Monday, February 14, 2011

Brown Sugar Brownies

Gooey Goodness for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day fellow Foodies!  I still haven't decided what I am cooking for Valentine's Day dinner tonight.  I had originally thought that last night could serve as our big Valentine's Day dinner, but since it was sort of a bust, I feel the need to redeem myself tonight.  Last night I spent well over 3 hours in the kitchen, making the traditional Coq au Vin recipe from the Balthazar cookbook, which was... disappointing.  All that work and I guess I just wanted something that tasted a little less like chicken braised in bacon.  I'm sure if you liked braised meats, you would have loved the Coq au Vin.  It was rich, the meat falling off the bone, with great bacon flavor.  And it looked beautiful, but, no matter what meat I use or what I put in the pot, I just don't like braised meat.  Pancho wasn't a big fan of it either.  Neither of us like stews, or short ribs, or anything that requires slow cooking meat in liquid until it falls apart.  Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking trying Coq au Vin in the first place.  I guess I was lured  into thinking I would love it since it requires an entire bottle of Pinot Noir, one of my favorite wines.  Oh well, at least we gave it a try.  I think tonight I'll stick with something tried & true.  Maybe I'll whip up some pasta, or some Rack of Lamb.  I'll have to take a trip to the market at lunch and see what inspires me.

Most of the time I do try to cook fairly healthy.  I use lean proteins, I use whole grains, I substitute low fat or non-fat dairy for the really good stuff, I try to put veggies in almost everything I make.  But sometime, you just need something totally decadent and totally without nutritional value.  These Brown Sugar brownies fit that bill.  Plus, it's Valentines Day, and something super sweet is a necessary indulgence.  So instead of a savory Valentine's Day inspired main course, I'm sharing my brown sugar brownies recipe with you all.  Unlike my Coq au Vin from last night, these are always a hit!    

Brown Sugar Brownies
2 sticks butter, melted
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 bag reeses peanut butter chips
1 bag milk chocolate chips
Equipment Needed:
Stand Mixer (or large bowl & hand mixer)
9 x 13 glass baking dish, sprayed with baking spray

  1. Mix the Butter & Sugar.  Melt the butter and mix with the sugar on medium speed for 3 or 4 minutes, until smooth.
  2. Add in the eggs & vanilla.  Add in the eggs, one at a time, and continue blending until they are completely incorporated.  Add in the vanilla.
  3. Add the dry ingredients.  With the mixer on low add in the salt, baking powder & baking soda.  Then add in the flour, one cup at a time.
  4. Mix in the chips.  Once the flour has been incorporated add in the chocolate chips & peanut butter chips.
  5. Bake.  Bake in a 350 deg oven for 50 minutes.  Let cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into 2" squares.  Makes 32 brownies.
  6. Serve!  Serve the brownies once they have cooled completely.  They go great with some vanilla ice cream or a big glass of cold milk.
Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Kale Pesto

Giant bowl of green goodness

I know it's Taco Tuesday, and some sort of taco recipe would be appropriate, but since yesterday was Monday, which is, in some foodie circles now apparently called "Meatless Monday", I figured this vegetarian recipe from the weekend would also be good.  Plus, I had photos ready and could post it now, instead of later tonight, which could end up being much much later tonight, since I've got an abundance of errands & chores that need attention after work.

We love pesto in our house, and it's one of those things where once you make a batch of it there are tons of things you can do with it.  Basil is really best in summer, so in the winter time fresh kale makes delicious pesto.  It might sound strange, but it really does work, maybe even better than the basil variety, at least in my opinion.  It's made almost the same as basil pesto, just substitute kale for basil and instead of pine nuts I use walnuts.  Don't skip on toasting the walnuts, it really does help bring out their nutty flavor.  Since Meyer Lemons are in season here in California I use them instead of regular lemons too.  Lastly, I add a big spoonful of Greek yogurt at the end.  I know it seems like I put Greek yogurt in everything, but it does seem to be a magic ingredient.  It's incredibly healthy and can be substituted for all kinds of dairy items.  And don't think I am crazy for adding Greek Yogurt to this pesto.  I swear it's what puts it over the top.  It gives it this creaminess that is simply delicious.  Honestly, I would rather have this pesto than the traditional basil pesto any day.

