Sunday, January 22, 2017

Butternut Squash Soup--Thai Style

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I love butternut squash.  But I can almost never purchase pre-made or restaurant items with butternut squash because invariably, they have pumpkin pie spices in them--that does not work for me.  I like it savory-no pie flavors.

I've made butternut squash soup before, I used cumin as my seasoning and cream and it was good.  This recipe is a take on a dish my mom ordered at a Thai place in Mesa, AZ.  Instead of white potatoes in the curry, it had diced pumpkin.  This soup has most of the ingredients of a curry, but then it gets all pureed into a smooth and non-dairy soup.  This soup is a one-pot dish and can be done in about 30 minutes if you have a pressure cooker.


Ingredients

4 cups diced butternut squash
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 medium onion, rough dice
1 Tbs ginger, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 Tbs Curry paste (red is spicy, massaman is mild)
14 oz can coconut milk
14 oz can chicken broth
Cilantro, lime for garnish

In my electric pressure cooker, I turned it to the meat/saute feature and sauteed the diced onions in oil for about 5 minutes, then added the garlic, ginger and red curry paste and sauteed another minute.  Add in the chicken broth, coconut milk and diced raw butternut squash.  I put the lid on, pressed the stew button and adjusted the time to 20 minutes.  It took my cooker about 10 minutes to come to pressure and then it cooked for the 20 minutes.  I used the quick release method to reduce the pressure and open the pot.  If you have an immersion blender, you could puree the soup right in the pot--if not, scoop it into a blender and puree in batches (use a towel as a lid to avoid the blender lid popping off and soup flying everywhere).


You can doctor up each bowl of soup with diced cilantro, squeeze of lime, sriacha or even add some veggies (mushrooms, bok choy, gnocchis...hmmm all of those sound good at the moment).

This freezes well too.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Asian Noodle Soup

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Its winter.  It snowed so much on Christmas Day that they cancelled church--that never happens.  So its soup weather.  Maybe this is faux pho, or some version of ramen...whatever, its a tasty soup.  If your New Year's goals include trying new things, how about this one?

I made a whole pot of broth that I plan on tweaking for both this Asian soup as well as a tortilla soup.

Broth

1 lb chicken thighs with bones
1 lb pork with bone (I bought neck bones from the Latino market.  You could use spareribs cut up)
1 medium onion, rough chop
1Tbs fresh ginger, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
8-10 cups water

I used my electric pressure cooker to make the broth.  I set it to saute and sauteed the onions in vegetable oil until soft, then added the ginger and garlic for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Toss in the meat and add water to the max line of pressure cooker.  Set for 80 minutes. When done, strain through a fine strainer and set the solids aside.  I let my broth cool and scooped off the fat that floated to the top.

When the solids are cooled, you can pull off any chicken or pork meat and save to use in the soup.  Discard the rest.


Soup (1 serving)
1/4 c. Noodles, cooked (I used black rice noodles, but any kind you like are fine)
1/4 c. Meat
2-3 drops Sesame oil
1/2 Tbs. Soy sauce
Sriracha  to taste

Toppings:
Green onion, sliced
Mushrooms, thinly sliced
Bok Choy, sliced crosswise
Cilantro

Since I had broth in bulk, I measured out enough for my dinner (about 1 1/4 c.) and put in a small saucepan on med-high.  Doctor up the broth with the sesame oil, soy and sriracha.  Toss in the bok choy and mushrooms for about 1 minutes to soften them up.

Assemble

Put the noodles and meat in the bowl along with the toppings of your choice.  Pour the hot broth in and top with cilantro.  I have zero skill with chopsticks, so I used a spoon and a fork. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mickey Mouse Rice Crispy Treats

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You may have noticed my Disney theme lately...a recent trip is still in my memory and I'm trying to relive my vacation.  Tis the season for gifts for friends, neighbors and co-workers.  In my office, it can be comical how quickly a small gift shows up on your office chair when you've been around the corner only a moment (I have really great co-workers).  I decided to do some tasty treats for everyone (I have nearly 35 people in my department)--one treat is healthy clementines and the other is less healthy but very tasty: rice crispy treats. 

In the cafeteria in my building, they make the most delicious crispy treats.  Soft and chewy and buttery--oh so good (if you really want one, you have to wander down by 10am or risk them being all sold out by the time you get down to lunch).  I asked the Queen Crispy Treat Maker (Jamie) what the secret was--more marshmallow?  or butter?  or secret sauce?  Nope, she says.  Just don't melt all the marshmallows.  Instead reserve some of the marshmallows and stir them in with the cereal and the melted marshmallows.  Genius.


