Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ground Beef Stuffed Zucchini Boats

I love zucchini!
Someone else at my house?  Not so much.
But here's a satisfying dish to serve that may not make your zucchini haters so hateful.
One thing I have noticed is that people who hate zucchini usually hate the squishy over cooked kind.  These zucchini boats are firm enough to hold a ton of tasty, spicy meat and get some lucious melted cheese on top.

A very satisfying dish for dinner.  It's quick and easy to do and low carb too.
We found this to be very tasty and filling. I may try this one again with ground lamb and feta to give it a Mediterranean flare.

Serves about 4-6

4 med zucchini, hollowed out, insides cooked and drained- mix with ground beef
1 1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup grated cheese
1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 garlic, crushed and minced
1/2 cup chopped tomato
1/2 cup salsa
3-4 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1-2 jalapenos, seeds removed and minced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
salt & pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, scooping out the middle, leaving the sides.  

You could use a melon ball tool, or even a small cookie scoop, like I did.  
Bake the empty zucchini boats for 7-8 minutes while making the filling.
With the zucchini you scoop out, chop it into small pieces. 

Over medium high heat in a large fry pan, or dutch oven, saute the onions, garlic, zucchini and minced jalalpeno until the onions are softened, about 4-5 minutes.

Add the burger and stir to cook with the vegetable until there is no more pink, about 5 minutes.  If there is a lot of fat, or water from the meat, drain it off.
Add the salsa, the spices and the cilantro.  Cook for another 1-2 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper. Add about half the cheese 1/2 to 3/4 cup and stir. Adding some of the cheese here helps to "glue" the mixture together.

Add the meat mixture carefully into the boats, top with cheese and return to the oven until the cheese is melted, about 3-4 more minutes. 

NOTE- I like my zucchini on the undercooked side, but if you like your zucchini softer then you may want to bake longer.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Train Wreck Bar- Bloody Mary & Breakfast Skewers in a Jar

The first time I saw this place was from a train.
Not a wreck though, thankfully.
Just heading up to Vancouver on the Amtrak and noticed a cute place right by the tracks, The Train Wreck Bar
Later on, I heard about the place from a friend, who posted a picture of her bloody Mary one weekend morning. Except it wasn't a typical bloody Mary that you might get with your breakfast to recuperate after a particularly fun night before. THIS bloody Mary included the breakfast on the skewers and they served it all at once.

So we grabbed some friends and headed to this 21yr/older bar for breakfast.  The line was out the door, always a good sign.

Ordering was easy, we all wanted The Train Wreck Breakfast Bloody Mary with Sriracha vodka please!

You'd think the quality might not be great, but it WAS!  Food was hot, and very tasty.  I especially like the bacon wrapped potatoes, but the mini biscuit breakfast sandwich with egg and ham were the bomb too!

Now, this little gem comes at a big price tag, however, if you think of a price of a normal breakfast out ($10-$12 entrees) plus a bloody Mary on the side, you're still looking at a combined price of about the $18.99 shown below.  And the FUN factor?  Well, that is priceless.
We were like kids in a candy store when our "breakfast" arrived.

Kids... in a candy store. Hahaha.

Here's a picture of another table's order of 4.  Isn't that fun?
...It sort of looks like that bartender is naked here, but I promise she wasn't.

When we were finished, we waddled to the door and hit the tracks outta town.  A very fun time. My advice?  Get there early because when they run out "skewers" pre-made for this dish/drink, then they are done serving for the day.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sauteed Kale with Garlic & Cherry Tomatoes

I make this one quite a lot.
It's easy, it's tasty, it's satisfying and it's healthy.
A perfect little side dish for a week night dinner, grill up some meat and you are ready to go.

I've left the garlic pretty large in this recipe as I wanted to be able to remove it.  I like garlic, but I don't like to eat too much.  I saute it in the olive oil with the onions to release the flavors. This technique gives you the option of getting the flavor, but not the heartburn later. I leave it in and serve it like that, as some people want to eat it, but others can easily push it to the side.

Makes enough for 2-4

1 bunch of kale, stems removed and rough chopped
12-15 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, or quarters
1/2 onion, minced
3-4 garlic cloves, sliced in half
1-2 Tbsp Olive oil
1/2 tsp Red Pepper flakes
1/2 Lemon, juiced
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until the onions start to soften.

Add the chopped tomatoes and the red pepper flakes and stir for another 2-3 minutes, until the tomatoes start to soften, release their juices and start to lose their shape.  

Here it is when that happens.

Add the chopped kale and the lemon juice.  Stir some more to soften the kale.  I cook it for another 2-3 minutes only as I like my kale on the firmer side.  I also like the kale to keep it's bright green color.

Serve at once!

Here's what I was making on this date on past years...
One year ago Lazy Girl Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore
Two years ago Spicy Mama Summer Salad- Tossed Corn, Tomatoes and Avocados
Three years ago Maui Cookies
Four years ago Reese Stuffed Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pink Cookie Bars

Soft and sweet and totally delicious!
Everyone has had a "pink cookie" at the coffee bar, big and round and totally sweet.  Can you believe we pay $2 for that kind of sugar high?  LOL, I know, why not?

