Monday, September 15, 2014

Hey! SoCal! Beat the heat with easy Margarita Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Salsa Cruda

Summer may be over in most parts of the country but Southern California’s annual sun storm is just getting started. We’re dealing with triple digit numbers here and to make it worse, we are in the midst of one of the most severe droughts in recent California history. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could skip the heatwave for the next two months and head straight into the slightly cooler breezes of November? One can dream, right?

Anyhow …

If you’re like me, this heat is keeping you out of the kitchen and has you opting for more grilling (or crockpot) recipes. I think this recipe today is one you are going to love. It’s easy and dinner is on the table quickly! The marinade for this recipe is a simplified version of the marinade for my Tequila-Lime Shrimp and instead of serving the shrimp whole on skewers, we’re giving them a quick chop and serving them up in fresh corn tortillas.

Shrimp has a fairly neutral flavor so it’s the perfect canvas to highlight different spices from around the world. The tequila and lime in this preparation always makes me feel like I’m chillaxin' in Baja, enjoying sweet ocean breezes, sipping margaritas and taking in the local color. These babies are super easy to prepare and cook quickly on the grill so you don’t have to bear the heat too long. Plus, you can take advantage of the last month of California’s avocado season with my simple and refreshing Avocado Salsa Cruda. This salsa is so versatile. I love it on steaks, on chicken, even on cauliflower or portobello “steaks”!

This recipe is also a good one for casual, low-fuss weekend gatherings. Along with Avocado Salsa Cruda, serve the tacos buffet style with an assortment of optional toppings like hot sauce, Mexican sour cream, sliced jalapeños or shredded red cabbage as to encourage your guests to personalize their tacos. Accentuate the lime-goodness by pairing them with frozen margaritas. It’s casual entertaining, California style!

If you live near a Mexican grocer with an in-house tortilleria, it’s definitely worth it to buy your corn tortillas there. There is a huge difference in quality, taste and texture between freshly made authentic corn tortillas and the mass produced and packaged commercial variety available at large supermarkets. A Mexican market will also carry the chile powder and fresh chiles, however, most supermarkets (Ralph’s, Vons, for example) carry California chile powder and Mexican oregano near the Mexican food aisle. Pasilla peppers are often mislabeled as poblanos so use whichever is available at your grocers. 

Serves 4


1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

For the marinade:
1 shot of tequila (about 1 ½ ounces)
juice and zest of 2 limes
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons California chili powder (or 1 teaspoon — or to taste — cayenne)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crushed between palms

wooden bamboo skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes

For salsa:
2 large rip avocados, peeled and diced
¼ cup frozen corn, thawed
¼ cup frozed peas, thawed
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onions
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh pasilla chili pepper (or seeded jalepeño if you like more heat)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

8 to 12 Corn tortillas


1. Place shrimp in a large ziplock bag. Set aside.
2. For the shrimp: Add the tequila, lime juice and zest, oil, cilantro, chile and cumin to a small bowl. Place the oregano in the palm of your hand and rub your hands together over the bowl to crush leaves and flower buds (this releases the essential oils from the oregano). Use a whisk to combine well. Add to shrimp. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. 
3. For the salsa: Toss all the ingredients for the salsa in a bowl being careful not to mash the avocado. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve tacos.
4. Lightly oil your grill grates. Heat the grill to hot (450˚F).

5. Curling up the shrimp so it makes the shape of the letter “c”, carefully thread the skewer close to the head and through the shrimp. Take a second skewer and thread it through the tail end. Continue until you have four shrimp on each pair of skewers. Threading the shrimp onto two skewers prevents the shrimp from spinning on you when you flip the skewers. 
6. Place skewered shrimp on grill and cook for 3 to 4 minutes with lid open. Carefully flip shrimp using tongs. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on the flip side or until shrimp is bright pink and opaque. Remove and let cool for a few minutes before removing from skewers.
7. When cooled enough to handle, chop shrimp into bite sized pieces, place in a bowl and serve in a fresh corn tortilla with a spoonful of the salsa. Recipe can easily be doubled.

