Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Biggest Loser

I started watching the Biggest Loser last season when the show had its first-ever female winner. This season most of the men on the show were pretty weak and I was hoping for a female repeat.

When the season first began I was rooting for the husband and wife brown team of Vicky and Brady. I wanted this team to succeed because they kept talking about their 4-year-old daughter who weighed more than 60 lbs and was bigger than her 7-year-old brother. What a sad situation when your eating and exercise habits rub off so dramatically on a 4-year-old child.

The more I watched, however, the more I came to dislike the conniving, vindictive Vicky. In fact, there really wasn’t even a husband and wife team that I liked all that much. Every one of them was in it for the payout while the parent/child teams seemed more about the bonding and sharing the experience together and then with their families when they returned home.
Yellow team Coleen and her dad Jerry along with purple team Shellay and daughter Amy A. soon became my teams to route for.

With all her conniving, Heba was able to walk away with $100,000. Photos from
During the finale those who were eliminated were brought back to weigh in for a chance to win $100,000 for losing the most weight away from the show. While the weigh-ins proceeded, Jerry, Shelly and Amy were all part of the running, but it was Heba, the last person to be eliminated from the house, who came out on top. Here’s the kicker. Heba, along with her husband Ed, was up for elimination during the final weigh in, but it was America who voted on who would compete in the finale. Despite Ed’s pleas to let his wife stay in the competition, a whopping 84% voted to keep Ed rather than Heba. What does this say about this couple? Ed was willing to sacrifice everything he’d work for to let his wife get the credit. In the end, I think America, along with myself, thought that Heba’s actions and behaviors on the ranch didn’t warrant her a chance at the final prize. Way to go America. If only it would have been Heba’s cohort, Vicky, that we could have voted off.
Michelle looked smokin hot at the finale. She deserved the win.
The final three Ed, Vicky and Michelle all weighed in and much to my delight, it was Michelle that came out the victor after losing more than 100 lbs over the course of the show. Congrats to Michelle for the female repeat and congrats to good winning out over evil.
On a final note, I had to include the pictures of Amy C. from the red team because as far as sheer make-overs went, I thought she looked fantastic. She was probably one of the only husband/wife team members that I could stand and I'm happy that she did so well for herself, even after being eliminated from the show.

To me, Amy C. had the most drastic transformation and looked fantastic at the finale show. She was one of my favorites this season.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rain + leaky roof =

So this is what happens to your kitchen when a roof leak that was supposedly fixed last year really wasn't fixed.

And, as if not having space in my kitchen to cook wasn't bad enough, these fans are SO loud that you can't hear the TV at a level that won't disturb the neighbors. What on earth am I supposed to do with my time? Go to the gym?! Ha.
Oh yeah, and this will be going on for another two days. Anybody need a temporary roommate?

Monday Night Meals

Lots of love and lots of lemon went into the making of these Angel Whisper thumprints.

This week’s Monday night meal came in a backward sort of way. I made dessert before the meal. Hey, life’s too short, cook dessert first, right?

Even though I’m not a huge baker, ‘tis the season to do so. There’s something about the holidays and cold weather that gets my baking juices flowing and every cookie recipe I see I want to make. So this year it was tough to narrow down the pot to just a few delicious recipes, but alas, the two I made Monday were
Angel Whisper cookies and Peanut butter-Chocolate fudge. Mmmmmm, my mouth was watering before I even mixed the first ingredients.
The fudge was super easy to make and as someone who doesn’t like a) nuts in her baked goods and b) fudge in general, I wanted to gobble up this entire batch. Alas, I used some restraint and only had two pieces. I didn’t take any pictures of this fudge because the pictures provided on the like above are much prettier. I got 49 pieces out of one batch.

Mmmm, don't those look good enough to eat? I thought so and snuck a few in before making dinner.

