Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Groom Creek Classic Half Marathon Race Report - This Race Was No Joke!


This Saturday, I ran in my first half marathon since December of last year.  I've been running regularly for about 12 years or so.  I've done 4 full marathons and probably 8 or 9 half marathons.  I suppose I'm a fairly solid middle-of-the-pack runner.  I've been in a rut lately, though - I just haven't been feeling the motivation to get up early in the morning and run!  (Early in the day is really the only thing that works for me!)  I've been doing it, but just kind of dragging myself through it!

At the end of the summer, I signed up for two races to get me out of my running funk:  the Sedona Marathon in February of 2016 and, to get a head start for that, the Groom Creek Classic Half Marathon.  It usually helps me to have some kind of dramatic backdrop for my running experience!   The Groom Creek race took place this past Saturday, so I thought I'd recap my experience for those of you who are interested!

If you're not familiar with Groom Creek (I wasn't), it's located about five miles south of Prescott, Arizona.  The race was a benefit for the Groom Creek Firefighter's Association, so it was for a great cause.  The entry fee was fairly inexpensive too - $40.00.  That was nice!  Some of these races can get pricey!

I picked the race (mostly) because it fell on the weekend before I wanted to start my marathon training.  I didn't put too much thought into it.  For example, it didn't quite sink in that it was a 2 hour and 40 minute drive to get there until the night before.  I ended up getting up at 4 am on a Saturday.  To go run 13.1 miles in the mountains and then drive home.  Ha ha.  Well, it is a little too early in the season for races of that length in the Tucson or Phoenix areas.  It's still pretty hot . . .

I also didn't take into account the double-whammy of elevation and hills when I signed up!  I glanced at the elevation profile and thought, "Whatever; it'll be fine!"

Here's the elevation profile:

It doesn't look too terrible at first glance - maybe it's because there's not much rapid change.  It's just four miles of relentless downhill right before the turning point.  Then, it's four miles of relentless uphill.  After the halfway point.  When you're already tired.  1000 feet down, 1000 feet back up.  At roughly 6000 feet elevation.  O.O  It's probably good that I didn't fully consider what I was getting myself into!

There were some great things about the race:

1. The scenery was beautiful.

2. It was small - only 102 runners in the half marathon.  I have never had a packet pickup or bag check be so quick and easy!  Here are a few photos that I took near the start/finish line - not a huge crowd!

3. It was efficient and well-run.  There were plenty of water/Gatorade stations and friendly volunteers!

To be honest, there weren't any cons worth noting.  If there were any, they were my own fault.  I didn't take the hills seriously.  I always train right around where we live (on sidewalks and city streets).  It's flat as a pancake.  Our elevation is also around 1,400 feet.  I should have worked in some hill training, and maybe driven up for a training run or two at a higher elevation.  I don't think I was the only one - I think a good number of people who drove up from the Phoenix area were feeling it!

Long downhill stretches, while easier in a cardiovascular sense, get painful after a while.  One of my most punishing races was the Tucson Marathon, which has quite a bit of significant downhill at the beginning.  I remember my calves being completely trashed about halfway through that one.  I was having flashbacks of that experience during the Groom Creek run.

On the way back up, I had to take some walk breaks.  I just tried to hang in there and run as much as I could, even if it was for a short time.

Here's me about 8 or 9 miles in, during a short walk break.  "This is fun, right?"

Even before the race started, I realized this wasn't going to be a personal best.  I just decided to try to enjoy the scenery and the day, and to try and maintain control over the situation.  Even if it wasn't my fastest, I didn't want the race to get the best of me.  I'm sure most runners can remember a time when things got out of hand - when they ended up feeling sick, winded, in pain, upset, frustrated, defeated.  I've certainly been there.  I decided this wouldn't be one of those times.

My official time was 2:33:55.  I think that is actually my slowest half marathon time ever.  My personal best was the Casa Grande Half Marathon in 2014 (1:54 and some seconds).  That, however, was an easy course - fast and flat!  I'm not disappointed.  I had a good time.  I stayed in control.  I never felt like I was melting down physically.  Don't get me wrong - the Groom Creek Half Marathon officially kicked my butt, but I feel like I gave it everything I had in me at the time and still managed to keep my chin up.  That's winning, in my book!  :)

I took Sunday and Monday off and tried a short run this morning.  Ha ha.  No.  My calves said "No."  They're still screaming.  I walked a couple of miles instead.  I think I might be able to get back out there tomorrow.  Marathon training starts Monday.  :)

I'm glad I did this race.  It was a wake-up call.  The hills and elevation for the Sedona Marathon aren't quite as drastic, but it's a MARATHON!  Twice the distance.  If I'm going to invest so much time and energy in the training, I want to have fun during the race.  I really need to incorporate some hill training to make it a good experience.  I need to take that seriously.

