Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Cheer

One of my favorite family Christmas traditions is the mostaccioli and Italian sausage meal we eat during the holidays.  We ate it every year at our huge family gathering when I was growing up, which was usually on Christmas Eve.  Now with the family growing bigger and bigger, we do our family Christmas the weekend before Christmas.  Since our Italian meal was moved further from Christmas Day, my dad and I started to insist that we still have our own small traditional meal on Christmas Eve or Day.  And a new tradition was born - Christmas Eve mass and then mostaccioli and sausage back at my parents' house after.

 Antipasto & cheese to start off
 Some sausages in fry pan... My dad and I like some crispy, the rest get cooked in the sauce!
   Sauce simmering, flavored by the sausage                   A huge bottle of Holiday Reserve Zin
 Not family Christmas unless some of the bread gets burnt
We also enjoyed cannoli's and my grandmas famous nutballs. Too bad I forgot to take a picture of those!! Take my word for it, they were delicious. 

My Christmas Day was leisurely and relaxing with my parents. We opened stockings (one of my favorite things as a kid) and my mom made English muffin french toast. Of course my dad and I reheated some sausage from the night before. Good times napping on the couch, nibbling on small bites and a movie in the afternoon.   I hope everyone had a blessed Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pure Barre

 So back in June I bought a Groupon for 5 classes at Pure Barre Hillcrest. FINALLY, I have a chance to go use those classes. I am dealing with a little leg injury from running and had decided to take the week off from my half marathon training.   Break from running and winter break = time to try new fitness classes. I know lately I have been slacking on my workouts and my body is recovering slower from runs, but Pure Barre killed me today!  2 minutes into the class my arms and legs were shaking.  It started with a quick marching and warm-up and I was definitely warm! We focused on different parts of the body for 6-8 minutes and then would move on to the next body part. The class was quick moving, so my heart rate was up (bonus points!). We used lightweights, the ballet barre, resistance bands, a small squeezy ball and our own core muscles. Each tool was used to make sure your core muscles were the only thing working to move your body.  Each squeeze from my glutes or abs would create motion in my other muscles. Feel the burn! I made it through the 55 minute class with compliments from the instructor and of course loved the great workout. I am dying to figure out how I can afford continuing after my 5 classes are up!

Here is a picture from their website, to give you an idea of some "tuck-and-squeeze" exercises we did

I wonder if I will be able to make it back tomorrow? I did go on a long walk this afternoon to keep muscles warm. It would be a nice way to squeeze in a few more workouts before Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

128 Tamales Later...

About a year ago, I made a list of 30 things I want to do before I turn 30 (which is now in 2 months!)  One item on the list was to host a tamale cooking day with my girlfriends.   Monday was the day!

A few years back I was lucky enough to get a recipe from someone whose recipe came from the tamale knowledge in her head.  I know that sounds silly, but what I mean is that she knew her tamales by heart.. she didn't need a recipe so as she told me the process over the phone, I scrawled it down quickly and made my first batch of amazing tamales. 3 years later, the recipe still lives!

I pieced the recipe back together by memory, thankfully I had done this once before... but we were tripling the recipe also!  First you need to rinse and dry the corn husks...

Stephanie and I began mixing the masa and broth together, while Amanda and Laura started on the chiles. My mom weighed out 3 pounds of cheese for the masa and everyone was involved!

Breaking the cotija into the masa

After the masa, broth and cheese are mixed together, we seeded the chiles and then blended with some reserved chile water, onion, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, oregano and thyme. The recipe called for "spoonfuls" of all which was hilarious because its just kind of a guess! What type of spoon? A big or small? That is why tasting your mixtures is essential. You can always add more flavor or more chiles and spice.

Then we got the lard hot, hot, hot and added the chile mixture to thicken. Watch out for splashing lard!

Now everything was prepped and we were ready to assemble.  Lunch break!  Then we got back to work and started spreading, filling and wrapping the tamales. 