Kale Pesto

1 bunch kale, washed, stems removed (I like the curly variety)
3 cloves garlic
zest from 1 meyer lemon
juice from 1 meyer lemon
1/4 cup toasted walnuts + a handful to mix in at end
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese + 1/4 cup to mix in at the end
salt & pepper
Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 cup non-fat greek yogurt
Equipment needed:  Food Processor
  1. Blend the Dry Ingredients.  In a food processor pulse the kale, the garlic, the lemon zest, the toasted walnuts & the parmesan cheese until smooth.
  2. Add in the Liquids.  With the motor running, add in the lemon juice and then slowly add in the olive oil until it is well incorporated and you have a nice smooth pesto
  3. Fold in the remaining ingredients.  Transfer the pesto from the food processor to a bowl.  Toss in a handful of chopped toasted walnuts, the remaining Parmesan cheese & the Greek yogurt.  Season with salt & pepper and  stir well.
  4. Serve!  You can serve immediately, or, it will keep in the fridge for several days, you can even freeze it.  It goes great on anything you would normally put pesto on.  I tossed it with some fresh Meyer Lemon Fettuccine that I picked up at the produce stand, topped with some sautéed yellow, white & green zucchini, shallots & cherry tomatoes.  It was amazing.  It's great on eggs, and just plain slathered on a cracker or piece of bread.  Also try it on grilled or pan seared salmon- it's ridiculously delicious!
Meyer Lemon Fettuccine with sautéed veggies & kale pesto
My wine pairing for this dinner?  A 2008 Carmel Road Monterey Chardonnay.  A Bargain at only $12 (at our local Safeway, which has the cheapest wine prices around), I think it's only $18 from the winery itself.

Bon Apetit!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Thai Style Red Curry with Chicken

Monday.  Back to work, back to reality.  It was particularly hard to get going at work this morning since I had such a nice weekend.  The hubby and I took the dog to the dog park, had dinner with some friends Saturday night and Sunday we went to Teatro ZinZanni in San Francisco.  It's a cabaret/vaudeville/improve/circus acrobatics dinner show.  SO much fun!  We laughed our asses off for 3 hours straight.  If you live in the SF Bay Area and haven't been yet, you should go.  It's a guaranteed fun time.  I was a little nervous about what to expect, since it had some rough reviews on Yelp, but we loved it.  The biggest complaint on Yelp was about the food.  We thought it was good.  Definitely not great, but not bad either.  It was standard banquet type fare, along the lines of what you get at a wedding, or any nice hotel catered affair, but don't go for the food, go for the entertainment, which makes up for it in spades.  If you want an incredible meal, go to Michael Mina, if you want to be thoroughly entertained for 3 hours while eating a good dinner, then ZinZanni is the ticket.  Our tickets to the show were a Christmas gift from my brother & his fiancé, so since we were off the hook for dinner, we splurged on a really good bottle of wine at the show.  A Stag's Leap Petite Syrah which was incredibly delicious and went amazingly well with the the fillet of beef we had for dinner.  Good food, Great Wine, Great Show- it was a night to remember!

The other thing that made the weekend so nice was that I skipped the normal weekend chores- no laundry, no house cleaning, no grocery store shopping, just spending time with the hubby & the dog.  That was all well & good during the weekend, but now that Monday has rolled around, it meant nothing to make for lunch this morning, limited wardrobe options for work this morning, and worst of all- a house that looked pretty darn disheveled when I got home from work tonight.  Luckily, I get off work at 3:30 in the afternoon most days, so after closing up shop I dropped the dog off at home (she gets to go to work with me), went to the grocery store, came home, started some laundry and started cleaning up the house.  This did not leave a lot of time for making dinner though.  Something quick was needed.    

I was tempted to pick up the phone & call for take-out, but even without having to purchase the dinner tickets to ZinZanni, we still ended up dropping a pretty penny at the show last night (Stag's Leap is never the cheapest wine on the menu, by any means).  Once I got take-out in my head though, my desire for Thai food was too much to ignore.  I had all the ingredients I needed to whip up some red curry, and, it's something I can get on the table in 30 minutes.  Well 30 minutes, if you don't count making the brown jasmine rice, which, despite what it says on the package needs at least an hour & 15 minutes to cook.  That's not a big deal though, once the water boils and you add the rice, just turn it down to low and leave it alone for an hour or so.  I started the rice when I started cleaning up the house and then by the time I got to making dinner, it was all ready to go.

