Ummm… I love this

cocobon

OK.  So, most of my friends know that this used to be my favorite wine.  And, OK.  It still is.

I don’t drink Cocobon exclusively as I do enjoy other wines.  But this little honey for, like 6.99 a bottle at Trader Joe’s, is still a winner as far as I’m concerned.  Once I bought a case of it because I was in the mood (not to get hammered–but to have a case of it around for a while.)

My palate is not very sophisticated in the wine department.  I had a job waiting tables at a 5 star schmancy place for a few months when I was in college and I never really liked it.  (I was more of a blue-collar waitress if you must know.)  The money was fine but I always thought it was so DUMB that we were supposed to memorize peoples’ orders without writing them down.  Why is that considered so high brow?  Honestly, it’s the opposite of smart as the whole reason the Phoneticians invented the written alphabet was so that we wouldn’t have to memorize everything any more!  I told the manager this fact several times but he never really bought it…

As a waitress at that restaurant I had to attend wine classes.  At the time I thought beer that came in bottles instead of cans was a high class drink so you can pretty much imagine me at the table testing the “bouquets” and discussing the tannins in a glass of wine.

As it turns out, I had “a nose” for wine and actually did like the class in the end.  It seemed cool to me then and still does that wine is , you know, evolving in the bottle.  It’s a living food.  I love that the  grapes have to very purposely struggle to produce the best juice.  What a great analogy for life, right?   Mostly, though, I just love the way wine tastes.  It.  Is.  So.  Good.

When I lived in Madrid years ago I really fell in love with beauty of drinking decent bottles of pretty good wine.  The Spaniards know how to drink (and they showed me… wow… but that was then) and while they fully embrace a quality wine, there is no shame in enjoying a less expensive bottle.

So maybe rather than “blue-class waitress tongue” what I actually have is a “Spanish tongue.”  Yeah.  Let’s go with that.  These days I enjoy wine on a regular basis and actually prefers it to beer (even beer that comes in bottles.)

Michelle’s tips on choosing wine:

1. Don’t feel intimidated!  Most people only think they know about wine anyway or maybe they just attended the same class I did and can throw around some aristocratic wine terminology.  To this I say “pish-posh.”

2.  Some stores have employee picks or, you can ask if there’s an employee who knows about the wine.  ASK THEM TO HELP.  They’ll love it.

3. Expensive does not always equal better.  Nope.

4. Most people know that smelling the cork has nothing to do with proper wine evaluation, so don’t do that.  Do check out the bottom of the wine bottle though.  A flat bottomed bottle is much cheaper to make than a bottle with a divot–especially a deep divot.  If the wine is put in a more expensive bottle it likely means the producer thinks it’s worthy of it.

5. Don’t drink Charles Shaw.  Yuck.  Sorry but “two buck chuck” is hardly even considered wine–even by blue collar waitresses.  This beverage is chemically processed rather than properly aged for faster production, which is why it’s cheaper than Coca-Cola (which I also don’t recommend.)  I may not be high brow, but I say pay a few dollars more and get a decent real bottle of wine.

6. Be sure to tell me if you find a good wine pick that costs between six and ten dollars.  Happy New Year!

This is How We Do It

Check out my Tortilla Soup recipe featured today till next Tuesday on Hometown Pasadena!

chili in potMerry Christmas Eve!

OK.  So, at this point in the holiday season a sit-down turkey with all the standard side dishes is just really not what I’m in the mood for.  Between the homemade candy friends have delivered, the boxes of chocolates Mike’s students (he teaches middle school and has around 150) blessed us with and the general can’t-turn-around-without-someone-placing-a-delectable-delight-right-under-my-nose vibe that permeates my life… a little turn toward the lighter side of the table is in order.

One of the many aspects of living in the multicultural mecca of the universe (unofficial title) is that Christmas Eve dinner options abound.  So I’ve whipped up some simple black bean chili which we will ladle over our Mexican tamales (which I did not make–sorry) for dinner tonight.  Tamales are Mexico’s way of saying “Feliz Navidad” and this year it’s our way too.

For dessert…

oranges sweet Clementine oranges picked from my neighbor’s tree two days ago.

