Guilty Pleasures (food)

I knew this would be a long post and split it in two before hand.. the first is one of my favorite subjects.. food.

Cheese – cheese is awesome.. but it’s oh so bad for you.. shepard’s pie isn’t complete without cheese, tacos without cheese is just meat, all the wonderful things that can be covered with cheese…

Fried Rice – I can’t make it as good as the Chinese place down the road from the house.. but I love love love it.. they have sprouts and peas and carrots and fried rice goodness.

Chocolate – york peppermint patties, carmello, cadbury eggs, milkyway eggs, hershey’s cookies & cream

Jelly Belly Jelly Beans (Belly flops) – I purchased them after a co-worker had some a while back..oh my goodness.. I have to order more. These are the jelly beans that don’t met the standard for Jelly Belly.

Ginger Ale – I love ginger ale.. most people don’t like it or only have it when on a plane but I am such a fan of it.

Rocky Road Ice cream – I want the kind with the marshmallows in it, none of that marshmallow ribbon stuff.. what the heck? Gimme my marshmallows!

*drools*

Funfetti Cake or Cupcakes or Cookies.. oh my goodness. it’s a party in a box!

It’s the closest I will ever get to having a tyedye cake or cookies..

 

Premade Mocha.. preferrably the International Delight kind.. It’s so wrong to buy this I know because it admits I’m lazy but this is perfect for my hour long drives to work and for those looooooong 12 hour days.

Soft Boiled Eggs & Toast..

the other half gets grossed out about this.. but there is nothing so perfect than 3 minute soft boiled eggs some toast and some butter on that toast.. nom nom nom..

 

 

boiled peanuts.. oh yeah.. get some papertowels and some water or a beer.. because it’s about to get messy!

 

 

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Sunken Gardens & Red Mesa Cantina

What is the Sunken Gardens?

The Sunken Gardens are 4 acres (1.6 hectares) of well-established botanical gardens located at 1825 4th Street North, in the center of St. Petersburg,FloridaUSA.The Gardens currently contain over 500 species of tropical and subtropical plants amidst pools and cascading waterfalls, lushly planted in a collection of more than 50,000 tropical plants and flowers. The Gardens are open to the public for educational programs, tours, and special events.

(Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunken_Gardens_(Florida))

I had my first adventure there last year and shared some of the pictures from it and from Downtown St Petersburg, Florida.

(http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.221654441211511.53619.139243922785897&type=3)

This time I went with a group of friends to see the Orchid Festival which was April 1st from 10am to 4pm.

We got there around 130pm and wander around to see the many types of Orchids and other flowers they had for sale and on display. I wanted to share some of them with you.

(Author’s note- since I’m not very good with flower names and there aren’t many signs at the Sunken Gardens to tell you what plant is what plant.. most of the pictures I took either have general names like orchard or “pretty color flower”, so if you know what it is, please don’t hesitate to comment and I will correct. Thanks!)

The list of events going on that day. We didn’t catch a lecture this time.

This was a coconut orchard, the flower smelled just like coconut.

One of the many stands where there were orchards of every color, shape and variety.

I really liked this one for the purple spots on the edge of its petals

I have no idea what kind of orchard this is but it was just pretty

a bunch of cute little orchards

This was one of the orchards they had for sale… beautiful bright red.

Enough orchards there were other things to see at the Sunken Gardens

these pretty little white/light purple flowers

and these blue flowers

and I have no idea what that was, the other half touched it.. they looked like pods..

and this cute little bridge (too small for a person maybe an anole (small lizard) could cross it to get to the other side of the stream?

this was a pretty flower too..

I have no idea what this is.. seriously it’s a mystery to me..but it looked rough and interesting so I took a picture

A Chilean Flamingo laying down..

A Chilean flamingo feather near the water.

The group that I met up with also went to Red Mesa Cantina which is off of 3rd Street in downtown St Petersburg. Just a few blocks away from the Pier.

I was a bit apprehensive about going as it’s a new place and I’m particular about food. After being seated in the patio area with part of this as the view

I went on to study the menu and find something that I would not only eat but I would somewhat enjoy. The waiter was friendly enough and explained the popular menu items and lured me into ordering an El Gordo Burrito… apparently it sounded so good that 3 other people in the group of 8 ordered it.

What is an El Gordo you ask?

