A new year, A new me!

It has been a while since I posted.  Mostly because my life has been very hectic since moving to Florida.  I will be the first to admit that I do not like it here.  The weather sucks, the people are all old, I don't know anyone, and I miss my older babies who are staying with their father until July. At that time they will come stay with me for a full year.  Maybe I will get my mojo when I feel complete again.  It is an empty feeling being away from all your friends and most of your family.  My only release is cooking.  I have a few new ventures I am going to be working on this year.  My garden will be started this spring, I am in the process of writing a children's book, I am eating healthier, and I am back in school.  As you can see I have a lot going on, but I am excited about all of them.  I also have a 3 year old who refuses to use the potty.  This seems like a never ending battle.  Over time all things will fall into place and I will feel whole again.  I will update my blog more often this year and I promise myself that I will even if it is for myself.  Here's to a new year and a new me!


Tip # 4 Best Oils All Around

This is probably the most frequently asked question I receive.  I have always made a point to stay clear of vegetable oil due to its many health problems it can cause.  Here is a list of oils that I use regularly in my kitchen and why I use them.  I make a point to keep all of these oils in my cupboard.

1 - Grapseed Oil:  This is a great oil for lowering cholesterol.  It has a very light taste and I use it a lot in place of Olive Oil.  Smoke Point 420 degrees.

2 - Peanut Oil: This oil has been shown to reduce heart disease.  It contains resveratrol, which is found in grapes and red wine and helps reduce cardiovascular disease and reduce cancer risk.  Peanut Oil can be used in MANY ways such as pop corn, frying foods, to saute or grill foods.  Smoke Point 460 degrees.

3 - Walnut Oil:  This oil has also been shown to reduce heart disease but in a different way.  This oil lowers triglycerides.  This is a great oil to sprinkle on salads.  You can also finish off your chicken or fish plates with this oil.  Smoke Point 400 degrees.

4 - Sesame Oil:  This is a great oil for providing Vitamin E.  Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant which means it helps lower cholesterol. Sesame oil also contains magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and vitamin B6.  It is also a VERY popular oil in Asian foods.  My family loves to eat Stir Fry's and we use this quite often in them.

5 - Flaxseed Oil:  This oil if full of Omega-3's Fatty Acids.  As a matter of fact, flaxseed oil provides the highest concentration of these fats of any non-fish food.  The fatty acids make arteries more flexible, reduce inflammation in the arteries, reduce blood clots and even lessen the chance of fatal heart attacks.  This is a great oil to add to salads.  This is an oil that needs to stay refrigerated as heat destroys the omega-3's.  Smoke Point 225 degrees.

6 - Rice Bran Oil:  This is an excellent healthy alternative all around.  This oil has a really high flash point which prevents the nutrients to break down when cooking at high temperatures. This is probably the most versatile oil on the market and closest to AHA recommendations overall.  Smoke Point 490 degrees.

7 - Olive Oil:  I could never leave out olive oil.  It is one of my favorites.  Although it may not be known to prevent any major illnesses it is a superior oil to saute with or use in salads.  Smoke Point 325 degrees.

8 - Almond Oil:  This is one of my favorite to bake with.  This can be very tasty on proteins while frying as well.  Smoke point comes in at 495 degrees.

9 - Safflower Oil:  This is a great oil for rice dishes as well as your proteins such as fish or chicken.  It has a light taste and the Smoke Point is 450 degrees.

10 - Sunflower Oil - This is one of my favorites to use on vegetables.  This oil has a low saturated fat level and can withstand high heat.  I love this oil with Zucchini. Smoke Point is 460 Degrees.


Tip # 3 How to avoid Tearing with Onions

I have noticed that many stores now sell goggles for cooks to use when cutting an onion.  Why waste your money when there is a simpler way to avoid the tears. Here is a simple trick for avoiding the tears all together when cutting an onion.  Store your onions in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours prior to cutting into them and you will have little to no tears at all when cutting into it.  It is just that easy.



     I think everyone loves a hot bowl of chili on a cold winter day.  I live in Florida now and those cold days are far and few between.  It is mid October and we are still in the high 80's and holding strong.  I made the chili more or less to remind me of home, Virginia!  I miss the changing leaves, the cool windy days, hot tea, hot chocolate, and bundling up.  So, here is my reminder of home.



