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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chocolate

ChOcOlAtE

CHOCOLATE
If you put chocolate into Google search you come up with 564,000,000 results.The dictionary defines chocolate as: a food that is made from cacao beans and that is eaten as candy or used as a flavoring ingredient in other sweet foods. According to Facts-About-Chocolate.com, these are the different types of chocolate available:

Cacao
Chocolate Liquor
Unsweetened Chocolate
Bittersweet Chocolate
Sweet Chocolate
Milk Chocolate
White Chocolate
Cocoa
Ground Chocolate
Baking Chocolate
Chocolate Coating
Couverture
Gianduja
Single Bean Chocolate
Cocoa Butter
Chocolates
Chocolate Extract
Chocolate Oil


The Swiss eat an average of 22 lbs. of chocolate per person a year, where the U.S. only eats an average of 11 lbs. per person a year.(Finding that one hard to believe!!) The oldest and largest chocolate factory in the U.S. is Hershey’s. One of my favorite facts about chocolate though is the fact that it is good for you! It has been proven that when you eat chocolate, it releases a hormone called serotonin into your body. Serotonin is a chemical that makes you feel happy, relaxed and calm. Now how can you fight scientific proof!! :) So maybe that’s why I am sitting here feeling quite relaxed and happy!!

Now I have to be honest and say when I was a child chocolate was not one of my favorite things. I did not like chocolate ice cream or cake and candy bars were not on the top of my candy list. While I still do not like chocolate ice cream and chocolate cake only has certain moments for enjoyment, I do enjoy chocolate candy and chocolate covered items! One of my favorites is chocolate covered strawberries!! Another one of my favorites is chocolate and peanut butter, which I love to make into fudge! Now while I do not crave chocolate like some people do, I do hear the chocolate monster call my name on occasion!

Today was one of those occasions, and he seemed to be calling my youngest and oldest daughters names too! :) So we spent the evening making chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate covered marshmallows and chocolate covered peanuts.





So now we all are sitting back in a blissful state from all the serotonin floating through our bodies. :) So next time you hear the chocolate monster calling your name, go for it!! No need to feel guilty for indulging in the rich, creamy goodness of chocolate. Just remind yourself that it is scientifically proven that chocolate is good for you! :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Legacy of Love

I think most of us have at least one dish that we have fond memories of, that takes us back to those happy memories of when we were a child. It is that dish that gives us comfort and makes us feel snuggly warm when we eat it. More than likely it was a dish that our grandmother prepared, then our mothers prepared and finally that we ourselves are making. This same dish will be passed onto your children and hopefully to their children. If we are really lucky we have more than one dish that has been handed down along the generations and brings us back to a time of contentment. I luckily have a few dishes that have been passed down thru the generations. I also have some dishes that I myself have made and passed down to my daughters.In turn either I will or my daughters will continue the tradition and pass then down to their daughters. I call these recipes that we share with our families, Our Legacies of Love! :)

When I prepare these dishes I tend to become a bit nostalgic. I remember as a child, my grandma and mom being in the kitchen cooking and the wonderful smells that would fill the house. It was a time that I felt safe and loved. I loved the holidays because I knew the house would be full of tempting smells and the food would be scrumptious! I feel so blessed to have come from such a family of wonderful cooks and to be able to carry on the tradition.
The heritage on my mom's side of the family is Greek and there are some really delicious dishes that my family prepares. One dish that I really enjoy and is a comfort food is Spanakorizo or Spinach and Rice. It is quite easy and affordable too!

Spanakorizo/Spinach and Rice
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large white onion diced
2-3 cloves garlic,chopped
16 oz. fresh spinach
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
3 1/2 cups water
2 tomato flavored bouillon cubes
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Place oil into heated pan, add onions and garlic and saute' until onions are translucent. Add spinach and cook til wilted. Add rice and saute' and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes sauce, water, bouillon and black pepper. Stir well and cook over medium heat until comes to a boil. Stir well and place a tight lid on pan. Turn heat down to low. Cook for 30 minutes and be sure to not take lid off during this time...very important! Remove from heat and let sit for an additional 10 minutes without removing lid.Ready to serve!




