Monday, January 30, 2012

Dad & Mom's Surprise 40th Wedding Anniversary Party

I had the honor of throwing my parents a surprise party for their 40th wedding anniversary. 40 years--that is such a long time! My family and I had been planning this behind their backs for about a month, and juggling this between working full-time was a little bit challenging, but man oh man it was so fun to do! In another life I will be an event planner. We had about 70 people or so at Mom and Dad's house, and just about all of them were there for the surprise.

We had some fun decorations up for the party. The pictures above are from when my parents were both 18 years old I think. My mom--the total babe. Dad had pork chops--yessss.

Kelli made the most amazing 3-tiered fondant cake, each layer had three layers each. It was amazing! She also had black and white pictures of my parents around each tier.

Mom and Dad truly were surprised--as proven in the pictures. I was so surprised none of their friends spilled the beans!

We even had the cute couple cut the cake :-)

Some of us ladies in the fam were all coincidentally wearing new gold watches.

Some of my lovely sisters-in-law. Love you both!

Anyway, thanks to everyone who helped with that. Love my parents so much--they are great examples of sticking through thick and thin in a marriage.

My Weekend in SLC

I had a fun weekend in Utah this past week! Jeremy stayed in CA to work, but I got booked for a modeling job for a huge trade show called Outdoor Retailer in downtown Salt Lake. I was really hoping it would snow while I was there...if any of you know me, you just read that twice! I don't enjoy being cold in any fashion. In fact, if I could live in a bathing suit every day in 83 degree weather, I would be in heaven. However, since this is my first winter without snow in 5 or so years, I wanted to be in it!...for a day or two, and then be able to go away from it. I got the best of both worlds that weekend. The last day I was there, it dumped! That weekend was pretty busy in downtown and the airport--besides this huge show, Sundance Film Festival kicked off that weekend too. I spent the weekend at my sister Ashley's home and finally met her new son, Dirk. Hw is 2 months old, and he coos and smiles :-) and tooted on my hand too. Welp--handed back to Ashley to change. Anyway, it was so good to see Ash--miss my sister! Please move to California soon so all the cousins can play together, and we can cook and bake together!

I also got to see some of my besties--Rosa Ki and Kasey Patton (almost said McRae...)--miss you two too! I miss all of my friends from Utah, I will admit. However, J and I love the San Diego area and are pretty happy here. Please come visit us! One more fun thing: countdown to Hawaii--T minus 2 months!!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

~Hoover Lemon Bars~

In my most humble opinion, these are the best lemon bars ever!!!!! I have tasted many lemons bars in my day, and most of the time I don't even like them in comparison to these. They are delicious, very easy to make and practically impossible to mess up. I have been making these lemon bars since I was about 9 or 10, and everyone I have ever made them for has liked them (except that one time I burnt them...whoops).

First, make the crust--with butter/margarine, flour, and powdered sugar. Press into a 9x13 pan an bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

After the crust is in the oven, prepare the top: eggs, baking powder, flour, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice.

The color should look very yellow. Make sure to mix it once more right before pouring it over the crust.

Pour on the hot crust and bake for another 25 minutes. Once done, the lemon bars will look bubbled on top--perfectly normal.

Once the bars have cooled, sprinkle powdered sugar over the top, cut and serve. Or...grab a fork and just dig in to the pan. That's what I usually do!

You'll need:

2 c. flour
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 c. butter or margarine

4 eggs
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. lemon juice (roughly two large lemons)*
1+ Tbs. lemon zest
1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Get busy:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the crust ingredients together, mixing in all of the flour. Press into a 9x13 pan and bake for 20 minutes.

Mix the top ingredients together with a whisk or hand mixer. Pour the mixture onto the hot crust and put right back into the oven for 25 more minutes. IMPORTANT: Do NOT use store bought lemon juice--it is nasty, and will make your lemon bars taste like crap-ola! The secret to really good lemon bars is fresh lemon juice. I firmly believe anyone who likes lemon bars will love this recipe.

*The lemon in this recipe can also be swapped out with lime and lime zest. Try it both ways--it's amazing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

~Sesame Chicken~

Much thanks to my sis-in-law Kelli who passed this recipe on. I'm not sure how she instinctively knew I was on an Asian cuisine kick of sorts lately. I am starting to broaden the food horizons in my kitchen! I want to learn to make sushi; I did try it once but I had very basic ingredients so it was sort of boring. If anyone has a good sushi recipe, send it to me!
That being said, this was a very tasty, easy and healthy meal to have for dinner. The combination of the sesame seeds and honey are matched perfectly with steamed broccoli and brown rice.

Begin by mixing the sesame sauce with honey, soy sauce, sesame seeds and garlic; set aside. Put the broccoli in a steamer basket with 1 inch of water below it; set aside.

