its that time of year again….

Chicago surprised us with a chilly weekend which has me REALLY excited about Fall. Sweaters, boots, scarfs, warm soups, stews, lots of baking, and…. pumpkin spiced things.

I usually treat myself to 1 Pumpkin Spiced Latte from Starbucks each year. and then, after finishing it, I suffer from buyers remorse because I think of all of that sugar, non-organic almond or soy milk they use, and the likely scary ingredients included in their “pumpkin spice” flavoring.

This year, especially Friday as I was wandering the streets of Chicago enjoying the sudden crisp in the air, I decided that  I would just make my own pumpkin spiced things so that I wouldnt have to deal with that buyers remorse anymore. Plus, making my own means that I can enjoy more of this Fall flavor over the course of the next couple of months.

Lucky for me, one of my favorite bloggers, 100 Days of Real Food, posted these recipes on Facebook last week, which timed out perfectly.

I took her general recipe and tweaked it a bit:

3/4 cup steamed Organic Unsweetened Almond Milk
2 shots espresso or coffee (I like strong coffee drinks; you could use 1 shot if you want it a little milder)
1 tsp Organic Maple Syrup
1 tbls Organic Pureed Pumpkin
1/4 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (I made my own using this recipe from another favorite blogger, My Baking Addiction)

and the result? a delicious pumpkin-y morning drink without the worry.

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I’m going to continue playing around with this recipe along with other pumpkin spiced recipes as Fall approaches….

recipe: gazpacho & cheese toast.

Its been quite hot here in LA. While most people think that LA temps hover around 72 degrees year round.. that’s not the case in the summer months! We have been hitting some pretty high temperatures which makes for a warm home (we do not have air conditioning or proper insulation). This poses a bit of an issue with cooking or baking because turning the oven on is the last thing you want to do when your house is already blazing hot. This time of year is when I start relying on crock pot recipes and recipes for foods with minimal cooking.

Yesterday was warm (although not nearly as hot at the weekend and days prior) and I wasnt really in the mood to do much cooking that involved being over the hot stove or turning on the oven for too long.

For some reason I started craving gazpacho. That cold, tomato goodness sounded perfect for a hot evening.
Aaron isnt big on cold meals… so I wanted to make sure there was at least one element to dinner that was warm and “cooked” for him.

The end result was fantastic (and easy!) gazpacho with cheese & herbed toast:

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Not only did the gazpacho turn out delicious, but it was SO easy to make and ended up making enough for either 2 dinners or a dinner and 2 lunches. I love that!

Gazpacho
(recipe slightly adapted from MattBites.com)

3 large heirloom tomatoes
1 large cucumber
1 large green bell pepper
2 tbls red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup olive oil
salt to taste

1. chop up the tomatoes, cucumber and bell pepper into small pieces (it doesnt have to be perfect!) and throw them into your Vitamix blender (this is the model we have, and love). Add the peeled garlic cloves (they can be whole) and red wine vinegar to the blender and blend until the mixture becomes a smooth liquid.

2. once blended, taste the mixture. Add more red wine vinegar if needed.

3. add the olive oil and salt (depending on how much it needs) and blend again until smooth.

4. taste one final time, and add salt/vinegar if needed.

5. pour mixture into bowl, pitcher, individual Weck jars (as I did), or even Mason Jars. Put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

6. remove from refrigerator and serve. optional: top with diced avocado, sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes, pinch of flaky sea salt, etc. Enjoy!

IMG_3314just look at all of those beautiful summer colors!

For the cheese toast– smear a slice of ciabatta or sourdough with a butter-olive oil-herbs of choice mixture (we used cumin, oregano, pepper) and top with muenster cheese. bake until warm/melted and then broil until the cheese bubbles.

packing a lunch.

My blogging hiatus is finally over!
I blame my Spring semester (Biology and Chemistry) and being all-around busier than normal the past few months.

