Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sweet stuff for about 60 cents

Frugality is more than a hobby these days. In “Beyond Couponing” Carol Scudere shares how to save up to 60 percent on groceries. I always like to get a glimpse of how the pantries of folks who do this are set up and this book offers a peek. If you’re willing to saw a roll of paper towels in half to make your own baby wipes and scan your (Port Arthur News) newspaper for coupons, then you, too, can save big. She’s got a plan, lists, menus and recipes. My mother makes a version of this recipe below and it’s mighty tasty:

Maple Flavored Syrup

Yields about 12 2-ounce servings; Approximate cost to make: 60 cents

2 cups sugar

½ cup water

½ cup corn syrup

1 teaspoon maple extract

1 teaspoon butter flavoring

Bring water, sugar and corn syrup to a slow boil over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat before it comes to a rolling boil in order to keep crystals from forming. Add flavorings as it is cooking. Store in refrigerator. Great over pancakes and corn fritters.

Ready for Asian new year

My daughter got her annual Christmas request of a run from Port Arthur’s Asian markets. Now our pantry is stocked full of spring roll wrappers, Peking vegetarian roast duck (braised gluten), crab paste, shredded squid and some kind of unusual items, too. Spicy blends over rice are low-cal New Year’s resolution options.

Christmas gumbo

Timing, décor, placement and just about everything I hold traditional to Christmas left me discombobulated this season. Thank goodness my mother prepared the necessity, a holiday gumbo. This year’s had shrimp and crab and we were mighty grateful for it.

We amused ourselves with wondering how many displaced Texans and Cajuns were having Christmas gumbo in the other states across America. We’d love to see a map connecting the dots of all the steaming pots.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Fun with boudain and toasting Barefoot

So my mom heard a restaurant offered a boudain breakfast pizza and set out to make her own. When my aunt came for brunch, she toted a crust, boudain, mozzarella cheese, eggs, green onions and olives to my house and we played with it to great success. We still don’t know how the restaurant does it, but we ate all of ours.

Toasting Barefoot

Ten bucks could make your new year Barefoot Bubbly good. It made a couple of my December nights quite festive already. Barefoot has six varietals of bubbly in this price range. And to think, years ago I didn’t even care for Champagne. (I was in the $6 range back then). But I wasn’t looking for tasting notes like these:

Brut Cuvée, is crisp with hints of green apple and jasmine. They’ve’ also got a new Pink Moscato, with fruity aromas of fresh berries, candied cherries and sweet citrus leading to a creamy finish. My fave was the Brut and my husband picked the Pink. Try toasting 2012 with some of these: Extra Dry, Pinot Grigio, Rose Cuvée and Moscato Spumante.

Mamma Chia

A lovely woman’s silhouette graces sexy curved bottles of Mamma Chia filled with berry-shaded blends of cherry lime, blackberry hibiscus, raspberry passion and cranberry lemonade. What’s the star of these organic, vegan and gluten-free drinks? The same chia seeds we grew on clay “pets” in the ‘70s. If you’ve ever had bubble tea, you can relate to what a first-time may refer to as a thick slime. Culinary Thrill Seekers can move beyond that sensation to try something new. While I did enjoy experimenting with these drinks, I’d consider them again for health more than craving. I felt full and healthy after drinking just half a bottle of the beautiful stuff. By the way, the seeds are whole and suspended in the red juice. Seeds offer omega-3, antioxidants, protein, calcium and more.


Here’s a little plastic gadget that works better than I even expected. Billed as an extra set of hands, the green plastic BagWel arms swing open to hold a cuffed food bag so the bag sands open and you can fill it with food for the freezer. This helps you avoid spills that get zipped up in the seal and make everything messy. It’s so easy, that’s all I have to say about it.

Clean green

My guests commented on the fresh scent they whiffed while I was cleaning the table and I told them it was parsley. Earth Friendly Proucts offers a pump spray with good stuff that works and plant-based Wave, high-efficiency auto dishwasher gel that smells of organic lavender and removes coffee and tea stains. I’ve been using Eco Breeze fabric freshener with lemongrass and washing clothes in the detergent. It’s good to find a company that cares.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Butter up your holidays with recipes, gifts
First I’d like to thank lots and lots of readers who contacted me with cornmeal hints for my mom. She’s seeking a coarser ground and I’ve been put on the track of stone ground, Lamb’s brand and reminded of cornbread with milk and sugar, a dish my Cajun grandma called cush cush. Thanks readers, it’s great to know you’re out there. Now, here’s some thoughts on more good eataing:

I was going to read ”Gooseberry Patch Big Book of Home Cooking” on the couch, then type up my thoughts. Great ideas kept flying from the pages, so I had to move to the computer to capture them for you, readers. Between recipes for mint or banana punch and sweet and cinnamon bacon, “Vickie” and “Jo Ann” offer sketches of how cute it would be to wrap up utensils in napkins and a flower and have them sticking out of a flower pot, or bundle them in a vintage pitcher from an antique shop. Have a tired, old quilt? Sew patches of it into pot holders for serving something like cinnamon-pumpkin pancakes. This book is designed for cooks who love company. Make guests feel special by bundling herbs with jute to make a little brush. Place it by a dish of melted butter for vegetables. If was their company, I’d request this:

Bacon & Greens Salsa
8 slices bacon
16-ounce package frozen mixed greens, thawed and drained
½ of a sweet onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 ½ cup frozen corn, thawed
1 serrano chile pepper, minced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
pork rinds, sweet potato chips
hot pepper sauce
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat 7 to 9 minutes until crisp, remove bacon and drain on paper towels, reserving 2 tablespoons drippings in a skillet. Crumble bacon, set aside.
Saute greens, onion and garlic in hot drippings 7 to 10 minutes or until tender. Stir in corn and next three ingredients and cook 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Sprinkle with bacon. Serve warm with pork rinds, sweet potato chips and hot pepper sauce. Makes 4 cups.

All buttered up
Butter Bell is billed as a gift for foodies. L. Tremain offers a range of selections and I’ve got a splash of color in maraschino red. Butter Bell keeps a stick of butter spreadable, on your counter. There’s no need for refrigeration because you spread the butter in a well and invert it into the base, in which you add cool water. That forms an airtight seal. Just change water every three days. I had to be convinced when I first read this, but there is an absolute difference in the taste, texture and enjoyment quality of using butter stored in the crock than pulled from the fridge. I had an honest-to-gosh Butter Bell from this company years ago, but when my Aunt, just returned from France, admired the Le Bistro Bell, reading “buerre,” with royal blue banding, I gave it to her. Years later my friend, a butter aficionado, passed me one fashioned as a glass block, and not of this company’s making, I foolishly tried to melt some butter for a popcorn fix in the microwave, and busted it. Now that I’ve got a real Butter Bell in the house, I’m taking care of it, displaying it next to my flashy red Oster toaster. http://www.butterbell.com/product/54

WineTime Bar
This sounds like a joke, or a dream. WineTime Bar by Resvez is a gourmet nutrition bar infused with reservatrol than 50 glasses of red wine. This could be one of my shortest reviews ever, but the flavor titles are so long. Chocolate-Rasberry, with dates and almonds, tastes wonderful and is good for you, ditto to Rich Dark Chocolate with dates and almonds. So many bars have natural ingredients but still taste like cardboard. This is more like candy. I had mine with Champagne.

Grandy Oats
Makers of Grandy Oats Organic Granola talk up how their “natural” standards are much higher than name brands’ we may know and enjoy. They aren’t as expensive, either. But the proof is the taste, which is nut-and oat-filled goodness. The cranberry option, packaged in a plastic tub, is so rich that instead of a bowl full, I’m sprinkling it on Greek yogurt and dotting it with honey for dessert. A little will last a long time.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cake mix up some cookies for Santa

Holiday stores of pumpkin puree and cranberries can get mixed into cookies and bars with some very quick ides from Camilla V. Saulsbury. “The Ultimate Cake Mix Cookie Book” has multiple temptations on every page. A white mix will get you Crushed Peppermint Snowballs or Salty-Sweet Nutty Chippers. A chocolate mix makes Cookies and Cream Gooey Bars. Cornmeal and lemon goes into another blend. This is easy, brilliant stuff and young kitchen fans can get in on the act. For those in the bake-sale stage of life, this book will win fans. Here’s a quickie:

Cappuccino Crinkles
1 18.25-ounce package white cake mix
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix cake mix, shortening, butter, brown sugar, egg, coffee powder and vanilla in a large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed, 1 minute until blended.
Place cocoa powder in a small, shallow bowl. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets. A note suggests lining sheets with parchment paper.
Bake 9 to12 minutes or until centers are just set. Cool 1 minute on sheets, then remove cookies with spatula to wire racks to cool completely. Makes three dozen.

Serving guests low cal vodka
We’ll come round to vodka in this discussion, so read on:
Invite your honey to the holidays with Honeydrop, a line of natural teas and juices with a spoon full of honey. Green Tea, Lemon Tea and Lemon Ginger Tea are new in the low-calorie line. I like the Blood Orange. I love how these natural companies have causes. Buy a Bottle - Save a Bee helps beehives get built around the country.
Hint Water takes it down a notch with a no-calorie unsweetened essence water in 10 flavors including Blackberry, Watermelon, Pomegranate-Tangerine, Strawberry-Kiwi, Mango-Grapefruit, and Raspberry-Lime. I’ve had some in the past and just tried another round, adding watermelon to vodka. Hint and Honeydrop are great ways for children to cut back on sugary drinks, and adults can work on their figures by mixing cocktails with them.

