Easy Pumpkin-Coconut Dog Biscuits

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Like a lot of dogs, Luke and Dexter can tell time. They know exactly when breakfast should be served, and each one turns into Mister Anxious Pants around 5 p.m. when some human had better be working on their dinner plates. Then, at 8, on the dot, Luke starts asking for his evening Milk (Costco) bone. And, finally, they know that they get a last little bite just before the lights go out and they curl up for the night.

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That last treat can range from dried sweet potato strips to dog cookies that look remarkably like vanilla Oreos. After running out of the expensive and sugary cream-filled dog cookies, that I confess I bought because I thought they would look pretty in the glass treat jar I keep in the bedroom, I decided that it would be healthier for them, and less expensive for me, to bake their cookies myself. After all, I make their main meal, so I might as well prepare dessert, too.

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Review: Trader Joe’s Single Serve Coffee Cups

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So, who received a Keurig single serve coffee brewer for Christmas? If you’re one of the lucky recipients, then pretty soon your stash of K-Cups is going to run out. Like the rest of us, you’ll be on the hunt for affordable K-Cups or single serve cups that also offer up a great cup of coffee. I’ll be straight with you — that coffee expedition doesn’t always end well. This comes from someone who’s sampled just about every single serve coffee that finds itself on a grocery shelf. Check here, here and here for some of my other single serve reviews.

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I was tickled a couple of months ago when I was snooping around Trader Joe’s and came across boxes of medium roast, single serve coffee cups with the Trader Joe’s moniker splashed on the label. I snapped up a box and quickly went straight to my Keurig coffee brewer to sample the goods.

I’ve got a love affair going with Trader Joe’s. And like any long-term, passionate relationship, it has its ups and downs. Highlights include the Lilliputian cornichons, those puckery petite pickles from France. Next to France, this is the best place on earth to purchase them at a ridiculously affordable price. Not fond of most of the pasta sauces in a jar at Trader Joe’s, but I just avoid them. They’re not a reason to break up.

So, what did I think when I sipped my first cup of Trader Joe’s single serve coffee? Keep the romance going or break it off? Check out my review:

Trader Joe’s Coffee Cups Single Serve Cups, medium roast, $2.99 for a box of 7 cups.

First look: This is a medium roast coffee made with 100-percent Arabica beans. While you might not notice it right away, the label does say that there are seven single serve cups in the box. Unlike traditional K-Cups, Trader Joe’s single serve coffee cups don’t feature a foil top and solid plastic cup design.

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As you can see, the Trader Joe’s single serve cups have a thin plastic film top and soft mesh sides reinforced with hard plastic strips. Open the box and you’ll find that each cup is individually wrapped.

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Good news: At just under 43 cents per single serving, Trader Joe’s coffee cups are well under the average price for most single serve cups. It’s a medium roast, so it’s not a wimpy cup of joe. Since each cup is wrapped in air tight packets, the coffee can stay fresh. The cups are recyclable. 

Bad news: Because the cups are individually wrapped, the box only holds seven servings, which is inconvenient when it comes to storage. For instance, the box is slightly larger than Tully’s K-Cup, which holds 12 K-Cups.

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But, really, it’s about the flavor when it comes to coffee, isn’t it? And that’s where Trader Joe’s coffee cups and I have to part ways. I had a few other people taste it, and we all agreed that it reminded us of the ground coffee that came out of a metal can. And not the upscale brand, either. It had a slightly bitter finish, without any of the rich flavors we expect from a good cup of coffee. Someone mentioned that it was reminiscent of old-timey coffee shop coffee. Not a compliment.

Last words: If you like a dull cup of joe, go ahead and give Trader Joe’s Coffee Cups a whirl.

Have you tried Trader Joe’s Coffee Cups? If so, what did you think? Would you buy them again?

Dried Chile Salsa Roja

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I just wrote a food cover for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on cooking with dried chiles, and wanted to share this recipe for one of my favorite dried chile salsas made by my friend, Deya. It’s authentic to the state of Sonora, Mexico, where it’s made fresh daily before dinner. But it can be found throughout much of the country. It’s so easy to make, and you can play around with the ingredients to suit your taste. For me, the slightly floral and bitter flavors from the dried chiles are a big plus. But you can throw in extra tomatoes if you prefer a little less drama in your salsa.

Either way, you can’t go wrong. This is the ideal salsa to go with chips and margaritas, but it’s equally good spooned over eggs and fried potatoes. In fact, I like to poach my eggs in a skillet with the bottom covered with a layer of hot salsa roja. Try some on grilled steak, you won’t regret it. This is a well-blended salsa, not chunky. But it does retain some texture, and you’ll get a blast from the caramelized garlic that just adds to the bold flavors from the chiles.

You can find the dried chiles in clear bags in the international section of just about any supermarket today.

Dried Chile Salsa Roja

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 guajillo chilies, stems snipped

6 chilies de arbol (if you want a mild salsa, you can use 2 dried California or New Mexico chilies, instead.)

5 garlic cloves, cut in half

3 whole fresh Roma tomatoes

1 15-ounce can fire roasted whole or diced tomatoes (Plain works, too.)

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

1/4 of a white onion

1 teaspoon salt

Add oil to a medium saucepan or skillet, turn heat to medium.

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When the oil is hot, add the chilies and garlic to the pan and toss them around for about 10 minutes until the garlic is a pale golden color and the chilies darken slightly. Take care not to burn the garlic or chilies.

Remove and place in blender.

Place the Roma tomatoes in the pan and add a bit more oil if you need to, and shake the tomatoes over medium heat until some of the skin turns dark and starts to blister. It should just take a couple of minutes.

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Cut the stem end off of the tomatoes, quarter them and place them in the blender with the rest of the ingredients.

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Blend until smooth.

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Makes about two cups of salsa in just a few minutes. You’ll never have to buy salsa from a store again.

Do you have a favorite salsa recipe you’d like to share? I’d love to know about it.

Dried Chile Salsa Roja Recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 guajillo chilies, stems snipped

6 chilies de arbol (if you want a mild salsa, you can use 2 dried California or New Mexico chilies, instead.)

5 garlic cloves, cut in half

3 whole fresh Roma tomatoes

1 15-ounce can fire roasted whole or diced tomatoes (Plain works, too.)

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

1/4 of a white onion

1 teaspoon salt

Add oil to a medium saucepan or skillet, turn heat to medium.

When the oil is hot, add the chilies and garlic to the pan and toss them around for about 10 minutes until the garlic is a pale golden color and the chilies darken slightly. Take care not to burn the garlic or chilies.

Remove and place in blender.

Place the Roma tomatoes in the pan and add a bit more oil if you need to, and shake the tomatoes over medium heat until some of the skin turns dark and starts to blister. It should just take a couple of minutes.

Cut the stem end off of the tomatoes, quarter them and place them in the blender with the rest of the ingredients.

Blend until smooth.

Makes about two cups of salsa.

 

Review: Barefoot Contessa Frozen Beef Stew Bourguignon

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I confess. I’ve been waiting for months – with a sense of dread – for the new frozen offerings by Ina Garten to show up in my grocer’s freezer. Despite her laid back demeanor, she’s a shrewd business woman, so I wasn’t surprised last year when I heard she was coming out with a line of frozen dinners; just a little disappointed. 

For me, Garten conjures up French favorites carefully prepared in her fabulous kitchen, not another food personality-branded frozen meal from a wrinkled plastic bag. So, when I finally spotted those red-and-pink striped bags, I had to try one out. I side-stepped the pasta dinners and went for the most ambitious – beef stew bourguignon. I’m French so, growing up, boeuf bourguignon was my Dinty Moore. I can spot an impostor from 20 paces.

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Review: S2O Laundry Detergent Sheets

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I don’t know about you, but I tend to buy fairly large jugs of laundry detergent, which end up taking a lot of precious space in a fairly tight laundry room. And they’re pretty unwieldy at times. So, when the PR folks who rep S2O Laundry Detergent Sheets asked if I’d like to try the product, I thought I’d give it a go. 

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I consider my laundry needs to be uncomplicated, but I am a stickler for clean, fresh laundry. However, I’m not a snob about it; I don’t need to use only Brand A laundry detergent, for instance. Truthfully, I go for a low (not the lowest, mind you) price and an appealing fragrance. And, naturally, it should work well.

So, in putting S2O to the test, I didn’t want to simply run a regular load of laundry, instead I wanted a side-by-side comparison. To do that I needed two identical pieces that were soiled the same. That way, I could see if S2O cleaned better or worse than my liquid detergent. Continue reading

Review: Electrolux Ergorapido Brushroll Clean Stick Vac

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Each morning, I’m greeted with this:

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And this:

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Because of these:

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Dexter

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Luke

These two German shepherds are the reason I’m obsessed with vacuums. Combine that with the fact that I live in an area where I’m lucky enough to keep doors open year-round.

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So, along with massive amounts of dog fur flying around, there’s also fine dust and sundry bits of plants that float in and out of the house as the breezes blow and the dogs wander. Then, there’s the occasional bird wanting to take a look around, so the feathers fly as well.

