Wednesday, June 27

Peanut Butter and Jelly Blondies

As a kid in school I remember anxiously opening my lunch bag to see what I was in store for that day. I always hoped for pizza, but that was a rarity. I always hoped for fruit roll ups, but again, I'd have to trade my string cheese for junk food that good. What I could always count on though, was a great sandwich, and my favorite was peanut butter and jelly. It was the only sandwich that I didn't mind being a bit soggy by the time I got to it.  I was feeling a bit nostalgic last week and wanted to indulge in one of my favorite flavor combinations in a new way.
I started thinking about how amazing a peanut butter blondie would be, but rather than topping it with chocolate (which frankly would probably be perfect as well) I thought it would be great to bake in some really good jam and create the flavor I had loved growing up. What resulted was one of the easiest, yet most delicious treats I've ever made. Kids will love this, adults will love this, you will love this.
Start with some all natural, creamy peanut butter. Try not to eat it straight out of the jar like me. 
This is the mixture of butter, brown sugar and peanut butter. Again, try not to eat this directly out of the pan with a handful of chocolate chips. Patience. It gets better.
Once the batter is placed into the greased baking dish, glob on whatever flavor of jam you happen to have on hand. I used strawberry, but next time maybe I'll try blackberry. 
Grab a glass of milk, and attempt to not to eat the entire dish of these. That was the hardest part of all. These treats are gooey, but that is how they are supposed to be. Think brownies. Only they're made of peanut butter. And called blondies. I would have taken this over a sandwich any day. 

Peanut Butter & Jelly Blondies
Adapted from Joy the Baker

5 T unsalted butter, cut in half
1 C dark brown sugar
1/2 C creamy, natural peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1 C all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and line an 8 x 8 baking dish. 

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sugar together. Remove from the heat and add the peanut butter, stirring to cool. Wait a few minutes and add the egg and vanilla (you don't want scrambled eggs in your batter :). 

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the peanut butter mixture and stir until the flour is just incorporated. The batter with be thick and grainy. Mash the batter into the prepared baking dish and spread to fill it out. Using a spoon, scoop about 9 tablespoons of jam onto the dough as pictured above. Then, using a knife or toothpick, spread the jam and slightly mix it in with the batter for a marbled effect. 

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the edges are golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool thirty minutes before slicing, if you can wait that long :) This would be amazing with some cold vanilla ice cream, but a tall glass of almond milk did me just fine. You could also double the recipe.


Sunday, June 24

The Week-Cap - Summer Mode

After spending 6 days relaxing and vacationing, I've decided to tweak up the Week-Cap a little bit. I will continue to share things I've done, eaten and made throughout the last week, but I will start incorporating things that have inspired me, made me laugh, or made me think as well. I hope you like it!

  • Monday - Next time you are in Las Vegas, visit the Wynn hotel to enjoy one of the most beautiful outdoor areas on the strip. The Lake of Dreams is a giant lake surrounded by trees and a  mountain and is the centerpiece of the hotel. Go to the Parasol Down Bar, order a fantastic cocktail and watch the Lake light up every 30 minutes with a different light and music show. You might even get to see a frog sing 'Low Rider'. It happened. 
  • Tuesday - I ate one of the best desserts of my life at one of my very favorite restaurants in Vegas, Botero. The room is decked out in all white with black accents and centered with an original botero sculpture, called 'Seated Lady'. The food is outstanding and the S'more donuts were like perfect little clouds of marshmallow cream, cinnamon sugar and warm chocolate sauce. Literal perfection. 
  • Wednesday - Currently obsessed with this song. It makes me happy, it makes me sad, it makes me want to run really fast on the treadmill. Get Alex Clare's entire album for a strange, yet perfect blend of Ray LaMontagne style blues and Skrillex-like beats. 
  • Thursday - Lebron James won the NBA finals. I only cringed for a second. It's okay Lebron, everybody likes you again. 
  • Friday - I love Native Foods, a fast casual restaurant that serves all vegan/vegetarian dishes and makes you truly believe that you are eating crispy chicken even though there is no poultry anywhere to be found. I ate a delicious dinner there, attempting to 'clean out' from all of the Vegas food I'd been gorging on, and was reminded how great it is. Now I want to learn how to make 'chicken' wraps of my own.
  • Saturday - Home sweet home. There's nothing like waking up in your own bed after a long vacation. And making the best quesadilla I ever ate filled with guacamole, salsa and a boiled egg. I've missed my kitchen. 

Wednesday, June 20

What I Ate Wednesday: Las Vegas Edition

During a week long trip to Vegas, the meal options are absolutely endless. From Room Service, to restaurants, here is just a peak at what I ate for one whole day.