Voli Light Vodka makers say it is the first low calorie fruit and fusion flavored vodka in the world. Voli Light Vodkas are on average 25 to 40 percent lower in calorie than leading brands with natural ingredients. I got a great flavor and aroma from Lemon, Lyte and Raspberry Cocoa. Bottles look sleek, but don’t think this is all too girly. My husband liked the refreshing flavor combos you can concoct. The Orange Vanilla goes with apple cider and cinnamon stick; Lemon meets pomegranate and flamed orange zest to get Sympathy for the Devil; and Lyte, jalapeno and pineapple get you a spicy kick. The Voil Vamp, below, cuts calories big time:

Voil Vamp
1 1/2 ounce Voli Lemon (or Lyte)

1/4 ounce Chambord (Raspberry Liqueur)

2 ounce Cranberry juice

Top with club soda

Build over ice and stir

Serve in a “rocks” glass with lemon or lime twist. Calories: 135 (100 calories if made with diet cranberry)

Caveman treats
A cookie company gives you a brownie recipe that will no doubt satisfy cave men as well as your brood. Caveman Cookies are based on the back-to-basics principles of the Paleolithic Diet of natural stuff. I’ve tried and enjoyed the slightly sweet and chewing sensation of cookies in original, alpine and tropical. It wasn’t just me, my testers went for seconds, too.
The company goes for dairy and gluten-free ingredients, to satisfy the caveman inside us all is craving a simpler time when food was not processed and was free of additives with only all-natural ingredients that the body can easily digest. Visit cavemancookies.com to learn more, and try these:

Paleo* Pumpkin Pecan Brownies
(*Paleolithic except for the chocolate… so enjoy it as a treat.)
2 eggs
4 ounces dark chocolate
½ cup honey
16 ounce unsalted almond butter
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, divided
3/4 cup pumpkin

1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, lightly whisk eggs; set aside. Break chocolate bar into pieces and combine with honey in saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat once chocolate is melted.

Add half the chopped pecans and all other remaining ingredients in bowl with eggs; pour in chocolate-honey mixture. Mix well. Pour batter into parchment-lined or lightly greased baking pan (9- by 13-inches) and sprinkle with remaining chopped pecans. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes until firm to the touch.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A cornmeal meal and something exotic. . .

My mom mentioned she needed to buy cornmeal, reminding me I’ve had about a cup full in the cupboard for years. I mean years. I cooked some up for the neighborhood’s stray cats and they were unimpressed.
But I can’t seem to throw anything out, so I started to play. I imagined toasting a tablespoon full in a skillet and cracking an egg on top. I went to the internet to see if someone else had tried this. I found that during the Depression, people mixed cornmeal into scrambled eggs to stretch their egg supply. Now eggs are about the least expensive thing to make into a main meal. So I made a crispy-bottomed fried egg with success. Then I did the same with discs of baked sweet potato and served it with bacon that also had a dab of cornmeal to make it extra crispy. I could eat this all week. Now I just have a half cup of cornmeal to use up.
By the way, my mom claims they don’t make corn meal the way they used to. She means the meal is more fine now, and that makes for a too “slick” dressing. She likes a good texture in her mouth. I’m sure I can find her some coarse ground somewhere, because since she pointed that out, she kind of ruined the dressing for me.

Roger Mooking does pizza like my family does omelets; it’s a standing date. A weekly pizza is a good way to get the whole family cooking and clean out the fridge to create something new with leftovers. He makes some dough on Sundays, takes his girls swimming and returns to assemble custom pizza.
It’s all in his book, “Everyday Exotic: The Cookbook,” written with Allan Magee and based on the TV show. Mooking was once called “exotic” by a teacher and has decided to live up to the title. His tip is that everything from hamburger to five spice is exotic to someone, so experiment, taste and enjoy.
This book offers a new way of experience ingredients you know. Your macaroni could be made into a curry pie and a switch to blood orange will give your dish a glow. Photos of dishes colored with spices will entice cooks. Dishes aren’t difficult, they’re bold. They have long titles to reflect ingredients, such as Nori-Crusted Salmon served with Soba Noodle Salad and Green Tea and Papaya Barbecued Chicken served with Coconut Rice and Watercress Papaya Salad. Roast an eggplant with nothing more than salt and pepper and shave your veggies to make Broccoli Dust. He grew up in the Caribbean and cooks with what he calls Obedient Ingredients. Here’s something to make with what you already have in your pantry. Marinate some wings and top with a crunchy peanut and pepper mixture, that’s also in the book.

Peanut Butter Marinade
2 cups smooth, natural peanut butter
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup soy sauce
½ cup brown sugar

½ cup water
juice of two limes
Zest of one lime
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
Place all the ingredients into a large bowl, stir to incorporate, set asice.
Store in a clean, air-tight container in the fridge for up to three days. Makes enough for four portions of Peanut Butter Chicken Wings.

Serving guests low cal vodka
We’ll come round to vodka in this discussion, so read on:
Invite your honey to the holidays with Honeydrop, a line of natural teas and juices with a spoon full of honey. Green Tea, Lemon Tea and Lemon Ginger Tea are new in the low-calorie line. I like the Blood Orange. I love how these natural companies have causes. Buy a Bottle - Save a Bee helps beehives get built around the country.
Hint Water takes it down a notch with a no-calorie unsweetened essence water in 10 flavors including Blackberry, Watermelon, Pomegranate-Tangerine, Strawberry-Kiwi, Mango-Grapefruit, and Raspberry-Lime. I’ve had some in the past and just tried another round, adding watermelon to vodka. Hint and Honeydrop are great ways for children to cut back on sugary drinks, and adults can work on their figures by mixing cocktails with them.

Voli Light Vodka makers say it is the first low calorie fruit and fusion flavored vodka in the world. Voli Light Vodkas are on average 25 to 40 percent lower in calorie than leading brands with natural ingredients. I got a great flavor and aroma from Lemon, Lyte and Raspberry Cocoa. Bottles look sleek, but don’t think this is all too girly. My husband liked the refreshing flavor combos you can concoct. The Orange Vanilla goes with apple cider and cinnamon stick; Lemon meets pomegranate and flamed orange zest to get Sympathy for the Devil; and Lyte, jalapeno and pineapple get you a spicy kick. The Voil Vamp, below, cuts calories big time:

Voil Vamp
1 1/2 ounce Voli Lemon (or Lyte)

1/4 ounce Chambord (Raspberry Liqueur)

2 ounce Cranberry juice

Top with club soda

Build over ice and stir

Serve in a “rocks” glass with lemon or lime twist. Calories: 135 (100 calories if made with diet cranberry)

Caveman treats
A cookie company gives you a brownie recipe that will no doubt satisfy cave men as well as your brood. Caveman Cookies are based on the back-to-basics principles of the Paleolithic Diet of natural stuff. I’ve tried and enjoyed the slightly sweet and chewing sensation of cookies in original, alpine and tropical. It wasn’t just me, my testers went for seconds, too.
The company goes for dairy and gluten-free ingredients, to satisfy the caveman inside us all is craving a simpler time when food was not processed and was free of additives with only all-natural ingredients that the body can easily digest. Visit cavemancookies.com to learn more, and try these:

Paleo* Pumpkin Pecan Brownies
(*Paleolithic except for the chocolate… so enjoy it as a treat.)
2 eggs

4 ounces dark chocolate

½ cup honey

16 ounce unsalted almond butter

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, divided

3/4 cup pumpkin

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, lightly whisk eggs; set aside. Break chocolate bar into pieces and combine with honey in saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat once chocolate is melted.

Add half the chopped pecans and all other remaining ingredients in bowl with eggs; pour in chocolate-honey mixture. Mix well. Pour batter into parchment-lined or lightly greased baking pan (9- by 13-inches) and sprinkle with remaining chopped pecans. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes until firm to the touch.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving thanks for pork belly, venison

Can pork belly salad “life changing?”
I was excited to be invited to the new Finch Hutton Restaurant on Boston Avenue in Nederland. I’d decided to try the pork belly salad discussed on the front page of the Port Arthur News. I asked around and learned pork belly is where bacon comes from. That, paired with pineapple, melon and a citrus dressing, sounded like a good adventure.
A waiter told me a diner had called the dish “life changing.” Well, I tell you, I haven’t stopped talking about mine. It was crispy, fatty and delicious. I was down two pounds the next day, so it must be a low-carb thing. I think the owner must have put it on the menu as a way to get more men to a fancy restaurant. The place is lovely, with a long design and gold-flecked walls that made as good an impression as my lunch. Other diners had beautiful plates. Entrée options include lamb burger, soft shell crab salad, New Orleans barbecued shrimp and grilled duck breast.

Love the holidays
Last week I had my first turkey of the season at the YMCA potluck and that evening attended an event with a Christmas tree. The potluck drew a Southeast Texas spread where cooks gave thanks with tamales and gumbo, too. The Silver Sneakers leader told me she had just tried quinoa with good results. While the food has been a highlight of every gathering I have attended recently, the chance to be with caring people has been the best part. Make sure you invited all the people you can accommodate to all your functions.

Any deer hunters in the house?
Probably not. They’re in the woods, right? I’ve had the pleasure of dining on a hunter’s catch only a handful of times. I’ve never had the challenge of seeking new ways to serve venison. Harold W. Webster Jr. has hunted and cooked across the country and you can bag his “The Complete Venison Cookbook.” The folks at Quail Ridge Press say it’s flying off the shelves.
Venison Steak Tartare with Eggs and Anchovy, Hot Venison Sausage and Apple Sandwich, Pepper Venison Burger with Stale Beer Sauce, Calcutta Venison and Venison Sausage and Seafood Ragout are some of the more unusual fare. There’s plenty of old school offerings in there, too. Don’t forget sides and dessert. Crackling Bread, Cranberry-Rice Stuffing, Mintade, File Powder and Horseradish Sauce (fumes require outdoor prep) are in this 419-pager. I’m impressed with the spread. By spread, I mean all the eclectic recipes. For an actual spread, try this:

Venison Marrow on Toast
Large venison upper leg bones
Saw the large upper venison marrow bones into 4- to 6-inch lengths. Roast bone pieces in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until fork can easily penetrate the soft marrow portion on the bones. Scoop out the marrow and serve as is or season with salt and pepper. Serve on toast.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Kick up the family’s fave: green bean casserole

Readers, y’all know I crave the exotic, but the classic holiday green bean casserole is not something I’ll ever turn down. Sometimes I add things that no one else thinks will be good, because they don’t want to stray from the original. I’ll have you know, the following add-ins are Campbell’s approved:

For added crunch, add ½ cup sliced almonds to the onion topping.
For bacon lovers, add 4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled, to the bean mixture.
For a festive touch, stir in chopped red pepper with soup.
For cheese lovers, stir in 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese with soup. Omit soy sauce. Sprinkle with an additional 1/2 cup additional Cheddar cheese when adding the remaining onions.
For Golden Green Bean Casserole, substitute Campbell's Condensed Golden Mushroom soup for Cream of Mushroom soup. Omit soy sauce. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped red pepper with the green beans.
For more ideas, tips and recipes for the holiday feast, visit www.CampbellsKitchen.com.
Can dessert get too adorable?
Pumpkin pie isn’t just for pilgrims anymore, two mini-cooks say. As if their tiny pies weren’t cute enough, they top them with tiny crust hearts or gingerbread people, etc. Some time ago, after a few pumpkin beers, Christy Beaver and Morgan Greenseth decided to get into the mini dessert business. Now they have a little book that tells you how to make pies in tiny mason jars, bake grapes into something heavenly and tempt with “Dirty Chai.” Savory Sweet Potato with Rosemary and Cayenne gets rosemary topping. These pies are just for one. They’re wee, and you won’t want to share. Here’s a topper from “Mini Pies”:
Basil Whipped Cream (for Sweet Strawberry Pie)
(Something you didn’t know you’d been missing out on.)
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup finely chopped and packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons sugar
¾ cup mascarpone cheese
Combine the cream, basil and sugar in a metal bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for two hours to infuse the whipping cream with basil flavor.
Chill the whisk attachment and bowl of an electric mixer in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Strain the solids out of the chilled cream mixture. Combine the cream mixture and the mascarpone cheese in the chilled mixer bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.
From the “mother grain”
I fell for quinoa the very second time I tried it. My first introduction to this “mother grain” was as a breakfast cereal, but maybe that’s just not my thing. Then I had it seasoned with garlic, pepper and was amazed at its versatility. I love that you can buy it in bulk and flavor as you like, and now I love Roland’s packets that cook as easily as a boxed mac and cheese dinner. Nutritious Andean quinoa is rich in fiber and amino acids and prized for its high protein content. I started with Toasted Sesame Ginger over a green salad, had a breakfast of egg over Roasted Garlic, and am warming myself through the adventure of several more flavors. Here are ideas from the makers:
-Toss Mediterranean Quinoa with cherry tomatoes, feta, fresh basil, lemon and olive oil.
-Pack Black Bean Quinoa, cheddar cheese, beans, and salsa into a flour tortilla for a healthy burrito
-Top Roasted Garlic Quinoa with a wilted greens and a fried egg
-Substitute Sesame Ginger Quinoa for rice in any stir fry—try cooking cabbage with snap peas or mushrooms in ginger, garlic and soy sauce

Monday, November 7, 2011

It’s time to ‘relish’ the cranberries
If you’re going to use canned cranberries, at least consider the whole cranberries. Avoid the jellied stuff that has ridges from the can still showing. Then, get creative and add some real orange zest, red peper, marmalade, walnuts (or pecans from the Golden Triangle Sertoma Club sale) or something with a little spice and texture. Try it out a week ahead of your party and play around with it all.

Cake equals art
Lips, moustaches, clowns, clouds, tiny tea pots, sushi and poker chips are a few designs Molly Bakes has up her sleeve. When she lost her job, she turned to cake and her stall at London’s Brick Lane Market is all the talk. Abundant photos make readers of “Crazy for Cake Pops” confidant they can achieve desired results. Here’s a very simple recipe (the real work is in the designs):
Peanut Butter Frosting
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 ½ tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
Cream the butter and peanut butter together. Gradually add the sugar, then continue to cream until light and fluffy. Finally, mix in the milk. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before using.

Something to drink with that?
I confess, I’m a “True Blood” fan, thanks to season check outs from my public library. Enhance your viewing pleasure with Tru Blood Beverage, a snappy carbonated water drink based on the libation vampires imbibe in the TV show. I sipped one of these straight and truly enjoyed the blood orange flavor. Of course, you can mix up concoctions like Lovin’ in the Coven or Faeries’ Nectar. Here’s one based on a main character’s name:
The Belve Compton
2.5 ounces Belvedere Orange
½ ounce lime juice
3 ounces ginger beer
3 ounces Tru Blood Beverage
Add all ingredients to a highball glass filled with cubed ice and garnish with an orange wedge.

Are you a Christian Dior cosmetics fan? Then you may be familiar with Icelandic Glacial Natural Spring Water. This past December, the company announced it would use this brand only to hydrate its skincare cosmetics products, because of its “optimal biological properties, including brightening efficacy.”
Just think how good it is as a beverage. I tried some of this good stuff that comes in a squared off bottle that looks like it was chipped from a block of ice. It’s bottled from Ölfus Spring, making it “microbiologically pure when extracted and free of even trace levels of contaminants, boasting a Total Dissolved Solid (TDS) level of 62 mg/l.” Purely delicious.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Holidays a good time to savor ginger ale
One of my parents’ friends would tote ginger ale to parties because she did not partake of adult beverages. I was just a kiddo when she let me taste hers and I became a fan. My daughter and I enjoy some around the holidays.
Q Ginger is billing individual servings of organic agave ale with real ginger, coriander, cardamom, rose oil, cayenne and orange peel as “Finally, a ginger ale for adults.” One sip made me a huge fan. Q Tonic was bitter to my husband’s taste. That’s because it’s supposed to be, I assured him. It also features agave and “real quinine from real trees, not a lab,” as the info card indicates. I realize you’re supposed to mix this with gin or vodka, but I rather enjoyed a sip alone, as it put me in a European bistro mood.

A little bit sweet
Little candy dots pouring out of brightly colored plastic tubes look like most other children’s candies, but SparX, makers of the fruity bites, think these sweeties could make a better candy choice for your oral health with natural xylitol. Corn cobs, birch trees and other sources make up the sweeter. I couldn’t make this up. The company reports: “Xylitol contains 40 percent fewer calories than sugar, has a net carb level of only 0.4 per gram, and has minimal impact on blood-sugar levels, making it an appropriate sugar substitute for diabetics. Xylitol is absorbed slowly by the body, resulting in a low glycemic index of seven compared to sugars index of 83 (or higher).”
Xlear, Inc. (pronounced “clear,” the leading manufacturer of xylitol based products in the United States, cranks ‘em out. Tastes like candy. Xlear also makes a nasal spray, a dental defense system, tooth gel and floss.


Mole to go
A panini grill is a preferred way to heat Red’s All Natural burritos, with an oven as a second-best option. If you’re hungry enough and you can head to the microwave, but I wouldn’t suggest it. While the brand boasts composition from highest quality veggies, beans and spices with antibiotic and hormone-free meats, cradled in light wheat flour tortilla, make sure you read the label if counting calories. One burrito is two servings, so grab a burrito buddy and share. If you are already predisposed to the flavor, texture and filling quality of this dish, Red’s will fit the bill with turkey mole, steak, chicken and bean and rice varieties. In other words, this burrito tastes exactly like you think it will.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Be prepared in the kitchen; play with your oranges
Did I ever tell you about the time I thought I was tossing popcorn kernels into my hot air popper and it turned out it was yellow lentils?
It’s not the worst thing that’s happened in that kitchen. In fact, I redeemed my self by playing with oranges:

Orange salad

What I just did with an orange surprised even me. I added diced onions and cucumber to chilled orange slices and spiced it up with peppercorns for a very filling treat. It was so good, I made almost the same thing the next day.

Spicy stuff
McCormick Kitchens has compiled a list of the Top 10 most-searched for family dinner recipes. Any of these sound familiar?
Pork Chops
Chicken Soup
Beef Stew
I’ll take some of each. Visit www.spicesforhealth.com for more ideas.

Fall for this dessert:
White Lily suggests combining two or three varieties such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious or Gala for Fall Fruit Crisp with Berries. Make the crumbled topping is made with White Lily Self-Rising Flour, butter, and white and brown sugars mixed together to resemble coarse bread crumbs.

Fall Fruit Crisp with Berries

Crisco Original No-Stick Spray

Fruit Mixture
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon White Lily Self-Rising Flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups peeled, cored and chopped baking apples
2 cups peeled, cored and chopped pears
2 cups chopped plums
2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries, thawed

2 cups White Lily Self-Rising Flour
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup salted butter, melted
1 3/4 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup chopped pecans, almonds or walnuts
Vanilla ice cream

Heat oven to 350° F. Coat 13 x 9-inch baking dish with no-stick cooking spray.
Combine granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, cinnamon and ginger in large bowl. Add fruit and berries. Stir to coat. Pour into prepared baking dish.
Combine 2 cups flour and dark brown sugar in a medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir with a fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in oats and nuts. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over fruit mixture.
Bake on middle rack of oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Move to top rack of oven and bake 10 more minutes until topping is golden brown. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Makes 12 servings


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Oh My Gosh! Guys, Learn to cook!

Some people don’t know how easy it is to mix crab meat, mayo, cheddar, horseradish and French dressing into a snappy dip. Others don’t realize how pine nuts can dress up a salad and there are poor dears who haven’t even made quick cheese grits or French toast. Hollis Ledbetter has met these new adults who have moved out of the house and are suddenly faced with feeding themselves. After boning up on her book, readers may even want to host parents for dinner or . . . throw a party.
“Oh My Gosh! I’m in College and I Never Learned to Cook” covers basics and gets creative. I do like the emphasis on young people having fun with the whole deal enough to invite friends over to taste their accomplishments. Where there’s food, there’s fun. Some may learn to cook, others may learn to eat better. Here’s one made with healthy stuff:

Black Beans and Chopped Avocado Dip
1 ripe avocado, diced
1 16-ounce can black beans, drained
3 medium tomatoes
1 8-ounce can corn
½ cup red onion
1 ½ cup salsa
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
To prepare, take the seed out of the avocado and scoop out the meat into a bowl. Dice the onion and tomatoes. Combine avocado, beans, tomatoes, corn and onions. Mix salsa, lime juice, olive oil and sugar together, and pour over the avocado and bean mixture. Chill for two to three hours. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips.