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This is all to say that I vacuum a lot; some days I drag out the vacuum two or three times. And I’m always looking for the perfect cordless stick vac that will grab up dust and dog fur on hard surfaces as well as on throw rugs for quickie touch ups. The idea of plugging and unplugging a vacuum is so tedious. The small things get me.

So, when the folks at Electrolux contacted me about the new Ergorapido Brushroll Clean cordless vacuum, my knees got sort of wobbly at the thought that I might meet my dream stick vac.

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I’ve been giving it a good workout, but is it a keeper? It received the VIP award, meaning that Ergorapido Brushroll Clean cordless vacuum was named a “Good Housekeeping 2013 Very Innovative Product for the way it solves an everyday problem.”

Do I think it deserved its VIP status?

My review follows.

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Top tech gifts for Father’s Day; 5 must-haves for Dad

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Whether your guy is the outdoorsy type, or a wee bit of a nerdnik who prefers to hunker down with his digital toys, here are some ideas to make it easier for you to find just the right gift to make his day perfect.

Zepp Labs: GolfSense

This gadget is designed to analyze and record golf swing data to any iOS or Android device, giving dad the gift of a better golf game.

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The glove-based precision motion sensor easily attaches to the Velcro strap of any glove and wirelessly transmits swing data via Bluetooth to any mobile device, including iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android.

GolfSense records critical data, which is stored in the GolfSense Cloud, and provides tips and recommendations to improve each swing.

Available: Apple, GolfSmith.com
Price:
$129.99
Website: www.GolfSense.me

Crossfade M-100 customizable, over-Ear headphones by V-Moda

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These headphones were designed with serious music lovers and gamers in mind as a result of a collaborative effort from discerning critics that include audiophiles, DJ’s, music pros, journalists and gamers. 

Not only handsome and comfortable, the headphones deliver plenty of bass, crystal clear vocals while offering the listener the feeling that he’s sitting front and center at a live concert or deep in the bowels of the latest post-apocalyptic world.

Handy features include Universal SpeakEasy microphone cable for Apple iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows devices, SharePlay extended audio cable, and a virtually indestructible SteelFlex headband. Oh, and if you’re buying for a klutzy dad, not to worry; the M-100 can withstand a fair amount of pounding.

Note that Crossfade M-100 are over-ear headphones, meaning that they’re designed with cups that completely surround the ears, helping to isolate surrounding noise.

The headphones fold up neatly and come with a hard case that makes traveling a breeze.

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These headphones can be customized with any name, logo or personalized design. They come in matte black, shadow and white silver.

Available: V-moda, Amazon

Price: $310.00

Website: V-moda.com

Geneva Sound System model XS Bluetooth portable speaker

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Do you know a father who travels and likes to take some terrific sound along? Then consider the Geneva Sound System Model XS, billed as the world’s first portable audio system with true Hi-Fi sound. This stylish retro speaker got its good looks from the classic travel clock design.

The Swiss-designed Sound System hides its speakers, amplifiers, FM radio, alarm clock and telescoping antennae inside a hard, leather-like  case, which is available in red, white or black.

It works with any Bluetooth-enabled device, including iPad, tablets and other smartphones. It also works without Bluetooth by connecting the 3.5 mm line-in cable that’s included.

Weighing in at just over a pound, the unit includes a pair of tweeters, a woofer and a power amplifier.

Available: Geneva, Amazon

Price: $199.95

Website: Geneva Lab

MyCharge Freedom2000 Powercase for iPhone 5

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Don’t let dad’s new iPhone 5 go naked when it could be wearing this metallic armor that not only keeps it safe, but also features a built-in  Apple Lightening connector. That means double the battery life for two times more emailing, texting, photo posting and game playing. The slim case, which easily snaps on and off, comes with a USB charging cable, but note that it doesn’t feature a screen protector. Comes in metallic black or silver.

Available: MyCharge, Amazon,

Price: $79.99

Website: MyCharge.com

Wahoo Fitness: Blue HR Heart Rate Monitor

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Wahoo’s Bluetooth heart rate strap turns that smartphone into an all-in-one training partner to keep your favorite father at his physical best.

The easy to use gadget offers up heart rate information in real time so that dad can check his current, average and max heart rate along with time spent in heart rate zones. It also generates information on calories burned.

Since it’s designed to work in the background, dad can still use his apps, make calls and text without worrying about losing data.

While the heart rate monitor comes with a free Wahoo Fitness app, it also works with other popular apps. And it allows dad to easily upload his fitness results to the web via wireless Bluetooth technology.

Available: Wahoo, Amazon

Price: $69.99

Website: WahooFitness.com

Review: Eight O’ Clock Dark Italian Roast K-Cups

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I confess. I almost snickered out loud when a dear friend started touting a K-Cup from a brand that, for years, my coffee-snob mentality had placed on ignore. Eight O’Clock coffee? Seriously? Good? Please.

But, I trust this friend with my palate, and I’m the one who originally steered her to the often-fantastic world of Keurig, so I wanted to take her seriously when she told me that Eight O’Clock made a terrific Dark Italian Roast K-Cup.

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I’m so out of the loop when it comes to Eight O’Clock coffee in any form that I didn’t even know if it was available in stores in my area. It is. And if you want to know more about the coffee that came in fifth according to the 2012 Harris Poll EquiTrend Rankings, then you can read about it here.

If you want to know what I thought of Eight O’Clock Dark Italian Roast, then please continue reading my review.

Eight O’Clock Dark Italian Roast K-Cups, $6.99 for a box of 12 at most grocery stores and mass merchandisers and online.

First look: It’s hard to miss the deep violet box that contains the Eight O’Clock K-Cups with matching vivid lids.

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The coffee is made with 100-percent Arabica coffee and is distributed by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The label touts that Dark Italian Roast offers up a European dark roast that’s “full-bodied and balanced with chocolate overtones.”

Good news: First, I have to say I’m pleased with the price. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the deal of the year, but I found it on sale and wasn’t sure what I would end up with, flavor-wise. I’m sorry I didn’t buy more. This coffee is surprisingly good, verging on fantastic. As it came out of the Keurig brewer, Eight O’Clock started developing a lovely little foamy head.

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Looks aside, Dark Italian Roast didn’t disappoint taste-wise. I like my coffee pretty much the way I like my red wine: brash and obnoxious, which is just a convoluted way to say dark and strong. And, hold the bitterness. That’s exactly what I got with Eight O’Clock Dark Italian.

I prefer a six-ounce cup, and with Dark Italian, I ended up with a bracing mug of morning joe that popped my eyes open, without making me wince as it slid down. When I brewed an eight-ounce cup, the flavor was tamer, but not to imply wimpy. However, I’ll stick to the smaller but richer, more assertive cup.

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So, why am I showing you an empty mug?

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Because Eight O’Clock leaves little to no sediment at the bottom of the cup. That’s a big fat plus in my book when it comes to K-Cups.

Bad news: Well, it’s still not as cost effective as Kirkland Signature Pacific Bold K-Cups from Costco. See my review here. And, while I can’t knock the full, deep coffee flavors of Dark Italian, it reminds me more of a French roast, which I think of as slightly lighter in flavor than an Italian roast.

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So, if you want to imagine yourself sitting in a little café near Portofino, sipping on a what you think a potent cup of Italian java might taste like, then Eight O’Clock Dark Italian Roast might not really take you there. (But this photo I took certainly will.)

Last words: If you like a robust, slightly smoky cup of coffee, and you find Eight O’Clock Dark Italian Roast K-Cups in your supermarket, grab a box and let me know what you think.

Note: A quick word about those Keurig brewers. Love mine, but I bought one for a friend exactly two years ago, and she just informed me that it went cups up. No way to revive it. Her brother bought one and it also went to the Keurig graveyard within two years. And another friend had the same sad tale. I’m not sure if they’re going to buy Keurig again or give up. Have you had issues with your Keurig brewer biting the dust before its time? If so, did you get it repaired? Buy another? Go to another brewer? Adore my Keurig, but I want everyone to have a great experience with this convenient appliance, so please share your Keurig story with me. Thanks.

Review: Dyson DC50 Animal Vacuum Cleaner

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Of all the appliances in my house, I have to say that the vacuum is the most important. It’s not that I’m obsessive about clean floors, although I like them that way, but with more than 200 pounds of German shepherds running around, literally, well, as you can imagine, the fur flies. Truthfully, it flies even when they’re still.

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Not only does all of that fur and hair find its way under, over and on just about every surface in the house, but it then magically morphs into balls of fluff. And after the fur makes a cohesive unit, it then manages to multiply with startling speed and tenacity. Think of the original Star Trek, when the Enterprise was overrun with Tribbles.

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This could be my house if I didn’t vacuum for a few days. Think I’m kidding? This is what a few swipes with the dog brush nets me.

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Even Dexter looks as if he can’t believe it. And it’s his.

So, when I say I take my vacuum seriously, believe it.

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Repurpose That (New) Bird Feeder

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Last year, I spotted these pretty glass bird feeders at HomeGoods.