Until next time friends! Take care and if you’re in SoCal, keep hydrated, stay cool and be safe. Fire season is here.

xo, Ani

Monday, September 8, 2014

What do you get when you pair an organic farm with a luxury tequila? Farm to Shaker {Photos}

Two weeks ago, I was invited to discover the roots of Tequila Don Julio and explore Suzie's Farm to get a firsthand account of their organic farming practices. {Sponsored post}

What a beautiful day for a farm tour!

Located in the Tijuana River Valley at Border Fields State Park just 13 miles south of Downtown San Diego, Suzie’s Farm is a 140-acre USDA-certified organic farm. Growing more than 100 varieties of seasonal vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruits year-round as well as having 300 egg-laying pasture hens, Suzie’s is the only such farm in the City of San Diego.

It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for quite some time so I was super excited to be contacted by the folks over at Tequila Don Julio about a Farm to Shaker Excursion they were hosting. It was billed as an opportunity to learn more about Don Julio's history and get a private tour of Suzie's Farm. Normally, I have to say no to mid-week events because of the day job at the news mill, however, this time I was free to say yes because the event was taking place the first day of my “staycation.”

An iPhone shot I uploaded to Instagram of the yummy "morning coffee." It's called a Shakerato. Recipe at the end of this post.

I knew it was going to be a blast of a day when I pulled into the parking lot on the south end of Petco Park. I could see a big black tour bus and a check-in table right next to it. I got out of my car and headed towards the table and was greeted by fresh donuts and handed a mason jar of iced cold brew coffee, spiked, of course, with Tequila Don Julio Resposado and an ancho chili liqueur. It wasn’t quite 10:00 a.m. yet and I remembered thinking, "Oh yes! Now this is how to start vacation off with a bang!”

The sweet looking Airstream Speakeasy: a custom mobile bar. You can watch a video about it here

I was one of a small handful of bloggers. The other tour participants were mostly bartenders and distributors. These guys know their cocktails and alcohol! Yowza! Anyway, once we disembarked the tour bus and stepped through the gates at Suzie’s we were greeted by more cocktails and goodie bags. As we milled about the entrance, some folks were checking out the contents of our goodie bags, others were oohing and ahhhhing over the gorgeous Don Julio Airstream Speakeasy, a custom mobile bar.

These are grapevine "teepees" that we were encouraged to enter so we might feel what it was like to be enveloped by vegetation. The grapevines were already on the property when the land was purchased and instead of pulling them out, they fashioned them into these fun shapes.

Lauren, our tour guide, was super enthusiastic, which was great to see. When people love and believe in the work that they do, their passion shines through, and that positivity rubs off on others around.

We learned that Suzie’s is named for a dog that once roamed the land before the owners, Robin Taylor and Lucila De Alejandro, bought it. Suzie passed on but there are three dogs that I could see who acted as greeters and tour guides during our visit. This is Homer

Since the majority of the tour attendees where bartenders, they were encouraged to pick any herbs they wanted to use to create their own cocktails back on the Airstream after lunch. This is a patch of thyme.

Now we're walking through lemon verbena.

Boy! Did it smell fantastic when we brushed by them.

This is called an Indigo Blue Tomato and they go from red to purple almost black as they ripen. They don't get much bigger than this.

I'd never heard of them before. They were nearing the end of their growing season and we were encouraged to pick them right off the vine and give them a taste. They were deliciously sweetened by the earth and warmed by the summer sun. Wished I could have taken home a dozen or so!

Suzie's grows a lot of flowers along with the vegetables and herbs. The flowers help bring bees into the fields which in turn helps with pollination.

These gorgeous orange and red plants are amaranth. Though billed as a "grain" it's actually a seed, much like quinoa is. It was a staple in the Aztec diet. You can read more about it here.

These English Breakfast Radishes (also known as French Breakfast Radishes) were delicious right out of the ground.

This is an Armenian cucumber that Lauren is holding up. She passed a few around for each of us to break a piece off and give it a whirl. It was delicious. It's a cross between a seedless cucumber and a melon. Really tasty! I've never heard or seen them before and now I am definitely going to keep my eyes open for them next season.