The spirit program
Many of us pray before meals. Thomas C. Kaut keeps up a prayerful attitude with “Spirit” Matrix” “Spirit Healing,” “Spirit Netting” and other names for his program throughout the chewing and digestive process, and through selection of the next meal. Scripture spices his message as he reminds readers to be grateful for air and water and stay away from junk food. His book is “The New Millennium Christian Health Program and Kaut ends each chapter with an “Amen.”

The Consious Plate
Chef Randy Rabney, owner of TheConsciousPlate.com, offers a “blueprint” on keeping stocked, cooking simply and making it good and good for you. The new book is “Delicious for Life: Your Everyday Guide to Making Quick & Healthy Meals.” With space for notes and ideas to create your own signature dishes, this little book is best-suited to readers who think they can’t do it all. Rabney aims to show they can. Tips include:
Make the most of the flavor combinations you love by using them in multiple dishes. For example, if you love tomato and basil, you can make whole wheat spaghetti with zucchini, fresh tomato and basil, a mozzarella tomato and basil salad, or zucchini, onion, tomato and basil frittata with parmigano reggiano.
Tired of having your fresh vegetables go to waste? Make a creative pasta sauce by sautéing vegetables and garlic and combining them with a small amount of high-quality marinara sauce. Or for an Asian inspired noodle dish, instead of marinara, use a small amount of organic soy sauce and dark sesame oil and toss in soba or rice noodles.
If your sweet tooth kicks in, eat cherry tomatoes or beets that are naturally sweet. Or, you can roast the vegetables at 450 degrees so that they become caramelized and the sugar is released, thus making them taste sweeter.
I’ve already been making something like Rabney’s Banana Ice “Cream” recipe:
Ingredients: 3 very ripe frozen bananas, 1 fresh banana, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional), 1 tablespoon of milk of your choice (nut, cow's milk, etc).
Step 1: Take the very ripe bananas, peel them, and break them into chunks and freeze.
Starry nights and lots of spice for October

Blue with Van Gogh
Van Gogh Vodka has two new flavors for fall: Rich Dark Chocolate and Cool Peach. What I have tried from the culinary artists in Holland is Acai-Blueberry Vodka, which got me with straight up flavor, after I was already smitten by the flamingo on the label. It seems like you wouldn’t want to add anything else, since there’s hints of raspberry and almond. But if you’d like a cocktail, here it is:

Starry Night
4 ounces sparkling rose
1 ounce Van Gogh Acai-Blueberry Vodka
Pour chilled van Gogh Acai-Blueberry vodka into a flute. Top with Sparkling Rose wine and garnish with a starfruit.

I’m reading up on the chocolate version, offering hints of coffee, nutmeg and spice and notes of coffee, chili pepper, caramel, and exotic spice. They’ve gone all Aztec on it. The peach is a customer request.
Van Gogh Imports in Orlando, Florida, also brings Ron Abuelo Anejo, which has won lots of awards, yet is in a very reasonable price range. Fall is a good time for rum and this one offers estate-grown sugar cane from Panama. The company started in 1908 and its third generation is producing this satisfying blend with hints of sweet fruit, toasted coconut, vanilla, mocha, nuts and sweet spice. It’s a reason to celebrate the season.

Nuts about ‘em
Mix brown rice and almonds and what do you get? Nacho chips. Or Sour Cream and Chive chips. Maybe you’d prefer to stick with Sea Salt? Blue Diamond Almonds makes the flat, triangular snacks that are wheat and gluten free while coming out with significantly less saturated fat than potato chips. Don’t pretend it’s a tortilla chip. It’s got its own personality. Think “interesting cracker,” then try it with cheese or guacamole. It’s a tasty match.

Naked Juice
I know a woman who works out and refreshes with a bottled juice that seems to have more calories than she just burned off. Be aware and read labels of what’s tagged to be “good for you.” If you down the bottle, you may be drinking more than one serving.
Naked Juice has a tasty alternative to the super-sweet stuff with smoothies in a bottle. They offer two new flavors: Reduced Calorie Lychee and Reduced Calorie Citrus Lemongrass. Bet you’d never have thought of mixing one of these up. Makers use “100-percent bare-naked ingredients” such as coconut water and mango. Very refreshing. I used some to flavor up French toast, so I’ve been “Naked” cooking with this product as well.

Their loss is our spicy gain
Celeste De Armas and Corina Mascaro met at college, where their longing for dishes from their native Cuba lead to discussion of their “freshman 15” weight gain. Through a search for a healthy lifestyle, they eventually launched Nueva Cocina Foods, what they say is the nation’s first line of all-natural and authentic Latin rice dishes, seasonings and soups. Now their company offers 17 different items featuring authentic recipes from Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain and other Latin countries. Most are vegetarian and gluten-free. I’ve tried Chipotle Taco, Picadillo and Taco Fresco seasoning packets in unusual ways. They smell amazing and they’ve got to be wonderful in meat. I’ve mixed them in to eggs and vegetables on a week I wanted to eat modestly. Dried raisins and olives plump up well in the picadillo and there’s a different aroma going on when compared to our beloved Tex-Mex. It’s a good, hearty pick for fall.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What to eat in October: Start with chocolate and wine

I began with Toffee Interlude, then went to 60 percent, 72 percent, then, the highest I’ve ever taken it: 86 percent cacao. Ghirardelli’s Midnight Reverie is dark chocolate meant be paired with dry red wine, strawberries and cheese. It’s savory, and an adventure. I think I’m most comfortable at 60 percent, Evening Dream. That’s dark enough to keep my husband out of the Ghirardelli, though he’s way into the Toffee Interlude. These squares are so good and satisfying, a reasonable person can ration out one a day to make them last. Are you reasonable?

In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company has teamed with Leslie Sbrocco share pairings for Ghirardelli Intense Dark chocolates, in support of the National Breast Cancer Foundation. They can inspire a Girl’s Night Out Pairing. Through December, specially marked pink ribbon packages of Intense Dark found at grocery and specialty retailers nationwide will carry a code inside the package redeemable for a $1 donation to the NBCF (up to $100,000).

www.intensedarkpairings.com has the scoop.

Drink with a Vampyre/Vampire

I perfectly timed consumption of a refreshing Blood Berry Martini on my front lawn at dusk. A bat flew overhead following my final sip. Mexican fre-tail, I’m pretty sure. Perfection. I made the recipe that Vampyre Wickedly Smooth blood-red vodka provided. By the way, I improvised with brown sugar.

Blood Berry Martini

1.5 oz Vampyre Vodka, red

2 strawberries, hulled and sliced

1 oz orange juice (blood orange juice, if available)

0.5 oz lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

Half a strawberry, for garnish

· Directions: In a cocktail shaker, muddle the strawberries with the orange juice and sugar. Add the Vampyre Vodka. Top with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a half strawberry.

Vampire Vineyards has selections from where “a vineyard where the fruit is night-picked and the winemakers are sworn to secrecy.” I could say, don’t wait until Halloween to try their syrah with black cherry and cark chocolate flavors and a “jammy” finish. I didn’t. But, I have to confess. I’d like to save the Cabernet Sauvignon until Halloween. It comes with a Lord Byron verse on the label and the promise of adventure. Every year there seems to be drink recipes that call out the sexy vampire. This line simply wants to be uncorked.

Autumn with Sailor Jerry

After tasting Sailor Jerry Rum, I’m put in the mind of local band Hanna’s Reef, which Jerry Diaz promotes as Texas Beach music. Both the rum and the band are in the “kick back” style. It’s spicy and strong and full of fall flavor. Fortunately, Sailor Jerry Rum Brand Ambassador Paul Monahan (what a cool title) created a “handful of special cocktails” to usher in the season. Here’s one that will make you ready for the next Cayman Fest:

Autumn Bite

-1.5 part Sailor Jerry

-1.5 part lemonade

Top with black cherry soda

Add Sailor Jerry and lemonade to ice filled mixing glass. Shake and pour into fresh rocks filled highball glass. Top with black cherry soda. Garnish with cherry.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bring it: Grape Salad

Yes, I have played with wheat berries, but not at the same time I experimented with grapes that California fresh grape growers promote. They sent a recipe for Wheat Berry Salad with Caramelized Onions and Grapes and note a pairing “with the deep sweet of the soft onions and the subtle sweetness and juicy texture of the grapes.” They add chewy wheat berries, peppery arugula and the bite of feta cheese, for a dish diners will spoon up to the last morsels in the salad bowl. You can “bring it” to parties. Here’s how to make four servings:
1 cup wheat berries
6 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 cups green and red seedless California grapes, halved
1 cup baby arugula, washed and dried
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or pinch cayenne
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Cook the wheat berries in a pot of boiling, salted water until they are cooked but still quite crunchy, about 55 to 60 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Meanwhile, heat 5 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they are dark brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Stir the onions into the drained wheat berries and cool slightly. Stir in the thyme, grapes and arugula.
For the dressing: Using a chef’s knife, mash and chop the garlic on a cutting board with the salt until it becomes a paste. Transfer to a bowl and add the vinegar, pepper and remaining tablespoon of oil. Blend well and pour over the salad. Mix well, sprinkle with feta and serve.

Grill Lean
Yes, we Southeast Texans love the fatty meats on the grill, but a doc shares tips for finding new favorites. Vivienne Halpern, MD, a member of the Society for Vascular Surgery, says your family can learn to love chicken, fish, turkey and sirloin are lean proteins that are lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than hot dogs and full-fat hamburgers. Turkey, buffalo and veggie burgers are great on the grill, and olive oil-based marinades and lemon juice give barbequed meats and vegetables added flavor. Think squash, zucchini, peppers or tomatoes served over a bed of rice and round out the meal with a fresh garden salad and watermelon for dessert. No one would go hungry with this plan.