Breakfast started in the room with a few grocery items my husband and I picked up to avoid ordering breakfast EVERYDAY. This is a great idea for long term stays away from home, not only does it save money, but it will also help your waistline. I made a bowl of nonfat greek yogurt, bananas and blueberries. 
After a nice workout in the fitness center, we came back to the room starving and needing a protein packed lunch. I ordered a BBQ chicken wrap in a whole wheat tortilla. Spicy, yet sweet and full of tender meat.
For dinner, we chose a fabulous and gorgeous restaurant at The Wynn Resort called Botero. As an appetizer, I had the Crudo tasting, which was ahi tuna with avocado and soy, scallop with spicy tomato, salmon with ginger and lime and hamachi with yuzu. Fresh, perfectly spiced and absolutely amazing.

A wonderful feature about the Wynn property is that every restaurant offers a Vegan/Vegetarian menu. Considering I had gone all out at lunch with my chicken stuffed wrap, I opted to go for a lighter, more veggie centered entree. This was the Grilled Vegetable Lasagna and it was exactly what I'd hoped for, simple, clean and so very satisfying.
To round out this incredible dining experience, we chose what is now one of my all time favorite desserts, the S'more Donuts. These little pillows of cinnamon sugar rolled dough were filled with creamy, sticky marshmallow that oozed out perfectly with each bite. The chocolate was supplied in sauce form and could not have been more delicious.
Seriously, how could you even resist?? I will definitely be needing a diet when I get home. Or at least some more donuts.

Monday, June 18

A day at the Spa - Montage Beverly Hills

As part of a Mother's Day gift, my mom and I got the awesome opportunity to spend a day at the Montage Beverly Hills Spa, a place like no other. If you are into massages, relaxation, or happiness in general ;) you must try this gorgeous, luxurious spa. The package we were given included a class of our choice in the gym, lunch, a massage and all day access to the spa facilities. We arrived early to take advantage of everything offered to us and enjoyed a delicious hot cup of tea in the Women's Lounge, a calming room filled with big fluffy chairs, pillows and throw blankets. Then it was off to the gym for a mat pilates class. After working up a decent sweat, we went back to the women's lounge to enjoy the delicious strawberry, orange, cucumber water, which I now plan to make at home. I poked around the rest of the spa and took a few shots of the co-ed area.
This is the co-ed jacuzzi where you can meet up with your spouse/partner/friends before or after your treatment. The room was light and bright with beautiful gold accents and morrocan style decor.
This lamp hung above the stairs to the co-ed area. It was absolutely beautiful and surrounded by walls of complete mosaic.
Lunch with a view came next. The ninth floor of the hotel houses the pool and poolside restaurant. Here, I enjoyed the warm breeze and delicious Grilled Halibut Fish Tacos, while my mom went for the Margherita Flatbread.
Finally, it was time for the massages, the sauna, the jacuzzi and a quick trip in the steam room. It was probably the best massage I've ever had, complete with apricot scented massage oil, and a heated sand neck pillow midway through.

I highly recommend this spa if you are ever in the Los Angeles area. If not, visiting any nice spa in your neighborhood is a wonderful, important part of keeping your body healthy and happy. This day really inspired me to bring the spa home and do what I can in my own house to promote more wellness and relaxation. We'll see what I come up with! :)

Friday, June 15

Kitchen Organizing part 1

I LOVE to have things organized, but I am often held back by the crazy prices that some stores charge to get things in order. Hello, Container Store anyone?? It's like heaven in there, but it certainly doesn't come cheap. Luckily, yesterday, I stopped into Marshall's to do some browsing and stumbled upon a fantastic organizational buy.
These plastic (hooray! they're light and easy to carry) airtight bins were hidden on the shelf behind pricier glass ones. Who wants glass anyway? Ever consider what would happen if you dropped a glass jar of flour on the floor? Ruined container, ruined flour, ruined day. I was so excited to find these and they were only $5 bucks a piece...which is crazy as I would probably pay 3 times that elsewhere! I brought them home and filled them up with things that I use often and need easy access to. The middle container is rice, which always comes in a bag. The bag can be cumbersome and spills happen easily when I reach in to scoop out a cup. This way is much cleaner and I'll be able to see exactly when I need to buy more. There was a little bit of rice left in the bag, which I sealed, rolled and placed in the back of my pantry to grab as a refill later. I plan to use the empty container pictured for pasta, which, like rice, often comes in bags, especially at Natural Food Stores.

I also like to use containers that used to hold something else in new ways...why throw away a perfectly good plastic jar and lid? This one on the left came with Pearl Couscous in it (which you should try if you never have) and now houses raw almonds that I like to buy in bulk at Sprouts Market.
Next time you need to organize, check out bargain places like Home Goods and Marshall's before heading straight to Target or Crate & Barrel. Or just check your pantry. You may find some very useful items in there just waiting to be filled up. 


