Tortilla Soup

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I have a serious love of Mexican food and could eat it food for days on end and be completely happy. There is a local Mexican restaurant near my house and I get take out from there way too much. I try and convince myself that is it healthy because of all the fresh flavors, but too much of a good thing might be a bad thing right? Maybe but hopefully not in this case. I don’t just limit my love of Mexican food and flavors to tacos and margaritas, but also braises, salads and soups. This tortilla soup has everything I love about Mexican food, bright flavors, fresh ingredients and delicious toppings.

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Soups are so underrated sometimes. They are great make ahead meals that can be reheated and eaten a couple days after. Not to mention frozen and saved for future meals. I love this tortilla soup because it is easy, there is minimal prep, and it is delicious, healthy and satisfying. Plus I love any recipe that I can customize with some delicious toppings of my choice.

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Head on over to my column on Sacramento Street to check out the recipe.

Milk Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Tarts

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I am not a huge chocolate dessert person. Given the option I will always choose a berry or lemon dessert over a chocolate bomb. It is just too heavy. But do you know what I  love – chocolate bars. I will take any kind of chocolate bar I can find. These days I am loving Seatles Chocolate and Chocolove. I can’t leave the grocery store without at least a couple in my cart. But don’t give me any of that dark chocolate stuff, I want milk chocolate. With lots of crunchy bits like rice krispies, toffee and nuts in it. Totally bad for you but so freaking delicious. I thought I would create a dessert that pays homage to my love of milk chocolate bars. This milk chocolate carmel pretzel tart is just like eating a chocolate bar, but may be even better.

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Here is a secret, tarts are really easy to make. Way easier than cakes and pies. It all has to do with the crust. No need to roll out pie dough or make a short crust, you can use anything you want as the crust for a tart. I chose pretzels, but you can use graham crackers, Nila wafers or even potato chips. You can also make this tart gluten free really easily by using gluten free pretzels instead of regular.  Just throw them in a food processor with a little melted butter and a couple teaspoons of sugar, press into a tart shell, give a quick bake and you are good to go.

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You can fill tarts with just about anything – these days I am loving ricotta or mascarpone but for this dessert I chose melted milk chocolate, a little salted caramel and some flaky sea salt. Totally perfect. If you don’t have mini tarts, this will fill a 9″ tart shell. Feel free to use semi-sweet or dark chocolate or any other filling you want.

Enjoy!

Milk Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Tarts
  • 1 1/4 sticks of butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed pretzels (crushed in a food processor)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 8 oz milk chocolate
  • 1/2 cup salted caramel
  • flaky sea salt

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Lightly spray 6 4” tart shells with non-stick baking spray. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet. (If you don’t have mini tart pans, this recipe will work in a 9” tart pan)

In the bowl of a food processor add crushed pretzels, melted butter and sugar. Pulse until the mixture looks like wet sand. Divide the crumb mixture equally among the prepared tart pans. Using your fingers or the bottom of a small metal measuring cup, press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan.

Bake the tarts on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes then set aside to cool completely.

In a medium saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Off the heat, add the milk chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Set aside and let chocolate cool for about 30 minutes. Assemble the tarts by pouring 2 tablespoons salted caramel into the bottom of the tart crusts. Pour chocolate ganache on top and repeat with remaining tarts. Sprinkle tarts lightly with sea salt and crushed pretzels and refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours. .

http://www.alifewelllivedblog.com/2015/03/16/milk-chocolate-caramel-pretzel-tarts/

One Pot Orecchiette Pasta

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One of my favorite days in cooking school was the day we learned how to make fresh pasta. I love the process of getting your hands dirty with flour, water and egg. I also love that you can create such amazing dishes that all start with these simple everyday ingredients.

