the tin with muffin liners.
Fill each 3/4 full. Bake 12 -17 minutes, until muffins are golden on top and cooked through.

Makes about one dozen larger muffins OR about 18 regular sized muffins.

and, these pair great with a hot cup of French Press coffee… which is exactly how I am enjoying mine this morning.

holiday recap, part two: Christmas.

Christmas was a little different this year.
Usually we spend Christmas in Alabama with my parents (with the exception of last year which we spent on our honeymoon in Peru) but this year we stayed in Los Angeles.

We also decided to forgo the fake Christmas tree and purchased a real one instead. I havent had a real tree in nearly 15 years, but now I’m ready to get rid of the fake tree entirely. The process of picking out our tree was fun and the added bonus of our house smelling like Christmas was enough to convert me.

Ziggy wasnt too fond of the tree at first; but he quickly warmed up to it. 

Christmas Eve:

Christmas Eve was spent prepping food for Christmas Day. I made cinnamon rolls from scratch, Aaron made homemade tamales and chili, and I baked two pumpkin pies. It was a long day… and I think Aaron and I did about 1,000 dishes before the prepping was done.

My brother drove up from Orange County after he got off of work and surprised us with a much-needed treat after a long day of baking. He was able to get his hands on a growler of Alpine Nelson IPA from Alpine Brewing……. and, we managed to finish the entire growler before we had to leave for our Christmas Eve dinner reservations at 6:30pm.

We had reservations at The Bazaar by Jose Andres a molecular gastronomy restaurant that’s located in the SLS hotel. Jose Andres mentored under Ferran Adria, the famed chef behind the [now closed] restaurant El Buli.

I was so excited to make reservations for our Christmas Eve dinner; and I was also glad that my brother was able to join us. It was, by far, the best meal Ive had in Los Angeles. Not only was the food delicious, but the service was impeccable, the environment was fun, and the whole meal was an experience to remember.

my Cairpirinha made with liquid Nitrogen
caviar and creme fraiche butter
enjoying our caviar on a steamed bun
lobster tail & brioche with a side of lobster bisque
rice krispy bar, caramel bon bon and dark chocolate pop rocks for dessert

Christmas Day:

Christmas morning we woke up, had our morning coffee and Facetimed my parents via my iPad. Then we put the cinnamon rolls in the oven and opened our Christmas gifts while the smell of cinnamon-sugary goodness filled the house.

My brother gave me the most beautiful OM necklace! I immediately put it on and havent taken it off since.
special thanks to my parents for my custom COFFEE WINE & YOGA tshirt!!

While I was frosting the rolls we decided to pop open a bottle of Founder’s Breakfast Stout. That’s right, we opened a beer at 9:30am… but, it is called a Breakfast Stout so we figured it was completely acceptable. Plus, it was Christmas.

The rest of the day was spent eating Aaron’s tamales (which turned out fantastic!), snacking on more cinnamon rolls and drinking. We opened up a 2011 Black Tuesday along with a Kern River Pumpkin Ale, and a Green Flash Imperial IPA.

In addition to our eating.. and drinking. We managed to lounge around the entire day in our PJ’s and watch practically the entire 2nd season of Breaking Bad. All in all, it was a fabulous Christmas.

Chocolate Zucchini Cookies.

I tried this recipe out last night and it. is. fantastic. 
Its the perfect treat if you’re in the mood for some reasonably healthy, chocolatey goodness.
They taste like gooey brownies…. and you cant even tell there is zucchini in them.

Chocolate Zucchini Cookies
Prep Time: 10 m | Cook Time: 14 m | Makes: 24

Ingredients:
1-¼ cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Salt
2 teaspoons Cinnamon
½ cups Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
5 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Softened
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
½ cups Brown Sugar
½ cups White Cane Sugar
1 whole Egg
1 cup Shredded Zucchini
½ cups Walnuts, Chopped (optional)
1 cup Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
⅓ cups Confectioner’s Sugar (for Rolling The Dough In)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cocoa powder and whisk or sift to combine. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the butter, vanilla extract and sugars. Use a stand or hand mixer to mix until creamy. Add the egg and shredded zucchini and mix just until combined. Pour in the flour mixture (I typically do this in thirds) and mix just until combined. Add the chopped walnuts and chocolate chips, mix to integrate into dough.

If desired, sprinkle confectioner’s sugar on a plate so you can roll the balls of cookie dough in the sugar. Roll the dough into balls and roll them in the sugar if desired. Space cookie dough evenly on a parchment-lined or lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes.

Source: Tasty Kitchen

baking day (bread).

Thursday after I got home from campus I made 3 loaves of Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread and 3 loaves of Rustic Ciabatta.

The bread making process is a lot of work. It takes several hours, can leave a messy kitchen at the end (if you dont tidy up along the way), and, in our case, makes an already hot house (without air conditioning) even hotter since the oven is at 450* and 500* degrees for several hours.

Even so, the smell of homemade bread -that you made from scratch- baking in your own kitchen makes every step worth it. Slicing into a warm loaf, fresh out of the oven makes the sweaty temperatures, the dirty dishes, and the hours of hard work totally worth it.

[the happy Whole Wheat dough… about to “double” right over the bowl]
[Estela snapped a photo of me pouring out the Whole Wheat dough]
[the Whole Wheat dough… with the white and wheat starters (thanks Simone!!) in the background]
[resting in the Le Creuset loaf pans before being baked]
[freshly baked Whole Wheat sandwich bread!]
[freshly baked Rustic Ciabatta!]

I didnt take as many photos of the Ciabatta this time around, but you can see more pictures here

I cannot say enough great things about this book. If you want to start baking your own bread, I highly recommend getting it:

baking day (muffins and bread starter prep).

Monday was baking day.
I made two batches of muffins for the week and I prepped my white and wheat bread starters for bread baking day (which will be Thursday).

The first batch of muffins I made were Zucchini-Applesauce Muffins:

After trying several recipes, tweaking them to my liking, and lots of trial and error; I have finally come up with a recipe that I love:

Zucchini-Apple Sauce Muffins

Ingredients:
2 cups graded/shredded zucchini
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup organic granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 large eggs
1/3 vegetable oil (can substitute walnut oil)
1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350*
Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder in a large bowl and stir well.
In a separate bowl combine zucchini, applesauce, egg, oil, and vanilla. Mix well. Add to dry ingredients. Stir until dry ingredients are moistened.
Line muffin pan with muffin liners, and add approx 1/4 cup of batter per muffin.
Bake at 350* for 17 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack.

*These can be frozen! Just take out of the freezer in the morning and by the time lunch rolls around or you need a snack they are defrosted and ready to be enjoyed!

My starters are well on their way to being ready for bread-baking day. These will soon be Rustic Ciabatta and Whole Wheat Sandwich bread!

[the fruits of my labor]

The second batch of muffins ended up being a disaster. I was trying for Oat Bran and Flax Muffins. Flavor wise, they turned out great; but texture wise they were a miss (too dense).
Ill continue to tweak this recipe until its a winner and then I will post it.