Friday, June 21, 2013

Bad Student

In January, my friend, Ronda, and I started working with a trainer once a week with the goal of getting in better shape. What the process entails, in addition to the weekly workout session, is hitting exercise goals and keeping a food journal. Drea has essentially become our teacher, giving us guidance on how to make sustainable lifestyle changes to become healthy and strong.

As a kid, I thrived in school. I loved learning (except Calculus); I made good grades (except Calculus); I was always punctual to class; and I wouldn't dream of not turning in a homework assignment on time. I definitely strove to be a model student. But for the first time in my life I feel like the burner kid who ditches class to go smoke behind the bleachers. As a student of Drea's, I am on academic probation and have spent a fair amount of time in detention.

With my penchant for pizza, my consumption of Coca-Cola (not Diet) and bourbon, and the fact that I'd be happy eating charcuterie and cheese for dinner every night, I think it's safe to say I have proven to be a challenge to her.

When I hand her my weekly food journal, she always asks, "Am I going to be happy?" Usually I hang my head low and drop down and start doing burpees (which is the Calculus of the exercise world, if you ask me). Then I wait for her assessment and feedback, which she sends via email after she's had ample time to shake her head in disgust and get over the incredulousness of my entries. Here are a few of her (verbatim) comments: 

"Did I read correctly that you had a beer, a candy bar, and then two cocktails on the plane for dinner one night?"

"WTF! Coke almost every day, bacon, salami, chicken nuggets, breakfast burritos, mucho alcohol..."

"Who knew they made corndog 'lollipops.' Don't eat them."

I mean this was my dinner last night:

Ice cream and wine. I can't wait to hear what she has to say about that (well, really I can wait). 

When Drea's birthday rolled around last week, I felt like it was only fitting I would make her something totally sinful (because bad students like company too). I figured if she was going to sin, it would have to be something kind of over-the-top ridiculous—like something made with these ingredients: 

Yep, I thought these salted-caramel-chocolate-bourbon cupcakes were a damn good option. I'm not a baker—at all. So this was really a labor of love, as well as a labor of morbid curiosity. I wanted to see if she'd actually eat any. She said she did, but I have no proof! 

They were indeed sinfully good. I know because I did definitely eat some one, along with about 20 of the bourbon chocolate cupcake "cores." 

You see, you have to core the cupcakes to accommodate the salted caramel you pour inside them, which are then topped off with fudge frosting. Through this process, I learned you really can't have too much salted caramel in your life, so I'd recommend doubling the recipe so you can fill the cupcake to the rim. 

The icing tasted good, even though it looks like a 9-year old frosted the cupcakes. I got in a fight with the icing bag and definitely did not win. I ended up just using a zip-loc bag with the corner cut off to dispense the icing. 

To say I'm a work in progress is a gross understatement—obviously. In my defense, I have actually gotten much better over the past six months. I'm a far cry from being her star pupil, but at this point I'm just grateful she hasn't kicked me out of school!

Salted-Caramel-Bourbon-Chocolate Cupcakes

1 pkg Dark Chocolate or Triple Chocolate cake mix
1 cup water
1/3 cup bourbon
1/2 cup oil
3 eggs
Make cupcakes according to the directions on the box. Cool and then core about halfway through the cupcake. You can use an apple corer if you have one, or just cut them out with a sharp knife like I did. 

Salted Caramel Sauce (I suggest you double this)
2 Tbsp whipping cream
1 Tbsp bourbon
24 unwrapped vanilla caramels
1/2 tsp sea salt (like fleur de sel)
In a small double broiler, combine whipping cream and bourbon. Heat over medium-low heat until steaming but not boiling. I didn't have a double broiler so I had to kind of rig one by setting a smaller pot inside a larger one. The goal is not to let the pot touch the water beneath it. Stir in caramels and sea salt. Heat until melted, stirring constantly. Spoon mixture into cupcakes. 

Fudge Frosting
6 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 Tbsp butter
3/4 cup sour cream
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
In a large saucepan, cook and stir chocolate and butter over low heat until melted. Cool for 5 minutes. Stir in sour cream. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Ice cupcakes as desired and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. 