Ingredients
5 C. rice crispy cereal
16 oz pkg mini marshmallows (about 10 cups)
5 Tbs. butter
1/8 tsp salt


Before you start, line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper that you've sprayed with non-stick spray. (I used my 9x13 pan but didn't fill it on one end).

In a large pot melt the butter over medium heat then add 8 cups of the marshmallows and the salt.  Stir constantly until all melted and smooth.  Pour the cereal into the pot and stir a couple times, then dump in the rest of the marshmallows and stir everything up.
 



Dump the sticky mix onto the parchment lined pan and use a measuring cup or back of a big spoon to press into the pan (spray the cup/spoon with non-stick spray first).  Don't press too hard, just enough to have it stick together.  Cool completely.  Flip the cooled treats out of the pan and then use a Mickey Mouse sandwich or cookie cutter to make your cute treats.  I had to spray my hands and the cutter to keep them from sticking.




Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mickey Mouse Caramel Apples

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Do you love Disneyland like I do?  They just make everything so much fun.  I love wandering through bakery and sweet shops to see the adorable treats that they hand craft right there in Disneyland.

On my last trip, I fell in love with all the variety of caramel apples in the shapes of many of the characters--but nothing beats a classic Mickey Mouse.  They are priced around $15 a piece, which seems high--but its cheaper than a price to Disneyland, so if you are at home and want to take on a tasty--but time consuming--project, then this one is for you.




Supplies:

12 Small/medium size apples
2 lbs Peter's Caramel, cut into squares (I bought mine at Orson Gygi)
1 lb White chocolate coating
1.5 lbs Milk chocolate coating
1/2-1 c. Red Decorating Sugar
24 Yellow or white jelly beans
24 big marshmallows
12 caramel apple sticks

Prep
Scrub the wax coating off the apples (or the caramel won't stick).  I filled a sink with hot water and a bit of white vinegar and soaked the apples, then used a paper towel to wipe them down.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (not wax paper)

  • Push the stick into the apple, but don't let it go through the other side.
  • Melt the caramels in a microwave dish--I did one pound at a time.  Microwave in 30-60 bursts, stir and microwave again until all hot and melty.
  • Dip the apple into the caramel and swirl or use a silicone spatula to coat.  Lift the apple out and use the spatula to scrape caramel from the bottom of the apple.  Keep dripping, twirling and scraping the bottom and then place on the parchment sheet (that is so you don't end up with a puddle at the bottom of the apple).  Do 6 apples, then put in the fridge and get the rest of the caramel melted and do the last 6 apples. 
  • Add the "ears"  by heating up the caramel so its hot and sticky and dip one long side of the marshmallow to use as "glue" to hold the ear on the apple.  Repeat for the other ear.  You may need to hold the marshmallow in place for a minute to set. 
  • Let the caramel and marshmallow ears set up 10-15 min in the fridge.
  • While caramel is setting, clean out the bowl and get the milk chocolate coating melted.  Again, microwave in 30-60 second bursts until smooth and melted.  
  • Dip the caramel apple into the chocolate and swirl, spoon the chocolate over.  Pull the apple out and twirl/scrape the bottom and place back on the parchment.  Repeat until all apples are done.  Let cool completely.  
Now you have some decorating choices. 
To make the red shorts version:
  • Melt white chocolate in microwave
  • Dip the apple into the white chocolate so that it goes just about halfway up the apple.  
  • Shake off the excess white chocolate and scrape the bottom (Warning:   You will probably get some of the milk chocolate bleeding into the white chocolate bowl--no worries, its will get disguised with sugar). 
  • Do a second apple and then get ready to sugar the first apple (I discovered that if I worked with 2 at a time the chocolate was always soft enough to adhere the sugar--you don't want it to dry, otherwise the sugar won't stick)
  • Hold the first apple over a bowl with the  red decorating sugar, use a spoon and your fingers to roll the apple in the sugar and press it up to cover the white chocolate--then do the second apple.
  • Press the jelly beans into the still wet/soft red sugar and return it to the parchment.

Drizzle version:
Hold the milk chocolate coated apple over the bowl of melted white chocolate and use a fork or spoon to drizzle a string of white chocolate over the apple.

Package it up with a cellophane bag and some ribbon and yours are just like Disneyland's
 







Monday, December 5, 2016

My Favorite Disneyland Travel Tips

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I remember my first visit to Disneyland in 1977.  Not all of it...but pieces.  I remember riding Dumbo (and my mom not liking leaving the ground).  I remember eating a frozen chocolate dipped banana.  I remember it being magical.  I still love Disneyland.  Since that first visit I think I've been somewhere around 25 times! These are just my musings about what I like, what I skip, what I splurge on and how I save time and money.

