Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reader reveals a ‘mother’s secrets’
Seabourne Stokes Jr. has been calling me with a plethora of tips, including making tea into ice cubes so it won’t dilute your drink and boiling rice in water used for previously-cooked potatoes. Serving potato salad with rice is a Cajun tradition and the potato water will flavor the rice and make it healthy, he said.
He says Gold Medal Wondra Flower “makes the best lump-free gravies … Grandmother believed in flour power.”
He reminds readers that “desserts” spelled backwards is “stressed” and that when you serve up a good meal, like the rice and potatoes one, tell the family “Mother just had an idea” and hugs and kisses will follow.

Facon compliments
My own mother is willing to share her secrets. She may have developed her idea of frying flour tortilla strips in reserved bacon drippings out of old-fashioned resourcefulness. They taste great with eggs and she substitutes these crispy strips for bacon, calling them facon.
On the way to her house for breakfast, my daughter chastised me for “making fun” of them, which I was not. I just like saying “facon” over and over. She said if I didn’t stop, I might not get any. I asked if she thought I was going to upset the great cosmic facon balance in the universe. I think she was just implying she’d eat my share.
I got my facon.

A new tequila in Texas
El Grado Tequila is making its debut in Texas and in my kitchen. The round stopper is enough to excite me, but most connoisseurs would want to unstop it to get to 100 percent pure Blue Weber agave and aroma of mint, hints of fruit and pineapple with traces of black pepper. What do you know, it rests in Tennessee whiskey barrels. I’m making it last by drizzling it over fruit for summer desserts. You get the amazing flavor without watching the fill line drop so drastically.
El Grado comes in Reposado and AƱejo , which adds flavors of honey, butter, and caramel with hints of fruit.  How do they do that? 

Know the Skoy
Those Europeans are always on top of things. Enter Skoy, the earth-friendly reusable cotton and wood-pulp cellulose cloth that you can substitute for 15 rolls of paper towels. Wet it, squeeze it and clean up. When it’s time, clean Skoy in the clothes or dish washer. I’m a big one for saving paper to prevent waste, especially in the kitchen, so I like the Skoy and its motto: Wet, Wipe, Wow.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sabine House lighthouse in coast-to-coast cookbook
The American Lighthouse Cookbook will include the Sabine Pass Lighthouse as part of a book capturing the history and lore of 47 different lighthouses.
Co-authors Becky Sue Epstein, a veteran food and wine writer, and Ed Jackson, a seasoned chef have compiled the book, which notes the unusual “rocket ship” base of the Sabine Pass lighthouse designed so the structure could sit on wetlands. Recipes from Sabine Pass Lighthouse’s Big Dinner at the Lighthouse include: Grilled oysters in the shell, smothered okra, crab bake, alligator gumbo and pralines. Look for it in September.

Mustard madness
French’s Mustard invites families to take a summer trip to the National Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin for National Mustard Day. Celebrations will be on Aug. 1. French’s has released some fun facts on the condiment:
• More than 700 million pounds of mustard are consumed worldwide each year
• Mustard is the second most-used spice in the United States, exceeded only by peppercorn.
• All parts of the plant are edible, including seeds, leaves and flowers.
• Prepared mustard dates back thousands of years to the early Romans, who used to grind mustard seeds and mix them with wine into a paste very similar to modern mustard.
• Pope John XXII was so fond of mustard that he created a new Vatican position — grand moutardier du pape (mustard-maker to the pope) — and promptly filled the post with his nephew.
• German lore advises a bride to sew mustard seeds into the hem of her wedding dress to assure her dominance of the household.
• In Denmark and India, it’s thought that spreading mustard seeds around the exterior of the home will keep out evil spirits.
• The ancient Chinese considered mustard an aphrodisiac.
• In one year at New York’s Yankee Stadium more than 1,600 gallons plus 2,000,000 individual packets of mustard are consumed.

