Sunday, June 26, 2011

RECIPE: Bruschetta Soup

I love making pantry soups... and this one is super healthy! I bet you could walk to your pantry and make a similar soup.

But I have a flavor bursting tip... in a ridiculous moment of genius (I have one every decade or so) I used Trader Joe's bottled Bruschetta topping. Bruschetta (an italian/tomato-based topping for bread or lavash) consists of tomatoes, basil and garlic, as well as a little olive oil and salt. By using this jar I discovered the bruschetta topping was so packed full of flavor that I didn't need to use any additional dried herbs.

So, here's where I started...

Chicken broth, chicken, jar of bruschetta topping, carrot, celery, onion and corn (and the garlic and pasta is not pictured).

And for the close up of the star of the show...

And then it's time for the veg...

Diced onions...

Diced carrots and celery...

Saute until they are, well... sauteed.

In the last few minutes add the garlic, sauteeing until it is soft. It is at this point that the whole house starts to smell like dinner time... I blame it on the garlic.

Add the bruschetta mixture and the chicken broth, give it a stir and bring it to a boil...

The beauty of soups is that you can often take some very simple flavors... and when you add heat to them and allow them to hang out for a long time they create a flavor all their own. (Kind of like ol' friends!)

Don't forget to add the shredded chicken and the corn... cover and allow all of this to sit on the stove top, over low to medium-low heat, for at least 20-30 minutes.

And then about 10 minutes before you are ready to have dinner increase the heat to medium-high and add the pasta, and bring to a boil. Once the pasta is done you can dish it up!

This would be great with a panini... or all by itself is just fine too! Enjoy...

Bruschetta Soup
Recipe courtesy Lori Tisdale

1 whole rotisserie chicken, shredded
1 jar Trader Joe’s bruschetta topping
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small red onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, diced
1 cup frozen corn, uncooked
2 quarts chicken broth
1 cup pasta (medium shells or macaroni)
Kosher salt/pepper

Heat oil in a stock pot over medium heat. Once the oil is hot add onions, carrots and celery. Sauté veg until slightly softened, 3-5 minutes. Add pinch of salt and garlic, sauté for another 2 minutes or so.

Add bruschetta topping, chicken stock and corn. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes. About 10 minutes before ready to eat, raise heat to medium-high and add pasta. Cook until al dente. Taste for flavor. Add kosher salt/pepper is desired.

enjoy your time in the kitchen...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cooking Class at Cafe Merlot

At the end of May our team at work did a cooking class, as a team building. We had a blast... what a treat! Lots of laughter, lots of food and lots of learning!

Our class started off with an introduction and some background from Toni Kraft, one of the proud new owners of Cafe Merlot at Bernardo Winery, the oldest continuously operating winery in Southern California. Bernardo Winery is hidden in the hills of North San Diego County (in Rancho Bernardo, as a matter of fact)... a quaint family run winery boasting jazz on Sunday afternoons, a large courtyard to stroll through, a coffee shop, restaurant, a farmers market on Fridays, shops & artist studios and a beautiful lawn leading out to some of the vineyards.

Please, if you do anything this summer... make sure to visit Bernardo Winery. (But don't tell anyone else - we want to keep it "hidden"!) ; )

We had some appetizers...

And then Toni handed us off to Chef Daniel Reynolds, who schooled us! (In a good way...)

Let's see... what did we learn/make?

- We made bruschetta (and he explained that if we were pronouncing this word "BROOSHEDDA" then we would be laughed at). Note to self: It's "BROOSKET-TA!"
- We made a citrus viniagrette
- We made his Universal Marinade (did I write down all of those ingredients?! phew!)
- He showed us how to make his famed omelets, as well as how to FLIP an omelet! (I failed!)

Through all of those cooking lessons Chef Daniel shared with us some of his kitchen tips (like why it's important to "spank the herbs"), a few chef secrets, the importance of LABELING everything in the kitchen/refrigerator (product, date, etc), tips on the proper julienne cut and explained the dice, aka "brunoise".

After each lesson we'd get to taste test what we had made, of course...

And by the end of the day we were so full we had to sit down...

