Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chocolate Turtles

I love how shiny the chocolate is!
(I set it on top of my organizer, so ignore the sorry background!)

Here is another recipe from Stephanie Tourles’ book, Raw Energy. This is a reworking of a classic chocolate treat, turtles, which combines chocolate, caramel and nuts. People have reworked turtles, but never like this! I have successfully enjoyed this treat and didn’t feel guilty one bit. Now that’s what I’m talking about! Have a sweet treat, don’t deprive yourself, and don’t feel bad about it either!

To demonstrate how much better this recipe is in terms of ingredients, I thought I’d compare it to a recipe for regular chocolate turtles. I went to because it had an actual recipe for chocolate turtles. Other places had recipes for chocolate turtle pie, cheesecake, brownies. Not exactly what I was looking for. (Did I mention people had reworked the turtle recipe? Wow!) Anyway, I found a recipe that seemed simple and was the classic chocolate turtle treat with nuts, caramel and chocolate. You can click here to go to the recipe I found, but the ingredient list includes caramels, evaporated milk, pecans, butter, chocolate chips and vegetable oil.

The caramels are cooked butter and sugar, the evaporated milk is processed, cooked and canned, the pecans are, well, pecans, the butter is probably pasteurized, and the chocolate chips are full of sugar and processed chocolate. And, most likely the vegetable oil is probably soy, which I choose to avoid. (To find out why, see this post.)

Now, compare all those processed, sugary ingredients with the ingredients for Ms. Tourles’ turtles: raw almond butter, raw cocoa (cacao) powder, raw agave nectar, raw pecan halves. Four ingredients with no butter and no extra sugar. Granted, there’s no caramel substitute. But, believe me, once you try it, you won’t care that there’s no caramel. If you like chocolate and nuts, you’ll love this version. And, it is so easy!

Basically, the recipe is equal parts almond butter and cocoa powder, with half the amount of agave nectar. For example, if you use ½ cup almond butter, you’ll use ½ cup cocoa powder and ¼ cup agave nectar. Put these three ingredients in a bowl and slowly stir together. You have to go slow because the cocoa powder is so loose and light. Eventually, you’ll see it mixing and becoming a dark chocolate mass. Once it is all incorporated, pinch off small pieces and roll them into balls, placing the balls on wax paper. Gently press your chosen nut, whether that is classic pecans or what-I-have-on-hand almonds, onto the top of each ball. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Ms. Tourles recommends an 8-inch pan, but I just lined a large rectangular tupperware with wax paper. This was very convenient for covering, chilling and storing. Ms. Tourles also says she likes to store them in the freezer (for up to 3 months), where they “become quite firm but still chewy”. Mine were a little too hard when coming out of the freezer, so I prefer to keep them in the fridge, where they can be stored in a tightly sealed container for up to 3 weeks.

So, I’ve included a picture of my almond-topped turtles. I love how easy this recipe is, and they really are delicious. The almond butter gives you good fats, and if you make it yourself, you know there are no preservatives or additives. The agave nectar is a wonderful sweetener that won’t give you a sugar rush or crash later. And, of course, the almonds are full of fiber, good fats, protein and all kinds of good stuff. The cacao powder – well, that’s up for some debate. I suppose chocolate is still chocolate. But, I for one am happy to have a yummy alternative to a chocolate treat loaded with sugar and butter.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cashew Oat Squares

Based on the "Cashew Maple Oatmeal Squares" recipe from Raw Energy: 124 Raw Food Recipes for Energy Bars, Smoothies, and Other Snacks to Supercharge Your Body by Stephanie Tourles

I decided to try this recipe because my hubby loves cookie dough, and in the recipe description, Ms. Tourles says, "These sticky and chewy treats will remind you of chilled oatmeal cookie dough." Oh, and the recipe does not require a dehydrator, which I still do not have, but am seriously considering.

These squares were delicious. It was hard to stop – we could have finished off the first batch entirely before dinner. I did alter her recipe, mostly because I had to substitute ingredients for what is available and cost effective for me. What follows is her recipe from the book, with my alterations in parentheses.

Cashew Maple Oatmeal Squares, by Stephanie Tourles

10 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped, about 1 cup (I used Deglet dates)
1 cup raw cashews (I germinated the cashews although she doesn’t say to do so)
½ cup raw oats
¼ cup maple syrup (I used agave syrup)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
coconut oil, raw and unrefined, for greasing pan (I just used wax paper instead)

1. Put the dates, cashews, oats, syrup, cinnamon and salt in a food processor. Blend until a cohesive, sticky cookie dough forms, about 30 seconds. It will look and taste similar to oatmeal cookie dough.

2. Coat the bottom of an 8-inch square pan with coconut oil or line with waxed paper. Spread the mixture in the pan to an approximate thickness of ½ inch. If your fingers get too sticky, dampen them to help pat the dough into the pan.

3. Cover and freeze for 4 hours, until the dough is relatively firm. Remove from the freezer and cut into 1-½ inch squares.

4. Store the squares in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for up to 2 months. They will have a nice, stiff “chew” when eaten directly from the freezer, so don’t worry about breaking your teeth. If allowed to thaw, they will become too soft and sticky.

Yield: About 24 squares

I will definitely be making these again and again. They were a delicious snack or dessert, and are full of good stuff. No flour or white sugar and no empty calories to give you a false energy rush then crash. And they were so easy to prepare! It’s almost sinful how easy they are and how delicious! Enjoy!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pei Wei Asian Diner

7th Avenue & McDowell location

various locations

“Eat in Five Languages: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese”

Pei Wei is casual dining mixed with fast food, the type of restaurant where you seat yourself (unless it’s really crowded), order at the counter and get your own drink. But, they will bring your delicious food to you, and the interior is decorated nicely. So, it’s a step above fast food joints. A small, nicely decorated step, but a step above nonetheless.

The menu is varied, obviously, if you can "eat in five languages". They offer many menu items as vegetarian, and even offer a Gluten-Free menu. There are only 3 salads on their Salad menu, but I’ve never thought of Asian food as having a lot of salads anyway. The stars of the show are the Noodle/Rice Bowls and Signature Dishes, which have many options. You pick your base dish and choose your protein source (chicken, beef, pork or shrimp, or veggies).

I’ve been to Pei Wei several times, to several different locations here in Phoenix, and only had a few dishes. I found a dish I love (Pad Thai) and tend to order that each time. Call me boring - I know what I like! My hubby is a little more adventurous and has tried several dishes, one of which (Dan Dan Noodles) we started making at home – well, his own version – since he liked it so much and it seemed really simple to do a semi-raw version. The last few times I’ve been to Pei Wei, the atmosphere was loud and annoying. It would be less annoying if we weren’t there at the same time as everyone else. We were attempting to beat the lunch crowd by meeting at 11:30, but it seems we were not the only ones with that idea, and we found ourselves right smack dab in the middle of the lunch crowd. Line out the door, music and chatting noises increasing in volume with each minute. Not my idea of a pleasant, relaxing lunch.

