February 09, 2011

Valentine's Day Baking Kit Giveaway

Do you want to say "I Heart You" this Valentine's Day, but are low on cash? One of my favorite "Budget Diva" tips is to show someone how much you care with something homemade from the kitchen. This year, McCormick's makes it even easier with recipes, tips, and even a special gift giveaway just for my readers!

If you want to make an edible gift this Valentine's Day, start by choosing a recipe based on their "Relationship Matrix." All the work is done for you! Decide who you are cooking for, the status of your relationship or the occasion and the matrix tells you what to bake! All the recipes are available right there on the website.

Now, for the giveaway! McCormick's has offered this outstanding "I Heart You" gift pack for one lucky reader. It has everything you need for a delicious Valentine's Day. An apron, Crate and Barrel dish towels, spatula and cookie cutters, and, of course, a variety of McCormick products!

Simply leave a comment about who you want to tell "I Heart You" this Valentine's Day! I will pick a random winner at 5 pm Pacific Time on February 14th. Don't forget your name and contact info so I can notify you if you win!

July 07, 2010

The Budget Diva Goes Organic

On a budget friendly blog such as this, many people might ask "How can you afford to buy organic?" It's true, these products do carry a slightly higher price tag, but after a tour of the Stonyfield organic farms in Vermont, I am asking myself "How can you afford not to buy organic!"
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to participate in a "Barnstorming" Tour along with three other bloggers. (From left to right: Valerie, Anne, Tina and Me) The wonderful people over at Stonyfield organized the event to educate us (and in turn, our readers!) about the organic farming process. Stonyfield is dedicated to organic living and producing healthy food. I have to say, after a few days of learning about the organic farming process versus conventional farming, I am convinced!

I took so many photos on this trip and there were too many to post here! Check out the galleries on Facebook: Farm Photos and Factory Photos. If you want to really experience the "Barnstorming" Tour for yourself, check out this video with highlights from the trip.

The truth is, cheap food comes with hidden costs. From heavily fertilized corn to conventionally farmed meats packed with antibiotics, these unhealthy calories are getting passed on to you. We learned so much about the organic process, but there was one thing that really stuck with me from this trip. If you ask a conventional farmer about the lifespan of their cows, he will often tell you around 4 years. When you ask an organic farmer the same question, he will proudly point out cows who are 14 years old. All without fertilizers, pesticides, hormones or antibiotics. Our health and our lifespan mimics what we consume. I would rather live a long, happy and healthy life just like these organic cows! To me, it is worth a few extra dollars here and there on a grocery bill.

Upon returning from Vermont, I came home to a sparse kitchen and discovered some bread had gone stale while I was away. In true "Budget Diva" spirit, I poured through my new Stonyfield Organic Yogurt Cookbook for a bread pudding recipe!

*Budget Diva Tip: Never get rid of stale bread. It is perfect for bread pudding!

Start by trimming the crusts off of the stale bread.

Butter the bread, slice in half and layer with raisins in baking dish.

Whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.

Pour custard mixture over the bread and let stand at least 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.

I love that the bulk of the preparation can be done in advance! When you are ready, bake the bread pudding at 350 for 45-60 minutes.

Pour the warm yogurt topping over the cooked pudding. I used the Oikos Plain Greek Yogurt and then added honey, but I bet you could use their Oikos Honey Greek Yogurt too!

I chopped up some walnuts and then sprinkled them on top. Check it out! Now that is a creative use of stale bread and a great way to incorporate a few of the Stonyfield organic ingredients!

Bread Pudding with Warm Honey Yogurt Topping

8 slices of bread, preferably slightly stale
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup raisins
3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Warm Yogurt Topping
2 tablespoons honey
chopped walnuts (optional)

Lightly grease a 9-inch round or 8-inch square baking dish with butter or cooking spray. Cut the crusts off the bread slices, then butter the bread slices on one side. Cut each bread slice in half, then layer the bread in the prepared baking dish butter side facing up. Sprinkle with raisins.
Whisk together the milk, eggs, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, if using, and vanilla. Pour the custard mixture over the bread and let stand at least 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
When ready to cook the pudding, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the pudding until done, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. When you poke it with a knife, the knife should come out clean. Cool slightly.
To make the topping, heat the honey and yogurt in a double boiler, stirring frequently with a whisk. Keep the water boiling for 1 to 2 mintues, then turn off the heat, so as not to overcook the yogurt. Pour it on top of the warm pudding. Top with chopped walnuts, if desired.

*Budget Diva Tip: If you don't own a double boiler (or don't want to splurge for one!) take two pots, pour water halfway up one of them and bring to a boil, then place another pot with the yogurt mixture above the boiling water and heat the mixture, stirring frequently with a whisk.

What are your thoughts on organic farming? Leave a comment here and you will be entered to win a Stonyfield prize package! Including coupons for free yogurt and even an awesome toothbrush made with recycled Stonyfield yogurt cups!

