Provencal Summer Vegetable Bake and a little bit of Family History

Picture courtesy of Family Circle

I have often been asked 2 very popular questions all types of chefs are commonly posed with: How did you learn to cook and why do you like it so much? Well, the answers are truly easy. I love to cook because I love to eat, lol. I love to create flavors and I truly show my love through my tasty meals. I have over-salted, under-flavored, and burned many things throughout the process but that is where the fun of learning lies.

Growing up, I spent the better part of my childhood sitting on my abuelo’s kitchen floor watching him create Cuban masterpieces. You see my grandfather cooked daily meals for our family (12 in total) everyday. We would all leave his house with a cantina or tupperwares filled to capacity with his meals. This is how he showed his love- by feeding us. Papa, everyone’s favorite name for him, not only raised his five grandkids, he taught me his trade.

Upon finding this recipe in Family Circle, I knew I had to try it.  After tasting this deliciousness, I knew you all would enjoy it.

Provencal Summer Vegetable Bake:

What you Need: 

  • 2 medium sweet onions
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 large eggplant (about 1 pound), ends trimmed, halved lengthwise
  • 3 large summer squash (combination of zucchini and yellow squash), ends trimmed
  • 1/2 pound russet potatoes
  • 3 plum tomatoes
  • 4 ounces goat cheese (Goat cheese can be a very strong flavor, you may want to replace it with Fresh Mozzarella or Feta Cheese)

Let the Fun Begin:

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees . Peel and halve onions; cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a largesaute pan over medium heat. Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cook 8 to 10 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in beans, 1/2 teaspoon of the herbes de Provence and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Pour mixture into bottom of a 9 x 13 oven-safe casserole.

2. Meanwhile, cut eggplant, squash, potatoes and tomatoes into 1/4-inch thick slices. (To speed things up, use a food processor fitted with a slicing blade or a mandoline.) Toss vegetables with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Arrange vegetables on top of onion-bean mixture in 1 layer; pack tightly.

3. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove foil and crumble cheese on top. Bake 15 more minutes. Cool slightly and slice into 4 servings.

I am looking forward to hearing how your baking goes.

Much Love,

Nicki G. The Blissful Wife

Recipes Sure to Cause Fireworks in Your Mouth

Today we honor this beautiful country many of us have the pleasures of living in. For my friends around the world, July 4th is the day we celebrate the United States birthday and if you are an avid follower of BlissfulVida you know how much I love birthdays! So one of this magnitude simply blows my socks off- well really my flip flops because I am getting ready to head to a BBQ!! 😉

I have decided to share some of our menu for today in hopes you may equally enjoy, no matter what nationality you are or where you live.

Sensational BBQ Skewers:

Picture doesn’t do it justice!

What You’ll Need

• 2 onions

• 3 bell peppers

• 2 1/2 pounds steak, 1 inch thick (Can alternate with chicken chunks, shrimp, or even Mahi Mahi)

• Skewers (if using wood skewers, soak in water) – Very important, you don’t want the fireworks starting early lol!

• Adobo seasoning by Goya (any ‘Sazon’ will do, but this is my favorite)

• EVOO- Extra Virgin Olive Oil

• Ground pepper

Optional Ingredients:

• Pineapple

• Grape tomatoes

• Worcestershire Sauce (for chicken or beef)

• Old Bay seasoning (for shrimp or Mahi)

Let the Fun Begin:

1. Cut onions and peppers into 1-inch pieces and put them in a bowl (if using tomatoes, include those in the mix). Generously douse vegetables with EVOO, Adobo and ground pepper. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

2. Cut steak into 1-inch cubes.- I usually buy the beef chunks pre-cut. If using chicken, shrimp or Mahi follow the same steps. Once desired meat is ready for seasoning, once again generously douse with EVOO, Adobo and pepper. Depending on the protein you are using you may want to add Worcestershire Sauce for chicken or meat or Old Bay seasoning for fish or shrimp. Once again allow to marinate (the longer, the better)

3. Place protein, onions and peppers on skewer, alternating varieties. If you would like to include the tomatoes and pineapple, continuing to alternate. Because fish and shrimp cook much quicker and chicken needs to be cooked completely, do not mix proteins.

