Thursday, April 30, 2009

Recipe of the Week: Mexican Lasagna

What I like about this recipe is that you can easily make it vegetarian. Brian loves cooking with TVP and I love finding recipes where it can easily be adapted (or hidden)!



Mexican Lasagna


1 tsp olive oil
1 lb lean ground turkey, beef, shredded pre-cooked chicken or TVP (we love this brand)

1 small sweet yellow onion, diced

1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
3 cloves of garlic, minced

5-6 corn tortillas
Refried Beans
Cheddar cheese, grated
Black beans
Tomatoes, diced
Frozen sweet corn, thawed
Black olives, sliced
Green onions, sliced
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Sour Cream, optional

Tortilla Chips, optional


1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot add the meat of your choice, onion and seasonings then mix thoroughly (if you are using pre-cooked chicken add it in after onion has cooked 2-3 minutes). Cook until the meat is done and the onion is tender, about 6-7 minutes. Add the minced garlic and stir constantly for 60 seconds. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking dish with cooking spray. Add some salsa to the bottom of the baking dish and coat evenly. Next add enough tortillas to cover bottom of dish (you may need to trim them to fit). Spread refried beans over the entire tortillas then add cheese, cooked meat, black beans, tomatoes, corn, black olives and a handful of green onion. Next spread some salsa over the top. Add another tortilla and repeat the layering process again (if your casserole dish is deep you may be able to repeat 2- 3 times).

3. On the final layer, add the tortillas, a thick layer of salsa and cheddar cheese then sprinkle the top with black olive slices.

4. Cover (spray your tin foil with PAM or another cooking spray so your cheese won't stick) and bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove tin foil and bake for an additional 7-10 minutes or until the cheese melts and gets golden brown. Let sit for 5 minutes before slicing. Top with fresh guacamole, fresh cilantro, sour cream and a few tortilla chips (on the side)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Brian and Sammy

These two are pretty tight! In fact...most of the time, Sammy prefers Brian's lap to mine. I get a bit jealous, but knowing where Sammy came from - I am so grateful that he has Brian.
Sammy completely loves Brian (and vice/versa). It's always hard on each of us to leave our little guy at home so Sunday was a special day for us...upon our return from Napa - it was "Sammy time".

I think I snapped about 15 pictures of these too....

Monday, April 27, 2009

Birthday Trip: Napa Valley - St. Helena/Rutherford - Day FOUR

Before departing the Napa valley last Saturday - Brian and I spent the morning in St. Helena/Rutherford.

We drove north from American Canyon to St. Helena and had breakfast at the Gillwood Cafe - fresh local ingredients producing excellent food (my huevos rancheros was wonderful with homemade salsa).We did a bit of window shopping along main street and picked up some wonderful trinkets at Olivier Napa Valley. Great mustards, olive oils, dipping sauces and kitchen items. Brian and I both commented that next time we will spend more time in St. Helena - checking out smaller wineries and exploring this cute little town.
We then decided to wrap up our Napa adventure by each picking a winery. I chose Franciscan Estates Winery (I liked the look of their grounds, well manicured, large fountain and large tasting room) and I had heard of their wines before but never have tried them. Most of the wineries along highway 29 are the larger commercial wineries that you know by heart. Their tasting fee was $15 and they actually threw in a port for Brian to try (which he didn't care for) and I had several reserve reds on top of the 4 tastings for my fee.

Good solid wines - but nothing that jumped out at me. I liked their Chardonnay (and the wine master even threw in a reserve Chardonnay), but they were not as good as Friday's Clos du Val or Rutherford Hill.

Brian choose Grgich Hills Estate - a winery he was familiar with. I am not a big fan of stainless steel aging - so their Chardonnay was too light for me (no oak). They also had a Fume Blanc which would pair nicely with a summer seafood salad. The reds were unimpressive. Their vineyards are certified organic and Biodynamic which uses the earth’s natural cycles and organic preparations to grow balanced, healthy vines without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides. You gotta love that!
I still felt like we were leaving Napa on a sour note (taste-wise) as on Friday "off the beaten path" we experienced so many wonderful wines.

We decided we had enough time to slip into Domaine Chandon for one last glass of bubbly. Again, I was disappointed. Their grounds are so immaculate - but their tasting area was extremely crowded and very loud (several large groups), plus the place was dirty (bathrooms, especially) and lacked the personal attention we'd had on Friday. Brian and I stood in the sunshine, snapped a few pictures and hit the road south.Our drive took us back over the Golden Gate Bridge as we reminisced about our favorite Napa experiences. I especially loved the Silverado Trail, Sterling Vineyard tram ride and Zuzu's for dinner.