Thai Style Red Curry with Chicken
Olive Oil
1 shallot, sliced
2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 small zucchini, cut into strips
salt & pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1 13.5 oz can light coconut milk
1 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 tsp garlic chili sauce
2 tbsp Thai fish sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 to 2 cups leftover roast chicken breast, skin removed & diced or 1 pkg boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders
fresh basil, finely chopped
1 cup brown jasmine rice, prepared according to package directions.
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, crushed

  1. Cook the Veggies.  Sauté the shallots with some olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add in the ginger and sauté for another minute or two.  Add the bell peppers and zucchini, season with salt & pepper, and continue to cook over medium heat for another few minutes, until the veggies have softened.
  2. Build the Sauce.  Add the cup of chicken broth to the skillet, along with the can of light coconut milk.  Add in the tbsp of Red Curry paste and stir well.  Add the garlic chili sauce, the fish sauce & the brown sugar.  Stir until the curry paste & sugar have completely dissolved.  Let the curry simmer over medium low heat for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add in the chicken.  Add the leftover chicken to the curry and continue simmering for another 10 minutes.  If you don't have leftover roast chicken you can use boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders that have been cut into pieces.  Add the chicken pieces to the curry sauce once the curry paste & brown sugar have completely dissolved and let it simmer in the sauce for the full 20 minutes.
  4. Serve!  Once the chicken is heated through and the curry has simmered for a good 20 minutes, remove the curry from the heat, garnish with some fresh basil & the crushed peanuts and serve over steamed brown jasmine rice.
My wine choice for this dinner?  A 2009 Hill Family Estates Sauvignon Blanc.  The crisp fruity flavors go great with the spicy curry.  

Bon Apetit!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Banana, Blueberry & Walnut Whole Wheat Muffins

Whoa, holy pink!  Don't panic, you've reached the right blog, and I didn't spill any Pepto on my keyboard.  I just figured, new year, new design.  I was never in love with the blog template I had before.  I was messing around this morning and came across this explosion of pink.  It might be a bit much, but hey, I love pink, it's one of my favorite colors, and its my blog, so pink it is.  At least for a while...

But on to the point of this particular blog post-  On the weekends I love to make breakfast.  During the week it's all about oatmeal or maybe, if I wake up early enough, a scrambled egg.  But come Saturday and Sunday I like to start the day in the kitchen, whipping up omelets or frittatas, pancakes or waffles.  This morning it was cold & foggy, so getting the oven going seemed like a really good idea.  I had some bananas that were pretty brown, and some leftover blueberries that I got at the produce stand earlier in the week, so I decided that some muffins would be good.  Plus, there would be enough left over that I could send them out the door with my husband this coming week, so he could have a handy breakfast on the go.

These muffins are sweetened with Maple Syrup and have a nice fiber kick since they are made with rolled oats & whole wheat flour.  They are a snap to make too.  The batter comes together in no time, and after 25 minutes in the oven you have fresh, delicious muffins ready to be enjoyed.

Banana Blueberry & Walnut Whole Wheat Muffins
3 to 4 cups of ripe bananas, mashed well
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 egg
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup walnut pieces

  1. Mix Wet Ingredients.  In a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, Beat together the mashed bananas, the maple syrup, the melter butter, the oil & the vanilla for 2 minutes on medium speed.  Add in the egg & continue mixing until the egg is well incorporated.
  2. Add in the Dry Ingredients.  With the mixer on low add in the baking soda, baking powder, salt & cinnamon.  Mix for a minute or two until well incorporated.  Add in the oats and keep mixing until well incorporated.  Add in the flour, a cup at a time, until just blended in.
  3. Fold in the Blueberries & Walnuts.  Gently fold the blueberries & walnuts into the batter.  Be careful not to break the blueberries when you fold them in or you will end up with blue muffins.  Once the batter is done, let it sit for about 20 minutes.
  4. Bake the Muffins.  Line a muffin tray with paper cups and scoop the batter into the cups.  Go ahead and fill the muffin cups up to the top.  These muffins are pretty dense and won't rise very much.  Bake the muffins on a middle rack  in an oven that has been pre-heated to 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.
  5. Serve!  These are awesome warm from the oven, but just as good at room temperature.
Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Steak Tacos with Onion-Tomato Jam

Mmmmm, Tacos

I am a sucker for tacos.  I love them, in all kinds of varieties.  I love the traditional beef or chicken tacos I get from our local taqueria.  I love the fancy tacos from the gourmet food trucks that pop up all over the Bay Area.  Crispy tacos, soft tacos, corn tortilla, flour tortilla, vegetarian tacos, meat tacos, fish tacos, it doesn't matter, there is just something about food wrapped up in a handy shell that appeals to me.  This weekend we were on a taco spree.  Fish tacos for dinner Friday night and on Saturday we had lunch at the Oxbow Market in Napa- home of C-Casa Taqueria and their ridiculously delicious tacos.  Pancho had a steak taco with caramelized onions & blue cheese crumbles.  I had a Duck taco with Serrano Chilies.  They were both amazing.  One would think come Sunday we would be taco'd out, but no, tacos were exactly what we were  craving.