Some people love Pei Wei and others think it’s nothing to write home about. It probably depends largely on what you have. I would say Pei Wei is good Asian food, and it is kind of cool to go to one restaurant and be able to try a Japanese dish, or a Thai dish. If you have limited lunch time, it can also be very fast. But, if you, like me, want to enjoy your lunch break, I would not recommend going to Pei Wei between 11:30 and 1pm. It is too loud to enjoy any conversation with your lunch companions. And, I don’t know about you, but I can’t sit and enjoy my meal when there’s a line of people staring at our table to see how soon we might be leaving so that they might grab it. Of course, you could always call ahead or even order online now and just pick it up and go. Go to a nice, quiet place away from work where you can really enjoy the taste of the food. Soon it will be such nice weather here in Phoenix that I would love to eat lunch outside, maybe at a park with some water so I can watch the birds!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mostly Raw milkshakes

My dad is a huge ice cream fan, and he passed that love to me. Recently, when Dairy Queen was celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Blizzard, I recalled the first time I had one, just after they came out. At that time, the commercials showed the Blizzard being held upside down without spilling a drop. This - I suppose - was to demonstrate how thick and chock-full of yummy stuff it was, as opposed to those runny regular ice cream shakes. My dad and I went to the Dairy Queen drive-through, and when we got to the pick-up window, we asked the employee if they could really hold it upside down without anything falling out. The employee did so, and we were supremely impressed! The Blizzard was also very delicious, thick and chock-full of yummy stuff, much cooler than those runny regular ice cream shakes.

And, my love of milkshakes that are so thick with ice cream that I have to eat them with a spoon was born!

There is raw ice cream in the world. Check out Sweetly Raw for some tantalizing raw ice cream cakes. Since I am just at baby-steps with eating raw (less than a year now), I have not attempted to make raw ice cream. Luckily for me, I can have a mostly raw milkshake. It is easy and delicious, and has been a regular treat during this warm summer. Sometimes, it has even been dinner!
Banana shake - thick and creamy
The key is the frozen bananas. They absolutely make the consistency very much like ice cream. And, it is different than a smoothie, although more so in consistency than in ingredients. The ingredients are very simple: 1 frozen banana, 1 fresh banana, ¼ teaspoon vanilla, and about ¼ cup of milk. Blend it all up and you have a delicious treat. If the bananas are too ripe, the banana taste can be strong.

It is very helpful to break the banana into small pieces before freezing. At least, our blender can handle it better!
Adding ingredients
Strawberry-banana milkshakes are the same, just add about 3 frozen strawberries to the mix.

Keep in mind that although this is mostly raw, that does not mean it is mostly calorie-free. One medium sized banana is about 100 calories, and I use 2 in this recipe. But, you are getting about 2 to 3 servings of the recommended 3 to 4 fruit servings per day.

Pouring it to serve - how yummy!

Of course, I could add nut milk or fresh, unpasteurized dairy milk to make it 100% raw. I checked out Almond Milk sold in a carton at the grocery stores, and there were additives in them – all the brands – that I did not want. And, I am not close to a dairy farm where I reside, and don’t even know if it’s legal to sell unpasteurized milk here in AZ. My best bet is to make my own nut milk, which sounds rather simple. Right now, I do not have a nut milk bag to begin making my own nut milks. But, I would like to try it sometime.

Any suggestions on making my own nut milk without a proper nut milk bag?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pugzie’s Restaurant

4700 N. 16th Street (Northwest corner of 16th Street and Highland)
Phoenix, AZ 85016

Open only for lunch (10-4 Monday through Friday), Pugzie’s makes sandwiches like I’d make at home, only better! Everything seems to be extra fresh. The bread is soft, the tomatoes tasty, and the lettuce leaves whole. The dill pickle, chips and cookie served alongside give me a feeling reminiscent of when my mom packed a lunch for me in elementary school. Pugzie’s is like that, like a Working Mom: supremely busy all the time, but they still try to make you feel like you’re at home. Two sisters own it, Lynn Pugliano and Lisa Pugliano-Wright, and, according to their website, their goal “was to provide fresh, healthy lunches with friendly, fast service.”

The restaurant is hard to miss, painted turquoise, with a yellow toucan up high. What the apparent loudness of the exterior hides is a quiet interior grassy courtyard. There are chairs and tables with umbrellas out on a concrete patio area to sit out and enjoy the weather (when it’s nice here in Phoenix, that is). If it’s too hot (or cold, I suppose), there are chairs inside that face the wall of windows which look out to the courtyard. It’s all very pleasant, and a nice change of pace from the bustle of the Camelback Corridor and the movers and shakers that do business there.

Other than being a nice little escape in the middle of a workday, Pugzie’s food is great, too. They offer classic sandwiches, like Oven-Roasted Turkey (my personal fave), Roast Beef, and Chicken Salad that they proclaim is a “Favorite on the menu!” They also offer the always wonderful combo of a half-sandwich with a choice of soup, chili, or a salad. The salads are varied, ranging from pasta salad to potato salad and even fruit salad. All are served in good portions that are surprisingly filling. And, the soup is really delicious, too, with offerings like Cheese Broccoli (my other personal fave), Tomato Basil and Clam Chowder.
Pugzie’s has vegetarian options and gluten-free menu items as well. And, the prices are very reasonable, given the quality of food and the location.

I would say the Pugliano sisters have succeeded in reaching their goal!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Eating out

I’ll just come right out and say it: We’ve been eating out a lot lately. A LOT. So, I have quite a few restaurants to write about.

There are a lot of different restaurants here in the greater Phoenix Metropolitan area, and I always enjoy eating out and trying new dishes and foods. I am happy to say that there are only two chain restaurants out of the ten I will be writing about. (Told ya it was a lot!) I like to eat at non-chain restaurants because I feel like I’m helping a fellow small business owner out in their fight against the big guys, with all their advertising dollars behind them.

So, how can I keep my diet mostly raw if I’m eating out all the time? We try and eat at least two raw meals every day, leaving one cooked meal a day. And, to be honest, if I had a huge cooked lunch, for dinner I may just have some fruit, a few veggies thrown together in a salad or nothing at all. Every morning we have the “Best Breakfast Ever” and tea or coffee. Lunch and dinner are more free form, depending on our schedule for that day. If we were out and about at lunchtime, we have eaten out and made that our cooked meal for the day. If we were home at lunchtime, then we’d eat a raw lunch, like a salad or a veggie sandwich on Ezekiel bread. Dinner depends on what we feel like eating. If it’s been two raw meals that day, dinner could be raw veggies and a cooked portion, like pasta or potatoes, or black beans.

Basically, we do feel much better eating mostly raw. But, we still like cooked food. And, we give ourselves permission to eat what sounds good to us. Of course, I keep in mind things that I don’t want to eat, like soy and artificial sweeteners, and try to avoid that as much as possible.

I have never believed in deprivation as a good strategy for eating. Depriving myself of something I want just makes me feel resentful and angry. I do strongly believe in moderation however. My food vice is chips and dip. Now, I do not buy chips and dip and have them in my house. That’s just too much temptation. However, if I am at a party and there’s chips and dip, why should I torture myself and avoid having any? I should not and I do not. But, I do not sit at the table and finish the whole bag of chips! I grab a handful of chips and enjoy it – really enjoy it – with the dip. Then, I grab some fruit or veggies to enjoy. If I am done with the fruit or veggies and I still want chips, I grab another handful. And, I pay attention to when I feel full. When I am full, I stop eating. Then, I am happy because I have not deprived myself, and I have eaten in moderation.

Life is too short. Enjoy it, I say!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mexican Bowl

We do enjoy Mexican food, and have enjoyed this dish on many nights. For lack of a better name, we called it "corn bowl". That is not fitting at all since there is so much more than corn in it! But, alas, I could not come up with anything better than "Mexican Bowl". It is kind of like the burrito bowls at Chipotle, but I think it could be the base or insides of tacos, tostadas, fajitas and burritos, too, if your heart so desired.

It's very simple, and a lot of it is raw.

1/2 cup corn (we used uncooked, fresh white corn cut from the cob)
3/4 cup black beans*
1 Roma tomato, chopped
1/4 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup plain yogurt, optional
garlic salt, optional
onion salt, optional
hot sauce, optional
shredded cheese, optional

Put all veggies in the bowl, layering as you go. If using the optional ingredients, top with yogurt, then sprinkle the garlic and onion salt lightly over the yogurt, to taste. Add hot sauce to taste, and top with desired amount of shredded cheese.

