Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ray’s is scary good in Houston
Artistic cakes heavy with buttercream frosting and plump, spicy tamales are typical fare for my brother-in-law, Jose Sainz. We always hoped he’d open a restaurant and he has. With all his authentic Mexican recipes and flair for the exotic, we just never expected it to be called Ray’s Franks & More.
The “more” is this: The family has put their horror movie-lovin’ brains together to come up with a scary good menu. The Mummy is an all-beef weiner wrapped with bacon and the American Werewolf is a burger with American cheese. Visit yourself to try The Blob, Leatherface, The Birds, and the ChupaCabra.
The brick building, abundant with personality, is at 1302 Nance St. is in downtown Houston. Office workers have been giving the goods great reviews; there was a flash mob. It apparently was a Chinese restaurant and a bank at one time. Red accents the counter and the menu has old movie poster themes.
My family went over to help out one day and assembled terror-misu desserts after serving a lunch rush with The Blob, The Freddy Krueger and The Dracula. Regulars love a curry ketchup and guana-mole.
Ray is what Jose’s family calls him. His wife and children are often on site and cooking for the masses. I hear there’s a party going on for Halloween. For info, call (713) 224-6441 or go to

Go granola
Just a sprinkle of GrandyOats organic Goji Agave granola will crunch up your yogurt, banana, ice cream, etc. I tried it as it was probably intended, in dairy, but I’m loyal to the crunchy sprinkle. Now that the company uses non-BPA recyclable cups, you can keep it fresh in the pantry for a long time. I’m betting it won’t last through Thanksgiving, because I’m topping dessert dishes of canned pumpkin with it for a healthy evening bite. The Main company uses walnuts, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and other amazing healthy items in Cranberry Chew, Classic Granola and Mainely Maple. Seek it out and crunch.

What KIND do you want?
I liked the Almond & Cashew plus Omega-3, but the KIND PLUS Mango and Macadamia won the best new product award at the Natural Product Expo. What to pick? KIND Fruit + Nut bars were touted as a healthy treat for the kids, but I’m thinking grownups may have trouble sharing. They boast an ingredient list you can pronounce, with highlights such as premium almonds, Brazilian nuts, walnuts, peanuts, and chunks of all-natural dried fruits held together with honey. Made in Australia, it’s from PeaceWorks, and it’s the KIND of snack I’ve been craving.

Campbell’s adds Mediterranean-inspired soups
Just because my Aunt Anne went to Tuscany, my family clamors to try foods with that label. Chicken Tuscany, Chicken with Egg Noodles and Minestrone are three varieties of Campbell’s Select Harvest soups my family tried and loved on the same night. I served one bowl to each of us and we all tasted from the range and we all argued that the one in front of us was the best.
Campbell is introducing 12 new 100 percent natural varieties of Select Harvest soups. Five boast ingredients key to the Mediterranean diet with vegetables, whole grains and extra virgin olive oil. They include two additional Select Harvest Light soups, with 80 calories or less per serving: Light Minestrone with Whole grain Pasta and Light Roasted Chicken with Italian Herbs. The have sea salt. Others in the line include: Mexican-Style Chicken Tortilla, Italian-Style Wedding, Roasted Chicken with Rotini and Penne Pasta and Light Roasted Chicken with Italian Herbs.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the Oktoberfests I have attended, but the snap of cool fall air, the scent of amazing German food and the lure of The Chicken Dance had me at oom-pah.
I was way, way too young to enjoy the dark beer, and I still have fun with my parents at tables under huge, colorful sycamore trees.
Several reasons merge to make October one of my top 12 favorite months (I confess, I love them all). The family moved the chiminea to the front walkway and burned our yard clippings while enjoying a festive glass of wine that’s apparently designed for the season. Clean Slate Riesling makes a pairing for German cheese, breads and ham, with its “ripe peach flavors, mineral notes and vibrant acidity all hallmarks of Riesling from Mosel.” It’s a supermarket find at $10.99 and feels crisp like an October apple in your mouth.
Seattle-area chef Tony Ruegg has created a recipe for eight using the wine.
Buy 8-10 Bratwursts from a German butcher. If not available purchase bratwurst from grocery. Make 2-3 small cuts with a sharp knife across the sausage. Put on medium hot grill, cut side up and grill until golden brown. Turn over and finish grilling. 
Onion Sauce
2 medium onions finely sliced
1 package Knorr demi glace or brown sauce mix
1/2 cup Clean Slate Riesling
1 teaspoon cumin powder
Salt and black pepper
Sauté onions in small amount of olive oil until carmelized. Add Clean Slate Riesling and cumin and bring to a slow boil. Dissolve brown sauce mix in 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cold water and add to onions.  Simmer for a few minutes (2-5 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper. 
Serve bratwurst with onion sauce.

