Sunday, November 20, 2011

Slow Cooker Chili & Honey Brown Sugar Cornbread

Pin It Now! Are you ready for Thanksgiving??  I swear just yesterday I was thinking that Halloween was almost here, and now Thanksgiving is staring us in the face.  I'm so excited!  Thanksgiving and Christmas are my favorite holidays of the year.  I can't wait for the Montalvo family to be together again.  Tuesday evening will find me in the kitchen baking up a double batch of pumpkin cranberry cookies.

This morning I woke up to one of my favorite sounds... rain!  Typically I would sleep in on a Sunday morning, but the rain was so beautiful that I was perfectly happy sacrificing sleep for cuddling with Chico and listening to the drops fall on the roof. 

Rainy days call for comfort food.  Something that will fill the house with yummy smells while bubbling away on the stove - or in this case, the crock pot.  (The crock pot gets a lot of love during the chilly months.)  This chili recipe is simple, easy and definitely qualifies as comfort food.  This would be great as a vegetarian chili; leave out the meat and toss in some seasonal squash and voila!  Or sub chicken for the beef for a lighter dish.  I think next time I'll add in some diced green chiles for a little variety.

Slow Cooker Chili
1-2 lbs stew meat, trimmed
1 large bell pepper (any color)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp cinammon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt & pepper
2 cans beans (any variety you like.  Drain & rinse one can)
3 cans diced tomatoes (preferably low sodium)

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet on high heat. Saute stew meat, bell pepper, onion and garlic for 5 minutes, or until the meat starts to brown on all sides.  Add in chili powder, cumin, oregano, cinammon, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper.  Let cook for a couple minutes more.  In the meantime, pour tomatoes and beans into the crock pot and turn on high.  Add meat and veggies to the crock pot and stir to mix.  Cook on high 6-8 hours, stirring occasionally.

Honey Brown Sugar Cornbread
1 prepared recipe for cornbread (I cheated and used the Trader Joe's cornbread mix)
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp packed brown sugar

Stir honey and brown sugar into cornbread mix and bake as directed.  There, wasn't that a complicated "recipe"?  The leftovers are great to dry for croutons!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ginelle's "June Cleaver" Chocolate Cake

Pin It Now! A couple of weeks ago, my friend Ginelle surprised me with the most stunning scrapbook I have ever laid my eyes on.  Ginelle is extremely creative and unbelievable talented when it comes to scrapping (not to mention cooking and pretty much everything else!)  Any time she would share her latest project with me I was always blown away.

Well let me tell you...  she really outdid herself this time.

She created every element of this scrapbook herself, right down to the pages, literally hand cutting the heart shape over and over for each page.  We share a love for all things Twilight, and the paper she found for this project is undoubtedly very Twilight-esque... deep reds, black gothic details... very romantic.  My bumbling words don't do this piece justice (neither do my photos).  It is absolutely one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever received and one that will be cherished.

On to the cake...  Last year when I asked Ginelle what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, she answered, "A homemade, very June Cleaver-y chocolate cake."  And I knew exactly where I would go for just such a cake.

Ina Garten's cookbook, "Barefoot Contessa At Home", features this decadent cake.  It is, without a doubt, the absolute best chocolate cake you will find anywhere.  Trust me.  I've eaten a lot of chocolate cake from a lot of different places, and this is the real deal. I've never come across a cake that stays as moist as this cake, and the buttercream is sinfully rich.  Note: the recipe for the buttercream calls for an egg yolk to give more depth to the flavor and give the icing a nice shine.  I leave this out as most people aren't comfortable with the idea. 

Ginelle loved this cake, so what better way can I say "thank you" than with her very own June Cleaver chocolate cake?  :)

Always make sure your ingredients are at room temperature (yes, even the eggs and buttermilk).  It truly does make a difference.

Ginelle's "June Cleaver" Chocolate Cake
from Ina Garten
1 3/4 c flour
2 c granulated sugar
3/4 c cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 c buttermilk
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter two 8" round cake pans and line with parchment.  Butter the parchment.  Dust pans with flour.