Please know that the following statement is not so much a “nah-nah-nah-boo-boo” type claim as much as a “I’m originally from Minnesota so I don’t take local things for granted…!”

It’s almost 80 degrees outside.  My windows and doors are open and I ain’t dreamin’ of no white Christmas…

Easy-Peasy Chili

Ingredients: 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 med onion (diced), 1 clove crushed garlic, 2 med bell peppers (diced–approximately 1 1/2 cups), Two 15 oz. cans black beans (with liquid–don’t drain’em!), One 15 oz. can diced, stewed or crushed tomatoes, One 6 oz. can tomato paste, 1 1/2 tsp. chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: Simmer onion (any kind will do,) garlic and olive oil for a few minutes.  Add bell pepper and cook until peppers start to soften.  Add everything else, stir and bring to a boil/simmer until peppers are fully cooked.  You.  Are.  Done.

Tamales… yeah so you may recall that I’m actually 1/2 Mexican.  It’s my dad’s side though.  My mom’s ancestors which hale from Lithuania and Germany never passed down any tamale making traditions.  Lucky for me Los Angeles has the second biggest populations of Mexicans (after Mexico City) in the world so it couldn’t be easier to find authentic, delicious tamales made by someone who’s mama showed’em how to do it right!  Gracias amigas!

 

Waffles. Mmm… Yes.

waffle

Ahhh… winter break.  Vacation.  Lazy mornings.  Waffles.

Just a peek into Michelle’s train of thought on this crisp (OK, yes: by So-Cal standards) Sunday morn.

You may notice that my waffles are stacked.  In a pile.  A BIG pile.  It’s rather a bit of work to make waffles.  Pancakes and French toast are easier as I can grab my handy-dandy double burner griddle and whip up those little honeys six at a time.

Not so with waffles.  One.  At.  A.  Time.  That’s how you do waffles.  So if I’m in waffle mode I capitalize on the vibe.  The extras will either sit in the fridge for toasting up over the next few days, or slip into the freezer for a future breakfast of fun.

Just in case you’re wondering, I have done a fair bit of breakfast recipe searching.  These waffles are dang tasty.

Michelle’s Buttermilk Waffles

Ingredients: 2 cups whole wheat flour,  1 tsp each of these: baking powder, baking soda, salt, 2 eggs, 2 cups buttermilk, dash vanilla, 1/2 cup vegetable oil.

Directions: mix it up and pour into your waffle iron.  Even though my waffle iron has a non stick surface (I’ve never seen one any other way) I still brush a little oil on both sides between every pour.  Top with maple syrup, honey, powdered sugar, jam… so many lazy mornings ahead, so many waffle topping options!

Tips: Double the above recipe and then you can just pour that skinny carton of buttermilk right in as it’s four cups!

Gluten free friends: I substituted the wheat flour in Josie’s waffles with Pamela’s Gluten/Wheat free pancake mix/flour.  Worked fine and they taste great–although they did cook a heckuva lot faster than the other ones.  Just a heads-up.

Dirty–not really–Rice

dirty rice

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas… let’s see: three classroom “holiday” parties, one orchestra concert, two choir performances, two holiday shows (thank you for putting third and fourth grade together!), Christmas caroling with the neighbors (we are too cute) and an extra Christmas celebration with the cousins as my brother’s family is out of town for the big day.  All of this in 7 days?  Sure!  What?  You say I need to bring food to every single event?  Got it.  Sure.  Why not.

I’m joking, by the way.  Much like a size 1 supermodel who casual mentions “It really doesn’t matter what I eat at all–I simply never gain weight!” I would hate for you to hate me.

Yes.  I like to cook.  Yes.  I’m pretty organized.  And yes, the holidays stress me out too.  (And no, I’m not a size 1–see photo, ahem–top right.)

Oh yes, and my family still wants to, like, eat three meals a day plus snacks… enter: Michelle’s Dirty–not really–Rice.  My kiddos don’t exactly swoon over Cajun spices, and I didn’t have all the correct ingredients anyway (and I sure as heck was not going to make yet another trip to the store!) So I modified, grabbed some left overs and whipped up a nutritious, all-in-one-bowl, tasty dish that we all gobbled up pronto.  What is merrier than that?