Next I made Angel Whispers. The dough was only a few ingredients and while it was chilling for an hour, I was able to make the lemony filling. I really liked this recipe because it required very few ingredients and all the lemon flavoring came from natural lemon, not extract. Because I wanted to get more bang for my buck, instead of making sandwiches like the recipe asked for, I instead made bite-sized thumbprint cookies. The filling had just the right amount of tart and sweet. The recipe made 36 thumbprint cookies.

After baking the afternoon away (I should also add that I cooked the day away while there was a leak in my kitchen ceiling, not fun), it was time for a 30-minute meal to satisfy my belly a little further. In store for the evening was
Cuban Surf and Turf. I came across this recipe last week while flipping through one of my Rachael Ray cookbooks and had to make it this week.

After making a batch each of fudge and cookies, this dinner was a welcome treat.

This recipe will be made again. I loved the lightness and wonderful citrus flavors. The leftover factor will be tried out tonight. I decided not to mix the pineapple and scallions into the rice so that I could re-heat the rice easier then add those ingredients each time as to keep them more fresh and crisp.

While eating dinner, I watched Heroes. My friend over at I Watch Lots of TV has a great hate for this show right now and each time I read one of his blogs about the show, I tend to nod my head in agreement on most of his points. This episode was so-so. I’m happy to see that the “Villains” chapter is over, but I’m not so sure about the next chapter “Fugitives.” I liked Nathan Petrelli and now he is going to be the one leading the hunt to contain everyone with powers. Now I don’t think I’m going to like big brother Petrelli so much. I was also sad to see Benjamin Knox (the human fear detector) killed off leaving no more former players from The Wire on the show. Darn shame. We’ll see what the new year has to offer for Heroes, but I’m not holding my breath.

Jamie Hector, formerly of The Wire, was killed off in this week's episode of Heroes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

This way to Zia

A different spin on pizza, but well worth a visit.

I finally made it to a pizza joint that I've been meaning to try for the past 2 years now and boy have I been missing out. But there is a back story that I must cover first.

In college, my roommate Michelle and I shared a passion for wraps at a little place on the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Montezuma Road near San Diego State. The place is Cafe Zia. I don’t know who found it first or how we came to start eating there, but once we started, we couldn’t stop. The owner, Khaled (more about him later), uses fresh ingredients and low-fat proteins in his wraps, which are all topped off with these amazing chutney sauces. Over time, the menu has changed, but I haven’t found a wrap that I’m not fond of. Most recently, after a nice hike up Cowles Mountain one morning, I stopped by Café Zia to quench my wrap craving. This time, the new menu item was breakfast wraps. Even though it was after noon, I still got one and I was very thankful I did. Of all the wraps I’ve had, this was by far my favorite. It had eggs, potatoes, sun dried tomatoes and a turkey-pastrami that was topped off with a sweet chutney. I tried to go back and get it again one morning after the gym, but I got there before they opened (insert sad face here).

Khaled showing off a potato pizza masterpiece.

So, back to the owner. Khaled was the nicest café owner I’ve ever come across (other than Francesco at Mama Mia’s, but that’s another blog right there). Every time we’d visit Café Zia and he was working he always remembered who we were and what our favorite wrap was. He also made a point to suggest new wraps or chutneys that he thought we might like. The atmosphere at Café Zia is very laid back and lent itself to Khaled being able to chat with costumers a lot. He even started a book collection that you could read while eating or borrow for longer. Michelle’s then boyfriend, now husband, Edward, would borrow books on the regular and he and Khaled would talk books each time he went in. Point is, Khaled adds to the overall great dining experience.

After graduating from SDSU I don’t frequent Café Zia as much as I’d like because it’s a little out of the way, but I still try to make it back every other month or so. At the 2007 Adams Avenue Street Fair in Normal Heights I ran into Khaled outside a café with a Zia awning. I hadn’t seen him probably in about two years, but he still recognized me and asked where my little friend was (Michelle) and then started telling me about this great new pizza place he was opening the week after the Fair. I told him I would love to come back to the grand opening, but when I did, it had been moved back. I never returned until this past summer’s Adams Avenue Street Fair when Khaled was on the sidewalk selling his pizza again. I said hello and sorry that I hadn’t been in yet and that I really would come back after reading his pizza menu this time.