Shows
See the Disneyland parade and the castle fireworks.  I'm not one for camping out for hours for a parade--and I don't love the "leave Grandma with 3 strollers, 2 blankets and 12 coats" to save a sidewalk spot. Instead, I ask a cast member what direction the parade is going (it either starts or ends by Its a Small World or Main Street) and plan on arriving at the starting side of the parade and take what I can find or I hit the train station platform and watch from above. Same deal with fireworks (the late fireworks are less busy). The Frozen musical show is pretty cute, but it is new and popular, so you’ll need a Fast Pass for it.  If you haven’t seen World of Color, then its worth seeing once (but if you have to choose between this and Disneyland fireworks, choose the fireworks).  You can get a FastPass, but I don't like to be that close, because you get wet.

Food
I have some real passion for Disneyland food.  I usually get any and all of these items.
Corndog (you can order it by itself, even though it sounds like you have to have the meal)
Dole Whip from Tiki Room
Matterhorn Macaroon from Jolly Holiday Bakery on Main
Mickey Beneigts in New Orlean’s Square
Soft Serve Cone from Cozy Cone 
Mickey Waffles at the Carnation Cafe
Caramel Apple (and I learned to make my own, here)



Rides I love
Disneyland:
  • Haunted Mansion—Holiday overlay (mixes Nightmare Before Christmas)
  • Small World-Christmas (other times of the year I skip it)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Buzz Light Year Astro Blasters
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye
  • Splash Mountain (if its warm—otherwise no, because you get wet)
  • Matterhorn (the left side line is usually shorter)
     Skip:
  • Finding Nemo Submarines-unless there is zero wait.  Its just not that interesting--animated Nemo images are on the window in front of you and you can see the water's surface if you look up.
  • Toon Town—its for smaller kids--but Mickey and Minnie have houses there so you might want to catch a character greeting.

California Adventure

  • Animation Station—they do drawing lessons every 20 minutes—I LOVE this.  They list the characters they will teach on a board out front, so choose the one you like.  
  • Cars Land—The ride is amazing.  Get there first thing in the morning for no wait.  Get the FastPass.  Or do the single rider line.  Be sure to go back at night to see the neon lights.
  • Tower of Terror—hop on, its changing its themeing to Marvel next year
  • Soarin' over the World—love, love, love this one.  You’ll need to Fast Pass it. I always do this one twice.
  • Toy Story Mania—I love it, but the line is always 40+ minutes and no Fast Pass available
  • California Screamin’ if you like fast and upside down roller coasters, you'll like this one
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree—its a toned down tea cup ride, so I manage it
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Ariel’s Undersea Adventure—cute, calm and never a long wait
  • Grizzly River Run—you will get wet

Skip:
  • Luigi’s Rockin' Roadsters (unless there is less than 5 min wait).  Its really short, isn't fun and has irritating music the whole time. 
  • Mickey’s Ferris Wheel—it takes FOREVER and is not entertaining

Shops:
I love looking at all the Disney stuff.  You can see most of it in the Downtown Disney World of Disney—but the Emporium on Main also has  most of it as does Eli and Co in California Adventure.


My other tips

1.  Pick the right time to go
If the park is super crowded, you won't be able to ride as many rides--because you'll be in line or fighting your way through huge crowds.  I typically head to Disneyland in mid-September or end of January.  I prefer to go in the middle of the week--crowds are lowest on Tues/Wed.

2.  Get to the park early
No matter what time of year you go, the first couple hours that the park is open is the least busy.  Line waits are often just 5-10 minutes.  If you can, get there and do the non- Fast Pass rides (like all those Fantasy Land rides) before the lines are 45 minutes long.

3.  Use the Fast Passes
At Disneyland you can only do Fast Passes once you are at the park and you can only hold one at a time (technically).  I like to grab the hard to get Fast Pass first thing and then start riding rides as soon as the park opens--I can usually get my first Fast Pass, go ride 2-3 rides then use my first Fast Pass and be eligible for my next Fast Pass by 11:30am.  There are some exceptions to the one Fast Pass rule--things like World of Color is separate from regular rides.  Also, Fast Passes at Disneyland are not connected to those at California Adventure, so you could possibly hit one park, grab passes, then run across the plaza to the other park and get another Fast Pass there.

