Monday, May 28, 2012

chilled avocado soup


This time of year, ripe avocados are abundantly available in Southern California. We actually have a large avocado tree on one side of our house, which is very common in this area. Unfortunately, none are ripe at the moment. Even if we do get avocados, it is very likely that a possum will get to them before we can.  Luckily, the markets are full of ripe avocados this spring and have lowered their prices on them as well.

 

















     

         
           
I take pleasure in the flavor of avocados and enjoy making and eating guacamole. But one can only eat so much guacamole. So, after buying so many avocados on sale, today I decided to use them to make a chilled avocado soup instead of guacamole.

This soup is one of the easiest soup recipes that you will ever make. It’s made in a blender.  I will warn you though– do not use a cuisinart instead of a blender.  I made that mistake and once I poured in the broth and started pureeing, the soup came running out of the bottom. I lost almost half of the soup. What a mess!  You have been warned. The best advise that I can give you when using either a blender or even a cuisinart (for any recipe other than this one), is to start with solids and add liquids last.

For best result, use only ripe avocados for this soup. If you are unlucky in finding ripe avocados, you can easily place them in a paper lunch bag with an apple, which accelerates ripening, for a day or two.

I prefer this soup garnished with crème fraîche, chopped cilantro and edible flowers.  Try lumps of cold crabmeat for a more elegant approach.

Not only are avocado’s abundant this time of year, but so are hummingbirds. Our yard is buzzing with them right now and one hummingbird couple decided to make their nest in one of our smaller palm trees. 

 
I had to stay very still to take these pictures, only to start shooting my camera as soon as I heard the buzzing of the hummingbird’s wings. They aren’t the best pictures, but I think that they are pretty cool. Hummingbird's aren't the easiest of subjects to photograph.


In the above photo, the mama hummingbird is coming in for a landing onto her nest.  The daddy hummingbird hung around too.  I'm really not sure if they were trading off nesting duties, since I can't tell the two apart.  But there are definitely two of them flying about around our yard, so I'm assuming they are partners.


You have to look very closely, in the center of the tree, to see the hummingbird actually sitting in the nest.  This gives you an idea of how tiny these delicate birds are.  Only for seconds will she sit in her nest.

Hummingbirds are one of my favorite species of birds. I looked up pictures on hummingbirds and the ones in our yard looks most like the Anna’s hummingbird. The Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) is the most common hummingbird found in Southern California gardens and is also the largest of the species.

I hope that you are enjoying your spring as much as I am and are eating plenty of healthy and delicious avocados. 


chilled avocado soup

Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados
1 apple, cored, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup plain yogurt ( full-fat works best)
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (you will need salt if you are using sodium-free stock)
salt to taste

Directions:
Cut each avocado in half from top to bottom, following the contour of the pit in the center.  remove the pit and scoop out the avocado.

Into the blender, add the avocado, apple, yogurt, chili flakes, lime juice, and stock. Puree until the soup is very smooth.  If the soup is too thick, add more broth to correct the consistency.    Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill in refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.  If you are in a hurry, soup can be put into the freezer for 30 minutes.

Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

Garnish soup with creme fraîche and chopped cilantro or garnish of choice.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

blue velvet cupcakes (vegan)




I’m not vegan, however I think it is a good idea to have at least one vegan recipe on hand for a vegan guest or hostess. I attended my hubby’s friend’s birthday “surf-n-turf” bash, along with my family, over the weekend and wished I had brought these cupcakes along. His friend’s house is a newly built Green Home in Malibu. It’s certainly dramatic with a tranquil Zen ambiance and gardens. 

We arrived early and the appetizers were still being put out onto the table. I was surprised to see the table being filled with jars of hemp seeds, organic oats and hummus, and a bunch of other unrecognizable super healthy items. I had no idea my hubby’s friend’s wife had turned her family organically vegan. Next time we visit my hubby’s friend, I will be bringing these cupcakes along…they maybe the only thing that I end up eating. 




I have always assumed that vegan desserts were dry and tasteless, until I tried these cupcakes. They are so flavorful and moist!  My hubby took one bite and said “I've been converted to vegan cupcakes only from now on”.


Fresh blueberries are pureed into a juice.  This juice provides a deep rich color, no need to use chemical induced food coloring.  Vegan "cream cheese" is used in making the frosting.




These cupcakes have a hint of fruit flavor from the blueberries and are super moist and very chocolaty.

Morgan, my daughter Gigi's friend
As a stepmother, I try to encourage my two teenage daughter’s decisions to eat healthier.  I do my best to shop for organic foods for our home.

Gigi, my daughter

A couple of years ago, inspired by a classmate, my oldest stepdaughter, Melia (not pictured), decided to turn vegan (Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products) for two weeks. I wasn’t sure what the vegan diet consisted of and was very unprepared to provide her with vegan meals. Poor Melia, she habitually ate steamed rice and vegan ice cream for those two weeks. Now, if my youngest stepdaughter, Gigi, ever decides to try out veganism, I will be better prepared.