Saturday afternoon was spent in Sunnyvale, California with friends Jenny and Brent and 2 year-old, Carter's birthday party in the park. A perfect opportunity to connect with them (it's been ages). It was a mild day - the air was clean and it was a relaxing way to wrap up our trip.They invited us over to pizza at their place - which gave us more of an opportunity to chat and play puppets (Sesame Street) with Carter Peanut. Very adorable little guy. Great made our trip that we could connect again!
We said goodbye to the Bay Area early on Sunday. I am so grateful for the wonderful time with Brian. We had a wonderful adventure.


Menu Plan Monday: Back from Napa

Brian and I are back from Napa - we had an amazing time and ate and drank like Rock Stars! Napa is a beautiful place with so much food and wine to enjoy that I am finding it hard to get back into the light, low fat routine. Perhaps I can spice it up a bit with these recipes.

As always, check out Laura and all the other menu planners for great ideas. grocery budget tracker this week. With the Napa trip last week, I did not shopping for groceries so we will carry it over a week into May.


Monday: Mexican Black Bean Salsa Chicken with a Big Garden Salad (Thanks, Rachel)
Tuesday: BBQ'd boneless Chili Rubbed Pork Chops with Roasted Rosemary and Garlic Yukon Gold Potatoes and Leftover Salad
Wednesday: Greek Shrimp with Orzo
Thursday: Last Minute Lasagna with Cesar Salad
Friday: Pan-Seared Tilapia with Citrus Vinaigrette and Garlic Green Beans

Friday, April 24, 2009

Birthday Trip: Napa Valley - Day THREE

Brian and I headed into Napa - one of the original counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood. The word napa is of Native American derivation and has been variously translated as "grizzly bear", "house", "motherland" and "fish". Of the many explanations of the name's origin, the most plausible seems to be that it is derived from the Patwin word napo meaning house, although local residents will often cite an urban legend that gives the translation as "you will always return".

The Napa Valley is widely considered one of the top American Viticultural areas in California, and all of the United States, with a history dating back to the early nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century there were more than one hundred and forty wineries in the area.

Of those original wineries several still exist in the valley today including Charles Krug Winery, Shramsburg, Chateau Montelena and Beringer.

Planning our 2 1/2 days in the Napa Valley wasn't easy......too many wineries and not enough time. We carefully reviewed a few guide books and I chose most of the wineries with open tasting rooms (many are by appointment only). We decided to head north as far as possible (Calistoga) and work our way back to American Canyon (where our hotel is) via the Silverado Trail - a little off the beaten path.

In 1852 the first permanent road was built from Napa to Calistoga, providing a major trade route for hauling wheat, and fruit, the primary crops, as well as travelers. This road would later be known as The Silverado Trail.

I highlighted some 25 wineries on a map - knowing that we would only have time for a handful. Here was our Friday itinerary:

Sterling Vineyards - Large commercial winery - Tram Ride (highlight of the trip for Brian) - seated tasting room with panoramic views.Rutherford Hill - a western Chalet - impressive 25ft tall door - intimate tasting room - chocolate covered blueberries and port.

Mumm Napa - Wonderful sparkling wines - sunny patio overlooking the vineyard.

Clos Du Val - Decorative grounds - wonderful tasting selection - eclectic staff

Luna Vineyards - Small beautiful Italian decor - wines poured by winemaker.

After our journey along the Silverado trail was complete, Brian and I had a wonderful tapas dinner at Zuzu's in downtown Napa. What a wonderful way to end my birthday.....small plates, delicately prepared, well-balanced local fare with Spanish influenced flavors.Here was our menu choices:

Seasoned and toasted Almonds - Fresh Gulf Shrimp with Garlic, piquin chili and smokey pimeton - Grass-fed flat iron steak with roasted jalapeno chimicurri - Fingerling potatoes with leeks, spring onion in a romecso sauce - Pan roasted California Asparagus with jamon serrano ham in a green garlic sauce.



Happy 40th Birthday To Me!

In honor of my 40th Birthday, here are 40, fabulous things about me!

