Friday, January 27, 2012

DIY Stuffing Mix (aka Misadventures in Bread Baking)

The nice thing about blogging is that I can create pretty much whatever impression of myself I want. I can, for example, let you think that everything I cook and bake always comes out perfectly and is loved by all. But, let's get real. We ALL have our flops and mis-steps in the kitchen. Sometimes it's a dinner that's just "enh" and sometimes it's an all out failure. The best part about flubs is when you end up salvaging them into something unexpectedly yummy. That pretty much sums up the creation of this homemade stuffing mix!

Mr. ValleyWriter had asked for a non-wheat bread, so I tried to make this recipe. All seemed to be going according to plan. That is, until, I popped the bread out of the pan. The top of the loaf came out. The bottom stayed in. Oops. (I might have used a more choice word at that time.) Bread baking is a lot of work - and there I thought it was all for not. But, the bread still tasted good, so I figured I could use it for something else. I threw the hunks into a freezer bag and popped it into the freezer.

I was still kind of annoyed about the whole thing, so it took me a while to get back to those bread chunks. When I was making the shopping list this week, I was about to write down stuffing mix when I thought "Ah ha! I'll make my own!" Thankfully, these actually did turn out to be really good! Best of all, it's super easy (well, after you mess up the time- and labor-intensive loaf of bread, that it). Bookmark this for your next misadventure in bread baking - or if you have a leftover loaf to use up. You won't be sorry!

DIY Stuffing Mix
(Makes about 8 cups)

1 9" x 5" loaf of bread, cut into 1/4-1/2" cubes
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried sage
1-2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 300°F.
Place bread cubes in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Add spices and salt. Toss to coat and distribute spices evenly.
Spread bread cubes out on a large cookie sheet in a single layer.
Bake at 300°F for 30-40 minutes until crunchy.
Cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

To use: Add 1/3 c. water and 1 Tbsp. butter for every 2 cups stuffing mix.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

#MyBaristaMoment with Ambiance Coffee & Cranberry-Almond Biscotti

As I've mentioned before - I love lattes, cappucinos and other coffee drinks - especially when I can save money and create them at home. So when Smart & Final asked me to create a #MyBaristaMoment with their new Ambiance line of coffees & related products, I was all in. They also asked if I could create a recipe to go along with the coffee. Since I'd been contemplating trying out biscotti for a while, I knew this was the perfect time.

So, I headed off to Smart & Final to do my shopping. I knew I could get all my baking ingredients there, and I figured I'd grab some Ambiance coffee and milk to do a latte. But what really surprised me was just how many different Ambiance products there were. They pretty much make everything you could ever need to go with your coffee - flavored sprinkling dusts, creamers, coffee filters - heck, they even have their own line of sugar! You can check out my full shop here.
[Also be sure to check out the end of this post for info on how you could win some great Ambiance (and other) prizes - AND help me win by voting for my recipe (pretty please!!).]

Since I ended up getting a package of Ambiance Italian Roast coffee, I thought it was only fitting to do an authentic Italian biscotti - without using butter or oil. It makes a nice, crunchy biscuit that's perfect for dunking into coffee (and makes me feel less guilty about essentially eating cookies for breakfast!). Here's what I came up with:

Cranberry-Almond Biscotti
(Makes about 12-14 cookies)

1 c. + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. granulated sugar + extra for dusting
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. First Street vanilla extract
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 egg white (for egg wash)
1/2 c. First Street sliced almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 c. dried cranberries
mise en place
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.
In a separate small bowl, whisk together vanilla, whole egg and egg yolk.
Add egg mixture to dry mixture and stir just until crumbly. Fold in almonds and cranberries.

Work dough together with your hands until well combined and evenly moist.
Dough will form a nice ball:
Place dough on well-floured board. Shape into a log that's about 14" long and 2" wide.

Place dough on cookie sheet covered with foil or parchment paper. Beat egg white and brush over the top of dough. Sprinkle with a few pinches of sugar.

Bake at 325°F for 30 minutes, turning pan 1/2 way through.
Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cook for about 10 minutes.
One cool enough to touch, cut on an angle into 1" wide x 3-4" long slices:
Places slices cut side down on cookie sheets.
Bake at 325°F for another 20 minutes, flipping slices 1/2 way through.
Remove from oven and cool completely.

Now, on an average morning, I'd brew up some Italian Roast and dunk my biscotti straight in (no milk, sugar, etc.).

But, sometimes I like to indulge a bit with a latte. That's what I decided to do with the Ambiance French Vanilla coffee and Vanilla Sprinkling Powder.

French Vanilla Latte
(Makes 2)

2 cups brewed Ambiance French Vanilla coffee
1 cup First Street low-fat milk
1 Tbsp. Ambiance Vanilla Sprinkling Powder (+ extra for dusting, if desired)

Place sprinkling powder in the bottom of a small saucepan. Add milk. Turn heat to medium and whisk constantly until powder is dissolved and milk is nice and frothy.

Fill coffee cup with 1 cup brewed coffee. Add 1/2 cup foamed milk. Sprinkle with extra vanilla powder, if desired. Then grab a biscotti for dunking & enjoy!!

Doesn't that sound like a great way to start your morning? If you agree - then please VOTE for my biscotti recipe at You'll be entered for a chance to win $50 worth of Ambiance products (and if my recipe gets the most votes - I'll win, too!). There are 2 chances to win each week for a total of 6 winners.

But wait, there's more! If you live in CA, AZ or NV, you can shop Smart & Final to create your own #MyBaristaMoment and enter to win some great prizes! Buy your favorite Ambiance coffee, then visit and enter the code on the receipt from your purchase to be entered to win one of these amazing prizes:
    • First Prize (1 grand prize per week, 3 total over the campaign): DeLonghi BCO264B Cafe Nero Combo Coffee/Espresso Maker -- a $200 value!
    • Second Prize (2 winners per week, 6 winners total): A $50 SmartCash card.
Good luck!
This project has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for #collectivebias #CBias. All recipes provided and opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Things to Do in San Diego: Point Loma Tide Pools

Having visitors is definitely a great way to get out and explore your own area. We're still new enough here that I feel like a bit of a tourist a lot of the time anyway - but this little adventure is one thing we might have missed if we weren't entertaining out of towners. We'd already been to the Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma in the summer. We did some hiking and got to explore the lighthouse and monument - plus had some great views of the island of Coronado and San Diego harbor. So when Mr. VW's parents came to visit, we decided to take them there, too.

As luck would have it, when we arrived at the park that afternoon, we learned it was the perfect time to check out their tide pools on a part of the peninsula we hadn't seen on our first visit. The water was calm & clear, so we got to see a lot of crustaceans, anemones, snails and even some little fishes.

As a bit of a science geek, I thought it was totally cool. The in-laws seemed to enjoy it, too. And I'm sure it would be a great place to visit with kids. One thing to keep in mind is that late fall through winter is the best time to check out the tide pools because the tides are nice and low during daylight hours. (The park is only open 9am-5pm.) With just a $5 entry fee (per CAR, not person!), it's probably one of the cheapest sites in San Diego to boot!