Friday, June 8

Building a Charcuterie Board

French things make me happy. Like my husband. Or the Eiffel Tower (that's an easy one). And obviously Champagne. Or a really good meat and cheese board, otherwise known as Charcuterie. And while I know that here in the States, it's been given the pronunciation shar-cootery (hmmm) I will tell you that it's actually pronounced shar-coo-tree and the former makes me giggle a little bit every time I order it. Nevertheless, making a delicious and well balanced Meat and Cheese Platter is not only super simple, but quite fun to share with guests as well.

Start with the cheeses. Decide what kinds you like and try to pick ones that will compliment each other well and don't have the same flavor profile. Maybe you like a soft goat's cheese or a more hard cow's milk cheese. Go to your local Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, or if you are so lucky, local cheese shop and try some samples. They will be more than willing to help you find just the right cheeses for you.

Next, the meat. I like having equal numbers of meat and cheese, meaning, if I choose 2 cheeses, I want 2 meats to go with them. I usually pick one salami that I know most people will enjoy, like prosciutto or genoa, and one that I know most people wouldn't usually pick for themselves, like a truffle salami.

Finally, choose your accompaniments. You need something to eat the cheese on, so a good baguette or crispy crackers are a must. Fruit chutneys are delicious, as are whole grain mustards. I love to add a few walnuts or pecans for crunchy texture and some tart apple slices. And I never make a cheese board without honey or honeycomb. It's the perfect amount of sweetness to balance out all those savory salty flavors . The more you experiment with the flavors you like, the more combinations you will find exist out there. Don't be safe when it comes to Charcuterie. Like me, you just might discover that you love it even more than you already thought you did. 
A few of my all time favorite cheeses are:

*St. André Triple Crème Brie
*Purple Haze Goat Cheese (A Lavender Pepper Blend)
*Barely Buzzed (Espresso and Lavender rubbed white cheddar)
*Any High quality Parmigiano Reggiano

Some of my favorite salamis are:

*Creminelli Tartufo Salami (flavored with black truffles)
*Any high quality genoa salami
*Fra'Mani Salametto (garlic flavored)

And to make it a real party, add any of the wines that I picked for National Wine Day.


Friday, June 1

Farmer's Market Finds

Last weekend I visited yet another Farmer's Market, this time at the Great Park in Irvine, Ca. If you live locally, this is a fantastic Market to visit. It has a much more 'country' feel than other local markets I've been to because it is literally in the middle of a field of Eucalyptus trees. There is live music and 5-6 food trucks present every Sunday. And on the first Sunday of each month, there is an adjacent antique market to peruse through. I love supporting local and small businesses, so I was extremely pleased to find some of the most fantastic products I've seen in a while at this Farmer's Market. I will be back again and again for the following items:
This Coconut Honeybush tea from One Love Tea is probably one of the best things I have ever tasted! It is a highly fragrant, slightly sweet tea that tastes so much like coconut, it's crazy. I've enjoyed it hot and cold and can't decide which I like better. Either way you choose, a little goes a long way and it brews in a super quick 1-3 minutes. If you can't get this unique tea close to you, order it online!
The Chile Boys from New Mexico make this AMAZING salsa verde using chiles grown on their grandfather's farm. This salsa is about medium in heat and is incredibly fresh tasting, due to the flecks of cilantro and lime pulp throughout. I used it on grilled veggie tacos and with tortilla chips, soooo good!
How can you not want to just spoon this out of the jar? I adore honey, but there's something so special about honeycomb. I mean, bees made it. From nectar and wax...what??! I will be happily using this on everything from toast to cheese boards to who knows what else I'll come up with.
These organic, pesticide free blueberries were incredible! They were plump, juicy and just the right amount of sweet. I had planned on using them in some yummy baked good, but as you can tell from the past tense, they were already eaten by the handful.
Another fantastic fruit I found was this Flavoroso Pluot. A pluot is a cross between a plum and an apricot and the result is a super fresh, slightly tart flavor close to that of a plum combined with the creamy, soft texture of an apricot. These were so juicy i had to eat them over the sink! I can't wait to go back and get more.
I love buying all natural, handmade soap and these lovely bars came from Camlon Farm in Perris, Ca. They had photos of their goats at their stand. How could I say no? Plus, they had lovely mixtures that I haven't seen elsewhere, like the Rosemary with Coffee Grounds. The grounds act as an exfoliant and give off a slight scent, but you mostly pick up the fresh rosemary. The top bar is Rose Jasmine, which I am a sucker for. I bought a few of these to place around my house and so far, I'm in love!

I hope these finds inspire you to go find some things you like at your local market. Get outside and support your community by helping these kinds of businesses.