When we first learned how to make orecchiette I was obsessed. Orecchiette is Italian for “little ear” because of the shape of the pasta. I favor orecchiette over other types of pasta because of the chewiness.  Made with semolina and water, orecchiette has this delicious bite to it that makes it feel heartier.
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Since homemade orecchiette is pretty easy, I was making it all the time. Now that I am not in cooking school and working full time, I have less time to make fresh pasta at home, but my love for orecchiette has not faded

In this delicious one-pot orecchiette pasta dish, I have paired orecchiette with tomatoes, eggplant, Italian sausage, mozzarella and mint. Totally delicious and satisfying. If you can’t find Japanese eggplant, swap for a regular eggplant. The same goes for the golden balsamic. I prefer golden balsamic over regular balsamic because it not as overpowering, but this is totally your preference, as well as what you have in your house.
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 Head on over to Sacramento Street to check out the recipe. 

Kitchen Renovation

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This past December and January were spent renovating our kitchen. When we bought our house, the kitchen needed some serious love. It was dated and small and since the kitchen is the heart of the home, we needed to put some time into making it a centerpiece of the house, not an afterthought. Since it is all complete with no major disasters, I wanted to share some pictures here.
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The focal point was our stove. The vintage 1953 Wedgewood came with the house. I hated it at first because it was so big and slightly awkward with separate ovens, but now I love it and can’t imagine cooking on another range. In my mind this stove is like a classic car, they just aren’t build like this anymore with copper, chrome and ceramic.  Also, these stoves were originally built in Oakland/East Bay of San Francisco and I love keeping that bit of history with the house. So keeping in mind the white and chrome stove we built the kitchen around it.
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We replaced our old cabinets with new ones. Since the kitchen is pretty small, we tried to maximize space by getting custom cabinets. We also replaced our countertop with Ceasarstone in Frosty Carina. I love the look of marble but didn’t want to worry about staining or damaging it when I cooked. Ceasarstone is a fabricated quartz material that is super durable and can handle the serious mess I can make in the kitchen.
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I kept the wall color the same and got a big farm-house sink. We also relocated the refrigerator which freed up a window that it was blocking.
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No kitchen these days is complete without subway tile right? I am in love and if you haven’t noticed it is my backdrop for all of my food pictures these days.
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I love that my sink is surrounded by windows. The house came like that and it makes doing the dishes so much easier when you can stare outside. Plus it lets some great light in for all of my food pictures.
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I had a fantastic contractor who made this whole process relatively easy. I say relatively easy because having to wash your dishes with a hose in the yard and having a layer of dust everywhere, is not the best, but all things considered it was pretty painless.
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Next project, the backyard. Stay tuned, this one might take a little longer.

In case you are interested, here are some resources from the renovation:

Countertops – Cearsarstone in Frosty Carina

Cabinets – Custom cabinets from Affordable Quality Cabinets here in the Bay Area but they are the Colombia brand

Sink – Blanco

Fridge – Fisher and Paykel

Dishwasher – Miele

Subway Tile – Daltile Rittenhouse Square from Home Depot

Fancy Toast

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The latest trend to hit the food scene is toast. Fancy toast made with delicious bread and topped with all sorts of yummy toppings. It is a simple meal but the sum of its parts makes it delicious. There is something to be said about freshly baked bread smeared with your favorite topping. For those of us in San Francisco, we have The Mill to hit up when we are in the market for some fancy toast, but if want to try it at home, here are some combinations for delicious, easy toast that works for breakfast, lunch and maybe even dinner.

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I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, my afternoon snack was homemade cinnamon toast. A snack made up of margarine mixed with granulated sugar and cinnamon and smeared it on a piece of white bread. I would toast my bread for a couple minutes and out came the most perfect after school snack. I can still remember that smell and that taste.

This is the grown up version of that toast. I have taken some freshly baked bread from a local bakery, toasted thick slices, smeared it with ricotta cheese and topped it with all different toppings. The combinations showed here are banana, pecan and maple syrup, strawberries with fresh mint, blueberries with toasted pumpkins seeds, and pistachios, cinnamon and honey. The beauty about toast is that you can top it with anything you want. It is the simplest of meals but sometimes simple is the best.

Head on over to Sacramento Street to get the recipeToast_3

Kale Salad with Butternut Squash, Quinoa and Hazelnuts

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We just got back from a quick but cold trip to Chicago for a friend’s wedding. It was a whirlwind weekend of fun and needless to say, I think I need another weekend to recover. Especially from the cold. I have truly become a softy when it comes to weather. I lived in Boston and NY but forgot how to deal with cold weather. I also forgot that when the weather is cold you are inside all day, eating and drinking. All of this is to say I need a serious detox this week.  This kale salad with butternut squash, quinoa and hazelnuts is the perfect recipe to get me back on track.

