Updates, play dates, and the shift

Well folks, I think it's time for a transition. I am relieved that the name of this blog is versatile (despite being really difficult to remember) because I have reached the point where I need to shift the blog from being one of a billion food blogs to being one of a billion mom blogs. 

You see, James is one-years-old now, and so he is eating "real people food." Thus I have been making and consuming many more PBJs and quesadillas than oh say, chicken, blue cheese, and rosemary ravioli with balsamic vinegar and pinenuts. There is a time for everything, but right now is just not the time for gourmet food. 
However, I know I need to "give the people what they want" as the saying goes, so here are pictures of James, and a few of the things have been doing lately:

Play date with friend Jude who is one week younger than James (but just as huge) and (sniff sniff) is moving to Houston soon:

Reading "Goodnight Oregon" together, the book we got Jude for his birthday before even knowing they were leaving Oregon:

Then we had a little farmers market fun:

We went to visit cousins Elijah and Nathan at their house where we played in the pool (James refused to go in any further than ankle-deep) and had a picnic lunch:

Then we went to the park near Grandpa James' house:

We also met Auntie Kelly at a park:

... oh, and did I mention he's walking? (Kind of.)
Needless to say, it has been a busy past couple of weeks. 

p.s. Looking over these pictures, I can see a theme developing in my clothing choices for James. Let me just state for the record: he does have other clothes, but overalls are nice and loose around the er,um... thick belly. Also, I am a fanatic about protecting his delicate pale skin from the harmful sun, so I force him to wear that hat a lot. He really doesn't like it.


(edible) Summer host/hostess gift #2

I know its been a while since my first installment in the "series" of edible summer hostess gifts, but here (finally) is the second.

Just imagine: it's a hot summer day; everyone is full from burgers and potato salad, but craving a little something light, refreshing, and sweet. The host/hostess then announces: "Thankfully (insert your name here) brought Creamy Coconut Popsicles." You are now the hit of the party (at least, the popsicles are).

Yeah, you're welcome.

Also, there is no reason you need to tell everyone that the whole gift cost less than five bucks.

Creamy Coconut popsicles
makes 8 popsicles that are about 2 oz each
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) coconut milk (I used reduce fat)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut (plus more for the popsicle molds)
Stir coconut milk well, measure out. Whisk sugar into the coconut milk. Add sweetened shredded coconut and mix well. Place a pinch of shredded coconut into the bottom of each popsicle mold. Whisk milk/sugar/coconut mixture again and then pour evenly into each mold. Freeze for a couple hours before bringing to the party. Remind the hostess that they will need to run the mold under warm water to get the popsicles out.


Greek stuffed bell pepper

Today was the day that James had to get his one-year-old vaccines and blood work.

There were a lot of tears when the needles went in (seven pokes in all). James was pretty upset as well.

By the time we got home we were ready for dinner and needed something comforting, fast, and filling. For James, that translated into nectarines, cheesy eggs, and cookies. For us "grown-ups", Greek stuffed bell peppers.

Greek stuffed bell pepper
serves 4 (perhaps add a side salad)
4 bell pepper
2 cups artisan bread (doesn't have to be fresh), cut into small cubes
olive oil (I really didn't measure, but here's my advice: you can never have too much olive oil)
3/4 cup chopped canned artichoke hearts
1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta
Soak bread in olive oil. The more stale it is, the longer it needs to sit in the oil to soak it up.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut tops off peppers and remove insides (I keep the tops for presentation). Place the peppers, cut side down, on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
Mix together the artichoke hearts, olives, onion, and feta. Stuff each pepper with the feta mixture. Bake 10 more minutes.


Goat cheese pasta with lemon-garlic sugar snap peas

Well, the wedding is over. And I- being one of the honored yet exhausted members of the wedding party- have deemed the next six days a "recovery week." I truly believe that everyone in the wedding- groomsmen, bridesmaids, parents of the bride, etc- should all take a honeymoon. We all deserve at least a week of vacation after the wedding and events leading up to it.

It was a gorgeous affair. The weather held up (miraculously).

The couple was jubilant.

All attending were excited to be sharing in their joy.

Everything went perfectly.

But, I am spent.
This week is going to be all about resting. My kind of relaxing means sticking close to home and cooking.