Tea heaven
My family is heavy into movie theme nights and after catching a film with Indian characters, I woke up the next morning still craving spicy food. I scrambled an egg with corriander and spinach and went online to see how to make chai tea, which was fun and easy. I wouldn’t have guessed there’s pepper in there. I’m still happy to have someone else blend my chai spices.
When Cody on the copy desk called Oregon Chai tea heaven in a bag, I thought he may be exaggerating, but he was not. Hot or on ice, the powdered latte packets are a pick-me up of honey, black tea and spices that I want to keep in my desk drawer as long as no one snatches them up when I’m out on assignment. The company makes a decaf powder and a boxed concentrate you add to milk. What a pleasurable way to get your dairy servings. Here’s a recipe the company suggests:
Chai Lemonade Spritzer
4 ounces of The Original Latte Concentrate
4 ounces of Lemonade
2 ounces of Sparkling water
Combine the above ingredients. Stir and serve over ice with a lemon twist or fruit skewer.

School bagz
New lunch boxes, book bags and crayons are THE best part of going back to school. Years after my last report card, I still look forward to cruising the school aisle. You’ll have to go online to or to my closet to catch the latest from the company that puts women in the Philippines to work making the coolest bags from non biodegradable juice containers that would otherwise clutter landfills. I love that the bigger in the shape of shopping bags stay open so you can pack picnic supplies, tote groceries, etc. Zippers don’t snag. New, colorful styles include a roomy lunch box, a zipper shoulder bag and a book bag that seems so durable. Get the look and do some good this school year.

Breath boosters
Binaca was the hip/cool breath freshener of my day, so I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s now marketed as “not your Mom’s Binaca drops.” This new generation of very yummy mint and cinnamon tiny aerosol sprays and FastBlast pumps are designed to appeal to the fashionable club crowd with their teeny purses. No matter. Garlic lovers of all ages should love the flavor and convenience.
The Nano Silver doesn’t sound like something to put in our mouth, but the anti-bacterial toothbrush might become your new favorite. MouthWatchers’ dual-action bristles are soft and thin on the outside, like dental floss, and harder on the inside. They also reduce bacteria by 99.9 percent within six hours. It’s the best hand-held toothbrush I’ve ever used.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The disappointing sauce flavors summer reading
A scant cup of disenchantment, finely diced restlessness and a handful of issues left unresolved are ingredients in Shrimp Cocktail with a Rather Disappointing Sauce, which serves a no-longer-newlywed couple. Spiced with vintage illustrations of well-dressed ladies of the house in their daily duties, “Secret Recipes for the Modern Wife” gets different reactions from each of the sexes.
My daughter and I laughed over dishes such as Beans and Weenies of Sexual Tension. My husband, not so much. These aren’t recipes, but Nava Atlas’ common-to-all commentaries on old boyfriends, the stress of children and spousal spats. Try Mother-in-law Fruitcake, which serves “hubby and his mom, for whom no one (least of all you) will ever be good enough.” You must bake it until a knife inserted into the center pierces her pompous pride.

Food science
If you thought you never gave a fig about hermaphrodite figs, and how they help the sex lives of wasps, want to know exactly how beating an egg makes your cake better or need a recipe for tomatillo jalapeno jam, “The Science of Good Food” is your 624-page reference. I just want to keep it by the table to look up horseradish, rice, frog or whatever I’m eating for dinner. David Joachim and Andrew Schloss give incredible and fun detail that will surely come in handy as chatter at your next cocktail party.
One tidbit is that caviar was once served free in American saloons as peanuts are now… to make patrons thirsty for more beer.

