Grandma’s Mashed Potatoes

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Growing up my Grandma was famous in our family for her mashed potatoes. When the secret recipe finally got released to the family via the family cookbook I was shocked on how simple they are. Simplicity it king! Its just potatoes with butter, salt and milk. That’s it! The devils in the details of taking the time to correct as you go along. My Grandma always said, “You can always put more salt in but you can’t take it out.” So take your time with these delicious spuds and you are sure to not disappoint. Enjoy!

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Grandma’s Mashed Potatoes

2 lbs russet potatoes

½ cup whole milk (and more for correcting)

½ cup butter

1 tsp salt

 Recipe as my Grandma wrote it:

Peel and cut russet potatoes in small chunks. (They cook faster if not in too big of hunks). In a large pot, cover potatoes with water about ½ inch form the top. Simmer potatoes until they are tender, drain  and then add about ½ cups whole milk and mix with a hand mixer. Add butter and salt. Beat with the mixer adding a little more milk until it gets smooth. (Be careful so it doesn’t get too soupy!) Continue mixing until smooth and no lumpy at all. Season to taste!

 *A note from Anna:

To ensure your potatoes come out fluffy and light, make sure you put your potatoes into cold water before you start to simmer. Also, don’t over use the hand mixer or it will over blend the potatoes and make them gummy.

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These are a few of my favorite things…

Kissing my Husband

Hearing my baby laugh when I tickle her

Chocolate

Chamomile Tea

Taking long walks in downtown Santa Barbara

Lakers Games

Marzipan Pie from Andersen’s Bakery

Coca Lite

Having my back scratched

Movie Night

Reading before bed

Long hot baths

and…Feeding People!

Chicken Albondigas Soup (Mexican Meatball Soup)

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My parents came over for dinner yesterday and so I made this soup for them. My Mom loves soup, my Dad loves mexican food and both of them like eating light. Oh, and my Mom doesn’t eat beef (as some of you know from my Dramatic Holiday  Season Recap post…) SO…I made Chicken Albondigas Soup which is basically a vegetable soup with chicken meatballs. Its so hearty, delicious and it happens to be super healthy. And its amazing the next day so you could make this a day ahead and then just reheat it for a dinner party. Hope you enjoy!

Chicken Meatball Mexican Soup:

Recipe:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped and separated into two parts
  • 1/3 cup uncooked long-grain rice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 carrots, cut into rounds
  • 1 serrano chile, whole
  • 2 small Yukon gold potato, skin on, diced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 2 yellow squash, diced

Directions

In a heavy large pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add ½ he onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, mix together the sauteed onions, rice, parsley, ground meat, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Using wet hands, shape the meat mixture into 20 to 22 (1-inch) meatballs. Set aside.

Sauté the remaining onion in the same pot adding more oil if necessary. Cook until translucent. Combine the carrots, serrano chile, potato  and vegetable stock in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the meatballs and squash and simmer on low heat until the meatballs are cooked through and rice in the meatball is soft, about 20 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Serve and enjoy!

“Talking with my Mouth Full” by Gail Simmons (book review)

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I am sort of a die hard Top Chef fan and so reading Gail Simmon’s book, “Talking With My Mouth Full” was a true delight. Was it the culinary genius book of our age? No. But it was fun to get a few extra looks into how Gail got her job at Food & Wine Magazine and then subsequently on Top Chef and all the in-betweens. One thing I really enjoyed learning about Gail is that she went to culinary school not to become a chef but to get experience so she would be  more equipped to work in the food world in general. I want SO badly to go through culinary school myself. I got through one semester at Santa Barbara School of Culinary Arts before I got pregnant. I was actually pregnant mid-semester so it was brutally hard to sit through lectures on cuts of meats and discussions about things like “offal.” I would actually have to leave mid class often to go puke so it wasn’t pretty. The program gets especially intense third semester when they make you work daily in the school cafeteria for free. Its pretty much slave labor so I’ll have to go through the program later in life when my kids are at least in school themselves. Anyway, I digress. Back to Gail…

The book had a few little hiccups that took me out of my relish in reading it. First of all she mentioned her boobs way too much. Its fine to note that you have large boobs once but she kept bring up the topic unnecessarily. Also, she showed a diagram of a tongue map highlighting the areas where supposedly you taste sweet, salty and umami flavors etc. As far as I know this theory of the tongue tasting different things in different places has been disproven. So that took me out of the book  since it seemed common knowledge that the tongue map is questionable.