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Unfortunately, I found only a handful and bought the ones I liked, thinking I’d go back and find more. That didn’t happened because the store never received any more of the feeders. Trust me, I checked and called around. Not only are these gorgeous, but they’re well-made and impossible to find elsewhere. Almost a year later, the feeders, which see a lot of bird action, are still in pristine condition.

This year, I started checking HomeGoods as soon as the weather warmed up, hoping I’d get lucky and find more of the feeders.

The chance of a hummingbird landing on my finger seemed a better bet since I kept coming up empty — until about a week or so ago. I finally spotted one. Yes, you read that correctly – a lone feeder – hidden among the plastic wheatgrass and guarded by a ceramic Siamese. It was the only one in the store, but it was a beauty, and priced at only $14.99.

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I wasn’t sure where I was going to hang the feeder, so it sat in my kitchen for a few days. The shimmery mercury glass and pewter-like accents fit right in with the grays, white and steel of the kitchen. So much so that I sort of hated to send it on its way to a life of bird seed and droppings.

On the other hand, a bird feeder, no matter how handsome, looks rather silly perched on a kitchen counter. And that’s when it hit me.

I’m a pincher, not a shaker, when it comes to salt. I keep little covered containers of salt around and pinch when I cook. I even pinch at the table.

And, so, I took the bird feeder apart and scrubbed it with soap and hot water, dried it well, then repurposed it so that it could live in my kitchen without looking out of place.

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It’s a perfect container for salt. And you’re not sticking your fingers into the whole dish, so people who worry about that can rest easy. You know who you are.

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So, what do you think? Crazy idea or clever repurposing?

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Review: Gevalia Dark Royal Roast Single Serve Cups

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OK, it’s no surprise that I’m constantly roaming store aisles for bargain K-Cups for my Keurig single-serve coffee maker. You can read my review here on Kirkland Pacific Bold cups found at Costco. The DIYer can check out my thoughts on the As Seen on TV Café Cup that you fill yourself by clicking this page.

I knew there was a new player in the single-serve cup game after watching those insipid TV ads featuring the Swede with the DIY bleach job and dreadful navy velvet blazer crashing the women’s book club with his sunny yellow bag of Gevalia coffee.

I was familiar with the coffee decades ago when magazine ads would tout this special-order java. And if you bought a certain amount of coffee, you would get this:

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I had to have that ceramic canister. Of course, it probably ended up at a yard sale, because I have no clue where it is, and had to find an image online. But, boy, did I want that thing at the time. And that’s pretty much all I remember about Gevalia coffee, except that I never associated Sweden with coffee. 

So, once the ads appeared for the ground coffee, I figured it was only a matter of minutes before single-serve cups popped up. I found Gevalia cups on sale and couldn’t resist giving them a try. Is this Swedish coffee worth it? Check out my results.

Gevalia Kaffe Dark Royal Roast Single Serve Cups, $5.99 (sale price, and $8.99 regular) for a box of 12 cups.

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First look: The bright yellow box is hard to miss.

And, as you can see, the cups are designed with ridges, unlike other single serve cups.

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The cups contain 100 percent Arabica coffee. The box touts “an exceptionally smooth, never bitter, coffee.” And, unlike most other brands, Gevalia gives you specific instructions by telling you to select the 8-ounce brew. I guess they figure if you bought a dark roast, then there’s no need to muck it up with too much water. The 8-ounce is usually my choice, so I didn’t have an issue with that. Oh, and it also states, twice, that the coffee will be very hot after brewing. Some things you just can’t argue with.

Good news: The sale price was good news. At first. I can’t think of another nice thing to say. Wait. The ridges on the cups are sort of pretty. I like yellow.

Bad news: I never shy away from bold, flavorful coffee. And when you promise me, as Gevalia did, an intense, complex, full-bodied cup of java, then I shouldn’t have to endure a vapid, Johnny One Note with as much body as a jelly fish and a bitter edge that makes me long for coffee from a hospital vending machine. And, sure, it was strong, but that hardly translates to a good cup of joe.

Last words: Gevalia Dark Royal Roast was a bitterly disappointing cup of coffee.

Freekeh-Stuffed Game Hens

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From its early beginnings in ancient Mediterranean lands to technologically savvy production Down Under, Freekeh brings a new addition to the tables of those of us looking for healthy grains.

Known as farik in Middle Eastern and North African dishes, Freekeh (pronounced freek-ah), is not quite as exotic as its moniker might suggest. It’s simply immature wheat harvested while the grain is still soft, then fire roasted. But it’s what those green grains retain that offer up nutritional magic.

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Review: Drybar Detox Dry Shampoo

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I love squeaky clean hair, but the truth is that my hair is fairly fine and stick straight, so super clean translates to limpy wimpy. I don’t know about you, but for volume and body, I turn to products. Lots of them. Volumizers, root lifters, shimmer sprays, spray gels, leave-on conditioners, rinse-off conditioners, heat protectors, freeze hair spritzers, well, you get the idea.

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Those represent just a handful, and not all of them are invited to the party at the same time, but they all get to play in my hair at some point.

A couple of years ago, I discovered what a lot of people already knew: If you add color to your hair, you end up with extra body. My stylist says that it adds about 30-percent volume. It’s true, and I could tell immediately when, after holding out for years, I finally succumbed to partial highlights. Instant body.

Because I seldom go to the salon, I’m careful about keeping those pricey highlights their shiny best for as long as possible. One way to achieve that is to not wash my hair daily, which I used to do before discovering that my treated hair didn’t need daily washing. For some reason, it looked clean longer. And, yes, I do use shampoo for treated hair. I have a slew of those bottles and tubes, too. I’ll spare you.

Occasionally, between shampoos, my hair requires a little boost. Maybe I’m going out and don’t have time to wash it, or it’s just feeling a bit droopy. I don’t have get-out-of-bed-and-go-out-the-door hair. Mine is a wee bit on the needy side. I’ve tried several dry shampoos in the past, and they ranged from acceptable to horrid.

Recently, drybar, came out with a line of tools and products for the home user. I gave Detox dry shampoo a whirl; curious to see how it stacked up to others I’ve used. Check out my results.

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Removing Rust From Stainless Flatware & Scratches From Dishes

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I’m wondering if it’s possible that I’m the only person walking around who didn’t know how to quickly remove those obnoxious and pesky dark scratch marks from my dishes. You know, they’re the ones that are embarrassing when you have guests — to the point that you rummage around until you find the dish that you hope is the least offensive. Look at what I mean.

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Seriously, it looks as if a toddler armed with a number 2 pencil went on a scribbling spree all over my white bowls.

I did notice, however, the dishes I have that are a little pricier – Pottery Barn versus Cost Plus World Market, for instance, didn’t seem to have these marks. I don’t know if that’s across the board, it’s just my experience.

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Above is a white bowl similar to the scratched one, and just as old, but it’s from Pottery Barn and still looks like new.

Since nothing I tried removed the marks, I did what any resourceful person does in the 21st century — I Googled my way to pristine dishes. After all, if I could Google how to layer my hair, this was going to be a breeze. It was.

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Review: Applegate Super Natural Uncured Beef Hot Dog

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I’ll confess. For most of my life, I was not a hot dog fan. I thought them to be nothing more than skinny tubes of bologna, one of my least favorite things. I realize I’m sounding awfully un-American. (I don’t like baseball, either, so might as well bring on the folks from immigration.)

When, on the rare occasion, I found myself faced with eating a hot dog, I’d bury it beneath mustard and kraut. To the point that I couldn’t taste the dog. Only then was it palatable to me.

I’m all about condiments and, a few years ago, I noticed that some gas station mini marts started sprucing up their prepared food sections. The rolling hot dogs came with condiment choices that went way beyond those little packets of yellow mustard that you had to rip open with your teeth. Some of these places had veritable buffets of condiments ranging from chipotle mayo to spicy brown mustard and sliced pickled jalapenos. Big squeeze bottles filled with savory flavors and bold colors. I was mesmerized by the choices. The loaded dog became my go-to quickie road trip food.

Honestly, I don’t know if those hot dogs were good or not because they simply provided a vehicle for the add-ons. So, whatever flavor the chicken or turkey or beef or pork dogs might have had, it couldn’t possibly make its way through the tangled web of pickled peppers, chipotle goo, various mustards and the occasional smattering of relish.

My brief affair with the gas station hot dog halted abruptly when I realized that each one, before the condiment avalanche, packed about a whole day’s worth of fat. Throw in the preservatives, nitrites, MSG, artificial colors and flavors, the pork moles, beef cheeks and, well, it was easy for me to let the dog go. It was relegated to a quickie fling. Didn’t mean a thing.

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Limited Edition Pretties: Get them while you can!

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Here are some of the pretties that recently landed on my desk. Take a good look, and if you see an item that you can’t live without, jump on it because most of these are limited spring and summer editions, only available for a short while.

