Saturday, November 23

Perfect Thanksgiving Flowers

Sure, the largest part of the Thanksgiving table will be taken up by Turkey, stuffing and whatever other traditional dishes your family whips up, but don't forget to make that food look even more appetizing by surrounding it with some beautifully fall colored flowers. 
I made these arrangements using flowers I bought in a local gourmet market. If you happen to have a good floral supplier nearby, they often have a large selection of many different varietals to choose from. I also like to check out larger Trader Joe's markets as they generally have some beautiful flowers for great prices. You can also stop by your local farmers market to see what's growing nearby.
I knew I wanted fall colors to be highlighted in this arrangement and I was thrilled to find some orange Stargazer lillies, which I have never even seen before. From there, I chose white roses to fill in the larger gaps, then rust colored mums and tiny orange and yellow daisies to add texture and variations of size. Finally, I added in some neat stems of burgundy colored berries and leaves to add some height.
Making three different sizes of arrangements makes them easy to place around the table and gives the illusion of having a lot more flowers. I also find it easier to create a few small ones, rather than one giant one. Remember, you never want your flowers to obstruct your view across the dinner table, so short vases are ideal.

I hope this inspires you to create something beautiful for your holiday table! Enjoy!

Saturday, October 26

A few things to inspire: Fall Edition

We all spend endless amounts of time online, and the things that most often grab our attention are the photos we flip through. Whether you like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook or simply Yahoo, photos drive so much of our creativity and inspire us to take even more photos. I decided to bring some of the photos I've seen together into one little board that I can re-reference when I need a bit of inspiration. Of course I'm not the first to do this, but I felt doing so may help streamline some of my ideas and further them into becoming reality. If you'd like to make one of your own, or see where I created mine, check out, and amazingly simple and free website where you can begin collecting all sorts of images to inspire you. 
Inspiration Board
This board is an obvious showcase of how much I love ornate and intricately designed things. From henna, to beadwork, I just can't get enough detail. The headpiece, lace shoes and art deco diamond ring will inspire me while I'm shopping for some fall pieces to add to my wardrobe. The eiffel tower and beautiful purple stained glass church remind me to travel and see somewhere new, while the McQueen clutch and Silvery grey Essie nail polish (in Cashmere Bathrobe) encourage me to dress up for the holidays. What inspires you? Where do you want to go? Keep searching for the things that inspire you most and let them do their work! :)

Friday, September 27

Chocolate Chip Coconut Protein Bars

To me, protein bars are quite overwhelming. I picture myself standing in the market in front of a wall of colorful boxes with words like 'spirulina' and 'supergreen' and 'macro' all vying for my attention. Which ones are actually good for me? Will I be hungry 20 minutes after I eat one? Why must it cost $4.95 for a beefed up granola bar? All of these questions led me to conclude that I should just make my own. As usual.
In this bowl is a plethora of yummy, healthy ingredients that will soon be pressed into one giant delicious bar. Nuts, oats, coconut and of course cinnamon (because its never a bad idea) are the base for this recipe. 
Coconut Oil gets melted down, although if it's summertime in your neighborhood, it may already be liquified in your pantry.
That melted oil gets mixed with Almond butter, honey and greek yogurt - Yes! yogurt. There's calcium too!
The liquids get mixed in with the dry ingredients, tossed with a good sized handful of dark chocolate chips and a sprinkle of vanilla protein powder, preferably plant based.
Next, press the mixture, rice krispy style, into a baking dish lined with parchment paper. And into the oven they go for the first bake.
Next, the whole thing gets carefully sliced (they do like to be crumbly) into rectangular bars. You could also do squares, or triangles if you feel fancy. The bars get baked a second time to crisp up the outsides and create a more bar-like texture. 

Store them in the fridge in an airtight container with sheets of waxed paper between any layers. You can freeze them as well and just set one out a few hours before you plan to eat it. Maybe they don't have any of those big health words, but they sure do taste good and will satisfy your snack craving and sweet tooth!


