Wednesday, July 23, 2014

celebrating my 40th birthday on Coronado . . .

 


I told my husband a year ago that I wanted to have a big party to celebrate my 40th birthday . . . but as the year passed, my thoughts changed.

Instead, I dreamed of a quiet birthday . . . away.




The idea of a big party wasn't as appealing anymore.  I thought it would be more enjoyable to gather over the month with friends and family for small lunch or dinner dates to celebrate my birthday.

I've come to appreciate smaller gatherings, as they tend to be more relaxing . . . and they give me the chance to have meaningful conversations.




And so my birthday wish came true . . .

We spent a quiet, wonderful weekend on Coronado Island.

My husband and I took the Amtrak Surfliner south to San Diego, and then ferried across the water to Coronado, where we biked and strolled all weekend.




We enjoyed long, leisurely bike rides on the island,  moonlit walks on the beach, and relaxed meals on the harbor.

One of the highlights of our weekend was having Sunday brunch in the Crown Room at Hotel del Coronado.

I could have taken hundreds of photos of the hotel alone, but my focus this visit was the Sunday Brunch in the Crown Room.

The brunch is well-known for its extravagance; and after having gone now, I can see why.




The Crown Room is quite stunning with its wood ceilings, crown chandeliers, and beautiful views of the harbor . . . but the food was equally impressive.

I'm still in awe over the incredible menu that not only included typical American brunch entrees, but also Mediterranean, Italian, Spanish, and French. Take a peak at the menu here.

I brought my "good camera" to take photos while we were there, but found that it was more convenient to take photos with my cell phone. I'm quite happy with how many of them turned out.

I hope you enjoy . . .







a seafood bar . . .



seating in the garden too . . .




A few of my favorite photos of the grounds of Hotel del Coronado . . .





A peak at the exterior of the hotel from the courtyard. I love the white . . . and all the details.





One of many beach bungalows . . .




On our way to the beach, we found the hotel's herb garden.





We had a wonderful weekend!

Actually, the whole month has been filled with fun, friends, family, and small celebrations. I love birthdays, don't you!?






LET'S STAY in touch!





Tuesday, July 22, 2014

old-fashioned chewy sugar cookies



The perfect sugar cookie is tender, moist, and chewy . . . with just the right amount of vanilla and sweetness. 




Have you ever wished that you had a fool-proof recipe for soft, moist, and chewy old-fashioned sugar cookies?

Well, it's no surprise that Cook's Illustrated, sister to America's Test Kitchen, gives us that . . . the perfect chewy sugar cookie.

I don't know about you, but I like having an arsenal of fool proof recipes, especially for baking.




My mother-in-law bought me this beautiful book for my birthday . . . and I've already tagged upwards of 50 recipes that I want to try out.

              Of all the recipes, I chose to make the Chewy Sugar Cookie first (big smile . . . and no surprise, I guess).

For a little Summer fun, the kids and I decorated them with bright and cheerful sprinkles.

They're delicious all by their lonesome with their tender sugar crust, but we've also enjoyed them topped with frosting and served up as ice cream sandwiches . . . just to give you a few more ideas.




One of the reasons I trust Cook's Illustrated (and America's Test Kitchen) recipes is because they share with readers why their recipes work.

Here's what they have to say about their recipe for Chewy Sugar Cookies.

Why this recipe works
excerpt from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook

Traditional recipes for sugar cookies require obsessive attention to detail. The butter must be at precisely the right temperature and it must be creamed to the proper degree of airiness. Slight variations in measures can result in cookies that spread or become brittle and hard upon cooling. We didn't want a cookie that depended on such a finicky process; we wanted an approachable recipe for great sugar cookies that anyone could make anytime. We melted the butter so our sugar cookie dough could easily be mixed together with a spoon - no more fussy creaming. Replacing a portion of the melted butter with vegetable oil ensured a chewy cookie without affecting flavor. And incorporating an unusual addition, cream cheese, into the cookie dough kept our cookies tender, while the slight tang of the cream cheese made for a rich, not-to-sweet flavor.




chewy sugar cookies
24 cookies
.     .     .     .     .     .
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus
1/3 cup sugar, for rolling
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
.     .     .     .     .     .




Preparation
NOTE: The dough will be slightly softer than most. Handle as briefly, and as gently, as possible when shaping. Overworking the dough results in flatter cookies.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Set aside.

Place 1 1/2 cups sugar and cream cheese in large bowl. Place remaining 1/3 cups of sugar in shallow baking dish or pie plate and set aside. Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later). Whisk in oil until incorporated. 

Add egg, milk, and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft homogeneous dough forms.

Divide dough into 24 equal pieces, about 2 tablespoons each. Using hands, roll dough into balls. 

Working in batches, roll balls in reserved sugar to coat and evenly space on prepared baking sheet, 12 dough balls per sheet. 

Using bottom of a drinking glass, flatten dough balls until 2" in diameter. Sprinkle tops evenly with 4 teaspoons of sugar remaining in shallow dish (2 teaspoons per baking sheet), discarding any remaining sugar.

Bake, one sheet at a time, until edges are set and just beginning to brown, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating sheet after 7 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes. Using wide spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.






LET'S STAY in touch!






