Picnic + Beach = Paradise

If you live in the Los Angeles area you might have been able to sneak away from your responsibilities and soak up a little of this January sunshine that we’ve had this past weekend. Sadly I was too busy to really take full advantage of it… but the weathers supposed to be wonderful next weekend and feeling inspired I’m totally going to rope some friends in for an afternoon at the beach, complete with a picnic!

Picnic cuisine is one that takes a bit of preparation, especially if you’re traveling to your destination. That doesn’t mean that you can’t just throw down a fun blanket and host one in the comfort of your own home! I always imagine them including those cheesy fireplace videos for pure novelty’s sake.

There’s a variety of styles that you can go with for your picnic-pleasure, my favorite is sandwiches but finger foods are also high on my list. I think getting a little funky with sandwiches can be easily achieved by trying a replacement for breads (think pita, lettuce, tortillas) or adding some fun veggies (lately I’ve been lovin’ some grilled zucchini).

Some fun sandwich ideas

BL(A)T W/ Cheese
Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, & Tomato
Try this with: pita bread and a lite flavored mayo (I like chipotle)

Roasted Veggie Wrap
Choose some of your favorite veggies; for example zucchini, asparagus, thinly sliced carrots (length wise), sprouts.
Grill/heat them up in a pan (I use a panini press) and let them cool. Spread some hummus on a spinach tortilla and
add in your cooled veggies and roll the tortilla, be sure to fold in the edges first. Cut in half, enjoy.

Shredded BBQ Chicken Sandwich
Season (to your liking) and boil a chicken breast 10 minutes on high, lower and let simmer for aprox 30 min. covered with a slight crack so some heat can escape. Most of the liquid should be gone at this point, if not just check back every few minutes. You want the chicken to be tender so that it’s almost falling apart when you poke it. Remove the chicken and shred with a fork. Add some BBQ sauce to the chicken and toss gently. Add the chicken to your carb of choice, I find that hamburger buns work well. Garnish with cheese.

No picnic is complete without some tasty beverages to quench your thirst. Lately I’ve been getting into flavored lemonades. I prefer do more of a lemon-lime-ade with Meyer lemons and Persian limes.

Lemon/Lime-ade Base
4-Persian Limes
5 -Meyer Lemons
3 Cups of sugar

Juice the lemons and limes and pour into a 2-qt pitcher. Fill leaving 2 inches from the top with water. Add sugar cup by cup, tasting as you go to get your desired sweetness.

Flavors: Pomegranate & Blackberry
Simply juice a 1/4 cup of either fruit and add the juice to a 8oz glass of your base.

Also try mixing half sparkling 1/4 sparkling water to 3/4 base mix to get a sparkling lemonade.

A fun way to serve these is in mason jars, garnish with some lemon wedges
(or mint when just using the base, think virgin mojito).

Enjoy!

Ode to Chocolate

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I cannot feasibly go a day without consuming chocolate. It’s secured it’s rank of number 1 on my list of vices, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In case you’re not a chocolate fan (yet) and you need some reasons on why to get on the daily plan, allow me:

1. It’s pretty versatile. You can bake it, eat it straight, drink it. All forms equally delicious.

2. There has been some research into chocolate aiding in the fight against cardiovascular disease (Research)

3. It’s easy to make, and great for parties.

In any regard I’m a total chocolate evangelist, so I know that this post is going to be biased in that direction. I don’t however think that I’m alone when I say that it’s a core component of comfort food; whether it be brownies, chocolate chip cookies, or just a cozy mug of hot chocolate. I was thinking deeply, more of a longing really, about comfort food when I was at work yesterday and the weather was both cold and rainy. The combination that just screams, “don’t get out of bed, find the nearest movie and cozy up for a day of playing hooky.” Alas I did find myself at work but when I got home, I treated my self to some quality lounge time complete with comfy blanket. Inspired by this mood, I felt a tasty batch of brownies were in order.

Ingredients

  • 3 19/50 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks, divided
  • 1/3 cup fat-free milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Cooking spray

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Combine 1/2 cup chocolate and milk in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds. Stir in butter, vanilla, and eggs. Add milk mixture and 1/2 cup chocolate; stir to combine.

Pour the batter into a 9-inch square metal baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 19 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in the pan on a rack. Cut into squares.

[These are best enjoyed with a tall glass of milk.]

Awhile ago I’d stumbled on the recipe for these brownies and they are phenomenal. I got it from the First Look Then Cook Blog. (Link) They come out really moist and gooey, which is how I like them. If you want more of a cakey consistency add 1-2 more eggs.  The best thing about them though, it they save amazingly well. Simply wrap them up in some aluminum foil (I line my pan with them so I just fold over all the edges to save it after it’s cooled) and it keeps for  at least a week. This is conditional on you having enough self control to keep them that long, or that you make a large enough batch. Speaking to that, the recipe also doubles well.

This, of the same vein as my previous post, is best when you use good chocolate. While using Hersey’s won’t make a bad batch, chocolate of a slightly higher grade will seriously rock your world. Lately I’ve been using E.Guittard but I recommend trying a couple brands and seeing one that you like the best. This goes the same for cocoa powder. Brownies are one of those things that everyone has a preference on, experiment to find yours. Your tastebuds will thank you later.

I recall when I was reading David Lebovitz’s book The Sweet Life in Paris  that his Dulce De Leche brownies would open a lot of doors for him when he first arrived. I havent tested this theory myself  but so far they have won the affection of a lot of the people at work. Just another affirmation of the power of chocolate.

I’m curious, what role has chocolate played in your life? 

Bon Appetit!

One thing that I am certain of, is that the world is not short of food bloggers. I don’t however view this as a bad thing, in fact just the opposite. To be able to cozy up with your internet connection and have a whole world of food at your fingertips is wonderful. It is my hope that I can do my part and share my culinary escapades.

I personally believe that everyone should have food that stimulates them, as a general rule the more senses engaged the better. (I’ve found that some things that look questionable taste absolutely delicious, so bravery is key.) I aim to include on this blog recipes, restaurant suggestions, books I’ve enjoyed, and things of a similar nature. Being that I live in the lovely Santa Monica|CA I feel privileged to have all these tasty restaurants and cafes near by. It seems a shame not to share the wealth.

For my first nibble of knowledge I’d like to share a quote from Julia Child, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” I’ve found this to be very true, especially when there are few ingredients involved. Less ingredients the recipe calls for the better quality it needs because that is where the flavor is coming from. This is one reason that farmers markets are a great place for getting ingredients, you can TASTE everything. Well, at least the ones I’ve been to in the U.S.

Farmers Market

(Photo by: Natalie Maynor )

I encourage you to go a look up a market near you and just go and taste the food. (Cheap date idea?) Most of the vendors can tell you all about what they’ve brought and how to know the difference in quality. The Kitchn has some good tips for picking fruit on their website. (Tips) One of my goals for this year was to (as much as possible) pick something new and tasty up when I go, and find a new recipe to try with it.

Let me know how it goes!