Perfect Chocolate Mousse

It’s only 11 am (PST), more than enough time to have the best tasting chocolate mousse for dessert tonight.
This recipe is the easiest, fastest and best mousse recipe I’ve concocted. While the original version is in The New Best Recipe cookbook, (page 973), I’ve made significant changes.
For mousse connisouers, if you prefer a dark-dark version, that’s heavy on the liquor and coffee, go with the original version (you have to buy the book!). I prefer something a bit less dark, since the ultra-dark chocolate gives me a headache. Also, call me kooky, but I’m also particular about the texture. Some mousse recipes make it super airy and fluffy-hence mousse. I, on the other hand, like a creamier texture, less air. Almost between a pudding and mousse.
The New Best Recipe: All-New EditionBy now you’re thinking I have more time than necessary on my hands, and have made far too many mousse recipes. Reality is that this takes less than 20 minutes, and impresses the heck out of guests, so I it’s my default dessert. Really.
As a side note: I’m a cookbook addict. I love to cook. Love cookbooks. Once I buy a cookbook (and it’s sub 200 pgs) I’ll go through each and every recipe, making most (save things I’m allergic to or despise). One of my pet peeves is that I close the book finding only a half-dozen I truly like. The New Best Recipe defies all odds. Not only have I found ways to improve my already-decent meatloaf through cooking techniques, but the smothered pork chop recipe is as divine as the chocolate mousse I based my recipe upon. The flan is outstanding, the roast–i could go on and on. This isn’t to say I don’t make a lot of changes in each one, because I do. But dollar for dollar, this is by far, the most superior, general cookbook I own. (if you have a friend/wife/sister who likes to cook, see if she/he has this book. If not, it’s an awesome gift. I bought for my sister, mom and cousin one year).
Cooks note:
For an extra creamy chocolate mousse, fold in 1 cup of heavy cream that’s been whipped (instead of the ½ cup called for below). Make this mousse at least 2 hours before you wish to serve it to let the flavors develop, but serve within 24 hours, or the flavor and texture will deteriorate.
3 oz bittersweet chocolate (Ghiradelli or better) (found a coupon here)
3 oz semisweet chocolate (Ghiradelli or better) chopped
4 tbs (1/2 stick) salted butter
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs orange flavored liquor or light rum (this is optional. I use it only when I know the guests like liquor, but 99% of the time, I don’t put it in. It doesn’t affect the texture)
4 large eggs, separated (room temperature)
2 tbs sugar
½ cup chilled organic heavy cream (see my previous recipe blogs on the diff between organic heavy cream and reg under 9 cooking rules to live by)
Note: the original recipe calls for coffee, but I leave this out. I’ve found many guests either don’t like coffee or don’t like mocha/coffee flavor in the dessert. If you want to add it, substitute the 2 tbs alcohol for the pre-made coffee.
1.     Melt the butter first, and then the chocolate in a double boiler (I use a round, metal dish above a small pan. This allows for better control)
2.     Lower the heat, and add the salt and vanilla.
3.     Whisk the yolks in one at a time. This is very important. You need to make sure that each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Set aside.
4.     Stir the egg whites in a clean mixing bowl on high, 1-2 minutes.
5.     Beat until soft peaks form (if the eggs or cold, you need to put the whites in a bowl over warm water to warm first).
6.     Which a quart of the whites into the cooled chocolate mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whites.
7.     Clean and dry the mixing bowl, making sure not a drop of water is in the bowl.
8.     Beat the whipping cream on high until soft peaks form. DO NOT OVERBEAT, since hard whipping cream (almost like butter) won’t fold into the mousse, and it will be ruined.
9.     Try not to eat the entire thing as you spoon into your serving glasses.
10. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
11. Before serving, add a dollop of whipping cream to top.

Regifting Ettiquette

I approach this subject with a certain degree of fear and trepidation. Not just because I’ve had numerous requests for me to address the most-sensitive-of-holiday-topics, but because today, I turned on the ‘anonymous comments’ capability. For non-authors, this is like an Amish streaking naked in Times Square. So please, be kind. Keep in mind this is one woman’s opinion, and that deep, deep, down, I’m a good person. Really.

On one hand, I have Roger, who is obsessively opposed to re-gifting. Or, rather, he was for the first ten years of our marriage. During that time, he insisted we keep every set of Chinese balls, homemade candles, hallucenagenic incense, odd-shaped paperweights and every type of knick-knack, (Not the Brazilian thong supplier, thanks very much!)

