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March 2008

My Toastmaster Toaster Oven - May You Rest in Peace

My beloved Toastmaster Toaster Oven died yesterday. To the best of my recollection, my sister gave me my Toastmaster as a housewarming gift nearly 15 years ago. As you can see, it served me well. In our household the toaster oven is an integral part of cooking, so I decided to snoop around online and comparison shop. I love being able to shop from home, don't you? Especially with the cost of gas these days!

I came across a website called Wize. This consumer research and product review site provides a wealth of knowledge on just about any type of product you could ever want or need. Wize.com provided me with 132 toaster oven reviews.

You can narrow your search by clicking on various parameters such as price range or manufacturer. The first thing I did was check to see if Toastmaster still offered the model that died. Unfortunately, they do not, but they do have a toaster oven nearly identical. The Toastmaster TOV200 offers convection cooking, which is a feature I have oftentimes said I wish the old unit offered.

The reviews weren't all that favorable on the Toastmaster brand, so I decided to see what other options were available. Being cheap, I started out by looking at toaster ovens in the "Less Than $40" category. This yielded 19 results, but none had a very high WizeRank.

Wize.com has a rating system and each product displays a button showing how consumers rank their product. According the site, a rank of 90-100 means you can buy with confidence. 75-90 means the product might meet your needs. I was looking for a toaster oven that fell into the 90-100 category.

After reviewing the various price categories, I noticed a "New Releases" link. I clicked and there it was... the perfect toaster oven! First of all, this toaster oven is manufactured by Cuisinart. I LOVE Cuisinart products and have never had a bit of trouble with them. This stainless steel beauty can bake, broil and toast AND offers the convection oven I longed for. It has room for six slices of toast, which is perfect for my family. Now I'll be able to toast bread for our BLT's and no one will have to eat cold toast ;-)

Once I decided on my toaster oven, I was provided with three places where I could buy it online. Prices ranged from $99 through eBay to $139 through Amazon. Which do you think I chose? I clicked on the eBay link, entered my info and poof, my toaster oven will be on its way next week.

Although it cost a bit more money than I anticipated paying, I feel I got a pretty good deal. The Cuisinart cost $123.19 including shipping. If it lasts as long as the last one, the amortized cost is about $8.20 per year. That's quite a bargain, eh?

It was sad to dump my Toastmaster in the trash can. I felt as if I should have given her a proper burial considering all the years of service. So, I placed her in a trash bag and tied the handles in a bow.

Next time you need a toaster oven or want to research a variety of products, check out Wize.com. It's a really cool community where you can chat with a live representative and ask questions about the products or leave a review of your own. Overall, I give it 5-stars and will definitely use the service again.


Low-Carb Asiago Minestrone Soup

One of my favorite soups is Minestrone. I love the combination of the vegetables, beans and pasta. However, like many Americans I'm attempting to reduce my intake of carbohydrates. I decided to experiment with my all-time favorite Minestrone Soup recipe. I wanted to create a soup that would be filling, satisfying and full of flavor.

The following Minestrone Soup recipe is a hearty soup, yet offers a light mouth-feel. I added Asiago cheese for a boost of flavor and to replace the substance of the pasta. One ounce of Asiago cheese contains a mere .67 grams of carbohydrates. In comparison, one ounce of macaroni pasta contains approximately 5 grams of carbs. Asiago is relatively low in fat content, with one-ounce containing 8.7 grams.

This recipe will serve four as a main course or six as an appetizer. If you want to further enhance the flavor, make the soup the day before you plan to serve it.

