Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hostess Gift 1

I like thinking about, shopping for and giving unique hostess gifts.  Because our friends J & D liked the individual molten chocolate cakes I served when they came for dinner and because J likes to cook, selecting a gift for them was easy.  We gave them a bottle of D’s favorite wine, along with 6 brioche molds, Valrhona chocolate and the molten chocolate cake recipe so J could make them for their family.  They loved the hostess gift!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Almost Levain Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies

The three of us in front of Levain Bakery

After watching the chocolate chip cookie episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay, I had to try Levain’s chocolate chip cookie when we were in New York City.  It was one of the best cookies I’ve had – the cookie itself has a cake-like texture, but the high quality chocolate chips provide creaminess and the walnuts provide crunch. They’re also unique because the cookies contain no vanilla.  The result is amazing!

I found a copy-cat recipe and have been very happy with the results!


Cream the butter and sugar

Don't crowd the parchment-lined cookie sheets


Almost Levain Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies

1 C. unsalted butter, chilled
1 C. light brown sugar
1/2 C. granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt
3/4 Tbsp. cornstarch
3-1/3 C. all-purpose flour
2 C. semisweet chocolate chips

1 C. chopped walnuts, toasted *See Note

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars with an electric mixer on medium speed.  Add the eggs, one at a time, until mixed well.  Stir in the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cornstarch, mixing until blended.  Gradually add the flour, mixing until just blended.  Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts, ensuring they are evenly distributed in the cookie dough.
Divide the cookie dough into 12 equal parts.  Loosely form each part into a hamburger patty shape, placing 4 cookies to a cookie sheet.  Place the cookie sheets in the freezer for 30 minutes before baking (The "patties" can also be frozen for up to 1 month before baking).
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges are golden brown (it is okay if the cookies are still a little gooey in the middle!).  Allow the cookies to cool 5 to 7 minutes before removing from the cookie sheets.

adapted from
*Note - Click on this link for information on toasting walnuts

Friday, July 26, 2013

B & L Dinner 1

I have a confession to make...The day after our friends B & L came for dinner, I realized I made a rookie mistake.  I was so busy plating the food and taking pictures of the meal that I forgot to add the dressing to the salad.  Oops!  Luckily, our friends didn't notice, liked the salad and even asked for the recipe.  Here's what we served:

The Appetizer plate contained 3 cheeses, crackers, hummus, dried apricots and cashews


Banana Cream Pie from Du-par's

Click on the links to see the recipes

Grilled Asparagus and Melon Salad
Grilled Chicken with Sweet Corn Salsa-see below for recipe
Cheddar and Scallion Bread*

* Note-I only made half of the butter, cheese, scallion mixture and spread it on 1 loaf of ciabatta

Grilled Chicken with Sweet Corn Salsa
 2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. chile powder
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/4 C. canola oil
6 chicken breasts, boneless
1 recipe Sweet Corn Salsa

Combine garlic, lime juice, chile powder, pepper and salt with peanut oil.  Marinate chicken breasts with this mixture 2 hours before grilling.  Grill chicken 3-4 minutes on each side, until done.  Serve on a bed of Sweet Corn Salsa.

Sweet Corn Salsa
2 C. fresh corn kernels
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
1/4 C. tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 Tbsp. red onion, minced
2 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
1/4 C. rice wine vinegar
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. coarse salt

Cut raw kernels off cobs with a sharp knife.  Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over high heat and stir while bringing salsa to a boil.  When butter has completely melted and takes on the look of a light butter sauce, remove from heat and serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nordstrom Anniversary Sale Finds

I've been going to the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale for 26 years.  I know this strange fact because I distinctly remember shopping this sale the day before Kevin's and my wedding.  It’s my favorite sale because Nordstrom offers new fall styles at highly discounted prices.  When the sale ends, the merchandise goes back to its original price.  This year, I found this Tory Burch tunic and these Ray Ban rimless aviators. I paired them with skinny white jeans and sandals for the summer and will switch to dark wash or black denim and booties in the fall and winter.

Tory Burch Tunic
Gap Jeans
Ray Ban Aviators
Stuart Weitzman Sandals
Aqua Necklaces
Prada Purse
Melinda Alexander coin ring

Monday, July 22, 2013

Movie Reviews: The Way, Way Back & Red 2

The Way, Way Back
Rated PG-13

Not intentionally, I've been seeing a lot of coming-of-age movies, and I've loved all of them.  Fourteen year old Duncan (Liam James), his mom Pam (Toni Collette), her overbearing boyfriend (Steve Carell) and his teen daughter spend the summer at a beach house.  Awkward Duncan has a hard time fitting in but eventually comes into his own by working at a water park under the tutelage of Owen (Sam Rockwell), the park's owner.  The Way, Way Back is one of my favorite movies of the summer.