Easy-tasty-healthy, baby.  That and planning ahead (I have three meals prepared already for next week when I’ll be practically living at my kids’ elementary school) is the key to serenity.  Throw in a glass of wine and you’ve got yourself a real holiday winner.

Dirty–not really-Rice

Ingredients: 2-3 cups cooked rice, 3 Italian sausages, 1 chopped red pepper, 1/2 chopped onion, 1-2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tbsp butter, 1-2 stalks chopped celery, 1 can red beans (drained and rinsed), salt and pepper.  (red pepper optional)

Directions: Saute your onion, garlic, peppers and celery in the olive oil.  Place the sausages amongst the these tasty delights.  After the sausages have cooked for a while, remove them and slice to finish cooking and sear each piece a bit.  Cook rice separately.  Drain and rinse your beans.

When meat and veggies are done, simply toss in the rice, beans and a little butter.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  I added a few shakes of red (cayenne) pepper to Mike and my dishes to perk them up a little.  Super yum-ola baby!

Tips: You could make this dish with other meats too (chicken would be nice/or hey, go vegetarian!) and don’t be afraid of throwing in other vegetables like carrots or sliced squash.

The Midwesterner in me loves this type of meal (it’s the casserole concept but w/out the condensed soup nonsense), especially during busy weeks, because it’s a balanced meal in one bowl.  Not only is this easy to make, it takes minutes to clean up!  One pot, five bowls, five forks.  Done.

Elder Berry Saturday

elderberry Saturday

OK.  So I don’t know how you’re spending your Saturday… but ’round here we are jammin’ in the kitchen.  I’m finishing up my next batch of elder berry elixir (place your orders soon!) and the kids are working on their Christmas gifts for the grandparents.

The only thing needed to make this cold, wet, mid-December afternoon perfect are some melodic Christmas tunes to keep us literally hummin’ along.

Thought you might be interested in some of my current Pandora favorites (just type “holiday” after the artist when you select):

Blues Traveler, Bare Naked Ladies, Straight No Chaser and Brian Setzer Holiday are great for something when you want to tap your foot or even get ‘yer Christmas groove on.

When I’m in the mood for just some absolutely lovely carol singing, there’s nothing like Sarah Mclachan, Karen Carpenter or James Taylor.  I wish I could get one of them to come sing me to sleep some night… but I digress…

Sometimes we’re up for something a little different, but don’t exactly want to shake our red and green booties around.  Then I pull up Sister Hazel, Good Lovelies, Dave Matthews, Mercy Me or Six Pence None the Richer.  These bands do nice renditions of the classics that we love to sing along to. (worth noting: I never cared for Six Pence when they were a popular band, but I think the lead singer really rocks ’round the holidays.  Go figure.)

And by the way, I pretty much always have music in the background while I’m chopping or stirring.  If kickin’ it in the kitchen isn’t exactly your cup of tea, try some tunes.  Just like when you exercise, the rhythm is gonna getcha!

Laundry Detergent

laundry soap

OK.  So, uh, don’t eat this.

My husband is starting to get that glazed look in his eyes when he reaches for what used to be store-bought items but have now been replaced with Michelle’s new home-made-chemical-free-and-cheap-as-heck health and cleaning products.  Yup.  I’m on a role.

Who makes their own laundry soap for heaven’s sake!?  Well… people who have children with skin problems who are working hard to remedy those problems without applying prescription steroids (which are dangerous and after years of dabbling are still not working anyway) are the kind of people who do this sort of thing.  People like ME you might say. 🙂

My new natural laundry soap is easy to make, cleans just fine and is loads (get it?) cheaper than anything you can buy off the shelf.  And if you’re not interested in actually making your own, I’m in the process of getting my Cottage Food Operator’s permit (OK, yes, we already agreed that this is not edible) which will allow me to sell prepared foods/other items from my lovely blue-kitchened home.  Check me out, sista!

My product line name is “Gladys told Zelma” which is also a new page on the top of my blog.  Click on it to see what the deal is.  Go ahead.  It’s fun.

Gladys told Zelma about… Homemade Powder Laundry Detergent

Ingredients: one bar natural soap  (I used Dr. Bronner’s Castile Citrus,) 2 cups Borax, 2 cups Washing Soda*.

