Mrs. Carla Monti

Mrs. Carla Monti

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cooking Challenge!

"Foodie is an informal term for a particular class of aficionado of food and drink. The word was coined in 1981 by Paul Levy and Ann Barr, who used it in the title of their 1984 book The Official Foodie Handbook."

Source: wikipedia.org


I consider myself to be a total foodie. The TV in my bedroom is permanently set to shuffle between Cooking Channel and Food Network, cupcakes have permeated every aspect of my life, and I read blogs and books about food in my spare time. I am constantly thinking of what I want to cook and bake next, and prefer to spend my money either on going to several restaurants a week and/or fancy kitchen gadgets. I even have a foodie boyfriend, who is not only an amazing cook, but has been working in the restaurant industry for years.

Having said all that, I am not exactly fearless when it comes to eating or cooking. There are still some foods that I don't enjoy and purposely avoid. I thought it might be fun to challenge myself in this arena, and pick my top 'scary' food in categories like fruit, veggie, cheese, etc and dare myself to make one fabulous dish with each ingredient and see if I can't change my tastes and preferences. After careful consideration (or 5 minutes scribbling on a post-it at work), I've come up with the following:

1. Cheese - Feta. This was difficult to narrow down, because I am not exactly a cheese lover. In fact, there are very few cheeses I do like! My favorites are Brie, mozzarella di bufala, and queso blanco. I can name far more cheeses I won't go near: gorgonzola, blue cheese, goat cheese... etc! But I remember having feta on two separate trips to Greece when I was in college and really hated it.

2. Vegetable -Brussels sprouts. This one is a bit obvious, it's probably one of the most disliked veggies out there for kids and young adults, so it's no surprise here. I've seen plenty of recipes that combine Brussels sprouts with pancetta or bacon, and the idea of teeny cabbages with the texture of bacon is baffling!

3. Fruit - Rhubarb. To me, this is a redder, uglier version of celery and the fact that I see this in many pie recipes seems contradictory. Fruit-filled pies, in my opinion, should be delightfully soft and smushy or with a hint of a bite. Overall, the texture, tart flavor, and color is very unappetizing to me!

4. Meat - Lamb. This is probably the item on this list that I have the strongest memory of hating. I traveled to Turkey twice while I was in college, and quite frankly, I had 'bad' lamb too many times to ever want to give it another try, much less in a different country. The smell ... the taste .... all horrible!

5. Herb - Arugula. (Yes, it's classified as an herb, I Googled it!) I know, I know. Arugula is "the" herb-veggie-leafy thing of the moment. I know it is the hot item to use, perfect as a garnish, salads, pesto, etc. I can't stand it! It is bitter and very unsavory to me.

 Okay so there is my list! Since I am almost officially done with this semester, I will set this challenge for myself to be completed this summer. :)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Juice Day Six!

My favorite way to drink water since going to a fancy spa in DC last fall is with cucumber. It doesn't bring any huge flavor, more of a vague crispness and is generally refreshing, especially when South Florida temperatures are in the high 80's!

Next up I made juice with the following: red grapes, kiwis, yellow apple, red apple, lemon, baby carrots, strawberries, and cucumber!

Kale, Soup, and Muffins!

This weekend my goal was to cook healthy, using plenty of fruits and veggies. I spent all of yesterday in the kitchen, dancing around to Cheryl Cole and Rihanna, since it was cloudy and raining outside. I was also studiously avoiding thinking about my upcoming Microeconomics final. Oops!

Kale Chips!
Salty, crispy, good-for-you, what's not to love?

Butternut Squash Crab Bisque!
This is a great soup for rainy weather, it's creamy and hearty and goes great with a kale chip and crouton garnish. I used shallots instead of onions for a sweeter taste.

Finally, for Sunday brunch, and using the blackberry jam I made last month, blackberry jam mini muffins (with walnuts)! I adapted a recipe from Cook Bake Nibble

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Baby Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownie Cupcakes!

