Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Mad Dash and A Half Assed Tamale Tutorial

Well folks, we are in the last few days before Christmas and this house is filled with the smell of freshly made tamales! I honestly and truly want to share a detailed recipe/assembly/quirky anecdote with you but I can barely even sit up I am so exhausted! Would you settle for a short picture tutorial?? Yes? You're the best, I don't care what anyone says about you.

 Mike and I have been just go go going for a few the last two weeks.

Finals, cookie orders, short camping trip in between visiting friends and family in SoCal. It's just been insane. So I will keep this short before I head on off to bed. What I really wanted to take the time to say is this: THANK YOU

Thank you so much to our wonderful, amazing, patient, loving, hilarious, beautiful friends. The friends who keep our spirits up when we are feeling, "eh". The friends who drop everything to go on a last minute camping trip in the pouring (freezing) rain. Friends who have come through our home this holiday season to share delicious meals with us, bearing thoughtful gifts and giant radiating smiles.

You are the reason this has been such a blessed year. We adore you all and we feel so very very lucky to have each of you as a friend!

Mike and I have most certainly had our best year as a couple in 2011. We made huge strides in our relationship with each other but also in our individual lives. He is pursuing some very promising avenues as far as his career is concerned. And I finally followed my gut and enrolled in culinary school (the best choice I made for myself in a long time).

We feel like God has blessed us this year. Giving us the guidance we needed to make big steps towards being happy individuals and even happier as a married couple. I hope you also take a moment to reflect back on the triumphs you've experienced in 2011.

I also hope that you enjoy this tutorial. It is SO simple and makes a lot of food. If you're not a meat eater, simply swap the meat out with shredded cheese, roasted veggies or wilted greens! Also, you will need a very large pot for this recipe. 4 pts at the smallest. You could also totally use your slow cooker, just put a steamer basket in the bottom and check back often to make sure your pot doesn't go dry. Enjoy!!

See you all in the new year!


1 bag of Tamale Masa Dough
Lard or Shortening
Chicken or Veggie Broth
Salt & Pepper
1 Can Red or Green Enchilada Sauce
2 lb Shredded Meat (Beef, Pork or Chicken)
1 Package of Corn Husks (found in the Hispanic foods aisle)

                                              Tamale Picture (Sort of Super Lazy) Tutorial

Buy, or make masa dough (using directions on back of bag)

Add 1 can of enchilada sauce to 2lbs shredded pork, beef or chicken

Spread masa over softened corn husks like so, and top with shredded meat, tuck in the bottom and wrap like a burrito

Place folded side down, into a steamer and steam for about an hour until tamale dough is soft set (they'll finish cooking as they cool) 

We enjoy our tamales with black beans and Spanish rice. Optional toppings are endless, but include salsa, sour cream, cheese, enchilada sauce (red or green) and cilantro! 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Because Weekends Were...

...made for FUN!

Holy Moly have we been having an amazing month so far. Yes, I realize we are only a few days in but it has been an amazing few days. More specifically the last two days.

With Mikes work schedule we rarely get to spend an entire weekend together, but it just so happens that this weekend we really got out moneys worth.

He got in from work Saturday morning and as usual he hit the Cider Creek Bakery car show before coming home. Here in Paso Robles we have many wonderful places to choose from for breakfast, but Cider Creek has everything we want/need for our Saturday mornings. Mike goes early to see all the classic cars pull in then he buys us a mocha latte, some muffins and a cheese danish. It's our little tradition. We've been doing it since we moved here and their little bakery has really become a crucial part of our Saturday mornings!

Mike likes to wake me up with his Cider Creek goodies and I am always more than happy to hop out of bed for them. After our coffee and baked goods, we caught up on our weeks. Me at school, and Mike at work. We'd missed a lot this week so we sat and talked for hours actually. It's so good to have a husband who after 6 years is still just every bit my best friend as the day we met.