His points were valid. The giver went to the time and effort of finding, purchasing and/or making the item especially for us. It’s his contention that to not use the item, or worse, place it out of site, insults the giver of the gift. No matter what, appreciation should be shown to the giver by keeping and displaying said gift.

Fair points all.  Appreciation and gratitude should absolutely be expressed. It’s always sincere, even if the pilgrim shaped Thanksgiving soap holder doesn’t quite work with my bathroom. It was a nice thought, cost money to purchase and send. A receiver could have it worse, and receive no gift at all.

That said, I apply some rules to gifts, gift usage and re-gifting.

Rule number one. Never, ever, EVER lie.

Just tonight, Rog and I were discussing the joys of honesty.

“Honesty is attractive,” he told me. I’d never thought of it that way, but I agreed. He then went on to tell me that “honesty is persistent.” In other words, the truth will catch up with you.

Let me give you an example. One year, when I was in my early twenties, I attended a holiday white elephant party. I’d never done so before, and was asked to bring an item worth less than five bucks. I looked in my cupboard, found a glass vegetable platter still in it’s box, and figured its was just the ticket. Proud of my item, I wrapped it and took it to the party.

The party planner put us in a circle and we played a game that required the participants to open and “pass around” the gift. The rules are not-important; the outcome is. Suffice it to say that my plate was opened, and a man in the room recognized the plate. In front of the entire room, he asked where I got it, and I was caught off-guard. Instead of saying it was a gift I never used, I said I purchased it the year before. With a red face, he told me that was interesting, since he purchased a plate in Germany for his wife, just like the one I held in my hands.

The room went silent. Shuffles, laughter, odd looks. It was horrid. The reality was the gift had been given to me as a birthday present the year before. I lost five pounds from sweaty armpits. All I could do was shrug my shoulders and say “what a coincidence!” and move on.

All was not lost. A few days later, the same guy told me he was mortally wounded his wife had given me the plate HE gave HER as an “I love you” gift. The anger he showed toward me was redirected hurt stemming from his wife’s re-gifting. This leads to rule number 2.

Rule number two. If you are going to regift, do it in another state.
Oh. My. Lands. This one was classic. Last year, we had a Christmas party where many guests brought gifts. A good many were plants, some that needed immediate planting, a few that gave us allergic reactions, and one that we were morally opposed to keeping.

The latter plant in this case, an ivy, is plant-non-gratta in this household. It’s an invasive species in Washington, and takes over, kills and consumes everything in its path like the borg ship from h–l. In this case, the plant had no tag on it telling us the person who gave the gift.

The following week, I had a business-client event to go to, and wanted to bring a gift. The ivy! we both thought. We were pleased that we could re-use and regift the item. No sooner did I enter the room and drop the gift off when my good friend (a client turned friend actually) came up to me and commented on the plant. She asked where I got it, and I said in hushed tones, that it was a gift, but didn’t have a tag on it.

“That was my gift to you!” she exclaimed. This moment of mortification (MOM) gave me a flashback to the time I ran in to a former co-worker at the mall. She was shopping with the new husband (I with a boyfriend) and she had a huge pooch in her belly. The rest of her was as thin as I remembered, but her tummy looked six or seven months pregnant.

I patted it, and asked when she was due.


“I’m not pregnant,” she said. “I’m happily married and must have put on weight.”

True story.

Fortunately, my friend was more good natured about my clueness-ness than my former co-worker. However, I will never, ever make that mistake again.

Rule number three. Don’t regift in-family.
This is akin to the ‘don’t marry your cousin policy.’ I’m not just talking immediate family members. I’m talking your family to his family (spouses) or cousin to cousin. For example, if I received a seashell-inspired turnip peeler from my mother-in-law (never have btw) and gave it to my own sister, and she mentioned it at a birthday party for my daughter (that they both attended), the re-gifting would be obvious. Not good. (note my requirement to change the names and items of the innocent to protect the guilty?)

Rule number four. Use the gift at least once.
See rule number one. This ensures you satisfy the inevitable question of “how did you like the gift?” You can honestly respond, “we used the macrame towel in our guest bathroom!” while looking the gift-giver squarely in the eye. However, make sure you don’t receive another unwanted towel by identifying your style of decor, what you really need, then drop hints throughout the year about things you “simply can’t find!” This last year, I went so far as to send relatives links to $9 dollar lip gloss that makes me as nearly as happy as driving a clean car, and a lot cheaper than a macrame towel!