4. Grill on the BBQ.

Note:

• Fish and shrimp will cook much quicker

• Beef cooking time will vary depending on the personal temperature desired.

• Chicken MUST be completely cooked (no pink on the inside)

Enjoy!

On the Drink Menu:

Because I am not a mixologist, I try and find recipes on the web that are delicious and are the perfect fit for my meal.

So today we are serving:

Frozen Mango Rum Cocktail courtesy of Yummly Recipes

What You’ll Need:

• 2 cups of white rum

• ½ cup of coconut rum

• ½ cup of fresh lime juice

• 3 cups of fresh mango

• 1 tablespoon of sugar, depending on the sweetness of the mango

• 2 cups of ice

Let the Fun Begin:

1. Blend all of the ingredients except the ice in a blender until the mango is pureed.

2. Gradually add the ice and continue to blend the drink until the ice is crushed and all of the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

3. Pour into glass and Enjoy

*Optional: If desired, pour the blended drink to a container and freeze for one hour.

Also on the Menu:

Cinco de Mayo Margaritas

Slow Cooker Magic- Asian Rib Sensation

*A little bit of magic from all around the world 😉

Friends,

On a serious note:  Have a blast but be safe!

Blissful Celebrations,

Nicki G. The Blissful Wife

Only 150 Calories of Cupcake Goodness

Sometimes inspiration comes from the wildest places- including a Boston College dorm room and a couple of hungry sophomores.  This is where Elizabeth Halle, author of the Little Moments of Happiness blog, learned to cook.  A Miami local, she wasn’t always into cooking until she was forced to learn after leaving the nest and going away to school.  Now Elizabeth is committed to finding healthy alternatives to our favorite recipes- including- drum roll please- A 150 CALORIE CUPCAKE!

Yes, you heard it friends, Elizabeth has discovered a healthy alternative to Mishas Cupcakes and it is more than a morsel of yummy deliciousness.  Did I mention Enticing Icing IS included?  Who knew healthy could taste so perfect?

Friends, with no further delay here is Elizabeth’s 150 Calorie Cupcake:

The 150 Calorie Cupcake

Makes 12 Cupcakes

What You Need: 

  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup Splenda Sugar Blend
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 2/3 cup almond milk

Let the Fun Begin: 

  1. Preheat oven to 325F
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
  3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. After, add the egg whites and extracts. Continue to mix until all ingredients are incorporated.
  4. Stir in 1/3 of the flour mixture into the wet mixture. (From Step 3) Stir in 1/3 of the milk. Repeat until all ingredients are combined.
  5. Scoop the batter into the muffin tin (about ¼ cup each). Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Enticing Icing

Makes approximately 4 cups

  • 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/ teaspoon vanilla extract

Continue the Fun:

  1. With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about two minutes.
  2. Reduce speed to medium. Add the powdered sugar, ½ cup at a time. After every 2 additions, 1 cup of powdered sugar, raise speed to high and beat 10 seconds, then return to medium. Repeat four times.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and beat until incorporated into icing.

Feel free to refrigerate the left over icing in an airtight container for up to 10 days to use with other pastries or cakes made throughout the week; simply make sure to thaw at room temperature for about 5 minutes before use.

Here you have it friends- with simple substitutions like almond milk and Splenda you have a splendid healthy alternative to a classic dessert.

Elizabeth is committed to giving us delicious healthy recipes on her blog Little Moments of Happiness and has recently launched Miami’s first health and fitness blog- The Live Well Lady.  Make sure to show her lots of love friends!

