Monday, February 27, 2012

Denver Restaurant Week 2012: Hapa Sushi

Oh it's one of the best times of the year....5280 Week (or Restaurant Week) here in Denver.   Actually it's so good that it lasts for TWO weeks.    You can get dinner for two at over 300 restaurants for $52.80 (or $26.40 for one).    Tonight we went to Hapa Sushi, a deliberate choice as all three of us like sushi and none of us had been there before.   Note of awesomeness:  One of the entree options was any original Hapa roll, plus two orders of nigiri.   Needless to say we opted for the surf & turf roll (lobster and kobe beef) and the booty call roll (lobster and crab), both of which are normally priced over $20 each!   Our appetizer was tuna nachos and for dessert rice krispy sushi.    The best use yet of a Swedish fish.  

The fun just started on the 25th, so there's lots of time left to eat!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Strawberry Party Pops

In the course of friendship, you are called on to do a variety of tasks.   Fun, sad, ridiculous, embarrassing, awesome.   Last month my sister and I were called upon to help a friend who is getting married in September.    We didn't have to go shoe shopping.   We didn't have to write addresses.   We didn't have to look at color swatches. 

We had to go taste cake pops.

Possibly the best pre-wedding task ever!   We joined the lucky bride and groom to be to sample all the varieties of fillings and coatings for their wedding pops.   Of course, I took the opportunity to ask questions of the business owners since I love baking so much.    I didn't know that there are edible food markers you can use for decoration.  Now I do. 

Starbucks has been carrying cake pops for a while now and every once and a while our pastry shop at work does them for a particular event.   I looked at a few samples and recipes and determined that I too could make the jump to cutsey cake on a stick.     Seeing as this was my first attempt, I decided to go easy on myself and not make cake or frosting from scratch.  Especially since all you do with the cake is tear it apart. 

What You Need:
1 box of Pillsbury strawberry cake mix  (plus the oil, water, eggs required for the mix)
1 container of Pillsbury strawberry frosting
1 bag of Wilton lollipop sticks
White candy coating
Sprinkles or other decoration of your choice

What You Do:
Bake the cake according to the box directions for a 9x13 pan.  I used the high altitude instructions since I'm in Colorado.    Let the cake cool on a rack.     Once the cake is cooled, you destroy it.    Using your hands or the kitchen implement of your choice, break the cake apart and crumble into a large bowl.   

Add one cup of strawberry frosting and using your clean hands combine the frosting and cake crumbs together until it is completely mixed and packed down.    The goal is that you are able to roll it into balls so it needs to be a uniform consistency like cookie dough.   

Line a plastic/tupperware container with wax paper.   You are going to use this container to freeze the pops once they are assembled so they hold their shape.     You are now ready to start rolling some cake balls.   Mine were about the size of a quarter - nothing too crazy.    Roll the cake balls in your hand and then line them up in your wax paper lined tupperware.     It's ok if they're touching.   Once you've made all the cake balls, put a lollipop stick into each one.  You can go almost all the way through the cake ball.     Let them freeze for at least 2 hours. 

When you're ready to dip, grab an assistant.    Follow the instructions on the candy melts and melt them in a small deep bowl.   Do NOT overheat or they will burn, smell nasty or both.    Dip your pops one at a time covering all of the pink cake ball.    Because the pops are really cold, the candy coating hardens quickly, which is where your assistant comes in. You dip the pop, tap off the excess dripping candy and immediately your assistant, friend, child, etc drops the sprinkles over the pop. 

I used my wire rack for them to dry so that they weren't flat on the bottom.     Let the pop rest on the edge of your wire rack and in less than five minutes the candy shell is hard and you can set the pop on a plate or piece of wax paper. 