Rule number five. Tell/ask the giver if you can regift.
This last summer, my neighbor told me she was going to hold her annual garage sale. As is our custom, I went over early to check out the goods, and she came up, holding a hand-made rug I’d purchased for her in Mexico six or seven years earlier.

“I’ve had this, and never really used it,” she said. “Do you want it back or can I sell it?” I’ll admit, I was a little hurt. Rog and I had picked it out, hauled it back, and heck, it was cool looking. But truly, it wasn’t her style, nor that of her home. I respected the fact she held on to it, and she had even placed it over her living room couch for the first year.

I took it back. Now it sits in our laundry room, on top of other things I can’t really use but don’t want to discard.

Honesty hurts. But I like honesty. I can deal with honesty. It would have been far worse to see the blanket at a friend’s home, and learn she bought it at my neighbor’s garage sale!

The other day, I was asked if gifts have a shelf-life. Sure. What that shelf-life is, I have no clue. Two years? Five. Don’t know. Don’t want to find out. I recently justified it’s ok to regift after someone dies, moves, or is no longer a part of my life. That said, I’m still going to give it another year, just in case.

Good weekends and Air Kissing

Up at the crack of my babies’ first cry, the first thing I did was turn on the news, just as the announcer proclaims that despite the weather, there are “no bad weekends!”
I beg to differ. Weekends mean several things: Getting together for food. Social activities. Sports. Air kissing.
Yes, air kissing. This social habit that came overseas from our civilized European counterparts. Note I said European, not Swedes. In addition the fact that us Swedes Don’t Cry, we don’t air kiss.
It’s all about the invasion of my personal space, the familiarity of someone kissing me that I barely know, or don’t know, or have just been introduced to that bugs me out. My reserved, puritan ancestors knew that our one-space is an invisible line, only broken by a short, thrust of a hand. It’s worked for a thousand years and it still works for me.
Yet time and traditions were passing me by, for as I remained a mole at my own house, having kids, writing, and being less than social, this phenomena had taken hold, like contractable disease jumping from one person to another with each hen-peck. Little did I know that signing off my emails with an xoxoxo to my relatives didn’t count.
The moment of truth came when I got on a plane to Los Angeles and entered the world of air kissing. It was as though the handshake had given way to air-kissing ‘bro’-ness otherworld. A director meets me for the first time, leans in to me, arm touching the center of back and plants one on my check. 

