Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Product Placement Wednesday - The Amber Special

I realize that I have been taking some liberties with the "products" lately and this week will be no different. This week's product is in honor of my dear friend Amber who sadly passed away a year ago.

Amber was the type of girl that would light up a room just by entering it. Her energy was infectious and her smile was naturally perfect. You would want to hate her for having been spared the agony of braces but she was too nice to hate. While I met Amber in 5th grade, our friendship grew over the years and we graduated high school as dear friends. It wasn't until 2007 that we had our "friendaissance" and started traveling together with our other fabulous friend Megan. Traveling with Amber is where I first learned of today's product - The Amber Special.

Amber actually called "The Amber Special" the "Airport Special" and swore that you could go into any airport bar and they would know what you were talking about. Turns out that was not true but it didn't matter. According to Amber if you asked for the "Airport Special" you would get a special price on a beer & shot combo. We started joking that it was really just "The Amber Special" and once she passed away a mission was determined. Megan and I decided that the beer & shot combo that Amber so fondly referred to as the "Airport Special" should be known across the world as "The Amber Special".

That leads us to how you can help keep her memory alive. If you find yourself having the opportunity to order a beer and a shot together, make sure to call it "The Amber Special" and explain to the bartender why. It is really amazing how things like this can become viral.

I encourage you to have "The Amber Special" in honor of Amber on September 3 which is the day she left us. But only this year! From then on the day to have them going forward is her birthday - November 11. If you want to make it extra "Amber" be sure to stick an already chewed piece of gum on the side of your glass to save for "later".

Another great way to honor her life would be to become an organ donor. Amber was an organ donor but the realities of actually donating your organs is very complicated. Thankfully she was able to give the gift of sight to one or two people. That being said, you do not have to wait until the end of your life to give. Almost everyone is eligible to be a bone marrow donor and it is a very simple proceedure to register. I encourage you to click here to find out more. Amber was a very selfless and generous person so this is an amazing way to honor her memory.

I miss you girl.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Bachelorette Dinner, Part 5

Yes, the most recent season of The Bachelorette is over (thank goodness) but there are still some delightful dishes to share! This particular week we supplemented our homemade dishes with Trader Joe's Balsamic Rosemary Chicken. If you haven't tried it yet, I highly recommend it for a quick and delicious dinner.

Kale Salad with Tahini Dressing
3 cups kale, chopped
1/2 cup edamame, shelled
1/2 cup garbanzo beans
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
3/4 cup kalamata olives, sliced & pitted
1 green onion sliced
1/4 cup fennel seed
handful parsley, chopped

Tahini Dressing
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, roasted

1. Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl.
2. Combine dressing ingredients in a separate bowl.
3. Just prior to serving, add a little water to dressing while stirring constantly to thin out.
3. Top with dressing and mix well.

Caprese Style Couscous
1 cup whole wheat couscous
20 mini heirloom tomatoes
1/3 cup fat free feta
6 large basil leaves, chiffonade
splash olive oil
sea salt
ground pepper

1. Cook couscous according to package instructions. Allow to cool.
2. Cut up heirloom tomatoes into small pieces.
3. Combine couscous, tomatoes, feta and basil.
4. Drizzle with olive oil and top with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Stir and serve.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Iron Chef West Hollywood, Part 3

As promised, here is the best in the recent "Iron Chef West Hollywood" series! The secret ingredients were: portobello mushroom, kale, chopped cucumber, roasted garlic, red grapes and almonds. Yes, these were a lot of items to work with but that don't really go together. Once I had the secret ingredients I did a quick scan of what I had and decided that kale and tomatoes went together. This brought me to Real Simple's Enhanced Recipe Search where I found the great pasta dish below! We made some changes (of course) so rather than write out the entire recipe, I have just noted our changes.

1. As we were only making two servings, we adjusted portions of ingredients accordingly.

2. Ingredient substitutions: baby heirloom tomatoes for grape tomatoes, roasted garlic for regular garlic, and parmesan for pecorino cheese.

3. Prep changes: Since the garlic was already roasted, we did not saute this at the beginning of the recipe. Instead it was added towards the end to heat through. Also, we did not combine everything with the pasta but rather place the kale/tomato/red onion/garlic mixture on top of the pasta. We then garnished with parmesan cheese, almonds, salt and pepper.

Cucumber & Grape Salad
Please note that measurements are approximate.
1 cup cucumber, chopped
1 cup red grapes
1/3 cup fat free feta
olive oil
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
sea salt

1. Combine cucumber, grapes, feta and mint.
2. Drizzle with olive oil and top with coarse sea salt.
3. Stir and serve.

This salad was so delicious and refreshing! It is a perfect warm weather salad and will keep well in the heat.