I finally get to catch up with all the recipes I have been jotting down ideas for but never carrying out. This recipe is one of them.

I made the snap peas this way and then threw them in with pasta and some beans a couple weeks ago. The dish was unimpressive as a whole, but the snap peas were crunchy and flavorful. I decided they needed to be paired with something that would complement them, but not overpower. Aha: goat cheese! The result is delicious indeed, and very easy to throw together. Also, if you are like my husband and you don't understand how a meal is complete without meat, simply add a few pieces of grilled chicken.

Goat cheese pasta with lemon-garlic sugar snap peas
feeds two hungry people
1 1/2 tbsp butter
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb trimmed sugar snap peas
juice of 1 large lemon (plus lemon wedges for serving)
2 cups whole wheat pasta (I used rotini)
salt and pepper
about 3 oz goat cheese
Melt butter over medium-high heat in a large sauce pan. Add garlic. When garlic begins to brown, add snap peas. When they are beginning to brown, add lemon juice. Toss snap peas in lemon juice until coated and the juice is starting to evaporate, about 1 minute. Then reduce heat to low and cover.
Meanwhile, cook pasta according to directions. Drain pasta (reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid in case you need to add it to the pasta later) and add to snap peas. Add goat cheese and toss to coat as cheese melts. Squeeze in another 1/2 lemon juice and/or add cooking liquid to pasta until you achieve desired consistency. Season with a little salt and a lot of pepper.
Serve with lemon wedges. Enjoy.


Simple Summer Salad

When I first decided to start a food blog I couldn't wait for the summer months so that I could show case summer produce in all its glory through fabulous recipes and photos (what can I say? I was young and foolish. Ah, to be 24 again!).

However, I haven't really been doing that. There was one burger, and quite a bit of sugar, but not too many fresh veggies. I will blame it on how crazy busy this summer has been already, making the ratio of Costco trips to Farmer's Market trips about twenty to one. That's not good odds. (I really should do CSA, then I would have a huge box of seasonal, local produce waiting for me to pick up every week.)
As a result of our hectic schedule, we have been eating a lot of easy and simple meals: teriyaki chicken with rice and steamed veggies, beans and rice thrown together with cilantro, red onion, and roasted corn- that sort of thing.
Oh, and a lot of grilled chicken salads.

Grilled chicken salads are our staple go-to meal during the hot summer months when no indoor heating appliance should be turned on. They are great because you can throw any veggies or cheese (or fruit) into them, and they taste deliciously fresh and healthy. We often grill up a couple extra chicken breasts that can be used later in the week, making the next meal easier also, because even a crazy busy summer should include leisurely suppers. 

Our last simple summer salad combo that I loved:
serves 2
2 large handfuls of spinach leaves
2 small to medium grilled chicken breasts, cut into slices and pre-seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon if desired
1 large or 3 mini bell peppers, sliced
1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 or 4 radishes, sliced
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
a few slices of left over crostini bread, crumbled into bite-size pieces
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 grapefruit* 
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil
Split veggies, chicken, cheese, and crostini croutons evenly onto two plates. 
Whisk juices, vinegar, honey, and oil well until honey dissolves into the liquid. Pour about 2 tbsp of the vinaigrette over each salad. Enjoy.

*I know, they are totally out of season, which is why I had to use it up, it had been sitting around for way too long. You could substitute a couple more lemons or maybe some limes instead. However, the grapefruit-honey-tart-sweet thing totally worked.


First Birthday Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting

Well, we have survived the first birthday party of our first child. It was everything a first birthday should be: full of fun, family, presents, and plenty of sugar.

We began the festivities by taking a little dip in the pool. James was not too sure about the water at first, it was not quite as warm as tub water, and felt especially cool when it reached his belly. But soon he learned that he could splash, just like in the tub, and pretty soon he was lovin' it.

Then we sang happy birthday and he got his very own cupcake. Of which he ate the entire thing, no problem.

Although he was exhausted by the time we opened gifts, he was excited about the toys, books, and one giant red bouncy ball that were given to him.

Needless to say, by the time we pulled away from the curb at the end of night, he was completely asleep, despite the copious amount of sugar he had consumed. Which brings me to the cupcakes.