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Perfect Poached Salmon Pasta Salad

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I was inspired to make this salad by a visit to HomeGoods. In the section that holds olive oils, seasonings and other foodstuffs, bags of thick pasta rings in various vivid colors brought to mind refreshing calamari salads I’ve had in seaside restaurants but never thought to prepare myself.

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So, I snapped up a bag of the pretty pasta, and the next morning headed out to a local outdoor farmer’s market for more inspiration. I found gorgeous fennel with elegant feathery fronds and bouquets of organic oregano that released assertive perfume when the leaves were lightly crushed. But I was most excited about the vendor who, when not engaged in his primary occupation of performing therapeutic massages, which I only heard about by snooping in on his conversation with another customer, grew and sold peppery micro greens. I added them to my other ingredients.

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Review: KeVita Sparkling Probiotic Drinks

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It’s hard to ignore the growing number of enhanced waters showing up on your grocery shelves. Most of these rainbow-hued drinks are packed with promises ranging from weight loss to a good night’s sleep. And if you need help waking up, then there’s caffeinated H2O formulated to perk you right up without a java jolt.

I know folks who swear by these waters and sip them all day long. Truthfully, I have to make myself remember to drink water. And when I want a little punch, I choose Perrier or Lacroix. I don’t want my water flat and I like it flavored at times. Having said that, I don’t want it to taste cluttered or artificial, which is why I don’t gravitate to a lot of the enhanced waters.

I’m also practical. And when coupons came in the mail to try out KeVita Sparkling Probiotic Drink for free, well, color me in the pretty water department, pronto.

So, why would someone want probiotics in their water when they can get the live cultures in yogurt, powders and in pill form? Maybe because they don’t do dairy (soy yogurt aside), pills and powders. More likely, they fell under the spell of the marketing magicians, and water’s a hot commodity right now.

I recently tried a handful of KeVita Sparkling Probiotic drinks. Marketing hype or pretty good drink? My results follow.

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For The Love Of IKEA: 6 Kitchens You Should See

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I love my IKEA kitchens, even those in which I never had a chance to cook. And if you have an IKEA kitchen, chances are, I’d love yours, too. Style choices and price points are simply brilliant, so whenever I hear of someone considering a kitchen rehab, I’m all about convincing them that they should look to IKEA first.

Yes, the affordable price tag is a big issue. The fact that they’re made of pressed board and melamine isn’t. They’re as sturdy as the custom-made, high-end, high dollar cabinets I’ve put in a custom home, and the IKEA cabinets are even more functional. Try as you might, you can’t slam the cabinet doors. And the large drawers, which I now swear by instead of bottom cabinets, glide smoothly and effortlessly. They hold a ton of my heavy pots without any groaning or resistance.

For more IKEA specifics, take a look here.

I wanted to post some IKEA kitchens after reading Faith’s Kitchen Renovation. She has a ton of great advice, so there’s not much for me to add, but I do have some personal photos that might inspire you or at least get you to take a look at IKEA.

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Pretty Cheese, Please!

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For some, robins might be harbingers of spring, but I tend to get a head start when daylight saving time comes around. It’s hard to consider that  winter is still the norm for another week or so when it’s sunny and balmy at 6 pm. So, while my stock pot and Dutch ovens will still see plenty of action, I wanted to play in the kitchen without using an oven or grill. So, meet the pretty cheeses that came out of the kitchen today.

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Years ago, I was at a gathering where someone brought a wheel of Brie decorated with real pansies glued in place with a sheer veil of wine-spiked gelatin. I was attracted to that Brie like a cat to a rhinestone-covered field mouse. It looked as if it belonged in the window at Tiffany instead of on a kitchen counter.

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Chicken With Tarragon-Tomato Cream Sauce

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My former husband and I enjoy one of the more amicable relationships I know of when it comes friendly exes. But, really, I’m convinced that he only keeps in touch because he can’t keep track of the recipes I used to make when we were married. I deliberately left behind many copies of his favorites. And, since then, he’s jotted them down again (and again) after misplacing them, and I’ve ended up emailing the same recipes several times over. Futile endeavor. He’s one of those who never checks email.

That explains why my phone rings with desperate requests for the choucroute recipe or instructions for making bacon vinaigrette for my German potato salad, and the exact number of garlic cloves in the cream of garlic-and-carrot soup – and so it goes. But there’s one recipe that I used to offer when I started teaching French cooking, decades ago, that he never requests. That’s because he’s committed chicken smothered with a creamy tomato sauce scented with tarragon to memory. You see, it’s one of his absolute favorite dishes, and just about anyone who sits at his table will be served this chicken at least 10 times.

Truthfully, he’s not the only one. This easy chicken, good enough for company or when you’re simply in the mood for a homey meal, seems to be a favorite whenever I remember to share. Tomato and basil is a pretty standard combo, but tomato with tarragon is twisty enough to net you a pleasant surprise.

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Queen of Sheba Cake Bourbon Style

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I’m not a baker. I bake on occasion. There’s a difference. While I love to cook, baking is a little more like work to me. I have to pay close attention and, often, math is involved. That pretty much sucks the fun out of anything for me. Having said that, if I’m going to bake, then I’m going to put my spin on the item – within the confines of the chemistry involved, naturally.

And, so, the venerable French gateau, Reine de Saba, a.k.a. Queen of Sheba cake, gets a little twist when I put it together. This is a simple, single layer chocolate cake draped in a mirror-smooth chocolate glaze.

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It’s hard to mention this cake without saying that it got its popularity when Julia Child added it to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, her game changing collaboration with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.

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Review: Sunsweet Healthy Purple Country Bread

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While I’m not a big fan of raisins, I do love dried cranberries and prunes. And I realize that the word prune is about as sexy as I am with a towel wrapped around my head, a yogurt/honey facial mask dripping down my chin and tissue wadded between my toes during a DIY spa day.

It’s not pretty but, remember, according to some boors, prunes are what women end up looking like after a certain age. That’s why the marketing folks now have us calling prunes dried plums.

Seriously, there was research done showing that women between 24 and 54 “responded more favorably to the name dried plums.” However, women in other parts of the world have no such hang ups because a prune is still a prune in Paris or Addis Ababa.

Moniker aside, I was interested when I heard that Sunsweet, the big kahuna when it comes to dried plums – the fruit formerly known as prunes – launched a line of baked goods starring the dried purple fruit. The company offers cakes, cookies and assorted sweets, but it was the Healthy Plum Amazin Purple Country Bread that caught my eye.

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Moroccan-Style Chicken & Couscous

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If you’ve never had the pleasure of dining at a Moroccan restaurant, then you’ve missed out on a delicious combination of drama and allure. Oh, I’m not talking about the obviously exotic Middle Eastern dancers — belly dancers in Western terms. But, rather, the dramatically diverse dining experience that a Moroccan restaurant offers. Who doesn’t love sitting on a fat cushion like a Pasha and eating with their fingers, or having a server pour steaming sweet mint tea from a standing position directly into a skinny glass, without splashing a drop on your head? And, can I have a standing O on the brilliance of the hot hand towels scented with rosewater? Those should be standard issue in all restaurants, thank you.

The first time I tasted Moroccan fare was eons ago in a San Francisco restaurant. My heart and palate fluttered, and I practically wept from the lush sensory overload. And when the first taste of chicken perfumed with cinnamon hit my tongue, sure, I was confused, but also smitten. I’m French, cinnamon doesn’t really make an appearance in savory foods. A little nutmeg, mais oui.

So, years ago, when I started teaching French cooking classes, I decided to put together a Moroccan dish that paired chicken with couscous. Pretty much the national dish of Morocco – the couscous at least. The French colonized North Africa, very briefly, leaving the two cuisines forever linked by a thin but unbreakable thread. Good news for me because, back then, the classes I was teaching were weekly and, happily, I had one particular group that decided to enroll in my classes for several years in a row, which meant that I was scrambling each week to come up with new recipes, for which I’m grateful.

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DIY: Rustic China Cabinet

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So, a while back, I spotted this cabinet in a little seaside shop.

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I was drawn to the casual washed look of the piece and those gorgeous French window fittings. However, the price tag was several thousand dollars, and that wasn’t so appealing. Wasn’t in the budget, either.

But there was a wall in the dining room that really begged for a buffet or other type of furniture that would hold the extra dishes and serving pieces that were still living in boxes in the garage. Nothing looked as if it would work until this piece came along. But, even when it eventually went on sale, the price was prohibitive. I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it, but I’m never fond of paying retail unless I absolutely have to. And, in this case, I had a secret weapon.

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Strumpet’s Mussels

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My favorite adult Christmas memories revolve around a core group of friends preparing the celebratory dinner. I believe that everyone should have a special dish they hold dear for the big meal. Mine is pasta. With a red sauce. And it’s often puttanesca. Not very Christmas like to some but, for me, it shouts big time holiday fun.

I have a special fondness for the briny jumble of anchovies, capers and kalamata olives set off by fiery dried chili flakes and pungent garlic. And, so, when I wanted to make a big batch of mussels with a red sauce, I decided to twist it up a bit by incorporating some key elements from the puttanesca.