Store in an airtight container (mine are in the fridge right now) until you gift them to your friends and family.     They look impressive, taste great, and aren't that hard to make.   Enjoy!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

World Food: Gibb's Farm, Tanzania

One of my favorite things about travel is the food.    Other than one awkward incident with Turkish ice cream, I like almost everything I try anywhere I go.   In 2011 I went to Tanzania.   We stayed two nights at Gibb's Farm near Karatu and the Ngorongoro Crater.  They had beautiful and creative food (and accomodations...and staff).   They serve a lot of organic produce and grow almost all of their herbs and vegetables on site.   Just like a farm in the US...except they have to chase the baboons out of the garden.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Homemade Snickers

My Bake MS Campaign is working!   I've already raised $225 of the minimum $400 required to ride in this summer's Colorado Bike MS.   Last week another of my fabulous co-workers made a donation.   My question to her:  What do you like?   She said anything with peanut butter.    I searched for some peanut buttery new recipes on Foodbuzz and gave her four options.   This was her choice.  I've never made a nougaty filling in my life, but I'm glad that I did.     

What You Need:
2 cups milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 cup salted peanuts
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk (I used skim)
1  7oz jar of marshmallow cream
1 bag caramels, unwrapped (not a whole lot of options, I think Kraft must have a monopoly, because there was exactly one kind in the candy aisle)
2 tablespoons water

What You Do:
Line your 9x13 pan with foil, spray with cooking spray.  

Using a double boiler (or in my case a metal bowl over a small sauce pan), you're going to melt the ingredients for the bottom layer:  1 cup chocolate chips, 1/4 cup butterscotch chips and 1/4 cup of peanut butter.   Heat and stir until smooth then spread in bottom of pan and pop in the fridge to chill.

Oooh now it's time for the nougat!  Bring to a boil 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup milk in a medium saucepan.   Boil for 5 minutes then remove from heat and add the jar of marshmallow cream and 1/4 cup of peanut butter.   Stir until smooth then spread over the bottom chocolate layer.    Sprinkle the nougat with the peanuts then pop it back in the fridge to chill some more.

Melt caramels with the 2 tablespoons of water and stir until smooth.   Pour over nut layer.  

The top layer is the same as the bottom layer, 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/4 cup butterscotch chips and 1/4 cup of peanut butter.    Smooth over the caramel layer then chill until firm.   

What I Learned:
Once the bars are chilled you may need to take them out of the fridge to "rest" before peeling off the foil and slicing them - the caramel layer especially is really firm.   You need a sharp knife - possibly warmed with hot water and/or greased to cut the bars successfully.    Worst case scenario, the top layer of chocolate comes off one piece and you're forced to eat it. 

What I Am Learning:
People are generous.   If I can use my talents to thank them in a small way for helping eliminate MS, I will.  This is me, baking my way for a cure!

Breakfast Cookies

When I first realized there was a whole world of food blogs out there, Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy was one of the first that I started reading.    I've been striving to make a bigger commitment to breakfast and have been trying out some new recipes in that direction (cereal bars, mighty muffins, migas, etc.  I saw the recipe for Peanut Butter and Banana Breakfast Cookies earlier this year on Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy and printed it out for a future baking.   The future is now here.    And it confirms what I've always known:  I can bake almost any kind of cookie successfully, except traditional chocolate chip.

What You Need
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 medium ripe banana, mashed
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup chunky peanut butter - I used the Kroger brand Honey Nut Chunky good!
3/4 cup whole wheat flour - Buying this flour makes me committed to healthier baking
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup whole honey nut O's (not Cheerios per se, but they were made using wind energy, so I felt good about myself)
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup shredded coconut

What You Do
Good news - no Denver altitude problems or adjustments needed for this recipe!

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cream butter, brown sugar, banana and applesauce together in an electric mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add eggs and mix until combined.  Then add vanilla and peanut butter and mix well.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix just until combined.  Stir in rolled oats, cheerios, chocolate and coconut.

I don't have an ice cream scoop, so I just used a 1/4 cup measuring cup and a spoon to scoop them onto the silicone mat on my cookie sheet.  I could fit 6 per batch.   I formed them to look a little bit uniform and then pressed down to flatten them just a bit.   Bake for 18 minutes and cool on a wire rack.  I laugh that SGCC's description is "makes 18 hefty cookies."  Hefty is an apt description.   But it's breakfast, so you need something substantial to start your day.

Well, cool most of them.  You probably want to eat one straight out of the oven while the chocolate is still melty.   Or dip it in your coffee.   I think this recipe is amazing and can't wait to try it with other mix-ins.