Overall, I would highly recommend this race - just know what you're getting into and make peace with the fact that it might not be your personal best!

Please feel free to comment!  Have you participated in this race?  What did you think?  Have you ever had a really bad race?  How did you pull through?  Any advice for others?

Thanks so much for reading!

Monday, September 28, 2015

17. Piña Colada Cheesecake Tacos with a Ginger Cookie Shell


I'm not going to lie - we were feeling a little bit of main dish taco fatigue this weekend!  I've made tacos at least twice a week without fail so far, and that doesn't include the days we've had leftovers . . .  Well, I guess I asked for it.  With my crazy taco project, it comes with the territory!

I had to think creatively.  What do we almost never get sick of???

Dessert.  I hadn't made a dessert taco yet!

I knew I would need a shell, a filling, and a sauce.  I thought of using a filling similar to a no-bake cheesecake.  Most recipes that I looked at used cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk.  I decided to try cream of coconut instead of the condensed milk to flavor the cream cheese with coconut.  I also made a sauce out of fresh pineapple with a ginger kick.  For the shell, I decided to try making a thin ginger cookie.  I got some ideas for a recipe that I found for thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies.

I did have to think for a while to come up with a method for shaping the shells.  Well . . . you can read ahead and see what I did.  I'm sure there might be better options.  I used a cooling rack, but it would need to have quite a bit of space between the "bars" for it to work.  Is there such a thing as a taco shaper?  If so, I need one!  :)

Here's the recipe for my latest creation:

Piña Colada Cheesecake Tacos with a Ginger Cookie Shell

Serves 6 or more (about 12 tacos)


For the coconut cheesecake filling:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup cream of coconut (such Coco Real; the kind found in the bar mixer section)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. coconut extract
juice of 1/2 lime

For the pineapple sauce :

2 cups diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
a squeeze of fresh lime juice

For the ginger shells:

1 stick (8 oz.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp. molasses
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground ginger

1 cup sweetened coconut flakes, toasted and cooled

1.  Make the cheesecake filling:  Combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a medium bowl.  Mix with a electric hand mixer until smooth.  Add the cream of coconut, extracts and lime juice.  Mix again until smooth and thoroughly combined.  Spoon into a quart-size Ziploc bag and chill until cold and thick, at least 2 hours.

2.  Make the sauce:  Place the pineapple, water, sugar, and ginger in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil and cook at a low boil until thick and syrupy, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla, lime juice, and salt.  Blend with a hand blender to combine, leaving some texture.  Mine was the consistency of applesauce with some larger chunks.  Refrigerate until very cold, at least 2 hours.

3.  Make the shells:  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place the butter and sugars in a medium bowl and mix with an electric hand mixer until well combined.  Add the molasses, egg, vanilla, and milk.  Mix well.  In a small bowl, stir the remaining ingredients together.  Add to the wet ingredients and mix well.

4.  Cut about twelve squares of parchment paper, about 4 by 4 inches each.  Place 6 of them on a large baking sheet.  Top each with a heaping tablespoon of the cookie mixture.

Bake for about 7 minutes, or until golden brown.

5.  While the shells are baking, prop a wire rack up slightly on each side to create a cooling structure for the shells.  I used a 1-inch thick cookbook on each side.

6.  When the shells are done, allow them to cool for a few seconds.  Working quickly, pick each shell up (with the parchment paper) and wedge into one of openings of the rack so that it forms a taco shell-like shape.  Be careful to not let them cool too much first - they will crack!  Here's a picture of my first batch:

Bake the second batch and repeat the shaping process for a total of about 12 cookie shells.  Allow to cool completely.

7.  Assemble the tacos:  For each taco, carefully place a cookie shell on a plate.  Snip one end off of the Ziploc bag and pipe some of the cheesecake filling in the taco.  Carefully spoon on some of the pineapple sauce and sprinkle with some of the toasted coconut.  Serve immediately and enjoy!

Well, according to my husband, this is the best dessert in the history of the world.  He LOVED it!  He called it "world class"!  I served it with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream because he likes ice cream with every dessert.  :)

I really enjoyed it as well, although a few things did not turn out exactly as I had intended.  I was hoping the cookie shells would have a bit of crunch to them, but they actually turned out kind of soft and chewy.  I don't blame this on the recipe that I used (loosely) as a model.  It was not intended to be folded into a taco shape, and I didn't even really follow it completely!  The cookies did hold their taco shape, however, so it still worked!  I think I might try using less flour next time so they spread out more.  They turned out too thick to be crunchy!

These dessert tacos were really delicious, and the flavors worked well together, but they were sweet and very rich!  I would start with one taco per person.  Two tacos was a bit much for me.  Whew . . .  sugar!