These bar cookies are super easy and taste so much like those big pink cookies!  
I wish I had been a bit more cautious on how much pink food coloring I added... I wanted a more subtle color.  However, that's the only thing I could find wrong with these cookies.

They'd be fun to do with other colors and some jazzy sprinkles. The original recipe is here, and I only made some changes to the frosting.

 (I forgot the vanilla, it was just off camera here...)

Makes about 32 squares

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg white
1 Tbsp sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 recipe vanilla frosting, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 13″ x 9″ baking dish, set aside. In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy about 3-4 minutes. Stir in egg and egg white. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until blended. Slowly add dry mixture and stir until well combine. With buttered hands, gently press (so gently almost patting) mixture into buttered baking dish. Bake 16 – 19 minutes until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and edges are lightly golden. Cool completely, then frost and cut into squares.
The dough is pretty soft, so butter your hands (or wear latex gloves) to pat it into the pan.

Vanilla Frosting

1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2-3 Tbsp sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
Several drop food coloring (optional) or a small amount of paste food coloring.

In a mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, whip together butter and powdered sugar and half and half until fluffy. Stir in vanilla and salt. Add in food optional food coloring and mix until well blended. Beat it a bit longer than you think, you want to get it extra whipped and fluffy.  I liked that the frosting got a bit firm, but still soft and easy to eat.

I know this is a Christmas pan, but it's my best 9x13 pan with straight sides, so many are sloped and rounded edges. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Two Days in St. Petersburg, Russia

I've been trying to write this post for six months.  I've edited, deleted and sighed, struggling to do justice to the experience.  Finally, I deleted HALF of what I had and now I'm ready to share....
The things I didn't share are big ones too.... The Hermitage, Peter & Paul Fortress, Rasputin's death place, St Issac's Cathedral.

St. Petersburg is a “Western” city planned and opened by Peter the Great to give Russia a gateway to the Western World. It’s streets are planned and large organized avenues with beautiful buildings with canals and bridges joining the once marshy areas drained for this great city. A beautiful spectacle to withhold.

Two days seemed like enough time to see the city, right?

Wow, the answer is NO. We did SO MUCH but still were left with a feeling that we didn’t get enough time to do all the things we wanted.

You need a visa to enter Russia, unless you are part of a organized tour from a cruise ship, then you are allowed ashore (after a serious inspection of your passport, your paperwork and your face) to go about your business.  We booked a small tour of 4 total, led by a guide, and with our own mini bus.  It’s expensive, I won’t lie, but it’s also expensive to do the tour through the cruise line and being part of a bus of over 30 of your nearest and dearest cruise goers. Ick. No thank you.  We elected for a private small tour (Julia’s Dancing Bear Tours) at the same price.  We did the “active” tour with a couple from Australia who were tons of fun.  We were all exhausted by the end of the day; so many sights and the history… all those names of all the Tsars and who married who…. There are enough Peters, Catherines and everyone else to make your head spin.  Rule #1 to remembering… Peter the Great and Catherine the Great were NOT married.  In fact, Catherine the Great married Peter the Great’s grandson, but she wasn’t even Russian (she was German), whoever, no one can argue with the fact that she was pretty darn great. Wait until you see her summer house...

St. Petersburg Metro

While riding a Russian Metro might not have been on my “bucket list” it was beyond cool.  

St Petersburg is very marshy, and they needed to dig their Metro much deeper than most subway systems.The escalators take you down about 86 meters (258 feet) to the platforms that have been in place since 1955. That escalator will give you vertigo!  So fun.

However, it is so old and stately feeling, check out the photo on the left.  Wow.  I didn't take this image, but I was in this station, the oldest line with the oldest classic metro cars.  We only went one stop to the next station. Each line and station has a different theme and feeling.  I'd have loved to have more time to explore.

Catherine Palace in Pushkin- Rocco Summer Palace

Inside the ballroom, all gold and mirrors.  So beautiful.

A cute angel statue.

A reflecting pond in the gardens.  Our guide mentioned that it is very rare to see the reflection as it's so often overcast or windy, wrecking the ability to reflect.  Our two days in Russia were gloriously sunny.

Another shot of the chapel onion domes from the gardens. In this photo you can see some the blue facade of the building is actually a painted screen (left side) while they do renovations to the building and redo some of the gold leaf on the rocco details.

Peterhof Castle and gardens (Russian Versailles)

144 fountains all fed from natural pools. WOW, that is all.
Just wow. 
A beautiful sunny day just added to the enjoyment of the  beautiful gardens surrounding Peterhof Castle. Called the Russian Versailles, you can see why… miles of  paths, with fountains, flowers and whimsical sculptures and fountains at every turn.

They were setting up for some concert in the gardens that night, you can see some of the set up in the corners.  What an entirely spectacular spot to see a concert!