With apologies to anyone who is in a cold climate right now, the weather here in the Bay Area has been fantastic (It's been in the mid to upper 60's for days, and sunny, really really sunny), which has made me want to pull the cover off the grill & fire it up.    Pancho and I rarely eat red meat, so steak tacos are a treat- perfect for Sunday dinner.  I had some tomatoes from the farmers market and a ton of onions, so ended up making these delicious steak tacos with onion-tomato jam.

I didn't get a chance to post the recipe Sunday night, but since it's Taco Tuesday, this recipe seems apropos!  

Steak Tacos with Onion-Tomato Jam
For the Chipotle sauce
1/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tsp Chipotle powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 1/2 tsp lime zest
1 tbsp lime juice
1 1/2 tsp cilantro
pinch of salt
For the Jam
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 cup small grape tomatoes (or any kind of small sweet tomato)
1/2 tbsp Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
For the Steak
8 to 10 oz lean steak, (flank steak or tri-tip work great)
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil
For the Tacos
Soft Flour Tortillas
Fresh Arugula
1 avocado, diced
Cotija Cheese
  1. Season the Steak.  Season both sides of the steak with some garlic powder, salt & pepper.  Brush with a little olive oil and set aside. 
  2. Create the Onion Jam.  I use the term Jam loosely here, it's not really a jam, but because the onions & tomatoes cook down so much, they end up with a jam-like texture.  Heat up some olive oil in a medium sized sauté pan over medium heat.  Add in the sliced onions and cook over medium heat for at least 20 minutes or so, until the onions are very soft and starting to turn a deep golden color.  Add in the whole grape tomatoes, season with some salt, and continue to cook over medium heat for another 10 to 15 minutes.  The tomatoes will eventually burst open releasing their juices.  When this happens, mash down the tomatoes and stir well with the caramelized onions and remove the heat
  3. Create the Chipotle Sauce.  While the onions are cooking make the chipotle cream sauce.  In a small dish combine the Greek yogurt, the lime zest, the cilantro, the juice from 1/2 a large lime, the cumin, the chipotle powder & some salt.  Mix well.  Feel free to add as much chipotle powder as you like.  Pancho doesn't like things too spicy so I only add about a 1 tsp.
  4. Grill the steak.  Get the grill super hot (about 400 F) and then grill the steak until it is medium rare, flipping once while grilling.  How long you grill it depends on how thick the steak is and how well you like it done.  We like ours fairly rare, and I had a 1 1/2" piece of meat, so I cooked it about 4 minutes a side.  Once the steak is grilled to your liking, remove it from the heat and let it sit for at least 5 minutes.  If the weather is not right for grilling you can cook the steak just as well using a cast-iron grill pan on your stove top.  Once the steak has rested for a few minutes.  Slice it into thin strips.
  5. Assemble the Tacos.  Heat up the tortillas ( I like to throw mine on the grill for a minute after I remove the steak).  Spread some of the onion-tomato mixture down the middle of the warmed tortilla.  Add a layer of the sliced steak, top with the chipotle cream sauce and then crumble some cotija cheese over the top.  Finally, add a couple pieces of diced avocado and a squirt of fresh lime juice.  If you want to add some green to the tacos, a layer of arugula works well on top of the steak.
  6. Serve!  I served my tacos with some simmered black beans on the side (recipe below).  
Simmered Black Beans
Olive Oil
1 can black beans, rinsed & drained
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 small onion, diced
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 small jalapeño, diced (optional)
Salt & Pepper
  1. Sauté the onions & garlic.  In a small pot sauté the onions in a little olive oil over medium heat until they begin to soften, about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic and continue to cook for another minute or so. Add in the cumin powder, some salt & some pepper & stir well.   If you are adding jalapeno, toss it in now.
  2. Add in the Beans & Tomatoes.  Add the drained beans and the can of the fire-roasted tomatoes (juice & all).  Stir everything together well.
  3. Cover & Simmer.  Cover the pot & simmer over medium low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, remove the lid & let simmer with the lid off for an additional 5 minutes.  
  4. Serve!  These make a great side dish for the tacos above, and are also good over rice as a main dish.  When I make them as a main dish I like to add 1 green bell pepper, diced, as well.  I just add the diced peppers in when I add the garlic.
No wine with these babies!.  Taco's must be eaten alongside cold Mexican Beer.  Negra Modelo or Dos Equis Ambar are always a good choice.