And once we sat down they brought to us one of the most amazing mimosas I've ever had in my life. I'm telling you - they serve a special mimosa that you'll have to try for yourself... using a unique-to-them champagne (that's apparently rather difficult to acquire), blood orange juice and I believe there was a third ingredient (which I can't seem to recall at the moment).

What a great day... we learned a lot, we ate some amazing food (THAT WE MADE OURSELVES) and have I said yet how much we laughed ?! Oh yeah, and one more thing we took away from the day? "Don't pull a Lori!" (obviously referring to how I failed on the one-handed flip of the omelet...nice!)

enjoy your time in the kitchen...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Final steps for homemade Limoncello

Yes, we finally have limoncello! (And also grapefruit liqueur...don't forget about that one!)

If you have time, check out my previous post for Steps 2 and 3 (also within that post is the link to Step 1): Steps 2 and 3 to homemade limoncello

And nooowww (drumroll please) we are ready to unveil the goodness that is this my pride and joy this summer...

Bottle on the left is the grapefruit liqueur
Bottle on the right is the limoncello

Here are the steps I took to finalize this long, long process...

- I strained the liquid one last time
- I found appropriately sized bottles for storing the liqueur
- I placed the bottles in the freezer
- Approximately 3 hours later I got them out of the freezer and poured a shot of each. Yes, a shot of each...

(The only other thing I need to do is create a label for the bottles... still working on a snazzy name brand. "Lori's Limoncello"? Seems to fall flat... any other ideas out there?)

But back to the tasting... I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth and fresh and sweet and PERFECT they were! (In fact I could barely tell the difference between the homemade and the store bought version I've been sipping on for the past several years!) All by themselves they are great to sip on... but I've also discovered that I LOVE the limoncello this way: Heatwave Lemonade

And I'm working on a grapefruit martini (well, not at this exact moment... after all, it's not even 5:30 am... you know what I mean!) Stay tuned for more on that beverage...

enjoy your time in the kitchen...

Recipe: Lite Tex Mex Salad

As my hero-of-a-hubby and I embark on an "eating-fresher-and-getting-healthier-in-the-process" adventure we're finding all sorts of new food combinations, cooking methods, tasty tricks, etc... and this salad was one of the first things we discovered. It will be a staple for us through the summer...

Here's the recipe we started with... it was originally in Eating Well magazine, but most recently featured on As you'll notice, the recipe doesn't include the fried tortilla... we just crumbled up a few tortilla chips on top of the salad for some extra crunch. The meat has so much flavor... so, so much flavor! What a great salad...

Tex-Mex Taco Salad

We decided to use ground turkey (obviously a leaner meat which also contains more protein by ounce and isn't as high in cholesterol as ground beef)... and then we changed up the dressing to a lighter yogurt version.

The original Southwest Dressing post... Southwest Dressing

But NOW we are replacing the Ranch dressing with Fage greek yogurt. This reduces the calories and carbs dramatically. (And with all the extra seasonings in it you can't even taste the difference. It's a perfect substitution!)

Come with us as we dig deeper into the topic of nutrition and as we commit to eating fresher and being healthier!

Below is my "lite" version of Eating Well's Tex Mex Salad recipe...

Lite Tex Mex Salad
Recipe courtesy Lori Tisdale

½ cup prepared salsa
3 tablespoons Fage 0% Greek Yogurt
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 ounces ground turkey
1 large plum tomato, diced
1 can kidney beans, rinsed
2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
2 teaspoons chili powder, divided
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt
4 cups shredded romaine lettuce
¼ cup pepper jack cheese, shredded

Make the lite southwest dressing first. Compbine Fage yogurt, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp chili powder, pinch of cayenne pepper and kosher salt. Whisk together until combined. Add salsa to yogurt mixture and stir well. Set aside.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until onions start to turn translucent. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute or so, stirring often. Add ground meat and cook until cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Add kidney beans, cumin, chili powder and a pinch of salt. Stir well, lower heat and place lid on skillet. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes to ensure the beans get cooked. Remove lid, add tomato and cook for a few more minutes, until the tomato begins to break down (about 2 minutes). Remove from the heat, stir in cilantro and 2 tablespoons of the salsa mixture.

