Sundays with Starbucks: Lap Cat Mornings and Starbucks House Blend Tasting

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Sundays can be very relaxing, or they can be very busy. I try and balance months with some Sundays where we have NO PLANS, to balance out the Sundays where we have a lot going on. Sundays are church days, family dinner days, brunch days, bridal or baby shower days, laundry days, get-caught-up-on-life kind of days.

Before our crazy begins, I enjoy some time, right after breakfast and before I shower, where I finish  the last of the coffee and just chill out with a blanket. It may be only 30 minutes, but I need it, and YOU need it. Right?

And you know who always finds me in my cozy spot for my Sunday Morning chill out?

My cat, Moon.

If there is a blanket and lap available, with some yummy smelling coffee nearby warming up the general area, Moon will find it.
She generally doesn't like that it's usually a short time. But, she'll take what she can get-as will I!

The perfect match for you and your lap cat moments?
I have to say, Starbucks House Blend. It's easy, smooth and pretty much the "work horse" of their family of coffees.

This blend was Starbucks first, and put them on the map. It has been meticulously put together for a perfect balance of bold and smooth. If you really want to experience the nuance of this blend, I recommend making a pour over cup-although we drip brew a giant pot for Sunday mornings.

The first thing that threw me was the aroma. When you open the bag, you will be hit with a strong, smoky, tobacco aroma. It's a bit different from their other blends in that way.

When you take your first sip, it is bold and sweet on your tongue. I experienced hazelnut flavors with some smooth chocolate tones. But then the finish is very bold and sharp, and it lingers for a while on your tongue. The finish is what makes it bold and punchy. The aroma of the brew contrasts from the aroma of the bean. It has a lot of nutty undertones as the steam hits your nose. 

For being a basic, "work horse" coffee blend, it has a lot of vey subtle magic that you will enjoy if you take the time, under a blanket, with your lap cat, to do so. 

So go right now, find your blanket, put on a Harry Potter rerun (or at the moment I am enjoying Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark)  and invite your lap cat (or dog) to assist you in enjoying a cup of Starbucks House blend right now. The plans for the day can wait.

Happy Sunday!

Please note: Starbucks House blend and the fabulous pour over contraption with filters was provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks! #starbucks #houseblend @starbucks

RECIPE: Paprika Walnut Shrimp on Soba Noodles

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Ancient grains are very healthy, and luckily they are easier and easier to get at the store. Buckwheat is a really great grain that is very digestible, and if you are feeling like an Asian meal, soba noodles can be your healthy grain ticket versus typical white rice. I made extra soba noodles for this dish and froze them for later use. That way when hubby orders Chinese, I can grab some soba from the freezer and voila! A healthier Chinese meal.

Paprika is a fascinating spice, and not a usual choice for an Asian meal. It colors dishes with a rich, fiery red color. Yet it has a bitter, nutty savory bite. Add it to earthy walnuts and buckwheat soba noodles and you have something really exciting. I added shredded carrots to balance things with sweetness and Chinese 5 spice to give things a mysterious magic.

This was a simple, quick meal for a weeknight. You could even cook the soba noodles a day or two before and just reheat them when ready to serve!


Paprika Walnut Shrimp on Soba Noodles

Ingredients

marinade
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 crushed garlic clove
1/4 tsp. Chinese 5 spice
1 tsp. tamari

1 lb. peeled and deviened shrimp (16-20 ct.)

2-3 Tbsp. sunflower oil
 1 Tbsp. peeled and minced garlic
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 1/2 cups cubed turnips
about 3/4 cup shredded carrots
3 1/2 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

Sauce
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. mirin
1 tsp. sea salt
fresh ground pepper
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. honey or xylitol
2 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp. corn starch dissolved in 2 tsp. water

8-10 oz. soba noodles, cooked according to package directions
Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

First toss the shrimp n a bowl with the marinade ingredients. Let sit for 1-3 hours in the refrigerator.





Mix the sauce ingredient together and stir until your sweetener is dissolved. Set aside.