Asiago Minestrone Soup

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Serves 4 (main course) or 6 (appetizer)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large White or Yellow Onion, chopped
1 cup Baby Carrots, sliced diagonally
3 cups Chicken Broth (use low-sodium if desired)
1 cup Water (add White Wine for a boost in flavor)
1 can (15-ounce) Diced Tomatoes (or use 2 cups fresh, seeds removed)
3 cloves Garlic, thinly sliced
1 bunch Swiss Chard, stems and leaves coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon dried Parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried Oregano
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper, freshly ground
1 medium Zucchini, chopped into 1-inch cubes
1/4 pound fresh Green Beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 can (15-ounce) Cannellini Beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
1 cup fresh Basil leaves, chopped
1 cup Asiago Cheese, shredded

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oil in large stockpot over medium heat.
  2. Add onion and carrots. Cook until onions are soft and translucent; about 5 minutes.
  3. Add chicken broth, water (or white wine), tomatoes, garlic, Swiss chard, herbs and pepper.
  4. Bring to a low simmer and cook 7-8 minutes.
  5. Add zucchini, green beans and cannellini beans; stir to combine ingredients. Simmer for 3-4 minutes.
  6. Add Swiss Chard and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until tender.
  7. Add basil leaves, remove from heat and stir well to incorporate ingredients.
  8. Ladle into serving bowls and top with  Asiago cheese.

Cafe San Diego: The Ultimate San Diego Dining Guide

Attention all San Diego residents and visitors! I just discovered Cafe San Diego, the ultimate San Diego Dining Guide. Ironically, a client hired me to write an article about San Diego restaurants. I explained to him that I had never been to San Diego and had no idea what restaurants were good or which to avoid. He said he had faith in my research abilities to figure it out.

I typed in San Diego Restaurants at Google and discovered Cafe San Diego. This website offered me everything I needed to write the article. It also made me want to hop on a plane and head out to California to indulge in some serious dining!

What's unique about the Cafe San Diego website is you can search by Cuisine, Neighborhood, Atmosphere and Special Features. Looking for a Bakery that offers breakfast specials? Need catering for a business luncheon? Ready for Happy Hour and Dancing? Just click on your criteria and Cafe San Diego will provide you with a list of restaurants offering everything you are looking for.

An added bonus is the San Diego Restaurant Coupons section. Packed with more than 60 money-saving coupons, you'll find everything from free appetizers and desserts to half-price entrees and discounted Sushi bars.

Once you locate a restaurant of interest, simply click on the "Full Listing" link and you'll be taken to a page which provides the address, phone number, directions and maps from Mapquest, hours of operations and methods of payments accepted.

I had no idea San Diego has such an abundance of restaurants. Nearly anything you could want is located in this beautiful city and Cafe San Diego makes it easy to locate whatever type of restaurant suits your fancy. Visiting the site reminded me of a friend who lives in San Diego whom I haven't seen for many years. I think I may have to take a business trip out West and pay a visit to several of the restaurants I discovered at Cafe San Diego.

In closing, my client was exceptionally pleased with his San Diego Restaurants article. But, he was even more pleased when I told him that all his restaurant needs are right at his fingertips ;-)


TasteBook: How to Create Your Own Cookbook

I recently discovered a unique website, TasteBook.com, where you can create your own cookbook. I'm currently working on building my own and am having a blast. With TasteBook.com, you can add your own recipes or upload more than 20,000 recipes from Epicurious, Gourmet and Bon Appetit.

The TasteBook is a hard cover book with a spiral ring inside. I find this design to be perfect for a cookbook, because you can take the recipes out of the book. What I plan to do is remove the recipes, make a copy and then if I slop something on the recipe, I won't ruin my cookbook.

TasteBook offers a variety of pre-made cookbooks. You can open one of the pre-made cookbooks, delete any recipes you don't care for and add recipes from other TasteBook collections. Additionally, you can upload recipes from the three places mentioned above or you can add your own.

TasteBook is setup in sections including Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Entrees, Desserts, Beverages, etc. These sections are separated by tabs, making them easy to locate exactly what you're looking for. No more digging through your recipe index cards ;-)

Another cool feature of TasteBook is the ability to share recipes with friends and family. You can upload contacts from your email account and when you add new recipes to your collection, you can notify your contacts and share the recipes with them as well. The website suggests having family members contribute recipes, then publishing their own TasteBook to give as a gift.