Gigi and her friend Morgan were my beautiful models and cupcake tasters. They both had no idea how amazing these vegan cupcakes were going to taste. I could tell that they were very eager to try the cupcakes, because really, who doesn’t love a cupcake, but were a bit cautious due to the “organic and vegan” factor. Once they took their first bites, they didn’t come up for air until their cupcakes disappeared.


I plan on adding additional organic and vegan recipes to my blog. You don’t have to eat organic or vegan all the time, but it does help to slowly incorporate some of these healthy items to your diet. I refuse to go as far as to serve hemp seeds as appetizers, but I will keep encouraging my family to eat healthier.



Blue velvet cupcakes (vegan)

Adapted from Vegan Desserts, by Hannah Kaminsky
Makes 12 cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
12 ounces blueberries, fresh or frozen
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3-cup canola oil
1-cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
1-teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-teaspoon apple cider vinegar

For the frosting:
1 8-ounce package Vegan "cream cheese"
¼ cup non-dairy margarine
1-cup powder sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
12 raspberries, to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake papers.

Rinse and dry the blueberries. Toss them all into a food processor and let the machine run until the berries are completely pureed. Using a spatula, press the pulp through a fine-meshed strainer to remove all of the seeds, extract as much of the liquid as you can. You should end up with approximately 1 cup of blueberries juice. If your measurement is a bit scant, add water until you reach 1 cup.

In a mixer or large bowl, combine the blueberry puree, sugar, and oil. Stir vigorously to emulsify and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda, and salt. Slowly pour the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing until combined. Add the vanilla and then the vinegar last, mixing briefly and then quickly spooning out the batter into the prepared cups.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, you can make the frosting by simply beating together the cream cheese and margarine until smooth. Add the sugar and vanilla then whip on high speed for a minute or two, until light and creamy. Apply frosting to cupcakes as desired and top each with a raspberry.

Friday, May 18, 2012

frittata with zucchini and goat cheese


Frittatas are a great dish because they can be eaten right away or saved for later and eaten for brunch or lunch. Frittatas actually taste better when made in advance and served cold. This frittata serves 2 to 4 people and can be cut in half or quartered. 


I’m one of those people who don’t really like eating eggs.  If I'm going to eat eggs, a lot of flavorful ingredients will need to be added.  

This is how strange I am about eating eggs:  
1.  I  love egg salad sandwiches, but hate eating a hard-boiled egg. 
2.  I won’t eat an omelet unless it is loaded with cheese. 
3.  I will only eat scramble eggs if I have buttered toast.  I put the egg on the toast and then take a bite. 
4.  I love Egg Benedict!


 
This frittata is perfect for egg haters like me, because it’s loaded with flavor from the goat cheese and red pepper. The zucchini is light and adds a healthy touch. Eating this light and healthy frittata for breakfast or brunch won’t leave you feeling guilty or sluggish.


Speaking of eggs, did you notice the vintage eggbeater in my photos? I recently purchased it at an Antique Mart in Santa Monica. My new found pleasure is searching for vintage cooking items.   I  never know what I will find and really do enjoy the treasure hunt.

Photo taken at the Santa Monica Antique Mart
Along with my eggbeater, I also found a vintage potato masher and two cookbooks, Wolfgang Puck’s Modern French Cooking for The American Kitchen and The New Better Housekeeping Cookbook.


 I can’t wait to make something from the Wolfgang Puck cookbook, such as his bread pudding and I have my eye on a yellow birthday cake from the Better Housekeeping cookbook. I will be sure to post whatever recipe(s) I decide to adapt from these two cookbooks. 



Frittata with zucchini and goat cheese
Adapted from Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights, by Sophie Dahl

Ingredients:
1 zucchini, approximately 1 cup, thinly sliced
½ red bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 eggs
A handful of goat cheese, crumbled

Slice the zucchini thinly.  In an omelet sized non-stick frying pan, heat olive oil. Add zucchini slices, red bell pepper, and season with salt and pepper. Cook on low for about 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs with a pinch of salt. 

Sprinkle a handful of goat cheese over the zucchini mixture and immediately pour the eggs over everything, do not stir, and cook until lightly browned on the underside. Using a wide spatula, carefully turn over to brown the other side; alternatively, place pan under a hot broiler for a few minutes. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate until later. This frittata is excellent served cold.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

double chocolate-chip waffles with strawberry sauce


Is it normal to eat chocolate covered strawberries for breakfast?  This morning, the day before Mother’s Day, I was surprised by a delivery of decadent chocolate covered strawberries from my hubby, kids, and pets (Rocco, Dolce, and Jingles). I hadn’t yet eaten breakfast and couldn’t resist eating two of those chocolate covered strawberries. I anxiously bit through a crunch of chocolate coating and into a plump, juicy, and sweet strawberry which was the next layer of deliciousness. Chocolate and strawberries go perfectly together.  I love being spoiled on Mother’s Day!