In a large bowl add lettuce and remaining salsa mixture – toss until all lettuce pieces are coated with salsa. Divide lettuce among two plates; top with the cooked meat/bean mixture, shredded cheese and a few crumbled tortilla chips.

enjoy your time in the kitchen...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Herbs: Cilantro, the experiment

If you've ever attempted to grow cilantro you might understand when I say that it's TRICKY! But I so badly want to grow it... because I'm tired of buying a new bundle every week. I use it so often... why can't I just figure out how to grow it?!

I had given up at one point due to failing on more than one occasion. This time I set my mind to researching the known issues further, asking other herb lovers (and by "herb lovers" I mean, they like to GROW and UTILIZE herbs... not smoke them) and doing an experiment of my own.

I had learned a lot in the meantime ... how difficult can this be?! So, I purchased two cilantro plants and found similar size containers to put them in.

What I learned...
Cilantro does not like heat but it likes a lot of the cool morning sun.
The soil must stay moist and have good drainage.
The plant should be trimmed regularly to promote new growth.
Snails/slugs LOVE cilantro and can eat through a plant within about 24 hours.
Each plant will potentially harvest two or three bundles of clippings before bolting.
Depending on how much cilantro being use, plant more seed every 2-3 weeks to ensure continual availability.
Cilantro grows very fast!
When the plant bolts, you can use the coriander seeds to replant or save them and use them as a spice.

Sample #1
Grow INDOORS next to window that gets that most morning sun but in a room that does not get hot. Keep soil moist and trim regularly. (And since I don't have snails in my home I think this is the example that will work the best.)

Sample #2
Grow OUTDOORS, where it gets morning sun, but is in the shade during the hottest part of the day. Keep soil moist and trim regularly. (Watch daily for snails/slugs.)

Can you guess which sample is which?!

As you can see the sample on the right is not well at all. I had noticed quite a bit of dead sprigs on it and trimmed it back (it's first trimming). And gave it more water. It has not bounced back.

The plant on the left is Sample 2, which is the winner... the OUTDOOR sample is thriving!

Would you like to know more about it's current growing conditions?
The plant gets streaming morning light, but partly shaded direct sun for about an hour in the morning. It sits on a tall ledge, under the over-hang, by my front door. I keep the soil moist, by adding about a cup of water to the soil every other day. A good portion of that water drains out the bottom, but it holds on to what it needs.

I will be trimming a good portion of this back today. Stay tuned for future pictures of how long this planting lasts and what it looks like...

enjoy your time in the kitchen (and the garden)...

Herbs: why they "bolt"

Have you ever had something like this shooting straight up from your herbs? (The above shot is a picture of a bolting sprig on my dill plant.)

I recently discovered this in my italian flat-leaf parsley (below) and started researching what that meant. Afterall, I didn't think parsley had flowers!

What I discovered is that this is called " bolting ". What I understand about bolting is that this is the plant's natural defense mechanism to stay alive. When the growing conditions change (ground temperature rises, the plant is growing in extreme heat conditions, etc) the plant's natural defense is to move on to the next stage of life... so it bolts. Literally! It sends this shoot straight up in the air, producing these interesting looking pods and goes to seed. It's so concerned about the next generation (seed) that it does what it can, while it can, to save itself.

Here's one thing to realize... once it bolts there isn't much you can do about it. The plant's energy is all re-directed to this shoot of the plant that the rest of it loses it's flavor and often times becomes extra "woody" and/or dies off.

We can often times slow down the bolting process by keeping the plant trimmed back (even if we aren't utilizing all of the plant it needs to be trimmed to promote new growth). Routine trimming also keeps the plant fuller looking.

And the second thing to realize? Almost all herbs (and some green vegetables, like lettuce of broccoli) will eventually bolt. That said, be prepared to harvest the items immediately, take advantage of the seed production and start a new pot from seed and/or purchase a new plant.

It's the cycle of life... and for us gardeners it's sad, but it's ok. We'll be ok.

