Hulk Smash!

milkshake
Hulk Smash Shake

Tomorrow is St.Paddy’s Day where we all get to wear something green, eat yummy food, hope we find the rich leprechaun at the end of a rainbow, and of course the big kids get to have a drink to celebrate the Irish.

This year I decided to make a simple but delicious milkshake — it has just a hint of booze but not overpowering, and of course the best part is it’s green!

Hope you enjoy it as much as I had fun experimenting while creating the recipe. Cheers!

 

INGREDIENTS

1 ½ cups french vanilla ice cream, packed firmly

1 tablespoon milk

¾ ounce whiskey

½ ounce peppermint schnapps

¼ teaspoon green food coloring (about 10-12 drops)

 

DIRECTIONS

Put all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy. Serve immediately.

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Champagne Valentine

drunk-mimosa

It’s Valentine’s Day — a day set aside to show extra love to your significant other. Maybe you’re taking that special someone out to dinner or better yet, preparing them a home cooked meal where you can just relax and enjoy each other’s company without the bustle of a busy restaurant.

Instead of creating a new dish, I chose to fancy up a glass of champagne to toast your evening at home. So, rather than breaking out those flute glasses and just pouring a glass of plain ol’ bubbly, try this tipsy mimosa as you toast to your better half.

Happy Valentine’s Day and live zestier.

INGREDIENTS

2 3/4 ounces champagne (brut recommended)

1 1/4 ounce orange juice

1/4 ounce Grand Marnier

Garnish: twist of orange peel

DIRECTIONS

Very simply, add the ingredients to your champagne flutes (or wine glasses if you don’t have any) then slowly top with champagne. Mix gently and enjoy.

Pro tip: I, personally, purchased tiny (airplane-size) bottles of liquor for the Grand Marnier to reduce the cost.

Cups of Dipless Dip

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Sunday is the Super Bowl and it promises to be one heck of a game between the Falcons and the Patriots. As a diehard Packers’ fan, you can imagine how heartbroken I am that my boys aren’t in Sunday’s game, so I did what I do best, and I got to making a new recipe.

We all like snack-size bites for the big game and a 7-layer dip of some sort is quite popular. I took that concept and made it my own spin.

Enjoy and live zestier.

INGREDIENTS:

1-16 ounce can refried beans
1 package wonton wrappers
⅓ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon chili powder
Salt
Black pepper
Guacamole, your favorite recipe
Salsa, your favorite recipe
Black olives
Jalapeños or green onions
Cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray and gently press a wonton wrapper into each cup. Spread a thin layer of refried beans and sprinkle cheese on top; add another wonton wrapper. Gently press down. Put another thin layer of cheese on top. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until edges are golden brown (resembling tortilla chips almost — the bottom will be soft).

Mix cumin, paprika, chili powder, pinch of salt and pinch of pepper in a medium bowl and add sour cream; stir. Refrigerate.

Layer guacamole, salsa, olives, zesty sour cream , jalapeños (or green onions if you don’t like too much spice) on to of the baked wontons when they come out of the oven.

Serve immediately and enjoy.

New City, New Flavors, New Chili

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I grew up in SoCal and am new to Eureka, so being in the middle of all the redwoods and experiencing all this rain is a new experience for me. But it’s awesome to experience this one month into fall, which is my favorite time of the year.

Fall is a soothing season to me because nature is changing its colors into golden oranges, yellows and reds. The high temperatures of the previous season have finally tempered down (I’ve lived in hot cities across the country) so I get to go play in the kitchen and create soups, chilis, sauces and everything in between for my cookbook. Oh, and football season is underway so my vocal chords are in full swing for my boys — the Green Bay Packers.

One of the things I found very quickly when I moved here were the local farmer’s markets that could easily inspire me on a weekly basis. I’m working on combining those local flavors into my recipes. For chili con zesty, I incorporated local vegetables, as well a local beer.

The chili has an enticing aroma as it simmers and as fills your kitchen, you’ll become excited with anticipation for that warm bowl once it’s finished cooking. The color is a rich, deep red that draws you in and with each bite, you’ll be filled with veggies, meat, beans and hearty tomatoes. The layers of flavors will leave you wanting another spoonful as you’re digging in with just enough kick to each bite because of the spice blends I use, but not an overpowering heat wave that will overtake your pallet. The beer and tomatoes blend well together with the flavors and to temper it down at the end, add a dollop of sour cream. One of the best parts (in my opinion), is that even though there is beer in the recipe, it can be paired with either your favorite beer at the end or even a nice glass of merlot, cabernet or a smooth red blend — my aunt (and dedicated taste-tester) said a glass of red blend complements the chili perfectly.