The website is super easy to use. You begin by choosing a cover for your TasteBook. There are dozens of designs to choose from and all are tastefully presented for a highly professional look. After selecting your cover, you can upload your own recipes by using Copy and Paste. The template lets users upload a photo of the recipe and includes sections for the Title, Ingredients, Preparation Instructions and also any personal notes you might want to add.

The cost of each TasteBook is $34.95, which includes 100 recipes. If you don't order 100 recipes, you'll receive recipe credits, which can later be used to order additional recipes. When they arrive in the mail, simply add them to your TasteBook.

Once I have my TasteBook created, I'll let you know more about the process. However, for those of you eager to get started creating your personal Tastebook, go to www.TasteBook.com today. I can't wait to see how my book turns out. If you create a TasteBook, please stop back by and share your experience.


FREE Barilla Celebrity Italian Table Cookbook Program

Barilla, manufacturer of exquisite pasta and pasta sauces, is currently promoting "The Celebrity Italian Table Cookbook Program." For each person who downloads the 32-page PDF Cookbook, Barilla is donating $1.00 to America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest charitable hunger-relief organization.

The Celebrity Italian Table Cookbook features recipes from five celebrities: Marisa Tomei, Stanley Tucci, Debra Messing, Natalie Portman and Chris Daughtry.

Leading Italian Chef, Mario Batali recreated the recipes and developed special menus for each. Infamous party planner, David Tutera offers creative and stunning table designs which correspond to each special menu, making each experience unique and special.

This downloadable PDF cookbook is a feast for the eyes and includes beautiful photographs of each dish, along with table settings, decorations and party tips.

Themes include: Romantic Dinner, Celebratory Feast, Girlfriends' Gathering, Family Night, Dinner Party and Babbo (Mario Batali's New York Restaurant).

Recipes include:

Eggplant Involtini with Ricotta and Scallions
Rigatoni with Basil and Gorgonzola
Mozzarella Sandwiches
Penne in Creamy Tomato Sauce
Sicilian Chickpea Fritters
Penne in Spicy Sauce with Capers and Olives
Spaghetti with Italian Tuna Sauce
Farfalle with Pancetta, Rucola and Truffle Paste
Steamed Cockles in a Habanero Chive Broth
Fettuccine with Pumpkin and Bread Crumbs
Mixed Fried Vegetables
Autumn Vegetables with Goat Cheese and Pumpkinseed Oil
Cherry Jam Tart
Chocolate Hazelnut Fritters
Orange Tart Capri-Style
Chocolate Cake from Abruzzo-Parozzo
Lemon Tart
Saffron Panna Cotta

As you can see, this FREE Celebrity Cookbook is packed with authentic Italian dishes which are certain to please your friends and family. AND, you'll be helping a good cause just by downloading the cookbook. Talk about a great deal!

To grab your copy of "The Celebrity Italian Table Cookbook" go to www.BarillaUSA.com. Don't delay! This offer will end soon and you don't want to miss your opportunity to grab a copy of this amazing cookbook for FREE!


Everything But The Kitchen Sink Vegetable Beef Soup Recipe

The following Vegetable Beef Soup recipe has been served for three generations in my family. It began with my maternal Grandmother. Then my mom, who is the Queen of Cooking, added a few more ingredients to make it a bit heartier. It has since been passed to me and I have incorporated even more ingredients. So, over the course of 40 years it has gone from ordinary Vegetable Soup, to what I now refer to as "Everything But The Kitchen Sink Vegetable Beef Soup!"

While there are quite a few ingredients, this soup is relatively easy to make. At best estimate, it costs about $12.00 to make a huge stockpot full of this yummy goodness. Our family consists of three and this recipe yields about 12 servings.

I like to store four to six servings in individual containers and place them in the freezer for later use. It only takes a few hours for the soup to thaw, making this a great item to take to the office for a tasty and healthy lunch. Just reheat in the microwave for two to three minutes and serve with Saltine crackers or a slice of homemade cornbread.

EVERTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK VEGETABLE BEEF SOUP

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Serves 12
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3-4 hours

INGREDIENTS:

2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 pound Sirloin Steak, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small Yellow Onion, chopped
2-3 cloves Garlic, chopped
2 whole Bay Leaves
1 (46-ounce) can Tomato Juice
1/2 head green Cabbage, chopped
3 stalks Celery, sliced
2 medium Carrots, sliced
3 medium Potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 (15-ounce) can Corn, drained
1 (15-ounce) can Peas, drained
1 (15-ounce) can Green Beans, drained
1 (15-ounce) can diced Tomatoes
1 cup quick-cook Barley
Salt and Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Add Olive Oil to large stockpot. Set heat to medium and allow oil to heat for one minute.

Add Sirloin cubes to oil and cook thoroughly; about 4-5 minutes.

Stew_beef

Add Onion and Garlic to meat. Saute until translucent, about 2 minutes.

Add Bay Leaves and heat for 1 minute.

Stew_beef_cooked

Add cabbage, celery, carrots, potatoes, corn, peas, green beans and tomatoes.

Cabbage

Celery_and_carrots_2

Add Tomato Juice.

Bring ingredients to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 3 hours; stir occasionally.

Add Barley, stir well and simmer for 30 minutes.

Vegetable_soup_in_pan

Remove bay leaves from soup and discard.

Transfer to soup bowls and serve immediately.


Vegetable_soup_in_bowl


Bed and Breakfast Cook-Free Vacation!

Everyone who knows me knows that I love to cook. However, even professional chefs get a day off and I'm in serious need of a vacation. My husband and I are planning a trip to Atlanta, Georgia to visit his relatives. While looking for hotel reservations, I discovered a great website that offers just about any type of accommodations, as well as vacation packages, discounted airline tickets and rental cars. But, the best part is HotelReservations.com offers Bed and Breakfast packages too!

I found the most adorable B&B, called The Gaslight Inn. The inn is located in the historical Virginia-Highland neighborhood near downtown Atlanta. It's close to shopping, restaurants, theatres, art galleries and museums. This is one of my favorite areas near Atlanta, so I was pretty excited when I found this place.

I absolutely cannot wait to be served breakfast in bed. No cooking, no clearing the table, no washing dishes. Just a yummy Southern breakfast served directly to our room by a friendly staff and all we have to do is eat it. Life doesn't get better than that, does it?

After much discussion, my husband and I decided on the Stress Relief package. For a mere $50, we'll receive a bottle of our choice of wine or champagne and can relax and unwind with an assortment of in-room spa products. Plus, we get to wear those plush white robes that are so comfy you could walk around in them all day.

We're still debating on whether to book the Suite or Deluxe Room with Kitchen. The Suite is only $16 more than the Deluxe Room; however, it has two Queen beds. The Deluxe Room has a Queen poster bed, which I think is quite romantic. The problem is, I don't want to be in a room with a kitchen because I'm trying to get away from cooking!! And, my husband loves my cooking so much he doesn't want us to go anywhere without a kitchen, LOL!

At HotelReservations.com, they claimed they could save us up to 75-percent. Being the skeptic that I am, I looked up the Gaslight Inn and located their website. Much to my delight, I discovered that we could save around $50 per night, depending on our date of arrival, by booking through the HotelReservations.com website. Even with the addition of the Stress Relief package, we're still saving $50. I, for one, like to get more bang for my buck. After all, they don't call me the Cheap Gourmet for nothing!

If you're looking to get away for the weekend, think about heading off to a Bed and Breakfast. There is an incredible aura surrounding these places. Most are transformed from grand historic homes and carriage houses. It's like stepping back in time.

I'm certain I'll be writing a review on the Gaslight Inn and can't wait to share the experience with you. I desperately need a vacation and am anxiously awaiting being served breakfast in bed!

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