It was odd. I’m unprepared. Do I kiss back? Do I turn my head? Do I touch his back? He was tall and good-looking, and I briefly wondered if I was stepping over the line of marital infidelity if I enjoyed the act.
I instinctively pulled back, catching the glance of the one man I knew, who clearly enjoyed my discomfort. The evil man then proceeded to introduce me to the others in the room, knowing exactly what was coming.
Several other men and their lips came careening towards me. My inner Swede rebelled. This wasn’t a family gathering, a wedding or a funeral. It was a business meeting. We didn’t know one another, and with the exception of one person I’d worked with, wasn’t even sure if I was going to like these cheek-invaders by the end of the day. Didn’t they know my cheek was reserved for a scant handful or special individuals??
It got me thinking-what if everyone in the high tech world started planting kisses as a way to start a meeting. Can you imagine? Hi, my name’s Steve Balmer, smooch my cheek. The Googlie’s and Microsoftie’s might get more softie if each gathering started with smoochies. It could devolve into a group hug-fest.
I had visions of air kissing spreading across industries, job sectors and vocations like the ebola virus running amuck. This begat a business opportunity, (for us Swedes are opportunistic along with prudish).
Cheek wipes. The packaging could be blue and red. Skulls and crossbones. Breastcancer pink and Lance Armstrong yellow. Living free implies absence of disease, and I’m all about no lip-yick from strangers.
And another thing, it’s always the ‘right’ cheek. Who established this as the protocol? By the end of the first day in LA, the first epidural layer of my right cheek had been kissed off.
I took note around me. The restaurants were full of individuals greeting one another, cheek to cheek, lips sort-of touching sideways, full of the strange, TV-love that doesn’t mean much. Heck. If I’m going to kiss someone, I want them to feel it.
This inspired another thought. Kiss devaluation. It’s like the dollar against the Yuan, it’s been so overused and slighted, the value has plummeted, causing an emotional deficit. My ah-ah moment came when I then connected the dots from kiss devaluation to the overall moral decline in society. With the kiss worth nothing, one must naturally move to the next step that’s meaningful. For lack of a better analogy, first base…second base…. It was like seventh grade all over again (well, for Roger sixth grade, but who’s keeping score?)
On my last day in Los Angeles, I made it by releasing my inner Swede. I took control. I put my foot down and erected my protectionist barriers. When a tall, hedge fund manager with a diamond-encrusted watch the size of a pancake on his wrist made his forward-leaning play, I stepped back, thrust out my hand and said,
“Nice to meet you,” before turning and sitting down. It was rude, I know. But he had two things going against him—potential blood diamonds and association with the phrase hedge fund. Using similar tactics, I made it through two more sets of interactions. I thought I was in the clear when I got up to leave for my flight. Four men were sitting at the table, and in a unifying show of politeness, they all stood.
“Oh, no,” I protested, waving for them to sit. “Don’t get up for me. It’s not like we’re on a date!”
The aforementioned friend nearly choked on his tongue with laughter. It just came out, and before I could cover my faux-pa with a nicer commentary, the first one came in for the goodbye hug, saying he “wasn’t going to let me getaway with that.” As I’d grown to like this particular guy in a platonic-business-type-of-way, I was OK with the air kissing that time, though I still slightly turned my head.
Didn’t matter. The domino affect had occurred and the others came rustling in like the receiving line at a wake.
On the plane ride home, I realized the horror of my middle-aged, motherhoodly existence. My right shoulder is the one I carry my 9-month on. The same shoulder she eats on. Pukes on. The same one her grubby little hands use as a riding handle while she shoves my hair in her mouth. I wondered if my shampoo and conditioner were enough to mask the scent of all things baby, or if this was part of the attraction. I made a mental note to wash an extra time or two before taking my next trip.
Once back in the safe cocoon that is my hood, I’m comforted that air kissing is likely limited to the transplants from the east coast, LA or Europe.  As I commence the rest of my Friday, I tell myself this Swede is going to be happy, despite the folks who are going to want to kiss me first and remove their shoes second, breaking all my personal barriers in the process. And as Rog says, I’ll be happy for it, because, as the weatherman says, there are no bad weekends.

Best appetizer: Best crab cakes

With the holiday season fast approaching, I’m getting hit up for some great app recipes. The following recipe for crab cakes is a sure fire winner for any occasion or holiday in any season.

What makes this recipe so good you might ask? A large portion of the decade I spent in San Francisco was at Fog City Diner. The diner was located within walking distance of my first office, and was a key decision making factor when I searched for a bigger office space. Every lunch for six years was spent at the diner, and my ever-expanding waistline bore testament to my addiction. When Rog and I started dating, he predicted I was on the fast-track to a heart attack. I either needed to start running along the Embarcadero or “cut back on the crab cakes.”

I started running along the Embarcadero.

The key to great crab cakes is having a high proportion of crab, as well as enhancing the flavors of the other ingredients. The way to do this is by sautéing the onion, garlic, celery and peppers in a metal-bottomed pan. This blends and folds the flavors in a way that is not accomplished by adding the ingredients together cold.
This particular recipe is a Sarah special. In other words, it’s a blend of a southern, creole recipe, a northwestern recipe and my additional ingredients I’ve incorporated over the years as I’ve served (and listened) to guest response. It’s always the first appetizer to go. I hope you love it as much as I do. (PS-I’ll post a pic after I make them again this wknd)

Crab cakes

1 lb fresh lump crabmeat (costco has a pre-packaged/fresh that is a great buy at $13/lb)
½ cup butter, some oil (depending on preference)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped orange and yellow each
1 chopped sweet onion
¼ cup minced sweet red onion
½ jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup chopped celery (inner stocks)
2 tsp fresh chopped tarragon
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp cayenne
½ tsp Hungarian paprika
Bit of cayenne pepper
Bit of tobasco sauce
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs (I prefer parmesan or garlic)
1 1/3 cup mayonnaise
1.     Heat butter and oil in a large skillet.
2.     Slice both red and sweet onion finely. Sautee a few minutes.
3.     Slice the peppers and chile and add to the sautee. 3-5 minutes depending on heat.
4.     Near the end, add the garlic.
5.     Remove from heat and let cool.
6.     Add the crab and all other ingredients except egg, mayonnaise and bread crumbs.
7.     Lightly beat the eggs and mayonnaise. Add to the mixture
8.     Add the seasoned bread crumbs to the point where the mixture holds together but is not dry.
9.     Note-if the mixture is runny and you are out of bread crumbs, press the moisture out of the mixture, either through a strainer. If it’s still runny, chop more bread crumbs to reduce the moisture. If the mixture if runny when cooked, the cakes won’t stay together, and will fall apart.
10. Using a small round tablespoon scooper, cantelope scooper or such item, scoop, round and place in the hot skillet.
11. Note: To ensure a nice, even crab crake, use a fork (or other object) to slighty flatten the crab cake. If I am in a rush, I use a bacon press. This ensures the cakes are even and cook very fast.
Sherry-Cayenne topping:
1 cup mayannaise
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1.     Mix all three items together
2.     Place a dollop on each crab cake