Drive the bus
“The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy” should be required reading. With a theme of a beat-down guy having to catch Joy’s bus full of positive passengers, it reminds me of a children’s book. Author Jon Gordon even makes a joke about how simplistic the concept is, but I believe it works. Our hero George goes from grumpy to appreciative just by counting his blessings and listening to people in his life. People do want to be heard, and more work gets done in a place where good things are happening. Get a copy of this international bestseller and start driving your own bus.
My family is still getting on the bus. It may take practice. I’m already prepping them for “The No Complaining Rule,” Gordon’s follow-up about getting off the complain train. The theory is to channel those negative thoughts into plans that can get you back on track. I love it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cool cooking ideas for summer
The refrigerator and freezer can be your best friend for summer entertaining.
Linda Carman, a Martha White baking expert, advises collecting recipes to make ahead, refrigerate and serve cold or frozen for later use. A big tray of cucumbers, onions and tomatoes in vinaigrette would be one of my picks. Here are some of her ideas:
• Build your meal around a hearty main dish salad.Cornbread and pasta salads make ideal summer dishes when they contain meat, cheese and/or beans, along with vegetables. Chicken, tuna and pimento cheese salads are classic for summer.
• Cook meat outside on the grill so you don’t heat up the kitchen and serve refrigerated side dishes prepared earlier in the day. Potato, bean and fruit salads or crisp green salads are always welcome, but don’t forget that roasted vegetables are delicious served cold or at room temperature.
• When you do have to use the oven, plan ahead and bake extra muffins, cakes, cookies or other baked products to freeze for later use.

Dulce de leche in a cup
My senses remember my late mother-in-law’s welcoming cups of coffee on morning visits. The blend was strong, sweet and hot and it’s taken the artisan roasters of Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company to give it back to me. Dulce de Leche is the latest java treat at for an introductory price of $8.95 in July.
Pilar wouldn’t have imagined ordering coffee through the computer, but I’m sure she would have loved what the company describes as “100 percent Arabica roasted coffee infused with rich caramel and hints of chocolate and vanilla flavoring.” I’m loving it every morning. The company is based in Tampa.

Honey, you’ve got to try this
I don’t recall ever having had honey like Frieda’s Wild Honeycomb and I now get why it’s considered a “food of the Gods.” Delicate comb melted in my mouth as the golden sweetness warmed. I waited for bread the second time, but just carved a square out of the wooden restraining box the first time. I’ve got to respect the bees who made this. Now that summer is here with Farmer’s Markets, it’s a good time to experience what comes from nature, and not the shrink-wrapped, reconstituted world.

Brown ale myth busters
While Newcastle Brown Ale makers are assuring the skeptical that the dark stuff is still good for summer, I will remind you of something you probably already know: A beer may taste its absolute best just after the hard work of mowing the lawn. A Newcastle boosted my spirits in the back yard this weekend, and the cold bottle on the forehead felt so good. When I see brown ale, my mind goes to corned beef sandwiches, but Newcastle also promotes pairing with red meat, fish and chicken, all summer grill favorites. This ale is comparable in calories, combines English Pale and Dark Caramel malt flavors and is as smooth as you’d want to get.

Palm pairings
Navitas Naturals has a catalogue that makes you feel healthy and sophisticated before you’ve ordered a thing. When you get your products, your pantry looks stylish, then you have colorful pouches of healthy stuff, like flax, cashew, hemp and mesquite products, at the ready to play with. Palm sugar is my new summer sweetheart and I love the crunchy, brown crystals rimming my punch goblet and sprinkled on bananas. I’m not above putting extra palm sugar in my own palm to enjoy it by itself.

Candy Man
Cody on the copy desk has a drawer full of instant noodles and such for late nights. He shared some unusual finds from his candy stash. While us “old-timers” from the ‘80s related to Wonka Tinglerz, which are chocolate-covered “poppin’ tinglin’ candies. Loved ‘em. We just don’t know what to make of new Wonka Kazoozles, in cherry punch, called a “delickoricious chewy candy.” It’s an extremely sour tube of red with blue stuff inside that gave me what I call “mumps,” as in swollen glands.

Monday, July 13, 2009

My summer book vacation

Times are tough and people are opting for staycations. Phtographer Craig Varajabedian took me to the high mesas and tiny earthen details of New Mexico with his art in the new coffee table book “Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby” from University of New Mexico Press.
The book takes readers back in time to the place where Georgia O’Keeffe painted and photographer Ansel Adams captured what he described as magic the sun must bake into a person. Varajabedian’s black and white photos range from Chimney Rock vistas and stone wall ruins to storm clouds and leaves. I’m partial to cracked mud images, because my similar mud shot got into The News’ Hurricane Ike book.
Here’s news on more books I’ve experienced this summer.