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Do you ever have a recipe or dish that you make over and over again for a short time period? This is that kind of recipe to me. Since we are in the winter months – butternut squash is abundant and kale is everywhere so this delicious and seasonal recipe is perfect for this time of year. I have made it many times over the past couple weeks and even served it over the holidays. I recently posted a picture to Instagram with this salad and got a couple emails asking what was in it, so I thought I would share.

So here is my got to salad these days, a kale salad with butternut squash, quinoa and hazelnuts. Easy, healthy and perfectly delicious.

Enjoy

p.s. Two tips for this salad – cut the kale really thin to make it easier to eat and dress the salad about 20 minutes before serving. This helps season the kale and also make it easier to eat.

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Kale Salad with Butternut Squash, Quinoa and Hazelnuts
  • 1 head lacinato kale, leaves stripped and thinly chopped
  • 1 cup butternut squash diced and sautéed until soft
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, cooked
  • 3 oz goat cheese
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts toasted, skins removed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Large pinch salt

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl.

Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well. Pour half of the dressing over the kale mixture. Toss well and add remaining if needed. Taste for salt

http://www.alifewelllivedblog.com/2015/02/16/kale-salad-with-butternut-squash-quinoa-hazelnuts/

Valentine’s Day Pizza Night

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Did you realize Valentine’s Day is this weekend? I kind of forgot. I am not too into Valentine’s Day, but I will take any excuse to have a delicious meal. My idea of a perfect date is a Valentine’s Day pizza night where I stay home, drink some red wine, eat pizza and maybe  snack on some of those delicious conversation hearts (I love all holiday candy). Sounds like the perfect night right? You know who is taking care of the pizza part for me, Good Eggs. They have started this amazing “bundle” service where they send you all the ingredients for a dish and all you have to do is cook it of. No worries about grocery shopping – it literally appears on your door. Like magic. All I have to worry about is the wine and conversation hearts.

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We all know my love for Good Eggs right? In case you missed my previous post, it is a San Francisco based company that connects consumers with local produce and artisanal food products. They carry some of the best brands their cities have to offer. Naturally their pizza bundle is not just a store-bought Boboli, rather the dough and the sauce comes from one of SF’s most delicious pizza spots and their mozzarella cheese comes from none other than the best cheese company in the Bay Area. Simple and delicious ingredients and perfect for celebrating Valentine’s Day with friends, family, husbands, wives, significant others or even just yourself.  If you want something a little fancier, they have other types of bundles including spaghetti and meatballs, surf and turf and fresh ravioli. Or if you prefer toppings on your pizza, they have everything you can imagine, like bacon, sausage, red onions, rapini, mushrooms and every type of cheese you can imagine.

If you don’t live in one of the cities where Good Eggs has a market (they are in SF, LA, Brooklyn and New Orleans), no worries, Valentine’s Day pizza night is still a good idea. Whole Foods or your general grocery store will have pre made pizza dough (if you don’t see it in the store, ask the person behind the deli or specialty food counter sometimes they hide it in the back).  Grab some sauce and fresh mozzarella and any of your favorite pizza toppings and  you will have one perfect Valentine’s Day.

**For those in San Francisco, make sure to order your bundle by midnight on Thursday in order to get it on Valentine’s Day. **

Lemon and Kale Spaghetti

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I was recently reading the latest edition of Bon Appétit, (otherwise known as a food lovers Bible). I flip through their magazine each month looking for recipe inspiration as well as different ways to photograph food and style food. I stumbled upon their idea of back pocket pasta, this idea that pasta can be paired with so much more than your typical tomato sauce. You can pair it with just about any cheese, vegetable and/or meat. Most importantly it is a great way to eat through what it is in your fridge. This lemon and kale spaghetti is the perfect example of back pocket pasta and I bet you have most of the ingredients in your refrigerator right now.
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