Tofurkeys and other strange turkey alternatives

We recently accepted a dinner invitation to have Thanksgiving dinner with some friends and dine on a fabulous, man-made concoction, a “Tofurkey.” As my mom reads this, I imagine her first looking up and asking my father “what’s a Tuforkey,” as though it’s a new swear word.

Mom. Not so. We are talking about an actual turkey, made of tofu and molded in to the shape of a Turkey. And because you don’t know what tofu is all about, it’s a non-meat based substance that you wouldn’t deign to taste. If you did, you’d swirl it around in your mouth, then spit on the floor. We have been informed the entire tofurkey with all the trimmings are available at Whole Foods.

Rog and I are pretty excited. After all, how often do I get to experience anything new at 42? And since we’re going to deflower our tofurkey selves, we’re going all in. This means having the vegetarian  stuffing, or whatever vegetarians substitute for stuffing, since it can’t have innerds in it, potatoes (sans butter or cream) and some type of vegetarian pumpkin pie. I did propose a desert or two, just in case the experiment goes bad, like Jeff Goldblume in The Fly. That idea got shot down hard and fast. As Roger later remarked, “you gonna gamble with your life, do it all the way.”

It got me thinking about other Thanksgiving dinners where we felt on the edge. During one Thanksgiving meal at another friends home, we ate some type of other white meat, but it was unidentifiable. It was complimented with cherry rice stuffing and walnuts (odd), roasted bell peppers and blueberry cobbler. Even immigrants to this country know it was pumpkins, not blueberrys. We said nary a word, ate as much as decorum dictated, then hit the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home. The friendship was short-lived.

Tofurky, non-molded kind

The year after, we figured we’d play it safe, and invited friends over. The couple were Australian, and came on the condition they cook in our kitchen. No problem. We knew them both to be carnivores. To whit, she spent three hours turning over little hens that turned out beautifully. The other food was an odd jumble of items I didn’t eat and don’t recall. This was because I was so famished after four hours I’d snuck Ritz crackers from the pantry to avoid starvation. 

This year, our next door neighbors are going to have venison, but this is a part of deer if I’m not mistaken. Sounds gamey, anti-bambi and wild in a barbaric, I-have-to-go-kill-something type of a way. Then there is the fish alternative, Salmon being an obvious. Can’t think Washington without conjuring up a salmon. Having arrived on the other side of “Salmon Days” festival this last weekend, it’s time to give the slippery critters a break so they can mate and die as God intended.

If we go strictly vegan, we could get a  roast, made of butternut squash, apples and mushrooms, a vegan turkey breast from Whole Foods, and then other strange things I’m not even going to mention.

For the pie recipe, I found this one from Nava Atlas. It sounds pretty strange, and haven’t made it myself, but as long as you (MOM) are reading, I figured I’d get crazy and put it in. You’ve tried fifteen different bread pudding recipes lately, so you might as well try a new pumpkin one!

2 cups well-baked and mashed butternut squash or sugar pumpkin (see Notes)
3/4 cup silken tofu (about half of a 12.3-ounce aseptic package)
1/2 cup natural granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or 1/4 tsp. each ground nutmeg & ginger)
9-inch good quality graham cracker or whole grain pie crustPreheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the pumpkin or squash pulp in a food processor with the remaining ingredients (except crust). Process until velvety smooth.
Pour the mixture into the crust.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture is set and the crust is golden.
Let the pie cool to room temperature.
Cut into 6 or 8 wedges to serve.

NOTES: To bake butternut squash or sugar pumpkin, halve the squash or pumpkin (you need a really good knife to do so!) and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place the the halves cut side up in a foil-lined, shallow baking dish and cover tightly with more foil. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the pulp and discard the skin. Use any leftover squash or pumpkin pulp for another purpose.If you want to make this in a hurry, you can use a 16-ounce can of pureed pumpkin.