There are 300 hens and chicks in the hen house. No roosters so the eggs aren't fertilized. The chickens, as Lauren described, are free to be chickens, coming and going from the hen house as they please during the day. Once a crop is finished, the chickens are moved into the cleared acre, protected by a chicken wire fence, and encouraged to eat the remains of the vegetation and any insects and pests, providing the chickens with a varied diet. The color of the egg shells vary widely as do the colors of the yolks depending on what part of the farm the chickens are allowed to roam and eat from. Lauren said that the eggs are more nutrient dense, more naturally good for you since the chickens are clean, not crowded in their hen house, pasture-raised, and free of added hormones. The eggs, apparently, don't even need refrigeration. You do, however, pay for all this humane chicken raising and nutrient dense product: a dozen eggs is $10. I'm planning on buying some soon to give them a taste.

By the time we got to lunch, I was famished having only had the donut and cocktail on the bus at the start of the day. So famished was I that I took only two photos during the meal and both were of salads – made from the gorgeous baby lettuces and herbs grown at the farm, of course! It was delicious meal. During the meal, we got to hear a presentation by the Don Julio folks about Don Julio and his passion and commitment to making a top quality tequila. Shots of tequila were placed at every setting. Personally, I'm not a shots kinda gal. I much prefer my alcohol tempered with other ingredients made into a yummy cocktail. I gave it a sip so that I could say I had tried this top shelf luxury tequila, then I passed it onto my neighbor who thoroughly enjoyed having two shots.

After lunch, the bartenders took turns making drinks with the herbs they had picked. I watched in amusement as most of them tried to "one-up" each other.

About Suzie's Farm
Suzie's is owned by Robin Taylor and his wife, Lucila De Alejandra. Established in 2004, Robin and Lucila are passionate about feeding the local community and encourage all of their customers to tour the farm and join in on seasonal events.

Suzie's acquires the seeds and a team of employees hand plants, hand transplants, and mostly hand harvests everything grown on the the 140-acre farm – no heavy machinery here, just a dedication to being a family run, organic farm. One of the really cool things about having Suzie's "feeding the community" is the fact that once harvested, produce is available next day at market. Some times, it's even harvested and immediately at market the day of. Lucila says, in an interview on UTTV, that while most commercial farmers plant seeds engineered to travel well, disregarding taste, Suzie's Farm plants organic seeds that taste good and don't travel well at all as everything is vine ripened.

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is the cornerstone of their business. Produce subscriptions are available in 6, 13, 26, and 52 box quantities starting at $25 a box for small (6-10 items) and $30 for a large (11-15 items). You can find out more and sign up here.

Suzie's Farm
2570 Sunset Avenue
San Diego, CA 92154

Farm stand open every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Additionally, you can find them at a variety of farmers markets around the county and at Whole Foods. See their website for specific farmers markets.

About Don Julio Tequila

The tequilas:

For more information, visit their website.


Created by Marshall Altier

Ideal serving vessel: Mason Jar

1 1/2 ounces Tequila Don Julio Reposado
1/4 ounce Ancho Chili Liqueur
1 1/2 ounces Cold Brew Coffee
1/2 ounce Agave Nectar


1. Combine Tequila Don Julio Reposado, ancho chili liqueur, cold brew coffee and agave nectar into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well.
2. Strain contents into a mason jar over ice. 

Recipe courtesy of Tequila Don Julio. Reprinted with permission.

The Farm to Shaker event was sponsored by Don Julio Tequila and Suzie's Farm. I was provided with transportation, cocktail samplings, lunch, fresh herb plants, a cocktail cookbook and a few other random items while participating in this event for editorial consideration. No other compensation was provided. Links within this post are not sponsored and I receive no compensation for click-throughs. I'm providing them for my reader's edification. As always, opinions remain my own. 

Until next time, friends! 
xo, Ani

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Easy Triple Chocolate Sandwich Cake Box Cookies + An open letter to my mother on her birthday

Dearest Mom,

Happy Birthday! I know of your desire to let this birthday pass with little fanfare. I do not exaggerate when I say that you are the best mother that anyone could ever want. So I couldn’t let your birthday pass without sharing how very much you are loved and cherished with the world.

