Arnie’s Avocado Cilantro Hummus

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We live in this incredible neighborhood.  We’ve been in the same house for over 24 years and many of our neighbors have been in the ‘hood for that long too.  We moved in on Kyle’s second birthday (he’s now 26) and I was pregnant with our daughter Ally.

We have a Fourth of July block party and a holiday progressive party where we go from one house to another for different courses.  Kyle tagged it the “holiday REgressive” because, well, in addition to really great food, there’s a lot of wine involved too and the final house (Arnie & Adrienne’s) always serves Glug (or Gløgg?), a very potent mulled wine.

You’ll often find a box of lemons or limes or grapefruits or zucchini with a sign that says, “free…take some” by the mailboxes.  We bring each other fish from fishing trips and herbs from our gardens, pickles and baked goods from our kitchens.

We take care of each other when there’s a surgery or a health issue or the loss of a loved one.  About a month ago, Arnie had knee surgery and then his wife Adrienne was out of town for a couple days, so we brought him all the fixings for a carnitas dinner.  I saw Arnie driving the other day (yay…he’s driving!).  He stopped me to thank me for the carnitas and said he really needed help getting tangelos and Meyer lemons from his trees.  So of course I sent Tony, who after climbing a ladder to help pick fruit, came home with two grocery bags full!!!

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Tangelos and Meyer lemons. Thanks Arnie!!

AND a little container of Arnie’s homemade Avocado Cilantro Hummus.  Wowee.  Pleasant (and very delicious) surprise.  OMG.  I couldn’t stop eating it.  He even included the recipe and told Tony, “tell Cheryl its from my blog.  Ha ha.”  (Everyone’s a comedian).

So here it is.  Arnie’s recipe.  (But I’m not sharing the Meyer lemons!)

Avocado Cilantro Hummus

INGREDIENTS

2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 15-ounce can, drained)

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of 1 medium sized lemon (about 3 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon tahini**

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium Haas avocado, cut in half, pit removed, and flesh scooped out

1  cup cilantro leaves (don’t skimp on the cilantro…I noticed that my batch was not nearly as green as Arnie’s.  When I asked him about it, he said, “did you really pack the cilantro?  Really pack it.  Don’t skimp.”)

Pinch of cayenne (optional – I did add it and a good sized pinch)

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Place the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, tahini and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor and puree until smooth, Add the avocado and cilantro, and puree until very creamy. Add more olive oil or a couple of tablespoons of water for thinner consistency, if desired).  I do like my hummus a little thinner, and ended up adding about two additional tablespoons olive oil and two tablespoons water.  My lemon was small, so I squeezed another half.)  Season to taste with salt & pepper. Chill the hummus before serving.

**Arnie says “don’t buy ready-made tahini.  Buy several ounces of sesame seeds and toast them in the oven at 350 degrees until just golden, not brown.  Add a little olive oil and puree in food processor.  Store in fridge for subsequent batches.”  Sorry Arnie.  I used store-bought.

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Matzo Crack (aka Chocolate Caramel Matzo Toffee/Brittle/Crunch

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Caramel Matzoh Crunch. Caramel Chocolate Matzo. Chocolate Matzo Bark. Chocolate Matzo Brittle. Chocolate Matzo Crunch. David Lebovitz calls it Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzah Crunch. Martha calls it Toffee Chocolate Matzah (yes, even Martha has her own variation!) Smitten Kitchen calls it Chocolate Caramel Matzo Crack(ers). My friend Dale makes a real jacked up version, which she calls Matzo Roca and swears that the recipe is the same as Almond Roca. (And, yes, there are almost as many variations in the way to spell matzo as there are recipes!)

Whatever you call this Passover confection, most of the recipes involve the same basic ingredients – matzo, brown sugar, butter and chocolate. I use Smitten Kitchen’s recipe (which she says she adapted from “David Lebovitz who adapted it from Marcy Goldman who is the genius who first applied this to matzo”) and we just call it Matzo Crack because, well, uh it’s pretty addicting.