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April 20, 2010

Australian Lamb Burger

Great news! I just found out that I won the casual dining division of the "MAKE AUSTRALIAN LAMB AMERICA'S NEW FAVORITE BURGER" contest! I am heading down to Sydney in September. So exciting!

I am sure there will be many more stories to come, but for now here is the winning recipe. Get out of a boring burger rut and grill up a lamb burger this Memorial Day!



1 teaspoon whole cumin seed, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon whole coriander seed, lightly crushed
1/4 cup Australian Shiraz
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 pounds ground Australian lamb
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt, to taste (before cooking)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 Tablespoons Harissa
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup chopped Kalamata olives
1/2 cup chopped orange segments
1/3 cup chopped dates
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons olive oil

6 onion hamburger buns
Serve with hot, crispy sweet potato fries

1. For Burgers: In a small, dry pan, toast the cumin and coriander seeds over medium-low heat until they are toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the Shraz and honey. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil hard for 1 minute; stir in the turmeric and cinnamon. Set aside to cool slightly. Crumble the lamb into a large bowl. Add the red onion, garlic, black pepper, and spice-wine mixture. Knead together lightly, but thoroughly to distribute ingredients. Form into 6 patties, about 6 ounces each. Place on a baking pan, cover with plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the mayonnaise and relish. For mayonnaise, whisk together all mayonnaise ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. For relish, combine all relish ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. When ready to cook, heat a skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat until very hot, or build a medium-hot fire in a barbecue grill. Season burgers on both sides with sea salt. Brush a little olive oil on grill pan or outdoor grill. Cook the burgers in the skillet, turning once, for 7-10 minutes for medium-rare; or grill outdoors, if desired. While burgers are cooking, toast the buns in a toaster oven or under the broiler until lightly toasted; or toast them on the outer perimeter of the grill rack outdoors. When the burgers are done, remove to a warm platter and let rest for several minutes while dressing the buns.

4. To build the burgers, place a bottom onion bun on work surface. Spread with some of the harissa mayonnaise, top with red lettuce leaves, burger, some of the relish, then bun top, also spread with some of the mayonnaise. Repeat with remaining burgers. Serve burgers with sweet potato fries. Makes 6 burgers.

March 02, 2010

Everything I had heard led me to believe that turning 30 was no fun. So, as the big 3-0 creeped up, I wanted to find a way to commemorate the day and enjoy the entrance into this new chapter of life. That’s when I decided to go to Italy. Not the typical tourist’s Italy with monuments and souvenirs, but the real Italy where I would have to brush off my old college text books and remember how to order dinner or ask for directions. I choose to explore the Piemonte region, drink their extraordinary wines, and, of course, study Italian cooking.

Walking into the kitchen at the Agriturismo La Rossa was like coming home. Mamma quietly worked in the background as a fluffy gray cat lingered below our feet and periodically brushed his face up against my ankle to say hello. Her son, the head chef, would serve as our instructor. He didn’t speak English, yet somehow we could all easily follow his instructions. After all, these classic recipes are about the feel, not the measurements. The workspace doesn’t have any bowls or measuring spoons, just two simple piles of flour, a cube of fresh yeast, and olive oil.

With a hand cranked pasta machine and old-fashioned tortellini press we cut each delicate round. The filling was simply spinach, ricotta, egg and nutmeg. He demonstrated how to fill the round with a dab, fold in half and pinch closed. With what seemed like a magician’s slight of hand trick, the half-moon suddenly was twisted into the perfect tortellini around his index finger and with another pinch it was complete. It took me a few tries to get the technique down, but soon we all had the hang of it and were amazed at our gorgeous creations. The repetitive nature took on an almost zen-like quality and we churned out our tortellini by the dozens while chatting away and almost never even needing to look down at our fingers.

I imagined how many generations of Italians savored this ritual over the centuries. Delicately forming tortellini after tortellini only to have their perfect creations gobbled up in a matter of minutes. Naysaysers would wonder if it was all worth it. Making the pasta from scratch, running the dough through the hand cranked machine over and over to develop the gluten, twisting them over your fingers for hours to get a perfectly uniform shape, just to have it quickly devoured before moving on to the next course.

The truth is, cooking, travel, and life really are about the process, the journey. Within these recipes that have been passed down for generations you can taste the history in every bite. Somehow when our handmade tortellini was placed on the table, the sense of community was infused into each bite. I came to Piemonte to celebrate turning 30, to commemorate the journey of life thus far and to embrace the voyage yet to come. Rather than vowing to be 29 forever, Italy reminded me that history and experience only makes us more delectable.

Looking to prepare handmade tortellini at home? Click here for a recipe inspired by my experience in Piemonte.

Interested in the wines of Piemonte? Click here for a video about the Cortese grape harvest in Gavi, Italy.