In the meantime, I’m going to get all ready for my first tofurkey, and let you know how it goes.

9 cooking rules to live by

In preparation for the cooking class I’m giving nxt wknd, I’ve been jotting notes down for a little give-away cookbook. In occurred to me that if I have cooked for nearly thirty-five years and had no clue on the very basics, I’d be doing a favor by sharing my lessons learned.

Sarah’s General Cooking Basics

1.         Eggs at room temperature (better for fluff), better for integration. Also whip faster when room temperature. If you have only cold eggs, heat by cracking the eggs into a metal-bottom bowl. Place bowl in warm water for a few minutes. This will warm the eggs, but not ruin the properties. Saves hours of room-temp time.
2.     Sugar-super fine when required and called for…BUT, not good for most recipes. In fact, one time I made the mistake of using superfine for Macaroons and completely ruined the recipe. The macaroons didn’t hold shape, so instead of being like little mountains, they were flat, white oil stains on my cookie sheet.
3.    High quality chocolate. Ghiradelli. Moderate cost and highest output for cost. Through experimentation, I’ve found the Baker’s chocolate is OK, but it’s a more corse. The texture isn’t as nice, nor is the flavor as rich. I also have to add a titch more sugar when I use Baker’s, than when I use brand such as Ghiradelli. (yes, titch is my technical cook’s phrase).
4.    Convection vs not. Convection bake-great for baking w/crust. Pure convection, great for meats. Regular bake, best for dairy-based, such as cheesecake. Unfortunately, the timing is all over the map, depending on the brand. While some of my cookbooks identify or recommend times, I tend to go on-line to get the timing for my particular brand of oven, Dacor. I learned the lesson the hard way, using the recommended time from the cookbook for a Thanksgiving roast, and ended up blowing $70.00 worth of meat because it was overdone. Never again!
5.    Always, always grill onions and garlic in butter. Flavor is much better. When I’m feeling frisky, I skip the oil altogether. For example, in scalloped potatoes. I modified an already to-die-for cardiac arrest recipe by using butter, and it was much better. Granted, I had to do a bit of skimming from the top, but then I cut this by using extra thick whipping cream (organic), and it was awesome.
6.   Organic whipping cream. Now, I’m not a nut about the whole organic thing. I try as much as I can. Yet non-organic buttermilke has no difference in the texture of the recipe (and I can’t tell in the taste). On the other hand, I promise you, organic whipping cream is the only way to go. For whatever reason, the texture and outcome of the recipe is SOO much better with organic. I’d recommend my local provider, but understand they are only, well, local. Sorry.
7.    Always add the herbs in the butter vs the raw in the item. Flavor spreads better. I’m not a trained cook mind you, just a hack with forty-years experience. I don’t care what the cookbooks and chefs on TV say—I prefer to add certain seasonings during the sautéing part because the flavor—expands—is the best choice of word. This is particular true when the sauté is being added to breads or other item that will suck up the seasoning.
8.    Underbake ‘baked’ items (brownies, cookies) for better texture, by at least 1-2 minutes. Here again, practice makes perfect. I’ve spent more than hundreds of dollars baking cookies, brownies etc that are perfect when warm, and perhaps the first hour afterward. Beyond that, Rog might as well use them for a hockey puck. Unless the recipe identifies how it will turn out, I underbake. Then it will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days no problem.
9.    Sweat the lentils. Ensures no soggy, mushy soups (works with peas as well). For years, my soups fell victim to globs of mushy goo, instead of nice, split pea soups with identifiable peas. The same was true for lentils. Then I was told by a nice old woman, the trick was sweating the lentils.

This means to take the lentils (or peas/whatever) put in the pot with oil (which I replace with butter) and ‘brown’ them, for about 3-7 minutes, depending on the quantity. This ensures the lentils hold their nice shell while cooking the inside (of course, after you add everything else and follow the rest of the recipe).
I have a 10th, but thought 9 sounded less daunting!

Taquito bite appetizers

Last night was Apple Celebration, a wonderful adoration of children, fall colors and all things that fall from trees. My task was to prepare an appetizer and I willfully rebelled against the inclusion of apples. It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s that my husband, and men in general, want meat in addition to, or instead of, one sweet dessert and app after another. I made three dozen, the first plate was emptied in between the I put it down and turned around to get the other serving dish and put it on the table. 