As I finish this post (a day later), I am having leftovers!  :)  ONE taco with a small scoop of ice cream is much more doable.  Picking up the taco and dipping it in the ice cream is a good way to enjoy this dessert!

Feel free to comment on this recipe!  Did you try them?  What did you think?  Have you ever tried making dessert tacos before?  What should I make next?

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

16. Grapefruit-Marinated Carne Asada Tacos with Roasted Four-Pepper Salsa and Fresh Avocado


Steve is responsible for this recipe.  I have to explain . . .

We've had a running joke between us this week.  It's been really busy around here.  I've had musical rehearsals (Footloose) every weeknight, and it has not even crossed my mind to make tacos on those nights!  One late afternoon while I was sitting on the couch in a brief stupor before returning to work, we had this conversation:

Him:  What do you want to do for dinner?
Me:  I don't know; what do you want to do?
Him:  It never seems to matter what I want for dinner.
Me:  Well, if it did matter, what would you want?

For the record, we ended up getting pizza - it was just one of those nights!  Anyway, I was up in Phoenix today for a meeting and I knew I would have a chance to swing by Whole Foods (my favorite store) on the way home, so the possibilities were wide open.  We had pretty much the same conversation:

Me:  What kind of tacos do you want me to make tonight?
Him:  Carne asada sounds good . . .
Me:  But . . .
Him:  See???

Ha ha.  He has a point.  I decided to do my own version of carne asada tacos.  I've never made them before, but I looked around online for a while and got an idea of the basic ingredients and process.  I've eaten them before (of course), but it's so easy around here to get carne asada tacos that are good and cheap (Nico's), that I've never bothered to make them myself.

Flank or skirt steak.  Check.  Citrus and garlic.  Check.  Beer.  Check.  Yes, I can make these!

Of course, since this is a creative project, I had to add a twist.  I remembered a text message conversation from this week with my middle sister (who lives in Seattle and, coincidentally, works at a very cool taco joint).  We were talking about using grapefruit as an acidic flavor in pesto.  I think she ended up deciding against it, but I realized that I could use grapefruit in my marinade.  Then, I immediately thought of one of my favorite beers:  Ballast Point's Grapefruit Sculpin IPA.  !!!  Since many of the carne asada recipes I checked out included beer in the marinade, I thought that would be a good addition, too.  If you can't find Grapefruit Sculpin, I'm sure any tasty beer of your choice would do the job!  :)

Here's the recipe:

Grapefruit-Marinated Carne Asada Tacos with Roasted Four-Pepper Salsa and Fresh Avocado

Serves 4 (about 12-16 small tacos, or more depending on how large your flank steak is) with extra salsa


For the marinated meat:

A 1.5 to 2 lb. flank steak, trimmed of excess fat
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of one grapefruit
juice of one small orange
juice of one lime
1 cup Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA (or another beer of your choice)
4 medium cloves of garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1 serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the roasted four-pepper salsa :

1 red bell pepper
1 poblano chile pepper
1 Anaheim or Hatch chile pepper
1 Fresno chile pepper
1/2 large red onion
1 lb. small cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

12 to 16 small (street-taco size) corn tortillas

One or two ripe avocados, sliced

A few ounces of cotija cheese, crumbled

Microgreens for garnish, if desired

Lime wedges for garnish, if desired

1.  Prepare the meat:  Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a shallow baking dish and add the flank steak.  Cover tightly and refrigerate for about 1 1/2 to 3 hours.  If the steak isn't submerged, you may want to turn it every now and then.

2.  Make the salsa:  Cut the onion into 1-inch chunks.  Place it and all four peppers on a baking sheet or sheet of foil.  Place under the broiler and roast all, turning the peppers as needed until the skin is blackened on all sides.  If the onion begins to brown too much, you can remove it before the peppers are done.  The idea is just to brown the onion and cook it a bit so that it's not completely raw.  You will probably have to take some of the smaller peppers out before the larger ones are done.  This part of the recipe is not an exact science.  You just have to watch everything and take it out as it's ready.  Here is a picture of mine before I put everything in and after I took it out.

Peel and seed the peppers.  Place half of each pepper and half of the roasted onion in a blender.  Finely chop the rest and add to a medium bowl.

3.  After you finish the onion and peppers, toss the tomatoes in the olive oil, spread them out on a baking sheet or sheet of foil, and broil until soft and blackened, about 10 minutes.

Place half of the tomatoes in the medium bowl with the onions and peppers.  Add the rest, along with the juices, to the blender containing the other half of the onion and peppers.  Blend until smooth.   Add the blended vegetables to the medium bowl and combine.  Add the cilantro, salt and pepper.  If the vegetables are still hot, allow the mixture to cool a bit before adding the cilantro.  Set the sauce aside.  Here's how mine looked (before I added cilantro).