Hopefully everyone has a least one dish they are able to share with the next generation. And if you don't then maybe it's time to make one of your own and pass down that Legacy of Love! :)



Simplicity at it’s Best…Pico De Gallo

I love fresh tomatoes! I love onions! I love freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice!! I love cilantro!! But at one time in my life, cilantro was definitely on my YUK list!! I remember first trying cilantro when I was probably around 16 years old and thought it was one of the nastiest tasting things I had ever tasted! It was in a salsa and I thought something had to be wrong with it. I mean how could anyone intentionally want to eat something so gross!! LOL :)

Cilantro
Cilantro

For many years after that I made a very conscious effort to avoid anything that had cilantro in it! But as the years went by and I began to be around more and more authentic Mexican cuisine, I began to *SLOWLY* develop a taste for this tasty green leave. I was amazed at how if it was blended right and not over powering in a dish, I could actually appreciate the citrusy taste of it in many dishes.

Pico de Gallo
Pico de Gallo


The dish though that turned me into a tried and true fan of cilantro though was Pico de Gallo. I remember having it on tacos de carne asada and all the flavors melded so wonderfully together! I quickly learned how to make this wonderful dish and there was no turning back for me! I have been a tried and true cilantro fan ever since. ;) Now I have to admit that there were a few times in the beginning that I bought what I thought was cilantro, only to get it home and find out it was parsley! :) After a few times of becoming quite embarrassed for buying the wrong thing, I quickly learned how to distinguish between the shape of the leaves and the smell. Over the years I have learned to use it in many other dishes and truly love the smell of freshly chopped cilantro.
But by far and wide my favorite recipe using cilantro is still in making Pico De Gallo. It is the simplest of recipes, but brings such great joy and appreciation of such simple foods mixed together. Freshly diced tomatoes, crisply diced white onions, freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice, a sprinkle of salt and the oh so aromatic cilantro!! Now while many people add diced jalapenos to this, I stopped adding them to mine many years ago because my oldest could not handle the heat. But I think we have come to enjoy the fresh vibrant flavors much more without the added heat. I feel blessed having passed down to my daughters the love for Pico de Gallo and they have now passed it down to their children. Making family traditions over such small things can bring great memories on down the line. My family loves it on carne asada tacos, tostadas, in burritos or on nachos and also just plain as a dip with tortilla chips. Such a basic, simple recipe, but full of pure flavor and joy! :)
Bean Tostadas w/Pico De Gallo
Bean Tostadas w/Pico De Gallo

Friday, August 5, 2011

Who's a Salsa Snob?!?

My Chips & Salsa
My Chips & Salsa



I think we all have a certain snack food in our life that just brings us such pleasure and joy that there can be no substitute for it, anything else would just be a complete let down! For some it may be the creamy, sweet taste of chocolate (Did you know the average American eats 12 lbs. of chocolate a year?). While for
others it could be the icy cold, sweet creaminess of ice cream (The United States is the top consuming country of ice cream in the world!). Still others it could be the salty crunchiness of potato chips or pop corn (16.9 lbs of chips a year are eaten by the average American!). Then with that certain food we cherish, we have a flavor or brand that gives us huge smiles when we think of it. What is your food of complete and utter joy?!?
The food that brings me complete and utter joy is tortilla chips and salsa! Between the saltiness and crunch of the tortilla chip and the coolness and spiciness of the salsa…..what could give more pure joy! :) And who would complain if you added an icy cold Margarita to the mix?!?! My first fond memory of tortilla chips and salsa come from a little restaurant in Tempe, Az. called La Fonda’s. It is still there and I make it a must stop destination whenever I get the chance to visit Phoenix. Their delicious homemade salsa is still the same as from when I was a teenager and they still have the great fresh fried tortilla chips to go with it! To say the least it is a very happy memory for me(plus their food is great too!!!)! Through the years my love of tortilla chips and salsa has grown and grown. I love my tortilla chips and salsa many different ways…with individual dipping items such as sour cream, guacamole, melted cheese and refried beans. One of my favorite ways to enjoy tortilla chips is when they are used to make Nachos and I am not talking about just any Nachos. I am talking about the Nachos from Roberto’s Taco Shop….to die for!! :) The combination of tortilla chips, refried beans, carne asada, tomatoes, onions, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and great tasting salsas is beyond a food lover’s heaven!! ( they also have other great tasting food!) While I do love all the wonderful toppings that can go with tortilla chips and salsa, I have to say I love them best all by themselves. I have tried many salsas over the years and there have been a few awesome salsas, some good salsas and also some pretty nasty tasting ones too!! One thing I have found for sure, is I do not like vinegar in my salsa. To me it just gives it a funky tatse. Needless to say that knocks out the majority of bottled salsas (honestly the only jar salsa I like and will buy is Herdez). I also do not like my salsa to be sweet. Now I don’t mean I don’t like sweet salsas, it’s just that for me, the sweet needs to come from fruits, such as mango or pineapple and not sugar. But by far my favorite salsas are homemade ones. I love to see freshly made salsas at a restaurant or a gathering at someone’s home. I have a longtime friend that makes some pretty darn good salsas, with her Peanut Salsa being a top-notch choice. I have tried to replicate it many times and while mine is good, it just can’t compare to hers! Also 2 of my daughters make some awesome salsas. They definitely know what they are doing. But when it comes down to it all, the salsa I find myself craving over and over again is my own home made salsa. I get such joy each time I make a batch and love sharing it with my family and friends. My favorite part of making it is when it all blended up and I first pour it into the bowl. There is still the warmth from the cooking of the tomatoes and jalapenos, along with the crunch of the freshly diced onions, the creaminess of a ripe avocado, along with the aroma of all the ingredients just being blended together…..for me, pure heaven!! That first dip of a chip and the savoring of all the wonderful flavors and textures gives me total and complete satisfaction!