Layered Taquio Appetizer

This is always sell-out recipe of my own concoction. It’s fast, easy and inexpensive.

Sarah’s double-layer Taquito bites

Time to prep: 20 min

Kitchen needs:

  • Sautee pan

Ingredients to purchase

  1. sweet onions (1)
  2. small chicken (pre-roasted) is fastest
  3. 1/2 red bell pepper
  4. 1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper (see note below)
  5. Good olive oit
  6. Salted butter
  7. Corn tortillas
  8. Sour cream
  9. Salsa
  10. Seasonings:
    1. chile seasoning
    2. tobasco (optional)
    3. hungarian sweet paprika
    4. kosher salt
    5. cilantro (but can use parsely if you don’t care for cilantro)

Note: (I have a thing against green bells. I’ve found guests don’t like the stronger taste of greens, so I opt for the other colors. The flavor is a bit sweeter. You can substitute at will).

Prepare the chicken. I was in a rush yesterday, so I cheated a purchased an organic, pre-roasted chicken for $6.75 at the local market.
    Sauteed ingredients
  • Sautee in a few tbls oil the onion for @3 min, just until it starts to turn transulcent. Add the bell peppers (remember, it’s only half of the large ones. Anything more overwhelms the amount of chicken).
  • Sautee it all for another 5 min, enough to soften the peppers but retain some stiffness.

    Cookie cutter rounds
    a must for every cook


  • Add a tbls or more of butter. I almost always add some butter to the sautee. It gives the onions a lot more flavor and richness that oil doesn’t.
  • A minute or so before you pull it off the range, add the chopped chicken, chile, tobaso and salt.Mix it all together so the flavors blend.
  • Take it off the stove to let cool.
In a skillet (preferably the kind that’s metal, not non-stick), drop enough oil for the corn tortillas. Since the smallest tortillas are taco size, I use metal cookie cutters to reduce the size. It’s witnessed that larger apps don’t get eaten because it’s too big for a guest to hold and manage. Smaller apps are called finger foods fo a reason. This doesn’t mean a guest will eat less–in fact, a guest will eat more of a smaller thing. 
Cutting the tortilla rounds

  • Take the round and cut into the tortilla. The larger round you choose will be the bottom for the taquito. Place the rounds in the skillet until lightly browned on each side.
  • Place the rounds on your serving dish, and place a spoon full of filling in the center.
  • Add a drop of salsa and sour cream (I don’t add sour cream all the time, just in case someone has a dairy allergy).
  • Cut smaller rounds, place in skillet, brown and layer on the top of the taquito.
  • Layer the taquito
  • Finish with either sour cream, cilantro or other garnish like sprinkle (grated) cheese, if you don’t have to transport somewhere. Last night, I had to transport the dishes, so skipped everything but the grated cheese.

Baby food for dummies & ROI

When I recently went to LA for a 3 day trip, the lives of my daughters relied upon Rog’s father skills. He was covered during the day, when the kids were with our local Grandma. It was the twelve hours from 6-6 that had me a bit worried.

Sure enough, as I dined on Sushi in Beverly Hills, I get this text : ‘Baby food out. What now??’

The stores weren’t closed you see. He’d gone, revolted at the price of baby food, and determined our daughter was going to be the Ghandi of Maple Valley by staging a hunger strike. When her limit reached two hours, he calls me.

“Make it,” I texted. Someone who is so cheap as to decline buying sustanance doesn’t warrant the cost of a phone call.

Back he goes to the store, diving her preferred foods of sweet potatoes and carrots were enough. He splurged, and went organic. The following day, he said I needed to blog this for all the fathers who don’t know how to make baby food, and their mother’s who are “spending outrageous amounts of money on baby food!” (my long-suffering family knows this little factoid abt Rog. He doesn’t care about the big things in life. It’s the little nickle-and-diming that drives his soul deep into the woods).

3 Steps to the best, organic baby food

1. Purchase the stuff.

2. Boil until you can insert and remove a knife.

3. Blanche. This means–pour out the hot liquid and immediately fill with cold water. This ensures the peel comes off from the root.