I know secrets
Messages of love lost, childhood beatings, crossword puzzle fantasies and queries on faith make up the world’s artful messages to If you haven’t heard, people mail anonymous postcards to Frank Warren and many go on the internet. I’ve shown Frank Warren’s new book to several people since I met him at the Lamar State College-Port Arthur Distinguished Lecture Series. Most everybody is immediately hooked and says the project is “different” than how they thought it would be. See what you think about “POSTSECRET: Confessions on Life, Death, and God.

Skull or sweetpeas?
Kaycee Binns is a varied artist. A shiny skull or mud flap girl pick may tempt the Halloween shopper while her tiny sweet pea spoon is the ideal baby gift. The Metal Morphosis Inc. brainchild says there’s a childhood story behind every piece, so if you’re in Atlanta, you may want to meet the pewter worker. There’s some silver in her works, to give it shine. You would in no way call me a spoon collector, but I somehow have amassed an impressive set of tiny, baby spoons that I love to use for dessert (to make it last longer). My grandma called me sweet pea, so I love Binns’ vine-covered spoon by the same name. Visit to learn more.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vampire’s Kiss Cocktail
Antioxidants don’t have to be anti-fun, say some mixologists who jazz up cocktails with fruit and fruit juices like pomegranate, blueberries, cranberries, pears and kiwis for brain-boosting and disease-fighting antioxidants.
Make enough Vampire Kisses, and you can have a set of stylish black Freixenet sparkling wine bottles to make a set of candle holders for your Halloween party.
I tried what makers call the “black bottle bubbly” in the recipe below and loved the colorful presentation and sparkling taste. It’s a looker and a taster:
Vampire’s Kiss Cocktail
3 parts Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut
1 part pomegranate blueberry juice blend
Sliced strawberries and pineapple chunks
Orange peel twists (optional)
Starting with all ingredients well chilled, mix 1 part pomegranate and blueberry juice blend with 3 parts Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut sparkling wine. Stir in ice, sliced strawberries and pineapple chunks. Garnish with dangling orange twist.
Presentation: To add some mystery to your ghoulish concoction, use ice-blocks in Halloween shapes – try jack-o-lantern, ghosts or bats!
For more antioxidant cocktails and other great cocktail recipes, visit

Spice forecast calls for ginger and molasses
Every day of my life is filled with herbs and spices, but the cool weather seems to increase the cravings. I’ve noticed the McCormick Flavor Forecast is always accurate. Reading their 2009 Holiday Edition should put you ahead of what everyone will be talking about this season:
• Ginger & Molasses - The duo behind timeless gingerbread is cleverly reinvented from a childhood classic into contemporary goodies for all ages.
• Warm Spices & Pumpkin – The aromatic blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice unites with creamy pumpkin to inspire remakes of its namesake pie.
• Peppermint & Chocolate – This refreshing yet sweet combination comes together in everything from a festive martini to a chocolate tart.
• Vanilla & Red Food Color – The lush, alluring flavor of vanilla and the joyous hue of red transform the show-stopping qualities of red velvet cake into updated indulgences.
• Nutmeg & Rum – The unforgettable essence of eggnog comes out of the punch bowl as inspired treats from breakfast to the dessert table.
McCormick has additional tips:
• Convert a traditional sugar cookie to a nutmeg spice cookie by adding ground nutmeg to the dough before baking. Top baked cookies with cream cheese frosting enhanced with a few drops of rum extract.
• Crush peppermint candies in a small bowl or food processor. Melt semi-sweet Chocolate in a sauce pan, cool slightly and flavor with a few drops of peppermint extract. Dip one half of a large marshmallow into the melted mint chocolate and then in the peppermint pieces. Place on parchment to dry. Serve on a festive candy platter or float in a cup of hot cocoa.
• Transform vanilla milkshakes into a taste of the season. Add a generous spoonful of pumpkin puree and a dash of pumpkin pie spice to vanilla ice cream and milk to create a smooth ice cream treat.