Fast forward to this past week. I finally made it to Zia Pizza! I was splitting three slices with someone and we were going to order two slices of Khaled’s favorite eggplant and one slice of the New Yorker pizza (with the turkey-pastrami from the breakfast wrap at Café Zia), he suggested we get three different kinds and convinced us to also try a garlic chicken. I’ve always enjoyed the suggestions Khaled has provided me with, but in this instance, we should have gotten all three slices of the eggplant pizza. That pizza was a little slice of heaven. I can’t recall everything that was on the pizza, but the key components were eggplant, cranberries and a yogurt sauce (instead of tomato sauce). And keeping in the tradition of Café Zia, Khaled does healthy pizza – well as healthy as you can get for pizza. He uses a whole-wheat, thin crust that also seemed to have had oats in it, which wasn’t too filling like a lot of traditional pizza.

Zia Pizza is only open from 5-10pm, so make sure to stop by for a dinner slice. Drink options are limited (bottled cokes and water), but it appeared that you are able to bring in your own bottle of wine. Oh yeah, and you can buy by the slice or whole pizza. Both are pretty reasonably priced.

Monday, December 8, 2008

And the winners are....

It must have been because of the camouflage that Nick and Starr were able to sneak past everyone and win the million dollar grand prize.
Yawn. Another season of the Amazing Race is over with and the winners and the finale kind of left me sleepy... seriously, I dozed off and had to rewind the DVR.
Surprise, surprise. Nick and Starr were the winners. I think they won more than half of the legs during this season, which made it kind of a boring season to watch. I am, however, happy that it wasn't the lame frat boys who won. I was VERY disappointed last week when they made it to the mat before Toni and Dallas (who, actually, never did make it to the mat because Phil eliminated them in the streets of Russia). I will have to say that this season I saw the most mistakes and non-read clues I've ever seen.
Speaking of Toni and Dallas, did anyone else notice that they weren't at the final mat ceremony? I was sad to see that they weren't there. I wonder if they had some difficulties leaving Russia because Dallas left their passports in a cab. I'm sure the show has ways of preventing something like that, right?
The finale was kind of sweet when Ken and Tina did make amends and put their wedding rings back on after having been separated before the race. Other than Toni and Dallas, I was kind of hoping they'd pull out an win in the end (but mostly only because I didn't want Nick and Starr to win).
Better step up your game next season, Amazing Race. Maybe you should let me tag along.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mama got a new TV

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Christmas came early this year! I finally got the Sony Bravia TV that was gifted to me after FedEx apparently stole the first one. What a process this was.

At the end of October, my dad won a Sony flat screen TV when he was entered in a drawing at the Step Out to Fight Diabetes walk that we participate in each year. Because he loves me SOOO much, he gifted this prize to me. It was unclear when it would be delivered, but on November 7 I got a door slip from FedEx saying they tried to deliver the TV, but nobody was home to sign for the package so they couldn't leave it. Since I didn't have a tracking number before, I was able to look online using the door-tag number to see where it was. Since it was a Friday, I figured it would be delivered again on Monday. I stayed home ALL day Monday, saw multiple FedEx trucks drive by my house, but nothing was delivered and nothing was updated with the tracking info.

To make a long story short, it never got delivered and after the 2 week period that you have to wait before you can file a claim for a missing package, Sony ordered me a new TV and FedEx claimed responsibility for the TV being stolen.

The TV was finally delivered this week and I almost kissed the FedEx man on the spot when I saw him carrying the box. Figured that would have been a little inappropriate though. Of course I tore the box open and immediately started setting it up, even though the new stand I bought for it at Costco was not assembled yet.