4.  Cook the steak:  Remove the steak from the marinade, allow the excess marinade to drip off, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Using an oiled grill on medium-high heat, cook the flank steak to medium rare or desired doneness, 5 to 7 minutes on each side.  Remove the steak, wrap in aluminum foil, and allow to rest for several minutes.

5.  Prepare the tortillas:  While the steak is resting, heat the tortillas in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, one by one, until browned but still soft, about 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side.  

As they are done, stack them on a sheet of foil.  When you have as many as you want, wrap in the foil and set aside.  You can keep them warm in a 200 degree oven if you wish.  

6. Slice the steak into thin strips, cutting across the grain.  If desired, you can gently microwave the strips to heat them a bit more.  (Ours had cooled down.)

7.  Assemble the tacos:  For each taco, place a tortilla on a plate.  Place a few strips of the steak down the center of each tortilla.  Top with some of the salsa.  Add a slice of avocado.  Finish with a sprinkle of the cheese.  If desired, you can also add a pinch of microgreens and/or a squeeze of lime.  Serve with Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA on the side and enjoy!

All right.  Time for the verdict.  I've had a couple of days to think about these, because I was so tired on Friday night that I couldn't finish my post!  It's now Sunday.

Overall, they were great!  I would not have been disappointed if I had gotten them in a restaurant.  The marinade flavored the steak nicely.  I don't know if it screamed "GRAPEFRUIT!!", but that's not really what I was going for.  I wanted it to be subtle.

What's not to like about avocado and cotija cheese?  They were nice additions, as I knew they would be.

Steve and I didn't quite see eye-to-eye on the salsa.  I purposely blackened the vegetables a bit (as you can tell from the photo), and the sauce did taste like roasted vegetables, not the fresh pico de gallo that you usually get around here on a carne asada taco.  It significantly changed the flavor profile.  I liked it.  Actually, I'm kind of proud of the sauce on its own.  It's pretty tasty.  Steve didn't think it quite meshed with the steak.  Hmm.  OK.  Fair enough.  If you like roasted vegetables, I think you'll enjoy it.  If the idea sounds a little weird, you could just replace the sauce with some kind of fresh salsa and it would also be delicious.

Another issue that came up was the method for cooking the steak.  Every carne asada taco recipe that I looked at for reference described cooking the steak in one piece and THEN cutting it.  I don't think a lot of restaurants do that around here.  I think a lot of them might quickly cook the steak after it's been cut into small strips, which results in browned, more medium-well steak strips.  (Or maybe they re-fry it after it's been precooked in one piece?  I'm not sure.)  Steve compared the tacos to Nico's (his epitome of cheap carne asada taco Nirvana) and noted that the meat was very different - good, but not similar to meat that one might expect in a carne asada taco.

I'm OK with that.  I have never wanted to write "textbook" recipes for anything.  This project is just supposed to be creative and fun.  I would say this recipe is inspired by carne asada tacos, but if you're in the mood for a traditional taqueria version, this will be a bit different.  I would recommend them, though.  If the ingredients sound good to you, you should definitely give them a shot.  If nothing else, it'll give you a great excuse to seek out and buy some Grapefruit Sculpin IPA!

So, these non-traditional-steak-roasted-vegetable-grapefruit-IPA tacos are my husband's fault.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!  :)

Feel free to comment on this recipe!  Did you try them?  What did you think?  Are there any carne asada taco experts out there that want to comment on the steak-cooking technique?

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Stitch Fix #11 Review - September 2015

Stitch Fix Review #11 - September 2015 - Collage

Stitch Fix Review - February 2016

Note:  This point contains affiliate links to support my blogging addiction!  :)

Wow - time has been flying by!  It seems like I got my last fix yesterday, and here we are again!  Another Stitch Fix review!

I have to tell you, it's a miracle that I got this one done today.  It's been a really busy week; it was a really busy day, et cetera, et cetera . . . I almost have to laugh about it now, because I was really crabby when I took most of these pictures.  Ask my husband about that.  Ha ha.

I loved this fix, though!  This is the third fix that has been styled by Melanie, and she came through again!  I hope she can just go ahead and keep sending me cool things!  :)

If you're reading this, there's a good chance that you already know about Stitch Fix.  If you've never heard of it, there are many blogs, along with Stitch Fix's own website, that will give you all the details.  I won't write you a novel about it, but I'll tell you the basics:

As a member of Stitch Fix, you pay $20.00 to have your own personal stylist look at your style profile and preferences (which can include a Pinterest board).  They will choose five clothing and/or accessory items specifically for you.  They are shipped right to your doorstep!  You have three days to try the items with other things in your own wardrobe and decide if you want to keep them.  The $20.00 styling fee is credited toward any items that you decide to purchase, and you receive a prepaid shipping envelope to return anything that you don't want.  If you happen to keep all five items, you receive a 25% discount on the whole box!  You can choose to receive fixes every month, every few weeks, or only once in a while.  I've had so much fun with Stitch Fix that I'm currently receiving boxes about every three weeks.