El Gordo – Big burrito filled with choice of Steak, Chicken or Tofu, gallo pinto, jack cheese and pico de
gallo. Topped with jalapeño cream sauce and queso fresco 11

$11? Really a burrito cannot possibly be worth that much…when I asked the waiter how big it was and he told me it was the size of the drink cups.. I had to see this. I bravely ordered mine with chicken, the other half ordered his with steak and as the waiter disappeared to put in our orders I began to fret over if I had made the right choice.

I could have ordered a taco salad, but adding meat would have been extra and if I was really horrid I didn’t have to finish it all because I had ordered myself some fried plantains just in case.

While waiting for the main course, some of the group had ordered appetizers. One had Mofongo, which is:

Mofongo – Pork carnitas, plantains, yuca, salsa chimichurri

I was fascinated.. what was this and what did it taste like.. I know I like carnitas and plantains but together?

Well the texture was kind of mushy but the flavor was surprisingly sweet.  Not sure if I would eat this again as it was strange in a good way.

Then I tried the Chips & Dip which came with three different dips; one guacamole, a chile cheese dip and black bean chorizo dip.

The chips were crisp and very lightly salted. The guacamole was probably the best I’ve ever had it tasted like fresh avocados and was creamy, not spicy and was not over loaded with cilantro. The Chile cheese dip was also creamy and a bit heavier than most cheese dips I’ve had with chips, the black bean dip was.. black beanie.

Below is what arrived on the table.

El Gordo

There were 4 of us at the table ordered them, I had a chicken one and I ate a bite or two and instantly fell in love.. it has rice, beans, chicken, cheese, and pico de gallo it’s just a wonderful flavor combination that was more than worth the money.

And the plantains

well they didn’t last long enough to share as they flew into my mouth and the wonderfully delicious sauce they came with was light and had a hint of sweet.. I thought I had died and went to heaven.

The other half and I ate for $32 plus tax. We could have been rolled out of there we were so stuffed. He tried some Nacho Sanchez

Nacho Sanchez – Chips, black bean chorizo sauce, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, crema
and pickled jalapeño

I was still playing with what remained of my food and finally gave in and had to get a doggy bag.

All in all it was a great day. Got to take some pictures, enjoy the warm weather, have good company, talk, laugh and eat.

(Author’s Note: The pictures of the food & building of Red Mesa Cantina are not mine and were taken from various places on the internet. The pictures from the Sunken Gardens however are mine.)

Salty Slugs (aka boiled peanuts)

I had a chance to get some boiled peanuts at the strawberry fest.. instead of getting one bag I got two..the other half and I shared the first the bag the second one disappeared two days after that.. he had never heard of them before moving to Florida and the concept was foreign to him and I explained the little bit that I did know about them and decided to do a little bit of research and help others understand more about boiled peanuts.

There are  three essential things to remember about boiled peanuts and they are as follows:

1) They do not taste like a peanuts.. it’s like a salty pea. My mom was disgusted by the thought and called them salty slugs.. they are not that big.. though you may get lucky and get 3 peanuts in one shell.. which is like the boiled peanut jackpot.

2) They are an acquired taste for those who have never tried it and never grew up eating them. It took me about a year and a half to actually like them. I thought they were gross and salty. Now I love them.
3) This is an extreme finger food, don’t have your best clothes on when eating them because they are a little juicy and the juice can stain your clothes.  Have paper towels nearby to wipe your hands as they will get wet and have a drink close as well.

So what does it take to make boiled peanuts?

Raw or “green” peanuts are generally used for boiled peanuts. A green peanut is a term to describe farm fresh harvested peanuts that have not been dehydrated, they come straight from the ground and moist.They are also highly perishable and therefore are only available during the weeks that peanuts are harvested.

Green peanuts are available from grocery stores, food distributors and farmers markets, during the growing season.Most raw peanuts are not green, but are air dried to bring down their moisture content and make them storable. Raw peanuts are dehydrated/dry peanuts. They are uncooked and ready to be boiled after being re-hydrated. Roasted peanuts have already been cooked and should not be boiled.

(Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiled_peanuts#cite_note-1 & http://www.boiledpeanuts.com/faq.html)

Here are some other fun facts about boiled peanuts:

Boiled peanuts are eaten in parts of Asia, Africa, South & Central America.

They are extremely popular in the Deep South (shown below)

How big of a deal are peanuts in the South?

Peanuts are big in Alabama. The state is third in the nation in the amount of peanuts produced — behind Georgia and Texas — with a crop last year valued at more than $67 million. This year, Alabama is expected to produce 376.8 million pounds of peanuts (as of 2007).

