November Foodie Pen Pal

30 Nov

I know, I’ve basically fallen off the face of the earth.  But it’s Foodie Pen Pal reveal day, and I felt the need to come back and share what I got in my box this month.  If you want a reminder of what this whole thing is about, check out Lindsay’s site: The Lean Green Bean. (You’ll note that for December she’s doing a special Foodie Pen Pal for charity – check it out and donate to help Hurricane Sandy victims!)

This month, my pen pal was in Maryland.  Since my husband and I briefly contemplated moving to Maryland several years back, I was intrigued to get a package full of local Maryland treats.  This time I was clever and told my pen pal that I’d prefer not to have a package filled with junk food and goodies, but that didn’t mean I didn’t appreciate a treat or two.  Kim definitely delivered!  Here is what I got in my fantastic package:

Maryland’s finest fare

Kim sent me some amazing local flavors from Maryland.  She included a harvest pear vinaigrette, Old Bay seasoning, a jar of pumpkin butter, crab seasoned popcorn, fried green beans, jambalaya seasoning, dried fruit chips, and caramel popcorn.  The perfect balance of naughty and nice!  I’m excited to have a taste of Maryland in my kitchen.

So far I’ve tried the caramel popcorn, the vinaigrette, and the fruit chips – they are all delicious.  The fruit chips include some more interesting fruits than your typical, such as honeydew, pineapple, and starfuit.  Who knew dried honeydew was so delicious??  Thanks again, Kim!

October Foodie Pen Pal

31 Oct

It’s Foodie Pen Pal reveal day!!  If  you’re just tuning in, every month now I participate in this program where I am assigned to a random stranger, and a random stranger is assigned to me.  We send packages of local goodies to our assigned pen pals, keeping the cost under $15.  It’s fun, and I have been exposed to some delicious treats (both sweet and savory) that I might not have discovered otherwise.

For October, appropriately (I suppose), my pen pal package was filled with desserts.  This package made me realize perhaps I shouldn’t be so laissez-faire when a new pen pal contacts me each month to ask if I have any dislikes or allergies.  I always say that I have no dislikes or preferences, since I generally like everything and want to see what people will send me.  This month, however, I think I went into sugar overload!  Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate that Katie over at Simply Desserts put together a great package of goodies from Philadelphia, PA.  But it’s made me realize I can’t handle as many candies as I used to.  These are the treats that Katie thoughtfully sent for me:

Sweets Galore from Katie

The package included a variety of Tastykakes, Asher’s cherry cordial chocolates, and almond toffee.  The almond toffee was to die for, and I ate that way too fast.  Everything else was also tasty but a bit too sweet for me.  Apparently there is a limit to my sweet tooth!  So thank you, Katie, for introducing me to the sweets of Philadelphia (Na na na na na, na na na na na….) but from now on I think I will ask my pen pals to include no more than one sugary treat in a package.

Conversely, the woman I sent a package to this month (who once again does not have a blog, so I won’t get to see a post about what I sent someone yet again!) is on Weight Watchers, so I had fun putting together a package of healthy snacks for her.  I found what I think were some delicious items, and I really hope she likes them.

Onward and upward!  Now I’m looking forward to November’s exchange.

Looking forward to next month’s exchange.

Pasta Salad with Avocado-Tarragon Dressing

8 Oct

Eat your Green

The other night I went with my sister and a friend to the Hollywood Bowl.  One of the best things about seeing a concert there is bringing a picnic!  It’s one of those things I always want to do but usually don’t take the time to do, and instead just buy food somewhere nearby.  This time, we did it the right way.  My contribution was this pasta salad.

Summer may be over, but avocados are still going strong.   They are the base of this dressing, along with licorice-y tarragon and tart lime juice.  The contents of the salad itself are flexible, of course, but I used a blend of interesting pastas that came in my last Foodie Pen Pal package.  I also used grape tomatoes, spinach, and red bell pepper.

The main character here, though, is the dressing.  Avocado is filled with healthy fat and creaminess, so you really don’t need any cream or mayo or anything of the sort.  I added a tiny splash of extra virgin olive oil just to loosen things up a bit, and add a hint of flavor.   Tarragon is considered a pain reliever and is also filled with antioxidants.  It aids digestion as well.  Who knew?

Pasta Salad with Avocado-Tarragon Dressing

serves 4


  • 1/2 lb. short cut pasta of your choice
  • 1 large (or 2 small) avocados, halved and pitted
  • juice of 1 lime (about 2 tbsp)
  • 1/4 cup (loosely packed) tarragon leaves
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced


1.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the pasta.  Cook until al dente, according to package directions, and drain.  Immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking and bring down the temperature

2.  While the pasta cooks, scoop the avocado flesh out with a spoon and put into the bowl of a food processor or a blender.  Add the lime juice, tarragon, salt, and cayenne.  Process until completely pureed and smooth, about 1 minute.  Stream in the olive oil to smooth the dressing out even further, or omit if desired.  Transfer dressing to a large bowl.

3.  Add the cooled (it’s okay if it’s a little warm still) pasta to the bowl on top of the dressing, and add in the remaining ingredients.  Toss everything together to coat well with the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.  Serve cold.

September Foodie Pen Pals

1 Oct

I am so excited to share the items that I received in my September foodie pen pal box!  As a reminder, this is a program set up by Lindsay at the Lean Green Bean.  You can read all about it here.  This month my pen pal was Janet from Rochester, NY.  She sent me an amazing selection.  When the box arrived, it was beautifully wrapped.  I almost didn’t want to open it.  Almost.

Pretty Package

Janet has amazing taste, and I was so thrilled to see the items she chose for me.