Overall, I had fun reading the book and also meeting Gail Simmons at the USC Book Fair where I picked up my copy. I got the book autographed and a taken photo with her (not shown because I look WAAAY to fat since I had just had the baby. haha) The book is a perfect read for that lazy Sunday afternoon when its time to relax and just have some fun. Enjoy!

Busy. Why?

Why are we all so busy? What is it about this ongoing never ending busy-ness that makes us feel so all important? I mean really. We are constantly bragging to each other how busy we are. “OMG I’m sooo busy! You wouldn’t believe what I did yesterday…blah blah blah.” Would it be weird for someone to brag about being really un-busy time “I’m soooooo freed up these days, I simple have nothing to do.” Also, why is it there is not good opposite word for busy? When I looked it up all I found was, “Empty. Free. Idle.” I’m not sure if that those words really describe being un-busy. I mean, if you aren’t busy that doesn’t have to mean your life is empty does it? Or idle? Free might be a good word but doesn’t truly describe the opposite of being busy. I envision the un-busy as those that can while away the hours doing perfectly acceptable tasks such as reading Jane Austen or eating chocolate. Going on walks or having lunch with a friend are all good things that don’t make you necessarily idle or empty. But busy we all are and busy we will stay. Whenever I get a little free time I feel the need to fill it with a new goal, idea or scheme. I’m constantly scheming. My husband is now use to my schemes and very supportive of them knowing full well that they won’t come to fruition. Really, why should he try to argue why my high end christmas tree decorating business idea isn’t so great. And I would say that human nature has always been obsessed with being busy. If we weren’t inventing the wheel we were mastering fire. If we weren’t building bridges we needed to start a war.  So where does this busy-ness stem from in our psyche? Why are we the only ones in the animal kingdom that care about so called progress? There is something in us…a fire, nay, desire to keep growing, learning and achieving. We are ever searching for answers and trying grasp at meaning. The lions couldn’t care less. I watched that depressing nature movie, “The Last Lions” where the mom lion see’s that her cub has a broken back and abandons him. She knows he can’t be helped and trying to hang around him will just lead to her demise as well. I hated that movie. I hated the mom lion for being so pragmatic and seemingly matter a fact about letting her cub be torn apart by the wicked hyena’s. And yet she was right. Maybe she didn’t have a heart but she was right to leave him. What use was she dead as well? But if I were in that situation as a human I’d want to die trying to protect my baby rather then the alternative. So busy-ness and progress is noble. We want things to be better. But every solution we find creates another problem. Cars produce transportation AND pollution. Smart phones produce quick communication on multiple platforms so you never have a moment alone. Don’t get me wrong, I love my current life of busy-ness because it affords me a lot of things such as meaning, purpose and self esteem. I have places to go and people to see, babies to raise and a family to feed. (that rhymed. I’m reading too much Dr. Suess evidently). But at the core of it all I have to ask, “Why?” And now is the time that I depart from the known and venture to the somewhat unknown. I believe its because of a greater plan to refine the spirit that resides in my body for a future eternal purpose that is mostly unknown to me. And there you have it. That’s why I believe we all care about being busy. Because if there wasn’t a reason to progress – we wouldn’t. Think about it.

What to do with all that extra eggnog? (Photo Shoot)

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My friend Kelly Oshiro came up with this fabulous concoction and asked me to photograph it for her website, Santa Barbara Chic. So if you have extra eggnog your trying to figure out what to do with it, try this eggnog float. I promise it won’t disappoint!