*Note the black beans are canned although not heated. We have tried to eat black beans that we purchased dried and from the bulk section. We soaked them for a really long time, I think 24 hours, maybe 36 hours. Although they were still slightly hard, which made them slightly crunchy, we ate them and thought they were okay. Unfortunately, we both were sick to our stomachs the next day. Until I become more educated about beans, I am going to stick with canned for now. I noticed after that unpleasant experience that most of the raw food blogs I read do not use beans often. Maybe there's a reason, huh?

Using the veggie ingredients only would yield a 100% raw dish, although I'm not sure it would be very tasty. I have come to find that seasonings are quite important to eating mostly raw. They definitely help add flavor and interest to the dishes. So I strongly suggest adding your favorite seasonings. Also, the black beans provide good amounts of dietary fiber and protein. And, the yogurt has beneficial bacteria. All good stuff!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Best Breakfast Ever!

Boxed cereals are convenient, quick and easy. Just open the box, pour some cereal in a bowl, add some milk, grab a spoon and you are ready to eat. They are also usually filled with preservatives and additives and other chemicals that I probably cannot pronounce. And, they are processed and cooked. I want none of those things for my first, most important meal of the day.

I want a morning cereal routine that is almost as quick and easy, and much more nutritious! And, with this breakfast, I have all that and more. It only takes a few minutes to prepare. It fills me up without making me feel heavy, and holds me over for hours – well into the lunchtime hour. So I have a very productive morning because I’m not stopping every two hours to have a snack or get more coffee or tea.

(Seriously, before I started eating more raw, I would have hot tea or coffee at 8am, stop to eat breakfast at 9 or 9:30, at 10:30 or 11am I was thinking about lunch and what to do, where to go. Then, at about 2:30 or 3pm, I would be hungry for a snack unless I ate a gi-normous amount at lunch, then I would be tired and wanting an afternoon nap. Either way, I would probably snack, then want dinner at 6pm. I was always hungry and always thinking about food.)

This breakfast is simple: about 10 germinated* almonds, a handful of raisins, another handful or so of whole oats, and about 4 tablespoons yogurt and/or milk. Each morning, I add a different fruit, one half each for Hubby and me. Sometimes, we go with an apple or banana (always a good standard), but lately, the nectarines and mangoes have been excellent at our grocery store. Part of the reason we have not become tired of having the same thing every morning is because of the different fruit we add to it. The other part is because we feel great after eating it!

All stirred up with nectarine

Adding Mango on another morning
Obviously with the addition of the yogurt and milk, this is not a 100% raw breakfast (or afternoon snack, or lunch – we’ve had it as both). But, my blog is not a 100% raw blog. If you were to purchase unpasteurized milk or yogurt made from unpasteurized milk, this may be 100% raw. I have to research whole oats. I have eaten oats labeled as “raw” before, and I don’t notice any difference between those and the whole oats I use. But, Carol Alt says in her books, “If it doesn’t say raw, it’s not raw.” The oats I buy do not say raw so I’m not sure if they are or not. But, whole oats do provide fiber and complex carbohydrates, which are both great for our systems.

*A note about germinating: It is very easy! Germinating nuts and seeds releases the nutrients inside those awesome nuts and seeds so they are more biologically available to us. Each specific nut and seed has a different germinating time, so I would direct you to Carol Alt’s books for more info on that. This is what I do for almonds:

(Two cups of almonds lasts me for this breakfast for about two weeks, for the two of us.) Rinse the 2 cups of almonds twice or so

Pour them into a glass bowl or other glass container

Pour purified water over them enough to cover all the almonds and have about a ½ inch of water above them

(Note I use filtered water, but others use distilled water – do what works for you)

Let the almonds soak for 8 to 12 hours on the counter, just at room temperature

(Note that I have set them to soak before work in the morning – then when I’m done with my workday, they are ready to put away – and also before going to bed at night – then when I wake up the next morning, they are ready to use)

Pour the water out and rinse them a few times again

The almonds are germinated and ready to use! I store mine in a container in the fridge and they last for the whole 2 weeks. They may last longer, but I usually run out by then.

You’ll find the almonds are sweeter and more flavorful after germinating, and of course, a little softer. Hubby says they taste reminiscent of coconut.

So, that’s how we do breakfast. We’ve given up the boxed cereals and cooked oatmeal and feel so much better for it!


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Raw Red Pepper Soup

Cold soups are nothing new, really. I mean, there's gazpacho, right? I can't think of any other cold soups but that does not mean they're not out there.

This dish was made in the spirit of "Let's try it and see". My hubby had been reminiscing about a roasted red pepper soup that we had at Haus Murphy's. It was so delicious. Rich and creamy and so flavorful. Well, roasted red peppers are not raw. So, we decided to try and find a raw soup recipe that might come close. I came across a recipe from Heather Pace of the Sweetly Raw blog (which is awesome for people with enormous sweet tooths - or teeth? - anyway, it's great), and thought, "Let's try it and see." We completely changed her recipe, mostly because we don't have all the ingredients (such as nutritional yeast and miso), and we never include onions if we can help it.

I'd say it was 3.5 out of 5. Maybe nutritional yeast and miso and onions are really key to obtaining that roasted red pepper flavor? As you can see from the picture, we topped it with some avocado slices. It was good, but it didn't meet our expectations. However, our expectations were of a cooked dish, so I don't know how close we really could have come.

One thing I am loving about eating mostly raw is the fact that we don't heat up the house by turning on the stove or oven. This is probably particular to where I live: Phoenix. It is hot here in the summer (and spring and early fall - who am I kidding!) and to not turn the stove or oven on is a blessing! And who wants a hot steaming bowl of soup when it's 110 outside?

Red Pepper Soup (based off "Southern Belles in London Soup" by Philip McCluskey through Heather Pace's blog)

4 red peppers, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil (cold-pressed if you have it)
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Heather states if you want warm soup, use hot water.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sorry I've been away . . .

It's been several months since I've shared anything on this blog! I just haven't had the energy or desire to write about the lovely food I've been eating. But, that's about to change! I have a plan, and have some wonderful meals to share, including an all-raw Fake Fettucine Alfredo

and an all-raw dessert with an almond-date crust, vanilla creme filling and topped with strawberries!

Oops - thought I had a picture of that one. Darn, I guess I'll have to make it again and be sure to take a picture of it before I gobble it up!

So, again, my apologies for being away. My blog is somewhat revamped to have a more raw diet/raw meal focus, which reflects my life currently. It's being revamped. How cool is that?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Meat-Free Monday - Raw Spaghetti

This is actually a recipe called "Pasta alla Marinara", from Carol Alt's book, Eating in the Raw. She got this recipe from Quintessence, a raw restaurant in NYC.

In my effort to eat more naturally and vegetarian, I have decided to try eating raw more often than not. This recipe seemed simple enough, and I thought, if I like this raw dish, I am well on my way to eating raw more and more.

Well, I liked it. My husband really liked it, too. . . the first night. I kept suggesting it as dinner, and even as lunch, and he just wasn't all that jazzed about it. He couldn't explain why. He said it was good and tasty, but his desire for it just wasn't there.

Maybe an andouille sausage would have made it more appetizing? Not exactly raw or vegetarian!

I could eat this every other day for a whole week and probably then, just start to get tired of it. The sauce is outrageously tasty. Of course, I love green olives and bell peppers, so this had all my favorite spaghetti ingredients. And, with Phoenix summers being insanely hot, this raw dish will be cool and refreshing and filling at the same time.