Spreadable update
I told y’all about Earth Balance Organic Coconut Spread for baking and cooking. I’m loving it on toast and even drizzled warm over popcorn. I’m enjoying the companion piece, Earth Balance MindfulMayo dressing and sandwich spread. It’s a dairy- and egg-free vegan spread that’s transformed my basmati rice into a fragrant salad when tossed with cilantro. I haven’t kept mayo in the house for years, but I’m thinking of amazing ways to use this little jar. Makers urge users to “Spread the joy.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

“The Kosher Carnivore”
I expected some good beef and chicken recipes in “The Kosher Carnivore,” billed as The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Cookbook,” but June Hersh surprised me with recipes for chicken fried steak and guacamole. Kosher sounds tasty to me. I love how she urges cooks to get to know their pepper mill, because sometimes you want to really taste that pepper and sometimes it should hang in the background. I also love that there are so many good recipes that plenty of non-meat options, such as a low-calorie version of creamed spinach and a cranberry chutney will be my first tries, along with this:
Horseradish Cream
½ cup good quality mayonnaise
2 tablespoons jarred or freshly-grated horseradish
1 clove garlic, peeled and grated
Pinch of wasabi, optional
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the horseradish. Grate the garlic clover over the bowl and combine. Stir in the wasabi powder, if using, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to use.

Taste the burn
Burn is a workout program that I’m not familiar with, but Burn’s Lisa Corsello has some calorie cutting tips that I already use:
Sour Cream: Instead of sour cream, which has around 200 calories per 100grams, use low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt (70 calories per 100 grams). The flavor difference is virtually unnoticeable and you’ll get a boost in protein.
Cheese and Crackers: When craving a cheese snack, substitute celery, which has only 10 calories per medium stalk, for the crackers. You'll still be able to get the benefit of the protein, calcium and flavor of the cheese, while avoiding the empty calories in the crackers.
Tacos, Burritos, and Wraps: If Mexican food is your weakness, you’re in luck. Tortilla makers have made tremendous strides toward cutting the fat and calories and bumping up the fiber. Bonus! A variety of fajita and burrito-sized tortillas can be found at your local grocery store for less than 90 calories per serving.
When dining out at your favorite Mexican Restaurant, ask to substitute 2 corn tortillas for 1 made of flour or wheat. One corn tortilla has around 70 calories, while flour tortillas have 180-200+ calories.
Soda: If you're craving a fizzy sweet soda (which averages 136 calories), try mixing sparking water (0 calories) with a splash of apple juice (around 30 calories).
Coffee: If you enjoy getting a daily espresso drink at your local cafe, try this simple substitution: Instead of one tall latte, which has 150 cal, order one tall cappuccino and save yourself about 60 calories.

Orange you glad
Oranges look great as a fall centerpiece. You can take a Sharpie pen and draw faces them like jack-o-lanterns, stick cloves in them for potpourri and candy the slices for holiday

Arthritis in the kitchen
Mix cake batter in a pitcher, instead of a heavy bowl, for easier pouring. It could ease your joints, the Arthritis Foundation suggests in a very handy little book, “Tips for Good Living With Arthritis.” A travel mug with a lid, bending straws and plastic mugs are good options for better gripping, and plates with a curved rim could help aching hands spoon food better, are tips from the book. Some ideas take kitchen items out of the box. Consider a wooden pizza paddle to help tuck sheets under the mattress. The more than 700 tips are for every room and beyond. Close drawers and push chairs under the table by using your backside, is another helpful hint.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Take five for quick cooking; tailgate time

I had to stop reading a cookbook on page 62, because I had already gotten so many ideas I had to catch up with myself. I love experimenting, saving time and being economical, so the new Quail Ridge Press “More Fast & Fabulous Five-Star 5-Ingredient (or less!) Recipes” book from Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley is good reading for me.
I had thought about cooking strips of bacon into all the crackers I had acquired, imagining they’d come out crispy and addictive. These women already did it, and called them bacon bows. They make a bread with nothing but flour and ice cream. There’s a beer omelet. Sigh. Good stuff. I’m sharing another one I never would have thought of, before savoring the rest of the book. It’s actually one of the more elaborate ones:

Sweet Tomato Jelly
5 pounds ripe tomatoes
8 cups sugar
2 lemons, thinly sliced
Scald tomatoes so peelings can be easily removed. Peel and chop tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Cover with sugar and let stand overnight.
Next day, drain juice into a large stockpot. Bring to a boil and boil until threads form. Add tomatoes and lemons. Allow to cool When thick and clear, pack in hot sterilized jars and seal.
A Big, Easy tailgate
How about those Lamar Cards? If you are on tailgate duty, consider a dirty jambalaya bar. I couldn’t dream this up: Zatarains sent me the tip:
* Set up a Dirty Jambalaya bar with different add-ins, like chicken, beef or sausage; and vegetables, like peppers, mushrooms and onions, for fans to customize their own perfect party plate.
* Seafood lovers can mix in shrimp or crawfish along with the meats and veggies for the ultimate flavor experience.
* Tailgating at the stadium? Prepare Dirty Jambalaya in advance and take it with you to the game. It’s easily eaten off paper plates, so no extra equipment is needed and clean-up is a breeze. All you need is a fork to enjoy!
Visit www.Facebook.com/Zatarains for more exclusive tailgating tips and recipes, as well as a chance to win a trip to the 2012 Allstate® BCS National Championship in New Orleans. Follow Zatarain’s on Twitter: (@MyZatarains).

Goin’ Green with purple
Fill ‘er up with Copco’s colorful Stir ‘n Sip Cups in crazy colors that keep you from filling up the landfill. I like a banana shake breakfast on the way to work and this cup, available at Bed Bath and Beyond stores for $7.99, is a winner with a paddle-bottom straw to keep the drink mixed. Mine’s purple, so I think I know a whole school district who could go for that. You’ve got a clear cup and lid with a colorful “coaster” band and the serviceable straw. Upcoming Halloween versions come in Crossbones, Midnight Branches and Damask.

And something for your Stir n’ Sip
Healthy food advocates talk about “ingredients you can’t pronounce” that make junk food. Our tongues and palates should be getting used to words like organic yerba mate and matcha green tea, which are in the powders of Amazing Grass which “has been sprouting some of the most vibrant ‘nutrition convenience’ ideas for years.” They’ve come out with Lemon Lime Green Energy Drink Powder, with the antioxidant equivalent of 7 servings of fruits and vegetables, giving “ a convenient and energizing means to achieve the recommended 5 to 9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables.”
I’ve tried the Green Superfood blend a few times and still find the organic wheat grass, barley grass, alfalfa, spirulina, spinach, chlorella and broccoli with other ancient superfoods including açaí and maca give me a feeling of mowed grass, but add-ins like banana blend a smoothie that transports me into a healthy mode. Makers say the blend “includes an enhanced digestive enzyme and active probiotic blend to improve nutrient absorption.” That’s got to be better than a plastic bag of what many Americans gulp down on the way to work.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Best women have done the work for you
Use your imagination to taste the joys of avocado pudding, jambalaya grits, onion fries and watermelon pickles. I can’t immediately prove it, but I think I’ve shared an earlier book from Best of the Best before. Three cooks have released “Recipe Hall of Fame: Fresh from the Farmers Market Cookbook” in the “Best” series, which gleans winning recipes from other sources. I love all kinds of cookbooks, but this is one that features something I not only want to make, but can make pretty easily, on nearly every page.
They’re all about fresh, and some are very quick, too. One’s got a slaw recipe with crushed Ritz crackers and grated sharp cheddar cheese. Another has a note that the recipe for Orange Mint drink is so important, it ought to be issued with Social Security numbers. Here’s just one that Gwen McKee, Terresa Ray and Barbara Moseley rounded up:

Edisto Stew
2 12-ounce cans beer
6-8 ears corn
2 teaspoons crab boil seasoning
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 pound link sausage, sliced
1 pound shrimp, unpeeled
Bring beer and enough water to cover corn to a boil, add corn and seasonings. Let simmer 5 minutes, then add sausage and simmer 5 minutes. Add shrimp and cook until pink. Drain and spread on newspaper. Dive in; pretend you’re on the island. (“Recipes & Memories,” from South Carolina)

September marks the 21st year of National Rice Month, sponsored by the USA Rice Federation. The group reports U.S.-grown rice contributes $34 billion in economic activity in America and provides 128,000 jobs annually. That’s enough for me to cook up a pot.

Coffee with Wolfgang
If you want to stick to 120 calories, you already have a treat in Wolfgang Puck’s new line of iced coffees in four flavors. His signature in glass is raised on the little milk-bottle shaped servings. But if Café au Lait, Vanilla Fusion, Crème Caramel and Double Blended Mocha are great in the morning think how tempting they’d be as bases for drinks enjoyed in the evenings. Taste toasted, notes, Tahitian vanilla, Viennese chocolate and organic goods in these various blends, as the come. Wolfgang has a few add-in ideas:
Siberian Espresso
Covoa Iced Coffee
2 ounces Wolfgang Puck Café au Lait
1 ½ ounces vodka
½ ounce kahlua
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake well for 10 seconds. Strain into a martini glass.

Crunchy Yogurt
This is one is designed for kids, who will think it’s fun to crunch drops of freeze-dried yogurt, without realizing it’s organic and good for them. Little pouches to slip in the lunch box remind me of Pop Rocks but Plum Organics and Revolution Foods have made Yo’ Drops out of 100 percent certified organic & hormone-free yogurt that’s mixed with real fruit and freeze-dried it into tiny drops. I tried the crunchy yogurt over fresh fruit. It’s got a “candy” sensation children ought to go for. This is from the folks who gave children and their health-conscious parents Mashups Fruit & Veggie Smoothies, also designed for on-the-go children.