Thursday night came the fun part and when I say fun, I mean horribly daunting and super frustrating. I got home from work and started de-boxing the TV stand. I had NO idea what I was getting myself into. There were 13 individually wrapped bag filled with nuts, bolts, screws, washers, pegs, etc. Then I unrolled another package that had about 20 other packets of nuts, bolts, screws, washers, etc. YIKES! After about 2 hours, I finally assembled the stand and just needed some help mounting the TV on the provided pole.

Friday morning the TV was mounted with some ease. Then came the connecting of the Cox HD-DVR box. First of all, it's not a good sign when it comes packaged with at least 8 different cords. Second, it's not a good sign when the written instructions on how to connect everything doesn't match the picture on how to connect everything -- this just creates confusion. After jamming wires down the pole so they'd be hidden and finally getting all the included cords attached to either the TV, cable box or DVD player, Liz and I turned on the TV with great trepidation and fingers crossed.

Ta-da! Picture, check. Sound, ummm, no sound. Ok, we're smart women, we said to each other, we can figure this out (no thanks to the Cox instructions). And without the help of any man or lame instructions, we did figure out how to get sound (even though it was rather quiet at first, to which I later found was due to a weird setting on the cable box). Who says women and electronics don't go well together? There may have been a high-five in there, there was definitely some sighs of relief. Our new TV had arrived and we had successfully set it all up -- and by ourselves.

The finished product. It is so pretty. Have to move the pictures now though.

Today we explored all that Cox has to offer in the HD department and boy were we impressed with the quality. Travel, Discovery and Food Network have so far been the most exciting to watch in HD, but count on us, we'll find plenty more to keep us occupied.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Monday night meal -- Thanksgiving style (plus cookies)

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time for me. I love to get creative with the day-of meal, but even more so love to get creative with left-overs.

This year my dad asked me if I was going to boil the turkey carcass and make soup. The thought hadn't crossed my mind, but I liked the sound of it. In San Diego, it's often times hard to think of wanting a hot bowl of soup when the weather outside is balmy, but with a little crispness in the air and even some rain, this sounded like the perfect left-overs meal to make.

I read through a lot of different recipes on and and ended up taking a little from several recipes. Here's what I came up with.

2 tablespoons olive oil (eye-ball it)
1 1/2 yellow onions, diced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp garlic salt
White and dark chunks of turkey leftovers (about a pound - 2 pounds)
9 cups broth (I used the broth from boiled turkey carcass)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes in juice
3 carrots, peeled, chopped (quartered or halved depending on size)
4 stocks of celery, sliced in half moons
1 cup orzo (rice-shaped pasta) I got some at the bulk bins at Henry's Market for $0.39
2 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney beans), drained, rinsed
1 can corn (white or yellow)
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic; saute until translucent (about 5-7 minutes). Add broth and oregano. Cover and bring to a simmer.

Once simmering, add turkey meat, tomatoes with juices, carrots and celery. Cover and let simmer until vegetable are crisp-tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add orzo and garlic salt; simmer, covered, until pasta is tender, stirring often (about 10 minutes). Mix in cannellini and corn; cook until heated, about 5 minutes. Season with salt & pepper.

I served the soup with a large chunk of toasted rosemary bread. Variations include: adding fresh, sliced avocado or topping with fresh basil. This recipe made about 10 main course servings.

In addition to the Monday night Thanksgiving left-overs meal, my Nana was in town and we spent the day baking holiday cookies that she and I would make when I was a kid. I thought the recipe was some secret family concoction, but turns out, she got it from the Betty Crocker recipe book ages ago (my bubble burst upon hearing this). Nevertheless, I share the recipe with you.

Merry Christmas Cookies:
Mix thoroughly: 1/3 cup soft shortening, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 egg, 2/3 cup honey, 1 tsp lemon flavoring.
Sift together and add: 2 3/4 cup flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt.
Chill for at least an hour, roll 1/4" thick, cut into shapes (we use various holiday cookie cutters).
Bake at 375 deg for 8-10 minutes or when touched lightly, no imprint remains.
Cool and have fun decorating .