Gourmet Rochester delivered to my door

What you see there is a rice and grain mix from Wegman’s, some Cajun pasta, milk chocolate with bits of dried peach and hibiscus flower (SOOOOO good), raw honey, and a gift set of locally produced olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Plus a sweet card that Janet enclosed, explaining her selections.  What a fantastic care package!  I’ve already polished off the chocolate, but am trying to take my time with the other items and exercise a little more restraint.  Thanks again, Janet!

If you want to participate in Foodie Pen Pals, you should!  You don’t have to be a blogger.  Lindsay pairs you up with someone somewhere else in the country to send a package to, and someone else sends a package to you.  The idea is to put together a package of local flavors to represent your area, and to keep the cost under $15. So much fun!

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Mushrooms, Leeks and Bacon

17 Sep


Fall produce is starting to creep into our markets, and the weather can’t make up its mind what to do.  This is the time of year when I start craving the heavier, heartier foods of fall, but don’t have the patience or the cool temperature to want to cook a true fall feast.  Solution: toaster oven!

I cook a lot of my meals in my toaster oven.  If I’m baking something, and it will fit on a toaster-oven-sized pan, then into the T.O. she goes.  If you don’t own one, I highly recommend you get one.  This recipe is the perfect way to get started.  Throw a couple of sweet potatoes in there and bake them into submission without overheating your whole house.  Win-win.

This sweet potato is loaded up with a delicious combination of savory ingredients – leeks, bacon, and mushrooms – and kissed with a beautiful warm balsamic vinaigrette.  It was born from a place of having various produce that I needed to use up, and a baby who needed to get to bed (turns out the time it takes to bake two sweet potatoes = roughly the amount of time needed to bathe, feed, and put my son to bed).  It turned out to be delicious.

Sweet potatoes are packed to the gills with nutrition, particularly fiber and vitamin C.  Mushrooms are under-appreciated little fellows, linked with prevention of prostate and breast cancer.  And leeks are good for cardiovascular health and inflammation.  Bacon – well, bacon has no real health benefits but it tastes incredible.  One measly slice divided between two people isn’t going to give you a heart attack.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Mushrooms, Leeks and Bacon

serves 2


  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, washed and scrubbed
  • 1 slice bacon, chopped
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil, as needed
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
  • 1 cup sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar


  1. Preheat oven (or toaster oven!) to 375 degrees.  Prick the sweet potatoes several times with a fork and put on a baking sheet.  Bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, or until very tender when pierced with a knife.  Set aside to cool slightly.
  2. While the sweet potatoes are cooling, cook the chopped up bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until browned and slightly crispy.  Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the bacon pieces from the pan and set aside on a plate.  Add the leeks and mushrooms to the bacon fat, adding a little olive oil if the pan is fairly dry.  Cook until the leeks are browned and tender, and the mushrooms are tender.
  3. Add the balsamic vinegar to the skillet to deglaze it, and stir to coat the mushrooms and leeks.  Remove from heat and add the bacon pieces back into the mix.
  4. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice them lengthwise and pull open.  Top with the mushroom-leek-bacon mixture, including the juices from the pan.  Serve immediately.

NOTE: If you have leftover mushroom-bacon-leek mixture, which you probably will, toss it into your scrambled eggs the next morning.  You will thank me.

August Foodie Pen Pal Package

31 Aug
goodies from NYC!


Here is a picture of the contents of my first foodie pen pal package.  Each month Lindsay at the Lean Green Bean matches us all up with different people (the person you are sending to is not the same person who is sending to you).  To quote Lindsay, “the boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!”

Maria from New York was my pen pal this month, and you can check out here blog here.  Maria sent some really creative and thoughtful things.  She included a jar of her home made arrabiata sauce, a jar of Brooklyn-made salsa that has coconut and other tropical flavors in it (haven’t tried it yet, but I am really looking forward to it), crispy chocolate chip cookies from Tate’s, and a little black book, which now lives in my diaper bag.  She also threw in a couple of beverage enhancer samples from her clients (Maria is in advertising).  I’m not a big beverage enhancer person but it was fun to have them and try them out.

All in all, I am a big fan of this pen pal thing.  (I’m not a big fan of the word “foodie,” and am reluctantly using it again and again and again because that is the name of the program – but it is a small price to pay.)  Molly, the person I was matched with in August, doesn’t have a blog, so I’m afraid she won’t be posting about what I sent her.  Since she lives in South Dakota, I thought she’d appreciate some items that I think of as very Californian.  I threw in a batch of home made coconut granola, California dates, my favorite iced tea from the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, some chipotle chile powder, and my guacamole recipe written on a post-it.

I am already looking forward to September’s package….

Peach Salsa

27 Aug
Peach Salsa

Peachy Keen and Spicy, too

We’ve had what felt like an epic heat wave in Los Angeles recently, so recipes that don’t involve actual cooking are more than welcome in my kitchen.  This is a great salsa recipe to have in your back pocket – it is so ridiculously easy and delicious!  It puts juicy summer peaches in the forefront, giving them some tang and some spice to complement the sweetness.  This salsa goes incredibly well with chicken soft tacos (which is how we had it), but you could just have it with chips if you want!  Or eat it with a spoon, I won’t tell.

Peaches are a great source of vitamins A and C, potassium, and fiber.  They offer antioxidants to ward off inflammation and aging.  What’s not to love?  And of course, they are in season right now.

Peach Salsa


  • 1 large peach, pitted and diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, finely minced
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • pinch of salt


  1. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and toss together.  Let sit for at least 30 minutes, preferably no longer than 2 hours, before serving.