Pasta Alla Marinara, from Carol Alt's Eating in the Raw

Serves 5

5 pounds yellow summer squash

Marinara Sauce
6 large tomatoes
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1/2 bunch fresh basil
1/4 cup (loosely packed) fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons choped fresh sage
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup cold-pressed olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
5 dates, pitted
1 tablespoon evaporated sea salt

1/4 cup olives, chopped
1/4 cup tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup red bell peppers, chopped
1/4 cup red onions, chopped

For the "pasta", thinly slice the yellow squash with a sharp knife, or, better yet, use a turning (spiralizing) slicer to cut squash into curly strands. Set aside. For the Marinara sauce, put all the sauce ingredients in a blender and puree until creamy. Pour sauce on spiralized yellow squash pasta and top with olives, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions.

OK - now for our version. We are two empty nesters, so we certainly did not need to make enough to serve 5! So I sliced one small to medium sized squash for one full plate serving of "pasta". When I made this for lunch, I sliced one squash, and did 1/2 per plate and that was plenty. Also, the only fresh herb we have is rosemary (growing in our garden!), so substituting dried herbs was fine. We didn't have tarragon or sage, so those were left out. We also don't like onions, so those were left out. And, I did not have dates, so we went without. Regular salt worked fine in place of the expensive sounding evaporated sea salt.

This dish is interesting for so many reasons. First, I didn't know yellow summer squash could be eaten raw. I thought it HAD to be cooked. Wrong! It tastes very mild raw, and there is no bitterness at all. (I thought it had to be cooked to get rid of the bitterness, but I think cooking it may make it bitter.) Second, the raw tomato sauce was exactly like cooked spaghetti sauce, it just wasn't steaming hot, leaving all the nutrients intact. And, third, the toppings added to the sauce made it exactly like the chunky spaghetti sauce I enjoy cooking for my family.

Delicious! Now, I just need to figure out how to get the hubby to eat it more than just once. . . . . :-)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thai Elephant

Thai Elephant
20 W. Adams Street
Phoenix, AZ 85003
(602) 252-3873

(4 smiles out of 5)

3.5 stars out of 5 from

When a small place is jam-packed, you know it's good. Thai Elephant in Downtown Phoenix was jam-packed, and it was good.

We were lucky to snag the last available table, and it was early by lunch time standards - 11:45! If you are looking for a nice, quiet place to have a leisurely lunch and hang out for a while, this is not the place. It was crowded and loud and just buzzing constantly. The tables are so close you may end up bumping elbows, apologizing and then becoming friends with the people at the next table. But, I think that's part of the charm of this restaurant! Be friendly and open, and you never know what you may find, or who you might meet.

Of course, the food was excellent, so you may find you'll put up with the noise and close quarters to enjoy a tasty dish. Thai Elephant serves lunch and dinner every day except Sunday, and prides itself on serving freshly prepared food made from scratch with quality ingredients. The dishes are customizable, too, allowing patrons their choices of meat and spice level, and they don't mind substitutions. I had one of my favorite Thai dishes, Pad Se Ew, and I loved the large noodles they used. Their Thai iced tea was delicious, too. All in all, good food and an interesting atmosphere. We'll go there again!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meat-Free Monday suggestion: Cream of Broccoli soup

Sometimes soup is what I crave.

When it is coupled with toasted bread I am happy.

When we make it all from scratch with no preservatives I am especially happy!

On this particular day, I wanted a creamy soup. All we had in our pantry was one package of Ramen noodles. (It's the last one and once it's gone I doubt I'll ever buy it again.) My husband had made tortilla soup before, and I've made corn soup before, but those didn't really seem to satisfy my craving for a creamy soup.

So, we pulled out the trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and flipped to the Soups & Stews tab. In my 1989 version, there is a Cream of Vegetable Soup, followed by a chart. You choose which vegetable you want and the chart shows the seasonings to use with that particular veggie. The veggie choices range from broccoli to celery to acorn squash and pumpkin, carrots and mushroom, and even spinach. We had frozen broccoli on hand, so that's what we went with.

One 10-ounce package frozen cut broccoli
1 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon margarine or butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon snipped thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1/8 teaspoon salt
dash pepper
1 cup milk or light cream

Thaw the frozen broccoli. In a blender container or food processor combine the cooked vegetable and 3/4 cup of the chicken broth. Cover and blend or process about 1 minute or till smooth. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan melt margarine (or butter). Stir in flour, thyme, salt and pepper. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir till slightly thickened and bubbly. Cook 1 minute more. Stir in broccoli mixture and remaining broth. Cook and stir till heated through. If necessary, stir in additional milk to make of desired consistency. Season to taste. Makes 3 or 4 side-dish servings (or 2 main dish servings).

It really was very easy to put together, and once it was done, it was delicious. My creamy soup craving was satisfied. I had made sourdough bread over the weekend, and we toasted a few slices to accompany the soup. That was extra yummy! (I probably should post another entry about baking sourdough bread. I have gotten much better at it, and it is my favorite bread to make. I think I just need to remember to take pictures of it before it is devoured! Hmmm. . . some time soon.)

Anyway, I was truly thrilled with this broccoli soup and sourdough bread because it was all home made. No preservatives, no chemical additives. And, it was meat-free! I know we used chicken broth and milk, so it wasn't vegan, but, it was still meat-free. What's not to feel good about?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pound cake with strawberries

It must be strawberry season because they are on sale at the grocery store, and they actually look good! When I see strawberries, I immediately think of strawberry shortcake. I had everything on hand, including a recipe, for pound cake, not short cake, so pound cake is what I made. And, boy was it delicious!

The pound cake is thick and dense, yet subtle in the flavor. It gets a little extra something with the addition of a little nutmeg. And the strawberries are perfect - sweet and a little tart and very juicy. YUM!

The plate on the left is for my hubby, who chose to top his with a drizzle of agave nectar. The plate on the right is for me, and I chose to drizzle chocolate hazelnut spread on mine. Fabulous!!

I used the pound cake recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cook book, which follows. I looked on their website, and the recipe for Pound Cake and for Classic Pound Cake, is not the recipe for Pound Cake in the book I have, which is from 1989 of course.

1 cup butter
4 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring butter and eggs to room temperature. In one mixing bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and, if desired, nutmeg. In another bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.

Gradually add sugar to butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating on medium to high speed about 6 minutes total or till very light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition, scraping bowl often. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating on low to medium speed just till combined.

Pour batter into a greased and floured 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 55 to 65 minutes or till a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan. Cool thoroughly on a wire rack. Makes 12 servings.

This recipe was easy to throw together, took no time at all and turned out wonderful. The longest part was waiting for the butter and eggs to get to room temp! Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shrimp tacos, avocado cilantro salsa, avocado tomato salad

Simplicity can be truly awesome. Case in point: shrimp tacos. For the shrimp lover (like me), shrimp tacos are heaven! This taco is all about the shrimp. There is nothing in the taco but shrimp and a yummy avocado cilantro salsa. Absolutely one of my favorite summertime meals! (It may only be April, but it's getting warm in Phoenix!)

The side salad is also very simple: a roma tomato and half an avocado drizzled with lemon juice. It is refreshing and light, and the lemon juice actually made the tomato flavor more apparent, and the avocado brighter.

The shrimp sauce ingredients include olive oil, chili powder and paprika. The shrimp were just coated in this sauce, allowed to sit for about 5 minutes, and then fried in a pan. (My husband just really warms the shrimp since we buy the already cooked and peeled shrimp.) The avocado cilantro salsa ingredients include one half avocado, half a bunch of cilantro, garlic, onion salt, garlic salt, lemon juice and about 2 tablespoons water, all combined in a food processor. Add more lemon juice or water to get your desired consistency.