They were, if I do say so myself (and I did, and my entire family made fun of me for it), incredible. The cake was extremely moist as the result of both buttermilk and sour cream in the batter, and the frosting, oh the frosting! It was so sweet and creamy and had just the perfect amount of strawberry flavor.

I also made mango and blueberry frosting, but did not like them nearly as much as the strawberry, so they were only used to decorate the cakes. You can make the frosting with any other fruit by substituting different fruit purees for the strawberry.

First Birthday Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting
makes about 16 regular sized cupcakes and 12 mini cupcakes (so maybe about 20 regular sized all together?)
for the cake:
1 3/4 (about 8 oz) cup flour
1/4 cup potato starch
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
5 tbsp butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (I used lowfat)
1/3 cup sour cream (I used lowfat)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line or spray muffin tins.
Combine flour, potato starch, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, set aside. Beat butter and sugar together until it resembles course sand. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk and sour cream until most lumps are gone. Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the sugar mixture, alternating, and starting and ending with the flour mixture.
Pour batter about 3/4 of the way up into prepared muffin tins. Fill any tins that are not being used with water.
Bake about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let stand in the muffin tins five minutes before removing and letting the cupcakes cool completely on a cooling rack.

for frosting:
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp pureed ripe strawberries
1 stick butter
about 4 cups powdered sugar
Beat the butter and strawberry puree together. Add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. The frosting will seem runny. Cool in refrigerator about an hour before decorating cupcakes with the frosting.


Red Wine Risotto with Basil

"It's summer time, and the livin's easy." -George Gershwin
Ah yes, the lazy days of summer: naps in the hammock, sunbathing by the pool, leisurely picnics in the park, evening strolls, warm breezes... life seems as if it should feel more laid back. Yet, I can't help but feel like the pace is quickening.

Yesterday, I walked into Target and there were back to school signs hanging up. What is this madness? Didn't summer just begin? We finally dig our swimsuits and sprinklers out of storage, and already we are supposed to be thinking about the school year beginning? The idea of children getting excited about shopping for pencils and calculators in July is about as ridiculous as Target now selling "fresh" produce.

And another thing that is happening way to quickly: my baby is almost one year old. I cringe when I even think about it. It seems like he was just born. (Perhaps because lack of sleep makes the last 12 months feel like one long day.)
In the midst of everything happening much faster than I would like it to, there is cooking. Cooking will take as much time as you are willing to devote to it. And sometimes a dish can only be fully enjoyed after lengthy preparation. This risotto falls under that category.

It is very simple to prepare, and really doesn't take that long (about 30 min, start to finish). But, you have to be very attentive to it the entire time. (So, I decided it was a good idea to develop this recipe as James was getting fussy and Lane was working late- why resort to common sense?) The taste and texture of this risotto make the attention it needs completely worth it.

I have one weird request for you as you eat this dish. You see, I love basil. Like, really, really love it. And I developed this recipe with mild flavors so that the basil could be properly show cased. Therefore, I ask that you eat this risotto on its own. I know it sounds odd, but I tried to eat it with a side salad and the strong balsamic vinegar ruined the subtle and delicate tastes of the risotto.
Good grief, does this strange obsessiveness mean I'm truly becoming a foodie? I hope so.

Red Wine Risotto with Basil
serves about 4 as a side dish, 2 or 3 hungry people as a main dish

32 oz container chicken broth (I prefer the "less-sodium" kinds)
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp shallot, chopped
1 cup short-grain rice
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup grated parmesan
handful of basil leaves, torn into small pieces

Bring the broth to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat. Turn burner down to medium to keep broth warm as you make the risotto.
Pour oil into a large sauce pan, add shallots and brown over medium-high heat. Add rice. Stir to coat rice in oil, about 1 minute. Add wine. Stir while wine is absorbed. (Inhale deeply, it's a heavenly scent) Turn temp to medium and begin to add broth, 1/2 cup at a time; adding each time the liquid is almost all the way absorbed. Stir every 30 seconds or so to ensure that the broth is evenly absorbed and the rice is cooked. When all the broth has been used up, turn heat off and stir in parmesan.
Serve with plenty of basil on top of each serving. Enjoy.