In your mixer, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt on low speed.  In a separate bowl whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla.  Carefully beat the wet ingredients into the dry until just incorporated.  Then (SLOWLY!) mix in the hot coffee.  Divide batter evenly between both prepared pans.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 30 minutes in the pans, then invert onto cooling racks.  Once cakes are completely cooled, frost with chocolate buttercream.

Chocolate Buttercream
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter - softened
1 lg egg yolk (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1 c + 1 tbsp sifted powdered sugar
1 tbsp instant coffee granules, dissolved in 2 tsp hot water

Melt chocolate and set aside to cool.  In mixer bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy.  Add in egg yolk and vanilla and beat for one minute, scraping down the side of the bowl with a spatula.  Slowly beat in the confectioner's sugar on low speed (unless you want a sugar storm!).  Add the coffee and chocolate and beat until fully incorporated.

Set one layer of the cake on a cake stand, flat side up.  Spread 1/3 of the buttercream across the top.  Add the second cake layer and frost with remaining buttercream.  Summon all your willpower not to immediately dive into the cake.  Enjoy!!

I promise this isn't waiting for you in that cake box, G ;)


Sunday, November 13, 2011

{Healthy!} Oven Crisped Slow-Cooker Carnitas

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I know "healthy carnitas" seems like an oxymoron, but hear me out.  Carnitas - literally translated "little meats" -  is a braised pork shoulder that is shredded and then fried in lard until the top is crispy.  I'd rather not feed my hubby a plate full of lard, so I had to come up with a more health conscious method.

Thanks to my beloved crock pot, putting this together literally took five minutes.  Several hours later the meat was fork tender and easy to shred, so dinner was a snap!  I didn't measure my spices, so I'd guess that I used about 2 tsp of cumin and coriander. 

Slow Cooker Carnitas
1 4-lb pork shoulder
ground cumin
ground coriander
salt & pepper
cinnamon (about 1 tsp)
cayenne pepper (about 1 tsp)
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
2-3 bay leaves
1-2 c chicken broth

Let the pork come to room temperature for 30 minutes.  Sprinkle the cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cinnamon and cayenne pepper on all surfaces of the meat.  Pour about 2 inches of broth in the crock pot and carefully lay the pork shoulder in.  Toss in the garlic, onions and bay leaves.  Cook on high for 6-7 hours, turning the meat halfway through.

Once the meat is cooked, place it in a 9x13 baking pan (or on a baking sheet) and shred with two forks.  Spread the meat out in an even layer and crisp in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.  Spoon some of the cooking liquid over the meat when it comes out of the oven and squeeze half of a lime over the whole pan.  Serve in burritos, burrito bowls, tacos, nachos... whatever you like!  We made burrito bowls with cilantro rice and pico de gallo.  Enjoy!

Sous chef :)

Next Day Update
Round Two: Breakfast for dinner...  carnitas hash!  Top skillet potatoes with carnitas and fried egg.  YUMM!


Pumpkin Cranberry Cookies with Apple Cider Glaze

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I love fall.  I really do.  I love the orange and red leaves falling, I love the goose-bumpy mornings and evenings, I love that it gets darker earlier, I love that my beautiful scarves and boots get to come out and play... I love it all.

And did I mention I love the food?  I LOVE fall food!  Fall is squash, cinnamon, sage, pumpkin, cranberry, nutmeg, allspice.  Fall is cozy warm kitchens filled with delicious smells and the sound of family.

This year is Thanksgiving Montalvo style.  R&B will be coming in to town and us wives will be in the kitchen while the hubbies make "Noes" (Fresca with a splash of tequila - or is it the other way around??) watch football or play with Captain America.

I've decided to make cookies as part of our Thanksgiving dessert table.  Pumpkin anything is right up my alley, but I wanted to make more than just plain ol' pumpkin cookies.  Cranberries and a special glaze kicked things up a notch and were so simple to put together!  This was a trial run/recipe test and worked out beautifully.  The cookies stay very soft and moist.  For Thanksgiving I'm going to have two types: ones with cranberries, and one with walnuts.

These would also be great with chocolate chips, leaving out the glaze and cranberries.  Wanna make it quick?  Spread the batter in a greased 9x13 pan and make cookie bars!  Easy peasy!