Easy, simple and extremely flavorful! Enjoy!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Whole Soy Story, by Kaayla T. Daniel

I wanted to bake my own bread at first because I thought it would be fun and yummy, and a bit of a challenge. (I had never done it before!) When I discovered I could bake a pretty good loaf, I decided to bake bread more regularly to avoid the preservatives that are in the bread at the grocery store. That, in turn, got me thinking about eating healthier in general, and avoiding, as best I could, all those preservatives and multi-syllabic, science-lab-created additives in all the food products I buy. I wanted to go fresher and more natural.

This desire to eat healthier, as well as beginning this blog, led me to other blogs written by vegetarians, vegans and raw foodists. I became curious about their choices of foods, and noticed that soy was not a regular part of their meals. Isn’t soy supposed to be good for you? So I asked one of the bloggers, and she answered that she personally avoided soy because it did not agree with her system, and suggested I research the topic further on my own. I immediately looked up information, and came across several books. I borrowed The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food, by Kaayla T. Daniel from the library. It seemed the least “scientific” and easiest to read.

It was easy to read, although it is still chock full of scientific terminology. It is full of interesting information that makes me wary of buying any soy product, including any products that have soy additives, such as bread, crackers, turkey lunchmeat, and tuna! Yes, those products all have soy added as a filler or protein additive.

I believe there is good and bad in everything: people are both nice and naughty, life situations can be bad but there is always a silver lining, and food can be good tasting but not be good for us or taste yucky but be full of nutrients. There’s good and bad in everything. And, soy fits the bill. There is good and bad in soy. The soy industry focuses on the good, while not letting us average Americans in on the bad. Kaayla T. Daniel’s book does that. She informs the reader about the original use of soy in Chinese history, the fermentation processes that allow the good nutrients to shine while eliminating the bad anti-nutrients, and how the soy industry processes skip the fermentation of soy, which does not eliminate the bad stuff so it’s still in there, wreaking havoc on our bodies.

According to Daniel, ancient peoples regarded the soybean plant as an agricultural help – plowing it under to help with the soil. Ancient peoples also did not eat soy as a staple, and added it only after a lengthy fermentation process, which removed all the bad stuff (anti-nutrients). The lengthy fermentation process is not done by modern manufacturing standards and therefore, does not get rid of the bad stuff in soy. Yet soy protein isolate, soy lecithin and textured vegetable protein, and soybean oil are common ingredients in almost everything that comes pre-made in your local grocery store.

Take a look at the ingredients of products you regularly buy, and I bet you’ll see soy. My husband thought his intake of soy was really low, having edamame every once in a while at a Japanese restaurant, or tofu in the miso soup. Once I started looking at the labels, he did too. He discovered his intake of soy was much higher than he realized. Soy is in bread, tuna, mayo, crackers, and lunchmeat. It’s in almost everything! And he didn’t think he was eating it at all. The fact that soy was in products that don’t come from soy just made him angry and vigilant about avoiding soy. Why would soy be in canned tuna of all things? Isn’t canned tuna just tuna? It should be, but it’s not.

The soy industry and food manufacturers have jumped on the “soy is a miracle food” bandwagon, touting the Asian cultures’ low incidences of breast cancer and heart disease, and implying that these low incidences have to do with the soy intake in their traditional diets. What the soy industry and food manufacturers don’t mention that I read in Daniel's book is that soy was not part of the traditional Chinese or Japanese diet; these same Asian cultures intake a miniscule percentage of soy relative to what we Americans are consuming; AND there is a higher incidence in these cultures of prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and other digestive health issues.

Have you ever noticed after eating a fast food burger feeling extremely bloated and gassy? I did, and I attribute that to the soy additives that were likely in the burger patty. Maybe there was some soy in the bun, too, and maybe the fries I shared with my husband were fried in soy oil, aka “vegetable oil”. If something makes me that uncomfortable, then I don’t think it’s very good for my system.

Here’s another interesting thing: my daughter and I are not biologically related, and yet, we both have had breakouts of eczema on our chins. This just occurred in the last 5-7 years for both of us. There is no family history of eczema for either of us. I found it very curious that we could have the same reaction, and figured the only commonality for us was the food we intake. In reading The Whole Soy Story, Daniel mentions that eczema is an allergic reaction, and can be caused by soy. I thought about when I began drinking soymilk and eating edamame regularly. I also thought about when my eczema outbreaks started. I never had eczema as a child, or a young adult. My daughter either. It was only after I started buying soymilk to add to my morning coffee and smoothies, and buying edamame to eat as a “healthy” afternoon snack, that my eczema occurred. My daughter also drank the soymilk, mostly in smoothies, and also ate the edamame for a snack. My husband never touched the soymilk because he didn’t like the taste, and rarely chose edamame as his afternoon snack. He does not have eczema outbreaks. Soy is the only food item I can think of that my daughter and I ate, therefore, it was common to both of us, and that my husband did not. Everything else we all ate regularly, and I used the same laundry detergent for all our clothes, and the same cleansers throughout the house. It has to be the soy!
So for digestive health reasons, and because of a little backlash at the manufacturers, we are no longer purchasing products with soy in them – except Kikkoman soy sauce. Well, we actually purchased a huge container of it when we started stir-frying meals regularly, so we’re kind of stuck with it. I checked out the Kikkoman Company’s website and they actually talk about their old-fashioned fermentation methods for making their soy sauce. I figure it’s highly likely their soy sauce does not contain as many of the anti-nutrients because they do ferment it for months.

I would highly recommend any one to pick up this book and become more educated about what is in the food purchased at the grocery store and the fast food restaurants. You may not think you are eating soy, but you probably are unknowingly! The link posted above goes to Kaayla T. Daniel's website where you can find more information for yourself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

La Parrilla Suiza

13001 N. Tatum Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ 85032

:):):):):) (5 smiles out of 5!)

La Parrilla Suiza (which means "the Swiss grill") has been our favorite Mexican food restaurant for the past 10 years. (The "Swiss grill" is, I believe, the metal tray they serve some dishes, like the fajitas, on which has a compartment to hold pieces of hot coal from the grill, to keep the food warm or sizzling. We do not know the story behind how the Swiss influenced the owners of the restaurant chain, or how they came to use the device.) We have also tried to remember how we came to discover Suiza (as we call it for short), and we cannot remember if someone recommended it, or if we just saw the sign for Mexico City food and decided to try something new, which we like to do and have done often.

As Super Dragon has been our favorite Chinese restaurant, Suiza has been our favorite Mexican restaurant. Again, the food is consistently good, and the service is great. The food IS different than regular Mexican fare. They do have the usual - burritos, tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, chips and salsas. But, they also have different or unexpected dishes.

According to the website, Suiza's tacos, meat and cheese dishes are all grilled or cooked on charcoal. One of my favorites is called Shrimp Alambre. It is grilled shrimp with bell peppers, and a sort of pico de gallo salsa (of tomatos and onions and peppers), which gives the dish a slight kick. It is served with flour tortillas and buttery white rice. I love to eat it with the chips. My daughter loves their flour tortillas, so when I order this dish, more often than not she gets the tortillas.

My husband loves their corn tortillas, which are fresh and hand-made right there. The Tatum Blvd. location has a window into their grill area, and we can see them making the corn tortillas, or grilling up the meat. Sometimes it is quite a show!