Chocolate Chip Coconut Protein Bars
Adapted from Healthy Green Kitchen

3 C whole oats
1/2 C sunflower seeds, shelled
1/2 C slivered almonds
1/2 C unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. sea salt
1/4 C brown sugar (optional - you could add just a tad bit more honey)
1 C plain greek yogurt
1/4 C + 2 T honey
1 C natural creamy or crunchy peanut butter or almond butter or a combination of both
1/4 C coconut oil, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 C dark chocolate chips
1/2 a single packet of vanilla flavored plant based protein powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl through the brown sugar, set aside. In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients and mix together thoroughly. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well to combine and coat all of the dry ingredients. Using plastic wrap, press the mixture into a baking dish lined with parchment paper. 
Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool until okay to handle. Lift the whole thing out (using the parchment paper) onto a cutting board. Slice into whatever shape bars you'd like, then place onto a baking sheet also lined with parchment. Bake again for another 15 minutes, watching closely in the last 5 minutes to prevent burning on the edges.
Cool and store in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to eat.

Tuesday, August 20

Easy Chicken Tikka Masala

I adore Indian Food, but it's one of those cuisines that I feel consistently evades home cooks. It could be the incredible library of spices and herbs Indian food requires, or maybe the idea that you have to use fancy tagine-like equipment. Whatever it is, I'm here to tell you that you can have Indian at home, and this recipe uses things you probably already have in your kitchen. This is my easy version of Chicken Tikka Masala.
First, you need to marinate your chicken in some spices, yogurt and lemon juice.
It should look like this and the chicken should sit in it for about an hour or so. Then, you can simply grill the chicken or cook it in a nonstick skillet until golden on each side. The sauce for this recipe is just as simple, saute some onions and minced jalapeno, add garlic and a few more spices, tomato sauce and coconut milk and your meal is almost ready to eat.
Once the sauce is finished, throw the chicken in to make sure it's heated through. I like to steam some jasmine rice and brussell sprouts while I whip up the sauce and then poor the chicken over the top of both. I also buy garlic Naan form either Whole Foods or Trader Joe's for scraping every saucy bit left in the bowl.

Easy Chicken Tikka Masala

For the Marinade:
3/4 C plain greek yogurt
2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (more if you like it super spicy, less if you don't)
dash of cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 T fresh minced or grated ginger root
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes

For the Sauce:
1/2 T olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 medium jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T fresh minced or grated ginger root
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. paprika
dash of curry powder
1 small can tomato sauce
1/2 a can of light coconut milk (plus more if a thinner or less spicy sauce is preferred)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all marinade ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside for 1 hour.
Heat a grill pan or nonstick skillet to medium heat. Grill or pan sear the chicken until golden brown on each side (this should take about 3-4 min per side). If using a skillet, cook the chicken in two batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan and to prevent boiling. Set the cooked chicken aside.
In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeno, sauteing until slightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and spices, cooking for one minute more until you can smell them. Turn the heat down and slowly add the tomato sauce, stirring as you add it. Poor in the coconut milk, salt and pepper to taste and simmer the sauce for about 10-15 min, adding the chicken into the sauce about 5 minutes before it's done. The sauce should be pretty thin, but if it gets too thick, add more coconut milk.
Serve over jasmine rice with your favorite vegetable and naan.


Tuesday, July 16

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Did I believe that one day I would inevitably wind up making my own cheese? Yeah, I did. Did I believe that making my own cheese would not only take less than 20 minutes, but would entirely change my view of cheese forever? Absolutely not. 
I have to thank Pinterest for this epiphany, and for making my Lasagna taste better than ever with fresh scoops of this deliciously salty and creamy homemade Ricotta cheese. It takes 4 ingredients, a thermometer and some cheesecloth. Start by heating your dairy in a saucepan over medium heat.
Look at this magic happening right before your eyes. Once you reach the desired temperature, the curds (the solids) begin separating from the whey (the liquids)
Then all that's left to do is drain and salt the cheese before jarring it up and spreading on toast.
And there you have simple, beautiful, homemade ricotta. The world is your oyster, go make some cheese! Next, I think I'll try the vinegar instead of buttermilk method, and maybe add in some flavors like lemon zest or fresh herbs. 