Until next time- Blissful Baking,

Nicki G. The Blissful Wife

Summer Fave Black Bean Mango Salsa Sensation

For the culinary world, living in tropical Miami around the summer months equals one thing: Mangoes. This delicious sweet treat is ripe, fresh and ready to eat; thus getting my succulent mango juices flowing with recipe ideas.   As a result, the Black Bean Mango Salsa Sensation was born. 

This perfectly fresh summer appetizer cannot only be another favorite Game-Day Grub, but the ideal tropical medley for a delicious BBQ. 

Black Bean Mango Salsa Sensation:

What You Need:

  • 2 can of black beans, rinsed and drained (I use a personal fave- El Ebro…for the Latin girl in me 😉
  • 1 can of sweet corn
  • 1 medium mango, peeled and diced in small squares
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup finely diced tri-colored peppers- Green, Red, Yellow
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh Ground Pepper to taste

Let the Fun Begin:

*Best suggestion: The most amazing gift for this blissful chef is the Vidalia Chop Wizard. This is truly the best tool for this recipe.

1.  Drain the 2 cans of beans very well, but if a little juice stays, no worries.

2.  Mix the beans and corn really well.

3.  Use the Vidalia Chop Wizard to finely dice the red onions and the tri colored peppers and add to the salsa.

4.  Throw the tropical magic into the mix by adding the succulent mango pieces

5.  Add lime juice, cumin, kosher salt, and ground pepper

6.  Allow time to marinate in the various delicious flavors; storing it in the frig for about 30 minutes or so.

Serve with your favorite Tostitos Chips and Blissfully Enjoy! 

Slow Cooker Magic-Asian Rib Sensation

As a recent newly-wed I can attest to the “I Want Everything, Put It on My Registry” Syndrome.  Do you know what I am talking about?  You get engaged and start working on your registry; suddenly you have to have every gadget, gizmo, pot and pan that has ever graced the aisle of Bed Bath and Beyond.

This has never rained more true than when I registered for a Slow Cooker.  I was sure I would use this device every day of my married life- that is exactly how I sold it to my husband- “Baby, this is great.  I will set it up the night before, switch it on when I leave to work, and voilà- Dinner when we get home”.  Needless to say, it has never worked that way, until yesterday.

Now if you know me, you know I NEVER follow recipes.  On the contrary, I invent as I go, add as I please, and hope for the best- all the while adding my favorite ingredients-Love, Ground Mustard, and Brown Sugar ;).

Yet, I knew if I was going to learn to use the Slow Cooker, I would need to follow some sort of recipe and I came across the perfect one in the June edition of Family Circle: Asian-Style Ribs.

I knew I had to share this monumental moment with my BlissfulVida Friends, for it certainly isn’t every day I follow a recipe and use a Slow Cooker at the same time!!

Fierce Asian-Style Rib Sensation-courtesy of Family Circle, June 2012 edition

  • 2/3 cup of light brown sugar (yum, my favorite)
  • ½ cup of low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of ground mustard (I added this 😉 )
  • 8 cloves of garlic (recipe calls for 4- I added extra
  • ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1 rack of pork ribs (about 3lbs) cut into sections of 3 to 4 ribs
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds (I didn’t use them, but the recipe calls for it…ask your taste buds 😉 )

Let the fun begin:

  1.  In a small bowl, blend the sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, ginger, garlic, ground mustard, and red pepper.
  2. Place ribs in slow cooker bowl; add sauce.  Cover; cook on HIGH for 5-6 hours until meat is tender.
  3. Transfer ribs to a platter.  Strain sauce and discard excess fat.  Combine cornstarch and ¼ cup water; blend with sauce in saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 2 minutes, stirring until thickened.
  4. Top ribs with ½ cup of the sauce, the scallions, and the sesame seeds.

Is your mouth watering yet?  This goes great with baked potato, mash potato, any potato- lol.

So, if you’re like me and have kitchen gadgets begging to be opened and used, answer their desperate plea today and whip it out and create some cooking magic.