I made a couple of batches for Passover and the leftovers were in a huge Ziploc bag in the fridge and every single time I opened the fridge I’d take a piece (or two). It was becoming a problem. Thank goodness for the monthly work potluck! Needless to say, now all my coworkers are addicted. Everyone loved it. Many didn’t even realize there was matzo involved. And they begged me to put it on the blog. So here it is. It’s unbelievably easy. I’m tellin’ you, it’s so good, it doesn’t have to be just for Passover. In fact, SK says try it with saltine crackers. Oh boy. I’m in trouble.

Matzo Crack

INGREDIENTS

4 to 6 sheets matzo

1 cup (2 sticks, or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into a few large pieces

1 cup packed light brown sugar

a big pinch sea salt

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips

1 cup toasted chopped almonds, pecans, walnuts or nut of your choice (optional)

Extra sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Line an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet completely with foil, and then line the base of the foil with parchment paper, cut to fit.

Line the bottom of the baking sheet with matzo. You’ll need to break pieces to fit in extra spaces.

In a medium heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil. Once it has begun boiling, let it bubble for three more minutes, stirring it well. It will thicken a bit as it cooks. Remove from the heat and add the salt and vanilla, and then quickly pour it over the matzo or crackers. You’ll want to spread it quickly, as it will begin to set as soon as it is poured.

Bake the caramel-covered crackers for approximately 15 minutes, watching carefully as it will bubble and the corners might darken too quickly and/or burn. You can reduce the heat if you see this happening.

Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand five minutes, and then spread them evenly across the caramel. An offset spatula works great here. If you’re using them, sprinkle the chocolate with toasted chopped nuts and/or sea salt.

Once completely cool — I sometimes speed this process up in the fridge, impatient as should be expected in the face of caramel crack(ers) — break it into pieces and store it in a container or Ziploc in the fridge. It’ll keep for as long as you can avoid eating it all.

Tally Me Banana Bread

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The other day, at the end of the work day,  I was sitting in my cubicle and heard people laughing and talking about banana bread.  So of course, I assumed there was some banana bread to be had and made a B-line for the office where the laughing and talking was coming from.  I was a little disappointed to see only a big box of past-their-prime bananas that were definitely ready to be made into banana bread.  I actually had been thinking about Smitten Kitchen’s “jacked up banana bread” and the following day we were having one of our monthly potlucks, so I grabbed a couple of bunches.   I didn’t catch the story of why or where the bananas came from, but when someone else asked the banana bearing coworker why she had so many bananas, naturally, I broke into my best Harry Belafonte “come Mr. Tally Man…tally me banana!”  Lol.  Hey.  It was the end of the day.

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So I get home with all of these bananas and Tony asks what I’m planning on doing with them.  I told him I’m going to make banana bread for the potluck.  He says, “you know how much I love banana bread, why don’t you ever make it for me?  You always bake the good stuff for work.”  (Right.  Same man who rolls his eyes and says things like, “what are we supposed to do with so many cookies/brownies/a whole cake?”)  Well…lucky for Tony I just happened to have a package of little aluminum foil mini-loaf pans.  I made three mini loaves, took two to work and left one just for him.  He was a happy camper.  (And, I still have a bunch of bananas in the freezer…Acai bowl????)

SK’s recipe is just about the best banana bread I’ve ever had.  And its really easy.  One bowl and a wooden spoon.  The only thing I change is that I add walnuts.  And name given this recipe by Deb of SK is “Elise’s Friend Heidi’s Friend Mrs. Hockmeyer’s Banana Bread, As Jacked Up by Deb (adapted from Simply Recipes)”.  That’s a little long.  Let’s just call it Tally Me Banana Bread.