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I decided there was no point in using anchovies because the mussels happily provide flavors from the sea. This red sauce comes crowded with fresh garlic, plenty of dried red chili flakes and the addition of chopped kalamata olives and pert little capers. It’s also perfumed with some dried oregano.

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Pot au Feu: Classic French Brasserie Dinner

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As a kid, I remember that when my mother would pull out the large, chipped enameled pot that was the buttery soft yellow of an after dinner mint, it meant that the house would soon be filled with the heady fragrance of pot au feu – a beefy aromatic broth in which vegetables are simmered. Very basic, very French. Always revered.

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Light & Easy Blue Cheese Dressing/Dip

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I had a completely different recipe planned for today. But I got sidetracked as I spent the weekend firming up the ideas for the absent recipe. I ended up toying with a blue cheese dip to go with the fantastic smoked chicken wings I grabbed from the local Mexican grocer. On weekends, this little hole stokes its smokers and throws in a carnivore’s dream ranging from whole racks of ribs and tri-tip roasts to half chickens and meaty wings. The place also offers up a free pint of searing wing sauce with each order, so I ended up slicing a batch of  carrots and celery and enjoyed mock (but so much better) Buffalo wings.

While I absolutely love blue cheese and all of its permutations, I’m not overly fond of the high fat and calorie count that comes to the party. So, I put together a low-fat, low-cal blue cheese dressing that I think comes pretty close to the fatty fatty two by four versions. I decided to use this healthy blue cheese dressing as a blog entry this week for two reasons:

#1: I think you’ll like it. As a bonus, it’s so easy that you can practically prepare it in your sleep

#2: Next Sunday is the Super Bowl. While I don’t give a fig about the Super Bowl, it is, after all, a big food day. And wings, therefore blue cheese dressing, always hover at the top of the food list for the game. I’m all about the food.

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Review: Café Cup Resusable Single Cup Pod As Seen On TV

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I recently saw the TV ad for the Café Cup and, naturally, I went right out and tracked down this reusable pod because, as you might know if you’ve read my review of the Kirkland Signature Pacific Bold K-Cup from Costco, or the review of Starbucks Café Verona Dark K-Cups and the less costly San Francisco Bay French Roast pods, I adore my Keurig coffee brewer, but am always on the hunt for a more affordable cup of joe.

And, truth be told, I find it hard to resist As Seen On TV products. I always expect the worst, and am so seldom disappointed. If you doubt me, check out my review of the Schticky. And, can we say Eggies? Let’s not. What a mess those were.

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Easy Blood Orange/Meyer Lemon Curd With Puff Pastry Bars

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It wasn’t my intention to write about lemon curd. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favorite fillings on the planet, but it’s hardly difficult to find boatloads of good lemon curd recipes. While we’re on the topic, can we give the prize for the most god-awful moniker to the poor lemon curd? And, really, is its other hapless name — lemon cheese — any better? I didn’t think so.

So, the reason we’re here is because my Meyer lemon and key lime connection from Scottsdale called a few days ago asking for some advice regarding a lemon curd tart she wanted to make for a sick friend. I talked her out of it and suggested she make a simple dessert I used to serve for groups. The components were the same as her tart: lemon curd and puff pastry. The construction, however, differed.

I explained that she could simply cut puff pastry into bars, then after they were baked and cooled, spread some lemon curd on top, then shower with powdered sugar. That’s it. The end. I thought.

But the conversation was getting longer than I expected, and lots of questions were coming my way. It wasn’t her fault but, rather, mine. You know how when you’re explaining something you think is simple, because you’ve done it so many times, it translates as convoluted? I realized that’s what was happening. So, I decided to turn it into a post. The recipe was straightforward, but it wasn’t without its glitches.

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New Estee Lauder Shadow Launch & A Fab New Cire Trudon Candle

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Merida Candle From Cire Trudon & L’Arquiste

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Scented candles easily hover at the top of my list as favorite must-have accessories for the home. They provide the perfect final flourish in home décor, a bit like that spritz of Chanel before you head out of the door, dressed to the proverbial nines. 

Candle purveyors to French royalty since the 17th century, Cire Trudon, the oldest Paris-based candle company, has teamed with the Mexican perfume house, Arquiste, to create a new candle fragrance. Merida is the scent born from this Franco-Mexican collaboration. It conjures balmy evenings as described by Empress Carlota — ripe guava mingling with woody notes of mahogany, a bit of green and even a hint of gunpowder. (Gunpowder? Gotta love the folks who have to come up with this stuff. Having said that, I desperately want this pretty candle.) Made of natural wax for clean burning, this 9.5-ounce candle will be available in March for $90 at www.barneys.com

Estee Lauder Pure Color Stay-On Shadow Paints

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This month, Estee Lauder launched Pure Color Stay-on Shadow Paints, which offer myriad possibilities for mixing and applying bold tints to your lids. Go intense with these buildable mousse cream shadows or add just a bare wash of color — the choice is entirely yours, depending on your mood. Formulated not to crease and to last for 12 hours, Pure Color Stay-on Shadow Paints come in a range of shimmering shades that include Chained (gold), Pink Zinc, Bold Cobalt and Sinister (black). Each glass pot of shadow sells for $24 at Estee Lauder counters and esteelauder.com. Is it just me, or do these bring to mind M.A.C Paint Pots? I’m all about options, so that’s not a slam.

Oregano & Meyer Lemon Salmon En Papillote

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As winter trudges on, I’m met with a seemingly endless parade of soups, stews, various permutations of chili and other traditionally hearty, cold weather fare. Nothing wrong with those but, at some point, I need to lighten things up — add a bit of color and fresh flavors that give me a view to what spring might look and taste like even though it’s months away.

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And if I can get what I crave and demystify a venerable cooking technique, then all the better. So, let’s wrap this up, shall we? Literally.

I was inspired to put together this salmon en papillote (French for in parchment) by a generous gift of citrus that included my favorite Meyer lemons. While they might look gorgeous lounging in the sunlight, they’re infinitely better eaten.

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And what’s not to love about the perfume of Meyer lemons mingling with fresh oregano?

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En papillote sounds mysterious, but it’s nothing more than a simple oven steaming method that contains the ingredients – often fish and vegetables, but not exclusively — in a parchment package.

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Sparkly Gadgets from Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2013)

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I know that the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is finally winding down because, this morning, the last day of the show, my email inbox is getting some much needed rest after this week’s avalanche from the eager PR folks in attendance who want to share their clients’ shiny new gadgets. And I love gadgets, shiny or not, so plowing through the latest and greatest from the comfort on my home has been fun. And it’s lovely not having to deal with the hangovers, nor do I have to wonder how much filthy lucre I left behind at the casinos when it’s all said and done. Listen, before I start sounding positively puritan, put together a Vegas road trip and I’m there.

Easily the shiniest gadget of them all at CES, literally, debuts from Bling My Thing, the Berlin-based company that loves to bedazzle your mobile accessories. Meet the Extravaganza Collection.

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Designed by Ayano Kimura, the new collections: SKULLS, MINIMALIST+ and STUDS, offer edgy and elegant looks that let you rock your phones or tablets in high style.

For instance, the SKULLS cover clads your device with more than 200 hand-embedded Swarovski Elements – crystals that go beyond just faceted cuts. Color combinations include a black background with either red or purple skull and crossbones.

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My favorite is the MINIMALIST+.

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This crystal clear case sports a futuristic look and comes from sustainable bio-resin for a glassy look that resists scratches. Your iPhone will still look like its true self but wrapped in a nearly invisible force field.

And, finally, there’s the STUDS that’s, well, studded with Swarovski Crystal Pearls that imitate the real deal.

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While they may look delicate, these lustrous pearls are resistant to scratches, cleaning and, according to the designer, even perfume.

The STUDS, SKULL and MINIMALIST+ Collections will be available on Amazon.com and range in price from $34.99 to $99.99.

What do you think? Would you spring for one of these? I ask this, but, truthfully, my phone, which isn’t totally dumb, but not all that much of a genius, either, goes commando.

Puréed Red-And-Yellow Bell Pepper Soup

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I don’t know about you, but by the time January 1 makes its appearance, I’ve finally hit a wall when it comes to food. More accurately, at about December 29, I find myself desperately craving a big green leafy salad or a plate of nothing more than a steamed mound of broccoli florets, without a speck of anything remotely resembling a carbohydrate, protein or sugar.

But, then, I realize that New Year’s Eve, then New Year’s Day looms and, chances are, many ungreen items are going to find their way onto my plate. I did get a little respite from the feasting when I decided to share a gorgeous, healthy puree of red-and-yellow bell pepper soup I put together earlier this year. It’s party pretty with its vibrant orange tint, and skinny, calorie-wise, when you consider that it contains no cream, butter or flour. That’s what’s so charming about puréed soups – they don’t require any fattening ingredients for the thickening process.

This soup not only is pretty to look at, but it boasts a creamy, complex flavor and it’s a cinch to make. Even your gluten-free and vegetarian friends can indulge. 