Whisk 2 egg whites and corn starch together. Add the cut chicken breasts and completely coat the chicken.

Cook the coated chicken chunks in vegetable oil until cooked through.

Once the chicken is done, add the reserved sesame sauce and shrimp. Begin steaming the broccoli. Serve over brown rice.

To save money, buy sesame seeds in the Hispanic foods section where all those little spices hang in clear bags. I was going to buy sesame seeds from McCormick for $3.84 for a tiny little bottle, but I found them in the Mexican sections in a good-sized bag for 84 cents!
Serves 4

You'll need:

3/4 c. brown rice
3 Tbs. honey
2 1/2 Tbs. sesame seeds
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or crushed with garlic press
2 large egg whites
1/4 c. cornstarch
1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts, cut into 2 in. chunks
4 scallions, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
4 scallions, thinly sliced (or some shrimp)
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs. broccolli, cut into large florets

Get busy:

Place a steamer basket in a large pot filled with 1 inch of water; set aside for broccoli. Cook the brown rice in a separate pot.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a small bowl, combine honey, sesame seeds, soy sauce and garlic; set aside. In a larger bowl, whisk together egg whites and cornstarch. Add chicken; season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook, turning occasionally until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Add the reserved sauce, scallions, shrimp and toss to coat.

Meanwhile, place saucepan with steamer over high heat, and bring water to a boil. Add broccoli, and cook until crisp-tender, about 4-6 minutes. Serve sesame chicken with broccoli and brown rice.

If you try it, let me know what you thought!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

~Arugula Pistachio Pesto Chicken~

Well even though this took some time and some lovin', this was an absolutely delicious meal! I have never before had a pesto whole baked chicken, and it was quite refreshing. I have had baked whole chicken about a thousand times in my life, but this was a first for me. If you like experimenting with new pestos, you will love this recipe! This recipe probably takes more time than others I have tried, but it's worth it and easy to do--I promise.

So these pictures make the gravy look like something super unappealing; however, pesto gravy is actually amazing and a fresh way to serve mashed potatoes and gravy. Fear not--the gravy is a light green! I found this recipe from Guy on the Food Network (you know...the guy with really ugly hair).

You'll need a food processor or a blender to make the pesto. The combination of the pistachio, lemon juice, and arugula makes the kitchen smell fantastic.

Once the pesto is made, you create a pocket underneath the skin of the chicken breast side and stuff the skin with half of the pesto, some chunks of lemon and some cloves of garlic.

Cook the chicken on its side for 15 minutes; then flip it onto the other side and cook for another 15 minutes.

Supermom and I made this together for my birthday dinner!

Once the chicken is cooked and has cooled for a few minutes, cut it into pieces. Make sure to leave the skins on. They taste wonderful!

Have you ever heard of pesto gravy? I surely hadn't before this recipe. Pesto gravy is to die for--seriously! It's such a different and refreshing taste than what you normally have with chicken and mashed potatoes.

Voila! Finished product. Special thanks to my beautiful sis-in-law Kelli for recommending this recipe. I think you're gonna like this. Let me know if you try it. Don't be afraid to try something new!

Serves 6

You'll need:

3 1/2 to 4 lb. whole chicken
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper, divided
5 c. arugula
7 cloves garlic, peeled and divided
1 lemon, halved
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
1/2 c. shelled pistachios
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
3/4 tsp. cornstarch
3/4 . half & half

Get busy:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Slip your fingers under the breast skin and gently create a pocket the length of both breasts. Season the inside of the cavity with some salt and pepper. Set aside.

Add the arugula and 5 cloves of garlic to a food processor fitted with a blade. Pulse 3 to 4 times, then add 1/2 tsp. pepper and 1/2 tsp. salt, squeeze in the juice of half of the lemon and pulse a few more times. Add the cheese and pistachios, and with the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Scrape down the sides and pulse a few more times.

Gently work half the pesto into the skin pocket. Reserve the other half of the pesto. Put the other lemon half into the cavity along with the other 2 garlic cloves. Rub the chicken all over with 1 Tbs. butter. Season the outside chicken with salt and pepper. Put the chicken on its side into a roasting pan and put in the oven. Roast at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, rotate chicken onto the other side, and roast for 15 more minutes. Carefully turn chicken onto its back (breast side up), reduce heat to 350 degrees and roast for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, begin basting it with the pan juices. (If you don't have much juice, add some water to the pan). Repeat until thermometer reads 165 degrees.