Tally Me Banana Bread

INGREDIENTS

3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed

1/3 cup salted butter, melted

3/4 to 1 cup light brown sugar (depending on the level of sweetness you prefer)

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)

1 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

pinch of ground cloves

1-1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (divided use)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon, then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix. If using walnuts, stir in 1/2 cup now.  Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup walnuts on top. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Acai Bowl with Tropically Inspired Everyday Granola…and a little Aloha

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Tony and I recently went to Oahu, Hawaii.  Well, actually, Tony was there on business (my father-in-law owns a commercial property in Honolulu and for the past year or so, Tony has been helping out with the property management) and I was finally able to “tag along” and flew over to meet him for a few days.

We had a really great time exploring the island.  We drove to the North Shore one day and just happened upon the Volcom Pipe Pro surf contest at Banzai Pipeline.  THAT was very cool.

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Volcom Pipe Pro, Pipeline, North Shore, Oahu

We did a couple of really beautiful hikes…on the Kanealole Trail in the rainforest and all the way to the top of Diamond Head crater.  We even spent a little time just relaxing on Waikiki Beach and watching spectacular sunsets from our lanai.

Kanealole Trail

Kanealole Trail

View from the top of Diamond Head

View from the top of Diamond Head

Sunset at Duke's

Sunset at Duke’s

And, I guess it goes without saying, we ate some really good food too – fabulous dinners at Town (by far my favorite…the Salted Chocolate Pretzel Tart was to die for!) and Nico’s at Pier 38; mai tai’s and a gorgeous sunset at Duke’s and a yummy and healthy lunch at the very hip Fresh.  I even had my first ever Acai bowl from the Tropical Tribe food truck…which brings me to the point of this post.

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Acai.  Pronounced ah-sah-yee.  The latest “superfood” that’s been popping up in health food stores and breakfast cafes and smoothie shops.  The berries are supposedly good for everything…anti-aging, weight loss, and overall health.  They come from acai palm trees found in Central and South America.  I admit I’m usually pretty skeptical anytime anything is called a superfood (I tried the goji berry and blech!) and it wasn’t really on my list of top five things to do in Hawaii, but the young Brazilian guy who owns Tropical Tribe is considering leasing space from my father-in-law, so Tony suggested we go by and give it a try.  So we did.  We had just finished our Diamond Head hike and were pretty hungry.  They do acai shakes and bowls…we opted for the bowl, served with granola, a little fruit and drizzled with honey.  It was a delicious, healthy and satisfying mid-morning snack.

So, upon returning to San Diego, I was inspired to make my own acai bowl, but frankly, didn’t know much about acai or where to even buy it.  I Googled and must have found a hundred different recipes.  And, as it turns out, our local health food store carries acai in the frozen individual puree packets.  (Apparently, you can also buy it in juice form and even sorbet.)  So I bought some and played around and experimented with a couple of different recipes.

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You’re basically just making a really thick smoothie.  The instructions on the brand I bought said to just break up the frozen packet and put it in a blender with some frozen fruit, a little liquid (if needed) and a little sweetener (if desired).  Well, I don’t know if it’s because our blender is about a thousand years old, but those frozen chunks of acai weren’t going anywhere at first!  I had to let them defrost a bit.  Then I blended the acai, frozen fruit and juice together until smooth; added half a banana and some agave syrup.  I topped it with some Everyday Granola (new tropically inspired version!), sliced banana and strawberry.  Is it a superfood?  Am I aging less?  Lol.  that has yet to be seen, but it is yumminess and aloha in a bowl!

Acai Bowl with Tropically Inspired Everyday Granola…and a little Aloha

(makes one large serving or two smallish servings)

INGREDIENTS

1 3.5-ounce pouch frozen acai puree

1 cup frozen fruit (any combination of your faves.  I used a berry medley and pineapple)

1/4 cup orange juice

1 whole banana, peeled and cut in half (divided use)

1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey (or more or less, adjust to your taste)

1/2 cup Everyday Granola (Tropically Inspired version…see below)

1/2 cup your favorite fresh fruit

DIRECTIONS

Defrost acai packet slightly (if you have a really powerful blender, you probably can skip this step) and put in blender.  Add about a cup of your favorite frozen fruits.  Pour in orange juice (you might need more or less of this too, depending on the thickness you want).  Blend until smooth.  Cut half of the banana into big chunks; add to blender.  Add agave or honey.  Blend again until everything is incorporated and smooth.