1 lb Ground Beef (Cooked and Drained)
1 - 15 oz can of Diced Tomatoes (With Liquid)
1 - 15 oz can Light Red Kidney Beans (Liquid Drained - Beans Rinsed)
1 - 15 oz can Pinto Beans (Liquid Drained - Beans Rinsed)
1 - 8 oz can of Hunts Tomato Sauce
1 Medium Onion, Diced
1 Medium Green Pepper, Diced
1 - 4 oz can Green Chilies (With Liquid)
2 Tbsp Chopped Celery
2 Tbsp Chili Powder (Add as Desired)
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 Tbsp Ground Cumin
1 Tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 Tsp Black Pepper
1/4 Tsp Garlic Powder
2 Tbsp Basil
1 Cup Water (Optional)


     Cook meat and drain the fat in a spaghetti strainer.  I usually rinse with hot water as well to remove ALL excess fat.  This makes the meet a bit healthier and does NOT remove any flavor.  Add meat to all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook for several hours.  You may need to adjust your chili powder and cumin to your desired taste.  I usually add a bit more than I put down.  Serve with bread or crackers.


Make your own Sour Cream

       I love to make things from scratch, even as far as my condiments.  It brings my kids into the kitchen and allows us to spend time together making food that we all love.  Sour cream is no exception.  It is really easy to make and if you have the ingredients it is cheaper to make it yourself than buy it regularly at the store.


2 Cups Light Cream
2 Tbsp Buttermilk

      Combine cream with buttermilk in a canning jar that is hot and sterile.  Cover tightly with lid and shake gently to mix thoroughly.  Let stand in a warm place such as where you allow bread to rise for 24 - 48 hours and allow it to thicken.  Store your finished sour cream in the refrigerator and be sure to use it within 3 weeks time.  Recipe makes 2 cups.


Tip # 2 Removing Corn from the Cob

     Not all of us enjoy eating corn on the cob.  Although it is one of my favorite sides to prepare for my family, there was a time that I lived with my parents and I had to accommodate my father since he refused to eat corn on the cob.  Whether it was from pain with his gums or being cautious with his teeth, I would have to remove the kernels from the cob.  I have noticed many kids requesting this as well in restaurants and at friends houses.  It is a fairly simple task and when you find a set up that works like a charm it makes things go a bit more smoother.  This is a fairly easy and straight to the point tip on stripping your corn on the cob.

Tip # 2  Removing Corn from the Cob

     Using a bundt pan place a dish towel around the center hole of the pan to protect it.  Place your corn upright with the tip of the cob in the center hole of the bundt pan.  Be sure to hold the cob steady and using a sharp knife make long downward strokes in order to separate the kernels from the cob.  Using the dish towel to protect the stick free interior from any damage in case you slip while removing the kernels.

     Now that the old fashioned method is out of the way, here is another way to  remove the kernels from the cob with one easy tool and no risk to any bundt pans.  Kuhn Rikon Corn Zipper makes things easy and it is very similar to our already used vegetable and fruit peeler you may already have in your kitchen.  This is a very inexpensive addition and makes perfect sense to have if you and your family love fresh corn.


Roasted Potatoes

These are probably the easiest potatoes to make.  I will also be the first to admit that I have a terrible habit of not measuring things when I cook.  Thus making it hard to determine how much to tell others to use.  I have started measuring things and writing them down as I add more to my dishes so hopefully I can stay in the habit of this.  However, last night I was dealing with two sick kids with Croup so this was not a night that I measured things after realizing one of my kiddos was having a hard time breathing and needed to go to the ER.  Here is what I came up with. 


6-8 Red Potatoes, chopped with skin on
1 can French Onion Soup (Made with Beef Stock)
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder or Minced Garlic
2 Tbsp Parsley
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper to Taste


Combine all ingredients into a bowl with a lid or a large gallon size and mix together generously.  Lay out your mixed ingredients into a pan that has been sprayed with Pam or anything else to prevent sticking (I used a shallow glass dish).  Cook on 450F for 50 Minutes or until tender.


Tip #1 Cooking Pasta

I have decided to include random tips about cooking.  Some, possibly even most may already know these tips but many new chefs are unaware of them and I can't help but remember when I first started cooking.  I called my mom regularly to ask how to do some of the easiest things.  I like to think that I have expanded my cooking knowledge ten fold since then and I can only hope that it gets better over time.  Enjoy the tips and I hope they help.

Cooking Pasta:

Many people are unaware how to measure pasta and tend to have a large amount of left overs when they make it.  Here is a starter tip.  If you are serving pasta as a main course you should use 4 oz per person.  A one pound box of pasta is enough to serve 4.  You would cut that number in half if you are serving the pasta as a side dish.  In other words, it would be 2 oz per person.

