Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cucumber & Jalapeño Margarita

If I had my wish, I would run away to someplace warm & mild every winter. The cold weather has firmly settled in this part of the country, and although I can usually make it until the first thaw, this year feels different... It's bone achingly cold, and as the sparkling beauty of the latest snowstorm fades, I can't help but daydream about sunny days, sandals... and maybe a few margaritas.

Since starting to expand our cocktail repertoire beyond my perennial favorite, the gin & tonic, my husband & I have been experimenting with different types of tequila. Much like the rebirth of gin, tequila has so much more to offer than the typical college flashbacks of two dollar shots at a dive bar. There are many tastes & nuances, each with very different qualities.

I have particularly fallen in love with Anejo, or 'extra aged', tequilas. Much milder than the Blanco (or white) tequilas, this category of tequila is smoother, golden in color, and with distinct vanilla notes. Perfect for sipping, but even better as a Cucumber Jalapeño Margarita! I can honestly say this is one of the best cocktails I've ever stirred up. Smooth & cool from the cucumber, with tart lime and a spicy jalapeño kick, this drink is finished with a mild exotic vanilla flavor from the tequila. Complex in taste, but very easy to make!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Green Pear Smoothie

There seems to be a basic formula to the ever popular "New Year guilt-induced-clean-eating-post-holiday stretch" green smoothie. maybe some fruit if I spend some extra time at the gym... The problem is that it can get boring and, dare I say, repetitive. I'm completely guilty of falling into the post-holiday binge-diet-reevaluation cycle, but I've been having lots of fun experimenting with my latest kitchen toy: a shiny new blender (to replace my cracked 10-year-old model).

Last week, I noticed a lonesome green pear peeking out from the fruit bowl, and had a 'eureka', moment. I washed the little guy up, tossed it into the blender with Greek yogurt, baby spinach, almond milk, cinnamon, and vanilla, and this beauty of a smoothie was born!

Creamy, slightly sweet, and with the delicious taste of pear, this smoothie packed a great nutritional & fiber punch. Pleasantly green and protein packed, it has been my go-to breakfast for the new year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Readers' Top 5 Favorite Recipes of 2014!

Happy New Year!!! Wait, it's one day too early? Fine, I'll keep the bubbly on ice for the moment...but to wrap up 2014, I will share my fabulous readers' (that's you!) Top 5 Favorite Recipes from 'Straight to the Hips, Baby', as well as my personal five favorites from the year. It's hard to believe that we are soon to start 2015, and that my blog is now 1 year old! I have learned so much about food, cooking, and photography over the last 12 months. More than that, I have found an amazing community of cooks and fellow food bloggers that have been nothing but supportive, creative, and even willing to try whatever I serve up!

'Straight to the Hips, Baby', has been a huge creative outlet for me, and it is humbling and exhilarating to learn that some of my recipes have been featured and shared all over the world. I know that this is the time of year to set resolutions, but I prefer goals: I aim to keep cooking, to keep writing, and to keep feeding this wonderful new family & circle of friends that I am fortunate enough to have.

Happy New Year! Happy Eating!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cauliflower & Potato Soup

As we approach the New Year, the same old mantra of healthy resolutions begin to run through my thoughts. I know that I'm not the only one. With our overly-indulgent holiday meals done and gone, and the bubbles of New Year's champagne just ahead of us, I thought I'd share one of my lighter recipes. This soup is absolutely delicious, and completely jam-packed with vegetables. It's smooth like a 'veloute', but without any flour or cream (yeah, I had to sneak in a teeny-tiny amount of butter, because a girl's got to live!)

This dish is creamy, warming, and just plain old yummy. Healthy cauliflower is blended with yukon gold potatoes, celery, onions, & garlic for a satisfying and healthy soup. Made with either vegetable broth or chicken broth, depending on what's available, and a finishing dab of butter and spice is all that's needed to take it up to the next level!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lemon Tart with Pecan Graham Cracker Crust

I've mentioned this in passing before, but back in the mid 90's and 2000's, I was a professional ballet dancer. I lived in a world of pointe shoes, barres (that is not the drink-y kind), Chopin, and Tchaikovsky. I performed many styles and in many productions... Cinderella, Peter & the Wolf, and in-numerous contemporary ballet pieces. Through all of this, the perpetual, the constant, the "mark your calendars every December" production, was always & ever, The Nutcracker Suite.

I can honestly say that I have either performed or learned every single adult role in this saccharine-styled children's dance treat. The effervescent Dew Drop Fairy, the sparkling Snow Queen, and the sultry Arabian Dancer... these were my favorites to perform. There was always plenty of backstage hijinks to go with it as well: Mother Ginger & her Gingerbread kids getting stuck in her hoop-skirt as the waltz started, or a stagehand's stray ketchup packet from a quick lunch pelting me on the head during the Snow Scene, falling from the snowflake bag above. As much magic as there is onstage, there is an equal amount of hectic wackiness backstage!

But, the one sort of 'character' that never makes an appearance in the sea of Candy Cane children and festive chocolate dancers, is the bright, spunky, lemon tart. No lemon drop fairy? No spiky-footed sprite to lend a biting, yet sweet dance of her own?

Well this year I'm fixing that. This citrusy yellow Lemon Tart with Pecan & Graham Cracker Crust, is just the sweet character that the season is missing. Bright lemon juice is melded with eggs and butter to create a deliciously silky curd, hugged by a pecan, graham cracker, and vanilla-wafer crust. Top it with whipped cream & a side of fresh berries, and this is the dessert that needs to have a standing ovation!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Shortbread Cookies

Everyone has their personal favorite taste that they cherish over everything else. Some people like beer, others prefer specialty cheese... For my husband, it's any dessert with peppermint or a fresh minty flavor (with maple a close second, being Canadian and all!). Mint chocolate chip ice cream, even peppermint candies are in danger around him, but his greatest and most favorite dessert has to be Chocolate Peppermint Bark.

When we were first dating, he would practically buy this in bulk from Willams-Sonoma, to satisfy his sweet tooth until the next Christmas. If we heard that one of our friends had never tried this lovely treat, they were promptly handed a tin to take home. Hey, we take our candy seriously around here!

As I gear up for my annual holiday cookie-making marathon, I began to wonder if I could combine my husband's love of chocolate peppermint bark with my own favorite sweet - shortbread cookies. Bing, bang, boom: A thing of beauty was born! Chocolate Peppermint Bark Shortbread Cookies!

A buttery shortbread cookie is spread with luscious white chocolate & peppermint-tinged semi-sweet chocolate. Topped with crushed candy canes, this cookie is festive & decadent! Try this recipe for your next holiday party or cookie exchange!