Awhile back, when I first discovered lovely Joy the Baker, I bookmarked a brownie recipe of hers - these heavenly-looking Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownies. The combination of sweet n' salty, always a winner in my book, grabbed my attention right away. I'm not a big brownie maker so I decided to convert this recipe to mini cupcakes. I also didn't feel the need to make the peanut butter into a sauce by adding sugar and vanilla extract, so I simply swirled creamy peanut butter onto the brownie cupcakes once cooled, and topped with a pretzel. I had to spray the mini cupcake liners to death with Pam, or else the brownie batter would've stuck like glue (and it still did, a teeny bit). The end effect is lovely, perfectly sized chocolatey, peanuty, pretzely (yes, these are all words) bites!



Note the adorable mini cupcake spatula, courtesy of Crate & Barrel!

My dinner consisted of an alarming amount of the above brownie cupcake minis, half a bottle of Merlot, and a plate of raspberries, cheese rounds, and olive crackers! :)




Saturday, April 21, 2012

Avocado Pesto Pasta!

I was browsing through my new favorite blog, Gimme Some Oven, and found a recipe for Avocado Pesto Pasta that I knew I had to make soooon. Avocados, basil, whole wheat pasta, and toasty pine nuts? Sold. Throw in some creamy spinach and Parmesan shavings and Friday night dinner is looking pretty good.

All the pesto ingredients in the food processor: avocados, lemon juice, basil, pine nuts, walnuts, salt & pepper, garlic, and olive oil to be added.


Boiling pasta, sauteing spinach, toasting pine nuts ...


Gorgeous bright green pesto.... There is nothing as lovely as the color and smell of homemade pesto! I love the color of the avocados in this too. Topped with toasted pine nuts ... for that added crunch factor!



Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Brie Cups!

I went to my friend's wedding last weekend, and one of the appetizers served during cocktail hour were brie and jam filled phyllo cups. Bite-sized, colorful, and tasty - basically, they stole my heart. I knew I had to recreate them and a quick Googe search led me to straight to Gimme Some Oven, aka my new favorite food blog! So today I made Brie Phyllo Cups and filled half with seedless raspberry preserves and the others with apricot preserves. They are so easy to make, look elegant, and are incredibly versatile. I had some fresh berries with the idea to place them in the cups, but in the end I didn't want to cram them - they are delicate layers of dough as it is!


Golden, warm, toasted - lovely!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cinnamon Sugar Bites!

I was in the mood for something sweet, but didn't want to go the whole 9 yards with cupcakes (even though I have some winners pending in my recipes binder!). I had seen AmyBites' recent posting on Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut Holes and thought it would be perfect! They are small, perfectly-sized doughy-cakey bites rolled in melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Delicious!

Fresh out of the oven donut bites, waiting to be rolled in buttery cinnamon sugar!






Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Breakfast for dinner?

Today I put together a hodge podge of a dinner, making cheesy quesadillas, potato egg cups, and creamy raspberry mousse.

First up: I brushed one side of corn tortillas with olive oil and placed them oil-side down on a hot pan. I filled half of it with a Mexican blend of cheeses and then turned it into a half moon to melt the cheeses through.

Next I made AmyBites Potato Egg Cups. I used tri-color fingerling potatoes (anything baby-sized and colorful immediately wins my favor!), diced them and mixed them with olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper. I divided them between ramekins and baked until the potatoes were roasted. Then I cracked an egg into each one and cooked until the egg set.



Potatoes and eggs may seem like a classic breakfast combo (and of course it is) but it also pairs wonderfully with some spices for a simple meal made elegant by using some colorful ramekins!

The complete dinner meal (with a generous side of lime juice-infused sour cream to slather onto the quesadilla):

I had two boxes of raspberries languishing in the bottom of my refrigerator's fruit drawer, along with some mascarpone cheese I needed to use up asap. I whipped heavy whipping cream with vanilla paste and white sugar, and added the mascarpone along with some milk. I stirred in the raspberries and used martini glasses to serve (love them!).

Juice Day Five!