If you're interested in checking it out, please consider following my link to fill out your style profile and schedule your first fix!  (I just recently joined Stitch Fix's affiliate program, which means I get a small commission for anyone who signs up using my link.  However, my opinions are always my own and I pay for all of my own fixes!)

I've never been particularly fashion savvy - for example, I just recently found out that you can wear black and brown together because they are both neutrals.  ???  Wow - really?  Ha ha.  I think my wardrobe has improved by about 1000% percent since I signed up with Stitch Fix.  I really enjoy receiving each box, and writing about it has made it even more fun!  :)

So . . . this is what I got in my SECOND September fix:

1.  Liverpool Anita Skinny Pant - Price - $78.00

Liverpool Anita Skinny Pant - Stitch Fix Review September 2015

When I first saw these, my first thought was, "Oh, man . . . black pants?"  I have soooo many black items of clothing.  Pants.  Skirts.  Tops.  Dresses.  I even have a note in my style profile stating that I'd rather avoid plain black items for now.  I do wear all black to most of our concerts at school, so it's a necessity.  I don't find black particularly exciting, though.

I decided to get with the program and I styled these pants with some studded ballet flats and a top from White House Black Market.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The fit was great.  They're so skinny that they're like leggings, but they are substantial enough that I think I will feel comfortable wearing them to work.

Liverpool Anita Skinny Pant - Stitch Fix Review September 2015

I have a love/hate relationship with stretchy pants.  I like how forgiving they can be, but I hate when they start to sag after an hour or two and I spend the rest of the day pulling them up.  These feel like they will stay in place.  I'm hopeful.

UPDATE:  Well, these do fall down during the day when I wear them.  :/  However, I have found a solution.  I tried a flat/invisible belt (two different brands, actually), and found that wearing one makes a huge difference!  Here's the one I liked best if you want to try it:

I'm still learning to wear ankle-length pants.  When I put these on, they felt short, but I think they are supposed to be that way.  I think ballet flats will be the perfect match for these.  I just realized that they are skinny enough for riding boots, also!  I think I can create several cute outfits with these.  I have two great pairs of black slacks that I wear to work ALL the time, but I don't have any that fit like this, so they will be a good addition to my wardrobe.

Seriously, though . . . I don't need any more black pants in the near future.  Under any circumstances.  Ha ha.

Verdict:  KEEP

2.  Renee C Zalia Dress - Price - $48.00

Renee C Zalia Dress - Stitch Fix Review September 2015

I wasn't sure about this dress at first.  The print is cute.  The top fits great.  I love the shape of the skirt.  I didn't love the elastic waist, though.  I didn't think it was very flattering.  

My husband liked it a lot, though.  I also sent a picture to my youngest sister (who is way more stylish than me) and she seconded him.

I looked at all my pictures, and I did notice that the dress was much more flattering when I was standing up straight.  Maybe there's something to that . . .

My problem with dresses is that I just don't wear them very much.  I rarely wear dresses to school and only occasionally go out to places where a dress seems like the most appropriate choice.  I do like cute dresses, though!

Melanie did point out that this dress is a bit longer than the one I got in my last fix and possibly something I could wear to work.  Yes.  I think it is.  It's casual and comfortable enough that I think it would be a good choice.  I might even try layering it with something like a denim jacket.  O.O  Maybe in my next fix?  I don't know . . . that's a big step for me!  ;)

WTH?  I'm keeping it and giving it a try!  The price is right!

Verdict:  KEEP

3.  Zad Valerie Layered Metal Cuff - Price - $34.00

Zad Valerie Layered Metal Cuff - Stitch Fix Review September 2015

So.  There's not much to say about this bracelet.  I LOVE it.  It's pretty badass.  If I had two of them, I would totally feel like Wonder Woman.  Or a Greek goddess.  Or something.  That would probably be over the top, though.  I think I'll stick with just one.  I will definitely wear this.  It's my favorite item in the whole box!

Verdict:  KEEP

4. Vanessa Mooney The Runaway Nugget Bead Necklace - Price - $38.00

Vanessa Mooney The Runaway Nugget Bead Necklace - Stitch Fix Review September 2015

I have been in a rut with jewelry for a long time.  I LOVE silver jewelry, but I always seem to wear the same kinds of things.  I'm trying to branch out a bit, so I asked Melanie for some mixed metal pieces.  In addition to the bracelet, she picked this necklace.