(Left) A canal connects the palace to the Baltic Sea to make it easier for Peter the Great to get here easily from St Petersburg across the bay.  So, so beautiful.

The park went on and on, we have over 100 pictures from that day... however, I just wanted to share a couple.  Fountains, ponds, canals, paths, whimsy, flowers, beautiful "cottages.  Every inch was fun.

Hydrofoil boat trip back to St. Petersburg
We walked through the Peterhof gardens to the very end of the pier to reach the boats that jet back to St Petersburg.  A quick 30 minute journey from the countryside back to the city, but what a great way to re-enter the city this time, so different from before to see all the grand buildings from the water perspective (photo above). We had a glimpse of some of the landmarks we would see the following day from the water, which just added to our excitement for the following. After a good nights sleep that is… we slept like dead people, we were so tired. 

Church of the Spilled Blood

Originally built to honor a assassinated emperor, this church was completed in 1907 shortly before the Russian Revolution.  During that time, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness, our guide told us that as many as 900 dead where stored there.  After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes, such a beautiful place and amazing history.

I wish the photos could do this place justice…. The inside is nothing but brilliant colored and gold mosaics of biblical scenes from the old and the new testament.  Utterly fantastic.   
Everything you see in the picture below is mosaic.  Every bit of it.

No flashes were allowed and our fancy camera couldn’t keep up with the challenge of capturing that clearly. So, here’s what you get.  It was a very amazing experience. I loved this church.

Lunch at a Perogi Place

We were starving by the time we finally were able to stop for a quick lunch. I don’t remember the name of this place, but it was some sort of charming, small local chain.  It smelled fantastic when we entered and immediately joined a long queue. A beautiful assortment was in the case, which we could hardly see from where we stood in line. It brought back thoughts of the Communist era rationing queues… only I imagine this food was much, much better.   

You could see into the kitchen, as the hot pastries were handed through the window.  Lots of ladies standing around a huge island, creating beautiful works of art of pastry dough. 

We had a chicken and spinach perogi, a beef and onion perogi, and a fantastic dessert “cow berry” perogi.  I believe that cow berry is another name for lingonberries as that’s exactly what this tasted like.   

I'd like to go back some day, and do a little more leisurely sight seeing...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Peppercorn Ranch Dressing

A very easy and basic recipe, whip it up before dinner if you want to jazz up your dinner.
I must admit, I don't make homemade ranch dressing without a mix (My homemade ranch mix recipe is here), so I was amazed at how easy and delicious this was.

I like anything with peppercorns in it. Yum.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups
3/4 cup sour cream 
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp powdered garlic
1/2 tsp powdered onion
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 teaspoons coarsely ground pepper
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup buttermilk 
Salt to taste, as needed

Mix everything together, adding salt at the end.  It tasted good without any added salt, but you may find you need some once it's paired with salad.  Dressing needs to be pretty flavorful to jazz up the lettuce.

I used my mortor and pestle to crush my peppercorns, but you could use a pepper grinder.

Here's everything before I mixed it.

 Here's what's left after dinner, I put it in the jar in the fridge.  I think it would be great on veggies, or even a burger and fries!

    Tuesday, March 10, 2015

    Avocado, Orange & Jicama Salad

    I'm come to the decision that this is my new favorite salad.
    Fresh, tangy, crunchy, salty with all the right stuff.

    This is day #2, and I am just as happily eating it again tonight as I am having a "me" night with my hubby at band practice.  Yep, I cook, eat and blog even when I am alone.

    On night #2, I added chopped tomatoes and omitted the red onion and used green onions instead. Equally delicious!  On night #2, I also diced everything and mixed in one bowl like a chopped salad.  Not as pretty, but very easy and satisfying to eat. I also think this would be terrific on a bed of arugula, spinach or lettuce. Key ingredients?  Orange, jicama and avocado with feta, cumin and cilantro.

    Originally found in my Food & Wine magazine, but changed up by ME.  Here's the original if you want to check it out.

    Serves 4, but easy to smaller, or larger!

    2 navel oranges
    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    2 Tbsp orange juice
    2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
    Pinch of cumin
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 small jicama, peeled, quartered,thinly sliced and cut into thin strips
    1 avocado, thinly sliced
    1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
    1/2 cup red onion, chopped small
    1/4 cup chopped cilantro

    Using a sharp knife, cut the skin off the oranges, removing all of the bitter white pith. Working over a small bowl, cut in between the membranes to release the sections. See in the photo below how you can see the sections?  Cut as close to the stripe of membrane, freeing a beautiful "skinless" section for salads.  Yes, there is some waste with this method but it looks especially nice and you can squeeze the juice out to use in the dressing.

    Squeeze the membranes over a bowl to extract the orange juice. Whisk in the lime juice, oil and cumin; season with salt and pepper. 

    On plates, arrange the orange section, the avocado and the jicama in a pinwheel design. Drizzle generously with the dressing, sprinkling on the chopped red onions, feta and cilantro; serve.

    Here's a shot of the bowl with the dressing, not my finest photo, but you get the idea, right?