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Pantry Cookies For A Crowd

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Each year, just before Christmas day, a few friends of mine randomly pass out reusable grocery bags they’ve loaded with treats and necessities to homeless people they come across around town. It’s a small family effort, but everyone gets involved. This year, one daughter donated $10 gift cards from a fast food eatery, while someone else bought hooded sweatshirts and long-sleeve T-shirts for each bag. The  fabric grocery bags aren’t huge, but they’re roomy enough to also hold socks, gloves, a water bottle, wipes and packaged snack foods.

I love the hands-on approach to this type of giving, and the randomness, so, this year I offered up some freshly baked cookies to add to the mix. In selecting what to bake, I decided to first eliminate fancy cut-out cookies with frosting because they wouldn’t pack well, and offering up broken, smeared cookies wasn’t an option. Continue reading

Cream of Brie Soup With Bacon, Caramelized Shallots & Puff Pastry Dome

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There’s going to be plenty of time for regrets later. You know, when January comes around and you realize that you’ve spent much of the past two months cramming things into your mouth that you’ve sworn off the previous 10 months.

But, for now, go ahead and indulge in your wildest culinary fantasies. After all, that’s a big part of what the holidays are about. For me, it doesn’t get much more decadent than a cream-based soup flavored with an oozy, bloomy Brie, smoky bacon and sweet caramelized shallots. Well, I lied. It does get more decadent when you top it off with a crisp golden dome masking sheets of billowy puff pastry.

And that’s exactly the soup I came up with this weekend. It’s a take on a cream of brie that I used to teach in my cooking classes. That version combined Brie with equal parts whole milk and chicken broth. No cream. And a little celery was the only other flavoring. It was a thicker, heavier soup than this sleek, revamped – and I think much more flavorful – version.

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I’ve done away with the milk and replaced it with fat-free chicken broth, and finished the soup with a little heavy cream. But the real flavor kick comes from the crisp minced bacon and sweet caramelized shallots, which are cooked separately and stirred into the finished soup – before the puff pastry dome is placed on top of the bowl.

The result is a silky texture. I always err on the side of thinner rather than thicker when it comes to cream soups. I‘m not a fan of gloppy soups in which a spoon can stand at attention. In this version, the flavors of Brie, bacon and shallots each rise to the occasion, never getting lost in the mix. And the crackly pastry provides a buttery note and some welcome texture.    Continue reading

Centrum Flavor Burst Adult Chews Multivitamin Review

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If you make supplements or vitamins that taste like candy, well, color me first in line to check them out. Make them taste really good and you’ve got a supplemented fan for life.

For me, it’s much more pleasant to take vitamins if I can pretend that I’m eating a little handful of candy. Sorry, it’s true. I love sugar, but have pretty much sworn off the stuff, so it’s a bit of a thrill to sit down and chew through my gummy multivitamins, fiber and calcium. Tastes good and good for you. Right?

A while back, I reviewed some fiber gummies here. So far, these are my favorite supplements. They’re basically fiber-fortified gumdrops. Sweet.

So, while I’m happy with my current gummy multivitamins, I did get a little giddy when I found out that Centrum was introducing Flavor Burst adult chews. These multivitamin/multimineral supplements come as a fruity chew surrounded by a candy shell. I have to say, that for a reformed Skittles and Starburst junkie, this was, indeed, good news.

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My candy obsession aside, vitamins are serious business. I recently got a sneak peek at an upcoming Nutrition Alert newsletter written by nutritionist and author Elizabeth Somer for Metabolic Maintenance, which develops and manufactures supplemental nutritional products. Her article outlines what to look for in a multivitamin, but it starts out with some interesting findings from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Take a look:

Multis Lower Cancer Risk

Taking a multi-vitamin every day lowers a man’s risk for cancer, according to a study from Harvard Medical School. Researchers compared supplement use with cancer rates in this large-scale, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 14,641 men followed since 1997. Results showed that compared to the placebo takers, men who took a daily multi-vitamin showed a modest, but significant, reduction in the incidence of total cancer.
Gaziano J, Sesso H, Christen W, et al: Multivitamins in the prevention of cancer in men. Journal of the American Medical Association 2012; October 17th.

And if you want more recent information on the benefits of taking multivitamins, check out this ABC News report. Keep in mind that there’s so much pro and con information going back and forth that reading too many of these reports will probably make you dizzy.

Here’s what Somer has to say about what you should and shouldn’t find in your daily multivitamin:

Select a broad-range multiple vitamin and mineral supplement.

Choose one that contains vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of the B vitamins (vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, niacin, and folic acid), and the trace minerals (chromium, copper, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc). Ignore chloride, pantothenic acid, biotin, potassium, choline, and phosphorus since the diet either already supplies optimal levels of these compounds or supplements contain too little to be useful. Also ignore nickel, iodine, vanadium, and tin, since it’s not clear whether or not they’re essential for humans. Read the column titled “Daily Value” on the back label. Look for a multiple that provides approximately 100%, but no more than 300% of the Daily Value for all nutrients provided. You want a “balanced” supplement, not one that supplies 2% of one nutrient, 50% of another, and 600% of another.Supplement your multi. All one-pill-a-day multiples are short on calcium and magnesium,so consider taking a calcium-magnesium supplement if you consume daily less than 3 glasses of milk and few servings of magnesium-rich soybeans, wheat germ, and dark green leafy vegetables. Look for one that supplies these two minerals in a two to one ratio, such as 500 milligrams calcium to 250 milligrams magnesium. You also may need extra supplements of vitamin D and the omega-3 fat, DHA.

How did Centrum Flavor Burst Adult Chews Multivitamin stack up? My review follows:     Continue reading

Basque-Style Garbanzo Beans

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This time of year, a lot of us are scrambling for new recipes to try on guests and family. It seems, more often than not, that folks are searching for the latest killer dessert, or an appetizer so awe inspiring that it dominates the conversation at all future gatherings.

And while we’re eager to experiment with beginnings and endings, and even main courses, the sides often seem to get short shrift. There’s always the familiar and sometimes tedious parade of starches and veggies. But, I suppose that it’s not surprising since these holiday meals are pretty labor intensive, so something’s got to give.

But, this year, why not consider sidestepping one of your usual sides for one that delivers as much of a flavor punch as your main attraction? I’m talking about a dish that goes toe-toe with an elegant rack of lamb, or even a majestic pork loin, not to mention my favorite prime rib. And, as a bonus, you can even make it the day before.

Allow me to introduce you to Basque-style garbanzo beans. Yes, garbanzo beans. And, please, don’t scoff. These aren’t the drab little marbles from the stale salad bar. Quite the contrary.   Continue reading

Taking Cell Phones Old School With New School Ideas

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Like a lot of people, I ditched my landline years ago. But I’m on my phone quite a bit for work, so the smallish cell phone I use has its limitations, especially for longer calls or when I’m on hold for up to 15 minutes or more. I have never been able to cradle a cell phone between my cheek and shoulder. Balancing a dill pickle on the tip of my nose is an easier and less painful proposition for me. And, so, I default to the speaker phone feature for nearly all calls. That, certainly, has its own set of drawbacks. And it comes as no surprise that even the best cell phone out there doesn’t deliver crystal clear reception all of the time, if ever.

Then there’s that pesky issue of cell phones potentially emitting dangerous amounts of radiation. Although inconclusive at this point, it’s an issue that many of us think about when using cell phones. And that’s another reason why I usually opt for speaker phone.

So, with all of that in mind, check out these items that bridge the gap between the convenience of cell phones and the comfort of traditional phones with handsets. Not only are they handy, but they boast fantastic designs.

PYLE Retro Collection

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Handcrafted from gorgeous woods and accented with brushed copper, this retro phone from PYLE works with any smartphone featuring a 3.5 mm jack and includes an iPhone dock. It easily switches from your landline to your mobile phone, and the docking station even charges your device. For those who worry about radiation, the Pyle PRT351 eliminates 99 percent of the radiation emitted by your cell phone when you use the handset. The phone features last number redial and flash, as well as ringer volume control. It sells for $109.99 through PYLE (other retro models are available), but you also can get it for $86 here.

Swissvoice: ePure Bluetooth Station

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And now for something totally sleek and uber modern. Swissvoice ePure combines HD handset calling, speakerphone, charger and a Bluetooth speaker. The ergonomic wireless handset answers calls while controlling the volume and music. Mount your iPhone on the charging dock and you can use the wireless handset to make and take calls with comfort.

The handset features stereo speakers, making ePure Bluetooth station a portable sound system as well as a phone.

You can select the iPhone version ($149.99) that interacts with iPhones and uses the dock, or the Universal ($139.99) that works with PC, tablets, Android and Blackberry and charges with USB. Available through Amazon.

Hot Buttered Rum Upside-Down Cake

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I love a good upside-down cake. It’s easy to make, and I especially appreciate that, when time is at a premium, this type of cake is already dressed up and ready for company as soon as it pops out of the pan.