The cheese investment
I’ve mentioned before that I’d like to “invest” in a cheese that’s so rich tasting you just need a little bit to get flavor satisfaction. Grana Padano is a hard hunk of sweet, nutty flavor that works with luncheon meats, fruits and vegetables and it works for those who are lactose intolerant, makers say. They ought to know, because monks in Northern Italy discovered about 1,000 years ago they could work with curds and whey and create the world’s first hard cheese, Grana Padano literature reports. It’s an Italian DOP, which to us is a PDO, meaning Protected designation of Origin. It gets tests, brands, marks and stamps to prove it is what it is. . . high quality cheese. I’m enjoying it as an appetizer, but the guide suggests packing it in a lunch box kabob style, with cherry tomatoes and gherkins or even little dippers with hummus and fruit spreads.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pack my Insanewich, I’m ready for school
Even as a child my lunches never included the bland white-bread sandwich. Whatever unique filling it contained would be on Roman Meal bread. Adrian Fioring must have grown up experimental to create “Insanewiches: 101 Ways to think outside the lunchbox. Imagining opening your brown bag to find something like these:
* The Rubix Cubewich
* The Pancake Popwich — an irresistible breakfast on a stick

* The Sumo Sandwich — a heavyweight that’s overstuffed with steak, chicken, salmon, assorted mushrooms, radish and scallions

Maybe you’d like to wake up a golfer with a Toad in the Hole in one. It features a golf ball garnish. The Soulwich is a chicken waffle sandwich topped by an olive. What the Breadwich? is bound with a mushroom “bun.” The Cordless Mousewich with USB Cheestick is modern marvel to get kids from the computer room to the kitchen. What fun.
• The photos are amazing. Everyone in the house will want to join in to create faces, architecture and tom foolery that will nourish you. It’s not just for kids. Grownups can assemble the Cosmo Martini Sandwich, made with a cranberry muffin and orange slices, just for the girls.
 Go from Sunrisewiches to Dessertwiches; Eventwiches are for occasions; Gamewiches are sporting; and meals for every personality.

• Wear an Icy Diamond to lunch
• A diabetic chocolate distributor mom invented Icy Diamond’s totes with an insulated silver lining. Maybe the silver lining is that you can look so cool while keeping up with your insulin, healthy snacks, teething rings, cosmetics and other goodies you must ice. Adorable little bags with an ID pocket can hook on your belt loop, drape crossbody or loop into a fanny pack. This mom invented a backpack for bigger, icier situations. Wee little ice cold packs slip into the pockets and you’re ready to hit the road. I love it.

More for the lunch box
Oroweat’s Healthfull in 10-grain and Nuttygrain has protein fiber and flavor. It’s beautiful bread and makes the difference between a quick bite and a meal. I’m enjoying it with new Planter’s peanut butter that I got with a coupon at Kroger and Earth Balance coconut spread I found at Basic Foods in Beaumont. A BF employee said coconut anything is a big mover, because of proclaimed health benefits. I loved the spread on Oroweat toast, sprinkled with cinnamon. My racy red toaster has been busy. I’m still seeking Earth Balance “Mindful Mayo.”

Breakfast blues
Bagel thins made it into my house and I dug out some pesto to make breakfast. A powerful aroma of blueberry hit me when I opened the package, so I scanned the label longer: New Thomas’ Blueberry Bagel Thins are made with whole grain with 110 calories a serving. I traded pesto for butter and had a splurge with far fewer calories, thanks to Thomas cutting out the middle of the bagel. My daughter and I were happy to get good bagel flavor without that heavy feeling that you over did it. Because of all the fiber, they satisfy your palate and bring a boost of flavor to your morning. Where was Thomas when I needed school-morning breakfasts?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Iced coffee on top of the beverage trend
My mom thinks she was among the first to start the iced coffee trend around here, back in the ‘80s. She ordered it at a restaurant and the waitress said they didn’t have it. My mother had to convince her that if they had ice, and coffee, they could make her a batch.
Now The Food Channel lists it among the Top Ten Beverage Trends for 2011. By partnering with CultureWaves® ( www.culturewav.es ), the International Food Futurists®, and Mintel International ( www.mintel.com), The Food Channel has been able to identify the most significant beverage trends in dessert for 2011, from adding flavors to water, to new adult beverages, to drinking for enhanced nutritional benefits, The Food Channel reports. The year’s not over, so consider raising your glass to some of this:
The Food Channel Top Ten Dessert Trends in 2011
1. D.I.Y. Flavor— Many of us are taking flavor matters into our own hands.
2. Parental Discretion Advised— We’re still seeing lots of buzz around beverages and kids.
3. Iced Coffee Is Scalding Hot— Consumption of this cold caffeinated beverage has heated up.
4. For Medicinal Purposes Only— There’s certainly no shortage of ways to “drink to your health.”
5. Sipping Seasonally and Simply— In much the same way we’re eating local and choosing foods when they’re in season, we’re making a more conscious effort to drink that way, too.
6. Fast Food Beyond the Fizz—T here are changes happening here, too, with specialty drinks getting as much play as burgers and fries.
7. Craft Beers: The Buzz Is Back— While overall beer sales are flat these days, sales of craft brews are seeing double-digit increases.
8. Bourbon Booming —The retro revival of the classic cocktail has hip young consumers bellying up to the bar for whiskey.
9. Show Biz— While the food generally takes center stage in restaurant exhibitionism, beverages are being offered more starring roles.
10. Drinking Ourselves Thin—We want to enjoy our drinks without drinking in the extra calories.

Put the lime in the coconut
For zero calories, I – as the song goes – put the lime in the coconut and drank it all up. Thank you to R. W. Knudsen Family for giving me the opportunity to write that headline and giving everyone the chance to enjoy a lightly-flavored, fizzy drink on the go. It was a real treat with no guilt. Organic Lime and Organic Coconut are two new flavors in the Sparkling Essence line. They put the infused organic ingredients in the sparkling spring water and put it in cans, so all that’s left for you is to drink it. Makers say it fits in well on the MyPlate food guide, and with the other organic flavors of lemon, cucumber, blueberry and mint.

Sharpie love in the kitchen
Here I go again in praise of Sharpie. While the original permanent marker is a must-have for marking freezer items, try out a new creation in the pantry. Gel highlighters have a unique head for bright yellow, orange and other colors to squeeze out the perfect amount of bright color onto you boxes of packaged food so you can quickly note amounts, fiber content, etc. I love how the writing has the edges of a crayon, so you your work looks creative. Of course, they rock you office papers, and even magazine pages, too.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Where’s my travel show?

My best road trips have a theme, like the one to Arkansas where I found a single Goldfish cracker under not one, but two different hotel beds. What are the odds?

This trip it was new cars. Paper plates rustled in the Texas wind in numbers like I’d never seen. That must be good news for the economy.

I spent my dollars in restaurants, and didn’t regret it.

I don’t know how it happened, but I’ve become an Anthony Bourdain fan from Travel Channel’s “No Reservations.” He’s eaten intestines from around the globe, and I want some, too. In Houston, I made do with octopus from the Yori Yori Korean Soft Tofu & Grill.

It’s in the 99 Ranch Market near Katy, a grocery store that is nearly all noodles, exotic produce and all things Asian. The grill featured stone bowls set in wooden squares with hot, hot, hot food in the bowl. I moved vegetables and octopus around to reveal what looked like bright yellow sauce resting on rice. It was apparently a cracked egg, that soon cooked up into the food. Some crazy rice paper rolls that were sweet like dessert sealed the deal.

At 9:30 p.m. this market was packed with families and the bakery in particular was doing amazing business with two-for-one deals. Customers got a tray lined with paper and grabbed tongs to select beautiful, colorful pastries. Even thought the confections were moving fast, it seems the laden tables were like the loaves and fishes, and never go bare.

Phone it in

Because I love finding places on my own, I’m not sure how much I liked that Urban Spoon, something you can get on a smart phone, helped me find 369 Oriental Bistro by a favorite book store on Westheimer in Houston. Regulars give it great reviews and I enjoyed every bite. I didn’t get to try the crispy spicy asparagus appetizers that are much discussed.

Triple Delight

Kim Son restaurant, just about across from the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, is a family favorite. There, Triple Delight is a dish with Vietnamese Fajitas, Honey-Glazed Shrimp and Chicken. The phrase also represented the three delighted diners – me, my mother and my husband – who left a table with nary a grain of rice left. We shared dishes including Sugar Cane Shrimp, which was a paste molded around a soft “stick” of sugar cane which you could kind of munch and get some sweet juice. A bowl of warm water was placed at my side with no explanation, so we wondered if it was for cleaning up. Alas, we saw diners at the next table using the water to soften rice paper and roll their own spring rolls tableside. I make those at home, in the kitchen, so I didn’t figure that out. Mini faux pas aside, we can’t wait to get back to Kim Son.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

The leftovers needed an Asian kick
My run with Azuki beans isn’t over. I loved them in this past week’s Culinary Thrill Seeking. I tried to make my own bean paste in a blender with beans, yogurt and mung beans I was planning to sprout, but decided to eat early. My husband realized I made this double bean mixture to use as a dip for green beans. I tried to make it Asian with ginger and pepper, but it needed an extra kick that could come from something like sesame seed oil.

Delight in every bite
Many healthy snacks have a Fig Newton composition, and I’m beginning to really crave that as a signal the bar will be fulfilling and nutritious. Navitas Naturals is packaging bags of Power Snack in Superfood form of: Cacao Goji; Blueberry Hemp; and Citrus Chia. I love the chewy cubes that pack a nutty bite. Maybe you can’t eat just one, but two will fill you up. I tried the cacao and citrus and love them.

Presto: It’s pesto
Not everyone can step out by the front porch and glean fresh basil to whir up a pesto. Those who can’t can try Romarsi Pesto to Go and drizzle it on pasta, chicken, pizza, vegetables and crusty bread or mozzarella.
Makers have more ideas: Spread it over Panini’s or mix it into wraps; make a marinade for chicken, pork chops or steak; and liven up a party dip.
While I actually do have a friend who keeps her homemade stash in small containers in her freezer, Romarsi is a flavorful alternative for those without those skills. My husband and I just knew we would like the thick, green basil flavor best, but we both tried to nudge the Kalamata Olive blend closer to our plates. Our first try was on a baked potato. Pasta, here we come.

Mama Mia! Dine with the underbosses at Sertoma
Moe Green salad is on the menu at a Godfather/gangster themed Mama Mia Italian dinner to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network and American Cancer Society.
A $25 ticket will help good causes and promote a good time with the Golden Triangle Sertoma Club Inc. The event will be at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at The Courtyard Café in Groves.
“This is so much fun,” Emily Sonier, president, said.
Debbie Neef has donated a black Coach Bag that someone will go home with. It’s valued at $268. For information, call Linda Hebert at 963-4882.