I hope you enjoy this chili as much as I enjoyed creating this recipe. Live zestier.

Chili Con Zesty

INGREDIENTS:
1 pound ground beef
1 12-fluid ounce bottle Lost Coast Great White (Corona or Heineken work as well)
3 14.5-ounce cans petite diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 6-ounce can tomato sauce
1 15.25-ounce can kidney beans (50% less sodium if possible)
1 15.25-ounce can white beans (50% less sodium if possible)
1 15-ounce can black beans
1 4-ounce can mild green chilies
1½ cups water
1 large sweet (or yellow) onion, diced small
1 large orange (or red) bell pepper, diced small
2 large carrots (about ½ cup), diced small
2-3 medium jalapeños, one seeded and minced, one seeded and cut in half (the other is optional for those of you who likes chili extra spicy — seed and mince)
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cumin
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2½ teaspoons paprika
2½ teaspoons dry basil
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoons onion powder
1½ teaspoons black pepper (plus extra ¼ teaspoon for seasoning for meat)
¾ teaspoon salt (plus extra ½ teaspoon for seasoning for meat and onions)

DIRECTIONS:
In a skillet, cook the ground beef and season with ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper; drain fat and set aside.

In a large soup pot, on medium-low heat, drizzle the olive oil on the bottom and cook diced onions with ¼ teaspoon of salt until translucent (about five minutes). Add diced bell peppers and carrots and continue to cook for an additional five minutes (carrots will be al dente). Add minced garlic, can of chilies and one fresh minced jalapeños (adjust less or more per your desired spice-level — use only half of a jalapeño for those who don’t want too spicy (keep in mind the seasonings will have a kick) and use the entire jalapeño for those who want it extra spicy); stir. Slowly, stir in beer (bring heat to medium-high), bring to boil.

Rinse all beans before adding to the vegetable and beer mixture. Add cooked ground beef, cans of tomatoes, tomato sauces, 1 cup of water, halved jalapeño, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, cumin, paprika, dry basil, garlic powder, onion powder, 1½ teaspoons black pepper and ¾ teaspoon salt; bring to boil.

Lower heat to medium-low and simmer chili for 50 minutes, stirring occasionally — halfway add the last ½ cup of water, additional ¼ cup if chili consistency is too thick. Pull out halved jalapeño skins and discard.

Serve with cheesy bread or tortilla chips.

Suggested toppings: Sour cream, cheddar cheese, chives and roughly chopped cilantro or parsley.

Fall’s Bounty: Fresh and Creamy Tomato Soup

img_0183My favorite season is fall. The leaves are changing to reds, oranges and yellows so taking random weekend drives are even more gorgeous than any other time of the year. Finally, the weather is cooling down when you’re living in hot climates, which I’ve done as an adult (not fun). And my cats finally stop shedding, so that’s a bonus.

But as a chef, the ultimate reason why I love the fall so much is because I finally get to make large batches of soups and sauces. The options are endless and as long as you have the basics, it’s really up to your imagination of where you want to go with the spices and herbs.

Last weekend, I decided to whip up a batch of cream of tomato soup. I was going to make a bisque but chose to add cheese at the end instead. You may be wondering what the difference is between a soup, cream of and then a bisque.

Well, soup is your basic building block when you’re making a batch. You need stock (or broth) veggies or meat — in this case lots and lots of tomatoes — and then spices and herbs. From there you add heavy cream and it’s the amount you add that will result in your soup turning into a cream of or a bisque. Because I used cheddar cheese (yum) as a creamy thickener, I only used a small amount of cream. My recipe can be tweaked so that if you want it more bisque(y), please feel free to add more cream and less cheese.

Soups are perfect for experimenting with — you can always add more liquid if it’s too thick and visa versa. The longer the pot sits on the stove, the flavors marry and you have a more pronounced taste, but if you’re in a hurry, you could easily make a pot quickly and still make a quick, yummy batch on the go. Your options are endless and I welcome you to use my recipe as a base to explore flavors in your own kitchen. Follow the recipe the first time and then add spices from your cupboard the next time like oregano, garlic or onion powder then veggies such as fennel, peppers and shallots would also be delicious additions.