Pumpkin Cranberry Cookies
Adapted from Very Best Baking

2 1/2 c AP flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon (I love cinnamon, so I did a heaping teaspoon)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c granulated sugar
3/4 c dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 c butter (1 stick) at room temperature
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 large egg at room temperature (it really does make a difference)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup(ish) dried cranberries
Glaze (recipe below)

Directions for cookies:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment or lightly grease.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.  In a large mixer bowl, beat sugars and butter until fully mixed.  Beat in pumpkin, egg and vanilla until smooth.  Gradually beat in flour mixture.  Lastly, mix in cranberries until just beaten through.  Don't over beat.  Drop by heaping tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until edges are just firm. They won't look done, but that's how you want them.  Cool slightly on the baking sheets and then transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

Apple Cider Glaze
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2-3 tbsp apple cider

Combine all ingredients and whisk until very smooth.  Add more powdered sugar (Sift!) or cider as needed.  The consistency should be a bit syrupy.  Too thin and it will run right off the cookies.  Drizzle over the cooled cookies and let dry completely.

Come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Chicago Metallic.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Pin It Now! Today is a very, very special day!  It is my hero's birthday.  On November 9, 19**, Steven Albert Chaparro was born.  Thirty years later, a spoiled brat named Nicholle came along and has idolized him ever since. 

How does one put into words the love they have for their parents?  It's impossible.  Being Daddy's Little Girl encompasses so much more than can be expressed in a card, a letter or even a novel.  There simply aren't the words to thank my Daddy for all the times he has rescued me - whether it was saving me from the bullies at school, jump starting my car in the pouring rain when I left my lights on all day, talking me down from countless panic attacks, and a plethora of other sticky situations I've gotten myself into - my Daddy was the one I turned to.  When I was 18 months old and had surgery, the only thing I wanted when I woke up was to be in the safe, strong arms of my Daddy.  I was a nervous wreck the day of my wedding, but the moment my Daddy took my hand and got ready to walk me down the aisle, all that nervous energy was calmed. 

Being a parent to me wasn't/isn't always easy.  I was definitely a royal pain the butt (and still can be.  But now it's my hubby's problem ;)  )  Despite all of the annoying, hurtful, stupid, thoughtless things I could come up with, my parents loved me anyway.  Despite my tantrum throwing over ridiculous things (what do you mean I don't need a cash register?!  Every 8-year-old needs a cash register!), my Daddy sent me flowers at school for no reason when I was in third grade.  He also sent me a huge bouquet of the most beautiful baby pink roses you've ever seen on the first day of my new job.  He drove all the way across town just to bring me my bike when I spent the night at my girl friend's house.  He took time out of work to bring a special lunch to me and all my classmates when a mean girl stomped on my lunch.  He held my hand and walked me into school every morning when I was afraid the other kids would eat me alive.  He took me to Graumann's Chinese Theatre to see Marilyn Monroe's handprints and bought me a collection of her movies because he knew I loved her.  He taught me how to drive stick-shift and change a flat so that I'd be prepared.  He was the strong one and comforted me when I cried my eyes out at his cancer diagnosis.  These are only a fraction of the many, many reasons why my Daddy is, and always will be, my Hero.

When does a girl need her Daddy?  Always.

And I am proud to say that I will be Daddy's Little Girl forever and ever.

Happy Birthday to my Hero!!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Twilight Convention (yes, I know) and Kailee's First Birthday

Pin It Now! The Twilight Convention

I know what you're thinking - "Twilight Convention???  REALLY???"  and yes, I admit, I am one of those Twilight people.  I am the TwiHard that I used to roll my eyes at.  My co-worker tried and tried to get me to read the books and I finally caved.  I literally told her, "Give me the book.  If I hate the first chapter, I'm not going any further." 

I was hooked after the first page.

If you have not read the books, I highly recommend them.  They aren't the gore-filled vampire story that I expected.  It's a love story with just the right amount of action and suspense.

Anyway - so this Saturday we trekked down to L.A. to the Hyatt Regency for the Breaking Dawn Convention.  My co-worker has a connection, and we were given free VIP passes - how could we say no to that?! 