Fisher on the small screen
Frances Fisher, formerly of Orange, appears in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” a 2011 now-on-DVD selection starring Matthew McConaughey as “ a sleazy defense attorney who has a crisis of conscience when he represents a wealthy client who has a foolproof plan to beat the system.”
I can’t say any more about her role, but I did enjoy the movie, which features several other major stars.
Independent Movie Data Base has this in Fisher’s bio:
“Her father worked in oil refinery construction, so she moved regularly. She was born in England and moved about every year until she was in 7th grade, when the family settled in Orange, Texas.”

Big Thicket: Read All About It
Maxine Johnston, editor of The Big Thicket Reporter,” helped edit Lorraine G. Bonney’s “The Big Thicket Guidebook: Exploring the Backroads and History of Southeast Texas.” Look for it this fall. For more information, contact Maxine@mxjohnston.com

Monday, August 1, 2011

Azuki takes beans and rice Far East
The red azuki beans looked so pretty in a Mason jar in my pantry that I didn’t think about cooking them. Their time had come, so I put them on to boil before researching their origin. I did know there are several ways to spell this bean. Once I realized they were grown in East Asian and the Himalayas, and make up “bean paste” in dishes I love, it was easy to find an Asian bean salad recipe. I didn’t even finish the ingredient list before deciding I’d play with my own, and dress it with fish powder, garlic, red pepper, vinegar and sesame oil.
That did the trick, but then I made the bean salad into a new dish, adding bean sprouts and rice and wrapping in spring roll paper from one of Port Arthur’s Vietnamese markets. Fresh mint growing by my front porch sealed the deal.

Going gluten-free no sacrifice with cupcakes, waffles, pizza
Quit whining if your doctor ordered you to go gluten-free. Just pick up “Gluten-Free Made Simple: Easy Everyday Meals that Everyone Can Enjoy” and it’ll make a believer out of you. A couple of ideas made me drop my jaw. I had my husband flip through amazing food photos and then I had to shut his mouth. We both eyed cupcakes that were split, filled with lemon curd and topped with meringue. We have omelets and fried rice all the time, but not together! With fish in the mix, too! It’s all too much. They made a thin crepe and rolled it up, then sliced the roll into the fried rice for a distinct look. Can you handle sweet potato fries, cookie crunch cheesecake and feta basil bread? I thought so.
Thank Carol Field Dahlstrom, Elizabeth Dahlstrom Burnley and Marcia Schultz Dahlstrom for their know-how.

Candy news
I just slowly, carefully, analytically sampled four distinct candies, discovering their nuances, so as to share the news with readers. Now, I’m going to gobble them up. Not really, I think I’ll be able to portion Natural Vines All Natural Licorice in black and strawberry. They’re intense, and don’t have the shocking artificial flavor that has become the norm. Just one of these 17-calorie twists will get whatever taste you wanted out of your mouth and satisfy with a new, fresh taste. If you think you aren’t a licorice fan, you haven’t had this good stuff.
Goody Good Stuff impressed me just as much in Summer Peaches and Cola Breeze. I agree with the koala bear on the bags who is excited about these “gummy” treats having no fat, gluten, gelatin or dairy. They are also naturally flavored for a more “real” taste than bulk candies. These were in my hot car all day and still stayed intact and refreshing. Again a little dab’ll do you.
ddoiron @panews.com

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Investing in cheese and omelet play
It’s funny how compulsive friends just find each other. A low-carb expert I know uses the freshest ingredients available, and she figured her bags of bob’s Red Mill almond meal/flour were “about to go bad.” They have a sell-by date of February of 2012, which is more than plenty of time in my pantry. So, she passed some to me and my instincts were right. It says on the label it’s good for sweets, so I right away imagined whipping a tablespoon of flour into an egg for a crepe-like presentation. I added cheese (see below), berries and agave nectar for an evening meal, tried it again the following breakfast, and planned ahead to do the same for dinner and the next day’s breakfast. Sometimes I added walnuts. Just my plan to continue perfecting this dish shows I’m as compulsive as my friend. What fun experimentation.

And now for the cheese:
A smidge of something great is usually preferred over a lot of so-so product. I was just telling my husband I’d like to “invest” in a hunk of high quality cheese. I’m not talking about the giant wheels that adorn supermarket displays. I was thinking about a $10 wedge of something pungent and satisfying that would accent a fruit and bread spread. The first time I ever noticed the label “extra-sharp,” I wondered who would bother with “mild,” but I’ve gained a new appreciation for subtlety. Makers of Calabro Cheese say known chefs insist on their award-winning wares because they use the old ways in developing cheeses. It’s what you’ll find at Lombardi’s, New York City’s oldest pizza parlor, where they accept no subsitutes.
“First curds” only go into signature Hand-Dipped Ricotta, that comes in a little metal bucket. I’ve been working in this warm, creamy cheese into sweet egg dishes topped with berries and agave nectar. It’s more subtle than I normally pick, as is Calabro’s Fior Di Latte (Flower of the Milk) mozzarella. Some times this kind of toning down reminds a cook that food combinations can artfully blend, without ingredient competition.
Scamorza is new to me, but the naturally smoked, smooth balls of flavor are my favorite of the three I tried. These cheeses, and even their packaging, class up my refrigerator.

Triple Delight
Kim Son restaurant, just about across from the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, is a family favorite. There, Triple Delight is a dish with Vietnamese Fajitas, Honey-Glazed Shrimp and Chicken. The phrase also represented the three delighted diners – me, my mother and my husband – who left a table with nary a grain of rice left. We shared dishes including Sugar Cane Shrimp, which was a paste molded around a soft “stick” of sugar cane which you could kind of munch and get some sweet juice. A bowl of warm water was placed at my side with no explanation, so we wondered if it was for cleaning up. Alas, we saw diners at the next table using the water to soften rice paper and roll their own spring rolls tableside. I make those at home, in the kitchen, so I didn’t figure that out. Mini faux pas aside, we can’t wait to get back to Kim Son.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mom finally makes it to Central Market
I grew up in a foodie family before we’d ever heard the word. I just knew my family didn’t have the usual ‘70s rotating menu of mac and cheese or meatloaf night. There were exotic things coming out of Mom’s kitchen.
After years of shopping amazing Central Market stores in Houston, Austin and San Antonio, I finally got Mom to the Houston grocer.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and most of my favorite sample areas were open. She took it slow and selected fresh rosemary and bread between tastes of cinnamon and brie sandwiches and juicy melon.
I hope she’ll tell all her friends how much fun she had.
My take-homes included a can of crispy roasted eel, which we ate over home-grown bean sprouts, and Spanish octopus in soy and olive oil. When my daughter saw these cans, she asked if we could have grilled octopus sandwiches for breakfast. That’s another generation of foodie.

Get lunch box ready
Kids today probably don’t make fun of granola like they did in my youth. It’s more flavorful and possibly even more healthy than it used to be. A diabetic looking to avoid blood sugar spikes inspired Granola Gourmet which is a chewy, flavorful blend of goodness that comes in chocolate and fruit combos. It’s good that they are packaged in portion-controlled bars, or I could be tempted to eat more than I should. They’re that good. It’s a treat you won’t feel guilty about after you read the label. A portion of each purchase goes to help fight diabetes.

Slimmed-up sandwiches
There’s no point in using a “light” version of something unless it tastes good. A little bit of the real thing may serve you better. Oroweat’s new 80-calorie-a-slice Health-full line is no sacrifice to me. Pick from 10 Grain, Hearty Wheat and Nutty Grain. I’ve just made some kind of triple-nut sandwich with the Nutty Grain, adding peanut butter and walnuts. A one-slice sandwich took me from lunch until dinner. I’ll be looking to try more.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dining out of your zip code is more exciting

I have a friend who talks to restaurant managers to arrange ingredients, schedule around who is cooking and line up a dutiful wait staff several days before dining.
I wing it.
Don’t get me wrong: I love dining with her. There is fanfare. There is an appreciation of a client who knows what she wants.
I find an adventure just as exciting. On a recent trip to Houston, I had no trouble convincing my husband to take me to. . . Fiesta supermarket. I knew there’d be some amazing barbacoa, fresh tortilla and some tantalizing salsa, and I was right. I tried one of those crunchy whole fish with the head on, too. I liked it, but I won’t need to get it again. What was also fun was our crazy little table, wedged between soda machines, with our noses inches away from an exit door. At a store like that, shopping is a community affair and multi-generational families are out to do everything from ride little character cars in the parking lot to have lunch from a parking lot vendor. Shopping equals socializing.
Then there was more fun in the produce aisle and I came away with fresh jalapenos and a watermelon. Since we had shared a light meal at the Fiesta counter, I did something out of the ordinary and suggested ice cream. I would have preferred a caramel to go with the Mexican theme, but a pint of Blue Bell cookies and cream, one of my husband’s favorites, shared with flimsy plastic spoons in the hot car, could be my most memorable dessert this summer.
We were in town for a birthday party at Dave & Buster’s, a mix between Chuck E. Cheese for grown ups and a mini Las Vegas arcade. I looked up the menu on line and saw phrases like “stuff yourself silly” and menu descriptions such as “loaded” and “mountain.” A burger tempted me, but I somehow made it out of there for another Houston grocery store must-stop.
A Saturday evening at Central Market yielded olive oil, coffee and other samples, but we made room to share one more treat.
My aunt had been talking about Niko Niko’s on Westheimer for years and we battled the parking lot and line to order a Souvlaki Sandwich of top sirloin shish kebob on pita with tomato, bell pepper, onion & tzatziki sauce. It was such a hot spot I was thrilled to get a corner patio table under an elegant vine and we tore up that sandwich. Next time, I think I can convince Chris to try a gyros with lamb.
Maybe, since he’s out of his zip code, he’ll give it a shot.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sake sangria, herb cubes and Sharpie spice up summer
This is kind of a “peaches and herb” column, so just go with me here. I’m hearing that Sangria became an American hit in 1964 when the Spanish World area served it to visitors at the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York. My family says I was there, because Mom was pregnant with me and didn’t know it.
Now people are talking about Sake Sangria that’s good for patio parties, with Asian food or not, and here’s how it’s done, with Gekkeikan sakes and plum wines.
Mixologist Todd Richman created the following recipes and I have tried the first one out on guests, who were appreciative.