There is one step that I do for my recipe that you may not see in other recipes which is take the tomato skins off. I do this because the consistency is smoother without the tomato skins in the soup, and because if you keep the skins in a soup, sometimes the soup is stringy. And there is no canned product in this recipe, so there’s nothing to mask the natural beauty of the tomato. But don’t worry, I have step-by-step easy instructions for this yummy soup.

I’d love to hear your take on my recipe, whether you make it into a bisque or if you like it cheesy like I do. Just as a heads up, the amount of cheese to tomatoes and cream is a perfect amount so don’t be overwhelmed that it’ll turn out to be mac-n-cheese tomato soup. I promise you it won’t!

I hope you enjoy the soup and fall weather and as always, live zestier!

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Fresh and Creamy Tomato Soup

INGREDIENTS

4 pounds of tomatoes (mix and match your favorite kinds — house, heirloom, roma, cherry … the choice is yours!) *See first step for tomatoes but skip this step for cherry tomatoes*
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 medium sweet onion (1 ¼ cup), roughly chopped
⅓ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped (more for topping)
½ cup heavy cream
¼-½ cheddar cheese, shredded, not pre-packaged (start with ¼ cup, taste and add the other ¼ cup if you want it extra cheesy)
3 cups vegetable broth (low sodium if possible!)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons dry basil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper (more to taste if needed)
½ teaspoon salt (more to taste if needed)

DIRECTIONS

*Bring a pot of of water to a rolling boil. Place a bowl of cold water next to the stove so it’s easy to do one step to the next. Rinse the tomatoes, remove stems and mark and shallow “X” at the bottom of the tomato (opposite of where the stem would be). Once the water is boiling, you can place 3-4 tomatoes at a time into the water (carefully) and when the “X” begins to open up — don’t boil longer than 30 seconds — quickly take the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon and place them into the bowl of cold water where you can peal the skin off.

In a large pot, simmer olive oil and only 1 teaspoon of dry basil on low heat for two minutes — this will start to infuse the oil and bring out the flavors more. Add the chopped onions and carrots and cook for an additional five minutes. Add garlic, other teaspoon of dry basil, salt and pepper, sugar and all the chopped tomatoes; stir until tomatoes are coated with veggies, herbs and spices. Slowly add the broth, bring the heat to medium and bring to boil.

Lower heat to medium-low, add fresh basil, stir and simmer for 30 minutes. When timer is up, blend until smooth — the easiest way to do this process is with an immersion blender (hand-held blender), but if you don’t have one, in small batches, carefully transfer the soup to a blender and blend until perfectly smooth.

Once smooth, with the heat on low, slowly stir in the cream and ¼ cup cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed and the extra ¼ cup of cheese. Serve it immediately and garnish it with creme fraiche, fresh basil, cheddar cheese, chives, homemade croutons or just good ol’ out of a soup mug with a spoon!

California Avocado Dreamin’

imageI am a proud Californian — born, raised and have lived here the majority of my life, and I love my home state. I’ve been up and down the entire state and have seen gorgeous beaches, tall mountains capped with snow, ginormous redwoods, large cities and tiny towns, forever-seeming deserts — did I mention beaches?

I could go on and on about the Golden State, but what I really want to share with you about California that you may not know is that we are an agricultural mecca. While there are patches of agriculture across the state, much of it comes from Central California.

Actually, California not only provides the rest of the country with much of its produce, many cities across the state have made a name for themselves — Gilroy (in NorCal) is the garlic capital of the world; the Salinas Valley (also in NorCal) is the “salad bowl of the world” because it is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, producing lettuce, artichokes, strawberries, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, among other produce; Castroville (in Monterey County) is the artichoke capital of the world; and Fallbrook (in San Diego) is the avocado capital of the world.

The humble Haas avocado is what we’re mostly known for — it’s our state fruit. Before the ban was lifted back in the ’90s (Mexico is [and was] the world’s largest producer of avocados), all the avocados in the United States came from California. Since I grew up in SoCal, I had them at my fingertips, but people back in New York or Florida weren’t as luck because avocados don’t grow year round. Now that the U.S. gets a large portion our supply from Mexico, as well as Peru, Columbia and even South Africa, we can now eat avocados almost year round.