Here’s to “scoop”-

– Two scoops of ice cream

– Pour the eggnog over the ice cream

– Toast some sliced almonds and sprinkle on top.

To toast the almonds: 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until you can smell the almonds, watch them closely, they’ll burn if you’re not paying attention.

Crepe Cannelloni’s with Panchetta and Spinach

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Michael and I love Paris and eating crepes (and Coca Lite!) off a cart in that beautiful city are some of my most fond memories. I make crepes all the time for at home for breakfast or dessert and fill them with sweet things like jam or nutella.I decided to try this recipe because I love savory foods and wanted to try an Italian spin with a crepe as the “pasta”. I tested it on my family and it was a huge success. Enjoy!

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Crepe Cannelloni with Panchetta and Spinach:

Crepe Recipe:

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup water

½ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:

2 cloves garlic minced

½ large onion diced

1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

15 oz ricotta cheese

¾ cup grated parmesan cheese for filling

¾ cup grated parmesan cheese for topping

3 oz Prosciutto chopped

1 cup loosely packed coarsely chopped spinach leaves

1 recipe marinara (or 1 16 oz jar prepared marinara with ½ cup cream added)

Preheat Oven to 375 degree’s.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the eggs. Gradually add in the milk and water, stirring to combine. Add the salt and butter; beat until smooth. Heat a frying pan over medium high heat and spray with cooking spray. Pour ⅓ cup of batter onto the pan. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.  Cook the crepe until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side briefly. Set aside. Repeat until batter is gone.

Sauté onions with olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and continue cooking for another few minutes. Take off heat and set aside. In a mixing bowl combine ricotta, parmesan, parsley, prosciutto, onion & garlic mixture & spinach. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Add egg and combine thoroughly. If the filling is slightly thick, thin out with a tablespoon of water so the consistency is soft enough to easily scoop out.

Spray a 13×9 glass casserole dish with cooking spray. Take a crepe and fill with approximately 2-3 heaping tablespoons of filling. Roll and place in pan. Repeat until all crepes are filled and rolled.

Pour marinara over cannelloni’s. (If using prepared marinara, warm in a pan and mix in ½ cup cream before pouring over cannelloni’s) Taking a spoon spread out the sauce so it covers all the cannelloni’s evenly. Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is lightly browned. Serve hot.

Dramatic Holiday Season Recap

Oh goodness. Last week was a whirlwind to say the least. I’m am very happy to have survived it and that my husband and baby survived too. Not only was it a crazy holiday with family but my baby sister got married in between Christmas and New Years. So…yeah. When I was growing up my parents house was a wee bit tight for just us. (Two parents and 5 children). So imagine how tight it is now with 5 married kids all coming home for the holidays with grandchildren. My parents have a three bedroom house which probably comfortably fits 5 people. There are 16 people total including the little ones. My Mom generously paid for a hotel for us and my brother and his wife. We upgraded and paid to have a hotel suite so that the baby could actually sleep. So that took the number from 16 down to 11 house guests. Anyway, it was crazy chaotic fun.

Every Christmas Eve we choose a different part of the world and cook the food from that region. This year we picked the California coast in honor of both my sister and brother’s wedding this year in California. I was put in charge of the menu and came up with a perfect meal that highlighted the best of what California has to offer. We were to have Tri Tip (indigenous of Santa Maria), Citrus Chicken (citrus is a big part of California) and Shrimp Skewers (a nod to the coast). For sides I chose Avocado and Blood Orange Salad (Avocados a no brainer to California), Ranch Beans, Rice, Salsa and Tortillas (which traditionally is served with tri tip and is a nod to the latin influence of California). And finally I suggested Grilled Sourdough Bread with Melted Monterrey Jack Cheese and Bacon (a nod to San Francisco and Monterrey). Long story short there was some resistance by a person who will remain nameless and the Tri Tip and Bacon was vetoed due to their lifestyle choice of not eating beef or pork. Then an arduous email exchange occurred between family members as follows:

Nameless Person # 1: I’m not very interested in the tri tip because I don’t eat beef.  I also don’t eat pork, but I’m making an exception for Christmas Day as so many people are interested in having the traditional Grandpa dinner.  Can we also not have bacon with the bread?