I like to think that their food is healthier, although I don't know at all what their calorie counts or fat contents are like. But, they serve grilled meats, not breaded or fried, and lots of veggies, including bell peppers, onions, tomatos, and a wonderful cabbage salad they have recently started serving as a side with some of their meals. Of course, they have fried foods, and full fat cheese, I'm sure, and serve sour cream, but I feel they have better options than traditional Mexican restaurants if you are watching what you eat. The Shrimp Alambre is one meal that seems relatively healthier to me than, say, a beef burrito. Lean protein, grilled, and lots of veggies, with a small serving of rice - sounds good to me!

I have raved about the Shrimp Alambre - sorry! Can you tell it's my favorite dish there?

The restaurant itself is enjoyable to just sit and look around as well. There is a beautiful mural painted inside, and there are brick and rock arches, as well as Mexican tiled art on the walls.

La Parrilla Suiza's Tatum Blvd. location received an average of only 3 stars out of 5 from the review, and if you read the reviews, they vary from 2 to 5 stars. I did notice that the two most recent reviews - one from February this year, and one from December last year - were 5 stars though. Some people thought the food was bland and nothing special. Others thought it was right on in representing Mexico City food. I suppose expectation can be something to consider. I've never been to Mexico City, so I have no idea how the food is different there from what we Americans think of as traditional Mexican food.

I think La Parrilla Suiza is a fantastic place to eat when you want Mexican food, but are tired of the usual fare. We've been going for 10 years, so obviously we think it's pretty good!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Flax and Oats Pancakes

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it is said. I fully believe it. I have been enjoying sourdough pancakes lately, and added organic flaxseed meal from Bob's Red Mill to them for added nutrition and good stuff. I had been making a huge batch on the weekends and freezing them to eat during the week. This has worked out wonderfully because the pancakes don't take more than 2 minutes in the microwave to thaw, so they are quick, easy and delicious. And, you can top them with anything from honey to peanut butter and jelly - whatever you like, they are really versatile - or even eat them plain, which is how I usually have them actually.

Eating breakfast does provide me with energy throughout the morning. I'm more focused and feel less tired after eating breakfast. Flax is high in fiber and I have noticed when I eat the flax pancakes, I am not hungry one hour after eating (as sometimes happens when I eat cereal for breakfast). The pancakes hold me over longer, and I am not STARVING (and grumpy!) when lunch rolls around. :-) All good things!

This afternoon I decided to make another batch of pancakes. But, I did not have any sourdough starter pour-off, so I just made them without it, following the Better Homes and Gardens recipe for pancakes. And, I added oats and ground flaxseed meal. They turned out great, slightly sweet, a little crunchy from the oats, and slightly nutty from the flaxseed meal.

Flax and Oats Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup 1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup 1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal (When I made this I actually doubled the recipe, and 1 cup of oats and 1/2 cup of flax is what I put in when it was doubled. Ooops! Sorry!)
1 beaten egg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons cooking oil

1. In a medium mixing bowl stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, oats and flaxseed meal.
2. In a second mixing bowl beat the egg and add the milk and cooking oil, and stir. Add egg mixture all at once to the dry mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy - and will be even more so with the oats).
3. Pre-heat a pan or griddle over medium heat. Using a ladle, spoon batter onto griddle to whatever size you like. Watch for the bubbles at the edges of the pancake to pop and remain tiny holes. Once that happens, the pancake is ready to flip. Cook for another 2 minutes or so until the pancake releases easily from the surface of the griddle.

These are really fast, easy and healthy! Flaxseed meal is high in fiber, Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids. Oats also are high in fiber and are a whole grain. Oh yeah, they taste good too, with a minimal amount of sugar. Enjoy!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fruit Salad

Doesn't look very appetizing, but, oh, it was yummy!

The weather here in Phoenix has been absolutely gorgeous, sunny and mid-70's. I want to be outside all the time. Also as a result of the warmer temps, my body has moved on from craving warm soups and stews and hot tea. It's just not that cold anymore! (Not that it ever was THAT cold, compared to our friends that had snowstorm after snowstorm!)

Fruit salad fills the meal bill perfectly. I don't have to spend a lot of time in a kitchen getting warm over a stove or oven - you know when it's 110 degrees here, that's the last place I want to be! I made a fruit salad a few nights ago just with stuff I had on hand - no special trip to the store - and thought it was so yummy I had to share this quick, light, healthy recipe.

Hmmm . . . don't have a name for this recipe . . . but here goes anyway!

1 small banana, sliced
1 small fuji apple (or any sweet apple I'm sure would work), chopped
2 heaping tablespoons Ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon Agave nectar
1-2 tablespoons shredded coconut, toasting optional

Combine the first 3 ingredients, stirring to coat the banana and apple with the Ricotta. Drizzle with the Agave nectar and top with the toasted coconut.

The coconut was leftover from a previous dessert. I toasted it by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. I spread the shredded unsweetened coconut on a cookie sheet. Then, I baked the coconut just for about 3-4 minutes until golden brown. I let it cool a little before handling.

Voila! There is a very tasty, easy, quick, simple and healthy fruit salad to whip up on a night or afternoon when you'd rather be outside playing. The Ricotta cheese is made with skim milk, so less fat, and the Agave nectar is supposed to have a lower glycemic index than sugar, so you don't have the highs and lows associated with sugar.

Alright, back outside to play some tennis I go!! :-)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Super Dragon, 1212 E. Northern Ave., Phoenix

:-):-):-):-):-) 5 smiles out of 5!!

Let me just get that out of the way, because Super Dragon is absolutely my most favorite Chinese restaurant in Phoenix. And, I gather we are not the only ones who think it is SUPER! Phoenix New Times has Super Dragon in its "Best of" for its Cantonese-Style Duck. On Yahoo! Local, Super Dragon is given 4 1/2 stars out of 5.

We have been eating there for the past 10 years, and it is consistently delicious, and they do not use MSG. Nothing I have had disappoints. The vegetarian fare is good, and has a wide selection of dishes. The shrimp is always excellently cooked, not rubbery or mushy. The staff is friendly and they get to know you and what you like. We sit down and they automatically bring hot tea to our table. (I guess after going there for 10 years, they'd know, huh?!) The restaurant is comfortable and clean. And, man, are they fast! Once at lunch, my former boss timed them, just to see how fast they are. From the time we ordered to the time our food was brought to us was 6 minutes! That is really awesome when I am really hungry. ('Cuz I get really grumpy when I'm hungry! ;-)  )

The lunch specials are wonderful, they offer a lot of food for not a lot of pennies. The lunch specials are served from 11 to 3pm, and include a cup of soup (Egg Flower - or Egg Drop - Soup, or Hot and Sour Soup), an egg roll, fried rice and your chosen dish. The prices range from around $5.00 to $7.50 or so. More often than not, I'll bring half of my lunch home, unless I'm really hungry, then I can eat it all!

Dinner there is wonderful, too. The prices are extremely reasonable, and the dishes are delish!! Lo Mein, Moo Shu, Garlic String Beans, Walnut Prawns, House's Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork - it is all awesome!

Do not pass up Super Dragon. You'll be missing the best Chinese food in town!

OK, now I'm hungry. Writing about all this yummy Super Dragon fare has me salivating! Better go eat before I get grumpy. :-)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Baking - Biscotti

Biscotti seemed so exotic and fancy to me. The first time I saw biscotti was at Starbuck's, wrapped in the pretty cellophane and ribbons, being sold for $2 a cookie. I never thought it was something that people could make at home, nor did I think it was something EASY that people could make at home. Nor did I think people would WANT to - when I had biscotti, it was always rock hard and difficult to eat. I always wanted to dunk it in my decaffeinated white chocolate mocha, but was never sure that was socially or gastronomically acceptable. (Still don't, but at this point in my life, I'm beyond caring. If I want to and it's yummy, I'm doing it!)

