Stove-Top Popcorn

Now that fall is here, it seems like all I've wanted to do is bunker down and watch a movie with a bowl of popcorn. I hope this doesn't make me a popcorn snob, but my popcorn is not made in the microwave but in a pot on the stove, which is how my Dad taught me to make it.

It is actually pretty easy to make, and only contains three ingredients: popcorn, salt and vegetable oil. The simplicity of the ingredients makes me happy, because I could go without all of the artificial ingredients in microwave popcorn.

To make popcorn on the stove, grab a saucepan, and make sure that you've got a lid (no lid has bad news written all over it.) Add enough vegetable oil to lightly coat the bottom o
f the pan (about a tablespoon) and then add the popcorn so that it covers the bottom of the pan, using only about 1/3 cup of popcorn. Put the lid on the pan, and if you're using a clear lid you can be a dork like me and watch the popcorn pop.

Next is the most important part of the whole process: Making sure that your popcorn does not burn. Much like popping popcorn in the microwave, you know it is done when you hear the popping sound dramatically decrease. As soon as you hear it pop once every two or three seconds, your popcorn is done. Quickly turn off the heat and pour the popcorn into your favorite popcorn bowl.

The possibilities are pretty much endless with what you can do with your popcorn. I like a little salt every time, and some melted butter every once in awhile. My husband likes his lightly salted with some Tabasco sauce, and my Dad likes to sprinkle his with Molly McButter.
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Sausage and Veggie Stir-Fry

This is a random recipe that I came up with while trying to use all of the produce in my vegetable drawer. The ingredients are simple, and they add flavor without having to add any salt or spices.

You'll need:
One package of four sausages,
any kind you like, sliced
into the size of coins
One medium onion, cut into rings
One package of sliced and washed mushrooms
Two potatoes, diced into pieces the size of a penny
One bell pepper, any color you prefer
Two cloves of garlic

Two tablespoons of olive oil

Add olive oil to the pan, and then the onion and mushrooms. Saute on medium heat, for about five minutes. Add the potatoes to the pan, stirring often, for five minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Once the potatoes are tender, add the bell pepper, garlic and sausage. Stir often, for about seven minutes, and then serve.

Serves four

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More for Frozen Yogurt Fans

In response to a recent blog about frozen yogurt places in Sacramento, I thought I'd tune those students that live in Roseville and Rocklin into some amazing places to get fro-yo in our area. The places that are my favorite allow you to choose your yogurt flavor and how much you'd like in your cup, and then you pile on whatever toppings you fancy.

There are two Big Spoons in the Roseville/Rocklin area, with one being on the corner of Roseville Parkway and Galleria in the new Fountains shopping center, and the other on Sunset and Park, in the shopping center with McDonalds. Like Susie Q said, they offer an array of frozen yogurt and assorted candy, fruit and sauces to fill your cup with, and then you are charged by the ounce. It is relatively inexpensive, as I usually choose the medium size cup and go a little nuts with the amount of topics I choose, but it is usually under $5.

At the corner of Sunrise and Cirby in Roseville is Yog Yog, which is pretty much the same concept as Big Spoon, with the choosing of the yogurt and toppings and charging by the ounce. Unlike Big Spoon, Yog Yog has a selection of fresh fruit, which is something Susie Q mentioned looking for in an earlier blog. Yog Yog offers fresh strawberries, mango, kiwi, and pineapple, just to name a few.

I must say though, when I walk into one of these places I'm looking to do a little calorie damage with things like chocolate raisins, chocolate chips and a little something that Big Spoon likes to call Hard Hat, which is something that winds up on my concoction every time I visit. Hard Hat is awesome, because the moment it comes in contact with the yogurt, it hardens into this delectable chocolate shell. I think I'm feeling the need for some frozen yogurt, pronto!
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Maybe Some Pie Will Cheer You Up!

Sacramento Magazine is pretty notorious for having a great food and wine section. A dedicated team to let readers know the best wines with what food, the best summer salads and, of course, the best restaurants.

While on their website, Sacmag.com, I noticed that there are numerous columns by Kira O’Donnell, that are not only good but always leaves my mouth watering.

O’Donnell’s recent column is about one of my favorite things in this world - cheese.
She writes about the different kinds of cheeses from gruyere to, one of my favorites, blue stilton, how to use them, what to drink them with and where to buy them.

She starts off by naming the specialty food shops in Sacramento such as Corti Bothers, David Berkley and the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op, then lists each cheese and how to use it when cooking.

She uses words like tangy, nutty and creamy to get you in the mood for a cheesy pizza or a simple quesadilla.

For November, O’Donnell has chosen to review the restaurant Biba, a authentic Italian restaurant, calling Biba Caggiano the, “Doyenne of Italian cusine in Sacramento.”

She describes Caggiano’s dedication, persistence and passion for writing cook books, cooking and even hosting a cooking show called “Biba’s Italian Kitchen.”

One thing O’Donnell said in her review really caught my attention, though:

“For those of us restaurant diners used to loud background music, saccharinely friendly waiters and oversize televisions in every available corner, this was a refreshing and genteel step back in time.”