Around noon I headed out with our dear friend Jessica who owns Paso Robles Sommelier to Farm Stand 46 and Oso Libre Winery for a day of wine tasting and a phenomenal lunch. We browsed their market looking over all the salads, cheeses, wines, meats and pickled veggies. It was a smorgasbord of fine fresh foods. We were in foodie heaven.

Aside from the food I mostly enjoyed our lunch because it gave us an opportunity to catch up a little. As busy as we've both been we just haven't made the time to sit and lunch like that in a long time. It was such a gorgeous day for sitting and munching and carrying on. I think it should be a new mandatory rule: Nurture your friendships weekly, and over an amazing plate of food!

At Oso Libre we just made a quick stop, tried some of the new Primoroso (which was included in my new wine club shipment!) and did a little tasting/window shopping for Christmas.

Later that night Mike and I picked up our Christmas tree, played some holiday tunes and drank warm cider. It sounds so cheesy and like it must be out of some movie about a more fortunate woman's life... but it's not. To make the night even more complete we watched It's A Wonderful Life, which I had not seen before. Mike couldn't believe I hadn't seen it before...I know because he wouldn't stop saying it. "What did your family even watch during the holidays?" Football, Mike...we watched FOOTBALL...

Today we spent the morning and afternoon cleaning, hanging lights and cooking up a storm. We hosted some of my classmates from the PCA (Paso Robles Culinary Academy) for dinner tonight and it was a definite success. I know, I took a vote and it was unanimous.

Holiday Party Spread: Turkey Roulades with Mushroom Stuffing. Ham with Dried Fruit and Pineapples
Green Bean Casserole. Oh! And Pumpkin Liquor for our Coffee!! Yum 

I have to say that I was very hesitant to give up full time work to go to culinary school, but I am SO glad we did. And moreover I am SO grateful to my husband that he works so hard to allow me to follow my dreams. I remember taking virtual tours of culinary schools when I was a preteen. Wishing, dreaming, that someday I would be in the up delicious new recipes everyday.

After dinner and dessert and caroling...we decorated mason jars and made some pretty spectacular Christmas themed bark. white and dark chocolate peppermint bark!
Meeting these women at the PCA has been one of the most wonderful things that could happen to me. It's only been a few months and yet I am certain these are friends I will have for the rest of my life. We are kindred spirits really. And we love the same things: Food, Laughing Hysterically and... Crafting!

Crafting table, overflowing with holiday crafts and snacks to keep us energized. We made delicious Christmas bark and decorated mason jars to package it all. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Brie and Rubbarb Grilled Cheese

Yes, you read that title correctly. It's brie...smooth, earthy and gooey...melted in between 2 thick slices of fresh rosemary bread with rhubarb jam. Raspberry rhubarb jam to be exact. Why? Because it's what we had on hand and also because it is freaking delicious! It will make your mouth water when you catch that first whiff of toasted bread, rosemary and sweet rhubarb.

Eat this with coffee. Eat this with apple herbal tea (and cream). Eat this with chicken noodle soup from Costco (or make it yourself ya lazy bum!).

But please, make this. And then add this to your list of secret weapons. Whip this out when you need to impress a new friend or when your husband is being a pain in the ass. He will LOVE it. Because it is that perfect balance of sweet and savory. He'll ask, is this dinner or dessert and the great thing is you do NOT have to answer that! What it is plain and simple, is AMAZING.

This is one of those recipes that is in fact not a recipe at all. It is a method. Bread, fillings, heat...YAY...grilled cheese. Get it? Good.

With that in mind here's how dinner went last night. I took a loaf of damn good rosemary bread from our favorite bakery. I cut thick thick slices and filled them with brie and a tbsp or 2 of raspberry and rhubarb jam. I warmed up a skillet. I sh-meared butter on one side of the sandwich and toasted it butter side down. The slice facing me then got another sh-mear of butter and then I flipped it. It looked melty and gooey enough for me so then I ATE it. The whole damn thing in practically one giant, jaw unhinging bite. It was divine. I had an out of body experience.