During Thanksgiving, my mother brought a new recipe to try - Biscotti! She saw the biscotti on the Food Network Channel, thought it would be something different for her Pinochle group, and found it was REALLY EASY. So, she decided to share with me. It was a lot of fun baking together, I must say. Baking is something relatively new for both my mother and I, and we are connecting on a whole new level with it. It's really great.

Her biscotti recipe is from Rocco DiSpirito - click here to get to it. It WAS really easy, but I am really glad my mom did it with me the first time. When we mixed the dough, the dough was really wet and sticky. If I had been by myself, I would have added more flour to make it less sticky, which would have likely been a huge mistake! So, be forewarned - it's supposed to be extremely moist dough. When we made it, we mixed it with our hands, and the dough - or batter really, because that is more what it was like - was all over our hands. We tried and tried to get it off our fingers, and it never seemed to come off or be any less!

I made it again, by myself, and used utensils (a plastic rice spoon and a rubber spatula) this time. It was much less frustrating and annoying, and the utensils wiped of the dough/batter much easier than my hands!

Here is a picture of the biscotti after the initial baking.

After it was cool enough to handle, I began slicing it for the cookies.

Back on the cookie sheet they go for toasting each side!

Here are the finished biscotti cookies!

They are really easy, and tasty, too. Anise is a strong scent, just like black licorice, but the anise flavoring is not strong at all in these cookies. The recipe does not require a lot. And, they are NOT rock hard! They are actually enjoyable to eat without wondering if I'll need a dentist! We have enjoyed the biscotti with our morning coffee or tea, and also at night, after dinner as a light dessert. Biscotti is no longer this exotic, fancy thing that I can find only in coffee shops! I can make it any time I want to, right in my very own home! How cool is that?!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Baking Bread - Pita (and Homemade Hummus)

Have I raved yet about the most excellent book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day? (Check out their blog site here.) I have used it for so many breads already, since receiving it as a Christmas gift. They make baking bread so easy, it's almost insane!

This is one of our new favorites to make at home, Pita bread and Hummus.

There is a post about their pita bread at their site, with great pictures and instructions, although the recipe for the dough is left out. That is probably because you can use any number of base doughs to make the pita bread. I used the main Boule dough recipe.

In their post about their pita bread, they call it the "fastest bread in the land", and they are NOT kidding. Five to ten minutes rolling it out, about five to seven minutes in a 500 degree oven, and we were eating. The hummus took longer! The pita bread not only is super easy, but it is delicious, too. Eaten by itself or topped with hummus, it was yummy!

Now, for the hummus. Simple ingredients combine for big flavor. I love garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, whatever you call them. I love them in salad, roasted with red pepper flakes, as hummus. If it's made with garbanzo beans, I'll probably love it, whatever it is. Here is our recipe.

1 cup of garbanzo beans, canned or reconstituted if dried
(We used dried beans, not canned, and keep in mind, they double in size after being boiled and soaked in water)
2 -4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped, depending on your liking
1/4 cup lemon juice
up to 1/2 cup of water
up to 1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup tahini, if desired

In a food processor, combine the garbanzo beans, garlic and lemon juice. Process and add water and olive oil until your desired consistency is reached. (That's why I say "up to" - I've had hummus that was really thin, or very chunky. We like ours a little thick, but smooth.)

Add the salt and tahini. Note the tahini will make the mixture thicker.

We had a hard time mixing everything when we added the tahini at the beginning, it was just so thick. That's why I add it now at the end, and it works much better. Everything mixes and gets pureed nicely, then I can add the tahini. Personally, I don't know that the tahini necessarily adds much to hummus, but it's an ingredient I found in all the hummus recipes I looked through. It probably makes it "authentic hummus" if it has tahini! :-)

I made the hummus and then put it aside to let the flavors meld together. Then, I worked on the pita bread. I really enjoyed this, and coupled with a nice spinach and tomato salad, it would make an awesome dinner for Meat Free Monday!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom!

For you, my mom, here is a picture of pretty flowers being visited by pretty butterflies. It's not a bouquet of flowers, but it's the thought that counts, right? And, here is a poem for you that I thought was fitting. Love you, Mom!

As I Look Back
Author Unknown

As I look back on my life
I find myself wondering.....
Did I remember to thank you
for all that you have done for me?
For all of the times you were by my side
to help me celebrate my successes
and accept my defeats?

Or for teaching me the value of hard work,
good judgement, courage, and honesty?

I wonder if I've ever thanked you for the simple things...
The laughter, smiles, and quiet times we've shared?

If I have forgotten to express my gratitude
For any of these things,
I am thanking you now....
and I am hoping that you've known all along,
how very much you are loved and appreciated.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lemon Meringue Pie #2

Hey, it looks like a pie! Yeah!

I am putting this one in the Success column for me for sure! It was not perfect (note the droplets on the top and the cracked crust) but it was leaps and bounds better than my first one. We could actually eat it with a fork, haha.

So, fellow foodies and far-more-experienced-bakers, help me out with this one, pretty please. Why do I get the droplets on the meringue? I used a stainless steel bowl this time which I thought would be an improvement over the plastic one I used last time. But, I still got the dreaded droplets. Any suggestions and recommendations would be appreciated.

My second problem with this pie was a lot of liquid. After we enjoyed the first slices, I stored it in the fridge. The next day I pulled it out to have some for dessert and there was a lot of liquid in my pie plate. Is that the water from the filling? Why would it do that? My aunt suggested I did not boil it long enough the second time. Would you agree?

Well, here is the recipe, altered from the Better Homes and Gardens recipe.

Lemon Meringue Pie Filling
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 eggs
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
1 to 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice

Baked Pastry Shell (I used a store-bought pie shell - I'm not that advanced yet)

Meringue for Pie
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons sugar

Bake your pastry shell/pie crust per the instructions.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling: combine the 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/3 cup cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Slowly stir in 1 1/2 cups water, while heating over a medium-high heat. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Reduce the heat and cook and continue to stir for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Separate the egg yolks and whites, setting the whites aside for the meringue. Beat the egg yolks slightly to combine them, then, gradually stir 1 cup of the hot filling mix into the egg yolks (called tempering, right?). Then, return everything back to the saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. Once it is gently boiling, cook and continue to stir for 2 minutes. Remove it from the heat and add the margarine or butter and lemon peel. Stir to combine. Add lemon juice gradually, stirring to mix well. Pour the hot filling into the baked pastry shell/pie crust and top with the meringue, sealing the meringue to the edge of the crust. Bake for 15 minutes then cool on a wire rack.

For the meringue: Bring egg whites to room temperature. Beat the egg whites, vanilla and cream of tartar with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (when the tips curl). Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, until the sugar dissolves, and the mixture is glossy and forms stiff peaks (tips don't curl). Immediately spread the meringue over pie, sealing to the edge of the pie crust, and bake as directed in the filling portion.

Again, any advice, suggestions, recommendations would be fabulous! This is my father's and my husband's favorite pie, and I'd really like to know how to make it well. Thanks so much!!

Lemon Meringue Pie on FoodistaLemon Meringue Pie

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Organic Chocolate!

This was my Valentine's Day gift from my hubby. Two bars of chocolate that we can both feel good about! Both are made by Alter Eco (their website, is in French for those who would like to test their French, but they have a link to their North American website,, which is in English). The bars have information on their packaging about the chocolate, where it comes from and how purchasing their product helps farmers.

The cocoa is from the El Ceibo cooperative in Bolivia, and benefits 800 families/small-scale farmers and promotes sustainable agriculture and improved living standards, while protecting their environment. Interesting, funny tidbit - the cocoa is from Bolivia, the chocolate was made in Switzerland, and it was distributed by Alter Eco Americas out of San Francisco. It's a world-wide production!