I posted the picture of these cookies  for my friends on Facebook on Sunday and it persuaded another friend to make a donation to my Bike MS ride in return for me making her a batch of breakfast cookies.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tuk Tuk Thai

As many times as my sister has gone to Tuk Tuk Thai in the two years she's lived in Denver, I have never been there.  Apparently it's crazy with the lunch crowd in the Tech Center.  We finally went this past week for dinner and I am looking forward to going back and trying other things on the menu.   Even better, I had some Groupon bucks, and the restaurant was featured on Groupon Now, so I got my meal for free!    My sister and I shared curry puffs, pan fried dumplings, pad see eew, and banana wraps.   I also sipped on some Thai coffee.  

If you didn't know, I have mad love for all things Thailand after spending a month there in 2009.   I always keep a travel journal and on February 19, 2009 (three years ago already?) it was the last day for two of the other volunteers at the pre-school where we worked.

If you are interested in taking a look at Thailand through my eyes, visit my Traveler Abroad page over on The Pursuit.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Salad Sandwich

A long time ago a co-worker told me that he had an emotional allergy to mayonnaise.   I thought it was an apt description.  You're not physically allergic, but the thought of eating _______ messes with your head.    I think I still feel that way about cream of wheat.    And salad sandwiches. 

I'm not a big fan of other people's ________ salad.   Chicken, ham, egg, tuna,  you name it, I'm not interested in eating it.    It's not the mayo.   Unlike my co-worker of yore, I don't suffer from an emotional allergy to mayo.   It's usually the unknown chopped green thingies and random spices.   I don't like relish.  Anywhere.   In general I'm not a fan of other things that go crunch in a sandwich, such as celery and bell peppers.  

When I can make the sandwich filling myself, I'm happy to enjoy a rare salad sandwich.   Why?  Because it only has the things I like.   If I'm going to eat a sandwich (not my favorite dish), then it should taste great to me.    Buffalo chicken tastes great.   And things that go crunch in the night?  Celery is a perfect accompaniment for this salad, just like it is with wings.

What You Need
2 large or 3 medium boneless skinless chicken breasts, grilled (I used my little Foreman grill) and cubed
2 ribs of celery chopped
1/4 cup light mayo
1/4 cup hot sauce ('cause I like it with a kick)
1/4 blue cheese crumbles
salt/pepper to taste

What You Do
After grilling your chicken, slice it into cubes and allow to cool just a bit.   Then combine all ingredients in a medium bowl until the chicken and celery are coated with the hot sauce mixture.   Allow salad to chill briefly (or until you're hungry).   Serve in a whole wheat pita, or the sandwich vessel of your choice.

Pasquini's Pizza

This was only my second time dining at Pasquini's in the DTC and again the pizza and service were great.     After skiing all afternoon and then rolling back into Denver (without traffic on I-70), we walked in tired and, honestly, not looking our best.   We had giant classes of water and complimentary breadsticks within seconds.    The four of us shared the Chicken Pinenut Pizza....and still took a couple slices home.   Pasquini's is casual and family friendly.   Most of all, delicious.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What the Heck is Wheatgrass?

My trainer thinks that wheatgrass is the answer.  I woke with a bit of a cold on Monday and when I was complaining 12 hours later at the gym his solution was "get ye to Jamba Juice for a shot of wheatgrass."
Now if I am going to spend money at Jamba,  I would prefer 16oz of fruity deliciousness.   Spending $2.09 on grass crushed to a pulp, strained through a teapot, and poured in all its green glory into a small plastic cup a la cough syrup, seems like a waste of money.   But I took my shot like a champion, enjoyed my orange wedge chaser, and went home.

Immediately I Googled it to find out if it was miracle cure or a giant scam to get adults to pay for what they could do in their backyard for free.  Seriously.  Mow the lawn and sip the clip.
What did I learn?   It hasn't really been studied.  There really are more pressing issues in the world of medicine than wheatgrass.   It does have vitamins.  It does have antioxidants. 

My cold has pretty much gone away. 
Am I on the wheatgrass wagon? 
Not yet.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Mighty Muffin Experiment

One of my co-workers donated money to my Bike MS fundraising last week.    As a part of my Bake MS Campaign, I promised friends and family who donated $25 or more that I would bake them the treat of their choice.    My friend suggested that I try something from the Engine 2 Diet.    I had never heard of it.   So I visited their site and their facebook page and decided on Breakfast Mighty Muffins.