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Adapted from Framed Cooks

4 C whole Milk
1 C Buttermilk
1/3 C Heavy Whipping Cream
1-2 tsp. Sea Salt, per desired taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the liquids over medium high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side of the pan. Carefully bring to a boil, stirring occasionally and watching to prevent boiling over or scorching.
When the liquids hit 185 degrees, the curds and whey will have begun to separate, this should take about 10 minutes. Once separated, remove the pan from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds into a colander lined with cheese cloth, a clean dishtowel or a thick layer of paper towels. With each scoop, add a dash of salt, gently mixing it in.
The liquid will drain off and in about 5 minutes, you'll have perfect cheese. If you like your ricotta thicker and dry, allow it to drain longer, maybe even overnight. You can always add in a tablespoon or so of milk to moisten it again. Store in a jar in the fridge for about a week (if it lasts that long :))


Monday, May 20

Whole Wheat Vegetable Lasagna

I don't often make Lasagna, but this one is just too good to pass up. The veggies act as the perfect meat replacement and the combination of 4, yes FOUR, different cheeses make this an ooey, gooey, stringy delight. 
Cook down a colorful array of vegetables. I chose zucchini, yellow squash, bell pepper, onion and mushrooms.
Mix ricotta cheese with herbs, an egg and some parmesan cheese.
Look! Four Cheeses. Ricotta, Shredded Parmesan, Provolone and Mozzarella. Yes, I like to shop at Sprouts.
Veggies cooked down with homemade marinar sauce. You can use whichever marinara recipe or store bought version you like.
Layer it up: Start with a good scoop of the vegetable sauce. 
Then a few noodles. My noodles were too big for my casserole dish, so I split them to size before boiling them.
Start spreading the ricotta mixture, using about a third of what you have.
Now goes the layer of provolone.
Followed by a second layer of sauce, noodles, ricotta, and then a layer of Mozzarella instead of Provolone. Finish with a third layer of sauce, noodles, ricotta and mozzarella, topped off with the fourth cheese, the parmesan.
Bake this bad boy for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven, switching to the broiler at the end to brown and bubble the cheeses. I make this small version because there are only two of us, but you could easily double it to make a traditional sized lasagna.

Whole Wheat Vegetable Lasagna
1 box whole wheat veggie lasagna noodles, boiled (I only needed about 8 noodles from a box of 20 or so)
1 jar homemade or store bought marinara of your choice
1 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 medium Zucchini, chopped
1 Bell Pepper, chopped
1 Yellow Squash, chopped
1 C cremini mushrooms, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
7-8 large leaves basil, chopped
splash of white wine
1 tsp. italian seasoning
4 slices provolone
1/2 ball of mozzarella sliced

Ricotta Filling:
1/2-3/4 C ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 C parmesan, shredded or grated
1/2 tsp. italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Mix together the ricotta filling in a small bowl and set aside. In a large heavy bottomed pan, cook the veggies in 1 T olive oil over medium high heat until browned and tender, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic, cooking until fragrant for 1 minute. Add the basil and italian seasoning, then the splash of white wine to deglaze the pan and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat down and add the marinara sauce, stirring to combine. You may want to salt and pepper the sauce, but taste it first.
In a casserole dish, layer the lasagna as follows:

Layer One:
A third of the sauce
Noodles to cover the sauce
A third of the ricotta filling (spreading gently)
The 4 slices of provolone
Layer Two:
Half the remaining sauce
Noodles to cover
Half the remaining ricotta filling
A layer of mozzarella
Final Layer:
The rest of the sauce
Noodles to cover
The rest of the ricotta filling
The rest of the mozzarella
1/4 C parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top

I like to alternate the direction of the noodles each layer. So, the first layer, they are horizontal, the second, they are vertical, and so on.