After they were wrapped and ready, we stood them in a pot with steamer and cooked for about an hour. High heat but be careful the water doesn't run out... you will end up with some burnt smoky tamales (that happened to one batch!) A trick is to put towels on top of the pots so it releases less steam. 

Exhausted but ready for this first tamale

We aimed for 75 tamales and ended up making 128!!!! Our freezers are full of tamales and we even talked about possibly making this a holiday tradition.  As Christmas approaches, I am thankful to have so many wonderful friends in my life. What are you thankful for?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Slow Cooker Tri-Tip

I have been eyeballing the tri tip at the grocery store for the past few weeks. Last Thursday, I finally bought some. I didn't just go for a little personal sized steak, but a 2 pound tri-tip roast!   When I saw it I immediately thought..... slow cooker!

Slow Cooker Tri-Tip
2 lb tri-tip roast
1/2 c red wine
1/2 c water
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 tbsp oregano
Salt & Pepper
(I eyeball almost everything so these are estimates)

Set on low for 8 hours... leave for work... come home to a delicious smelling house!

It fell apart with melt-in-your-mouth ease

It turned out with the perfect amount of flavor and moisture locked in with a little crust on the outside. For dinner that night, I made a little mexican type lettuce cup...tri-tip, avocado, red onion, and tapatio drizzled on.  Fresh and comforting!

*Tip: After roast is cooked, shred all the meat and freeze half of it. 
Later, you can toss back into a pan and reheat or put into a soup!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Baked Pesto Chicken

After Mackenzie's delish Pesto Lasagna on Saturday night, I decided to use my leftover spinach and basil to make a homemade pesto to use throughout this week's meals.  Last night, I was craving chicken and thought about how I could put the two together to please my tummy. I sliced up some fresh chicken breasts and tossed in my pesto... yum! You could even make an entire platter or casserole with this, but I am just cooking for one and it worked out great!

Homemade Pesto
      The thing with pesto is that once you've made it, you can play around with ingredients and adjust according to consistency, smell and taste. I "eyeballed" everything for this pesto because I just wanted to use ingredients I had in my refrigerator.

Homemade Spinach Walnut Pesto:
1/2 bunch of Spinach
A few cups of fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup of Walnuts
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In the food processor, puree spinach, basil and walnuts together with some EVOO. Squeeze in juice from lemon. While the processor is going, slowly continue pouring the olive oil until you reach a smooth consistency. 

Baked Pesto Chicken
1 chicken breast, sliced into 1 inch pieces
(Homemade) Pesto
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, then change oven to broil for a little crunch and browning of the cheese!

 Spread a thin layer of pesto on the bottom of baking dish
Then lay chicken pieces in dish, spread a little more pesto on chicken 
and then sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top.
Wow, yummy!

I was thinking I might just put the pesto on top of the chicken to cut out more oil.  But this turned out with the flavor and moisture captured in the chicken and the extra pesto just seemed to crust in the dish instead of swimming under the chicken. Pretty great results!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Four Course Meal

Today's post is a CHEERS to my friend Mackenzie! This weekend, my best bud cooked an amazing four-course meal with wine pairings.  It was on her list of 11 things to do in 2011.  The meal was absolutely indulgent, homemade and incredible! Some recipes borrowed, some invented and I wanted to share the wonderful foods she prepared for us.

First Course - Sage Sausage Mushroom
ready for the oven... 


Second Course - Mixed Greens with Fig and Goat Cheese
*created by Mackenzie*
Red leaf lettuce
Chopped radicchio
Goat cheese crumbles
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
Black Mission Figs, (dried or fresh) sliced 
Fresh parsley, mint and chives, chopped

Third Course - Pesto Lasagna
*For the pesto, she also squeezed in all the juice from the lemon for an added zing! It was so fresh!

Fourth Course - Double Chocolate Cheesecake

Our tummies were very happy after a night with good friends and good food. Thank you again to Mackenzie for a lovely evening!