Friday, June 29, 2012

New babies and a Fourth of July cocktail

No, no, no…not those kinds of babies. We’re talking babies of the feline variety here…triplets to be exact. From now on, just call us the crazy cat people. I’m pretty sure getting three kittens qualifies you for that classification.

Allow me introduce you to Miles, Gigi and Coco…

Last weekend we had an appointment to take our pup to the vet for some shots. They sometimes have kittens for adoption in the lobby and before we walked in Andy said, “If they have a calico for adoption, she’s coming home with us.” Well, you can see that they did indeed have a calico and there was no way we could break this precious little bunch up.

Turns out they were found abandoned in a parking lot so they’re a little shy, but they’re coming around more and more every day. Gigi, the calico, is already sitting on our laps and purring like crazy. I’m sure the other two aren’t far behind. Febby, our miniature dachshund, is beside himself with excitement and LOVES them. The kittens are not in the least bit scared of him and attack his wagging tail every chance they get. We’re one big happy (slightly crazy) family…

Having lost both of our 18-year-old cats earlier this year, I didn’t think I was quite ready for this step. But all I had to do was watch Andy watching these guys play to know that we made the right decision. It’s obvious how happy it makes him to have this kind of energy back in the house. In fact, it’s downright adorable to see the look in his eye when he holds one of them. In his words, it makes his heart feel full. That’s quite a return on investment.

So, needless to say, things have been a bit hectic this week and I haven’t had a whole lot of time for much besides kittens, kittens and more kittens. However, as you know by now, there is always time for a cocktail around here, and with the Fourth of July coming up, it’s a perfect excuse for this festive beverage.

Watermelon-Blueberry Cooler

Makes 1 tall cocktail

6 ounces watermelon
1 ounce blueberry vodka
1-2 lemon wedges
blue decorating sugar, optional for rim

Puree watermelon, vodka and juice of one lemon wedge in a blender. Add ice (to desired thickness) and blend until smooth.
If sugaring the rim, pour a small amount of blue decorating sugar onto a plate. Run lemon wedge around the rim of the glass. Dip rim in sugar.
Pour cocktail into glass.

This is a simple, refreshing drink that is a bit more fruit juice than cocktail, but it hits the spot on a hot day.

And if you’re looking for another patriotic beverage, White Wine-Berry Sangria always hits the spot...Happy Fourth of July!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Spicy Tri-tip Skewers for a #SummerGrilling party

The weather is getting warmer and we’ve taken to the patio once again. Chances are you’ll find us out there almost every weekend…relaxing, reading, napping, and of course, barbecuing. So I was more than happy to host a #SummerGrilling party for Cattleman’s Finest Grill it Up campaign with Smart & Final. The grill is fired up most weekends anyway…why not turn it into a party?

We had a small, casual backyard gathering, for no reason other than to celebrate the warm weather and the weekend. You don’t need any other reason than that, do you?

All set up and ready for guests.
Grilling makes dinner for a crowd easy…all the food is prepped in advance, you can still be a part of the party, cleanup is a breeze, and it just tastes better! My menu was pretty simple…I wanted to focus on the flavor of the meat and enhance it with some spice, and then lighten things up a bit with some grilled fruit and vegetables. Skewers are the perfect party-food choice since they make the meat go a long way.

After a quick trip to Smart & Final for my tri-tip, I was ready to start prepping. All I’d have to do was a little pre-party setup, throw the food on the grill, sit back and enjoy a cocktail! Who am I kidding?? All Andy would have to do is throw the food on the's hard to dispute photographic evidence of Andy working and me cocktail-ing. 

Grilling and laughing, and the final product.

Spicy Tri-tip Skewers with Pineapple and Red Onion

1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons Sriracha hot chili sauce
1/3 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 1/2 pound tri-tip, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes

Dipping sauce:
1/2 cup red wine
6 tablespoons pineapple juice
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons Sriracha hot chili sauce (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

pineapple chunks
red onion pieces
6 inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water

For marinade:
Mix first 8 ingredients together. Pour into a zip-top bag and add tri-tip. Place in refrigerator and let marinate for at least 24 hours.

For skewers:
When ready to cook, thread skewers with one chunk of pineapple, one piece of red onion, a cube of tri-tip, then another piece of onion and another chunk of pineapple. Repeat until all the meat is used up.
Heat the grill to about 375 degrees and place skewers over direct heat.
Grill for a few minutes per side, to desired doneness. (Beware: They cook fast!)

For dipping sauce:
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat to a simmer and reduce for about 20 minutes, until thickened.

Serve skewers with dipping sauce on the side.

Dinner is served!

These skewers with a Hawaiian flair have some kick, but the pineapple and red onion complement the spice perfectly. Pair the tri-tip with skewers of grilled mini peppers, dressed simply with olive oil, salt and pepper. And don’t forget the cocktails! I made Strawberry-Watermelon Sangria for a refreshing party drink. 

The aftermath and the best way to end a night...champagne!