I went back to juice-making last night and whipped up a wholly citrusy-acidy yellow-orange concoction that would knock back any cold, for sure! It contains oranges, clementines, limes, lemons, and carrots.



Chicken Enchiladas

For once I was in a non-Italian mood and decided to try my hand at Mexican/Tex-Mex. I had an inkling to attempt enchiladas but couldn't find a cohesive recipe to follow, so I merged Rachel Ray's version with Tyler Florence's. I was a little apprehensive of the sauce flavor, and next time I will make it more flavorful and a little bit more spicy, but it worked! I caved and bought the bag of generic Mexican blend cheeses but I was glad I did - they were great!

Love the bubbly, crispy cheesiness! Enchiladas definitely require some broiling.

My boyfriend said he wasn't a fan after his first bite - and then cleaned the remaining half of the dish! (Most of the first half was gone thanks to my dad!) This wasn't my favorite dinner, but evidently it is a good one for the mens ;)


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Juice Day Four!

One of my lovely co-workers made awesome juice for today using kiwis, granny smith apples (nice tartness), green grapes, and pineapple. Yummy!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Buona Pasqua!

I have a newfound love for Party City - together with Michael's, these two stores have some very cute and creative cupcake toppers, sprinkles, and colorful liners that I can't find anywhere else.

Using the same raspberry white chocolate cupcake batter from yesterday, I made some extra cupcakes and mini loaves to decorate with jelly bean egg nests from Wilton!

Buona Pasqua tutti! :)

And from my favorite local Italian bakery, Cosi Duci, some wonderful traditional Easter treats:

And Easter brunch with my boyfriend's family:



Saturday, April 7, 2012

Primrose Bakery Cupcakes!

Two years ago, my best friend from high school gave me a gorgeous cupcake book for Christmas. The book comes from the famous, gorgeous Primrose Bakery in London.

For my friend's bachlorette party tonight, I decided to make Raspberry Cupcakes with White Chocolate buttercream.

The recipe calls for raspberry jam to be swirled into the cake batter after mixing all the ingredients together. I mashed the berries together with some honey and sugar and then swirled it into the batter.

Melted white chocolate mixed in with whipped butter, vanilla extract, confectioner's sugar, and milk to make gorgeous thick pale yellow buttercream.

I topped the bachlorette themed cupcakes (love those pink liners!) with sugared engagement rings from Party City.

I had fun playing with the different frosting tips to make cute star designs on the non-ring-adorned cupcakes.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Juice Day Three!


Okay, technically it's not my juice day three, but my co-worker made juice using kale, swiss chard, honeydew, cataloupe, and green apples, and even though it is a most robust shade of green, it tasted great, mostly like melon!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Chicken Chorizo Soup!

Yesterday I made Rachel Ray's Chicken Chorizo Soup. I used tricolor fingerling potatoes, shallots (instead of onions), black beans (instead of kidney beans), left out the red pepper and hot sauce, and topped with colorful tortilla strips. The soup is very flavorful, it has a kick from the chorizo and its chunky consistency makes it a very hearty dinner!

Made on 04/03/2012.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Feeling Salty?

I am a total salt fiend. In my spinning spice rack, you will find no less than four types of salt: kosher salt (best for cooking), table salt (to top any already cooked foods), sea salt (dessert topping, anyone? Don't knock it till you've tried it!), and seasoned salt (of the lemon & pepper variety, I use this sparsely, if ever). Salt makes the world go 'round (or at least my world!). In fact, I proudly consider myself to be a supertaster! (Or at least, reading that Yahoo article made me feel better about my salt lovin'.) My lovely chef-boyfriend rarely uses salt in his cooking, choosing instead to flavor his meats and veggies with olive oil, butter, and herbs. To each his own. I use all of those, but pay particular attention to salt. My friend (blog: Test My Recipes) wrote a great post on what types of salt are good for what types of dishes here.