Directions: Grate your soap with a food processor or cheese grater.  Mix with the other two ingredients and honey you ‘R done.  Yup.  It’s that easy.  Use one rounded TBSP (that’s all, seriously) per load.  It won’t make suds like commercial brand detergents and that’s OK.  It’s because it doesn’t have all the chemicals in it that they use.

Tips: I like the citrus soap because it has a fresh scent, but it’s not perfumy.  The fragrance comes from essential oils.  If you grate your soap by hand, use the large side of the grater and then rub the soap bits between your hands to break them up a bit more.  The first time I made this mixture I used the tiny little side of the grater.  The soap bits looked tiny and fabulous, but it took me FOR-EH-EH-EH-VER.

** What the heck is “washing soda?”  You can order Arm and Hammer’s Washing Soda online if you can’t find it in a local store.  OR, you can actually make your own.  Just take two cups of baking soda and heat at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Google it if you don’t believe me or just look here.   My Grandfather, former Chemistry and Physic’s teacher would be so dang proud of his little Liberal Arts lovin’ granddaughter for sharing this!

Final tip: if you would like to use this detergent but have absolutely no inclination to make your own… lemme know!  I can hook you up!

Tortilla Soup

tortilla soup As promised, welcome to my tortilla soup.

OK.  So, like most of ya’ll, we have some family traditions this time of year.  Besides the more-people-than-places-to-sit type celebration which is the only way I know how to give thanks in November, one of my favorite traditions is making tortilla soup with the turkey leftovers.

Now my dad is Mexican and nothing would please me more than to say that I will soon be revealing my Grandmother’s family recipe from the hills of Tabasco.  Unfortunately that is not the case.  Nope.  This is because like in most homes, it was my mother’s culture that influenced our meals.  I think my mom–Michigander of German descent–found her tortilla soup recipe in a magzine years ago.  I will say this: we have altered and, dare I say, perfected the recipe.  (Yes.  I dare.)

You can go to 20 Mexican restaurants and have tortilla soup served 20 different ways.  I actually don’t order it out any more because, well, I like my Michigander-German-descent-from-a-magazine-but-now-doctored-up-just-right concoction just fine.  Before reading on, don’t be intimidated by the seemingly long list of ingredients.  There’s nothing too exotic in here, which is yet another reason to love it.

Michelle’s Tortilla Soup

Soup Ingredients: 1-2 lbs chopped chicken, turkey or beef, 3 tbsp. olive oil, small can diced chilis, 2 medium chopped onions, 2 diced red bell peppers, 2 cans drained black beans, 28 oz. can chopped tomato w/juice or a few diced fresh tomatoes, 6 cups chicken/turkey/or beef broth/or a combination of meat broths, 1 can tomato sauce, 1-3 tbsp. cumin, 1-2 tbsp. chili powder, 2 tbsp. worchestershire, 3 cloves garlic, salt and pepper to taste. 

Toppings: diced green onion, diced fresh cilantro, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, corn tortillas cut into squares, tortilla chips

Directions: If the meat is raw, cook it in the oil with the onion, bell peppers and garlic.  If meat is cooked, put it aside while cooking onions, peppers and garlic.  Then add all other soup ingredients (including the meat), bring to a boil and then let simmer on low for about 45 minutes.  If possible, make this a day ahead of time, refrigerate and then reheat.  Chilling the soup and then warming it back up helps all the yumola flavors really get to know one another.  That said, it can be really hard to wait to eat this soup!

Regarding the toppings, Mike loves his tortillas to get heated up with the soup so they get sort of melded into his steamy bowl.  I actually just like a few crunchy tortilla chips on top with the cilantro and onion.  You do what works for you. K?

Tips: I made this batch of soup with a bone broth I made for 36 hours in the crock pot after Thanksgiving.  It. Is. So. Good. Oh; this recipe is pretty mild so my kids and mother can eat it.  You can also add diced jalapenos to the soup and/or include some spicy salsa on your list of toppings.  Final tip = don’t worry about quantities in this here recipe too much.  If your soup is too thin, add more toppings.  Done.