Portobello Mushroom with Balsamic Reduction
1 portobello mushroom top
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1. Place portobello mushroom and balsamic in a saute pan and cook over medium heat.
2. Turn the mushroom regularly to make sure it is cooked through.
3. Watch temperature and balsamic closely as the balsamic may reduce faster that you expect. Add additional balsamic if needed.
4. Once mushroom is cooked through, discard the remaining balsamic reduction or use for another purpose. The mushroom will have soaked up an adequate amount.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Product Placement Wednesday - Gold Kiwi

Recently I was given a generous gift of a flat of gold kiwi. At first I didn't realize that these were not the regular kiwis I was used to eating. They were described to me as sweet unlike the more tart green kiwis. They are fantastic! Much softer and more tropical tasting that the kiwis you find at your local markets. If you hold a gold kiwi next to a green kiwi, you will notice their differences go beyond the color of their flesh. The gold kiwi is slightly longer with a pronounced beak-like stem. The outside is also significantly less "fuzzy" than the green kiwi.

When deciding to write about these golden kiwis, I started to do a little research and it was interesting to learn that kiwi are actually originally from China NOT New Zealand as commonly thought. The standard green kiwi was in fact developed in New Zealand where it's name was changed from the "Chinese Gooseberry" to "Kiwi". Kiwis are also a fantastic source of vitamin C and has almost as much potassium as banana.

I have been enjoying my gold kiwis simply cut up on a plate but recently made a mock tart with them. I will be sharing the recipe on a future blog entry but I'm not gonna lie - it was out of this world!

Gold kiwis are a little tricky to find. I was told that these were from the "ranch market" which I think is actually the 99 Ranch Market as this is a southern California chain. If you are outside of California, I would suggest checking with stores that carry a large variety of unusual fruit. As 99 Ranch Market specializes in Asian items, that might be another avenue to try. Hurry though as gold kiwis are only in season until the end of this month!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Iron Chef West Hollywood, Part 2

I am so behind with recipes! Apparently I was cooking up a storm in the month of July with my fabulous creative co-chefs! Katie and I whipped up this little dinner and her "secret ingredient" was baby broccoli. The rest were items in my pantry, fridge & freezer. This meal was really good with the baby broccoli being the standout. The best of our recent Iron Chef nights is yet to come. Hopefully this week but I have a ton of Bachelorette/Bachelor Pad recipes too!

Baby Broccoli with Goat Cheese
1 package of baby broccoli (not sure of the exact size however it was purchased from Trader Joe's)
1 oz goat cheese, crumbled
olive oil (for cooking)

1. Cook baby broccoli in a skillet with olive oil. Add a little water as needed to soften the broccoli.
2. When the broccoli is tender, remove from skillet and place on plates.
3. Top with crumbled goat cheese and sprinkle with merlot salt.

Brown Rice with Roasted Garlic Salt

This was a great way to use up some extra pre-cooked brown rice. We just warmed it up and topped it with Roasted Garlic Salt for a low calorie but delicious finish.

Veggie Sausage with Garlic Mustard Aioli

Another simple dish from items in the freezer. We heated frozen veggie sausage and served it with Garlic Mustard Aioli sprinkled with fresh chives.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Product Placement Wednesday - DKMS Bone Marrow Donor Center

Unfortunately we have all lost loved ones for a variety of reasons. I am sure most of you would have been willing to do anything to stop that from happening. This week's "product" will help you do just that for your extended friends and family.

A woman I have never met, but a fellow employee at my company, is in desperate need of a bone marrow donation. Matching bone marrow is a very tricky thing - basically a needle in a haystack. In order to up the odds of helping her and in turn others, my company is holding a bone marrow drive. While I am going to miss participating in the drive itself, the idea that something I have in abundance can save someone's life led me directly to the website to sign up online.

By registering with the DKMS Bone Marrow Donor Center, you have the potential to give the gift of life to another person. It does not cost you anything at any point in the process other a bit of your time if you are a match. In the grand scheme of life, giving up a little time to give someone else A LOT of time is completely worth it.

Registering is so easy - dare I say it's idiot proof? You barely have to get off your couch!

1. Click here to register online.
2. Once the packet arrives, swab the inside of your cheek.
3. Put the swab in the self-addressed, stamped envelope and toss it in the mail.
4. Save a life.

I encourage you to check out some of the stories on the website including how this organization was founded if you need further motivation to register.

Once you register to be a bone marrow donor, I challenge you to inspire others to register as well. Ways you can help spread the word include:

  • Reposting this blog link or the direct link to DKMS on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Forwarding either link via email.
  • Spreading the word the old-fashioned way - verbally.
  • Hosting your own bone marrow drive.