Measure Up Bowl
I remember my mother used to pack portions into a measuring bowl and dump them onto her plate, leaving food in a perfectly round cylinder. Now I’m a Weight Watchers lifetimer who supports measuring, so I can actually eat more of what I want. I’m loving the Measure Up Bowl in the snack size, a chic white number with discreet measuring lines on the inside, so you know just how much of that mocha ice cream you have served yourself. No cheating or innocent mistakes. It’s just in time for holiday indulgences. The “classic” is for soups, cereals, fruits, pasta, etc. My smaller one is designed for “foods that are calorie dense, high fat (my fave).
Visit for a peek. I know for a fact that this bowl can help you keep your weight down in a very satisfactory way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sabine Pass lighthouse lovers get their tasty read

The mere mention that the Sabine Pass lighhouse would be mentioned in a book drew lots of reader attention. We love our lighthouse.
“The American Lighthouse Cookbook: The Best Recipes and Stories from America’s Shorelines” is ready for your purchase from Sourcebooks. Look online for your copy, or maybe a better plan would be to visit the 47 lighthouses included and perhaps many have the book at a giftshop. Becky Sue Epstein and Ed Jackson remind readers that house keepers were isolated, had to work around the clock and cooked with bulk supplies. There were supermarket runs for a missing ingredient.
Try a peanut soup representing St. Simmons Lighthouse in Georgia or Thai fried rice representing Lahaina Lighthouse in Maui, Hawaii.
As for Sabine Pass, writers say keepers could augment their meager pay by living off the land, and the menu created to represent this area is grilled oysters in the shell, smothered okra, crab bake, alligator gumbo and pralines that authors “could not stop eating.”

“Death Lore”
A new book on death is anything but creepy. A tombstone cover sets the mood for October reading of “Death Lore: Texas Rituals, Superstitions and Legends of the Hereafter.”
Kenneth L. Untiedt edits the University of North Texas book full of the kind of stuff that could happen only to Texans. Cowboys want to be buried with their guns and rich women with their sports cars. Cats can get the last word from their graves and ministers can embellish the good deeds of a dead man so much that the widow could question if that’s really her own husband in the box. Writers tell of spiritual connections, growing up in funeral homes and funeral humor.
Death happens to all of us, so we might as well try to have a good time with it, seems to be the message.

“Inherited Sins”
This novel by Paula Paul, with a puckered apple on the cover, sat on my shelf too long. A modern woman finds herself with a metal box belonging to her dying mother. Inside she finds ‘40s-era journals of a West Texas preacher and his battle against sin with church member Johnnie Marie, the mother in question. Then the reader gets Johnnie Marie’s journals, which offer a different perspective. There are lots of juicy surprises, but I also like the details, like the fuss over the church youth seeing “Gone With the Wind,” which had been released years earlier but just got to the Muleshoe area.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

‘Strange But True’ a freaky October read
George Washington’s deathly bloodletting, war stories, whacky state borders and creepy tales of death and deception headline “Strange But True America: Weird tales from All 50 States.”
I didn’t know that Washington was home to the world’s largest waterfall or about New Mexico’s leaning tower, threatening rock. The fact that these tales are true makes them even more powerful. Chapters include Rogue Camels Haunt the Southwest, Feminine Touch is the Kiss of Death and Hanging Judge Dispensed Swift Justice. Texas gets a headless horseman recount. John Hafnor tells the stories and Dale Crawford illustrates them. Together they make riveting reading.

“Inherited Sins”
By Paula Paul
This novel with a puckered apple on the cover sat on my shelf too long. A modern woman finds herself with a metal box belonging to her dying mother. Inside she finds ‘40s-era journals of a West Texas preacher and his battle against sin with church member Johnnie Marie, the mother in question. Then the reader gets Johnnie Marie’s journals, which offer a different perspective. There are lots of juicy surprises, but I also like the details, like the fuss over the church youth seeing “Gone With the Wind,” which had been released years earlier but just got to the Muleshoe area.

Going anywhere?
My dad is a constant safety lecture. Even when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s more, this time from Intromark Inc. A slender, bent and forked piece of metal that can keep you more secure in a hotel room without damage to the door. The directions explain the SLO, Inc. better than I can. I reckon this ought to work in the kind of New York apartment I see on TV. Look it up on

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Creamer yields surprise dessert options
I think this could be a secret I’m revealing, or maybe you’ve already had this idea.
I drink coffee black, so I never really noticed those little plastic creamers until they started coming in flavors, like vanilla, hazelnut and Irish cream. I still like the fact that my coffee has zero calories, so I’ve come up with other uses for the cream.
A little package goes a long way in drenching a cake, fruit or making a liquor drink into a memorable dessert.
Culinary thrill seekers, play with this and share your ideas.