Blissful Cooking,

Nicki G. The Blissful Wife

P.S. Shout out the NEWLY ENGAGED GIRL IN HEELS, Elizabeth C!

Avocado-Cucumber Summer Medley

It is because of the bravery, dedication and sacrifice made by our American Soldiers that many of us have an extra day off this fine Memorial Day Monday.  Hopefully you are preparing for the traditional American festivities-BBQ’s, pool parties, and fun- but in case you are not and need a yummy recipe to get you going- here is my latest creation.

For my friends living in other parts of the world, please enjoy this delicious and refreshing recipe as well.   There is always room for spontaneous celebrations and this sure-fire recipe will certainly get the party started.

Avocado-Cucumber Summer Medley  

What You Need:

  • 3 Hass avocadoes
  • 2 large cucumbers
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 can of sweet corn (about 15 ounces)
  • 3 juicy limes
  • Brown sugar to taste-about 1 tbsp
  • 1 tbsp of Balsamic Vinegar
  • Kosher Salt to taste
  • Ground mustard to taste (be generous)
  • Freshly ground pepper

Let the Fun Begin:

*Best suggestion:  The most amazing gift for this blissful chef is the Vidalia Chop Wizard.  This is truly the best tool for this recipe.

1.  Dice cucumbers and onion into small squares.  Mix well.

2.  Open can of corn and drain.  Mix corn into medley.

3.  Dice avocadoes into squares and mix in.

4.  Freshly squeeze limes into the medley

5.  Add salt, brown sugar, ground mustard and pepper (remember, taste as you go…that is always the fun part 😉 )

6.  Add the Balsamic vinegar and mix well

7.  Refrigerate until you are ready to chow down!

The Avocado-Cucumber Medley is incredibly refreshing and enjoyed by all!! This delectable success is great with Tostitos, crackers, mixed into a salad or can even be eaten alone.  Trust me; you can’t go wrong with this Memorial Day recipe.

As I sign off, I want to take a minute to thank our solidiers past and present for the selfless love they dedicate(d) each and every day to our country.  It is because of you all we live the life we do.  God bless you always!

Blissful Cooking,

Nicki G. The Blissful Wife

Get-What-You-Want Guava Cupcakes

As a high school teacher I have adopted the most fantastic classroom management skill to control rowdy teens- BRIBERY.  While some of you may be shaking your disapproving fingers, others perhaps are giving me two thumbs up for my effective and creative practice.  You see, the only way to coerce teens to do what you want, especially with 2 weeks of school left, is to bribe them.

How do I bribe them?  Well, the way to their precious little hearts is simply through their stomach, so I bake yummy treats.  Trust me people- THEY WILL WORK FOR FOOD! 

My latest tactical move- Guava Cupcakes. 

Enjoy this blissful creation, my dear readers. Feed these moist little cakes to anyone who needs a little coercing.

Get-What-You-Want Guava Cupcakes

Cake:

 Frosting:

  • 16 oz of Cream Cheese
  • 2-3 sticks of real butter
  • ½ can of Guava Marmalade
  • 1 ½ cups of powdered sugar

 Essentials:

  •  Cupcake cups
  •  Cupcake pan

Get to Work:

  1. Preheat oven (I bake them at 350 for large cupcakes)
  2. Combine the cake mix, 3 eggs, cream cheese, butter, and can of marmalade.  Beat the ingredients until mixture is smooth and has no bumps.  Use the box instructions for temperature and time.
  3. Let sit for a few minutes while you prepare the cupcake tray.
  4. Place in the oven and you are set.

Frosting:

  1. I like to use my food processor for the frosting because it gives you an extra fluffy texture- a mixer also works.  Combine cream cheese and guava marmalade beat until it is mixed well.
  2. Slowly add the powdered sugar and continue to mix well. 
  3. Add butter mix well.  This is what gives you the frosting consistency and flavor. 
  4. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Once cupcakes are baked and cooled, frost and BRIBE!!

Enjoy my friends,

Nicki G. The Blissful Wife