Mom & Dad on Mom's junior prom
That fact that you have spent a lifetime putting us girls before you has not gone unnoticed nor unappreciated. All the sacrificing you did while we were young so that we could feel better, look better, eat better, be better produced five independent, fairly confident women. Nothing I will ever do can come close to the kind of commitment that you’ve made to all of us girls. Nothing I can ever do will be enough to say, “Thank you.”

In my darkest hours, it is always your words, your comforting touch that can calm my fears and give me strength and hope that a new, better day will come with the morning light. “This, too, shall pass,” is a motto I find myself saying, in your voice, when things feel overwhelming. Your strength and ability to persevere in the midsts of your own health issues, taught me to dig deep and push through those days that have me secretly wishing I could just stay in bed and not face the world.

My biggest regret in life is not having had children of my own. You are such an inspiring role model for motherhood that I always thought I’d be the same kind of mom to my own kids.

Dad, Mom and me.
Mom and I
Mom and I on my first communion
Mom and I a few years ago
Instead, I have Starbuck and I find myself treating her as if she were my child, waking her up in the morning singing, “O! What a beautiful morning. O! What a beautiful day!” as off-key as I can remember and with the same level of joy and enthusiasm remembering the many times you woke us up that way. I clean her face with my t-shirt. I carry goodies for her in my purse. I worry about her when she’s not eating, when she’s not playing. I buy toys for her and get down on the floor and play with her, all the while, remembering those times we played under the dinning table, twirled in the rain, played dress-up in your best clothes, had tea parties with mini sandwiches, sold lemonade and ice cream cones, wore new outfits that you stayed up all night to sew. I remember Valentine's Day scavenger hunts around the house, each clue leading us closer to whatever little goodie you could spare to get each of us and how it felt like we were the luckiest girls in the world to have a mom go through so much trouble for us. I remember birthdays celebrated at school with cupcakes you stayed up late baking. I remember getting behind the wheel of dad's pick-up truck, you halfway through your pregnancy with Ellie, teaching me to drive in the parking lot of Montgomery Wards when no one else was around.

You taught me to love by showing me what love is. You taught me to laugh at myself. You taught me that winning wasn’t everything but gave me the feeling of pride by letting me win anyway — you being the yin to my dad’s yang. And later in life, you taught me to be silly. Most importantly, you gave me a sense of security knowing that no matter what I did or how many mistakes I might make, there would always be one person in the world that would love me no matter what, cheering me on to try again. That is truly a gift.

Three generations on Grandma's 75th Birthday: Mom, Grams, and the 5 Arambula girls
You and my father gave me 4 sisters so that I will never feel alone. And although there might be the occasional fighting and disappointments, we are and always will be there for each no matter what. It’s a bond that you and dad created between us, teaching us from the time we could comprehend that friends will come and go but we will have our sisters from cradle to grave.

So yes, I know that this birthday might be difficult, but there is also a lot of joy and memories to cherish. I hope you allow yourself to enjoy it.

I love you with all that I am and I am because of all that you are.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I look forward to our lunch and beach date this week. Until then, I made you some triple chocolate cookies because I know how much you love your chocolate …

your eldest

Back in 2007, the first year I started blogging, I shared a cake mix cookie recipe I made when I was kid. This version doesn’t have peanut butter because Mom doesn’t like peanut butter. What??? I know, right? Anyway these are tasty because of the addition of the frosting. Yum!

YIELD: About 18 2-inch sandwiches


1 box Duncan Hines Triple Chocolate Cake Mix
2 large eggs
⅓ cup vegetable oil
⅔ cups dark chocolate chips
⅔ cup pre-made creamy chocolate frosting


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
2. Beat together the cake mix, eggs and oil in a large bowl with a wooden spoon (or place in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until smooth and glossy). Batter will be very thick. 
3. Mix in the chocolate chips using a wooden spoon. 
4. Using a cookie scoop (or large tablespoon), drop uniformly leveled scoops of dough onto a baking sheet, spacing cookies about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and from about 6 inches from counter, drop sheet onto countertop a few times to flatten out cookies. Allow to cool on pan for five minutes, then remove them to a cooling rack. Repeat until finished with dough.
5. Once cookies are completely cooled, spread about 1½ tablespoons of frosting in the center of the bottom side of a cookie. Take a second cookie approximately the same size and shape and sandwich them together, slightly twisting the second cookie as you settle it into place to evenly distribute the frosting. Place sandwiched cookies in an airtight container and refrigerate before serving so the frosting sets up properly.