4. Let cool in a bowl.
5. Place in cuisinart w/a bit of liquid. Get the consistency nice and mushy, especially if your baby has no, or some teeth. **carrots and other things, such as peas, are better in the Osterizer, and then strained-particularly the peas.
A batch will last a few days. Refigeration is required, as the vegies will spoil quickly if left out.
Total Return on Investment: Man-speak for savings 
Cost of 7 days worth of food: 3 feedings, 4 bottles/day (organice baby food): $18.00 / day or $126/wk
Making it yourself: $12 for 2 lbs of food.
Total savings? $114

The only downside of this adventure was then I was forced to acknowledge the convenience had far outweighed the cost factor in my personal hierarchy of needs. We played Rock Paper Scissors to determine how much our child should be fed what, end on our own 99%, but having the back-up for emergencies. I’m down with that, particularly since I manage the grocery budget. Thanks to Rog, I now have more pin-money for other things.

Best gifts for women-my deepest secret no more

Due to an overwhelming request from certain women (and a few husbands) who shall remain anonymous, I’m reluctantly divulging my best secret for getting high quality jewelry at low prices.


Put it in your iphone notes. Your address book. Get on line. Get the newsletter. Get the catalog. Here’s why. Real diamond flower rings for $85 (on special today). Sapphire and diamond bracelet for $175. Big, fat quartz cocktail rings for $60. Here’s my philosphy–men, if you’re going to spend $50 bucks on a steak dinner that’s going to process through your stomach and out your bum in 3 hours, why not take that money and buy something for your significant other, who will give you undying love for a lot longer than 3 hours. (Rog is screeching in the background). He hates it when I use that analogy, but it’s TRUE. Men want fishing poles. Women want jewelry.

Girls. We have some shopping to do. Christmas is coming up, that means moms, sisters, friends. Then MEN, we have Valentines, then Mother’s Day shortly thereafter.

For the absolute, positive, best deal around, this is what you do.

1-get the catalog. The catalog often has extra special 25% off the normal 50% off prices

2-get on the newsletter. The on-line newsletter sends out extra 10% off deals. Today, I got one that announced another 15% off on a ring I’d already purchased for a friend a few months ago from the catalog. While the difference wasn’t huge, it was still another twenty bucks.

3-be ready to pounce. I’ll admit it. I love a good deal. Who doesn’t?

My trick is to take all the loose change around the house and put it in a little piggy account. Rog actually calls it my pin-money. As in, the forty-year old phrase used to describe housewives who took a dollar and pinned it to their brassiere “just in case.” I love the pin-money phrase, because it’s never enough to be MAD money. I keep a ziplock back in my car for loose change, a bag in the kitchen (for Rog’s loose change) and one in the laundry room, for change that falls out of Rog’s pocket. See my strategy? It all adds up to big bucks. Every 20 counts. It only takes a few twenties and badda-bing-badda-boom, I can buy a new ring.

I’m already planning for Christmas, because the economy is so bad, that things are going on sale earlier than every. Why pay retail is my motto. Have fun and think ahead!!!

Great baby finds for showers & gifts

Something’s in the air, and it involves big bellies. Six women are preparing to give birth in the next few months. With the recession slamming the doors on already threatening boutique baby shops, where does a girl (and some husbands/friends/spouses) turn, but to the Internet.

I’m going to save someone the time and energy of looking and give you some great sources for unique, high-quality and affordable baby stuff. And if you’re a man reading this, remember that you win GREAT POINTS for getting your female co-worker, cousin, sister, friend, something cool. You are guaranteed to be named in a will if you actually look/find/buy it yourself, without relying upon a female conspirator.

First things first. The best, highest-quality and least expensive source for printed anything. I’ve used Tinyprints for my own birth announcements, two wedding shower and a baby shower. If you want to surprise someone, use this source (shout out to Darcy for showing me the way on this one). Pick the item, the color, upload the photos, proof and wallah! You are done and looking like a superstar.

Next, go for the gifts at Too Cute Baby Gifts. I particularly like the Personalized section, because it has items as low as $19.99 and then upper end stuff of course. Think this is over-the-top? Think again. 20 bucks is about the same as a dinner at a regular restaurant (or less), and it will last years. The impression and thought goes a long way. I spent another $10 and got the lamb set for the wife of my voice teacher. At $27, it’s a great gift, and free shipping. If you don’t have a clue, go for the giftbaskets. You can’t go wrong.

If you are a fashionista, and want to make a statement (as in, get all the other ladies and a few men saying ‘aahhhh’), check out I love the variety of organic bibs, burping, nursing clothes etc., and the cool baby bags, although that’s normally an oxymoron. But I’ve had good luck, as in, the mom-to-be has never returned one.

I’ve a few more, but I need to reserve a few for the next two weeks before I do my shopping. I’d hate to have every single friend check out what I’m going to get.

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