But did you know that many of America's beloved and popular restaurants are throwing everyone's daily sodium intakes out of whack? Many dishes at places like Macaroni Grill, Olive Garden, P.F. Chang's, and TGIF's feature a variety of entrees that can double, or even triple, your DAILY sodium intake! The U.S. Dept of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Information Center maintains a diligent and up-to-date website that lets you know what your daily intake should be for various vitamins and minerals, specified to gender, age, and weight type. A typical female between the ages of 19 and 30 (aka my category) should be taking in no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day (source). This may sound like too much already, but consider this: the average pasta and sauce dish at your local Italian eatery is bound to contain that much alone!

*Update* This article points out a more generalized sodium intake for typically healthy adults, saying one should have no more than 1500-2400 mg of sodium daily.

This article demonstrates some of the worst offenders in America's food industry. There are even some sneaky ones, like Macaroni Grill's whole wheat fettuccini entree - sneaky because the name alone implies healthiness and when paired with broccoli and chicken - takes on a seemingly innocuous nutritious appearance. WRONG! There are a whopping 1630 mg of sodium in this dish, along with 1060 calories.

The more I get into cooking, baking, and blogging, the more I learn about food and nutrition. It's fascinating, and sometimes even scary. It's also easier than you think to make so many things at home, versus buying super processed versions in your local supermarket (i.e. jams, marinades, salad dressings, etc). The more I go grocery shopping, or bakeware/cookware/cupcake liner shopping on Amazon, (and the less often I go online to Forever21.com or Nordstrom.com), the more I learn and love food and cooking in all their glory. But I am still learning and nowhere near uber-healthy; I still don't really exercise, and eat a healthy amount of dessert on a weekly basis - but I believe it's all about having the knowledge. Knowledge is power!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Quinoa Cakes!

Today I made Joy the Baker's Quinoa Cakes! Made using cooked quinoa, parsley, lemon, garlic, Parmesan, and bread crumbs, these small and tasty veggie patties are delicious and nutritious.

Variations: I boiled the quinoa in chicken broth (instead of salted water) for more flavor, and left out the onion, olive and zucchini completely. Instead I added more Parmesan, minced garlic, lemon zest, and dried parsley, making flavorful cakes.

As always, I pair my dinner plates with a healthy serving of full-bodied red wine, in this case a lovely Tuscan red.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chili, Scones, and Blackberry Jam!

I live in a lovely place called Boca Raton, Florida.
 
It is beautiful and land of perpetual sunshine. In true 'Floridian' fashion, I go to the beach about once a year, and today happened to be that day. I spent my morning walking around the beach with my boyfriend, picking up colorful seashells and alternately tanning and sweating in 85 degree weather. Then I went home and made chili. True story.

My favorite chili recipe is made using turkey and comes from lovely Amy from AmyBites. I work it a little differently; I saute an onion and several garlic cloves in olive oil and then brown a pound of turkey. I then add tomato paste, tomato sauce, pureed stewed tomatoes (with chili spices already added), and kidney beans. I stew it all together on low heat for an hour and a half, and add a little paprika and cayenne to top it off.

I like to serve my chili with a side of shredded cheddar cheese and a scoop of sour cream.

Next I made simple cream scones from Joy of Baking! I decided not to roll out the dough, cut out rounds, and bake on silicone sheet-lined baking sheets; instead I rolled the dough into little balls and placed them in Pam-sprayed muffin tins, and brushed the tops with heavy cream. They came out perfect!

Then I made blackberry jam from Yes I Want Cake - I couldn't believe how easy it was! I may make my own berry jams from now on. The list of ingredients was extremely simple, as there were only 3!

Heat the berries, 1 tbsp honey, and juice from half a lemon over medium heat. Smush up with a fork as the berries get softer. Cool after 10 minutes of heating and squishing.

Cute jars from The Container Store make for a professional look :)

Fresh out-of-the-oven scones slathered with homemade blackberry jam translates to a lazy Sunday afternoon, lounging around, and watching old Marilyn Monroe movies (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, anyone?).

Yummy, pretty, messy - it's a good time.

 Hm these scones would be perfect for mini strawberry shortcakes! Add it to the list....