Vanessa Mooney The Runaway Nugget Bead Necklace and Renee C Zalia Dress

I really think it's cool.  I don't know if I would have naturally gravitated to it in a store, but that's the nice thing about having a stylist.  This is a little different for me, but I think I'll wear it.  I love the delicate chain and the contrasting silver beads.  She suggested wearing it with the dress, and I think it works!  I'm excited to see what else I have in my closet that this necklace will complement.  :)

Verdict:  KEEP

5. Shiraleah Riva Colorblock Clutch - Price - $48.00

Shiraleah Riva Colorblock Clutch - Stitch Fix Review September 2015

So, this bag.

If you read my last review, you already know that I am challenged when it comes to bags.  I did clean out my purse and I'm totally ready for some cute little bags that I don't end up cluttering with receipts, too many lipsticks, and other junk.

This isn't exactly what I had in mind, but I'm going to give it a chance.

When I first saw it, I thought it was a little too preppy-ish.  Out of all the possible style motifs, "preppy" is the one I relate to the LEAST.  I think.

Maybe it's the  bright gold accents?  The tan strap?  I don't know.  I probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

I don't think this will be an everyday bag for me.  I do think I'll be able to use it now and then, though.  What if I style it with this cute green polka dot dress?  I don't wear the dress that often, but that could work, right?

Shiraleah Riva Colorblock Clutch - Stitch Fix Review September 2015

My sister told me that this bag is not preppy.  She said it's neutral.  I believe her.  I have no natural fashion sense.  I learn everything I know about fashion from the internet.

Leopard is the new neutral.  Does everybody know that?

Sorry . . . I digress!  Well, since I'm keeping the other four items, it's cheaper for me to keep the bag than it would be to send it back.  I'm excited to see how I can make it work with other outfits!

Verdict:  KEEP


Well, I can't wait to see what I get next time!  The weather is almost ready to turn!  Maybe I can try some light layers in October . . . we'll see!

Please comment?  Did I make the right calls?  Have you received any of these items?  What did you think?  Is anyone else out there bag-challenged?  Did you find a style that works for you?  Thanks again for reading!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

15. Peanut-Crusted Catfish Tacos with Cabbage and Fresh Herbs in Pineapple Sauce


So, what kind of taco is this, anyway?  Turmeric-marinated catfish?  Thai fish sauce?  WTH?

I don't know what to say about that.  I can only tell you where the inspiration came from.

This week, for some reason, I was thinking about a dish that I had at Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon.  If you're not familiar with Pok Pok, it's a Thai/Vietnamese/pseudo Asian-fusion(?) street food restaurant.  One of my sisters lived in Portland for a few years.  I tried to visit her as often as I could.  For someone who loves food, it's an amazing destination.  We've had a few delicious meals at Pok Pok over the last several years.  It was always a good time.  It's a popular place.  We would usually have to wait about two hours, so we became very well acquainted with the Whiskey Soda Lounge (affiliated with Pok Pok) across the street.  Ha ha.  They make a mean Earl Grey tea-based cocktail!

Portland is one of those places that tends to make you wait for the cool things.  We waited for Pok Pok.  We waited for Salt and Straw.  We waited for Voodoo Doughnuts (until we figured out that Blue Star is where it's at).

This is me with my youngest sister, Jennifer.  Melissa (our middle sister and the former Portland resident) was the photographer.  Look at that line!  I think this was April of 2013.
Good times.  Great memories.  But, I digress . . .

One of the dishes that we had at Pok Pok was a catfish and noodle dish.  The catfish was so flavorful and fresh tasting!  I have the Pok Pok cookbook, written by chef Andy Ricker, which includes the recipe.  I was thinking about making a fish taco anyway, so I decided to try and incorporate the flavors of the catfish dish into a taco.

The result was . . . different.  Ha ha.  Not bad, but I would change some things.  First things first - here's what I did:

Peanut-Crusted Catfish Tacos with Cabbage and Fresh Herbs in Pineapple Sauce

Serves 4 (About 8 generous tacos)


For the marinated fish:

1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. peanut oil
2 tbsp. dry white wine (Yes, I realize this is a ridiculously small amount of wine.  Just drink the rest of it.  You're welcome.)
2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 lb. catfish fillets, sliced into thick strips (I had about 18 strips.)

For the pineapple sauce:

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh pineapple
1 medium clove garlic
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. peanut sauce
1 tbsp. Thai fish sauce (I used Squid brand.)
1 serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped

For the cabbage and herb mixture:

3 cups chopped cabbage (use a mix of purple and green for color)
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 to 1 cup flour

1 egg, beaten and mixed with 1 tbsp. water

1 cup roasted, lightly salted peanuts, plus more (chopped) for garnish
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

8-16 corn tortillas, depending on their size and whether you plan to double them up

Nonstick cooking spray


1.  Marinate the fish:  Combine the marinade ingredients in a medium bowl.  Add the catfish strips and toss.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour.