Red 2
Rated PG-13

After assassination attempts are made on retired CIA black-ops agents Frank (Bruce Willis) and Marvin (John Malkovich), they and a few friends search for a missing portable nuclear device.  Red 2 is a fun-filled, unpredictable adventure that proves the adage “old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill” actually has some truth to it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

frogg toggs Chilly Pad

Because I would rather be too cold than too hot, it's hard to do my cardio workout during the warmer months.  This cooling towel helps immensely!  I run it under water, wring it out, place it around my neck and immediately feel better.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review: Eat to Lose, Eat to Win

Eat to Lose, Eat to Win: Your Grab-n-Go Action Plan for a Slimmer, Healthier You written by Rachel Beller, presents a simple approach to healthy eating.  I especially like the "food autopsy" pictures because they clearly show that what we believe are "healthy" foods and drinks really aren't that good for our bodies.  For example there's a picture of a soy latte with 12 lollipops because they have equivalent amounts of sugar.  I would never eat 12 lollipops, but have had soy lattes (not after reading this book, though).

For optimal health, Beller believes women should eat 30-35 grams of fiber per day (men should eat 35-40 grams), many of them through whole grains and vegetables.  She also emphasizes the importance of eating a variety of proteins (fish, beans, tofu, eggs, chicken, turkey and grass fed beef) and believes dairy is a personal choice.  This book is never pedantic and even has a chapter on treats.

I like the moderate approach in Eat to Lose, Eat to Win: Your Grab-n-Go Action Plan for a Slimmer, Healthier You and think it's a doable lifestyle change.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Blush Cardigan and White Denim

I love pink-from peachy pink to baby pink to bright fuchsia-I love it all.  Until recently, most of the pink clothing available has been on the bright side, so when I saw this blush pink sweater, I had to have it.  It's great as part of my spring/summer casual "uniform" (jeans with a tank, tee shirt or sweater and topped with a blazer or cardigan)

Tory Burch cardigan (different color), Banana Republic tank, Joe's Jeans white denim, Stuart Weitzman sandals, Chanel sunglasses (similar), Majorica Pearl necklace, Reed Krakoff handbag

Friday, July 12, 2013

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2
Rated PG

Despicable Me 2 is as touching, yet funny as the original.  Former villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is happily raising daughters Margo, Agnes and Edith when he's recruited to work for the Anti-Villain League.  After all, who better to catch a super-villain than a former one?  He and AVL agent Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) work undercover at the mall to capture the thief who stole a top secret Arctic laboratory and most of Gru's minions (who are as adorable as ever).

A fun, entertaining movie for adults as well as kids!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Homemade English Muffins

Up until a few years ago, I hadn’t eaten a freshly made English muffin.  It was partially because it never occurred to me to make them and partially because I was afraid to work with yeast.  Once I started working with yeast, I realized it’s not that complicated.  These English muffins and jam are a perfect hostess gift to show friends you care about them.


Knead the dough for about 7 minutes


After rolling the dough in cornmeal

Cooking on the griddle

English Muffins
4 C (18 ounces) bread flour, divided
1 Tbsp. plus 1-1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp. active dry yeast*
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
1-1/2 C milk, at 110-115 degrees F
1-1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 C. cornmeal, for dusting

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together 3½ cups (15.75 ounces) of the bread flour, sugar and yeast.  Switch to the paddle attachment.  With the mixer on low, slowly beat in the melted butter, followed by the milk to form a soft dough.  Switch to the dough hook attachment, and beat in the salt.  Continue mixing the dough, adding additional bread flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough is smooth and just begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about 7 minutes on medium-low speed (you may not need to add all of the flour).  At this stage, the dough will be firm yet moist and somewhat sticky.
Turn the dough out into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (this slows the proofing process and allows the flavors to develop).  About 2 hours before cooking, remove the dough from the refrigerator, punch it down and set it aside to come to room temperature.  Place the cornmeal in a medium bowl. Using greased hands, divide the dough into 12 even portions, about 2¾ ounces each. Gently form each portion into a ball, and roll the balls in the cornmeal to lightly coat on all sides. Working with one ball at a time, flatten each ball into a disk about 3½ inches in diameter and one-half-inch thick. (If the dough starts to spring back, set it aside and move onto the next ball to give the dough time to relax). Place the disks on a lightly greased parchment-lined baking sheet.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
Place the sheet in a warm place until the disks are puffed and risen to about 1½ times their original height (watch that the disks do not over-proof or they will flatten as they bake), 15 to 30 minutes.  Heat a griddle or cast iron skillet over medium-low heat (don't heat the griddle too hot, or the muffins will brown before they are fully cooked inside).  Very lightly grease the griddle, then gently place the muffins on the griddle, leaving a little space between each so you have enough room to check and flip them as needed.  Brown the muffins on both sides, and place on a baking sheet.  Bake the muffins for 10-15 minutes or until firm.