Engine 2 is a plant-based diet plan.   The name comes from the firehouse in Texas that joined together on a healthy eating campaign to help support one of their co-workers who had very high cholesterol.   This may be the first thing I've ever baked that is vegan.  Most baking recipes have butter, eggs, milk chocolate, etc.   I can say for certain that this is the first time in my life that I bought oat bran.   I just up and walked into Sunflower Market and strolled into the bulk food section.  

There it was.  Oat Bran.   It had been there the whole time.   I just never knew. 

I didn't know how the oat bran would cook.   I still really don't know.   All I know is that you need to fill up the muffin cups really high because it doesn't rise the way traditional flour (with eggs and butter/oil) does, so be generous!

Since this was my first oat bran and vegan baking virgin, you know, I followed the original recipe...almost exactly.   Click here for the original recipe

What you need
3 cups oat bran
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar (the orignial recipe just says sweetener - this was my choice)
juice of 1 lemon
1 large apple, grated
4 large ripe bananas, lightly mashed
1/4 cup walnuts chopped
1/4 shredded coconut
3/4 cup water

What you do
Preheat oven to 375.  Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.   Squeeze the juice of the lemon onto the combined apple and bananas (science at it's finest...keeps them from turning brown).   Add walnuts, coconut and water.   Combine the wet and dry ingredients into one bowl.   Spoon into sprayed muffin tins and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown on top.

What I learned
I didn't see any impact from the Colorado altitude, I baked them the suggested 45 minutes. 
The recipe didn't indicate how many muffins the batch would make.   I ended up with 12 standard sized muffins.   I spread the remaining batter in the bottom of a 9 inch cake pan and baked it for about 20 minutes and ended up with.....Mighty Muffin Wedges!

Part of the fun of cooking is stepping outside your comfort zone, what you're good at, and trying something new.  I consider this a success and am willing to trying other healthy, plant-based, recipes.   

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hello (a)Miga

After pondering the importance of breakfast yesterday, I decided it was time to try something new.     The original recipe for Spanish Migas came from My Panera.   What's not to like about something savory that involves garlic, chorizo, bread and olive oil? 

Basic Spanish on a Sunday
Amiga = friend (female)
Miga = crumbs
Note to self:  Calling your friend a crumb is probably not a good idea

According to wikipedia migas were traditionally a breakfast made with day old bread.   It's also the word for fashionable first courses for lunch and dinner.   There are Spanish migas, Portuguese migas and Tex-Mex migas. 

Cooking with day old bread is a budget saver.  I strolled to the clearance bakery section of King Soopers and got a whole loaf of french bread for 89 cents.   Hooray!   I couldn't find chorizo in the sausage link form, so I used ground chorizo.   And since I don't like bell peppers, I simply left them out. 

So here you go:  a breakfast experiment that is definitely worth repeating.    Spanish migas my way.

What You Need
1/2 loaf of day old french bread
1/4 cup water
8 oz of ground chorizo
generous spoonful of bottled minced garlic
generous dashes of paprika
2 tablespoons oil packed sun dried tomatoes
salt, red/black pepper to taste
drizzle of olive oil
1 egg per serving to put on top

What You Do
1.  Chop or tear bread into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl.  Sprinkle the water over the bread and stir/toss to moisten evenly.
2.  Cook chorizo in a large fry pan.  Because it has it's own fat, I didn't need to use the amounts of olive oil in the original recipe.  When chorizo is mostly browned add garlic, paprika and sun dried tomatoes.
3.  Add moistened bread, and a little olive oil, to the pan reduce heat to medium low.  Cook until bread is lightly toasted and golden brown, 15 minutes.   It does pick up the orange/red color of the chorizo.   Stir in another little drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
4.  Fry a sunny side up egg.  Or, if the egg doesn't want to come out of the pan nicely, an egg over easy.  Put the bread/chorizo mixture in a bowl and top with the egg.   Grab your fork and your coffee and go to town.  You will be energized and ready to face the day.   Of course, it could also be a good hangover recovery meal.
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