(taken from http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1918435/posts)

What are the health benefits to eating boiled peanuts?

While peanuts are considered high in fat, they primarily contain “good” fats, which are also known as unsaturated fats. One serving of peanuts contains 11.5 grams unsaturated fat and two grams of saturated fat.As a matter of fact, peanuts have been linked to promoting numerous heart-healthy benefits. In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration released a health claim recognizing peanuts in helping to maintain cholesterol.

(Taken from http://www.peanutpatchboiledpeanuts.com/peanuts-and-health/)

That’s it.. I’m ready to try some!

For those that don’t live in the Southern US where they are popular here are some ways to make them at home.. or if you have had them at a roadside stand and want more..

soaking peanuts
Wash unshelled peanuts thoroughly in cold water until water runs clear (removing loose soil and sprouts, stems, weeds, and leaves); then soak in cool, clean water for approximately 30 minutes before cooking.

In a large heavy pot, place soaked peanuts and cover completely with water. Stir to “settle” the peanuts. Add enough water to cover the peanuts by 2 inches or more.

Add 1 cup of salt per gallon of water used. Other spices or seasonings (such as shrimp or crab boil, Cajun seasoning, chili powder, and other strong spices) may be added at this point, if desired.

Bring water to a boil and then reduce the heat and let the peanuts simmer, covered, for approximately 4 hours (may take longer), stirring occasionally, and then taste. Add additional water as needed to keep the peanuts covered.

Taste again in 10 minutes, both for salt and texture. Keep cooking and tasting until the peanuts reach desired texture (when fully cooked, the texture of the peanut should be similar to that of a cooked dry pea or bean). To check whether they are done, pull 1 or 2 peanuts out of the pot and crack them open. When they are soft, they are done. If they are still slightly crunchy, they are not done yet, If they are not salty enough, leave them in the salted water and turn off the heat.

NOTE: The cooking time of boiled peanuts varies according to the maturity of the peanuts used and the variety of peanuts. The cooking time for a “freshly pulled” or green peanut is shorter than for a peanut that has been stored for a time.

Remove from heat and drain peanuts after cooking or they will absorb salt and become over salted.

Peanuts may be eaten hot or at room temperature, or chilled in the refrigerator and eaten cold, shelling as you eat them. The peanuts may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one (1) week.

Freezing boiled peanuts: Prepare peanuts as indicated above. Drain, allow to cool, and freeze in airtight containers. They keep indefinitely.

Canning Boiled Peanuts: Prepare peanuts and brine the same as for boiling for immediate use. Pack peanuts into sterilized jars to within one-half inch of the top, using equal weights of peanuts and hot brine (212°F). Partially submerge containers in upright position in boiling water for 10 minutes. Seal while hot and process 45 minutes at 10 pounds pressure. Cool containers in water, label, and store away from heat.
Additional note Cooking in a Slow Cooker (Crock Pot): Loved all the letters on boiled peanuts. For inside cooking, an easy way to make boiled peanuts is in the slow cooker (crock pot). Soak nuts then put salt water and peanuts in the cooker. Put on slow (low) cook and let the peanuts cook all night. Check if tender or salty enough. If not to your liking, add more salt and water if, needed, and cook longer. Delicious

Taken from http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/BoiledPeanutsHistory.htm

Here’s another recipe I found that uses green peanuts (top) and regular dry peanuts (bottom recipe)

Boiled Peanuts
2-3 pounds raw, new peanuts (green peanuts)
2/3 cup salt
enough water to completely cover the peanuts
Instructions for pressure cooking green peanuts:
Wash green peanuts well in cool water. The shells hang on to a lot of dirt because peanuts grow underground. Trust me, you don’t want dirt in your cooking water.
Place peanuts in a pressure cooker and add enough cool water to completely cover them.
Stir in the salt then place the lid on the pressure cooker. Turn the heat on high and cook at 10 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes. If you are using a pressure cooker with a gauge, start timing after the indicator on the gauge reaches 10 pounds. If you are using a pressure cooker with a pressure regulator (jiggler), then start timing when the pressure regulator starts jiggling. You can lower the heat so that the pressure regulator only jiggles a few times per minute.
At the end of the 45 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the pressure to drop of its own accord.
If the peanuts are not soft enough or salty enough, leave the lid off of the pressure cooker and boil the peanuts until they are to your personal liking.
Instructions for using raw, dry peanuts:
Put peanuts in cooking pot and cover with cool water. Allow to soak overnight.
The next day, drain off water and refill pot with enough fresh water to completely cover the peanuts.
Add salt as above.
Pressure cook for an hour at 10 pounds pressure. Turn off heat and allow the pressure of it own accord.
Follow # 5 above.

