Category Archives: advice and tips

A meal fit for the Greek Goddess of Love

As promised I’ve scoured through dozens of books, spent hours doing online research, poured over stacks of clinical research all to help you put an extra punch into your Valentine’s Day dinner…am I exhausted, or what!

If you buy that one I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell sell ya..(insert evil cackle here).. Actually being that I have an ever growing collection of cook books I’ve turned to a couple of those to help out. In this post I’ll be giving you a few of my favs. I realize that many of you may already think my taste is lacking, so I’m starting with a list of edibles you can use as you see fit, that are reported to “bring back that lovin’ feeling”…oh, that lovin’ feeling… cuz it’s (oh you know the song!). I’ll finish up with some recipes and detailed instructions for my famous “Shake u hiney it’s so fine-y” dance made famous at SITS roll call..okay stop laughing!! I’ll leave the dance out of it!! (meanies)

Asparagus: Aside from the more “obvious” attributes of this wonderful veggie, it also contains a high levels of potassium and phosphorous that are believed to help increase hormone production. Heck Ben Franklin actually wrote about the stuff and WE ALL KNOW about his famous “love life”. Of course he wrote that it makes your pee smell funny but that’s not a very romantic story.
Chile Peppers: What do you think makes Latin flavor so HOT HOT HOT? Chills DUH, but there is some real science in this one. The capsaicin in chile peppers gets your blood pumping, you get flushed and might just feel a little warm and tingly (sort of like the effects of a great kiss)
Basil: There is an old folk tale in the Islands that Erzulie (the goddess of love) leaves a path of Basil under her feet.
Grapes: What would a beautiful Greek fresco be without the ethereal looking young slave woman feeding grapes to a God? How many famous love poems include references to wine (a grape by any other name) and lips? You can use your imagination from there.
Strawberries: Not a big surprise here, this one is a famous fruit of love.
Honey: Hippocrates himself, father of the Hippocratic Oath, prescribed this luscious golden elixir for amorous vigor. In India it’s given as a gift to newlyweds.
Rosemary: A traditional holistic treatment for headaches, rosemary opens the nasal passages allowing you to breathe easier, relax and enjoy the smell and each other.
Edible flora: Did you know that there are several types of tasty flowers you can cook with and eat? Being that Valentines day is the day of roses my recipe will use them but lilies, fuchsia, hibiscus, pansies and jasmine are some of the others you can choose (all are great dipped in chocolate or rolled in sugar)

Are ya ready to cook? Here are a couple of recipes I’ve prepared and recommend.

Pasta with Strawberries
(a sweet and savory dish)

2 cups fresh strawberries
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half
3 tbsp butter
1/2 pound of thin spaghetti or angle hair pasta
(torn basil for a garnish.. two for one on the aphrodisiacs in this dish)
Cook pasta according to the box directions. Put the berries in a blender and pulse until smooth, strain out seeds. In a medium pan melt butter, add cream and simmer on medium heat 2-3 minutes add in cheese until it melts into the cream. Turn off heat, mix in berry puree and pour over strained pasta. Serve with extra grated cheese on top and the torn basil.

Spicy Shrimp and Mango
(a sweet and spicy dish)
1 pound large shrimp (peeled and deviened)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic (minced or grated)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup diced mango
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Heat oil on medium high heat, add in garlic and saute for 1-2 min until golden. Toss in shrimp, lemon, and pepper flakes. Cook until shrimp is pink. Add in mango, toss and serve.

Roses and Champagne
(a fragrant libation for the occasion)
Pedals of one rose
1 tbsp sugar (super fine if you can find it)
1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
1 bottle champagne

Separate rose pedals into a bowl, add sugar. With a pestle or the back of a spoon gently crush the pedals until the sugar begins to dissolve. Put Champagne into a pitcher (glass is best).. and the juice (this gives flavor and helps keep it cold) and float the rose pedals in the mix.

I hope you all have a wonderfully romantic Valentine’s Day!

Meet Your Beauty Expert

Well the poll has closed and 40% of you have an exhausting life (big surprise there being that most of you are either moms, trying hard to be a mom or working hard at building a career). AND you’d like to know how to keep it from showing on your face.. ME TOO! Of course I also have huge poors, my DH says I pout all the time, I’m terrified of eye liner and I could NEVER go from blah to babe in less than 5 hours (even with a whole beauty entourage!)… so I’d have been happy no matter what the poll said.

I know you are dying to learn more about your mystery expert. I’ll give you a few details. I’ll let her fill in with the truly juicy stuff.. ha ha.