(sniff, sniff)

enjoy your time in the kitchen (and your garden) ...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wine tasting in Paso Robles, Ca

On Memorial Day we packed up the car and headed north ... final destination Pismo Beach. Other stops included: Santa Barbara, Arroyo Grande, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and of course Paso Robles...

Every now and then I get a longing to drive through these rollings hills where I once lived... my childhood full of memories of beach days, camping trips, playing with frogs in the creek and that sweet feeling of surrender... so we made it happen! After MUCH deliberation we planned our trip... and wouldn't trade it for the world!

So today I am finally getting around to blog about our wine tasting tour through Paso Robles...

We parked downtown Paso Robles and waited for the The Wine Line bus to pick us up. How does The Wine Line work? Well, like a true tour bus...

Of course you can check out their website for the full story.

Lori Jean's version? Riders can hop off the bus at any vineyard or tasting room, hang out for a while, and then hop back on the bus when they're ready to move on to the next stop... and for the record, they are THE best way to experience Paso Robles' vineyards!

Since we'd never been through wine country in Paso Robles before we let them suggest which vineyards we should stop at and in which order. There was 1 additional couple on the bus with us... and we all just tagged along and enjoyed the day together. Afterall, we do love talking to strangers, meeting new people and finding out what we have in common... it was a perfect day!

Come with us on the pictorial review of our tour... ?

How wine tasting works in Paso Robles
As we visited various vineyards we found each vineyard has a different deal on prices for tasting. One place gave us 5 free tastings, another let us try ALL 10 of their wines for $3 and others were the standard $5 for 5 tastings. And yet another waived the tasting fee if we bought a bottle of wine.

You see, the proprietors want you to taste their wine in hopes that you'll buy wine (and buy a lot of it). Obviously they don't make much on selling tastings... they make their money by selling wine. (And sending people like us home share pics and talk about how great the wine is, friendly the vineyard staff is and how priceless an experience it all was!)

We started at Castoro Cellars ... where we learned they are currently bottling the "Coastal" brand for Trader Joe's. (note to self!)

The vineyard and grounds look like you'd expect a vineyard to look like. There is a long walkway up to the tasting room, rolling hills of vineyards, a large patio with chairs and tables placed strategically to enjoy the view, bundles of California poppies and lavendar speckling the planters and large empty barrels sitting about.

The tasting room was as comfortable as my imaginary italian aunt's home ... the walls painted in warm yellow tones and rich cabinetry... sofas and chairs and a big fireplace. Our Wine Line Guide was right... this was the perfect place to start!

While I had been wine tasting once or twice at local tasting rooms my hero-of-a-hubby has not. So we asked for the beginner's tour at our first vineyard stop. The friendly wine steward took her time to help us become comfortable with the "in's and out's" of tasting. She explained "how" flavors work, how to taste, how to ALWAYS ignore the first sip and to judge the wine off of the second taste.

She was patient with us, funny, knowledgable and excited about 2 particular wines that we couldn't wait to taste!

We tried 5 wines for FREE and bought a 2007 Zinfusion (this was not her favorite - but it WAS in our price range). Perfect way to start the tour!

I took a gander through their shop and stopped briefly in front of the syrups, jams, marinades, etc.

I could literally sit here all day... but alas, this is the just the beginning. We had several more hours of this.

So I kept walking...

Afterall, this is just the first stop!

We came, we tasted, we conquered! Time to hop back in the bus and move on to vineyard/tasting room #2...

Tasting #2 at Zenaida Cellars - surrounded by yet another awe-inspiring view from the patio...

This tasting room had a completely different feel to it... dark black-brown painted cabinetry, antiqued gray-tan walls, blue neon lights hanging from the ceiling. Just felt a bit more "cool" and updated, like a downtown loft.

We enjoyed 5 wines for a small fee... and took home their Zc Red. While my hubby was paying our bill I took the opportunity to stroll around their property a bit...

And you guessed it, again I found that I wanted to sit here all day!

But no sitting was going to be done quite yet. I just couldn't... afterall, it's only noon! We've got some more touring and tasting to do! Let's get a wiggle on...