4.  Find the shorter food line
Two of my favorite food items at Disneyland are the corn dog and the Dole whip.  The most popular place to get the corn dog is the Little Red Wagon on Main Street at Disneyland.  Sometimes the line is 30 people long.  You can find the exact same corn dog at the Golden Horseshoe cafe in Frontierland just a 5 minute walk from the Wagon (if you are DCA, the corn dogs are over by Goofy's Sky School).  The Dole Whip is only at the Tikki show--and the line outside is typically longer than the one inside.  So go into the waiting area for the show, order your Dole Whip and then choose to go to the show (or not).

5.  Use the single rider line
If your goal is to ride as many rides as possible and you don't care if you sit with your group, use the single rider line.  Splash Mountain and Indiana Jones at DL have single riders.  At DCA more rides offer single rider,  like California Screamin',  Grizzly River Rapids, Goofy Sky School, Soarin' over the World and Radiator Racers.  I've had great experiences at all of the single rider lines except at Soarin'--for some reason more than any other rides, the employees seem to treat the single riders poorly (the wait is sometimes just as long as the regular line).

6.  Ice water is free
On a hot day ice water is delicious.  Walk up to any counter service restaurant and ask for a cup of ice water--you get an 8 oz cup with a lid and straw.  I've done the "bring a backpack" and have water bottles and snacks--which is great, but if you don't want to haul a bag--go get the free water. I never feel bad about only asking for water...after all, I paid close to $100 a day to be there. 

7.  Bring a stroller
If you've got kids, bring a stroller.  Even a kid who doesn't use a stroller at home any more will at some point need a break from all the walking.  Sometimes I wish I had a stroller for me--but then I don't want to be that lady who can't drive her Jazzy chair and keep crashing into things (another tip:  I've seen many frustrated older folks try to use the scooters...maybe take Grandma to the grocery store before the trip to try out driving a scooter in advance). 

8.  Bring snacks.  You can bring a backpack or bag with snacks--which is good when you don't want to spend $5 on a churro.  Pretty much all the standard motel rooms near the park have fridges and microwaves in every room.  If you have a car (or use Uber) head to Target one mile from the park and pick up drinks, snacks or maybe even stuff for cereal and sandwiches.  Von's Grocery will also deliver.  There is also a really nice Walgreens and CVS on the corner of Harbor and Katella. 

9. Where to stay? Well, that depends on how you want to do Disney and who is in your group.  I like to stay within 1 mile of the park (usually much closer) so that I can walk and not have to do shuttles or pay for parking (because thousands of people all want to use the same shuttle when the park closes).  If you have small kids and plan on a mid-day break, stay close enough to walk back and forth without a shuttle.  If you think you can power through the day without a break, then you can stay a bit further out and get some pretty nice value-add perks for less cost.

Unless you are staying at the Disneyland Hotel (and if budget isn't an issue, its pretty fun--and the pool is great), you will be entering the park at the East pedestrian entrance.  Any of the motels on Harbor Blvd between the Howard Johnson and the Grand Legacy are the closest for walking distance.  Anywhere along Harbor to the Convention Center is still "walkable"--but you won't want to after a long day at the park.  There is a community shuttle called the ART that serves all the motels, but I think its kind of expensive and it can be frustrating to stop at multiple hotels on the way--making the trip 20+ minutes.  I've stayed at Tropicanna, HoJo, Candy Cane, Alpine Inn, Cortona, Marriott, Hilton, Homewood all within the past couple years.  The Candy Cane Inn has their own shuttle and breakfast--so you don't have to stop at every motel on the way to the park and back.  The Hilton Homewood Suites is awesome (huge hot breakfast and free dinner)--and if you don't want to walk the 15 minutes, you could pop into the Toy Story parking lot and ride the Disney parking lot shuttle.  Tropicanna is really close, but they have no value-adds other than being close but they charge for parking.  HoJo has a nice pool for kids, but no free breakfast.  Alpine Inn is close to the Convention Center and its about a 12 minute walk to the crosswalk in front of Disney and offers cold cereal and whole fruit for breakfast.  Check out TripAdvisor.com to look at reviews and photos to see what motels might fit your personality style best.  I've used most of them close to the park and my experience is I can live with any of them.  Some have nicer perks like breakfast and free parking, but I can live with any of them.

