Friday, August 30, 2013

Flatbread Friday

Today is Friday and I cannot tell you how happy I am that it is.  What an exhausting week...physically and emotionally.  Work was exceptionally busy and with our new school schedule we are up before the roosters. I really miss having my coffee time, curled up in my favorite throw blanket, slowly letting my brain come around and getting my achy body going in the morning.  Needless to say I have been quite cranky this week.

The only rooster I like in the mornings...the one in my kitchen window.
  To make things worse, it has been on the average of 96 degrees everyday and my body has decided to go back in hot flash mode....really?  The mornings are a cool 53 degrees, but I wouldn't know that because as I am in the kitchen pouring my first cup of java (before the roosters wake up), I am already profusely breaking a sweat and I only walked down one flight of steps.  I have the ceiling fan over our bed on full throttle, the bathroom counter fan buzzing and since that's not enough I also cranked up the bedroom window fan.  My poor husband is freezing at night and because the fans cannot keep up with my ever changing internal temperature, and since that is not enough of course I must also have the window completely open.

I tried to cheer myself up this morning by making freshly baked blueberry muffins for the family.  It seemed like a wonderful idea, having everyone wake up to the smell of warm muffins - what a great way to start your day. Well, in my early fogginess, I forgot to do the high altitude recipe method....and of course I burned them, because it has just been that kind of week.  This high altitude cooking and baking has really been a challenge for me... but that's another story.  Did I tell you how happy I am that it is finally Friday?

It goes without saying that the last thing I wanted to do this evening was any type of intense meal preparation that would require me to measure, think or pull out more than one pan. Tonight is Flatbread Friday! Sometimes you just need to take the "Semi-Homemade" route.  Every other Friday, my new best friend Duane from Schwan's shows up to our driveway with his giant yellow freezer truck, full of delectable treats! I love their slogan, "Dine In. Chill Out."  That is exactly what I planned on doing tonight.  They have a wonderful 4 Cheese Flatbread that we get.  It is always a great opportunity to dress up these little pallets with anything on hand in the pantry, refrigerator or garden.

Tonight we went Mediterranean style, not because we were feeling fancy, we just have so much growing in the garden that we needed to use up and also some additional pantry items.

Flatbread Friday
Inspired by a tough week.

Schwan's (or your favorite) frozen 4 Cheese Flatbread
Marinated Artichoke Hearts, sliced
Cherry Tomatoes, sliced
Fresh Basil, chiffonade cut
Gorgonzola Crumbles (because 4 cheeses are not enough on flatbread)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Put frozen flatbread on baking sheet.  Top with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, basil and finish with gorgonzola cheese crumbles.

Bake on middle rack approximately 10 minutes, or to desired crispness.

Tonight we relaxed with candles, Zen and Zin  (2010 "Zen of Zin" Old Vine Zin)

Next week just has to be better, right?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mocha Mint Delight...Chocolate Colored Cattle

Here in Colorado we have cattle and I mean a lot of cattle... all shapes and sizes.  Spending my last 25 years in Southern California you have to understand that we really didn't see much livestock.  Now, I get to watch in awe of these amazing creatures everyday.

There is a farm just around the corner from our house that we pass various times.  Each morning I see the most beautiful herd of black cows grazing in the morning sun and catching a drink from the stream  on the farm.  I stopped to take a picture of one that caught my eye and she came right up to the fence to greet me, just as sweet as could be.

 Then, in the evening when I am driving home from work I see a group of buffalo taking in the afternoon sun with their newborns.  There are buffalo around every corner here.  The University of Colorado in Boulder even have a buffalo for their mascot named Ralphie.

At our house, we have our own animals that resemble cattle.  On any given morning they like to also graze on our lawn and bask in the sun.
See the resemblance?  The brown one is named "Angus", need I say more?
With all the shades of brown around us and these beautiful creatures.  It reminds me of the colors in my Mocha Mint Delight.  This cake started a few years ago when a lady I worked with was having a birthday.  Her all-time favorite treat is Girl Scout Thin Mints.  I wanted to make her a special cake based on the cookie that she could enjoy any time of the year, even when Girl Scout cookies are out of season.  After being my girls' Troop Girl Scout Cookie Coordinator Mom one year, I never thought I would want to ever see another Thin Mint cookie!  Keep a cold glass of milk on hand, because this one you cannot get enough of (especially my husband, and he isn't even a big fan of cakes, but loves this one).