November 14, 2009

An ancient grain gets a delicious makeover

One of the most intriguing culinary trends seen this past year was the use of “ancient grains” such as quinoa, kamut, spelt, amaranth, buckwheat and farro. These hearty, nutrient-rich whole grains add unbelievable texture to recipes. If you are looking to break out of a pasta or rice rut, why not give one of these “ancient grains” new life in a modern dish.

This simple, yet decadent recipe uses the robust ancient Mediterrenean grain farro, and pairs it with cubes of ricotta salata, a dry salted ricotta cheese that has a sharp, almost tangy flavor.


1 cup farro, rinsed
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cubed ricotta salata
2/3 cup toasted coarsely chopped walnuts
2/3 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup julienne cut moist-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried
3/4 teaspoon grated fresh lemon rind

Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette:

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons honey
1 small clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

Garnish: Sprigs of flat leaf parsley or fresh oregano

1. Place farro, water, and salt in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until liquid evaporates, about 20 minutes.
2. While farro is cooking, place all remaining salad ingredients except dressing in a medium serving bowl. After farro is cooked, spoon into a colander and let cool for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Place warm farro in serving bowl with other ingredients and stir to blend.
3. Combine all dressing ingredients except oregano in a blender or food processor. Transfer to a bowl and stir in fresh oregano. (note: if you use dried oregano, you can just add to the rest of ingredients in blender)
4. Add dressing and stir to coat all ingredients. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6.

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October 10, 2009

Award-Winning Recipe: America's Next Pork Personality

$5,000 Winning Recipe at the 2009 Food Network Wine and Food Festival "America's Next Pork Personality Contest"


1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds pork tenderloin
1/4 cup mirin
4 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-Spice powder
1/4 teaspoon hot Chinese mustard
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

1-1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Tablespoons butter
1 medium pear or pear-apple, cored, peeled and cubed
1/3 cup sliced green onion, with some tops included
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 Tablespoon milk (or more if needed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 Baby Bok Choy- halved lengthwise and kept intact
Olive oil for brushing
Salt and pepper to taste

For Pork: Place tenderloin pieces in a nonreactive dish. Combine all remaining marinade ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Pour 1/4 cup of marinade over pork and turn to coat. Set aside to marinate while preparing rest of dish. Place remaining marinade in a small saucepan; set aside.
For potatoes: Place potatoes in a medium saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until just tender, about 12 minutes; drain and set aside. While potatoes are boiling, melt butter in a medium skillet. Add pear, green onion, and caraway seed to pan and saute until mixture is softened, about 5-7 minutes. Place cooked potatoes, pear mixture (along with all liquid in pan), milk, salt, and pepper in bowl of a food processor. Pulse until mixture is just smooth, adding more milk, if needed, a little at a time until of desired consistency. Return mixture to saucepan; cover and keep warm.
To grill pork and bok choy: Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Remove pork from marinade and grill about 6-7 minutes per side, depending on thickness of pork, and basting with any marinade in dish. When done, place pork on a work surface and let rest for 5 minutes. While pork is resting, brush halved bok choy with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill on both sides until just wilted and lightly browned, about 1-1/2 minutes per side. To serve dish: Place a dollop of mashed potatoes on each of 4 serving plates, along with pieces of bok choy. Slice pork and place on dish. Heat marinade and drizzle over pork slices. Serves 4.

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September 26, 2009

Award-Winning Recipe: National Beef Cook-Off

$10,000 Winning Recipe National Beef Cook-Off:
"Live Well with Fast and Convenient Grilled Beef Recipes"

Orange-Chipotle Skirt Steaks

Total Recipe Time: 30 minutes
Marinade Time: 6 hours to overnight

1-1/2 pounds beef skirt steak, cut into 4 to 6-inch pieces
2 medium oranges, divided
2 cups chopped tomatillos (4 to 5 small to medium)
1/2 cup chopped red onion
2 to 3 teaspoons minced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon salt

Juice of 1 medium orange
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons adobo sauce (from chipotle peppers)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Combine Marinade ingredients in food-safe plastic bag; add beef, closing bag securely. Marinate in refrigerator 6 hours or as long as overnight, turning occasionally.
2. Grate 1/2 teaspoon peel from 1 orange and cut orange and half of remaining orange into segments; chop segments into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine orange peel, segments, tomatillos, onion, chipotle peppers, cumin and salt in medium bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve; cut remaining 1/2 orange into wedges and reserve for garnish.
3. Remove steaks from marinade, discarding marinade; place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals and grill, uncovered, 10 to 13 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, covered, 8 to 12 minutes) for medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F) doneness, turning occasionally. Carve steaks diagonally across the grain into thin slices, seasoning with salt, as desired; serve with tomatillo salsa and garnish with reserved orange wedges.

Makes 6 servings

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