Bake the Lasagna at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, broiling the cheese at the end until golden and bubbly. Allow to sit for about 5-10 minutes outside the oven before cutting into it.


Friday, May 3

Lavender Margarita

It all started with this little jar of Lavender Salt. I bought it a while back at a Central Coast Winery and it took me a while to decide what I wanted to use it for. Spring arrived and suddenly, I had the urge to create a fresh, sweet and herbal cocktail using the Lavender Salt as a garnish. What better way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, than with a Lavender Margarita! 
I made a lavender simple syrup using 1 Cup of sugar, 1 Cup of water and a tablespoon of Lavender buds (which you can find in the herbs and spices aisle of most markets).
This is the finished syrup, which I strained into a small jar to keep in the fridge.
To really bring out the Lavender flavor, I decided to add a few drops of extract to the cocktail. You just need a dash and you can find this in specialty markets or online. This is NOT Lavender essential oil, it is an extract made specifically for cooking and baking.
All the ingredients for the Margarita, ready to be shaken up.
Sip this deliciously sweet and sour concoction under the warmth of the sun this Cinco de Mayo.

Lavender Margarita 

The following recipe is for 1 drink, but can easily be doubled, tripled or quadrupled for more guests.

1 1/2 oz tequila (gold or silver)
3/4 oz cointreau
3/4 - 1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
3 tsp. lavender simple syrup (recipe below)
1/4 tsp. lavender extract
lavender salt to garnish

On a small plate, spread out about 3-4 T of lavender salt. If you can't find it pre made, you can totally whip up your own using sea salt and lavender buds. Round the rim of a glass with a wedge of lime, then dip the top of the glass into the salt. The lavender salt should stick to the rim. Place a few cubes of ice carefully into the glass.
In a cocktail shaker, combine all remaining ingredients. Shake well and strain over the ice into the glass.
Garnish with a few more lavender buds or a sprig of lavender from the garden.

Lavender Simple Syrup

1 Cup Water
1 Cup white sugar
1 T Lavender buds

In a small saucepan, heat all ingredients to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until all sugar is disolved. Strain into a small jar and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Syrup will keep for a few weeks.


Tuesday, April 23

Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Bell Peppers

Quinoa is a magical little grain that you can find in just about every market these days (or at least here in California). It easily replaces rice in most recipes, which is how I came up with the idea for these ay-may-zing sausage and quinoa stuffed bell peppers. 
A few of the ingredients you'll need.
I boil my peppers, but you could steam them if you have a big enough basket. I don't like soggy peppers, so I usually don't cook them for more than about 5 minutes. To cut them, just use a paring knife and carve the stem out like you would a pumpkin. Pull any remaining ribs and seeds out by hand.
This is one large, fresh italian chicken sausage with the casing removed that I got from the meat counter at my local Sprouts. Brown it along with onions and garlic. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine.
Then add cooked quinoa, your favorite marinara sauce (mine happened to be homemade) and some parmesan cheese.
Fill each pepper and top with a healthy helping of more parmesan.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30-35 minutes. If you like a little crust on the top, broil the cheese until brown and bubbly. Serve with some good Italian bread.

Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Bell Peppers

1 C uncooked quinoa
3-4 green bell peppers, tops removed
1 large or 2 small Italian sausages, casings removed
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 C good white wine
1 jar marinara or tomato sauce of your choice
1/4 C parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling

Cook the quinoa according to package directions (I do mine in a rice cooker). Meanwhile, boil or steam the peppers. Drain the peppers on a kitchen towel once they are cooked. In a large, oven safe pot, heat about 1 tsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook a few minutes until it starts to become translucent. Add the sausage in, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks, then add the garlic. Once the sausage is no longer pink, splash in the white wine. Turn the heat down and add the marinara sauce. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and add the cooked quinoa and parmesan cheese. Stir until the quinoa is coated with the sauce. Push the sausage/quinoa mixture to the sides of the pot, making room for the peppers. Place the peppers into the pot and fill with the mixture. Top with the remaining parmesan cheese and place in the oven for 30-35 minutes. Serve immediately.