Mocha Mint Delight
1 Box (16.5 oz.) Devils Food Chocolate Cake Mix
1 Cup Best Foods Real Mayonnaise with Olive Oil
1 Cup Water
3 Eggs
1 Sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mints(or Chocolate-Mint type Cookies), crushed
2 Tsp. Peppermint Extract

Chocolate Mint Ganache:
8 oz. Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
1 - 2 Tsp. Peppermint Extract
1 Sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mints(or Chocolate-Mint type Cookies), crushed

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray bundt pan with non-stick baking spray.

Mix cake mix, mayonnaise, water and eggs with mixer for 30 seconds on low speed.  Scrape bowl, add in peppermint extract and mix on medium for approximately 2 minutes until well mixed.  Fold in crushed cookies.

Pour batter into bundt pan.  Bake for approximately 35-45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool on wire rack for 15 minutes.  Invert pan and put on a cake stand.  Let cool completely.

While cake is cooling, cook the chocolate chips, heavy cream and peppermint extract in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally.

Drizzle ganache over cooled cake and sprinkle with the crushed cookies.

Maybe this should be renamed to "Mooocha Mint Delight"????

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Puttanesca Pasta Night

Recently our friends Carole and Jim came to Colorado for their vacation.  They ended their trip here in Longmont for three days of fast paced sight seeing.  Since moving here we have been busy with school, work, kids, sports, etc.. and really had not made time for our own touring at all.  Now was the perfect opportunity to take in the sights with our friends and experience it first hand with them.
My new favorite store - Cheese Importers in Longmont.

Gourmet jams and chocolates!!
Some of the highlights were "Cheese Importers" Artisan Cheese and Specialty Foods on Main Street in Longmont.  What a precious and unique cheese boutique.  Their cheese, olives and meats room is refrigerated, so you wear one of their importer coats to the walk in cold room.  The most expansive selection of fine foods I have ever seen....and if you are into specialty dishes, serving platters and tea towels, this is your place.

We also toured the historic Stanley Hotel, which opened in June 1909.  Beautiful old buildings and architecture.  Many movies have been filmed here at the hotel which is in Estes Park, right outside the Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, CO
After a long weekend of touring I thought I would make one of our favorite crock pot dishes that we could come home to.  Carole's Italian background always has Sunday night pasta for family.  Coincidentally my husband's all time favorites is his brother-in-law Joe's (passed down from sister JoAnne) Puttanesca. (I told you my husband came from a large family - it gets confusing trying to remember who gave what recipe when....) I think every family member has their own spin on this recipe, but this is my version that I have been using for years.

Of course when my (future) husband and I met, I had to get this pasta sauce perfect before he would marry me...well, not really, but it definitely helped!  I always double the recipe for him, as he cannot get enough of it for leftovers during the week.

Perfect Puttanesca for Pasta Night
Inspired by Jody Mac
(Serves 4) Recommend To Double

1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/2 cup Chopped Onion
4 Garlic Cloves, chopped or minced
1/2 tsp. Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1- 28 oz. can Italian Crushed Tomatoes (do not drain)
1/2 ts. Salt
12 Kalamata Olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
7 Anchovy Fillets, drained and coarsely chopped
3 Tbl. Capers, drained
1 Small Can Tomato Paste
5 - Italian Sausages, medium spice

1 - 16 oz. Box Penne Pasta

Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic and pepper flakes.  Cook until garlic is lightly colored, stirring occasionally about 5 minutes. In crock pot, add the crushed tomatoes, salt, olives, anchovy fillets, capers, tomato paste and the cooked onion mixture. Stir well in crock pot.

In a same skillet that you cooked the onions, garlic and pepper flakes, add the sausages and lightly sear on medium-high heat for a couple minutes on each side.  Add the sausages to the sauce in crock pot, making sure they are well covered.  Cover pot and cook on low for 8-10 hours.  The longer you can let it cook and simmer up those flavors, the better it will be.

Right before serving, cook the penne pasta accordingly to package directions.  Serve in a pasta bowl and add the puttanesca sauce, sausage and fresh cheese.

We enjoyed this with a crusty baguette and opened the perfect bottle of McManis Zinfandel.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Flat Iron Steak Salad After A Day At Flatiron Crossing Mall

A couple of years ago, JCPenney was running their back-to-school marketing campaign.  Their tag line was "Don't Just Go Back....Arrive".  Simply put, you can't just show up back to school for the new year, you need to "arrive" and make a statement.  The first day of school is the most important one - it can define the rest of your school year and your life (well, if you are a 14 year old incoming freshman that is).