Thanks, Clint
Clint, of Clint’s Texas Salsa, has done a fine job with a collection of mild, medium and hot sauces. The twist is Serrano pepper, which everyone who tried it with me noticed. I wonder if northern folk would notice this addition to the jalapeno. Clint’s Picante Inc. works out of San Antonio.

The new virgin oil
Centrifuge extracted virgin coconut oil is what Navitas Naturals call a Polynesian Superfood. I call this cold-pressed raw coconut oil a dreamy flavoring for rice salads and toast. It’s clear in the jar and clearly aromatic and delicious. Read the label for all the reasons it’s good for ya.

Republic of Tea
The Republic always has something good for fans this time of year. Take your respite with Coconut Cocoa or Double Dark Chocolate Mate tea, both in trademark tins with roasted carob. Most of my “tasters” were satisfied simply by inhaling from the open tin. This is a low-cal way to get in an afternoon treat.

Who’s that sweet thing?
Earlier I mentioned a guessing contest for Mrs. Butterworth, of syrup fame, to get a first name.
Shayla Doty, an Indiana teen and Cynthia Harmon of Illinois won $500 and a year’s supply of syrup by guessing her name.

It is Joy
Here’s what the company reports her parents debated on the newborn’s name: “The father-to-be, Mr. Butterworth, was in favor of the name Yvonne, while the mother-to-be felt she was more deserving of a name that would remind them of what a precious jewel she would be — Opal. Having not settled on a decision the day their giggling baby girl arrived, the doctor suggested "Jocelyn," meaning "the merry one." A light bulb lit above Daddy Butterworth's head, and he suggested combining the first letter from all three names, J-O-Y. Little did they know that years later, 'joy' was exactly what their daughter and her delicious syrup would bring to children at their breakfast tables.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Do you have Dr Pepper in a bottle? Better let him out
My daughter and I know people who are crazy for Dr Pepper, so we simply made silent eye contact when we found a reduced priced, damaged squeeze bottle of something we’d never spied before. Dr Pepper cherry dessert topper is like a thick, sweet sludge of what might be left at the bottom of a soda fountain syrup canister. I didn’t have ice cream, so I tried it on a frozen banana. This is the perfect gift for all those addicted to the doc.

Ready broth
I made a reduced-priced box of barley into the star of a meal with new Ready to Serve Broth from Manischewitz. I popped a top on the can of beef flavor, which features a recipe for beef short ribs and balsamic turnips, and dinner was ready in a snap. I know broth is essential for many cooks, but I’m not a frequent user. This line could change all that. Chicken and reduced-sodium chicken comes in cans or reusable cartons. It’s kosher good.

Jug Sliders
Northerners couldn’t guess how unusual it sounds to us Texans to call tiny sandwiches “sliders.” It doesn’t stop use from enjoying them. And while Texans are expert at flavoring meat, Carlo Rossi offers a game-day blend for mini-burgers that I’ve played with and enjoyed. The recipe calls for a big ol’ jug of Carlo Rossi merlot, but you don’t have to use it all in the burgers. It’s very nice to have some left over.

Carlo Rossi Jug Sliders
1 pound ground beef
1 package mini buns
2 tablespoons of butter or margarine
4 ounces of button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 large scallions, sliced
1 shallot, minced
1 cup of Carlo Rossi Merlot
Green leaf lettuce
Salt, pepper to taste
Shape about 3 tablespoons of ground beef into a 1" thick pattie, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Repeat with remaining mixture. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.  Melt butter in a skillet and add mushrooms, scallions and shallot. Cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally; add Carlo Rossi Merlot and simmer.  Grill burgers to preferred degree of temperature.  Place each burger on miniature bun with lettuce and top with mushroom mixture.  Makes 16.

Some may argue, with great success, that any chocolate chip cookie is already just about the best it can be. Pillsbury took it up a notch with Simply, a new line of refrigerated cookie dough boasting 0 grams trans fat, no high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. The packaginge can convince you it’s a health food, but it doesn’t say zero calories. I will say that every calorie was worth it.