Have your ingredients mise en place near your stove, because things move pretty quick with this dish. you need everything prepped, ready and within reach In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the ginger, garlic and paprika until the things are softened and tender.



Add the walnuts and toast them up. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook them, stirring frequently, until the shrimp is opaque and coked through. Pull the shrimp out and keep warm on a plate, but leave the walnut mixture in the pan.


To the hot pan add the vegetables. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are nice and tender.



 Once the vegetables are tender, add the shrimp back in the pan. Add the sauce and toss well to coat. Quickly add the dissolved cornstarch to the sauce. Cook until the sauce is thickened, just a couple minutes more. Ladle the shrimp over the soba noodles and serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Sundays with Starbucks: Starbucks Veranda Blend Tasting

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Happy Sunday!

Last time we met we talked about Starbucks Caffe Verona and the ritual of the Sunday morning cup of coffee. To wake up from our sleepy selves, our house likes bold, punchy, rich coffee in the morning. Now I am going to talk about another ritual for Sundays at our house, and that's the mid afternoon cup of coffee.

Have you needed that little mug of happy mid way through your Sunday? Maybe you just finished some chores, a few loads of laundry, caught up on bills, maybe run an errand or two? You have a small gap in the day before you have to start dinner-and you just want to chill out for a bit. Maybe read a couple pages of a book-flip through a trashy magazine, surf Pinterest. For that mellow, smooth gap in your Sunday, you need a mellow, smooth coffee to match.

Enter Veranda blend.

Like the name suggests, imagine yourself on a porch swing with golden afternoon light raking across the wooden planks while you enjoy a cup of coffee reading a book. It's fall out, so you need a lap blanket or a warm shawl to guard against the slight chill in the air. The Autumn leaves are covered with golden hues. Are you there with me?
Yup, that's this coffee.

When you open Veranda blend, you will notice the golden hues of the bean. It is a very pretty, caramel color.
See?


Caramel is the name of the game with this blend-smooth vanilla caramel. It's a very subtle, creamy blend. It's very easy on the tongue, with a very mellow finish. 
There are soft hints of almond for me, too.

We made this in the drip brew coffee maker and I also tried it in a pour over brew. I highly recommend the pour over brew for this blend. There is so much soft nuance to this blonde roast that I could only really experience in the pour over approach. The drip brew took a lot of the fun out of the tasting experience (for me, anyway.) It became a little flat and..well..kind of boring. SO trust me-pour over for this one, all the way (or even a press will do.)
 Perfect for that one cup you need to curl up with for your Sunday afternoon "me-time" before "dinnertime".

Enjoy your Sunday afternoon!

Please note: Starbucks Veranda blend and the fabulous pour over contraption with filters was provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks! #starbucks #verandablend @starbucks




FMD Phase 3 RECIPE: Lemon Herb Pesto with Quinoa Pasta

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So I am not going to lie, Phase 3 on the Fast Metabolism Diet is the easiest to cook for. You don't realize how much you rely on oil to cook with until you can't!

So the minute Friday rolls around, it's like a party at our house. Well, sort of. There are still a lot more vegetables and healthy eating happening that my daughter is not that pleased about, so I don't know if she thinks phase 3 is a party. But I sure do!

One of the things I love is pesto. And because we can have olive oil in phase 3, I wanted to make a pesto with phase appropriate ingredients. Now I added a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes for my dish when serving, but I gave my family members a dollop of ricotta and parmesan cheese for their dishes. This made everyone as happy as possible. I mean, come on-dairy makes everyone happy. 
(sigh* I do miss dairy)

It's a very easy recipe adapted from The Power Foods cookbook.

Fair warning, it's very "green" and herbal in flavor. My daughter was not a fan. Hubby and I liked it, but we like all things herbal. You can play with the pesto mix to take down the "green" flavor by weighing heavier on the basil versus parsley, and taking down the lemon juice.