Veg up
Tempting photos of a beet bundt, the novelty of fruit sushi and the adventure of pud makua yow (basil eggplant) should convince even Southeast Texans that you won’t miss meat. Be confident in the notion that chocolate goes vegan. In “The Vegan Table” Colleen Patrick-Goudreau makes everything look easy and delicious and includes food lore. It could be that strawberries got their name from the practice of placing straw over the plants for protection. One more fun thing: Carmelized Tempeh Schwarmas are what she calls Middle Eastern burritos.

Lovin’ life
I started reading “Carve Your Own Road,” about a couple who wised up to the rat race and traveled. It must have taken years for them to accumulate such knowledge, I thought. Then I turned the book over and saw their photos. They could be younger than me. We could all learn from such people. Plain and simple, the message about doing what you love and living the life you envision, tells how to set goals and immerse yourself in making the changes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

‘Simply Mexican’ makes author, readers feel good
My daughter and I love how excited and happy Lourdes Castro looks in photos throughout her book “Simply Mexican.” The cover has her holding a corn cob with one hand and the other is upturned as if she’s saying “Why aren’t you here in the prop kitchen with me?”
We love her.
She suggests a corn tart as an accompaniment to almost every recipe in the book, so that means it could mesh with mushroom quesadilla, seared tuna, crab tostadas and red mole chicken with chorizo. Of all the goodies in her book, I’m drawn to some quickie summer bites she labels Mexican bar snacks:

Chile & Lime Jicama Wedges
1 small jicama, about 4 inches in diameter
1 lime, finely julienned zest and juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
To prepare the jicama, trim the peel from the jicama with a sharp knife. Cut the jicama into 1/4-inch strips or wedges and put into a bowl. Toss in the lime zest, lime juice, cayenne and salt and mix well. Serve.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
To toast the seeds, heat the oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the pumpkin seeds, toss well in the oil and sprinkle in the salt. Toast for 2 to 3 minutes, until the pumpkin seeds begin to pop and release their fragrance. Transfer to a small bowl and serve.

S’ mores a new way? Summer stuff makes the season memorable
My brother-in-law is opening a restaurant in Houston (more to follow) yet he still had time for a back-yard pool party with seven kinds of meat.
Fortunately his sister pitched in with spicy rice and a caramel cake truffle to add to the tiramisu spread.
By the pool, I enjoyed Corzo Tequila, which I’d brought in a flask, because I wouldn’t dare risk damaging one of the most lovely bottles in my collection. It looks like a glass, brick, has a hefty stopper and a flat spout that reminds me of a water fountain in an expensive hotel. What’s more, you can get the metal label engraved. I can’t keep my eyes off the masculine bottle, but I assure you, the beverage is just as noteworthy. Their ideas for the Modern Margarita:
• Unconventional rims: Kosher salt & Cracked Pepper/Cocoa Powder & Ancho Chili Powder.
• Use of alternative sweeteners such as fresh agave nectar.
• Addition of savory ingredients such as ginger, jalapeno and pepper.
• Transcending the traditional margarita glass with stemless, sleek glassware.

To balance that indulgence, I’ve been drinking flavored water and love HINT straight up. Men’s Health just voted the 0-calorie treat it’s best of flavored waters. Makers offer these tips to jazz it up:
Sweet Summertime
2 ounces Three Olives Watermelon Vodka and 6 ounces Watermelon HINT
Vanilla Cosmo
2 ounces Three Olives Vanilla Vodka, 1/2 oz. Triple Sec, and 1 ounce Hibiscus Vanilla HINT
Liquid Melon
1 ounce Three Olives Watermelon Vodka and 1/4 ounce Melon Liqueur, 6 ounces Honeydew Hibiscus HINT

Some more news on Goldfish
S’mores are delicious, but messy. Pepperige Farm packs powerful flavor into the chocolate and honey graham S’mores Adventures Goldfish, just right for summer camp snacks. It’s the tiny, crispy marshmallows shaped like fish that grab my attention. There’s also a new Garden Cheddar that is “flavor blasted” with “Xtra Cheddar.” Read the label. This snack may be better for you than you may have imagined.
Fair Trade Certified chocolate is a main ingredient and philosophy for Kopali Organics. I’ve tried and loved their cacao nibs and goji berries and now dark chocolate covered banana near the top of my favorites. Summer road trips don’t have to “drive” you to snack poorly. This is good stuff.