Avocados have sky rocketed in popularity in the past couple of decades probably because now they’re easily accessible. They’re a superfood, full of vitamins and nutrients — not only do they taste good, but are good for you, too. Best of all, there’s so much you can do with avocados — salads, dips, spreads, guacamole (of course), smoothies, spring rolls, soups, mousse and because I am from California, you can even do — avocado margaritas!

Haas avocados (the most common found in stores) are easy to identify by their distinct oval shape and dark green outer shells. Personally, I love avocados because the texture is rich, melt in your mouth, yet the flavor is so subtle and mild. You can brighten up so many dishes with avocados and from savory to sweet dishes, your possibilities are left to your imagination.

I took the ever-so-popular guacamole and put a spin on it, creating the GuacaBLT. See, I love BLTs and guacamole is up there on my list so I put the two together. This dip is great on nachos, tacos, burritos and you guessed it — put it on your next BLT sandwhich.

Live zestier.

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GuacaBLT

INGREDIENTS

4 thick pieces of bacon, cooked, diced small (or crumbled)

2 ripe Haas avocados

1/4 cup lettuce sliced into 1/4″ strips

2 tablespoons tomatoes, diced small

2 teaspoons cilantro, chopped fine

2 teaspoons green onions, chopped small

2 teaspoons grapefruit vinegar **

1 lime, juiced

Black pepper and Kosher salt

 

DIRECTIONS

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits and scoop out the flesh and into a medium bowl. Add the lime juice and mash with a fork, leaving the avocados chunky. Add the bacon, tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, green onions and vinegar and mix gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Refrigerate for 15 minutes before serving.

** As I’ve raved in previous blogs, I can’t get enough of fruit-flavored balsamic vinegars. In this recipe, I used a grapefruit balsamic vinegar, but don’t worry, if you haven’t ordered a bottle or found one at your local store, just add lime juice. Start with the lime juice that’s already in the recipe and then add a teaspoon at a time to your taste. Enjoy.

 

 

Pie on the 4th of July

image.jpegKids of all ages are on summer break; families are on vacation; and I just went and saw “Independence Day: Resurgence” — the sequel 20 years in the making (yes, I’m that “old” as my little brothers remind me all the time). It must be Fourth of July weekend!

When it comes to the Fourth, we all have traditions that we were raised on or that we like to do as adults: whether it’s going to the local Native American Indian Reservation to shoot off fireworks while watching the extravagant fireworks show (I was introduced to this tradition while up in the Pacific Northwest), or sitting on an overpass in SoCal in the perfect spot while catching a dozen major firework shows (I may have done this as a young adult a time or two), or gathering your buddies for a big barbeque and having some laughs.

Speaking of traditions, when I was a kid, I usually got to pick any kind of cake I wanted my mom to make for my birthday, and there was this pie that I’d ask her to make sometimes. It reminds me of a not-so-rich cheesecake but just as yummy!

My mom just came to visit me for my birthday, and just like I did as a kid, I asked for the special birthday pie. The recipe has been around as long as I can remember, but we have no idea where it originated.

I was inspired to zest it up and make it my own. Personally, I’m not usually a baker, but that’s why this is so perfect — there’s no baking involved! Plus, it only takes a few minutes to prepare. And of course, I had to decorate the pie in red, white and blue for the patriotic holiday.

I hope you enjoy this simple but delicious bit of my past.

Have a safe holiday weekend, and as always, happy zesty eating!

 

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Red, White & Blue Cream Cheese Pie

INGREDIENTS

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
3 medium lemons, juiced (1/3 cup)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 9-inch graham cracker crumb pie crust
2 teaspoons fresh mint, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lime zest (about 1 medium lime)

Fresh berries: strawberries (my favorite), blueberries, raspberries, blackberries — pick your favorite berries to top the pie.
DIRECTIONS

Using a mixer, in a medium bowl, blend the cream cheese for about 30 seconds on medium speed. Slowly add the condensed milk, lemon juice and vanilla extract and continue mixing for 2-3 minutes or until smooth.

Gently fold in mint and lime zest.

Pour mixture into pie crust and refrigerate for 4 hours or until firmly set. Add fresh berries, slice and serve.

Enjoy!