The packaging also contains information about the ingredients. I loved reading the ingredient list: four ingredients in the Dark Chocolate Almond, and five ingredients in the Dark Chocolate Velvet - and I could pronounce them all without a degree in science. Isn't that refreshing? No preservatives, no -oses, no -ates, no -ides, no partially hydrogenated ANYTHING! Just cocoa mass, unrefined or raw cane sugar, cocoa butter, almond, whole milk powder and melted butter. And, all ingredients (except the melted butter) were Organic, with most of them also being Fair Trade Certified. The Almond was also labeled as Vegan and GMO Free, while the Velvet was labeled Gluten, Soy and GMO Free. I can feel pretty good about that!

Oh Yeah! The taste! It tastes wonderful! My husband is not a fan of dark chocolate, and I myself would probably choose it last if given a choice of the 3 chocolates (milk, white or dark). I think that might be a result of the bitter taste I've experienced in the past (which may - for all I know - come from the processing with chemicals or from preservatives) AND how I tended to eat chocolate as a youngster. By the handfuls! Oh, come on, we all ate chocolate that way. They don't sell bite-sized, individually wrapped chocolates in a huge bag for no reason! And, I cannot eat just one. In my younger days, a whole bar of chocolate would be devoured in one sitting. Now that I am older, I savor my chocolate like a good wine paired with the right meal.

This dark chocolate was really good, though. The bittersweet-ness was there, but it was much more subtle and just at the beginning. As the chocolate melted in my mouth, the creaminess became more apparent, and the chocolate flavor was sweet but not too sweet. I was so happy to receive this as a gift, and it was so special to me that we have shared one square each for the past two nights, just to make it last longer. And, you know what? That one square of lovely chocolate is almost enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. Then, I open the other package, take a square from it and then I'm good! :-)

So, in summary, it is delicious, and simply made with no preservatives, 100% natural, and organic and helps small-scale farmers protect their environment and practice sustainable agriculture. What's not to love?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

La Piazza Al Forno

Located in Downtown Historic Glendale, Arizona, La Piazza Al Forno is an Italian restaurant that specializes in wood-fired pizzas. It was featured on Guy Fieri's Food Network show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

We ate there before going to the Glendale Chocolate Affaire (read that post here). It was located right across from the park, and there was an outdoor seating area that would be a wonderful place to people-watch and enjoy the awesome winter weather. It was a small, simple place, and had the brick oven right in the middle of the room.

(As an example of how small the place is - we were seated at a two-person table against the wall, opposite the brick oven. It was previously set up as a four-person table, but they split the two, by moving one table away, to make 2, two-person tables. We were seated and our server came over to get our drink orders. The space was so tight, there was literally just enough room for her to fit between the two tables. Then, another couple was seated at the table next to us. They got comfortable and proceeded to move their table about a foot closer to us, saying they just wanted to get out of the aisle. Well, that prevented our server from having enough room to get to us. So, for the rest of the dinner, we handed her our glasses for drink refills, and she handed them back, and she handed us our food instead of placing it on the table. It was different, and I certainly did not mind. I understood. But, I felt bad for our server. She did the best she could without making the couple move their table back. I guess the point of that story - besides trying to illustrate how small the place is - is don't move your table. It is there for a reason. If you don't like it, perhaps you should politely request another table and be seated somewhere else.)

Anyway, back to the food. On the DDD show, they featured a dish called "Baked Spaghetti Pie", and Guy raved about it, if I recall correctly. So, we ordered that dish to split between us, along with a calamari appetizer. Now, I enjoy Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Guy Fieri cracks me up! I wonder if we have very different tastes though, because I did not think the baked spaghetti pie was anything to feature. It was not very crunchy or crusty, like I think most baked things would be. It was not gooey with cheese. There was a very gooey glob of cheese right on top, but that was it. And, at one point, the sauce reminded me of the canned Chef Boyardee I used to have as a kid. I know! It doesn't sound so great. It really was just spaghetti, formed into a square. Pretty plain and nothing special. We added some black pepper, red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese, and it was better. My expectations may have been too high, since it was featured on the DDD show, and he thought it was great. Guy and I will have to disagree on this one.

The calamari wasn't bad, but I thought the breading was kinda bland. But, the calamari was prepared well and the dipping sauce was tasty.

When - and if - we go back to La Piazza Al Forno, I think we'll order a pizza. That is what they specialize in and that is what they have received awards and recognition for, so it is probably what they do best. You can check their reviews from their website, by clicking here.

(I give it 2 smiles out of 5.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Glendale Chocolate Affaire

The Glendale Chocolate Affaire (Festival) took place last weekend, February 5th through the 7th, at Historic Downtown Glendale. I thought it would be fun to go and try to find purveyors of raw chocolate or organic chocolate. Plus, I thought we would be able to sample chocolate - yummy! Who can resist that?

It worked out wonderfully. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and Downtown Glendale has quite a few restaurants right around the park area, so we had dinner first (that post coming later), and then walked around the festival and had dessert. (When we had finished dinner, our server asked if we would like any dessert. I quickly responded, "No, thank you." My husband looked at me with surprise, almost asking if I was okay, how could I not even ponder the idea of having dessert? I ALWAYS have dessert. I smiled and told him I planned on getting some chocolate at the festival, and he laughed, saying, "I thought you said no really quick!" He didn't realize I already had a plan!)

I know I'm posting about this a little late (since it's over), but I highly recommend going next year. They have two stages for live bands to perform, vendors who sell stuff besides chocolate, and of course, food vendors - of chocolate and other yummy stuff. They also had tours of Cerreta's Candy Company all weekend.

Another feature of the festival is the Romance Writer Workshops, sponsored by the Valley of the Sun Romance Writers. Romance authors from all over the country put on workshops for aspiring novelists, autograph their novels and have their novels available for purchase. Some of the workshops would have been awesome to attend. Some workshop titles were "How to start a book and get it finished", "Five keys to unforgettable dialogue" and "Promotion 101". All were presented by a published, successful author or authors. Unfortunately for me, the workshops were only on Saturday and Sunday, and we were there Friday night, with plans for the weekend. So, I'll have to attend the workshops - which were free! - next year.

The festival also had things for the kiddies, like horse and carriage rides and a kids zone.

But, I was there for the chocolate!! We cased the whole joint, seeing who had what, and then, while I decided what chocolate I wanted for dessert, we listened to the live music. The band performing at the time was Peppermint James. They were really good!

I finally decided to have two of my favorite indulgences AT THE SAME TIME, and bought a chocolate covered cheesecake, dipped in nuts. The vendor was the San Francisco Chocolate Company. Here is a picture of my yummy treat. (Again, I just started diggin' in before I remembered to take a picture!)

They can put anything on a stick!

Doesn't that just look sinfully delicious?! It was so yummy. I enjoyed it, and I even shared it with my hubby.

The other reason we were there, besides eating yummy chocolate, was to find vendors of raw and/or organic chocolate. I didn't find any raw chocolate, but we did find organic chocolate. Wei of Chocolate sells dark chocolate that is USDA organic and fair trade certified organic, and vegan, in flavors with names that evoke calming and holistic images - Daily Gratitude, Inner Peace, and Inner Delight, just to name a few. Check out their website by clicking here, or check out their blog by clicking here. We tried samples of their Chai, Chili and Fruit flavored dark chocolate, and both liked the Chai best - but we are Chai tea drinkers, so that was probably going to happen.

I will definitely want to go back to the Glendale Chocolate Affaire next year, for the writers workshops, the live music and above all - the CHOCOLATE!


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