You want to bring your pot of water to a rolling boil before adding any pasta.  Once you have your water boiling you will want to add salt.  Add enough salt so that your water tastes like sea water.  Be sure not to add your salt before the water boils.

Add your pasta all at once bending the long pasta into the water as it softens.  Do not break your pasta to fit the pot.  Once the water has come back to a boil turn down the heat a bit to prevent the water from boiling over.  Boil the pasta al dente.  This means that you want to cook it till it is slightly firm in the middle.

Do not add any oil to your water.  Once you e pasta is added to the water your water level should be about 2 inches from the top.  This will prevent it from boiling over.  Adding oil will coat your pasta and prevent the sauce from sticking to them.

I have never followed the cooking times on the boxes since I have found them to be inaccurate.  Best thing to do is to remove one strand of pasta and allow it to cool.  Taste the cooled pasta and determine if it is to your liking.  I personally like my pasta softer than al dente.  It is all a matter of taste.  Once it is finished drain the pasta in a colander.  Some people like to preserve anywhere between 1/4 - 1/2 a cup of the cooking water to mix with their sauce.

Return the pasta to your pot (DO NOT RINSE PASTA WITH WATER) and add your sauce.  You can then add your reserved cooking water to the sauce.  Stir well and at this time you can add a splash of either heavy cream or olive oil to your sauce.  The reason for adding reserved water and heavy cream or olive oil together is that it allows the sauce to thicken and coats the pasta better.  I also reserve some sauce on the side.  Once you serve your pasta onto the plates you can add a bit more sauce for those who like their sauce heavier.

If you are cooking fresh pasta, you will want to cook a few minutes less as it will cook faster than dried pasta.  Another tip is to be very careful when stirring in your sauce with fresh pasta as it is very fragile.


Hazelnut Extract

Here is a recipe that has been collecting dust in my recipe box for some time.  I posted my vanilla extract earlier and remembered that I had another one somewhere.  I thought it was Almond extract but to my surprise it was Hazelnut.  I use this in cakes and breads to add a bit more flavor than the basic baking recipes.  I completely forgot about this recipe and believe it or not it is one of my favorites.  This goes to show you how often I bake.  I am getting back into it but I fear I have lost my touch.  Baking is most definitely a challenging skill.

Hazelnut Extract

4 oz. hazelnuts
3/4 cup vodka
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water


First toast the hazelnuts in the oven at 350F for 8-10 minutes or until fragrant. While they are still hot, transfer them into a jar with vodka.  Add the innards of the vanilla bean along with the vanilla bean to the jar.  Let the flavors infuse for 3-4 weeks in a cool, dry place.  The color of the extract will darken with time.  At the end of 3-4 weeks, drain the hazelnuts from the extract and reserve the extract. Crush the hazelnuts up and push it through a sieve to remove every last bit of flavor.  In a saucepan, heat the sugar and water together. At this point, adding the crushed hazelnuts is optional, but I went ahead and did it, just so I extract every ounce of flavor from it.  Bring the sugar syrup to a boil (and strain it, if you’ve added the crushed hazelnuts to it in the step above) and add it to the hazelnut extract mixture. You can now discard the crushed hazelnuts.  Shake it up and store in a sterilized bottle.  Enjoy a dash of hazelnut flavor with whatever you like!  I now store mine in the refrigerator when I make it.  I also recommend these bottles for your extracts.  I love them and they come in handy with extracts, dressings, and marinades.

Vanilla Extract

        I have been making my own vanilla extract for years.  It has a better flavor than the store bought and has a longer shelf life as well.  Vanilla is a very common extract used in baking.  Most brands use a syrup which is primarily sugar water to give the vanilla a sweet aftertaste.  However, this is really unnecessary when used in baking.  My kids love helping make this and it is a great way to spend time with them.


3 Vanilla Beans
1 Cup Vodka
Glass Jar with tight fitting Lid


Step 1: Split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise using a paring knife or kitchen scissors. Be sure to leave the ends connected for now.

Step 2: Place the vanilla beans in the glass jar and cover completely with the vodka.

Step 3:  Place lid on the jar and shake it every once in a while.  Store in a dark, cool place for 2 months or longer.  You can continue to add vodka to it once in a while as you use it and just remember to shake it up to allow the vanilla to spread within the vodka.  This vanilla will last for years.

TIP: You can also add vanilla beans to your white sugar and allow the vanilla to infuse with the sugar giving it a vanilla flavor for baking.  Another nice little treat is to add some vanilla bean to your olive oil.  It is very good and can be used for just about anything.  Just remember to shake it well and allow to set for a week.