(Take from http://www.tsgcookin.com/2010/11/boiled-peanuts.html)

Strawberry Festival – pics, recipes & more!

It’s my first Strawberry Festival… and for those that don’t know it’s apparently a big deal for Plant City..

I’ve seen the signs on my way to Disney.. but this year I got to go.

First impression… it’s like a big fair right next to what looks like a high school stadium which is where the main concerts are held.

If you are interested and are in the area for the next one, the best way to get there is to take the exit off I4 to Forbes and follow the signs.

I took the advice of a work associate for the directions and my friends told me to purchase the strawberries as I’m leaving rather than having to carry the huge flat around everywhere I go.

They have a kids section of the fest which is at the main gate where are the kid-sized rides are and kid attractions like the pig races and the sea lion show, then there are food booths… holy heck are there food booths.

Mexican food, Gyros, turkey legs, fried onion rings, blooming onions, soft serve ice cream, deep fried cookies, deep fried coke, ribs,pork chops, sausages, burgers, corn dogs, french fries, boiled peanuts, kettle corn, funnel cakes and then there are strawberry flavored things; jams, jellies, preserves, ice cream, strawberry topped funnel cakes.. I’m sure I missed a few things but you get the idea..

It’s been a long time since I’ve walked into a fair and was literally assaulted by food smells, I love the smell of food but somehow kielbasa, funnel cakes and onions and fries.. but not together.. it’s kind of nauseous.

While we were waiting for our friends to get there we were approached by an survey taker asking questions about our opinion of the strawberry festival, how much we were going to spend (we said $30 but it was more..) and if we would come back.

The other half called it to the redneck DisneyWorld.

(this sign on one of the food vendor’s booths cracked me up)

I can see his point, it was only $10 for the tickets, there’s an extra charge for the rides of course and there are a few concerts for an extra charge but the most of the entertainment and shows are free with the admission price.

You get lots of loud music, cheap greasy food, carnival games where the prizes are big stuffed animals and there are local businesses there to promote their goods, some selling candy, fudge or jewelry and souvenirs..

I compare it to the flea market, it’s one of those rare moments where everyone from just about every walk of life comes together and there’s little to no violence.

Of course there was police presence, there generally always is at a gathering of that size but I was there from 1130am to 4pm on March 4 and there was no fights or anything.

The group I was with had gyros.. for those that don’t know it’s Greek with lamb meat, a wrap, a greek dressing, onions and cucumbers.

I was going to have it but decided to have my annual corn dog. It was good. The other half had cheese fries.

Most of the group had strawberry shortcakes in a cute little red and white booth.. the strawberries were  ready and waiting to be dumped into a plastic bowl over your choice of a biscuit or cake and topped with whipped cream.

We watched the sea lion show, which was about 30 minutes long and talked about the difference between seals and sea lions as well as the importance of recycling.

The rest of the show the sea lions were showing off their talents, balancing a ball on their nose, dancing and ending with a conga line.

We left the fest with a huge bag of hand candy (the other half has a huge thing for jaw breakers and has been looking everywhere for some… he can’t seem to find any).

The total cost of the candy was $25.. it was $3.89 for a 1/2lb..

We also got 2 quart sized bags of boiled peanuts and we stopped as we were leaving Plant City to pick up a flat of strawberries for $8.

For those that don’t know what a flat of strawberries looks like I took pictures.. this is half the container and it was filled to the edge with strawberries.

and here’s what the box looked like when half was empty

and here’s the strawberries in the sink about 4 layers deep.

by the end of it all it was 8pm and I was dead tired, I thought I would have the energy to make strawberry muffins, but I was ready to crash… so I cut a few of them up and put some vanilla sugar on them and put them into containers to soak and the rest went straight into the freezer for later.

I couldn’t share the experience of the strawberry festival and not share some recipes..