This was a great observation, only I am too young for it to be a “step back in time” but I know exactly what she means.

Besides the appearance, every detail in the food is mentioned, from the way it looks on the plate to every sensation of how it tastes.

The final verdict was that it simply wouldn’t be right to compare Biba to other Italian restaurants because it would be like comparing “biscotti and breadsticks” or “pantyhose to tube socks.”

What has this talented food and wine columnist done in the last year?

This pastry specialist, who used to work at restaurants like Auberge du Soleil in the Napa Valley, Original Joe’s in San Francisco and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, definitely knows what she is talking about.

Not only are her columns delectable but she has opened up her very own pie shop called the Real Pie Company, located on 1201 F st. in Alkali Flat. While doing an interview with food columnist Mike Dunne, she explains, why pies?

O‘Donnell says, "I have had a lifelong love affair with pies - there's just something special about them. And they make people happy.”
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Life is Just Better on the Dark Side

Come to the dark side. Of chocolate that is. Chocolate, dark chocolate, is the healthiest of all the chocolates.

You might be thinking, “chocolate is healthy?!” And the answer is yes, it can be, in moderate doses.

According to WebMD.com, dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate does. Plus, dark chocolate bars with a high-cocoa content, like Dove Dark Chocolate bar is loaded with something called epicatechin. Epicatechin is a particularly active member of a group of compounds called plant flavoniods. Flavoniods keep cholesterol from gathering in blood vessels, reduce the risk of blood clots, and slow down the immune responses that lead to clogged arteries.

In fact, dark chocolate keeps up to 95% of its falvonoid. So, the higher the percentage of cocao on the label, the better it is for you. This means that if you have high blood pressure, it can help you lower it and you will be on your way to a healthier heart.

It is also a great source of anti-oxidants. But studies have shown that eating it with milk can interfere with the way your body absorbs the anti-oxidants.

Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Cologne, Germany, signed up six men and seven women aged 55-64. All had just been diagnosed with mild high blood pressure -- on average, systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 153 and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of 84. Every day for two weeks, they ate a 100-gram candy bar and were asked to balance its 480 calories by not eating other foods with similar nutrients and calories. Half the patients got dark chocolate and half got white chocolate.

Those who ate dark chocolate had a significant drop in blood pressure (by an average of 5 points for systolic and an average of 2 points for diastolic blood pressure). Those who ate white chocolate did not.

For those of you that are willing to try something new and very fun here is a recipe from Foodnetwork.com that will get you in the right direction:

4 medium ripe but firm bananas
8 wooden craft sticks
3 tablespoons finely chopped lightly salted peanuts
6 ounces good quality dark chocolate (60 to 70 percent cocoa solids), chopped
Peel, then cut each banana in half crosswise and insert a craft stick into each half. Place on a tray, cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer until frozen, about 3 hours.

Place the peanuts in a shallow dish or on a plate. Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over slightly simmering water, over the lowest possible heat, stirring frequently. Make sure the water is not touching the bottom of the top pan. Pour the melted chocolate into a tall glass. Dip each frozen banana into the chocolate, turning it to coat, and immediately roll in the peanuts. Place on a tray covered in waxed paper. Serve immediately or wrap individually in plastic wrap or waxed paper and freeze for up to 2 weeks.

This recipe is really easy and is good for those times when you have a sweet tooth and don’t want to feel guilty.

There are so many choices out there for an unhealthy snack so spread the word and get messy with a little gooey, melted chocolate. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, Haagen-Dazs makes ice cream bars made with pomegranate ice cream covered in dark chocolate.

Bon Appetite!
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An Alternative to Leatherby's

Over-sized sweatpants? Check!

Television set to Greys Anatomy? Check!

Frozen yogurt with a mountain of toppings? Check!

Thursday nights would not be the same without my recent obsession with frozen yogurt.

I appear to not be the only one that loves this delightfully fat-free snack considering all the different frozen yogurt shops moving in everywhere I look.
The trend hadn’t hit me until I was in the East bay and tried Coco Swirl, a frozen yogurt shop in Pleasant Hill.

The craving for it was almost unbearable. Since my friend lives very close to Coco Swirl and it is relatively inexpensive, there has never been an excuse not to go. After noticing this obsession of mine, I decided to see what the frozen yogurt status was in Sacramento. Over a period of three weeks I’ve tried four local frozen yogurt shops.

The first one I tried was Mochii, an all natural and fat free form of frozen yogurt, located on the corner of 16th and P st. in Midtown. It has a great artsy Japanese feel and even though parking is on the street, it was doable.

They get their name from a Japanese and Chinese rice cake made of glutinous rice that is pounded into paste and molded into shape. They make the mochi fresh in their shop and even have flavors like cherry, strawberry or lime.

It may not sound very appetizing based on the description, but think about it like mix between a gummy bear and a marshmallow. Their yogurt was very good, but a little over my price range. They do not weigh the cups, instead they charge per size and per topping, which can get very expensive if you like a lot of toppings like I do.