Her name is Mariana Howard. She has been in the beauty and fashion industry since she was a teenager striking out on her own in no less than Manhattan itself! Her talents are renowned in the industry. She has worked in the development of world wide training programs for high end skin care companies like Doctor Brandt and Doctor Perincone (check Sephora for the price tags on some of those babies, WOW). She is currently working in the Times Square offices of one of the world’s largest retailer’s of women’s undergarments, cosmetics and fragrance. I’ll leave it to her if she’d like to tell you who (it may be a “secret”). She is beautiful inside and out and one of my bestest best friends and I count myself very lucky to be able to say that.

I also know you want to know about her rock star hubby.. so I’ll dish just a bit there too. Let me first say that beyond his amazing talent and the respect and gigs he gets for that he too is truly a great guy and I adore him. I’m honored that my oldest son calls him a mentor and inspiration. If you have a daughter between 8 and 14 I’m sure you’ve heard his drumming skills and maybe even seen his trademark spiky hair in the music video for Avril Lavigne’s hit song “Girlfriend” he as been with her band for the past year and has also joined Gavin Degraw on a world tour.

These two are the perfect combo of cool and cute, kind and honest, and have more talent between them than should be allowed any couple! I’m honored that Mariana will be giving you some INVALUABLE tips. I know you’ll love her. She is already working on her piece and as long as it doesn’t get side tracked by her other obligations, I’ll have it for you Friday.

Oh, by the way.. I’ll be giving one lucky reader a Sephora gift card so they can go pick up some products to help them put her tips to work!

One more teaser.. I’m half way done with tomorrow’s post.. Valentine’s Day edible aphrodisiacs!

What The Heck Is A Quarter Auction?

So you’ve been invited to a quarter auction. It’s likely your first reaction to join in this recreational enterprise was, “What the heck is a Quarter Auction?!” Yeah, me too.  I’ve enlisted the help of the pal who drug invited me to my first one, to help explain how these things work, why they’re so much fun, and frankly… what the heck they are.what the heck is a quarter auction?

Quarter auctions appear to be the “new thing” in some states. I’m not sure how or where they began (I think they started in Virginia but I can’t be held to that) but they had their launch and the rest is history…

From my experience with the auctions here in Maryland, quarter auctions (also termed “Quarter Mania”), are a venue where you go to bid and win items of your choice. Bidding is in quarter increments, thus the name.

There are a million variations on how quarter auctions are run. It’s impossible to cover them all but I’ll give a general overview of those I’ve participated in.

Typically, a fundraiser group will plan the quarter auction for their organization to raise money. The auction items can be ANYTHING! I’ve seen brand new items such as restaurant gift certificates, jewelry, purses, food, home goods, toys, and tools auctioned off.

What The Heck Is A Quarter Auction?

As a quarter auction participant/player you’ll arrive to the location at least half an hour in advance of the start time, loaded with tons of quarters. You want to arrive early so you have the opportunity to view all the items being auctioned off (there are usually about 100 auction items). You will also need to arrive early to make sure you get a seat. Some venues have been known to sell out!

When you arrive, you’ll find a table where they are selling paddles and making change in quarters. Here you pick a numbered paddle (or two, or three) that you will use as your bidding number(s). You’ll pay a rental fee for the paddle that generally ranges from $1 – $3 and you’ll return the paddle at the end of the auction. The paddle money is retained for the charity organization. The person selling the paddles will put a corresponding numbered chip/ball into a bucket.

When the auction begins, each item will be displayed to the crowd and auctioned off, one by one. At this time, you will use your quarters and paddle(s) to bid. Each item will have a retail value that determines the number of quarters required per paddle to bid. For example, 1 quarter for an item with a $10 – $25 value, 2 quarters for $26 – $50 value, and so on up to 4 quarters. The values and quarter amounts do vary from auction to auction.

Once you deposit the required number of quarters per paddle to bid (quarters are dropped into bowls on the tables and collected) you can raise your paddle(s) in the air. The announcer will begin calling numbers from the chips/balls in their bucket. If the announcer calls a number that wasn’t played (the person didn’t bid and raise their paddle), that person with the number will yell out, “No bid.” The announcer will continue calling numbers until there is a winner amongst those who bid and had their paddles raised in the air.

Here’s an example:
Jane really wanted this beautiful new necklace. Its retail value was $50 and it required 2 quarters to bid. Jane had two paddles, numbers 6 & 104, and since she REALLY wanted the necklace she put four quarters in the bowl (two quarters per paddle) and raised both. The announcer called her first number, “2.” Joe had 2. He didn’t bid on the necklace so he hollered out, “No bid.” The announcer called the next number, “104.” “Right here!” yelled Jane. The necklace was hers! So, for a $50 item, Jane won it for just quarters.