Until next time… 
xo, Ani

Friday, August 29, 2014

Harissa Lamb Burger Lettuce Wraps with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce and Mint Lemon Couscous

I have a couple more ideas for that Mina Harissa Giveaway: Lamb Burger Wraps and Harissa Spiced Cucumber Yogurt Sauce. Hot and refreshing all in one bite! Try it this Labor Day. 

Big bold flavors are important when you're creating dishes that are healthy, low carb and nonetheless delicious. My first non-breakfast experiment with Mina Harissa was this grilled lamb burger recipe. It was utterly satisfying and it definitely won’t be the last time I make it.

When holidays come up that involve grilling, I'm always on the lookout for ways to shake things up a bit from the standard hamburger and hot dogs. So when I was considering how to use the Mina Harissa, I immediately thought burgers. And because I'm off white bread right now AND it's been so incredibly warm in sunny San Diego, I thought lettuce wraps. Normally, with lettuce wraps, recipes call for pan frying the crumbled meat. But I got to thinking about how much I enjoy burgers "protein-style", aka, sans buns, so I decided to keep them a burger shape and serve these up in large lettuce leaves. It was definitely a winning combination!

Use buns if you must but wrapping them in crisp, cold lettuce (green leaf, butter or even iceberg) is a nice twist and quite refreshing, especially with this hot weather we’re having. And if you feel that lamb is too “gamey” for you, try swapping out the lamb altogether with ground pork, turkey or chicken. It should be equally delicious!

Twenty minutes before you’re ready to grill, remove meat from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.

YIELD: 6 burgers


For Yogurt Sauce
½ cup Greek yogurt 
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive, plus more to taste
juice of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste 
½ cucumber, deseeded and finely chopped (about ½ cup)
1-2 teaspoons Mina Harissa Red Pepper Sauce, or to taste

For couscous
1 (14.5 ounce) can low sodium chicken broth
1 cup whole wheat couscous
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste 

For Lamb burgers
1 pound lean ground lamb
½ pound lean ground pork
2 - 3 tablespoons Mina Harissa Red Pepper Sauce, or to taste
2 ½ teaspoons minced fresh mint
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

6 large green or red lettuce leaves 
Additional chopped cucumbers for serving, optional


1. Make the yogurt sauce: Stir together the yogurt, ½ teaspoon olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in the cucumber until coated well. Swirl in the harissa. Top off with a drizzle of olive oil (optional). Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until ready to serve.
2. Make the couscous: Place the couscous into a medium bowl. Pour the chicken broth into a medium saucepan and bring to a rapid bowl; remove from heat and pour over the couscous. Stir well to combine. Cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap and set aside for 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes, uncover and fluff with a fork. Squeeze in the lemon juice and fold in the mint. Add salt and pepper to taste. Recover and set aside until ready to serve.
3. Make the burgers: Heat grill to medium-high. Break meats apart in a large bowl. Add harissa, mint, garlic, zest, salt and 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and stir to combine. Divide meat into 6 equal portions and shape into elongated burgers.
Pour remaining 1 teaspoon of olive into a small dish or mug. Dip a wadded up paper towel into the oil and use grill tongs to coat the grill grates with the oil. Place patties on grill and cook 3-4 minutes per side with the grill open or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees on an instant read meat thermometer. Remove cooked patties to a platter. 
4. To serve: Place a burger on a lettuce leaf, top with a tablespoon or two of the harissa yogurt sauce. Serve with ½ cup of mint couscous on the side. Garnish with additional cucumber, if desired.

Until next time, friends. Have a fun, safe Labor Day weekend!
xo, Ani

P.S. Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a 3-pack of Mina Harissa of your very own! Read about it here.

Disclosure: I received two jars of Mina Harissa from Casablanca Foods for editorial consideration. No other compensation was given. Recipes and opinions, as always with product reviews, are my own and not influenced by the brand owner.