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Since I like to come up with my own recipes when I can, I’ve been tinkering with the idea of an upside-down cake that uses the hot buttered rum mix I posted last week. And, so, this weekend, with a house full of company, and not a lot of time, I ended up with a recipe that I think works perfectly. It’s a simple combination that lives up to its namesake cocktail. HBR batter mix with some extra butter as the topping, a demure yellow cake perfumed with a little vanilla, and a thorough soaking from a lightly sweetened rum syrup flavored with a dab of additional vanilla. Really, it’s a slice of hot buttered rum.

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For toppings, traditional upside-down cakes use fruit, which, when mixed with the sugar and butter, form a soft, moist caramel topping. For my version I, obviously, didn’t use fruit, so the topping comes out more as a crunchy, buttery crust. The rum comes into the picture in the form of a potent syrup that you pour on the cake just before you invert it onto a plate. And because there’s no pretty fruit pattern on the cake, Hot Buttered Rum Upside-Down Cake is the perfect candidate for a nice shower of powdered sugar, or you can take it up a notch with some pretty piped whipped cream rosettes. It’s also not too shabby with a small scoop of ice cream.     Continue reading

Review: Kirkland Signature Pacific Bold K-Cup

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I don’t know about you, but I take my coffee pretty seriously. Since I drink it black, I prefer rich, assertive flavors without any trace of bitterness. Oh, and I like it almost waiting for me
as soon as I drag myself out of bed. And that’s where the Keurig brewer has served me so well. I’m such an avid fan that not only have I purchased Keurig for friends, but there’s also a unit sitting in my guest room in case my overnight company
needs a bit of hot chocolate, tea or cider before going to bed. Or, if they like to get up at crack o’ tweet, they won’t have to wake the dogs – a noisy, unpleasant affair – to get their first cup of the day.

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I have an issue with Keurig that has nothing to do with the brewer itself but, rather, those expensive K-Cups. I’m always looking for a deal, without compromising flavor. And I’ve set the bar pretty high because my gold standard these days is Starbuck’s French Roast Dark, which is just about the perfect cup of joe for me. But, it’s pricey.

Not long ago, I reviewed the affordable San Francisco French Roast K-Cups I found at Costco. And, now, Costco recently started stocking Kirkland Signature Pacific Bold dark roast coffee, extra bold K-Cups.  So, I gave them a try. My review follows.   Continue reading

Hot Buttered Rum Batter Recipe

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About 120 years ago, when I went to college for a while near San Diego, a few of us decided to go skiing for the first time. And, for me, it was the last time. Color me the least athletic of the group, so the idea of skiing was much more appealing than the terrifying reality.

You see, at that age, the brain hasn’t quite jelled so, as a college kid, thinking a situation through isn’t really an option. You just go for it. I suppose that’s the reason I didn’t research simple things like the ski lift. If I had, then I would have been prepared when I saw that the darn thing didn’t stop to let you on. Really? I’ve got wooden slats anchored to space boots and I’m supposed to nimbly maneuver my posterior onto a Ferris wheel- like contraption without incident?

When, to my horror, I saw the chairs seemingly whiz by, I kept letting people get in front of me in line so that I could assess the situation, and figure out how to climb on without killing myself or, worse, embarrassing myself to death. College, remember. Everything is a big, overblown deal.

Finally, when I felt that people were staring at me because I was in line so long, I just threw caution to the wind and took my place and waited like you do when playing double jump rope in elementary school. You can go now. No, now. Wait, ok, now! And, so, I slid onto a moving chair as I noticed everybody else doing and, not surprisingly, no one got on with me. That was unfortunate, because as soon as my rear hit the seat, my right ski popped off of my boot and dangled by a loop around my ankle. I can’t tell you how unprepared I was for that to happen. While getting on the lift was a big fear, wondering how to get off was even more frightening, and now that I had a renegade ski my brain went into overload. I couldn’t reach down to try and fix it because there wasn’t a retention bar. And the lift was gaining altitude, which I suppose makes sense given its name.

I swear this is true. When I thought that the situation was getting even more bleak, an angel landed on the seat next to me. OK, so he was, in all probability, not an angel. He was, in fact, a guy working on the lift who saw that I clearly had an issue, so he managed (I have no idea how) to get onto my chair. He promptly secured my ski back onto my stupid boot and, after I thanked him profusely, he answered a very important question: How do I get off of this thing? He told me to simply slide off when I felt the ground under my skis. And, then, he hopped off or disappeared. I really don’t know, but I was alone when I got to the top of the hill and, with my heart in my throat, I slid off. On my derriere. I think it probably took me two days to finally make it down the hill. All the while, those vile 6-year-old kids were zipping by me.

When I finally hit solid ground, I quickly made my way to the lodge where I could relax with a hot chocolate and watch all of the skiers glide down the hill as if they were having a grand time.

I still don’t ski, but I do like ski lodges, especially now that the hot chocolate has been replaced with a lovely, smooth hot buttered rum. Continue reading

Olay Total Effects 7 In One CC Anti-Aging Cream Review

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Because I fell hard for L’Oreal’s Youth Code BB cream illuminator, I figured that the new CC creams would be just as fantastic. I’m all about lightweight tinted moisturizers that offer up a dose of sun protection. In fact, I pretty much stopped using regular foundation because the BB cream I use gives me perfect coverage, without that heavy, uneven look that some makeup gives my skin.

While BB stands for beauty balm or blemish balm, CC creams tout color correction and/or control. Frankly, there’s a lot left to interpretation here. But, I was eager to try out a CC cream and I found that Olay Total Effects 7 In One CC Anti-Aging Cream was getting some buzz, so I snapped it up and gave it a whirl. My results follow.

Olay Total Effects 7 In One CC Anti-Aging Cream, broad spectrum SPF 15, $22 for a 1.7-ounce tube at most drugstores and mass merchandisers.

First look: The cream comes as a white-and-tinted swirl suspended in a clear gel. It’s dispensed from a hard plastic tube with a pump that pushes the cream up from the bottom.

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 Olay CC cream comes in three shades: fair to light, light to medium, medium to deep. The three active ingredients are
sunscreens. Other ingredients include niacinamide (vitamin B3), which is used in topical ointments to treat acne and to help improve skin tone. However, to help with acne, an ointment will contain about 4 percent of niacinamide, and require a prescription. You can get OTC versions with half that amount of niacinamide. However, Olay doesn’t offer up the percentage in its CC cream.

Good news: The cream goes on smoothly, leaves your skin feeling lightly moisturized and offers up SPF 15.

Bad news: Make yourself comfortable, this could take a while. First, let’s take a look at the box and the actual product tube. While you’ll notice a round sticker with “CC” at the top of the box, you won’t see a mention of it on the product itself. So, it makes sense that you might leap to the conclusion that this isn’t really a CC cream at all but, rather, the Olay Total Effects 7 In One Tone Correcting UV Moisturizer with a CC sticker on the box.

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Note that CC creams are new, and that Olay just launched the poser this fall. But, take a look at this Amazon page that has reviews and a photo of the Olay Total Effects 7 In One Tone Correcting UV Moisturizer that sold as long ago as last May. How is this not the same product? Even the ingredients are identical.

If this was a terrific cream, I might not care as much that Olay is passing off an existing product as a new one. But the price is ridiculously steep, and I resent paying an extra five bucks for a sticker. Plus, Olay offers absolutely no coverage and leaves a slightly tacky feel to my skin. For me, it’s essentially a useless product.

Last words: I saved my receipt. It’s going back.

Thanksgiving Turkey Tools

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So, the big day is next week, and while it means plenty of fun with friends and family, let’s not kid ourselves. If you’re in charge of the meal, then it’s also a time of stress and a big dose of hard work.

I’ve got a couple of items for you that should make it a little easier all around.

The rack:

First, let me introduce you to the very clever Cuisipro Roast & Serve Rack.

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This non-stick rack allows you to easily and securely take up to a 25-pound gobbler from the roasting pan to the serving platter without a mishap. Not only is the rack designed with easy to grip handles, but the game changing feature is the pin that simply slips out and allows the two sides of the rack come apart. The rack, which I think is a bargain at $19.99, stacks for easy storage, but it’s also handy for roasts, so you’ll be using it throughout the year. It fits inside a roasting pan that measures 16 inches by 13 inches.

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You can find the rack at Bed Bath & Beyond, amazon and kitchen shops.

The baster:

I don’t know about you, but I’m so over those cheap grocery store basters that melt at the first hint of heat. But what really makes me crazy about them is that it’s often easier to get a Rubik’s Cube color coordinated than to pop the rubber bulb onto the baster after cleaning. I tend to swear a lot when I deal with my turkey basters. Don’t be me.

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Check out the Cuisipro 3-in-1 Baster made with sturdy BPA-free Tritan material that won’t melt under pressure. This large baster holds nearly two ounces of liquid and includes two attachments. It comes with a silicone brush so you can mop your bird if you’re inclined. A separate spray head showers the bird with basting liquid. However, you also can use it as a traditional baster if you have herbs and other items in your liquid that won’t pass through the small holes in the shower head. Oh, and my favorite part of this baster? It’s designed with a screw-on bulb. Yes! What took so long?

Available for about $23 at amazon.