Spoon into a bowl (or two) and top with Everyday Granola (tropically inspired version, see below, or regular); the other half a banana, sliced, and whatever other fresh fruit you like (berries are really good).

PS…Tropically Inspired Everyday Granola

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While we were in Hawaii, I bought some plain Greek yogurt and a bag of really expensive tropical granola to have for breakfast, while sitting on our lanai watching the sun rise over Waikiki & Diamond Head.

Sunrise over Diamond Head

Sunrise over Diamond Head

The granola wasn’t as good as Everyday Granola, of course, but it did have big pieces of macadamia nuts in it. I love macadamias!  Our friends Chip & Dale have a macadamia tree in their backyard and if you’ve ever wondered why macadamia nuts are so expensive, ask Chip & Dale about the whole process of picking them and shelling them and dehydrating them and husking them.  Oy. I mean, I’m talking over 7300 nuts this year!!!  We were the lucky recipients of a bag of macadamias, which I had been dying to use.  Ah ha moment…tropical granola.  So I made a batch of Everyday Granola, substituting the macs for pecans and a tropical dried fruit mix (kiwi, pineapple, mango, papaya) instead of my usual dried cranberries and golden raisins.

Aloooooo-HA!

Truffled Popcorn

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Carole, my Birthday Buddy at work, gave me a bottle of black truffle oil (and some delicious dark chocolate crisp thingies and an adorable apron) and I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it.  You see truffled this and truffled that everywhere now.  My brother-in-law Josh makes a yummy truffled mac & cheese.  I had a really delicious appetizer called Truffled Egg Toast (sorta like a French toast, only truffley, with fontina cheese and asparagus) the other night at Davanti Enoteca.

But I wanted to come up with something clever for New Year’s Eve.  I’m bringing an appetizer and a dessert to the party we’re going to (okay, it’s Chip & Dale’s party.  Yep…friends of ours whose actual names are Chip and Dale.  The first time we went to their house for dinner, I told our then 15-year-old daughter that we were going to Chip & Dale’s for dinner.  She made a horrible face and said, “gross…you’re going to Chippendales?  For dinner?  Do they even have food?”  Lol!!!)

Okay, again I digress.  I’m already doing Sam’s Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs and a Chocolate and Mixed Nut Tart.  But what to do with the truffle oil? Then I remembered that there’s a newish restaurant here called Brooklyn Girl and they serve different gourmet popcorns as a snack before dinner.  The night we were there it was something curry.  So how about a truffled popcorn?  And I had seen some cute little popcorn boxes at Cost Plus!  Bingo.  And did you know that Trader Joe’s even sells organic popcorn kernels?

So I searched and pulled a few different recipes (from Martha, Ina Garten, the Washington Post and Epicurious) and came up with this.  How fun will this be for New Year’s Eve?  Plus…it’s a rainy day in San Diego.  Tony’s at the Charger-Raider game.  I’m going to be able to sample it while watching “The Five Year Engagement”.  HA!

Truffled Popcorn

INGREDIENTS

2 cups popped popcorn

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon truffle oil

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Kosher salt & pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

You can pop the popcorn however you like.  I experimented first with Trader Joe’s micro popcorn.  Each mini bag makes about two cups.  If you’re using kernels, 1/4 cup kernels will yield about 8 cups of popped popcorn.

Heat the butter and truffle oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted and warmed through.

Place the freshly popped popcorn in a large bowl.  Add the butter/truffle oil and toss well.  Add the cheese and parsley; toss to distribute evenly.  Season with salt & pepper.

Serve in cute cardboard popcorn boxes or mini paper bags.