I have to disclose to you that placing something sweet inside a grilled cheese sandwich is not at all an original idea. I've seen it all over the place. Apples and cheddar cheese. Pears and blue cheese. It happens often because it works. It makes so much sense, so please don't be too afraid to try this out. Take me at my word or google some other sweet savory grilled cheese "recipes" that call out to you and try them out.

I went to an amazing restaurant here in town a few months ago that sort of inspired the sandwich we had last night. They served a vegetarian 3 cheese and huckelberry jam sammie that knocked my socks off. If you're ever in Paso Robles do check them out and if that sandwich is still on the menu...order 7 and eat them all week!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Spinach and Pumpkin Lasagna

Yesterday was Thursday, my busiest day of the week. I am in school for over six hours and I still have to get all my studying and cooking and cleaning done somewhere in between all my classes.

So on Thursdays, when it comes to dinner, I am looking for something easy peasy. Something I can throw together and leave in the oven for Mike, and since I wont be eating dinner until after 830, I'd like it to be healthy. Clicking through some fall themed oven meals yesterday morning I found a recipe for Spinach and Pumpkin Lasagna, mmmm. And since I still had half a can of pumpkin puree (from baking some delicious pumpkin cheesecake) I figured why not.

I haven't had this combination before but boy am I ever a fan now! There is a natural richness provided by the pumpkin puree and a subtle earthiness from the spinach and a dash of nutmeg. The recipes I found online mostly included gobs and gobs of cheese which I am normally a fan of, just not today. I opted to leave out a giant layer of cheese in exchange for a lighter bechamel made from skim milk and a 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan that goes into our sauce and on top of the lasagna.

If you have never made a white sauce before here are a few tips:

* Use a heavy bottomed pot, something that will evenly distribute heat
* Add your milk a little at a time at first, paying special care to whipping out lumps
* Your sauce must come to a boil before you're done, this is the only way to tell how thick the end result will be
*Don't season your sauce until after the cheese has been added. Parmesan is salty as is and you don't want to over do it!

We served this lasagna with roasted vegetables and a VERY tall glass of milk. What? Don't look at me like that, milk is good and good for you!

We had carrot cake that I made in my Baking Science class for dessert. It was phenomenal, and I can say that because it was someone else's recipe and it was my first time making it so I am thrilled it came out well.

This lasagna came together so fast! And it doesn't take a ton of ingredients like the ones we found online. You can put it together and leave in the fridge until it's time to eat. It is healthy, rich, delicious and vegetarian! What's not to love??

Spinach and Pumpkin Lasagna

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups skim milk (you may replace 1 cup of milk with low fat, sodium free broth)
pinch of nutmeg
1 clove of garlic
1 bay leaf
3-4 peppercorns

1 cup wilted spinach, drained well
1 cup pumpkin puree (or half of a 15 oz can)
1 egg yolk (optional)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
1/2 box lasagna noodles, cooked according to directions

To make the bechamel, on low heat melt butter in a large heavy sided pot. Sprinkle in flour and cook until the mixture has taken on a little color. Switch heat to medium and add the milk a small amount at a time constantly stirring. If you notice any lumps, lower the heat and whisk until they are out.

Add garlic, bay leaf, a few peppercorns and nutmeg.

Once all the milk has been added bring mixture to a slow boil, continuing to whisk out any lumps. Once at a boil, examine mixture for thickness. It should lightly coat the back of a spoon, if it is thick or paste like, add more milk or broth. Let it simmer on low heat, mixing with a spoon occasionally. Remove garlic and bay leaf.

Remove from heat and add 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese, mixing furiously! Taste, then season accordingly. Set aside, stirring frequently to prevent a skin forming on the top of your sauce.
*Note: this sauce is THE balls...remember this sauce. You will use it often, I promise!

For the pumpkin layer, add puree, the remaining parmesan cheese and egg yolk to a small bowl and mix until combined. Season with a little salt and pepper, you can add Italian seasoning if you'd like but only a small pinch. Set aside.