Friday, July 18, 2014

peaches & thyme lemonade with maple agave syrup



My husband and I recently spent a wonderful weekend on Coronado Island celebrating my 40th birthday.

While we were there we enjoyed long walks on the beach, bike rides, and relaxed over long, leisurely meals.





One of the highlights of our weekend was having Sunday brunch in the Crown Room at Hotel del Coronado.

I'm still in awe over the incredible menu that not only included typical American brunch entrees, but also Mediterranean, Italian, Spanish, and French.  There were even fresh juices like cantaloupe & peach, honeydew & mint, and fresh lemonades.






There was one juice, in particular, that captured my heart (and taste buds). What made it so special was that it was sweetened with maple syrup, instead of sugar.

I know, sounds a little strange, right!?! But it was so good. Complex . . . and good.

After arriving home, I thought I would try my hand at a refreshing lemonade that's sweetened with maple agave syrup . . . and so inspired this unique and refreshing Summer drink.




While walking through our Farmer's Market with my little ones, I spotted beautiful yellow and white peaches. Within just a few feet of them, I could smell their intoxicating sweetness . .  and couldn't resist buying them.




While I was eyeing the peaches, my little ones were eyeing the lemons. No surprise, I guess. They love making lemonade, like blackberry & mint lemonade and blueberry lemonade.

I had a thought of pairing our two finds . . .  peaches and lemons . . . and making another flavored lemonade. A new one . . . inspired by the beautiful, fresh drinks we had on our trip.

Since I think that adding herbs to lemonade adds an incomparable freshness, I added thyme to this one (instead of mint), as it pairs well with maple and lemon.




This recipe has everything you love about homemade lemonade but with the sophisticated pairing of peach and thyme along with a healthier sweetener.

The meat of the peach gives this lemonade 'body' . . . and the maple and thyme warm the tart flavors of the lemon; together with the tender sweetness of the peaches and agave . . . you have a refreshing (and unique) Summer drink.




 maple agave lemonade with peaches & thyme
.     .     .     .     .     .
3 peaches, sliced and pit removed
zest of 1 small lemon
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, and a few extra for serving
3/4 cup maple agave syrup
4 cups water,  fresh or sparkling
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
.     .     .     .     .     .

Preparation
In a blender, combine the peaches, lemon zest, thyme, maple agave syrup and ½ cup of the water. Blend until smooth.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and into a large pot or bowl. Discard the leftover pulp.

Stir in the lemon juice then top up with the water until you reach a desired taste and sweetness. Add more if needed.

Pour into a pitcher or glass bottle. Keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. 

To serve, pour over a glass of ice and add a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and a slice of lemon and peach, if you wish. 

I recommend having a petite carafe with extra maple agave syrup for those who like their lemonade on the sweeter side. 


For a fast and easy dessert, 
serve with a humble (and slightly sweet) cookie like a Madeleine
The tender flavor of the Madeleine will allow the sophisticated flavors of this lemonade shine!







LET'S STAY in touch!







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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer garden pasta . . . spaghetti with basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella

 


Our little potted garden is producing more tomatoes than I know what to do with.  The photo below shows one week's worth of pickings, and that's not including the big, beautiful heirlooms we're growing too.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining! We've been enjoying them straight from the garden as a snack, in omelettes, tacos, and salads . . .  and, my favorite, in simple Summer pasta dishes . . . like this one.




If you watch Barefoot Contessa then you've probably seen her make a dish similar to this one. 

In fact, it was her Summer garden pasta that inspired my version, which includes additional herbs and fresh mozzarella. 




So what makes this simple Summer pasta dish so darn good?

Besides the beautiful red, orange, and yellow tomatoes from our garden, I added lots of fresh herbs too . . . sweet basil, Greek basil, and Italian flat leaf parsley. I also love the addition of fresh mozzarella! It's light & creamy flavor and texture is a perfect compliment to the pasta and tomatoes.




Perhaps what makes this dish special too, is its preparation . . . 

I add quality olive oil and fresh grated Parmesan cheese to the hot pasta, immediately after draining it . . . which allows the cheese to cling to each strand of pasta . . . so that every single bite is flavored with this salty goodness. Yum!




Add the fresh basil and tomato mixture, crushed red pepper flakes for a little kick, and creamy mozzarella & fresh herbs for a final touch . . . and you have a light and flavorful dish perfect for any Summer day!




Summer garden pasta
.     .     .     .     .     .     .
quality olive oil
3 pints of cherry tomatoes, halved
3 garlic cloves, minced
12 large basil leaves, julienned, plus extra for serving
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound spaghetti
1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
2 cups of fresh mozzarella (add more if you love it!), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 Tablespoons fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped for serving
.     .     .     .     .     .     .




Preparation
Combine the cherry tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic, basil leaves, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and the pepper in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature for at least an hour.


In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt to the boiling water, and then add the pasta. Cook al dente, according to the directions on the package. 


Drain the pasta well and pour into a large serving bowl. 

Drizzle 1/4 cup olive oil over the hot pasta, toss; and then sprinkle 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese over the top of the pasta, toss well. 

Add the basil tomato mixture, fresh mozzarella cubes, extra fresh basil and Italian flat leaf parsley. Toss well. 

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