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

No, thank you

To start our day, a rainbow appeared in the sky outside. A sign of a good Thanksgiving, indeed.

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. I have so much fun during this holiday. I take joy in searching for new and interesting ways to spice up traditional dishes. For the fourth year, my parents traveled to San Diego to celebrate the holiday. Unlike previous years, I had a partner to help with the cooking this year (which was a BIG help).

There's our bird. All snug as a bug in a rug and ready to be cooked and served.

At the early hour of 10:35, the bird went in the oven.
My roommate Liz and I sorted through the various recipes we’d pulled aside for Thanksgiving about a week before the big day. Then Liz so generously compiled a shopping list that the two of us would share. We shopped for some items at the Hillcrest Farmers Market the Sunday before Thanksgiving, but found that it was getting pretty expensive. Liz did, however, manage to pull together some gorgeous flowers that she arranged as our table centerpiece. The rest of the shopping was done a breakneck speed Tuesday morning before Liz had to work. We hit Henry’s, Ralph’s and Trader Joe’s in 50 minutes crossing off everything on our list.
The 2 cooks hard at work.
Here is what we served:

Bacon-cheddar butterflies – In EveryDay with Rachel Ray there was a featured article with six different apps to make with puff pastry. The fact that it had bacon in it sold me instantly.
Olive variety & Manchego cheese – self explanatory.
Rosemary pecans – Liz was in charge of these and I’m not exactly sure of the recipe, but they were tasty.

Liz put together a gorgeous floral centerpiece. My mom brought the napkins to match.

Gather 'round, dinner is served.

Main menu
Turkey – stuffed with onions, apples, sage, rosemary, garlic and rubbed down with butter, salt and pepper. We decided to cook the turkey in a bag this year.
Stuffing – I found a delicious looking recipe on Food Network from Emeril Lagasse. For the past two years I’ve made a Rachael Ray recipe using pumpkin muffins instead of bread (which has always been a hit), but the spinach, artichoke and brie combination in this stuffing looked too good to pass up. The recipe was for 10-12 people, since we didn’t have close to that many people at our dinner, I tried to halve the recipe, but not quite in half. It turned out a little dry for my liking, but other people thought it was good.
Potatoes – I made this recipe two years ago and it was a success, but using Manchego cheese isn’t always the cheapest way to go. I returned to this recipe even though my Ultimate Potato Gratin from last Thanksgiving was a success. We were going to use prosciutto in the vegetable dish and bacon in an appetizer and while I’m an advocate for all things bacon, that might have been a little overkill, so I kept the potatoes simple.
Vegetable dish – I am very much against the same-old green bean casserole that shows up at every holiday table (for a reason that is far beyond my knowledge). For the past two years I’ve been searching for a good green bean replacement. Last year I made a more upscale green bean casserole. This year I opted for something a lot lighter.
Fruit side – Liz found a fantastic winter fruit salad on a blog we read called smitten kitchen. I think this was my favorite dish on the table this year.

We don't often eat around the table, so it was a little squishy with all the dishes.
Pumpkin-pie Cheesecake – Martha Stewart, and Liz, outdid themselves on this number. Wow. I didn’t have any Thanksgiving night, but I’ve had a slice every day since. And maybe even some for breakfast. Liz went with her own crust on this cheesecake that included pecans, and it was amazing!
Traditional apple pie – Liz claims that this didn’t turn out too well because it was too runny, but I begged to differ. Thought it was delicious, especially when warmed and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

All in all dinner (or late lunch) turned out really well. Nobody left the table with an empty stomach. Liz and I were pretty tired after all was said and done, but the effort was well worth the 30 minutes it took the six of us to polish our plates.

Keep an eye out for my Thanksgiving leftover Monday Night Meal.
Oh yeah, in case you were wondering, while the thought did cross my mind because our dining table is fairly small, we did NOT eat this meal in front of the TV. However, lots of Wii was played after and even Kung Fu Panda was seen later in the night.