There was another frozen yogurt place that just opened that I kept seeing on my way to work called Yogurt A Go-Go, located on 18th and L st. also in Midtown. This place weighs your cup to know what to charge you and has up to five different flavors of yogurt, even some in sugar free, to choose from, not to mention the array of different toppings from Oreo cookie to any fresh fruit you can think of. They also have mochi in many different flavors.

This place was not only a good price but they give you a punch card so that every time you come you get a punch and on the tenth time, you get one free. Now that’s good motivation.

Most of these yogurt shops are health conscious, but if you have a little more of a sweet tooth then I suggest Big Spoon Yogurt, located at the Arden Fair mall and just past 37th on J st.

The display of toppings is pretty impressive. They have everything from hot fudge and whip cream to many different cookies and candy you can think of. The only problem is, if you are looking for fresh fruit, forget it, this is not the place for you.

The final yogurt shop and winner of this “yogurt challenge” was Yo Yo Yogurt, located on Fair Oaks blvd. less than two miles from Sacramento State’s campus. Not only are they close to campus but they give a 20% discount to Sacramento State students with their I.D. cards. They also have a punch card that works just like Yogurt A Go Go.

At this rate, there is no reason why you shouldn’t go out there and try something new and delicious. Instead of going to Leatherby’s go try some tart raspberry yogurt with fruit and that yummy mochi I was telling you about, you won’t regret it.

Unless you’re lactose in tolerant and then you’ll just have to watch Greys Anatomy without this yummy dessert.
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Stuffed Zucchini Spaghetti

This recipe is pretty simple to make, and is called Stuffed Zucchini Spaghetti because I'm told it tastes just like eating stuffed zucchini.

2 zucchinis, diced into small pieces
1 onion, chopped
2 cups of mushrooms
1 pound of ground turkey
2 cloves of garlic, minced
one jar of spaghetti sauce
one pound of spaghetti

Before doing anything, start boiling a big pot of water for the spaghetti.

Saute the zucchini, onion, mushrooms and garlic for about five minutes, when they start to get tender.

Add the ground turkey to the same pan, and brown the meat until it is no longer pink. Make sure and stir it often.

Once the water boils, add the spaghetti and cook according to the directions on the package.

Once the ground turkey is no longer pink, add the spaghetti sauce, stirring it often until it is heated through.

Serve the zucchini mixture over the spaghetti noodles.

Serves 4
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Vegan cake recipe

So, I'm pretty sure that no one is going to believe me about this until they try it, but there is a way to make a cake, or cupcakes, with a box of cake mix and a 12 oz. can of soda. The cake uses no eggs, and is mostly vegan (nonfat milk is listed last on the box, so there is a very small amount of milk in the mix).

About four years ago, a vegan friend of mine taught me how to make a birthday cake out of those two simple ingredients, I tried it, and the cake rose and was delicious. There are many combinations that can be tried, too, depending on the soda and flavor of the cake. Last night, I made one using orange soda and chocolate cake mix, and it tasted a lot like a chocolate orange.

To make it, pour the mix and the soda into a large bowl and whisk until the cake mix is saturated. Pour it into whatever pan you like, and bake according to the directions on the box. It is that easy. I baked it for 35 minutes, but you can bake it to your preferred moistness.

Frosting is optional.
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Just Add Water

After working for Starbucks for more years than I'd care to mention, sometimes I've encountered the dilemma of what to bring for lunch when the store I was at did not have a microwave. You might be saying, "What, haven't you ever heard of a sandwich?" Well, yes I have, but sometimes at 3 a.m., assembling a sandwich just is not feasible, especially when you're more concerned about putting your shirt on right-side out in a sleepy daze. This is where instant oatmeal and soup come in.

All I do is bring a couple of packets of instant oatmeal or a Cup Noodles ramen soup, and just add hot water from the hot water tap on the coffee brewers. Now my taste is more refined, and instead of the Cup Noodles, I bring Nile Spice soup or Safeway's Eating Right brand. Most of the instant soups are pretty good, and they vary from traditional chicken noodle soups and soups made of couscous or beans. A word to the wise, though, I would not suggest the potato leek soup, because it does not taste so good, and it smelled like spoiled milk.

These just-add-water meals are something that can be done on campus, because there are at least five Java City's on campus that I know of, and I'm sure they would give you a cup of hot water or fill up your cup of soup. They are also great for when you need something to keep you going between classes, because they only take about five minutes to prepare, and they are small enough to fit into a back pack or purse.

Instant oatmeal and instant soup really will keep you going, too, because both contain plenty of fiber and protein. One packet of instant oatmeal contains one and a half gram of fat, three grams of fiber, which is important in aiding digestion and keeping your cholesterol low and four grams of protein, for energy. One cup of Eating Right's Black Bean Soup has one gram of fat, with 14 grams of fiber and (which is 56 percent of your daily recommended intake of fiber) 10 grams of protein.

For a complete meal, all you have to do is bring a piece of fruit to go with your oatmeal, and some carrots or celery and crackers to go with your soup, and it turns out to be a pretty balanced meal.
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