Even though my semester is over and I am in full SUMMER BREAK mode, I thought I’d share my food prep for my long days on campus. On Monday’s and Wednesday’s I would arrive at 7:45am and wouldnt leave campus until around 4pm. Considering I dont eat from the school cafeteria (unhealthy! eww!) I would prep a full days worth of food to keep me from getting hangry (hungry+angry) while I was on campus and then while I fought traffic on the way home at the end of the long day.

My breakfast was usually one of 2 things:
1. An Arbonne protein shake, or
2. a jar of refrigerator oatmeal

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My lunch was usually a Chickpea-of-the-Sea sandwich or some quinoa with tomatoes & avocado topped with Bragg’s Healthy Vinaigrette; a bag of Smart Puffs, some freeze-dried fruit, and a small bar of organic chocolate.

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I would also pack snacks for throughout the day. Things like: a banana, a Kind bar, organic baby carrots, and ginger chews.

IMG_2866Its a common misconception that packing your own lunch is hard and time consuming. Yes, it IS time consuming… but after a time or two of doing it you learn the tricks and you learn what works best for you.

For example, for my lunch I have learned:
1. That I need a good sized, insulated lunch box. My favorite one is this one from the Neiman Marcus + Target collection (also available here).  Aaron’s mom gave it to me for Christmas last year and I absolutely love it. Its a great size and the insulation works very well to keep things chilled until you need them. I also really like this one from reuseit.com (its great if you have smoothies or bottles of kombucha that need to stand upright).

2. That I need a variety of small glass jars and containers. I love using mason jars (both the tiny ones and the pint sized ones), but I also keep a few of these and these on hand; they are great for keeping oils/dressings from leaking all over your lunch bag.

3. Reusable napkins (these are my absolute favorite) & silverware (I use a set like this or these) are a must.

4. Reusable & nontoxic ice packs are essential.

5. It also helps to buy lunch items in bulk. For instance, at my local Whole Foods I can buy a 6pk bag of the Smart Puffs and a 6pk bag of the freeze-dried apples. I also purchase a whole box of Kind bars at a time. Having items on hand makes prepping my lunch even easier. If you dont have a Whole Foods nearby, Amazon.com is another great resource for purchasing things in bulk.

6. and last but not least: prep your lunch (or at least the majority of it) the night before. Have the containers stacked up on the top shelf of the refrigerator waiting for you and have your lunch bag with napkin and cutlery sitting on the counter or dining room table just waiting for the chilled items & ice packs to be put in it the next morning. If you prep ahead of time, the morning of will be a breeze. And trust me, you will thank yourself for the extra effort when you’re eating a yummy homemade lunch while your coworkers or classmates are eating nasty & chemical ridden food from the cafeteria or a nearby fast-food place.

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.

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.

cinnamon pear & apple-sauce.

We ended up with a lot of pears and apples after our last produce delivery. So many that I knew we wouldnt be able to eat all of them before they started going bad.

I had planned on making my go-to Pear & Apple Crumble….. but for some reason I wasnt really feeling it. Maybe it was because I had just baked a huge batch of Chocolate Chip cookies? or maybe I just wasnt in a crumble mood?

Instead, I decided to cut up the pears and apples, sprinkle them with a light coating of sugar, squeeze some lemon juice on them (to prevent them from oxidizing) and I let them sit in the fridge overnight.

Then, yesterday morning I put them in the crock pot along with some water, a tiny bit of brown sugar, and a cinnamon stick and I let them cook on low for about 6 hours. I fished out the cinnamon stick and then used my immersion blender to blend it all together.

The end result?
delicious Cinnamon Pear & Apple-Sauce:

Cinnamon Pear & Apple Sauce:

3 or 4 apples, cut into chunks (I left the skins on)
4 or 5 pears, skinned, and cut into chunks
granulated sugar (I eyeballed it, but I think it was about 1/4 cup)
juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
sprinkle of ground cinnamon

Toss cut up pears and apples in a bowl with granulated sugar and lemon juice.
Put contents into crockpot and add brown sugar, cinnamon stick, and ground cinnamon (to taste).
Cook on low for approx 6 hours.
Blend together.
Refrigerate.
Enjoy.