I remember when I was growing up and coming into my pre-teen years (I am dating myself here) in Alaska, we really didn't have much of a selection for teen boutiques or department store shopping.  My mom would get the latest Sears and JCPenney catalogs in the spring.  I would sit down and dog ear the latest trends and styles and dream of walking through the school hallways looking my best.  She would place the order and a month later we would get the phone call (on our rotary phone at home of course) that our order had arrived.

I was so excited!  The rest of the weekend I would be trying on all my stylish outfits.  Of course I would have to do the full fashion show in our living room so that my family could see how fabulous I was going to look that first day of school.

Fast forward.....I don't know the last time I saw a Sears or JCPenney catalog - do they even exist anymore? Today it's all about the mall experience....walking 17 miles to check out all 223 stores (well, maybe I am exaggerating a little).

The Beautiful Broomfield Flatiron Crossing Mall
There is an amazing mall here in Broomfield, Flatiron Crossing Mall.  To my twin teenagers, it is a shopping haven.  All the latest, greatest, stylish fashions for them to "Arrive" this year as they head into high school for the first time.  This is not just any mall though, it is an architectural masterpiece....many Frank Lloyd Wright inspirations as I stroll and wait...and wait...and wait for the many fashionista trips to the various dressing rooms.

At the end of a very long day of shopping, momma needs a hearty salad and a glass of wine! I did just finish walking 17 miles, after all.

Flat Iron Steak Salad

1 - 3 lb. flat iron steak
Your Favorite Marinade (we used McCormick's Grill Mates Brown Sugar & Bourbon)
1 Head Romaine Lettuce
1/2 Red Onion (thinly sliced)
2 Roma Tomatoes Diced
8 oz Mushrooms
1 Clove Garlic (crushed)
2 Tbl. Butter
6 oz. Crumbled Blue Cheese
Italian Salad Dressing

Marinade the steak according to package directions (I let it marinade the full day).
Grill steak to desired doneness.

Cut mushrooms in quarters and saute in garlic and butter.  While mushrooms are cooking, chop lettuce and plate it.  Top with onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and finish with the blue cheese crumbles.  Drizzle with your favorite Italian salad dressing.

Tonight we corked Big House's Cardinal (Old Vine) Zin - a great compliment to the steak.

Time to put up your feet tonight, relax and know that you have successfully arrived!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Snickerdoodles At End Of Summer

It is officially the end of summer (sort of) summer camps are over, the fair has packed up and moved on to the next town, and now that we are back in the swing of 5 am wake-up times, carpooling, school, volleyball, locker decorating (with locker chandeliers and area rugs - seriously) homework, after school activities, the girls first homecoming game and dance (already planning what to wear)......yep, summer is over - let the multi-tasking begin.

Even as I am writing this, I am doing my 60 second pedicure and making my Mocha Mint Delight cake for an open house we are attending today, while trying to go through pictures on my computer files...very busy day already.

As summer is ending it always makes me think of our GGMa (Grandma to me, my brother and cousin Danielle), but Great-Grandmother (GGma) to five very blessed grandchildren.  Grandma and I spent many summers together when I was younger and they are truly treasured memories.
GGMa and My Brother
My grandma has the greatest sense of humor and so much wisdom.  If you are complaining about something going on in your life she will wittingly come out and say (as she keeps her eyes on the book she is reading at the time)  "Well, you must like it that way" stop and think - oh, she may be right on this one.....clearly if I truly wanted to stop complaining and fix the problem, then I would change it.

GGMa has a true gift when she makes her crochet and knitting pieces. To this day, I have every cozy blanket and pair of slippers she made me.  When I was younger, she taught me how to macrame.  If you were a child of the 70's I'm sure you remember all the beaded and macrame plant hangers - we had them all over our house, courtesy of grandma.  She helped me make purple ones to match my room (to match my purple carpet of course - it was the 70's after all) and since my mom has the most amazing green thumb, every hanger had a beautiful plant in them.

Grandma is also the Queen of Snickerdoodles.  Her recipe has placed in every single fair we entered.  My one daughter even took 1st place and was chosen to make them in the Jr. Bake Off at the State Fair.  We make these all year round and they never last long.  I don't know who eats them faster, the kids or my husband.  Each time I make them he says "this is the best batch ever".