Now we start assembling. This is how I put the lasagna together, use it as a guideline or be a rebel and mix it up. I can guarantee you no one will ever know. It's not as if someone is going to cut into their lasagna and say..."Is that a layer of spinach, THEN a layer of pumpkin? UNACCEPTABLE!" Not going to happen....I promise.

So here's how it went down:

Have your cooked lasagna sheets, pumpkin mixture, bechamel and wilted spinach all close by. Grease your favorite baking dish, I used a 9x9 I think, and put down a spoonful of bechamel. Onto the bechamel you'll layer a few sheets of lasagna noodles. If you find your lasagna sheets too long or short, do not fret. Simply cut some sheets into long or short strips to fit or fill in the gaps, it isn't an exact science...your finished product will look stunning anyway.

After the first layer is down spread all of the pumpkin mixture and top with more lasagna sheets. Put bechamel on the second layer, just thick enough that we will see it when we cut into the lasagna. You can add shredded mozzarella if you absolutely cannot do without that super cheesy layer. I didn't miss it, honestly but my gut says that some of you will NEED this go for it. This gets another layer of pasta then you sprinkle the wilted spinach all around, top with a little bechamel and lasagna sheets. Now spread the very last of the sauce onto the top of your lasagna, shred some extra Parmesan all over the top and you're done. Throw that sucker in an oven set to 350 and cook until the edges are slightly browned and your sauce is bubbling.

You're not going to want to (because your house will smell SO amazing) but you MUST let this rest. The different layers need time to chill out and relax a little before you dig in. If you are a good little boy or girl and wait 10 minutes, when you cut in the layers of orange and white and green will be perfectly distinct and stunning when you go to plate.

I hope you all are enjoying the holiday season so far. There has been a lot of snuggling and hot cocoa going on around here, not looking forward to finals week next week but here's hoping they fly by for all of us! Cheers!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Slow Cooker BBQ Beef Dinner

I love summer. I do, it's just that....well summer is hot and balmy here in Paso Robles. It get's well into the triple digits and you're not getting ME into a bathing suit so I just sweat and complain for three whole months. I don't like the heat. It's not for me at all. You know what IS for me though? The foods of summer. BBQ in particular is my very favorite thing to eat during the summer. And ice cream sundaes!

I know there are no rules saying I can't have bbq during the winter months, but it's just less convenient. I mean who's going to fire up that grill when it's 38 degrees outside and hailing? Not I....Not I.

Me, Diana and her daughter Kimberly
So here I am, it's November. It is freezing out, but my stomach doesn't know that. My stomach wants bbq...and an ice cream sundae. We have some friends in town visiting us from SoCal and I wanted to treat them to a nice home cooked meal after a day of site seeing. We got to show them around the down town area all day and then my stomach started growling...oh did it ever...

Hanging downtown, working up our appetites
I am a slave to that stomach. Look at these love handles. These love handles, clearly, are not told NO often. So, instead of firing up a grill I plugged in my slow cooker and came up with this delicious and accidentally frugal meal that has all the flavors of summer, with a few twists to suit the colder months. Instead of my go to pulled pork, I mixed it up a little and used beef. I also added a spicy element, chipotle pepper, to keep us nice and warmed through. The entire bbq beef dinner cost us under $10 for four servings.

The recipe's here are just as easy as it gets. Minimal ingredients and minimal effort. You throw the beef in a slow cooker for 4 hours, you make and refrigerate the coleslaw (optional) and the dessert is so incredibly easy it's dangerous.

Let's talk about dessert for a second...what do you think of when you think of fall? Apples! Yes, and apple pie should come right to mind if you are at all a normal red blooded American (Ah-Murica Hell YAH). I didn't feel up to making a whole apple pie, but I did yearn desperately for that warm apple pie a la mode flavor. I think I found the next best thing. It is faster than making apple pie but just as delicious, possibly...maybe....perhaps even.....better?