I would love to hear from those of you that register and how you chose to help spread the word! As always, feel free to post in the comments section (regardless if you are registered), on Facebook or by sending me a personal message. I hope that many of you will join me in this important opportunity to save lives.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cooking Club, Part 1

So this past Sunday night was the first meeting of my new Cooking Club! There are a total of 6 people in the club - size based on manageable number of portions but also providing a variety of options each time we meet. The guidelines we are trying to stick with are as follows:

  • Fresh (or fresh frozen) veggies & fruit as much as possible
  • Whole grains
  • Minimally processed food
  • Organic when possible and affordable
  • Lower calorie dishes preferred
Unfortunately we did not have full participation for our first "meeting" but everyone enjoyed catching up with some light snacks and wine while exchanging delicious homemade food. Also, we are not taking credit for the recipes below but are not sure who to credit for most.

Check out the recipes below and let us know what you think!

Rachael's Contribution: Matzo Ball Soup

A few notes from Rachael:
I cook a whole chicken in a crock pot for about 4 hours on high (6-7 on low) or until the meat thermometer reaches 180 degrees since its a whole chicken. You can also do this with some chicken thighs if you are making a small portion. Remember to remove the giblets inside the chicken and then put your "poultry bouquet" of herbs (found in the produce section) inside the chicken. Add about 2 cups of water, salt, pepper, and the veggies listed on the recipe.

After the chicken is cooked remove it from the pot and use the juices to add to the chicken stock. This homemade stock gives you all the great flavor. Once you've heated your broth, pull the chicken from the breasts to add to the soup, chop up some of the cooked carrots, add your cooked matzo balls, and then a few sprigs of dill. (Note: I chopped the dill too fine and it made the soup look green. Just chopped it a few times. I also did not use the chicken fat in the matzo balls since we wanted to keep it healthier. I cooked the balls for only about 10 mins since they were on the smaller side.)

Jasmin's Contribution: Gluten Free Baked Penne with Spinach

1 large bag of gluten free penne pasta
3 large cans of organic crushed tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
1 container of low cal fresh mozzarella - bocachinni if you can get it
1 small tub of low fat ricotta cheese
1 small white onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 container of grated parm cheese (the good stuff)
1 large bag fresh spinach
Fresh basil
Fresh oregano
6 pepper cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbspn of olive oil

In a large pot heat olive oil, add crushed garlic and diced onions

Once onions are translucent, add basil, oregano, pepper cloves, salt and pepper. Mix and simmer for 1 minute.

Add crushed tomatoes and stirr. Bring to boil on high/ med heat. Once boiled, stirr and reduce to simmer for 1 hour.

After an hour, add tomatoe paste and add 1/2 tub of reduced fat parm cheese. Stir, simmer for 1 additional hour.

After 2 hours, add 1 large bag of fresh spinach to sauce. Let cook/ wilt for 5 mins.

Boil pasta in separate pot.

In lasagna tray, add sauce to the bottom of the pan. Add layer of pasta. On top of pasta layer mozzarella cheese and spread ricotta cheese in a thin layer. Repeat to desired amount. Very important ( be liberal with the sauce, especially cover the sides and corners to avoid burning). When layers are completed, cover with tin foil and bake on 350 for 45 mins. After 45 mins, remove foil and bake for another 20 mins uncovered ( to allow for crisp).

And there you have it! Serves 8+. Enjoy!

Mia's Contribution: Pasta with Potatoes & Spinach


1 1/2 vegetable bullion cubes

16 oz whole wheat pasta (I also use the organic brown rice pasta from TJ’s but it doesn’t taste that great the next day)

4 small caribe (or any potatoes (about 1 lb)


1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp dried basil

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup vegetable broth/stock

1 lemon juiced

4 cups amaranth or fresh spinach, washed and chopped if leaves are large

1 15 oz can cannellini beans

salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp fresh basil (optional)

2 tbsp fresh chives (optional)

1) Add water to a large pot. Bring to a boil.

2) Slice potatoes: quarter, then slice lengthwise, 1/4”.

3) Once water is boiling, add bullion cubes. Stir until they're dissolved. Add potatoes and pasta (in that order). Cover. Cook until pasta is al dente and potatoes are tender/cooked all the way through. Drain and return to pot.

In the meantime...

4) In a small bowl, combine dried basil and olive oil. Mix. Set aside

5) In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add basil and warm through. Add garlic. Cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until fragrant and it just starts to brown.

6) Add vegetable broth and lemon juice, scraping bottom of pan with your spoon to get all the good stuff mixed in.