Steak au Poivre Hachis Parmentier with Gorgonzola Mashed Potatoes

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I recently spent about two weeks in Atlanta, where I planned to hit a couple of favorite barbecue joints in and around Decatur – Fox Brothers and Maddy’s. The former had a tree fall on its head, not unusual for the forest that shares its space with the city of Atlanta and, the latter, unfortunately, had closed down. Pity. Maddy’s had a ridiculously sinful potato salad that I could swear was laced with copious amounts of sour cream and bacon.

While I didn’t end up with any barbecue, I did find myself at two very different pubs on a couple of occasions, facing Shepherd’s pies. First, there was the version served at the Old Blind Dog Irish Pub in Crabapple, near Alpharetta, a handsome brick building loaded with plenty of wood and stained glass. The dish caught my eye because while the filling sounded pretty predictable – lamb and vegetables, the topping was made of colcannon. I’m a peasant at heart when it comes to food, so whenever you mush up cabbage and potatoes, well, I’m all over it. And this colcannon had melted cheese running through, providing a memorable Shepherd’s pie.

The second version was not quite as refined, but it went far to satisfy on a windy autumn evening. Mac McGee is an Irish pub on the Decatur Square. Unlike the more polished Old Blind Dog, this small, dimly lit pub boasted a more authentic feel. And the Shepherd’s pie was simple and rustic, but just as comforting, especially when accompanied by a nice chocolaty stout.

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M·A·C Taste Temptation Collection: Sneak Peek on Black Friday

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Are you the kind of M·A·C enthusiast who will jump through almost any hoop — at any time — to be the first to snag the latest makeup collection? If so, here’s your opportunity to put your adoration of all things M·A·C to the test.

Mark your calendars, set a memo on your smart phones and post a virtual sticky on your laptops and tablets.

M·A·C Cosmetics will “exclusively preview its sultry and seductive Taste Temptation Collection” on November 23 from midnight until 4 a.m. at all Macy’s M·A·C Cosmetics counters.

The collection comes with plenty of dramatic mauves, lavenders and purples. It includes powder blush, eye shadows, Lipglass, mattene lipstick, nail lacquer and fluffy false eyelashes. Prices range from $15 to $40.

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And here’s a bonus for getting up at such an ungodly hour after a day spent feasting on turkey and pie: As you go about your nocturnal shopping spree, you can have a M·A·C artist create a personal Taste Temptation makeup look. I don’t know about you, but, if I drag my carcass out of bed in the middle of the night, it’s going to be a Herculean task to get me looking human. Having a pro on hand with magical brushes and face paint is probably a good thing.

Be aware that after 4 a.m. on Black Friday, the collection will not be available again until December 13.         

Enjoy your pretties, but please don’t call me about your fab finds until long after the sun has popped up.

Samuel Adams Utopias 10th–Exclusive Après Dinner Drink

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When it comes to after-dinner drinks, depending on the meal and my current cash flow, my first thought is a lovely little glass of Sauternes, preferably Château d’Yquem. Never has beer maven, Samuel Adams, come to mind.

Until now.

Forget everything you might think you know about Samuel Adams beers. I’d like to introduce you to a brew that has more in common with a fine Cognac or vintage Port than with a fizzy, foamy brewski.

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Meet Samuel Adams Utopias 10th Anniversary Batch. Since 2002, founder Jim Koch has rolled out Utopias every two years, with a special limited-edition 2012 10th anniversary batch that came out this month. Only 15,000 numbered bottles are available. And, as you can see, that’s not your basic bottle of suds.

Continue reading

Marbleized Tuiles

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Tuiles, those delicious French cookies that are skinnier than a runway model, need to be in your cookie repertoire. They’re the crisp simple tasting cookies you’ll find perched alongside little balls of ice cream in French cafés. Often, you’ll see them rolled like cigarettes. As far as flavor, they bring to mind a fortune cookie, but buttery.

Since the holidays are near, a lot of folks are searching for cookie recipes to bake as gifts or to add to the neighborhood exchange. Sorry, tuiles are not those cookies. These are the delicate flowers of the cookie world.

Continue reading

Three Cool Pet Products

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Last Sunday, I spent the day at the Del Mar fairgrounds, where I visited a pet expo, home show and an event put together by the International Friesian Show Horse Association. Those are the (often) black fairy tale horses with tails that trail on the ground like wedding veils, and manes to match. My phone takes lousy photos, but you get the idea.

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If you want to see how majestic these creatures really are, click here.

Having said all of that, I want to show you some items I found interesting, not at the horse show, but at the pet expo, which was my main reason for going to the fairgrounds. The home and horse shows were just happy extras.

Argos Collars

Argos hand crafts handsome dog collars made with the same Italian leather used in fine equestrian equipment. The leather is prepared with treated oils and waxes, allowing it to withstand the elements.

The collars’ decorative hardware comes in stainless steel, brass or brushed aluminum. If you want your dog to shine, semi-precious stones and crystals also are available, as well as exotic leathers. All of the collars are lined with leather, but suede also is an option.

These aren’t over-the-top collars but, rather, classic, functional and still eye catching. They’re available for large, medium and small dogs.

The Rock & Roll ($62.13 for large) collar in butter yellow with domed rivets caught my eye.

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You might prefer the orange-and-black Classic ($55.35 for large).

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Take a look at other available styles on the website.

SUREswivel Tangle-free Pet Anchoring System

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Allow me to make a disclaimer here: With few exceptions, I’m not a proponent of tethering dogs. Or cats. For instance, I would tether my dogs for short periods of time while camping, as long as there were no trees, rocks or shrubs around where the lead could get tangled. Otherwise, they might wander. Love my dogs but I’ve had hellish (and comical) experiences camping with them.

I take Dexter with me as much as I can — Luke is much happier staying at home — but if I wanted to visit a friend who didn’t have a fenced yard, I might consider tethering him as long as we were all outside. I’d do the same if we were hanging out at the beach or a park that doesn’t allow dogs off leash.

With those exceptions in mind, SUREswivel looks like a good idea. It provides 360-degree movement with little or no tension, and the six X3 anchor stakes are designed with spiraled shafts, keeping them securely in place. These are the same stakes used with camping equipment.

SUREswivel can also be permanently mounted to a deck. And the ball socket has been tested to withstand over 1000 pounds of pull without fracture, according to the manufacturer. It’s priced at $49.99 through sureswivel.com.

Check out the video to see a demonstration of SUREswivel.

Demo.

Tagg Pet Tracker

There are two escape artists in my neighborhood, and I’ve caught them both at different times. And, strangely enough, both are Vizslas – not related. One of the dog’s tags even names him an escape artist. The first dog’s owner worked miles away and couldn’t come home for hours, so Dexter and I took him to the dog park for the afternoon.

I found the second one in the evening and his owner was out, so I left a message but not with my cell phone, so she had no way to reach me or find her dog.

If these owners had known about Tagg Pet Tracker, they might have been able to get their dogs home much sooner because they would have received a text or email as soon as their dogs left the “Tagg zone.”

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Tagg attaches to your dog’s existing collar and works by using GPS and wireless technology to track your pet and pinpoint his location on a map using your mobile phone or computer. There’s a free app for iPhone and Android smartphone users. But note that there’s a monthly fee of  $7.95 on top of the $99.99 price tag.

While I don’t think Tagg Pet Tracker is necessary for every dog, I do think this system might give those who have pets with Harry Houdini tendencies a little more peace of mind. It works for cats, too, but only for those over 10 pounds.

For Adults Only: Bourbon Caramel Chocolate Sauce

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I’m not one of those people who dream in chocolate. It’s a fine flavor, just not my favorite.

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My sweet cravings revolve around more lemony or caramel-flavored offerings.

As with most things in life, and in the kitchen, there are exceptions. For instance, one of my favorite cakes is a German chocolate cake – with extra frosting, please. Oh, and it has to be the recipe from the Baker’s chocolate bar. That’s what a German chocolate cake should taste like – very little chocolate flavor – and a big bang from the coconut and caramel-like binding that holds it all together.

It seems that I’m all about chocolate as long as a copious amount of caramel is involved, which explains my attraction to a Snickers. And if you throw in my fondness for bourbon, make mine Maker’s Mark, then it makes complete sense that I would tweak a long-time favorite dessert sauce that I’ve been preparing and teaching in classes since the early 90s. That’s right, I added bourbon to the mix.

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I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for, it’s far superior to the original, which was pretty good. I admit that I came this close to using chipotle-and-bacon-infused bourbon, but I was afraid that the intense dark chocolate might eclipse the flavor of the chilies and bacon, and that would be a shame. If you’d like to try it, feel free and let me know. I don’t doubt that I’ll eventually do it myself since the curiosity is getting to me.

This is an easy, straightforward sauce to make. It uses no corn syrup and refrigerates beautifully. This spiked caramel chocolate sauce makes an ideal gift. It starts out about the consistency of heavy cream but thickens upon cooling, and totally holds its shape when poured over ice cream. The texture is buttery smooth with all three of the main flavor components – caramel, chocolate and bourbon – front and center. Continue reading

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