You may place your wonderfully tender bbqed beef atop a sesame seed bun as we did, but be prepared it is a messy messy feast. We rounded out the meal with our favorite eh-hem....canned chili beans and cherry coke. I suggest you do the same because I said so and because it is delicious and because I me and my love handles clearly know what we are talking about here!

Slow Cooker BBQ Beef

1 pound stew beef or fajita beef (whatever is on sale)
1 c BBQ Sauce
1/4 c water
1 tbsp chipotle peppers

Mix all the ingredients in your slow cooker, set to high for 1 hour and then to low for about 2 more hours or until the beef flakes easily with a fork.

Quick Cole Slaw

(make ahead)
1/2 head of cabbage, shredded
1 carrot, grated
1/2 cup of mayo (or so, I fake measured it)
2 tbsp agave nectar or 1tbsp sugar
1 tbsp bbq sauce
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar


Mix well in large bowl. Fridge...NOW.

Caramel Apple Pie Syrup (To serve over ice cream)

1 apple, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1tbsp french vanilla/caramel coffee creamer

In a small sauce pan add butter and sugar. Heat over a low flame until they are melted together. Add apples, vanilla, cinnamon and raise heat to medium. The sugar mixture will bubble slightly if it looks like it will boil over, lower the heat. Let it simmer like this for about 1-2 minutes or until the apples are fork tender. Remove from heat and stir in the creamer. Serve over a big scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream -OR- you can do what my husband did and spoon it over some left over pumpkin pie!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Peanut Butter Banana Snack Cakes

I am sitting here with crumbs all over my shirt, melted butter dripping down my hands and chin, mouth full...way too full, trying to figure out how to convince you that this HAS to be the most tender, moist, subtly sweet, delicious snack cake I have had...ever...yep...ever.

I just want to start out by saying that I was surprised at how well this came out. Honestly and delightfully surprised, because all I was trying to do when I started out with this recipe was use up three over ripe bananas! I had no idea what was about to happen, I just knew I would rather fling these bananas at random strangers on my cul de sac than turn them into

MORE banana bread. So I went pillaging through some old cook books searching for inspiration. I found it in the form of a pumpkin bar recipe that was certainly more fall friendly, but useless given my abundance of banana.
So I simply swapped out the pumpkin for exactly the same amount of banana and made a few other small tweaks. I was worried it would mess up the texture or the richness that was intended with the 1 cup of oil I left out. But, I guarantee that after you make these peanut butter banana snack cakes you will literally ignore bananas on purpose to have an excuse to bake them again.

Disclaimer: If you're expecting some overly sweet dense gooey snack...keep looking. Because this ain't it. Not that I am judging, I live for those kinds of snacks, this just isn't THAT
What this IS though, is light and airy and fragrant and moist! Did I mention that yet? Too moist and delicious for frosting or chocolate chips (but seriously maybe next time?) because it really is just perfect the way it is, right out of the oven warm and begging for a small or large-ish pat of sweet cream butter. Maybe a tiny drizzle of icing or some strawberry jam if you're into the whole gilding of the Lilly sort of thing.

I adapted this recipe from this Pumpkin Bar recipe from my old Betty Crocker cookbook. I replaced the cup of oil with a cup of all natural unsweetened, unsalted peanut butter and replaced the 2 cups of white sugar with 1/2 a cup of brown sugar (and 2tbsp of white sugar) since I figured the banana's would add more than enough sweetness. Now as of this moment no one else in the house has tried them (Mike is sleeping as he has work early tomorrow, poor sucker!) so speaking from my personal preference, I think this recipe is a great balance of sweetness and savory. However, knowing my husband...the walking sweet tooth, he would prefer (and you might also be inc
lined) to add a full cup of brown sugar. That would certainly work and my husband would love you.

In all honesty, replacing the cup of oil with peanut butter will make you feel all wholesome and healthy so you don't have beat yourself up over adding more sugar and eating 2 or 3 snack cakes while your loving husband snoozes away in the next room.