The convention was packed, of course.  Everyone went absolutely berserk when RPatz, KStew and Taylor Lautner went out on stage.  Not gonna lie, I screamed like a little girl, too.  Here are some pics - enjoy!

The Cullen Family
L-R: Jackson Rathbone (Jasper), Ashley Greene (Alice), Elizabeth Reaser (Esme), Peter Faccinelli (Carlisle)

L-R: Bill Condon, Director of Breaking Dawn, Kristen Stewart (Bella), Robert Pattinson (Edward), Taylor Lautner (Jacob)

Jacob's motorcycle from New Moon and Eclipse

Bella's beloved ol' Chevy

Kailee's First Birthday

On November 6, 2010, my bestie Tara gave birth to her sweet little girl, Kailee.  Yesterday was Kailee's first birthday, complete with a very pink party!  All of the munchkins had a great time and there were surprisingly few meltdowns considering we partied well past nap time.  And at the end of the day, a beautiful rainbow appeared just for the birthday girl.

Happy First Birthday, Kailee!

It's my party and I'll cry if I want to!

Impromptu concert

K & Uncle Robert

Birthday hug from Mommy!

K's beautiful rainbow


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Montalvo Kind of Weekend

Pin It Now! Weekend before last, my brother- and sister-in-law came into town to visit from San Francisco.  I absolutely adore my in laws - all of them - and I love when the whole family can be together. 

As is customary when R&B are in town, us girls went for mani/pedis and then we had dinner at Los Arroyos in Montecito.  We of course had to stop for some gelato at Here's the Scoop down the street.  They have fabulous gelato!  Bro-in-law got maple bacon, which all the guys loved.  Us ladies weren't feelin' it.  I'll stick to my pumpkin spice, thankyouverymuch.

On the way to Scoop, we happened upon an abandoned shopping cart.  No matter what age, boys will be boys...


The next morning we all went to brunch at Yolanda's in Ventura, about 30 minutes from here.  So delish!  They have coconut and honey glazed strawberries that are wicked good!  It's another "R&B Are In Town" tradition.  On our way out, we did some quick geocaching, since Ricky had never done it before.  Didn't take us long to find the loot...


It was such a fun weekend with the fam!  Can't wait to do it again.

Halloween Brownies with Cream Cheese Spiderweb

Pin It Now! The other day I was perusing the King Arthur Flour website (one of my faves) and came across the cutest idea: spiderweb brownies!  Aren't they adorable??  I thought this would be a perfect potluck treat to bring to work.  I decided to use my own brownie recipe instead, but followed the recipe for the cream cheese spiderweb.

Cream Cheese "Spiderweb" Mixture
from King Arthur Flour
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature*
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp AP flour
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp mint flavoring (optional)

Mix all ingredients until smooth.  Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag and set aside.  *Note: cream cheese MUST be very soft.  I was impatient and didn't let it completely soften, hence my disappointing results.

1 c vegetable oil
1 c white sugar
1 c brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract (variation: 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp mint)
4 eggs
1 c AP flour
2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9x13 baking pan (or two 8x8, like I did) and line with parchment paper.  Butter the parchment paper for good measure.

Fit your mixer with the paddle attachment (or you can use a hand mixer if you'd like).  Mix together the oil, sugar and vanilla.  Beat in eggs.  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and walnuts (if desired).  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until fully incorporated.  Spread batter into pan(s).

Take up your pastry bag with the cream cheese mixture.  Draw a small pool of cream cheese mixture in the very center of the brownies.  Continue drawing cream cheese circles around the pool, moving one inch or so out from the center for the first circle, another inch out for the second circle, and so on.  Then, take the back of a knife and drag it back and forth through the circles.  This will draw the "arcs" of the web.  Take your cream cheese mixture and draw over the knife tracks to fill in the "spokes" of the web.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until brownies just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. 

Now, before we go any futher, you need to promise you won't laugh at my end result.


Ok, if you promise...

I know you're making fun anyway!  My webs are laughable, but oh well.  It was a first attempt.  Had I been patient enough to let the cream cheese soften completely, my webs would've had the ideal arcs.  I'm thinking I may use this same idea for a fall treat, so stay tuned.

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