Remove roasting pan from the oven, put the chicken on a carving board and tent it with foil. Pour the juices from the roasting pan into a small pot. Make sure to scrape any bits off the bottom of the pan for more flavor. Over medium heat, cook pan juices and 1/3 c. reserved pesto. Whisk cornstarch and half & half in the pot and stir continually until gravy thickens. Adjust with seasoning if necessary and pour into your gravy bowl. Carve the chicken, place on serving platter, and serve with pesto gravy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

~Mongolian Beef~

Have you ever gone to PF Chang's and ordered the Mongolian Beef? This is something similar to that. This is very easy to make and yummy to the taste! We prefer brown rice to white rice, as pictured above. White rice doesn't really carry any nutritional value, let's be honest. White rice is processed; so the outer shell or bran layer is removed which carries the nutritional stuff in rice. So even though brown rice takes way longer to cook, make it anyway! It is worth it. And never buy instant rice--what a waste of carbs and calories!! Ok, off my soap box and back to delicious Mongolian beef. What took the longest for this whole dish was cutting the meat in thin pieces, and I could have cut them thinner, with more care. However, I made this right after a long day of work, so it turned out how it turned out. It was still great!

After you cut the meat in thin strips, roll the strips around in the cornstarch and evenly coat them.

Make the soy sauce... (with a little sugar and a little lovin')

In a separate pan with some oil, cook the beef until it is no longer pink.

Once the beef is completely cooked, add the sauce and let it cook until it thickens a bit.

Once you decide the sauce is thick enough, add the chopped green onions.

Serves 2

you'll need:

1 lb. flank steak, thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 c. cornstarch
3 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. grated ginger (about a 1/2 in. piece), optional
1 Tbs. garlic, chopped (2-3 cloves)
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (use less for minimal spiciness)
3 large green onions, sliced crosswise into thirds

get busy:

Once the steak is cut into thin strips, combine them in a bowl with the cornstarch. With your hands or a spoon, move the meat around so it is completely covered.

Heat half of the oil in a wok or a good-sized skillet and add the garlic and ginger. Immediately add the soy sauce, water, brown sugar and pepper flakes. Cook the sauce for about 2 minutes and transfer to a bowl. The sauce may not be thick at this point--it's ok.

Turn up the heat in the same pan and add the rest of the oil. Add the beef and cook, stirring until all the meat is browned. Pour the sauce back into the pan and let it cook along with the meat. If you want a thinner sauce, take it off the heat and serve it as is. For a thicker sauce, leave it on the heat and let it thicken a bit. Add the green onions at the last minute so the green parts stay crunchy for the most part. Serve hot with brown rice and seamed broccoli.

You'll love this dish! A different twist on a typical beef night.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

~Whole Wheat Banana Oatmeal Pancakes~

...With brown sugar. I decided the name would be too long to have that part in it. Besides, it sounds healthier the way the name is! These are healthy for the most part and were every bit delicious!! I enjoyed these so much that I made them for breakfast the next morning. Yes...I made these for dinner one night. On occasion, Jeremy and I like to have breakfast for dinner. It's fun! I am slowly moving away from processed foods, which includes Bisquick, or pre-made pancake mix. I am moving towards all whole foods meals, so I was happy to make these yummy pancakes. Yes they do have sugar in them, so they are not entirely whole foods certified, but they're pretty darn close. The brown sugar can actually be omitted altogether and replaced with unsweetened applesauce if you want a healthier alternative. I just never buy applesauce so I opted for the brown sugar.

I am still too cheap to buy real maple syrup (sorry Ash), but instead of buying imitation maple syrup, I make my own instead! It is soooo easy. Once I had used up my old bottle of store-bought syrup, I washed it out and put my syrup in it. So now I have a bottle for it, too. The homemade syrup calls for maple extract and only 2 other ingredients. News flash: making your own syrup will save you a lot of money in the long run, and I think homemade tastes better too. For the pancake recipe, you need oats--not the instant crapola, but the real deal rolled old-fashioned oats. Healthier! Blend the oats in a blender to get a coarse texture, as pictured above.

Spray your griddle/skillet or run some leftover butter from the fridge onto it. Cook the batter until the little bubbles in the pancake pop. Time to flip!

Cook the pancakes until they are a golden brown. The secret natural sweetener in these pancakes is the banana. It gives the jacks such a good flavor too!

Serves 4

you'll need:

1 c. uncooked rolled oats
1 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. all-purpose flour *substitute with whole wheat white flour
1/4 c. brown sugar *substitute with unsweetened applesauce
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 c. milk
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 banana, mashed

get busy:

Place the rolled oats in a blender and blend until the texture looks like coarse flour. Whisk together the blended oats, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside.

Whisk together the egg, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla. Stir in the mashed banana {I mashed mine in my Blendtec until it was smooth}. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix together.

Heat a lightly buttered griddle/skillet over medium-high heat. The rest is followed as you would do any pancake. I hope you enjoy these--they truly were phenomenal!