1. I’ve never been on a ferris wheel.
2. I get car sick if I read in a moving car, even if it’s to glance at a map.
3. I love to cook, but can’t master the art of baking (it’s too exact).
4. I had a cat named Tinker Bell, who lived for 22 years.
5. And a poodle name Anna who lived even longer!
6. Both are buried in my Dad's backyard (and I asked him to dig them up if they ever move).
7. I spent the day at the Australian Open Tennis Tournament in Melbourne, Australia in January 1995.
8. I lived in Australia for 2 years, 7 months.
9. I am a complete anglophile (a link just in case you thought it was something “dirty”).
10. In grade school I wanted to be a plant lady who worked in a plant shop.11. I wore braces on my teeth for 2 and 1/2 years.
12. I had 4 permanent teeth pulled prior to the braces.
13. I varsity-lettered in tennis as a high school freshman.
14. My favorite candy bar is a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
15. I love to dip French fries into chocolate milk shakes.
16. I love celebrating my birthday (it usually lasts the whole month of April).
17. My favorite meal is anything my Dad cooked for me as a child, including fried oysters, fresh venison and liver with onions.
18. Strong winds frighten me (I usually sleep with a flashlight on stormy nights).
19. Thunder storms too, although we rarely experience them in Portland.
20. I can't whistle.21. I like taking naps.
22. I still watch General Hospital everyday and have for over 25 years (I love my DVR).
23. I like flat pillows for sleeping.
24. I love wearing perfume, but like to have several scents to choose from.
25. I can’t drive a stick shift.
26. I love pedicures, but can’t stand to have a manicure (I don't like anyone messing with my hands).
27. I’d love to have a tattoo on my lower back of a phoenix rising from the ashes.
28. I love to travel, but flying scares me (especially landing).
29. I am afraid of the water, but love to sail.
30. I am not a confident swimmer despite growing up with a swimming pool in my backyard.
31. I love making lists, especially grocery lists
32. I love grocery shopping, but hate to shop for just about everything else – especially clothes and shoes.
33. I love my name – first, middle and last.
34. I was named after my mother’s uncle.
35. I don’t like clowns – there is something evil about every one of them!
36. My favorite color is the color of the sky at night after the sun sets and before the first star appears (I think it's called Twilight).
37. One summer as a kid I ate so much corn on the cob that it gave me hives.
38. I'd rather have an evening at home than go out somewhere (anywhere).
39. I love the smell of fresh cut grass on that first spring afternoon when everyone cuts the grass for the first time (and it's warm enough to open your patio doors).
40. I’ll eat anything but lima beans.

Here is to 40 more fabulous years!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Birthday Trip: Day Two - Carneros

Brian and I headed for Napa early on Thursday - over the Golden Gate Bridge. We were both excited to start our road trip and also to spend the first part of our wine tour in the Carneros region.As you approach the wine district from the south - you first pass through the Carneros region. This region is cool and windswept and until the latter part of the 20th century - this mixture of marsh land, sloughs and rolling hills was mainly known for its sheep herding (carnero in Spanish = sheep).Carneros is famous for sparking wine, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. The Carneros wine country runs along the southern tip of Napa and Sonoma Counties.Our Tour:

• Roche – Small, view of South Carneros valley, young under-developed wines
• Viansa Vineyards
– relaxing atmosphere, Italian flair and marketplace
• Gloria Ferrer - No tastings (wine bar only) - nice patio, inviting
• Acacia - By Appointment only (we didn't know); nice pinots, friendly staff
• Artesa Vineyards
– spectacular architecture, fountains, and viewsWe checked into our hotel and had an appetizer in their wine bar.Off to dinner at the Boon Fly Cafe - along the rural Carneros Highway. This cafe sits in front of the Carneros Inn. The interior is slick and inviting - a cross between chic modern and rustic charm (airy surroundings and dark wood). I loved the outside porch swing!The menu reflects the ambiance.....local and casual with a balance of fresh salads, comfort classics and burgers.

Our journey continues....


Birthday Trip: SFO/Giants Game - Day One

Brian and I left for SFO early Wednesday morning. We arrived just in time to pick up the rental car and head to AT & T Park to see the San Francisco Giants play the San Diego Padres. This was my first visit to AT & T Park (Brian has been before).Brian bought us great seats! Right down the third baseline......9 rows off the field.

A T & T Park is in the South Beach neighborhood and has a capacity of about 41,500. On the facing of the upper deck along the left field line are the retired numbers of Bill Terry, Mel Ott, Willie Mays and Juan Marichal (just to name a few).

The most prominent feature of the ballpark is the right field wall, which is 24 feet (7.3 m) high in honor of former Giant Willie Mays, who wore number 24. Because of the proximity to the SFO Bay, the right field foul pole is only 309 feet from home plate. Atop the outfield fence are four pillars with fountains. These four pillars will burst jets of water when a Giant hits a home run or win a game.Beyond right field is a section of the bay, dubbed McCovey Cove after famed Giants first baseman Willie McCovey. On game days, fans take to the water of McCovey Cove in boats and even in kayaks, often with fishing nets in the hope of collecting a home run ball. Across the cove from the ballpark is McCovey Point and China Basin Park, featuring monuments to past Giants legends.

Our weather was awesome (warmer than I had imagined). As a result, we both got a little pink.

It was a great game (a National League pitcher's dual), the Giants won 1-0 in the 10th inning.We spent Wednesday night close to our hotel (the retro hip Hotel Americana) and enjoyed a burger and a chardonnay in their eclectic bar (complete with a jukebox).We head off to Napa Thursday morning.