2.  While the fish is marinating, make the pineapple sauce:  Combine all of the sauce ingredients except the serrano pepper in a small bowl.  Blend with a hand blender until relatively smooth.  (Alternately, you can use a blender or food processor.)  Stir in the chopped serrano pepper.  Cover and set aside.  Mine looked like this:

3.  Combine the cabbage, herbs, and green onions in a medium bowl.

4.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it with nonstick cooking spray.  Place the 1 cup peanuts and panko in a food processor or blender and carefully grind.  Don't make peanut butter!  :)  Place the ground nuts and panko on a plate:

Place the flour in a shallow bowl.  Place the beaten egg and water in another shallow bowl.  Make an assembly line for the fish - flour, egg, and peanuts:

Take each strip of fish and allow the excess marinade to drip off.  Dredge in the flour.  Dip in the beaten egg.  Roll in the peanut mixture, pressing the mixture into the fish so it adheres to the egg.  Place on the baking sheet.  Repeat these steps until all of the fish is coated.  Bake in the oven for about 12 minutes or until the fish is done.  Turn the fish about halfway through the cooking process.  Here's what mine looked like when I took them out:

5.  Toss the cabbage-herb mixture with about 1/3 cup of the pineapple sauce.

6.  While the fish is cooking, prepare the tortillas to your liking.  There are a few different ways you can do this.  When I am making tacos with soft corn tortillas, I heat a dry cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  I place a large sheet of aluminum foil near the pan.  I heat each tortilla in the skillet for about 30 to 60 seconds on each side, or until it softens and begins to brown.

After each one is done, I place it on the foil and immediately start the next one.  I stack them on top of one another as I work.  When I'm done with the whole batch, I wrap them completely in the foil.  Since this is basically the last step in this recipe, they shouldn't need to be kept warm.  I only heat the number of tortillas needed for each meal.  It's easy to make fresh tortillas for leftovers!  

7.  Assemble the tacos:  For each taco, place a tortilla on a plate.  Place a couple of catfish strips down the middle.  Top with some of the dressed cabbage and herbs.  Drizzle with a small amount of extra pineapple sauce.  Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and enjoy!

When I started this project, I decided that I would be totally honest about the results.  So, here's me being totally honest:

This is the first taco recipe I've created so far that I would really want to revise.  Don't get me wrong - it was pretty good.  We ate it.  I made a few wrong calls, though.

I don't know why I baked the fish.  I suppose I was thinking that it would be really convenient to heat the tortillas while the fish was baking.  Looking back, that seems like a silly reason.  It would be completely possible to multi-task and heat the tortillas while frying the fish!  

I should have known better.  I'm not a fan of baking things that should really be fried.  This fish should be fried.  The time in the oven wasn't enough to make the coating crispy.  If I had kept cooking it, though, the fish might have been overdone.  

If you make this, I would recommend frying the fish in hot oil (about 375 degrees) and draining on paper towels.  Due to the nature of this project, I don't have the luxury of testing the recipes.  I have a full-time job (that has nothing to do with cooking), and these recipes truly are invented right before I make them!  Maybe after the project is over, I'll refine some of them.  At this point, it is what it is!  Ha ha.  

My dear husband was so convinced that the fish would have been better fried that he actually re-fried the leftover fish while I was cleaning up.  Here it is:

I had a bite.  It was so much better!  I see some leftover peanut-crusted fish in our future!

A couple of other things to note:  First, I got the idea for my herb mixture from the Pok Pok recipe.  I never would have thought to include dill with mint, cilantro, and green onions.  I thought it sounded strange, but decided to go with it.  I was OK with it, but Steve didn't like it.  He thought the dill was out of place.  Maybe the combination is an acquired taste?  Secondly, I think the peanuts in the coating were too much.  If I had it to do over, I would probably use half peanuts and half panko . . . or maybe even 1 cup panko and 1/3 cup peanuts.  I love peanuts, but I probably went overboard!

I think this recipe has a lot of potential!  Feel free to laugh at my misadventures - I do!  Hey, I'm a big believer in "Go big, or go home!"  How am I ever supposed to create anything exciting without a gamble now and then?  At the very least, maybe this will spark some ideas for another recipe - for you or for me!

I love cooking.  It's always interesting, and it's usually fun.  It was fun today.  :)

I love you, Pok Pok!  (And Whiskey Soda Lounge!  I could use one of those Earl Grey cocktails right about now . . . ha ha.)

Please comment on this recipe!  Did you try them?  What did you think?  Am I getting too weird?  Don't worry, my next one will be a bit more traditional - I've already decided that!  :)

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 18, 2015

14. Classic Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Tacos with Blue Cheese Dressing and Garlic Sourdough Croutons


This is going to be a busy taco-making weekend!  My work week at school got so crazy that I didn't make any tacos.  :(  I know.  I was sad, too!