Friday, June 14, 2013


As Plato wisely noted, "Necessity is the mother of invention." As such, I needed a drink so I invented this one.

I'm calling it the Southern Belle because it's got all things Southern in it: peaches, mint, bourbon. It's ladylike but also something a man would enthusiastically desire, like a Southern belle. :-) 

I don't think I've ever invented anything. I mean sure I could've found a cure for malaria or discovered that Pluto isn't really a planet or even produced the seedless watermelon, but some over-achiever already did those things. Nawww, I'm good with just inventing a new cocktail. And not to brag, but this is a pretty damn good invention. And timely too considering that today is National Bourbon Day. Now, that's my kind of holiday! (No offense Flag Day!)

Chop up two ripe peaches
along with about 1 cup of fresh blackberries
and muddle in a bowl with some fresh mint.
Add 1/2 cup of bourbon and 1/2 cup ginger ale
2 Tbsp agave syrup (or simple syrup)
and the juice of 1 lime and 1 lemon and stir well. 
Sip and savor!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

June Gloom

Santa Barbara is pretty spectacular most of the year, that is with the exception of the sixth month. Without fail, on the first day of said month, June Gloom arrives. It affects most of the coastal towns in California, unfortunately. Basically a cold, thick marine layer rolls in early every morning with a steady misting and usually socks in the town until late afternoon. Honestly, yesterday the sun didn't make an appearance until 5:30 pm. Basically, it sucks. I guess it's our punishment for being able to hang out at the beach in February. I know I'm not getting much sympathy over this situation, but can I just say it is wrong to be typing this in jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt, cashmere cardigan and boots with my space heater running when it is the ninth of June. It's probably the month I miss the South the most. June is when you're supposed to be running around in bare feet at the beach, licking popsicles while wearing a sundress, watching heat lightening in the evening from the porch.... June is when you're supposed to be having picnics, potlucks, lunch at the pool, BBQs, and eating a dish like this pasta. 

It's been on heavy rotation since this spring and I think it's perfect for summer too. I know pasta is the ultimate comfort food and often something you'd crave in the fall and winter, but I assure you this one is ideal for the warmer months. It's fresh and light, yet leaves you perfectly satisfied. 

The mint is a welcome twist on the usual basil you associate with pasta, the walnuts provide a buttery crunch, and the feta delivers the perfect salty note. The zucchini and shrimp are a great combo brought together with fresh lemon for some punchy acidity. It also comes together fairly quickly, which is a bonus because who wants to spend hours on a sunny summer day in the kitchen (I mean if you actually have hours of sun on a summer day)?

I do think it's key to use fresh pasta (be it linguini, pappardelle, or fettucini), which seems like you can find in most grocery stores these days. I made it with shrimp but it would be lovely with roasted or grilled chicken, or you could add spanish tuna or a can of white beans. It also works without any protein added as a fabulous side dish. 

As I said, I've made this at least a half-dozen times over the past few months and it is always a hit, even with kids. It just kind of screams summer to me with the mint, the lemon, and the zucchini. While fairly pedestrian summer ingredients, this recipe combines them with some smart flavoring to an incredible effect. 

The only negative that comes to mind was the last time I made it, I had a little accident with my salt shaker. Apparently the plug was loose (I'm not naming names but I do recall someone perhaps slightly inebriated at my house who was twisting the wrong end of the salt shaker), so when I went to place the shaker back on the counter, the bottom fell out and the salt went EVERYWHERE. This video does not do justice to the extent of the damage.

I'm incredibly grateful to the kitchen gods that it did not spill over the finished dish, although it was still a total pain to clean up. But as they say, you can't cry over spilt milk—or salt for that matter. 

Zucchini-Mint Pasta
from Southern Living

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, diced
1 1/2 lb small zucchini, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp fresh lemon zest
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
9-oz package refrigerated fettuccine pasta (or something similar), cooked according to directions
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 oz crumbled feta cheese

Melt butter with olive oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat; add shallots and saute 2 minutes. Add zucchini and saute 5 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Stir in minced garlic and cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Toss in cooked pasta, fresh  mint, walnuts, and Parmesan. Sprinkle with feta cheese just before serving.