10. To rent a car or not? I've done both. Sometimes I want to head to the beach, or I'm only there 1 night, so a cheap rental might be the best way.  My last trip it would have been slightly less expensive to rent a car than use Uber, but the line at the rental desk and the time it takes to return the car made me decide against rental this time.  The Disney Resort Express bus is really easy--and around $40 per adult round trip.  The bus serves the Orange County and LAX airports and goes to the Disneyland Hotel first and then stops at others (on the way back it picks up at the DLH last and then straight to the airport).  The nice thing about the Disney Bus is that you don't need car seats.  I have used Uber and Lyft from the Orange County airport and it was slick--and inexpensive.  If everyone in your group is beyond the car seat stage, Uber can be a good choice.  It cost me about $17 to ride to my motel across from Disneyland.  I used Lyft once to pick me up at my motel that was 1 mile from the park and have them drop me at the drop off lot on Harbor ($4 and no waiting for a shuttle with the hoards--and you can have 4 people in the car).  I used Uber to pick me up too, but I went across the street to the Panera where it was less crowded.
 

 I love going to Disneyland!  I recently returned from Disney World in Florida, and I had a good time--but I still prefer Disneyland!  I hope you have a wonderful Disney trip.



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Vintage Truck Christmas Printable

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I've been loving the vintage truck design for Christmas for a few years--so I finally got around to making a print for my mantle.  Its sized to print 8x10.  It would also work as a card or a gift tag.  Hope you enjoy it.


Click the link to download


Vintage Red Christmas Truck


Friday, October 28, 2016

Oktoberfest: Cheese Spaetzle

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I was traveling in Munich, Germany this summer.  I enjoyed stopping at many small cafes and local joints to try all kinds of food.  I can't say that brats are ever going to make my top 10 foods--but the Kaesespaetzle  probably will.  Everything about my first time with this dish is great--nice summer evening, outdoor restaurant with bright orange umbrellas, leisurely conversation with good friends--and then came this cheesey-carb-loaded nirvana!  I can't believe I've lived my whole life without ever having the German dish spaetzle!  Spaetzle is a cross between fresh pasta and a dumpling and you can prepare it sauteed with seasonings or eat it like it did--smothered in decadent cheese and crispy onions.


I'm not a souvenir kind of person--so I brought things like chocolate, gummi candy and cheese home from my trip.  For this recipe I used an aged Dutch gouda--but any delicious melty cheese would be good (emmentaler is recommend in many other online recipes).  I went looking for recipes and most had you make the noodles and then just layer it with cheese and bake it.  I know the one I ate in Munich was more than just cheese--it had more creaminess than that. I did find a few references in some recipes that added cream and butter as well as cheese.  I improvised a bit and made a bit of a roux that would help stablize the cheese sauce during the oven baking time.

Spaetzle

500 grams flour (its about 3.5 cups)
5 eggs
250 mL water (around 1 1/8 c.).  I actually used about 1 cup water with 1/8 c. half and half

This made a TON of dough.  Next time I'd cut the recipe in half (I ended up with enough for probably 8-10 servings of cooked spaetzle).  The rule of thumb is 1 egg, 100 g flour and 50 mL of water.  (I have a kitchen scale).   Mix up the 3 ingredients and you'll have a very thick, sticky dough.  I let it sit on the counter for about an hour while I did other prep like grate cheese or chop onions.

I do not have spaetzle press, so I used the "old school" method of putting the dough on a cutting board and slicing off small ropes of dough with a spatula.  It took me a while to get it figured out, but keeping the dough in a rectangle about 2 inches across worked nicely. I also learned that the heat of the steam and water at the edge of the board (and on the spatula) helps the dough un-stick from the spatula.




You drop the dough straight from the cutting board into boiling water and let it cook for about 2 minutes (until the noodles float).  Fish them out with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.  From here you can then drain your spaetzle and saute them in butter and eat them...or do like me and add cheese.

Cheese sauce
1/2-1 lb grated gouda, emmentaler or other sharp flavored melting cheese
2 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. flour
1/2 c. half and  half
1/4 c. diced onions


I pulled out my cast iron skillet and slowly sauteed some diced onion.  Once they were nice and brown (but not burned) I put the onions on a plate and added butter to the pan and a spoonful of flour.  I cooked the flour mix for about 30 seconds and then added about 1/2 cup of half and half and added the cooked spaetzle (since my recipe made WAY more than I can possibly eat, I used about 3-4 cups of noodles).  Then I added the shredded cheese.  I used Gouda that I brought home from Europe and I added about close to a pound of shredded cheese.  I sprinkled onions on top and then put the whole thing in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.


Yeah, its good stuff.  I added a bit more cheese to my plate when I dished it up--because why not?  Nice way to celebrate Oktoberfest.