Here's to the phase 3 party!
(insert 12 year old daughter eye roll and groan)

Lemon Herb Pesto with Quinoa Pasta

Ingredients
12 oz. low carb GF pasta such as quinoa pasta
1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking liquid
1/2 tsp. chicken bouillon (we like "better than bouillon" brand
1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted 
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 cup packed flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh chervil (or tarragon)
sea sat and fresh ground pepper
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 heads of broccoli, cut into small florets (about 6 cups)
a light sprinkle of garlic powder
Red pepper flakes (optional)

For non dieters
3-4 Tbsp. ricotta cheese and 
Grated Parmesan for serving


Directions


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Before draining, pull out the 1/2 cup cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta and set aside, keep warm.



Dissolve the chicken bouillon in the cooking liquid. Set aside.



In a food processor, pulse almonds, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic until finely ground. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt with the parsley, basil and chervil. Pulse until finely chopped. While the machine is running, add 2 Tbsp. olive oil and the pasta water. Pulse until you have a well combined, creamy paste. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside.




In a large, deep skillet heat 1-2 remaining tablespoons of olive oil on a high heat. Add the sprinkle of garlic powder to the oil.


Add the broccoli to the hot pan and sear. Continue to cook quickly until the florets have a nice golden color on some of their sides. Lower the heat and cook for a few more minutes until they get tender, tossing gently. Add the pasta to toss. Then add the pesto and toss to coat.

Serve hot with a dollop of ricotta cheese and parmesan for the non dieters. And for FMDers, add a sprinkle of hot red pepper flakes for a kick.




FMD Phase 3 RECIPE: Spicy Crispy Garlic Chick Peas

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How are you doing on your New Year's resolution? I hope you have stuck with it! Lord knows it's not easy. This week, with the Girl Scout cookie delivery, it is really hard to stay on track with the Fast Metabolism Diet. The weekends are especially hard, because your life is not on a regimented schedule versus during the week. You wake up later and are running errands or playing taxi driver to your kids. You have to be really good at pre planning and juggling your food choices-and isn't the mission of a weekend to take it easy with less planning!?

I even took my giant bottle of water to measure my water intake while grocery shopping yesterday! I looked crazy with my neon green water bottle in my shopping cart-but oh well. It takes some serious discipline and an "I don't care what other people think" attitude when it comes to staying on a very strict diet. 
Not. easy.

Well, here's something that is easy. 

These chick peas are a phase 3 snack I adapted from a few other pinners' recipes on Pinterest. I added savory flavors like garlic and smoked paprika. Season these with salt to your taste. I was a little conservative with my sea salt, and my husband suggested they needed more. Definitely taste as you mix, because salt will really marry the flavors and make them even more satisfying as a crunchy snack.

Oh, and FMD status- I am minus 11 lbs. and counting! Energy up, and feeling great. 

FMD Phase 3 Spicy Crispy Garlic Chick Peas

Ingredients
1 15 oz can organic chick peas
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1 tsp. olive oil or spicy infused flavored olive oil

Directions


Preheat oven to 400˚. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside.

Drain and rinse well the can of chick peas and transfer to a medium bowl.



Mix all the spices and seasonings in with the chick peas, then add the olive oil. Mix well so that all chick peas are coated well. Let sit for 10 minutes so the chick peas get infused with the flavors. Adjust for more salt if needed. Toss.



Transfer peas to the waiting baking sheet in one layer. Bake for 40-45 minutes, tossing the peas just a couple times during baking time. The peas will be lightly golden brown and crispy on the outside.


Let sit in the baking sheet to cool down, then transfer to a serving bowl to serve!



Sundays with Starbucks: Starbucks Caffe Verona Tasting also Pour Over Brewing V.S. Drip Brewing

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Welcome to my new series this year, Sundays with Starbucks! It's no secret I am obsessed with coffee, and especially Starbucks.

I love their branding, their stores, their food, their customer service, their social community, everything. And I also love enjoying a warm cup of coffee leisurely every Sunday morning. (I actually enjoy coffee every morning-how else can I keep up with being an urban domestic diva!) But Sundays are always lazy, cozy and slow-the best time to really get to know various blends and brewing approaches.