Homemade Maple Syrup:

you'll need:

2 c. sugar
1 c. boiling water
1/2 tsp. maple extract

get busy:

Pour 1 c. boiling water over 2 c. sugar in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the maple extract and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Makes 2 1/4 c. syrup. This recipe is a runnier syrup.

For a thicker homemade syrup:

Add 2 Tbs. water, 1/4 c. sugar 1 1/2 c. corn syrup and 1/2 tsp. maple extract in a small pot. Boil for 2 minutes. It will thicken as it cools. Makes 1 pint.

~Baked Parmesan Asparagus~

I love asparagus!!! I usually eat asparagus steamed or grilled, but it was cold out this night. So I decided to bake it in the oven! The only thing I did to the spears was roll them in some olive oil and shred some Parmesan on top (and a dash of salt!). If you have the chance to buy asparagus, by the fatter spears. They taste better for some reason. These are incredibly easy to make, and only take a few ingredients. For the most part, I try to keep my veggies simple so I get used to eating them the way they are. If you can only enjoy green beans loaded with cheese and sauce, it's not too healthy then, is it...

Serves 4

Simple enough: Turn on the oven to 350. Take your washed asparagus (about a pound, or whatever comes in the rubber band) and snap off the ends. Roll them in some olive oil {I use extra light olive oil} on a cookie sheet. Add some salt and shredded Parmesan cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until soft. Done! How easy is that? What you'll find is it is even tastier than it is easy.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

~Cilantro Lime Pesto Chicken Fajitas~

Mmm-mmm! I can't get enough of lime and cilantro lately. Such an easy and scrumptious recipe! Anyone can make this, honestly. The only this "special" you need is a food processor (I used my Blendtec). The pesto whips up in about 20 seconds, and the rest goes quickly, too. I have always had fajitas with the typical steak or chicken cooked in fajitas seasoning. I like it that way; I just decided to try it a new way, and these turned out fab!

First, cook the chicken in some olive oil seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
Then make the cilantro lime pesto with just a few ingredients in your mixer/food processor/blender.
I recommend fresh Parmesan for this recipe. Funny enough, last week was the first time I had ever bought fresh Parmesan...I loved it, and will now be buying it this way from now on.

Serves 2

you'll need:

2 chicken breasts, boneless/skinless, cut into thin strips
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil, vegetable oil
1 tsp. garlic powder
whole wheat tortillas
1 avocado
1 green or red bell pepper, thinly sliced (red will give more color)
1 medium yellow onion, sliced fajita-style
typical fajita garnishes: sour cream, tomatoes/salsa, cheese
Pesto: (adapted from Food Network)
1 c. fresh cilantro leaves, omit stems
2 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. sliced toasted almonds
3 Tbs. minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp. lime juice
1/2 c. fresh Parmesan, shredded
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt (normal iodized can be substituted)
1/4 c. chicken broth

get busy:

Pesto: Using a blender, mix together the ingredients until well blended, set aside.
Fajitas: Season the chicken with salt, pepper and garlic powder. In a skillet, add a little olive oil and cook the seasoned chicken through on medium high heat. Toss the cooked chicken with the pesto; set aside. In the same skillet, pour some vegetable oil (1-2 Tbs.) and add bell pepper and onion. Sautee until soft. Warm up the tortillas and add all the fixin's. You can't go wrong with this recipe. It's delicious, and healthy!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

~Mom's Potatoes~

I call these "Mom's potatoes" because I got the recipe from my mom and this is her favorite way to eat potatoes. I also don't know anyone else who makes them like this. I don't make a starch side very often anymore, but for some reason on Sundays (and when I make a delish roast) it's fitting to have a side of potatoes. I'd have to say this is my favorite way to eat potato these days. You can call this dish whatever you want...creamy baked potatoes...cheesy potatoes...what ever floats your boat!

Slice the potatoes fairly thin (we have a food slicer we got from Jeremy's dad for Christmas and it cuts potatoes in about 15 seconds...amazing time-saver). Pour heavy whipping cream over the sliced potatoes, then the rest of the ingredients. Cook for about an hour, and then they're done.

Full recipe serves 6-8

you'll need:

6-8 brown potatoes
1 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 c. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
garlic salt
dried parsley

get busy:

Preheat the oven to 350. Peel the potatoes but leave some skin on (as much as you can handle). Slice the potatoes fairly thin or in wedges. The thinner the slice, the faster they cook. Put slices into a 9x13 pan. Drench with the heavy whipping cream. Liberally sprinkle on the garlic salt. Add a little pepper. Lastly cover the top of the potatoes with the cheese evenly and sprinkle a little parsley on top. Cook in the oven for about 1 hour, or until you can stick a fork in the potatoes and they feel soft. That's it! I promise whomever you make these for will love them They are a go-to potato dish for me every time!