It's going to be a long wait until next Mother's Day and for my delivery of chocolate covered strawberries.  In the meantime, I can enjoy the flavor of chocolate dipped strawberries for breakfast by making double chocolate-chip waffles with strawberry sauce. This is a decadent and delicious breakfast for a special weekend day. Breakfast doesn’t get much better than this! 


Don’t want chocolate for breakfast? Try making these waffles for dessert and serve with vanilla ice cream. 

 
I’m happy to report that I have lost 4 pounds, but gained 1 back, since eating a lighter and healthier breakfast, such as my mango and honey smoothie.  However,  I need to splurge once in a while and this is the perfect breakfast. 


double chocolate-chip waffles with strawberry sauce
Adapted from Our Best Bites, Sara Wells & Kate Jones

Makes approximately 4 to 5 waffles

For the strawberry sauce:
4 cups strawberries, washed and tops cut off
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

In a food processor, add strawberries and sugar, pulse until smooth. With a spatula, rub puree through a fine strainer into a bowl; discard seeds. Set aside.

For the waffles:
2/3-cup flour
1/3-cup cornstarch
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8-teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1-cup milk
1/3-cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
½ cup mini chocolate chips 
Cooking spray 
Powder sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat waffle iron.

Whisk together flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, milk, oil, egg, and vanilla until slightly frothy, about 1 minute.

Slowly add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients a little at a time, whisking until just combined; be careful not to over mix. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spray waffle iron with cooking spray. Ladle batter into waffle iron, being careful not to overfill. Bake according to the instructions for your waffle iron. 

To serve:
Top waffles with powdered sugar and strawberry sauce.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

southwestern orzo salad with chili-lime vinaigrette



Have you eaten something at a restaurant that you just loved and couldn’t stop thinking about it for days? That’s just what I did. I previously blogged about my day at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu. While there, I had lunch and ordered a prosciutto sandwich; on the side I was served a delicious and refreshing orzo salad. My daughter ordered sweet potato fries with her sandwich but we both fought over my orzo salad.


This is about as close as I can come to that orzo salad. I am so pleased with the results and will cook it many more times to come. Chili powder is called out in the vinaigrette. Don’t let it scare you, once it is all tossed together, the salad becomes packed with flavor, not spicy. Try serving this salad with grilled chicken breast for a complete and light meal. The array of colors and textures in this salad will create a fiesta in your mouth.


Our yard has several lemon and lime trees.  I look for every opportunity to use them, which is why this recipe is perfect.  Fresh lemon and limes are used in the vinaigrette.



The beautiful Calamigos Ranch is located in Malibu.  Who knew that such amazing, rustic country land existed in a beach city?   This place is perfect for weddings.  Actually, my hubby's friend proposed to his girlfriend of 21 years (not a typo) last night...we were there! I caught the moment on my iPhone and posted it on Instagram.  Can you see the Instagram picture on the right had side of my blog?   Hmmm...maybe I will suggest Calamigos Ranch for their wedding.


southwestern orzo salad with chili-lime vinaigrette
Adapted from At Blanchard’s Table: A trip to the beach

For the salad:
2 cups orzo pasta
1 cup can corn nibblets, drained
1 cup can black beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
½ cup feta, crumbled
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

For the chili-lime vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons olive oil ( I use light olive oil)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lime peel
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil, add orzo pasta and cook 6 to 8 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Drain well again and transfer to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lime peel and juice, lemon juice, chili powder and salt.

To assemble:

Toss the dressing with the orzo. Add the corn, beans, tomatoes, feta, and cilantro, and toss gently to blend. Taste for salt and pepper.

Friday, May 4, 2012

mango and honey smoothie


Bathing suit season is quickly approaching and I’m not ready.  I decided that I need to start eating healthier and lighter, plus work out (does walking my dogs count as working out?), to get back into shape and into my bikini.

My first change is going to be breakfast. My mornings are going to be brighter with mango and honey smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to start your day because they are energizing and filling.  Mangos are a perfect fruit for making smoothies sweeter and using honey helps to cut down on your sugar intake.


On weekdays, I don’t have a lot of time to fuss with making breakfast, so I freeze freshly cut fruit in small containers for quick smoothies. Use less ice if using frozen fruit.  Smoothies are really easy to make and super delicious.  They make a great breakfast to go.  I can drink my smoothie during my morning drive to work.


Now that I have a lighter and healthier breakfast plan, my next step is lunch.  Any suggestions?  I would like to know what you do to get bathing suit ready?

mango and honey smoothie
Adapted from Homemade, by Clodagh McKenna

For the smoothie:
1 cup fresh mango, peeled and cubed - link to How to Cut a Mango
½ banana, peeled and sliced
1 heaping tablespoon honey
¾ cup plain yogurt
1cup ice

Place all of the ingredients (add ice last) in a blinder and puree until smooth. Pour into a large glass for 1 serving to 2 smaller glasses. Garnish with additional fruit pieces, mint, and a straw.

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