Pink picking in October
Will grabbing a pink O-Cedar broom make you look forward to cleaning?
Maybe, but it will for sure remind you of breast cancer awareness, and October is the official month for that. Breast Cancer Network of Strength and O-Cedar pinked up several signature products including the Angler Broom, Power Corner Broom and Pro-Wring Self-Twisting Mop. It’s a while-they-last sort of deal you’ll want to get in on. These are stylish and important.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Go ahead: Irritate the birds
Seasonally in October, I took to hanging dozens of unwanted freebie CDs in a magnolia tree. From the window, I could see children on the sidewalk mesmerized at the shiny disks caught the sun and danced in the wind. I got lots of good feedback about the CD tree.
The Bird Irritator works on the same concept, but the birds aren’t likely to let you know what they thought. They shouldn’t even be around. Your feedback is trees that let you, instead of hungry birds, have their fruit.
Mirrored disks joined by split hooks and hangers reflect and dance even better than my design. I though the task of peeling protective film from the sharp little mirrored circles and lining them with a soft plastic ring, then joining them with rings would be a difficult chore, but I finished the job before my TV show was over and I’m loving the results. Visit for details.

Simple Human
While I’m learning to master the perfect egg breakfast, my least favorite part is washing my hands from breaking the egg while it cooks without my supervision. My family got into the unspoken habit of pumping soap into my palm so I wouldn’t have to touch and contaminate the dispenser. I’m passionate about this. Simple Human (don’t you love that name) has freed me with a touch-free sensor soap pump that looks like it came from a futuristic doctor’s office. It’s currently drawing more attention in my kitchen than my cooking. Four AA batteries keep liquid soap or lotion coming in four different volumes. I naturally keep it low, to conserve the soap, but people keep washing their hands just to get the little guy to work. You can also set it to blink a blue LED light that indicates you’ve been lathering up a recommended 20 seconds. Don’t you know this could be a lure into getting small children to keep it clean?

You can’t look at chicBuds new PinkTooth wireless headset without thinking the word “bling.” Rows of pink or clear Swarovski crystals are designed to look elegant, not gaudy, but makers this hands-free headset for cell phones is all about functionality.
My tester reports students at the Newman Catholic Student Center gave it thumbs-up as they tested its clear sound and up to six hours of talk time. It goes for up to 200 hours in standby mode.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Banana coffee smoothie is good, I promise
I was just playing around with the idea of using up some cold coffee and decided to blend a banana in with it.
I’ve told several people who either made a curious “I’d try it” face or a “what were you thinking” face.
If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be telling you about it.

New from Aunt Jemima
I almost felt guilty enjoying Aunt Jemima’s new blueberry pancakes so much. They’re easy and made with real blueberries and came out just right in the toaster. I served mine with Log Cabin syrup, recently reformulated without high fructose corn syrup, and a grilled orange. Here are some ideas from Auntie J:
Microwave 3 Aunt Jemima Frozen Blueberry Pancakes (250 calories)
• Top with half of a sliced banana (54 calories)
• Drizzle 1 tablespoon light maple syrup (50 calories)

Salba update
I have been snacking for you, readers. Salba Smart makes it easy to enjoy the tiny salba grain in someting new: Original, Bar-B-Que, or Cheddar & Sour Cream Baked Potato Crisps from Salba Smart. I tried the sour cream version and found it exotic looking and great tasting.
Here are some of salba’s claims to fame: high levels of Omega-3 essential fatty acids (300mg per serving), antioxidants, fiber, protein, calcium and iron. Ounce for ounce, salba grain provides three times more iron than spinach, 15 times more magnesium than broccoli, and six times more calcium than whole milk.
I’ve been adding it to salads, eggs and smoothes. The company adds it to yellow corn and whole wheat potato chips, pretzles and salsa, and every one of the products meets with hearty Darragh approval. Visit for the scoop.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hi honey
I got a jar of homemade honey the week I saw “The Secret Life of Bees” and got the book “Honey for Health & Beauty: Over 75 Recipes, Remedies and Natural Treatments.” Every bite of the honey is comforting, reminding me how my mother solved my allergy problems by spooning me honey from local bees.
Recipes in this book are easy and tempting, from the National Honey Board. There are also simple formulas for pampering, like Green Honey Glow Mask and Cucumber Eye Nourisher. Here’s some sweet stuff to enjoy:

Honey Citrus Soother
3 tea bags, green or black
1 cinnamon stick
3 cups boiling water
1/4 cup honey
1 cup grapefruit juice
Place tea bags and cinnamon stick in a 1-quart tea pot. Add boiling water, steep 3 to 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and tea bags; discard. Stir in grapefruit juice and honey.

Warm Nutmeg Cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly.

Honey Cream
1 cup dairy sour cream
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small bowl stir all ingredients. Refrigerate until serving.