7) Add greens. Stir until just wilted. Add beans with just a bit of the bean water. Stir and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

8) In the large pasta pot (assuming it will leave room for you to stir), add sauce to the pasta/potatoes and mix it all together.

9) Garnish with fresh basil and chives if you have them lying around. I had just a few leaves of basil and barely an ounce of chives I needed to use. That’s why they’re in there.

Gretchen's Contribution: Taco Soup

1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes

2 cans Rotel (comes in several flavors: original, mild, Mexican, hot)

1 15 oz. can corn, drained

1 15 oz. can black beans, drained

1 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained

1 15 oz. can refried beans, fat free

2 9.75 oz. cans of white meat chicken, drained

1 packet taco seasoning mix

1-2 packets Ranch dressing powder mix (I use one, less salty)

Place all ingredients in a crockpot (break up chicken as you put it in crockpot for best results) and simmer on HIGH for about 1 ½ - 2 hours. Stir the mixture several times during the cooking process.

Serve with shredded fat free cheese (or your favorite cheese). One cup is an ample serving when you add the cheese. You can also top with crumbled baked tortilla chips, fat free sour cream or avocado.

Serves 10

Katie's Contribution: Slow Cooked Braised Pork with Roasted Tomatillo

4lb boneless pork shoulder or butt

2 cups tomatillo or salsa verde

2 1/3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth

1 large onion

1 1/3 tsp. cumin seeds or ground cumin

4 plum tomatoes

2/3 cup cilantro


1. Trim and discard pork surface fat. Cut meat apart following layers of fat around muscles to trim fat. Cut into 2" chunks and rinse with cold water. Place in a 5 qt slow cooker and cook on high.

2. Combine tomatillo, broth, onion & cumin in saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Pour over meat, then add tomatoes and stir gently. Place lid on slow cooker and cook for 6-7 hours until meat pull apart easily.

3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pork into a large bowl. Cover and keep warm. Pour sauce and vegetables into skillet & skim fat. Bring to boil over high heat. Boil skimming froth periodically for 20 minutes. Add pork and cilantro while heating through.

4. Serve over rice/quinoa (cook per package instructions) and garnish with sour cream and cilantro.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Seven Most Debated Tipping Issues

Yesterday I read an interesting article on regarding tipping issues at restaurants. It seems that everyone has their own methodology to how they determine the amount they tip. Are you a double the tax person? Is 15% enough or is 20% the minimum? What about those of you that have worked in the service industry? What are your thoughts?

I love hearing your feedback both in the comments section and on Facebook! Keep in mind that you can post on this page anonymously so I encourage you to comment here as often as you wish!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Product Placement Wednesday - Salon Grafix Dry Shampoo

What is dry shampoo? Dry shampoo is the perfect tool to use when you need to stretch your hair for just one more day between washes. It dries up the oil, adds volume and refreshes with a pleasant scent. Well, that is what it is supposed to do....

Many dry shampoos on the market do all of the above but they also do not blend well with an individual's hair color. Oscar Blandi makes both a classic and revised version but they are a little clumpy (I would choose baby powder over these options). Bumble & Bumble makes colored powder for a variety of hair colors - but what if you are in between colors?

That is where Salon Grafix comes in and knocks these big brands off their high horses! Salon Grafix Dry Shampoo is an invisible formula that works for any hair color while delivering all of the key facets of a dry shampoo. Because it is invisible, this makes it easy to use for the dry shampoo novice. Personally having tried all of the brands mentioned in this entry, Salon Grafix is the only one I will ever use again. To make it even better, it is a fraction of the price of the other fancier brands.

Salon Grafix Dry Shampoo is available at a variety of drug stores, Target, Walmart and Ulta.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Iron Chef West Hollywood, Part 1

So first of all, I must apologize for the week plus of radio silence! New job = reduced blogging time. Good for me, bad for you. Not to worry, I plan to make time for all of you as I have so many "recipes" to share!

This is the first in a series I am calling "Iron Chef West Hollywood" because the meals are essentially made from ingredients in my pantry and random additions by my friend Katie. I posted a recipe for Fresh Vegetable Pasta last month which was the precursor to this new series. Please note that these recipes more than ever will be less specific with proportions but I promise to do my best to give you as much accuracy as possible!

Apple & Leek Pasta
1 1/2 cup frozen leeks (or fresh leeks if you desire)
1/2 golden delicious apple, diced
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
whole wheat pasta (2 servings - we went light on the pasta)
garlic olive oil
olive oil
shaved parmesan cheese
sea salt

1. Cook pasta according to directions.
2. Saute leeks in a little olive oil until slightly browned.
3. Top pasta with leeks and apple.
4. Drizzle with garlic olive oil.
5. Top with parmesan, mint and sea salt to taste.

Serves 2