Simple Steps to prevent childhood obesity
“Positive Parenting” author Dr. Alvin Eden, MD, longtime pediatrician, says larger portion sizes and eating out more often contribute to childhood obesity. Children also spend too much time with TV, video games, and computers, he writes.
Here are simple and specific steps he offers that parents can follow to prevent obesity:
• Breast feed for at least 3 months if possible
• Identify whether or not your family history is “high risk” for obesity
• Limit juice to 4 ounces a day, and limit milk to 16 ounces a day
• Minimize TV in the first two years of a child’s life, and allow only 1 hour per day after two years
• Encourage your child to exercise each day
• Make sure your child drinks at least 8 ounces of water each day
• Replace all unhealthy snacks in your house with healthy ones and never use food as a reward

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

More pennies in your pocket; tell us how you save
Saving money has been a fun challenge for me long before all this economy talk. I love to see how far I can stretch the food budget, and I’d love to hear how you readers do it, too.
Send me a note and I’ll share helpful hints with News readers.
Here are a few budget enhancing tips from Enzo Febbraro, co-owner and executive chef of D’Acqua Ristorante in Washington, D.C.
• Shop alone. Shopping with others, especially the kids, can add to your grocery bill. The stores place items marketed to children at their eye level.
• Avoid hunger. If you shop hungry, you are more likely to buy what sounds good, rather than what’s on your list.
• Get creative. You can save money by trying new things, such as opting for the generic brands to see how they compare, getting your produce from a farmer’s market, and skipping convenience foods. Buying a ready-made sandwich or cut-up watermelon is going to cost you more than if you did the work yourself.
• Drink differently. Ever look at how much of your bill is spent on drinks? Instead, make a big pitcher of fresh iced tea for the family. Not only will it cost you less, but you will also be serving up some antioxidants. Try different flavors of tea or add fruit to give it a refreshing taste. Just don’t load it up with sugar. 

Step up soy
So you think you like soy sauce … try San-J’s tamari, made with more soybeans than regular soy sauce. Look for gold, platinum and bronze labels in with reduced sodium and wheat free varieties. The premium is, as they say, premium.
Just a sprinkle will give fresh Southeast Texas cucumbers and carrots an exotic Asian flavor. Don’t even get me started on grilling ideas.

Packaging matters to make a sale
Packaging matters. Look for minis and full-size versions of Banana Republic scents in bottles that look as good on the dresser as they smell on your man. For Father’s Day he may want to go woodsy with Cordovan, with key notes of leafy green fig, raw nutmeg and vintage leather. Maybe this could help him get his new car smell back.
Slate’s key notes are tobacco leaves, cognac and cedarwood.

The crave
Since I started eating right through Weight Watchers, I can honestly say cravings don’t bother me, but I did want to try Crave-NX, a spray designed to help you lose weight in 7 days. The orange flavor sprayed toward the inside of my cheeks gave a slightly numbing sensation. To me, it’s like chewing gum so the minty flavor doesn’t make you want sweets. Crave-NX is designed to use for seven days so that you can hopefully avoid calories daily and lose weight.

That airbrushed look
Dermelect Cosmeceuticals offers high-end treat-yourself products such as a tube of Pore Revolution & T-Zone Mattifier. As even “metrosexuals” can now define a T-Zone, we ladies want ours looking good this summer. This and Lipo-Conquer Body Toning Cream with ginko biloba are keys to lovely skin even in the Southeast Texas heat. I think this cream really does have a firming effect. Pack them in your hurricane go-bag; it could be your sole luxury while away.