Tasting #3 - (admittedly, my favorite stop of the day)... AronHill Vineyards

We drove up, climbed out of the van and saw THIS view...

Now THIS?! THIS is where I was going to sit for a while.

I mean, can you blame me?! Look at that view! It was a perfect 71 degrees outside with a slight breeze and we were among fantastic company!

Our Wine Line guide brought out the pre-ordered lunches (sandwich, potato salad and fruit) as we were treated to a remarkable wine tasting affair.

It is apparent that Judy, the proprietor of Aron Hill Vineyards, is in love with what she does on a daily basis! Not only did she personally deliver our tastings and talked to us about each wine... but she had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye that showed me she has found her passion in life and is living it outloud!

Can I tell you how much I love that?!

We sat, enjoyed lunch, enjoyed 5 tastings and took in this view...

We didn't rush to get up and Nic, our Wine line guide, talked to us about the history of this region, how certain aspects of the wine industry work and his personal travels.

We brought home a bottle of the best wine we'd tasted all day, Judy's 2006 Primitivo and two pieces of her stemware.

We helped ourselves to a self-guided tour of her new tasting room (it opened less than a month ago), which included her new shiny (and fully-stocked) chef's kitchen where they will soon start preparing/selling food for lunches, etc. I noted she had a few panini presses and said "Oh - we'll be back!"

Let it be known - the tour could have been over at this point. My expectations had been greatly exceeded and the rest of the day paled in comparison... (sorry in advance to the next 2 vineyards, I'm just sayin'... )

Tasting #4 at Norman Vineyards ... known for their Monster Zinfandel. We brought home 2 bottles...

It was obvious they were cat lovers (that's neither a good or bad thing) ... not to mention the company logo.

I enjoyed strolling around their property with my camera, and of course with the cats following every move...

And it was time to get back in the bus...

Tasting #5 at Rotta Winery... the oldest family-owned winery in San Luis Obispo county.

As soon as I walked in I wondered if I was on the set of "Will & Grace". Why? Our wine steward was the spittin' image of Karen! Rather weird and comical all at the same time... but I didn't say anything to her until the end.

On one end of the bar was a group of 3 guys who had obviously been drinking (oh, rather "tasting") for a good portion of the day (and one who smelled pretty ripe, I might say)... these boys were "good ol' boys" and were giving the wine steward quite the trouble. But it was all in fun...

Here we enjoyed a taste of each of their wines (I think a dozen of them?) for $3! Yes, only $3. We were definitely feeling our wine at this point...

Look at all those awards! They wanted us to TASTE what made them so good!

Ugh... it was now about 4:30 pm and we had been "tasting" since 11 am. Phew... I needed to sit down again (while I'm on that subject - why don't these tasting rooms have chairs to sit in?!)... but the tv show look-alike was keeping us on our toes!

We brought home the 2007 Estate Zinfandel... she explained that this was the reason we came in today. And she was right! It's pretty darn fantastic!

As we said our goodbyes at Rotta I asked the wine steward if anyone had ever mentioned her uncanny resemblance to Karen of "Will & Grace"... she laughed out loud (just like Karen, of course) and said "NO - but I love it!"

Then we hopped back in the bus, rehydrating with WATER and took the leisurely drive back into town... and our thoughtful and helpful Wine Line driver dropped us at a dinner locale downtown Paso Robles, just about a block from where we had parked. We slowly ate dinner, drank WATER and chatted over the favorite's of the day, how we were impressed with the whole experience, etc.

We eventually walked back towards the truck and made our way back to our hotel in Pismo Beach.

We talked about how glad we were to have been able to experience this, and dreamed about how soon we can come back! We are glad we toured Paso Robles for our first wine tasting tour together... it was a complete experience!

(And we have half of a case of wine to prove it! Sheesh!)

Best part of it, my hero-of-a-hubby and I haven't gotten away (just the two of us) for quite a number o years. We relished in the opportunity to reconnect, dream and relax together. What a treat...

And I leave you with this...

“When wine enlivens the heart, may friendship surround the table.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

enjoy your time in the kitchen...


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