Peach and Plum Sake Sangria
28 ounces Gekkikan Sake
14 ounces Kobai Plum Wine
2 Fresh Peaches, sliced
2 Fresh Plums, sliced
2 ounces Soda Water

Muddle the fruit, add the sake and plum wine and let infuse. Add ice and stir well. Top with soda water.

Summer Sake Sangria
24 ounces Gekkeikan Sake
12 ounces Gekkeikan Plum Wine
¾ cup fresh watermelon, cubed
1¼ cups fresh honeydew melon, cubed

Muddle ½ cup watermelon with 1 cup honeydew melon. Add the sake and plum wine and let infuse. Add the remainder of the melon, ice and stir well. Top with ginger ale.

Sake Berry Punch
32 oz Gekkeikan Sake
½ cup fresh blueberries
½ cup fresh raspberries
1 bunch fresh mint leaves
4 ounces simple syrup
1 ounces ginger ale

Lightly muddle the berries, mint and simple syrup. Add the sake and let infuse. Add ice, stir and top with ginger ale.

Cool Sparkle
24 oz Gekkeikan Plum Wine
1 cup cucumber, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
4oz honey
7oz Zipang Sparking Sake

Muddle the cucumber, strawberries and honey. Add the sake and let it infuse. Then add ice, stir and top with Zipang Sparkling Sake.

Herb cubes always ready
I’m proud of my home-grown herbs, but I can’t be an expert at everything. Dorot has little red “mini-ice cube trays” a cook can grab from the freezer to pop out ginger, parsley, cilantro and some kickin’ red pepper. The garlic and basil are superior to those I usually come up with. I usually go for products with minimal packaging, but my sister pointed out that when she buys cilantro, much of it ends up in her compost pile. I think Doro is a good pick.

I love Sharpie
There are other women like me who long for the back-to-school season because Sharpie often has a new version out. I’ve spoken to them. The remarkable pens that always work just got better with Stained by Sharpie, with fade-resistant ink with a paint-brush tip that’s ideal for putting your name on aprons, lunch bags and things you don’t want to lose. It’s cool for passing around T-shirts and shoes to autograph. I’d put my name in a favorite bag with regular Sharpie and now I’ve traced over it with Stained by Sharpie and there is a positive difference. It’s amazing when a brand you love gets even better. I use Sharpie pens to mark food for the freezer.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bean sprouts now; frosting later: A girl’s got to plan

To all those who tease me for my bean sprout lunches, surely you know I am eating smarat at one juncture and planning ahead to my next culinary thrill seeking experience. Why, just the other day I was faced with cake and high-quality mixed nuts. I think I made a good choice. For my second helping, I didn’t get more cake, I just got a glob of the icing that had collected in the corner of the platter, and sprinkled a few salty nuts on top to balance out the sweetness. A girl’s got to plan ahead.

One for you
I’m a fan of Fiber One products and commercials and recognize them for what they are. To me, they straddle the packaged vs. cook-it-yourself world, offering a convenient way for those used to prepped-food taste to explore more healthy options. Now they’ve got a 90-calorie brownie that hits my spot. On first glance, it’s on the small side. Try it with an apple, and it’s a filling snack I can make last a long, long time. Get your fill of Fiber One.

Elevate Me!
A mom blended pure whey protein isolate with whole fruit to nourish a large, athletic family and Elevate Me, dubbed the world’s simplest protein and fruit energy bar, became available to healthy snackers everywhere. Fruit, espresso, matcha green tea and coconut are flavor options for these dense squares. It doesn’t take long to get used to the intense flavor. These squares come in smaller portions than similar bars and I’m grateful for that, because a little does go a long way to fuel your day.

A round of goodness
The humble round tortilla is an icon of versatility. It doesn’t need much in the way of improvement, but LaTortilla Factory went the extra mile to bring us new flavors with more fiber and fewer calories. There’s a 100 calorie fat-free version in traditional or whole wheat that can be the canvas for breakfast, snack, dessert or other meals. Extra Virgin Olive Oil flavors seven flavors, including the tomato basil, which I filled with beans and served several. Big old tortillas in the Smart & Delicious high fiber line are labeled “Perfect for the Serious Dieter.” Try egg, rice, vegetables, lunch meat and more in these guys . . . seriously.
Rice still nice this week

Several readers commented on this past week’s column reminding that rice is a nice, low-budget blank canvas for flavor. This week a pot of brown rice carried me through with new Thai Kitchen goods including Spicy Thai Mango, Thai Chili & Ginger and Pineapple & Chili dipping and all-purpose sauces. They’ve also got jars of kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass stalks, ginger chunks and my fave: Thai Bird Eye Chilies that are like crunchy little skeletons of heat that crunch. As many times as I’ve grabbed and handful like they were nuts, I’ve burned in the heat. Then a few days later, I’m back for more. I think I’m going to sprinkle some on Greek yogurt.

Try this:

As the rain finally hit this week, I was melting a chocolate bar. Then I sliced an apple and dipped/smeared it in the chocolate. Those Thai peppers came in handy again.

Salsa for your health

Sure salsa dancing can keep you fit. Consider salsa at the table for better nutrition. Dos Pistolas Salsa is the first salsa product in the U.S. that carries the American Heart Association's heart-check, according to makers. Down in southeast Texas, we don’t need convincing. Those up north may be swayed that this salsa is gluten, preservative and additive and is of course, low cal. I enjoyed the texture, flavor and color, especially the variety with mangos and jalapenos. Visit www.dospistolas.moonfruit.com.

Here’s a recipe:

Salmon with Dos Pistolas All-Natural Gourmet Salsa


1 pound salmon steaks

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

salt and pepper to taste

1 lemon, sliced

1/3 cup water

Dos Pistolas All- Natural Gourmet Salsa


· Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Arrange salmon steaks in a shallow baking dish, and coat with the lemon juice. Season with rosemary, salt, and pepper. Top with lemon slices. Pour water into the dish.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until easily flaked with a fork.

In a medium bowl, mix pineapple, onion, garlic, jalapeno, tomato, pineapple juice, red bell pepper, and yellow bell pepper. Cover, and refrigerate while fish is baking. Top fish with Dos Pistolas All- Natural Gourmet Salsa to serve.


Monday, June 13, 2011

My daughter’s nice rice lesson
Jasmine thought she’d give it a shot. She knew she’d be alone for a few days and tried the “leave me a wad of cash because there’s nothing to eat” pitch. She knew she wouldn’t get far, but tried anyway.
Turns out she loves cooking as much as I do. I cooked her a pot of white rice, and within minutes she was thinking of different spices that would turn servings of rice into different flavors for each day. Problem solved, with leftovers.

Dollar bags
Check out your favorite supermarket for reduced produce deals. My Market Basket has $1 bags of fruits and vegetables, when I’m lucky. I’ve asked and hear you have to go pretty early in the morning. I lucked out to grab a bag that had a carton of mushrooms, a prized yellow bell pepper and strawberries, all for $1. I roasted the mushrooms and pepper with olive oil and Italian spices and enjoyed them as I watched the Tony Awards. The berries went into a breakfast smoothie.

Just a thaw away
“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eazy Freezer Meals” delivers a method as well as recipes that include but go way beyond mac and cheese casseroles. Of all the Dummy books, I figured I wouldn’t need this one, but there’s plenty of tasty tips. Recipes include:
Honey Baked Brie en Croute, English muffin breakfast sandwiches, charro beans and crab cakes with pesto aioli
A sauce like the following can be frozen and at the ready for grilled vegetables, chicken or beef, over pasta with tofu or vegetables on a California-Style Thai Chicken Pizza.

Thai-Style Peanut Sauce
¼ cup chopped yellow or sweet onion
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup grated carrot
½ teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon lime zest
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
½ cup smooth or chunky peanut butter
In a food processor or in a blender, combine ingredients. Process or blend on high until smooth and ingredients are well combined. Package in a rigid freezer container, label and freeze.
To use after freezing:
Thaw sauce in the refrigerator and use, or add frozen sauce to recipes that will be heated.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cool coffee, a strip diet and a sneaky dessert

No matter how hot it gets in summer, we here in Southeast Texas keep the morning coffee habit. If you have some cold coffee left over, just pour it over ice for treat later in the day. I know people who say they’ve been meaning to try this, like it’s some exotic recipe. You’ve got everything you need.
If your morning coffee is black, or with cream and sugar, try it the same way over ice.
My daughter graciously shared some chocolate ice cream with me, and I added cold coffee to the dish and made it a mocha treat.

Stripped Diet
I don’t know about you, but when Tosca Reno says her recipes can help readers lose those final 10 pounds, I’m in. Her book, “The Eat-Clean Diet Stripped” has photos of dishes such as: Ode to Oregon Grilled Duck and Bitter Greens Salad with Pears, Dried Cherries and Hazelnuts; Sweetheart Shrimp and Watermelon Salad; Your Body’s Keen on Kale and Carrot Salad; and When the Weather is Frightful, Make Delightful Roasted Butternut Squash Farro Risotto.
Reno is already a best seller and doesn’t need my help, but she can sure help people realize that real food is real good and the processed stuff can bring you down. Plenty of photos show people having fun exercising, and that’s not a stretch (no pun intended). I took me years to realize that moving more and eating more, natural food, is a key to weight loss and feeling better, and I didn’t have this cool book.
I’ll bet she’d like the new plate guide that replaces the food pyramid.

Won’t they be surprised?
If you’re “old” enough to remember buckles and crisps as desserts, are you “new” enough to go vegan? Recipes for Luscious Lemon Bars, Free-Form Peach Galette and Rosemary Focaccia are mixed in with coconut frosting, cobblers and pies between the pages of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Baking,” by Donna Diegel.
I know people who would consider substituting non-dairy whipped topping for something made out of tofu a dirty trick, and I also know of a college student happy to find something like that at a Whole Foods market. I’d be very willing to try this:
Whipped Topping
1 cup soft tofu, drained and blotted dry
3 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup vegan confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons agave or brown rice syrup
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In a blender, add soft tofu, canola oil, vegan confectioner’s sugar, agave syrup, lemon juice and vanilla extract and blend on high speed for 3 or 4 minutes or until smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed with a rubber spatula
Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight to set up before using. Cover, and keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.