So today, I give you my take on one of Starbucks bold blends, Caffe Verona. It's shiny brown package is as chocolaty and rich as the brew itself (well played, package designer, well played.)

I started my husband and I off on this Starbucks blend for my Sunday series rather than some of the other milder or medium blends, because my husband likes a cup of coffee that could grow hair on your chest, and he is very picky about this. As my daughter says when she feels adventurous and takes a sip of his coffee, "It's a punch in the mouth."

I am happy to report my husband really liked this blend a lot, and it isn't a punch in the mouth. It feels more like a bear hug in your mouth. Does that sound weird? Well, try it and you'll see. Trust me. A fuzzy, chocolate brown bear hug.

It is bold, yes. This isn't for novice coffee drinkers.

But there are some rich, chocolate notes to this blend that make it creamy and smooth. Think chocolate. That's what this blend is about.

In brewing this Caffe Verona, I also wanted to try my hand at a pour over brew and taste the difference it makes versus a typical drip brew. I have seen pour over brewing around the city, and have heard it is really the best way to experience the complex flavors of coffee. It is slower and more manual, so it's a perfect brew for the weekend when you have more time.

How does one make a Pour Over Brew? Lets me show you, then I'll give you the down low on what my hubby and I tasted as the differences, as it relates to Caffe Verona.


Of course it's a snowy Sunday in Chicago to boot, making it a perfect morning for a pour over brew!

How to Brew Coffee using a Pour Over Method
Measure your water, then add a touch extra to account for steaming off and absorption. Bring the water to a boil (what is shown here is making 2 cups of coffee. So I measured a little over 2 cups of water.)

Meanwhile, use a cone paper filter that fits your pour over device. Wet the filter under warm water, squeeze out the excess water then line your pour over device with the filter. Set it on top of your cup.


 Measure and grind your beans. According to Starbucks pour over directions, you measure 2 tablespoons for every 6 oz. of water. So for my 2 cups I measured 4 1/2 tablespoons of coffee, and ground it up finely. You need fine grounds for this approach, like the texture of sugar. 

Once ground, place in the filter. Take the water just off the boil and pour a little bit to just cover the grounds, slowly at the center. 
Now wait. Yes. Wait about 30 seconds and let the grounds "bloom".


 Now gently and slowly, in concentric circles, pour the rest of the hot water onto the grounds. Try and keep away from the sides. Start at the middle and work outward in a slow steady stream. Stay 1/4" away from the sides. If things are filling too fast toward the top, pause for a few seconds, then continue. Once the water is all in, let it sit until it is fully brewed.


You will know you're done when all the water has drained through and you just see grounds.


Dress up your coffee and enjoy!

 The differences between the Pour Over and Drip Brew

Left, pour over. Right Drip Brew. In each is the same amount of almond milk

As mentioned above, Caffe Verona has a bold flavor with a lot of chocolate notes. But you taste a lot more nuance in the pour over brew versus the drip brew.

Caffe Verona Drip Brew:

Smokier
This brew is just more "in your face", it's not as subtle
A little more acidic, especially on the finish
Simpler in experience
The finish on the tongue is simpler, shorter
The coffee itself is punchier, bolder
The chocolate flavors are present, boldly

Caffe Verona Pour Over:

Cleaner and brighter overall
More complex
Richer in different flavors
Smoother and mellower
More chocolate flavors present
Less acidic at the finish
Longer finish-after the acidic pop at the end, there are flavors that linger on the back of your tongue
More...interesting

This was a really cool experiment. I really love the pour over! I think we may be hooked!

I hope you enjoy this coffee chat! Come again! Stay warm!

Please note: Starbucks Caffe Verona blend and the fabulous pour over contraption with filters was provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks! #starbucks #caffeveronablend @starbucks

My tasting notes...it may be as fun as tasting wine, except I don't fall asleep after!



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