Courtesy of GGMa

1 Cup Butter (softened)
1-1/2 Cups Sugar
2 Eggs 
2-3/4 Cups Flour
2 tsp. Cream of Tartar
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt

3 tsp. Cinnamon
3 Tbl. Sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and the sugar until smooth.  Add eggs and beat thoroughly.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.

Gradually blend dry ingredients into the creamed mixture.  Chill dough at least on hour.  Roll in to walnut sized balls.

In a shallow bowl, mix together cinnamon and sugar.  Roll balls in cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Place balls about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet (I use parchment paper on the sheet).

Bake for approximately 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Zinfandel, Roasted Garlic and Cheese Platter for Rainy Days and Mondays

It was a typical Monday morning.  Wake up to a beautiful sunrise and clear skies...1:00 pm the sky starts rumbling....3:00 pm humid storm, thunder, lighting all over Longs Peak Mountain Range, torrential rain comes from nowhere and you think this is it - tornado coming...7:00 pm, beautiful clear skies and stunning sunsets...We love it!  It has been the same unpredictable, yet very predictable weather everyday for the past month.  After living in Colorado for a year now, I can honestly say that you can truly get all four seasons in one week here.

Tonight a nice easy hors d'oeuvre platter with a Zinfandel sounded perfect for dinner. After three weeks of baking, taste testing and baking more, preparing for the county fair bake shop exhibit, I didn't want to be near measuring cups, saucepans, or even the kitchen at all.

One of our favorite things to have on a night like this is a cheese, cracker and olive platter, nice bottle of wine and sit on the patio to debrief on our day and upcoming week.  Tonight I made roasted garlic to join the rest of the happy hour team.

Roasted Garlic and Cheese Platter
1 Large Head of Garlic
Olive Oil
Mediterranean Sea Salt

Cambozola Cheese
Kalamato Olives (pitted)
Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives
Your Favorite Crackers (we like the Triscuit Rosemary and Olive Oil to compliment the flavors)

Your Favorite Wine - tonight's cork - Cartlidge & Browne Zinfandel

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut top 1/4 inch off heads of garlic to expose cloves.

Place garlic on a sheet of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cover tightly and wrap foil like an envelope packet. Bake until garlic skins are golden brown and cloves are tender, about 55 minutes. 

 Cool. Squeeze out garlic cloves from skins. 

This is how we weather our storms......
...rainy days and Mondays.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Celebrating Statehood with Sunrise Bars

This morning as I was driving to work and listening to the radio, I learned that it was the anniversary of Colorado becoming a state.  On August 1, 1876 Ulysses S. Grant issued the proclamation of statehood.

Colorado State Flag
A Colorado state flag features the sun on it.  It is said that Colorado has the most sunny days of the year than any other state in the country.    I can say that it is nice to enjoy really beautiful sunrises during the summer mornings here.  The first half of my life in Alaska, during the summer the sun doesn't go down, which means no sunrise to see.  The second half of my life thus far in the Palm Springs area, the summers were too hot to go outside and try to enjoy a sunrise (typically 105 degrees at 7 am on some days).  So now that I live in Colorado, this is the first time in my life I have actually been able to take in a beautiful summer morning sunrise.

This led me to make my Sunrise Bars that day for entry into the Boulder County State Fair, which started today.  These bars are so delicious for breakfast or a light snack, and couldn't be easier to make.  When my husband and I both take a tray of these to our offices, it is always a race to see which company finishes them first.

Sunrise Bars
Sunrise Bars 
Inspired by Giada De Laurentis' Apricot Oat Bars

Canola oil cooking spray

1 (13 ounce) jar apricot preserves
1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries (Giada uses chopped dried apricots)

1-3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 packed cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1-3/4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup (4 oz.) chopped pecans (Giada uses walnuts)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, at room temperature, beaten
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 metal baking dish with canola oil cooking spray.  Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper.  Spray the parchment paper with canola oil cooking spray and set aside.

Filling:  In a small bowl, mix together the preserves and dried cranberries.  Set aside.

Crust:  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.  Stir in the oats and pecans.  Add the melted butter, egg and vanilla and stir until incorporated.

Using a fork or clean fingers, lightly press half of the crust mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan.  Using a spatula, spread the filling over the crust leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edge of the pan.  Cover the filling with the remaining crust mixture and gently press to flatten.  Bake until light golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes.  Cool for at least 1 hour.  Cut into bars and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days (if they last that long).