Low fat Strawberry Banana Muffins

(modified from a Low Fat Banana bread recipe)

Prep 10 minutes

Baking time 45 minutes or 1 1/2 if making a loaf

1 cup of sugar

1/4 light butter

1 2/3 cup of ripe bananas (about 2 large, 3 medium)

1 cup of chopped strawberries

1/4 cup of fat free milk

1/4 cup of low fat sour cream

3 large egg whites

2 cups of flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)

1/2 tablespoon of honey (optional)

cooking spray or cupcake wrappers

Preheat oven to 350

In a large bowl, beat sugar & butter at medium speed with a mixer until well-blended. Add banana, strawberries, milk, sour cream, and egg whites, beat well. (Do not worry it will look really soupy it’s ok). In a medium bowl mix flour, salt and baking soda. Add flour mixture to other ingredients beat until blended.

Spoon batter into muffin pan bake for 20-25 minutes.

If using a loaf pan bake 35-40 minutes until toothpick comes out of the muffin clean.

Strawberry Smoothies

I used to add orange juice to this for the extra kick, but stopped as it takes away from the strawberry flavor.

This is my basic recipe

1 cup of frozen (or fresh) strawberries

1/2 cup of water

1/2 of ice cubes

1 tablespoon of honey

Add ingredients, blend until smooth. Makes 2 servings or 1 1/2 adjust fruit amount for more or less and adjust ice amount for a more liquid or less liquid smoothie.

I make variations to this by adding blueberries or blackberries, bananas and kiwis.. whatever fruit you want to use I’m sure mango would taste good.. I’m just not a fan of mango.

Green Slime Smoothie

(Taken from http://allrecipes.com/recipe/green-slime-smoothie/detail.aspx)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups spinach
  • 2 cups frozen strawberries
  • 1 banana
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup ice

Directions

  1. Place the spinach in the freezer until frozen, at least 1 hour.
  2. Combine the spinach, strawberries, banana, honey, and ice in a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Strawberry Cake Cookies

(Taken from http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Strawberry-Cake-Cookies/Detail.aspx)

Strawberry Cake Cookies Recipe

Original Recipe Yield 2 1/2 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package strawberry cake mix
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup whipped cream

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the cake mix, eggs and strawberries until well blended. Fold in the whipped cream until well blended. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.


Adventures in Food

I wanted to share my latest food related creations.

I know it’s a bit late to make black eyed peas, but I was looking for a meal that’s a bread alternative as I had spaghetti for the past 4 work days and it’s safe to say I’m over it.

So I decided to make black eyed peas with a meat.. but what meat.. then I remembered I have hickory smoked sausages in the freezer, though I normally use bacon to flavor the peas, I decided to try the sausage as it alone was a bit overwhelming flavor wise and way pretty heavy on the salt.

Perfect for use on peas that otherwise have no real flavor.

So i defrosted two sausages, one for my black eye peas and one for a egg, cheese and grit breakfast which we will get to later.

I soaked the peas for two full days as I’ve had problems in the past with soaking them for 6-8 hours (as the package says) and they were still stiff no matter how long I cooked them.

After draining them I put them in a medium pot with water and chopped up pieces of sausage and turned it at first to hi heat (9) and then realized if I wanted to ever get my stove clean again (for those that don’t know black eyed peas form a goop that is cement like when it dries.. good luck getting that off of anything) I wanted to turn the heat down to about halfway (5-6) and let it go.. when the water cooked down I filled it back up, stirred and let it go.

I did this about 4 times in total the final time I tested a pea and it was hot.. which happened to hit the spot where I burned the roof of my mouth last night eating volcano hot nachos but it was good, so I took it off the heat and sampled again wanting to make sure I could taste flavor.. there was lots of it..  perfect.

I scooped it out into 2 lunch sized bowls and 2 snack sized ones as I’m going to share a bit with a co-worker who says he will try anything once.

The end result.. black eyed pea goodness and lunch for two work days 🙂

As for my sausagem egg, cheese grit adventure.. I have packets of microwaveable grits.. they were on sale at Publix and I got them. I realized that the one small package is just not enough for breakfast so I made two and while eating the country bacon flavored one.. I got an idea.. what if I added cheese, egg and a meat…

the meat being sausage..

Well now I have breakfast for two mornings that’s  premade and just needs a little mircowaving.

I am a fan of smoothies.. I’ve made several in the past following a simple recipe but was forwarned by a friend that putting any type of juice in a smoothie makes it highly unhealthy.. so I decided to omit the juice.

My latest creation is below.

It consists of water/ice, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and grapes.. and a bit of honey.

Nothing unhealthy about it.. all the fruits were frozen.