Sunday, February 12, 2017

Comfort Food: Cacio e Pepe

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Once upon a time I celebrated a milestone birthday by traveling to France and Italy.  I pretty much ate my way through every town I visited.  When I reached Rome, I enjoyed a lunch break on a very rainy day at a tiny restaurant.  I ordered a very basic dish, Cacio e Pepe, which is a more mature version of mac and cheese--but easy and super tasty.

This is easy to whip up in about 15 minutes and you can make it for one or for a family just as easily.  Chances are you probably have all these ingredients in your house all the time.

Ingredients (serving for 1)
4 oz long pasta noodles
2 Tbs butter
1-1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded (don't use the green can stuff)

Get your water boiling and add about 2 tsp of salt and toss in your pasta.  When its cooked to your liking, slide the pot off to the side and put a skillet on the hot burner.  Melt the butter and add the pepper.  Stir and then use tongs to add the cooked noodles.  Stir around and add about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.  Remove the skillet from the heat and toss in about 1/4 cup of Parmesan and stir until creamy (if you add the cheese on the heat, it will get clumpy instead). 

You are ready to eat!  Buon appetito!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Pressure Cooker Chile Verde Soup

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I am loving my electric pressure cooker.  I  bought one last year on Black Friday with deals, coupons, etc... so it was less than $50.  I'm finding its awesome for slower-cooker style meals without needing the advanced planning (I am at work early, so sometimes getting a meal in the slow cooker before work isn't practical).

This is a soup recipe, but if you left out the beans, and cooked it down a bit--it would make really awesome sauce for burritos too. 

1.5 lb pork, cut into small cubes
1 medium onion, diced
1  can green enchilada sauce
1  can low sodium chicken broth
1 Tbs cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp oregano
1 Tbs corn starch, dissolved in 2 Tbs of water.
8 4 oz. cans diced green chilies.  Puree 4 of the cans and leave the others diced.
1 Tbs green or red pepper hot sauce
1/2 one jalapeƱo, seeded and chopped
1-2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

sour cream
tortillas or corn chips
shredded jack cheese

Turn the electric pressure cooker to the meat/sautee function and toss in the pork and onions (use 1 Tbs vegetable oil if your pork is lean).  Brown meat for 3-4 minutes.  Dump all the ingredients except the beans and the garnish into the pot and stir until mixed.  Put the lid on the pot and press the soup/stew button and adjust the cook time to 25 minutes.  When the timer goes off, use the quick pressure release and open the pot and add in the beans.

Serve with warm flour tortillas, corn chips, shredded cheese, sour cream and cilantro.  Freezes nicely too.

I tried this with chicken and I didn't love it as much (not enough fat..maybe if I used chicken thighs).  I usually buy the least expensive pork I can find--the pressure cooker makes it cook up tender and delicious.  Buying the chilies in 4 oz cans can be pricey--your store might have frozen ones in the freezer section.  My Hispanic grocery store carried a 32 oz can that was economical.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

RunDisney: A runner's review

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I like running races--it helps keep me motivated to run regularly and keep up my training.  The 5K is my favorite distance, but a 10K is a nice challenge and I try to do at least one half marathon a year.  My very first half marathon was the Disneyland 1/2 Marathon--which was super fun, but I have to say, not a wise choice for my first 13.1 mile run (it was far from home, had 17,000 or so runners and really threw my training off). hooked me on the RunDisney races.  I already love Disneyland--so it shouldn't be surprising that the House of Mouse makes even running more fun.

Since that first 1/2 marathon, I've done a few more RunDisney races and I'm scheduled to do another one in May.

Check out all the different races that are available at

In General, no matter which park  you are running at:

  • Registration is usually 9 months out and they don't have deferrments if your plans change.  Sign up for email alerts at for reminders about registrations (Annual Pass holders can register before the general public). Races sell out quickly.  Shorter races sell out the fastest.  Be online the moment registration opens and be prepared with your credit card.
  • Speaking of credit cards, these races are spendy.  5K's are around $85.  The registration does NOT include a park pass--if you want to play after the race, you'll need to buy a park pass. 
  • Costumes are encouraged.  Pick your favorite character or quote and wear it while you run.  There are some guidelines like no masks or really long costumes--but I wouldn't want to run in that kind of get up anyway (I like to run in a costume that is a nod to a character, but that won't wobble, rub, slip, jingle, bonk or otherwise annoy me or others while I run).  
  • Its one big photo shoot.  If you care about how fast your time is, you'll have to set that aside for a Disney Race (probably).  There are thousands of runners, and you'll get assigned a corral and each corral will start about 5-10 minutes after the previous group.  There are characters and photo ops along the course, so you may want to stop and take advantage.  
  • The medals and t-shirts are really fun.  Pay attention when you register to the shirt size options (some are men/women sizing, others will be unisex)--its tricky to change a shirt if you don't like the size you get.  Feel free to wear the shirt and the medal in the park after your race, LOTS of people do and cast members will offer you a congrats (and at my last race, several stores in Disney Springs offered free swag or discounts to runners with their medals).  

  • When you cross the finish line, you'll get a snack box.  There will also be stations for water, or bags of ice for any sore spots.  

  • You will get crazy enough to do more than one race in one weekend.  Disney even has a name for it--the Dopey Challenge (5K, 10K, 13.1 and 26.2 all in the same week).  I've done two in one weekend.  I'm setting the goal to do the Coast to Coast (a half or full marathon in each of the parks in the same calendar year).

Disneyland Races
  • Transportation is a breeze here--stay at a hotel within walking distance and you can arrive at your required 4:30-5:30 am check in time easily. 
  • For the 5K and the 10K, your run will be almost entirely within the two parks (a little bit of run around the parking lot and the plaza between the parks).  The Half Marathon is a little less magical with the majority of the race out on the roads of Anaheim--but the run through Angel Stadium was fun. 

Disney World Races
  • Stay on a Disney property if you can--all of them provide bus transportation to the race expo and starting line.  There will be road closures, so why add to the stress of running by trying to drive and park (at 3:30 in the morning).  
  • There are tons of volunteers to help you figure out the transportation, how to find the Race Expo, how to pick up your stuff and how to get to your corral.  
  • It is humid and the potential for lightening is high.  Races can be cancelled, delayed (or shortened) if lightening is going on. 

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.


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.


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

Green onion, sliced
Mushrooms, thinly sliced
Bok Choy, sliced crosswise

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.


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.

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.


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

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