That means I need to make tacos TWICE this weekend to stay on track for my project.  I wanted to get really creative and ambitious tonight but . . . to be honest, I was kind of tired.  I decided to go with something rather basic, but still delicious!

Who doesn't like a BLT, right?  I decided to try and convert the flavors and textures of the classic sandwich into an unexpected and satisfying taco.  Here is the result of my last minute Whole Foods run:

OK, OK.  I already had the mayo and the cider vinegar, but the rest was newly purchased!  :)

A bacon, lettuce, and tomato taco seems like a no-brainer at first.  All you need to do is throw the typical BLT sandwich fixings into a tortilla, right?  No.  No, no, no.  What about the toast?  If you just throw it into a tortilla, you lose the texture of the toasted bread.  And who slathers plain mayo on a taco?  It requires just a bit more finesse!

I decided to use a dressing made with blue cheese AND mayonnaise!  That way, you get the traditional mayo creaminess, but you also get some tang and complexity from the blue cheese.

Also, I made simple garlic sourdough croutons to use as a garnish on the taco.  They are a perfect stand-in for the crunchiness and toasty flavor that one would expect with a BLT.

It was a perfect, EASY, dinner choice for a fatigued Friday night.  (Is that a thing?  Fatigue Friday?  If it's not, it should be!)

By the way, this features my FAVORITE method for cooking bacon.  Once I tried cooking it in the oven, I never looked back!

Here's the recipe:

Classic Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Tacos with Blue Cheese Dressing and Garlic Sourdough Croutons

Serves 4 (About 8 tacos, but it's easy to adjust as desired!)


For the croutons:

2 slices sourdough bread, toasted and allowed to cool
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic
a pinch or two of salt

For the dressing:

1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. minced chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

16 slices bacon (about 2 slices for each taco)

1 heart romaine lettuce, chopped

3 to 4 small ripe tomatoes, sliced and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper

8 fajita-size flour tortillas


1.  Make the croutons:  Press the garlic through a garlic press into a medium skillet.  Cover with the olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Heat over low heat until fragrant.  While the oil is heating, finely chop/dice the bread.  Add the bread to the skillet and cook until crisp and golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Be sure to keep the heat low so that the garlic doesn't burn.  If the croutons seem dry, feel free to add an extra splash or two of olive oil.  I did.  :)  Set aside to cool.

2.  While the croutons are browning, make the dressing:  Combine all ingredients except the chives in a small bowl.  Blend with a fork until relatively smooth.  Stir in the chives.

3.  Cook the bacon:  Line a baking sheet or two with foil.  Place the desired number of bacon slices in a single layer on the baking sheet(s).

Place the baking sheet(s) in the oven and turn the oven to 385 degrees.  (Don't preheat; start with a cold oven.)  Cook the bacon until browned and crisp, anywhere from 16 to 22 minutes, depending on the thickness of the bacon and how far apart the slices are.  The cooking time can really vary depending on your oven and the bacon, so use your judgement.  Just keep cooking the bacon until it's done the way you like it.  Watch it carefully at the end so it doesn't burn.

Remove the bacon from the baking sheet(s) with tongs and drain on an oven-safe plate lined with paper towels.  Turn the oven off.  If desired, you can place the bacon back in the oven to keep warm.

4.  When the bacon is almost done, prepare the tortillas to your liking.  There are a few different ways you can do this.  I heat a dry cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  I place a large sheet of aluminum foil near the pan.  I heat each tortilla in the skillet for about 30-60 seconds on each side, or until it softens and begins to brown.

After each one is done, I place it on the foil and immediately start the next one.  I stack them on top of one another as I work.  When I'm done with the whole batch, I wrap them completely in the foil.  If you wish, you can place them back in the oven (wrapped in foil) to keep warm with the bacon.   

5.  Assemble the tacos:  For each taco, place a tortilla on a plate.  Top with a few slices of tomato.  Add about 2 slices of bacon (broken in half) to each taco.  Sprinkle with some of the chopped lettuce.  Drizzle with some of the dressing.  Garnish with the garlic croutons and enjoy!

So . . . these tasted just like a really awesome BLT!  :)  I guess the next question would be, "Why not just make a sandwich?"

Because.  This is The Taco Project.  It's not The Sandwich Project.  I convert anything and everything food-related into a taco these days.  That's just how it is.  (Steve did point out, however, that this recipe would make an equally outstanding wrap if you use a larger tortilla!  I agree; it would!)

Since a lot of the elements are pretty simple, I would make sure to use quality ingredients:  good tortillas, fresh lettuce, ripe tomatoes, top-shelf bacon, etc.  

I have no reservations about these.  They were delicious!  The croutons were an essential element.  I wouldn't skip them!  

Feel free to comment on this recipe!  Did you try them?  What did you think?  Can you think of any other classic recipes that would translate well into the the taco world?  :)

Thanks for reading!