Disclaimer: I am a member of the Collective Bias™ Social Fabric® Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™. All opinions are my own. #CBias #SocialFabric

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dogs, cheese-stuffed burgers and spiced up fries

I thought about my childhood dog while I was making these burgers and fries. How’s that, you ask?

Our family dog, Corky, never had a very big appetite. She was one of those picky dogs that turned her nose up to dog food, but was definitely interested in whatever you had on your plate, especially if it came out of a paper sack. As the years went by, she got even pickier. Eventually, the ruse that Corky would eat dog food at all ended, and my dad started cooking her beef and chicken, among other tasty people treats. At times, to look in her bowl, you might think she was eating better than we did. Since Corky also had issues with not eating while we were on vacation, my mom started buying her hamburgers from the drive-thru as a special treat and incentive to get her to eat, with instructions to the dog sitter to give her a quarter of a burger per meal. It makes me chuckle to picture my vegetarian mother, who can barely figure out how to order at McDonald’s (true story), ordering a bag full of burgers there. It’s also why burgers remind me of Corky.

Apparently my mom’s habit of feeding dogs bad food goes waaaaaaaay (too many a’s?) back to her childhood. Their family dog, Puddles, was the recipient of just about anything she ate, including candy bars. Puddles, for his part, seemed not to be bothered by his diet of chocolate and nougat, and lived a normal dog lifespan. But the real question is this: What kind of weird kid willingly gives up her candy to the dog? I’m sure she’ll chime in…

From burgers to dogs to candy and back to burgers…that was a bit of a reach, huh?

JalapeƱo Oil Steak Fries

2 russet potatoes
2-3 tablespoons jalapeno olive oil, divided use
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Scrub potatoes and cut into 8 wedges each. Soak potatoes in a bowl of cold water for about 10 minutes. Remove from water and dry with a paper towel.
On a rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes with about 1 tablespoon oil and all spices. Arrange potato wedges on the sheet so they are cut side down and not touching. Bake for about 20 minutes, then brush potatoes with extra oil and turn to other side. Brush baked side with oil, then return to oven for 20 more minutes, or until crispy on the outside and tender inside. 
Remove from oven and immediately season with extra salt as desired.

The jalapeno oil and seasoning give these just enough flavor, but don’t dominate the taste of the classic steak fries. If you want a little extra kick, drizzle a little more oil on the fries when you take them out of the oven.

And those burgers full of gooey cheese and jalapenos? Although I wouldn’t recommend these for your dog, I do highly recommend them to spice lovers.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The weekend off and Vanilla-Peach Mojitos

I took the weekend off and it was GLORIOUS.

I didn’t write a single word for an article. I cooked a Father’s Day meal and got to relax, sip wine and be with family. There was not a single worry about getting recipes down or photographing a dish. Mostly, I was lazy and unproductive. I loved every minute of it. 

Now on Monday morning, as I look at the week ahead, I thought I might feel panicky or regretful. I don’t. Not even a little bit. Let’s hear it for weekends off… 

Last weekend, I was in a race to use up a big box of peaches before they went bad. Of course, a few of them made their way into a cocktail. 

Sparkling Vanilla-Peach Mojitos

Makes 2 cocktails

1 peach
2 tablespoons vanilla bean simple syrup (recipe below)
2-3 ounces white rum
12 large mint leaves, torn
sparkling wine

Peel and remove pit from peach. Place peach and vanilla simple syrup in a blender and puree. Divide mixture and mint into 2 glasses.
Fill glasses with ice and add 1-1 ½ ounces rum to each glass (to taste).
Top with sparkling wine.

Note: If you like it minty, muddle the mint in the peach mixture instead of tearing the leaves. 

Vanilla Bean Simple Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 vanilla bean

Slice vanilla bean down the middle and scape out seeds. 
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, vanilla bean and seeds. 
Bring to a boil. Let mixture boil about 5 minutes. Strain and let cool. 

The vanilla bean simple syrup makes this drink something special. It’s a flavor you don’t expect in a cocktail, but works amazingly well with the peach and the mint. This one will definitely be making another appearance this summer. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A do-over moment: Pistachio and spice-crusted lamb chops

Sometimes things just don’t work out in the kitchen. For me, more often than not, it’s because I’m attempting to bake. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I do not understand the science of baking. Sure, I can follow a recipe and make something delicious, but when it comes to actually creating a recipe from scratch, things frequently go awry. Therefore, when I do bake, I avoid certain things. I tend to stick with premade piecrusts because homemade pastry and I have a very tempestuous relationship. I stay away from baking powder and baking soda because I will never understand how they work. Homemade bread? Ha. You get the point…

So when Foodbuzz and Frigidaire presented an opportunity to rectify a dish that went all wrong, you’d think I might choose the disgusting recipe labeled “Awful Cake” in my notebook, or the bread dough that was so loose and sticky I could barely get it off my hands and into the garbage, or the mini cheesecakes I made recently that Andy described as “gummy.” Nope…I tend to cut my losses when it comes to desserts that don’t come out quite right.

Instead, for my do-over recipe I decided to remake a lamb dish that flopped, because it REALLY irritates me when I feel like I have a great idea with great flavors and it still doesn’t work. We’re talking a serious amount of crankiness here. It might take me awhile to try it again due to said crankiness, but with savory dishes, I usually do.