My Salsa
My Salsa


Fresh Tortillas
Fresh Tortillas

Fresh Tortilla Chips
Fresh Tortilla Chips

Then there is the crunchy, salty tortilla chip used to scoop up all those wonderful flavors. Up until the last few years I was quite content with using bagged tortilla chips, even though I have a few brands that I like better than others. But in the past few years my taste buds have begun to snub the bagged brands. They want only fresh, home fried tortilla chips. My taste buds and my brain totally agree that fresh fried tortilla chips and fresh salsa are the best way to go!! The flavor of these freshly fried rectangles or strips, far outweighs anything that come out of a bag. Except if you are lucky enough like us to have a Mexican market that makes their own fresh tortillas and fry’s their own tortillas chips!! Love to use Cardena’s tortilla chips when I don’t have time to fry my own!
My taste in foods has changed and developed over the years and I definitely have a more refined palate then I did in my younger years. I have a finer appreciation of flavors and textures and have enjoyed broadening my horizons in my food tastes. But I think when it comes to tortilla chips and salsa I have become a Salsa/Tortilla Chip Snob…is that really such a bad thing?!?!? LOL :) Are you a Food Snob about anything? What is your Food Snob item of choice??

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Vegan?!?! Who'd a thunk?!?!

If you would have told me 5 years ago I would be eating Vegan food and loving it I would have laughed in your face! My thoughts of Vegan food were that it would be totally nasty tasting and no meat..ARE YOU KIDDING?!?!?! Today tho, I can proudly say that I love Vegan food and have eaten quite a few dishes that are quite YUMMY!!!
These awesome tasting dishes are the creation of my oldest daughter Chanine. She chose to become Vegan a few years back along with her hubby. His family is also Vegan, so it seemed to be the right thing as well as the healthy way to go. While it was normal for them, the rest of my family was completely baffled by the whole process! Like I have said, we are a family of foodies, and no meat or dairy products would be an insult to our taste buds! How would we include them in our get-togethers? What could we possibly cook that would taste good and fit in with our scrumptious abundance of goodies?! The task of finding great tasting vegan dishes seemed impossible. All I could think of were vegetable trays, but then you couldn’t even have ranch dip to dip the veggies in, so what were we to do? I had never heard of vegan sour cream or vegan cream cheese, and soy milk or tofu was for those crazy health nuts!..LOL :)Little did I know I was totally wrong. At first. Chanine would bring along dishes that they were able to eat. We would try them, quite reluctantly at first, but soon we all began to realize that Vegan cooking could be quite flavorful. So we all began to delve into finding recipes that we could make and incorporate into our get-togethers. My daughters cooking skills have grown by leaps and bounds the last few years and she has made some of the most awesome tasting Vegan dishes. One recipe I ”NEVER” thought she could Veganize, was tamales. How could you turn the sacred tamale that you use lard and pork in, into a tasty Vegan specimen?? She has proven me quite wrong in this area, as her Vegan tamales are the BOMB!!!! They are filled with black beans, corn, black olives, her green sauce and her vegan cheese blend and taste fantastic! Last week she made a Vegan Christmas dinner for our Christmas in July celebration and it was out of this world! We had stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, home-made rolls, tofurkey and even pumpkin pie!!



Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin Pie



There are countless other dishes that she has made that have totally changed my view as well as the family’s view on Vegan cooking. She has even taken some of our traditional family dishes and made them into delicious Vegan fare. So Chanine continues the legacy of great cooks in our family with a whole new avenue of thinking. I think she makes us all proud with her passion for cooking :)
While I have no plans on becoming Vegan any time soon (I love carne asada and pork roast too much!! ), I can say that my daughter inspires me to eat healthier, because I now know that eating healthier can still be YUMMY!!! :)