Bon Apetit!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Vegetable Risotto

Hello Blog, I've missed you!  I thought about writing once or twice, but between being out of town from Christmas to New Years, and then getting going with 2011 at work, there wasn't time to cook, let alone write.  It's seems as though it's taken me a while to get into the swing of 2011, but thankfully, it looks like I am finally cruising along in some semblance of a normal schedule.  Time to get back to cooking, and blogging.

I love the smell of fresh starts in the air during the early part of January.  Like many people, I am big on resolutions, although I don't necessarily call them resolutions.  For me, the new year is just a chance to reset and re-invest in some personal goals I'd like to work on.  I even made a vision board- images & words that will help remind me where I would like to be going this year.  One big goal I've had for a while now- get my foot in the door of the wine industry, just might be realized next week.  I have an interview at a winery here in Alameda for a part time job in their tasting room.  I love my current job, and have no intention of leaving any time soon, but it will be nice to build some contacts in a new industry and explore what types of options might be available down the road.  I've built my career on the philosophy that if you find something you are passionate about, the money will follow.  It's worked so far, and hopefully getting my foot in the door at a winery will give me whole new road to go down some day.  I'll keep you posted on how it turns out.

One of the other things I would like to work on in 2011 is eating less meat.  It's a struggle in the Munoz house to come up with vegetarian dinners because my husband doesn't really believe it's dinner unless there is meat involved.  I personally would have a pretty easy time going mostly vegetarian.  In fact I was a vegetarian for a few years after college.  So far, I have 2 vegetarian recipes he will eat, both involving black beans.  For 2011 I plan on finding a lot more to add to his "approved" list. The trick is to come up with something that is ridiculously good & incredibly filling, so he doesn't miss the meat.  Risotto was a good place to start.  He loves it, and I figured if I sautéed some of his favorite veggies and tossed them in, he might just be ok with it.  Luckily, it worked and this recipe has been approved by the husband.  It's delicious, and hearty, yet still pretty easy on the waistline.  Success on the first try!

Vegetable Risotto
For the veggies:
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 portabella mushroom caps, gills removed & chopped into 1" pieces
1 small yellow squash, quartered & then cut into 1/2" pieces
1 small white zucchini, quartered & then cut into 1/2" pieces
1 small regular zucchini, quartered & then cute into 1/2" pieces
3/4 cup small grape tomatoes, sliced in half
Olive Oil
Salt & pepper
2 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Hot Pepper Flakes
1/4 cup white wine vinegar

For the risotto:
Olive Oil
1 shallot, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (like chardonnay)
4 to 5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

  1. Heat up the chicken broth.  Put the chicken broth in a small pot and heat until it is just barely simmering.  Keep the broth just barely simmering while you are making the risotto.  
  2. Start the Risotto.  In a medium sized deep-sided pot heat up some olive oil over medium heat.  Add in the shallots and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, until they are just starting to soften.  Add in the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add in the rice and stir for another minute or two.
  3. Slowly add Liquid to the Rice.  Pour the cup of wine into the rice pot.  Stir occasionally until all the wine has been absorbed.  Once the wine has been absorbed, start adding the chicken broth, a  half-cup at a time, stirring occasionally and making sure all the liquid has been absorbed before you add more. 
  4. Saute the Veggies.  While the risotto is cooking, heat up some olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan.  Add in the onions & cook for a few minutes, add in the garlic, cook for another minute, then add the mushrooms & zucchini's.  Season with salt, pepper, oregano & the hot pepper flakes.  Continue cooking over medium heat until the zucchini is cooked through and starting to soften, about 10 minutes.  Add in the tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes, then add the white wine vinegar and stir.  Let cook one more minute and then remove from heat.
  5. Finish the Risotto.  It should take about 20 to 25 minutes for the risotto to finish.  You'll know it is done when the risotto gets creamy looking and the grains are soft but still just a little firm when you bite one (al dente).  When it's reached that point, turn off the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.  Season with salt & pepper and then stir in the sautéed veggies.
  6. Serve!  Serve the risotto immediately, preferably with some delicious wine.  We drank a 2009 St Francis Chardonnay with ours.
Bon Appetit!