You're going to need a large baking dish because this makes a LOT of bars. The original recipe says it'll make 39 bars but I can tell you that would yield some TINY cakes. I cut away all willy nilly like and ended up with 28 generous portions. You could also bake these in a muffin tin and I'd imagine you'd be able to get at least 3 dozen large muffins.

3 medium size very ripe bananas (about 14-15oz)
1 cup all natural, sugar free, unsalted peanut butter

1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp white sugar
4 eggs
2 packets instant banana bread
flavored oatmeal (cinnamon flavor would work too)
2 cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

In a medium bowl combine flour, instant oat meal,baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside. In a larger bowl cream together peanut butter, sugars and bananas until fully combined and batter is a pale light brown. Mix in eggs, one at a time then slowly incorporate dry ingredients and pour into a greased 10 by 15 baking dish and bake for 20-30 minutes. I feel like mine took exactly 20 minutes but I can't say for sure because I didn't time it... What? You act like baking is an exact science or something, you'll figure it out. I believe in you. Grab a toothpick and do the cake test in the middle trick. If it comes out clean it done. Easy!

OH! And on a side note DO NOT do what I did and cut into these right out of the oven. The cake was way too moist to be hacked into right away. It was pissed, it got all ornery and fell apart on me. So please don't do that. It will be difficult because it smells amazing when they come out of the oven, but the wait is worth it. When they do cool down, DO slap some sweet cream butter on and grab a mug-0-milk and settle in. Then hide the pan till you can safely deliver these addictive little bars to friends and family, they will love you. Promise.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The word on the street is....

Oh boy, time has flew. I promise dear friends that I did NOT forget about you. I simply have been busy in this last year. VERY busy. Remember how we'd talked about this adventure I was embarking on? The secret adventure? Well I am ready to tell you!My secret adventure was of the culinary nature... surprised?

No I didn't imagine you would be. I set out to start my own catering company and that is precisely what I did. Now, we haven't had the sort of wild success that I was fantasizing we would, but I have kept busy none the less.

Right out the gate I catered a bridal shower and a corporate event, both for my former boss Rachel. I would call each event a success. The feedback I received was very positive and the menus I used for one of those dinners has become a customer favorite. I know you probably want to see some pictures, believe me I wish I had taken some. What as I thinking, right? I wasn't I was planning, and doing mise en place and sweating over open grills and making peti fours OK?

Ok, then.

Now after those two events things slowed down quite a bit and I had a few baking gigs here and there and also over in that area. I baked a dozen cute little cupcakes for my friends at City Hall and at the Safety center and in December my usual Christmas cookie extravaganza. This year it was bigger than ever with over 25 dozen cookies.

I will give you a little background. A few years ago I started making gingerbread men and sugar cookie trees and other seasonal treats around Christmas time. I posted them on facebook ( I am such a shameless bragger) and a few friends asked if they could purchase some from me. I said sure, I loved making them so much what would a few extra dozen hurt? Well each year since then the number of orders goes up and up with this year being the craziest! I still enjoyed myself but, "Note to Self," I must start earlier this year if I will every be able to keep up.

What else, oh I have completely skipped October of last year. How very exciting that was, catering my very first wedding! Yep! The menu was chicken mole with cumin scented rice. I was up to my elbows in mole sauce the night before the wedding. And yes, I made the sauce %100 from scratch. It was a very proud moment for me.

Now along that last year there were certainly some missteps and some disasters. In May my dear friends mother asked me to cater her daughters birthday party. I was more than happy to show off my "skills" to our mutual friends. What I didn't take into consideration was time management.... Not my strong point at all. I was late to the event and I do remember some particularly dry pieces of roast beef. My friend and her mother (the sweet, loving, graceful women that they are) said not a word about my shortcomings but to me they were all I could see that night.

This year has been fairly good. I have gotten steady work both on the catering side and as a private chef. I have enjoyed the private chef side of things more and more as time goes on, and I think this is something I will be exploring in the future. Our website launched last year in May, but I wasn't thrilled with it so when it came time to renew, I started from scratch and put the a new website up myself. Take a look see HERE and tell me what you think.