*Though the recipe originally called for instant yeast (not easily available) or rapid rise yeast, I thought the English muffins had too much of a yeast flavor so I switched to active dry yeast with a better result

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dreyer's German Chocolate Cake Ice Cream

We all know about my husband’s love for German’s chocolate cake.  (And yes-it’s German’s).  I read about, searched for and bought this Dreyer’s German Chocolate Cake Ice Cream for him, and he loves it.  We all love it-it’s amazing!  It’s a limited edition flavor, available only from May through August.  Caramel, coconut and brownie bits are swirled in chocolate ice cream.  A definite four star find…

Friday, July 5, 2013

Helmut Maxi Dress

When I feel like wearing an outfit that a little edgy, Helmut Lang fits the bill.  Their diffusion line, Helmut, launched in May 2012, offers a similar look at lower prices.  I'm the first person to admit that Helmut and Helmut Lang pieces have little hanger appeal, but once you put them one, you'll be transformed!

Helmut maxi dress, fedora from Hepcat (San Luis Obispo),
Madewell sunglassesTiffany Bean necklace, Rebecca Minkoff clutch,
Chan Luu bracelet (similar), amber ring and Joie a la Plage sandals

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Family Room Sofa and Rug

While I liked the rug in our family room, it and the sofa looked like they had seen better days.  The new sofa and ottoman are from Crate and Barrel, while the dhurrie rug is from Shades of Light (.com).  Usually when I order things online, I'm never completely satisfied with the color.  It was a nice surprise that the shade of red was the one I wanted.

I envisioned the room having a mid-century modern feel.  Mission Accomplished!   All that remains (for this year) is getting the house's public areas painted.


Monday, July 1, 2013

G & J Dinner 1

We like to share Kevin's birthday cake with our friends G & J since G's aunt used to make him homemade German's Chocolate Cake when he was a boy.  Here's the rest of the comfort food meal I served with the cake:

Appetizers were Brie with Sourdough Bread, Shrimp with Cocktail
Sauce and Almonds
Dinner consisted of Pulled Pork Tacos with Homemade Corn Tortillas,
Spanish Rice and Crunchy Peanut Slaw (peanuts on the side) 
Kevin's birthday cake
German's Chocolate Cake and Vanilla Ice Cream were served for dessert

Click on the links to see the recipes

Brie with Sourdough Bread-see below for recipe
Shrimp (purchased cooked) with Cocktail Sauce-see below for recipe
Pulled Pork-see below for recipe
Corn Tortillas-see below for recipe

Brie with Bread
1 small round loaf of French or sourdough bread 
8 oz. Brie cheese
4-6 Tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Remove the top from the bread, and hollow out the bottom part of the bread.  Slice the top and bread removed from the hollow into 1 inch cubes and butter generously.  Remove the rind from the Brie cheese and place into the bread shell.  Place on the shell on a baking sheet, along with the buttered cubes and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly.

Cocktail Sauce
1/2 C. tomato-based chili sauce
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving to let flavors blend.

Pulled Pork
vinegar based BBQ sauce from this link
3 lb. pork tenderloin

Cut tenderloin into 2 inch sections.  Place BBQ sauce and pork into crock pot and cook on low for approximately 5 hours.  Remove the pork to a plate, and using 2 forks, shred the pork.  Return to the crock pot and cook 1 hour longer.

Corn Tortillas
2 C. masa harina de maiz
1 C. water

In a medium bowl, mix together masa harina and water until thoroughly combined.  If
dough is too sticky, add more masa harina; if it begins to dry out, sprinkle with water.  Preheat a cast iron skillet or griddle to medium-high.  Divide dough into 15 equal-size balls.  Using a tortilla press, a rolling pin, or your hands, press each ball of dough flat between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Immediately place tortilla in preheated pan and allow to cook for approximately 30 seconds, or until browned and slightly puffy. Turn tortilla over to brown on second side for approximately 30 seconds more, then transfer to a plate. Repeat process with each ball of dough. Keep tortillas covered with a towel to stay warm and moist until ready to serve.