Wednesday, April 17

Chicken, Date and Goat Cheese Salad

The return of Spring always reminds me of how much I look forward to Summertime each year. And as the sun warms up a little more each day, and markets begin to carry all kinds of fun produce, I get a hankering to eat salad for dinner once again. 
This salad is based on one of my local restaurants that makes amazing rotisserie style chicken, which is what makes this dish so delicious. I like to use a combination of red leafed lettuce and butter lettuce, which are both normally available pre-washed in bags to save you a little time.
The dressing is so easy to put together and you probably already have all of the ingredients in your kitchen.
Throw everything into a little jar, tupperware or bottle and shake away. 
You'll end up with a beautifully creamy, slightly sweet and sour dressing that tastes good on any salad. 
The salad will sit well undressed for a few hours or up to overnight (if you like leftovers for lunch), just leave out the avocados until the last minute.

Chicken, Date and Goat Cheese Salad

1 store bought Rotisserie Chicken (use whichever meat of the chicken you prefer, you'll need about a cup)
1 lb bag or 1 head of your favorite lettuce
10-15 cherry tomatoes cut in half
1/2 C frozen corn, thawed and pat dry
1/2 an English Cucumber (the ones wrapped in plastic wrap) cut into small pieces
6-7 pitted dates, chopped into small pieces
1/4-1/3 C walnuts or slivered almonds, chopped
1 avocado, cut into cubes
1/2 a tube of goat cheese, crumbled

In a large bowl, layer all ingredients starting with the lettuce followed by the remaining vegetables, then the nuts, dates, chicken and cheese. Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to eat. Toss with the dressing and serve.


1 T spicy brown mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. herbes de provences or italian herbs
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 C olive oil

Place all ingredients into a tightly sealed container and shake to emulsify. You can double this recipe to use on other salads, it will keep in the fridge for a few weeks. If it hardens, just place the sealed jar into a bowl of hot water until the oil liquifies again.


Friday, April 12

Deliciously Easy Tomato Soup

Remember when you were little and it was a bit cold outside and someone made you a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup? Remember how the bread was a little bit greasy and the cheese was perfectly stretchy? Remember dipping the gooey sandwich into a warm bowl of what basically amounted to marinara sauce? Me too. You've most likely already mastered a good grilled cheese, but have you found that perfect tomato soup to go with it? The one thats slightly textured, creamy and full of flavor? Look no further.
This is all you need to make my favorite tomato soup (plus a little salt and pepper and a pat of butter). Start by chopping the onions, celery and carrots. Get them cooking over medium heat in a soup pot with a little olive oil. Toss in your chopped garlic when the veggies start to get tender and translucent.
Pour in a can of good tomatoes. This is the most obvious flavor of the soup, so splurge with the extra dollar or two and go for the san marzano style tomatoes. Turn the heat down to simmer the soup.
Add a heaping handful of torn up basil, followed by a bit of salt and pepper to taste (start with less, you can always add more). Add about 1/2 C chicken (or vegetable) broth. Allow the soup to simmer about 10-15 minutes. Then, get out your hand emulsion blender.
Blend the soup (careful - it can splash!) until you reach your desired consistency. It should look somewhat like this after you've added in the cream and butter.
Serve immediately with your favorite grilled cheese, panini or crusty bread. This soup actually doubles as a marinara sauce if you leave out the broth, add in some parmesan cheese and cook it down a bit longer.

Deliciously Easy Tomato Soup

1 small to medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 24oz can San Marzano whole, peeled tomatoes
1/2 C chicken broth
1/4 C heavy whipping cream
1 T unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat with 1 T olive oil. Add the first three veggies into the pot and cook until they become slightly brown and translucent. Add the garlic, cook for one minute more then add the tomatoes and turn down the heat. Toss in the torn up basil, salt and pepper and broth and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Blend the soup using a hand blender or by scooping it into a regular blender in batches. Finally, add the whipping cream and butter. Taste the soup and adjust the salt level if necessary. You can certainly double this recipe if you need to serve more than 4.