This particular dish was supposed to be a perfectly cooked, tender, juicy rack of lamb that received oohs and aahs when it was sliced into. But what did I get? A rack of lamb that was completely overdone on the ends and almost raw in the middle. Wah-wah. Maybe it was my oven temperature, maybe the meat was too cold in the middle, or maybe I just needed a reminder from the universe that everything doesn’t always work out. In any case, it has been quite a long time since I made this, but I decided the time was right for another attempt.

Since I’m still bitter about the whole rack debacle, I chose to make lamb chops this time. Same general recipe and ingredients, but more control over the doneness. I was much happier this time around…

Pistachio and Spice-crusted Lamb Chops

1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6-8 double cut lamb chops

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons shelled pistachios
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

For marinade:
Whisk together first 5 marinade ingredients and pour into a zip-top bag. Add lamb chops and marinate for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.

For breading:
In a food processor, combine breading ingredients. Run until mixture is chopped to a fine crumb. Pour into a pie plate.

For lamb chops:
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Remove lamb chops from marinade and shake off most of the yogurt mixture. Press chops into bread crumb mixture and coat both sides well, pressing to adhere.
Heat butter and olive oil in a stainless steel pan over high heat. Sear lamb chops for about 1-2 minutes per side, being careful of the crust when turning. Transfer to the oven for about 5 minutes more (for medium doneness).

The lamb chops were perfectly cooked and the crust added tons of flavor from the pistachios and the red pepper flakes. I will definitely make these again…who needs a whole rack anyway?? I’d call this do-over a huge success.

This post was sponsored by Frigidaire. When you share your own do-over moment at, Frigidaire will donate $1 to Save the Children's U.S. programs. Plus, Frigidaire will help cover the costs for one lucky visitor to win the ultimate do-over. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mini Meltdowns, Bacon Apple Pie Redux and Beer Cocktails…what more do you need?

I’ve been struggling a bit lately, with lots of work and lots of emotion and the feeling that I’m just barely making it all happen.

And then last weekend I had a mini meltdown; the culmination of too much stress, a calendar jam-packed with deadlines, and a lot of change in the last six months. So I ranted and I cried. I went on and on, while Andy stood close by, knowing he couldn’t do anything at that moment. Then I sat on the living room table and cried…that ugly, slobbery kind of crying where you’re gasping for air and you feel like it’s never going to be okay. But Andy hugged me and things got better. And once he could get a word in, he helped some more, with a few little nuggets of advice that were spot on. I feel like I’m slowly getting back on track…

My blog has taken a bit of a back seat while I try to regain some sense of normalcy, but I have been busy in the kitchen for SheKnows. So I’m taking a little shortcut here and linking to some of my recent recipes.

I made Bacon Apple Pie again and it’s worth taking a peek at here. (You’ll find version #1 in miniature here.) The mini pies were a huge success and the latest full-size version is just as good.  Don’t doubt the salty/sweet combination…it’s incredible. Seriously.

And really, it wouldn’t be a complete post without cocktails, would it?? I made some beer cocktails for a Father’s Day post. Check out my recipes for a Chocolate Stout Martini, Spicy Jalapeno Beer Bloody Mary, and Beer Whiskey Sour here… I admit that they sound kind of weird, particularly the chocolate martini, but trust me, I tasted each and every one and they’re actually pretty darn good.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It’s raining: Bring on the summery cocktails and spiked sorbet

“It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring…” I’ve had that damn song stuck in my head ALL DAY LONG and the only song I can think of to replace it with is It’s a Small World. Say it with me: UGH.

The reason for the song is that it actually is raining here in sunny California. And what do I have for you today? Summer cocktails and boozy sorbet! Rain, schmain.

As I’m sure you know by now, it’s always cocktail time in my book, but this cocktail came about because I hate to pour wine out, even if it’s not a 90-plus point award winner. And after our at-home wine tasting this weekend, we had several bottles of various cabs open that didn’t quite bowl us over. Nothing a little repurposing couldn’t help…

This sangria is easy to sip and makes a perfect afternoon refresher. And it’s a great way to use up any red wine that isn’t quite up to snuff.

Strawberry-Watermelon Red Wine Sangria

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups cabernet sauvignon (I used one on the sweeter side)
2 cups strawberry-watermelon sparkling water
1/4 cup strawberry vodka
1 tablespoon lemon juice
chopped strawberries and watermelon (optional)

Stir all ingredients together lightly. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve over ice, with chopped fruit, if desired.

Have enough of these and you won’t care what song you’re singing on repeat, even if it is It’s a Small World. (And I apologize for putting that awful song in your head...)

Now, onto the frozen cocktails!

Turning fresh fruit sorbet into your favorite happy hour drink is a snap. Of course, these don’t pack quite the punch of a real cocktail, but the essence is there. For a refreshing summery dessert, try Watermelon Margarita Sorbet, Mango Mojito Sorbet or Kiwi Colada Sorbet.  Check out my recipes here.