Nameless Person # 2: Well the rice, beans salsa and tortillas really goes with the tri tip. So it doesn’t really make sense to do that without the tri tip. I know that you and “Steve” don’t eat tri tip but I think everyone else does and might be interested in it. However if we are going to ditch the tri tip maybe I can come up with another theme that includes a latin influence. I just wanted everything to tie together cohesively. Thoughts?

Nameless Person # 1: I took out the tri tip so the rice and beans are unnecessary.  The corn and rice are also Latin and we could add chips and salsa for an appetizer.  I put in another menu after the first taking out the beans and tortillas.

Nameless Person # 2: Its up to you! 🙂 xoxo

Nameless Person # 1: Sounds like you aren’t very happy about no tri tip.

Nameless Person # 3: Could we just buy grass fed beef, thus reducing concerns about inhumane treatment and celebrating meat consumption as a way to promote a sustainable earth? I’d be happy to skip the ham on Christmas Day too if we wanted to pick just one mammal.

Nameless Person # 1: Why is beef so important?  What is wrong with chicken and shrimp?  Maybe the best way to support a sustainable earth is to go vegetarian.  Anna, do you have some good vegetarian recipes we could do?  Vegetarian is a California cuisine.

Nameless Person # 3: I’m okay with the chicken and shrimp, but I want to be on the record as saying that there is demonstrable proof that eating grass fed beef is better for the environment. 🙂

Yes, this is my family whom I love. The debate ended here as no one was interested in pushing the issue further. Being a former vegetarian I’m always fine without eating meat but I do feel that its important to be respectful of people who do eat meat. Anyway, I changed the menu to be more on the seasonal side and came up with: Grilled Citrus Chicken, Shrimp Skewers, Roast Brussel Sprouts, Whipped Sweet Potatoes, Twice Baked Potatoes, Green Salad with Mandarin Oranges, Red Pepper and Pistachios and Sautéed Green Beans with Chicken Sausage. It was delicious. I’m curious to see how next years menu planning goes. I know now not to mention any form of beef or pork consumption so that should help. (Although we did eat ham the next day which seemed to be fine with this particular family member….don’t ask).

Christmas Day we ate a delicious breakfast prepared by my talented sister Sarah. She make Pumpkin Biscuits, Fruit Salad &  Scrambled Eggs. Her husband Mike made a delightful hot chocolate to boot. We opened presents, watched the Laker’s game (they won!), took a family picture and ate our traditional ham dinner.

The next day was my sister’s bachelorette party which my sister Sarah and I hosted. We took Bethany to Saddle Ranch at Universal City Walk with her entourage of friends. We had dinner, made her ride the mechanical bull, ate a mountain of cotton candy and then made her embarrass herself on City Walk by doing whatever bidding we told her. One friend made her ask a young man to spank her. Another told her to do cartwheels down citywalk and sing “I’m getting married in the morning.” So that was quite entertaining. We then went back to my hotel and sat in the hot tub while playing “Bachelorette Trivia” where we all discovered how well we knew the bride. After our hot tub confessions we ate cherry filled cupcakes in the hotel room and she opened her presents of “unmentionables.” It was a tame but fun bachelorette party. The next day was the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. And then the big day arrived for the wedding! I’m not going to go into every detail of that day because it was long, intense but fun. Bethany and Shawn seemed so happy and we got lots of amazing pictures. The reception was beautiful and the food, dancing and merriment were fabulous. By the end of the day I was finally relaxed and having fun because there were not more “to-do’s” rolling around in my brain and I didn’t want the evening to end. I was still dancing while the wait staff was cleaning the tables….

Overall, it was an amazing holiday with family because of all the memories we created and its a year we’ll never forget. But I am secretly looking forward to next year when the only activity for the holidays is sitting around, eating and being generally lazy. Here’s to a more relaxed 2013! Happy New Year everyone!