Still muttering to yourself, “What the heck is a quarter auction?” To sum it up, quarter auctions are good, clean fun and they don’t require a lot of money to play! Check your local papers or craigslist.com to see if there are any auctions in your area.

Mangiare..Food, Wine.. WIN????

As promised tonight you’ll be treated to a great classic Italian dinner. I promise that you can feed a family of 6 with it (I do)… The catch here? Well there is a “special” ingredient that I’m going to ask you to use that you might just turn your nose up at. So before you read on, raise your right hand and say the following:

“I do solemnly swear that I trust this complete stranger, for whom my only knowledge of, comes from her blog. She could very well be a total nut case. But, she does CLAIM to have gone to at least one or more culinary classes. I rest my faith in her proclamation that she is married to the son of Italian food snobs from the old country. This may just be another of many figments of her imagination, still I will again trust her. And I promise that as long as her secret ingredient is legal in at least 28 states I WILL use it”

Alrighty now that you’ve take the oath of the red sauce, I bet you want to know what the secret ingredient is.. back off man I’m gettin’ to it! he he.. Let’s first start with the rest of the must haves. I’m also sticking in there the average prices for each so I can work my cheap magic on ya while I temp your taste buds. Here is what you’ll need:

1 can of diced or crushed tomatoes, with garlic, basil, olive oil and if you can find it oregano. (Average cost $1)

Now I like Hunts and if I’m splurging I get good imported ones but if you are in this for the cheap go with what is on sale. Often these toms will go for 10 for $10, with coupons you can get them even cheaper. I got the Hunts I used tonight for .33 cents each.

2-4 cloves fresh garlic. (Average cost per head .50)

The amount is purely a taste thing. In my book there is no such thing as too much of the stinky rose, which is what garlic translates to, wha la a language lesson too!

1/2 to 1 medium yellow onion (Average cost .70)
Again portion is a taste thing.

1 tsp salt. (already in your pantry.. bonus!)
1/2 tsp black pepper (once again, you’ve got this so BONUS)
1 tbsp olive oil (you should have this too, if not the cost per this serving is about .10)

1 box of any pasta you want (these you can get 10 for $10 as well, I used Barilla Rigatoni tonight. I picked it up 4 for $4 and used a $1 coupon, total cost .75)

1/2 cup freshly grated (not from a can or tub) Parmesan cheese (Average cost per chunk about $8, cost for this dish .75)

Here is the thing with the good cheese. Yeah it’s expensive. BUT, you are going to use it in so many things that the cost per dish is usually less than a buck. Why not get the powdered canned stuff? A side from the ewww factor my tummy gets when I think about cheese in a can, there are the sodium levels.. OFF THE CHART.. and the bang for your buck is much less. I recently converted my mom to the artisan cheese movement after years of addiction to cheese in a sparkly green can (my mom, like a parrot is drawn to shiny things). She could NOT believe how much a difference it made. Now she won’t even touch the dry stuff. This cheese is something worth paying for, honestly. It’s sort of like shoes, sure the ones from Payless are cute but after you wear them once they make your feet smell.. nice picture for this post eh?

And now to the secret ingredient.. hold on to your keyboards kids..

Yep that is Anchovies! Now don’t gag, really I wouldn’t steer you wrong and I DO understand your hesitation.. I mean who ever thought of cooking with cured, hairy fish fillets? eeew with a capitol E. To be honest until about 5 years ago you couldn’t pay me to eat anything with one of these puppies in it. It was in keeping with my, I’ll try anything once and my impress the in laws, credos that I tried them. HOLY mackerel! well anchovies but you get the point. When cooked PROPERLY they have absolutely no fish taste and no funky fish hair in your dish. The key is to melt them into the base flavors of what you are cooking. They break up and dissolve like jello does. So my kids have no idea why they are always in the pantry, because they are 100% sure they have NEVER touched one of the yuckie things. For this dish I add.

2 flat anchovy fillets (cost per can $4, from one can you can get about 6 dishes so total cost here is .66)

I realize, like always, I’ve gotten really wordy! So here is the short and sweet of it:

1 can diced or crushed tomatoes w/garlic, basil and olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic
1/2-1 medium yellow onion
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
2 flat anchovy fillets

So here is what I do. I chop the onion finely (of course cuz I’m so Fine..eh?). The garlic gets minced. I put them with the olive oil in a pan on med high heat and let them groove until the onion is looking pale. Then I add in the funky fish. Smoosh it around and watch it disappear! Then in goes the Matoes, salt and pepper. I then crush them up some more with a tater smasher. Or if I’m lazy I leave em alone and call it “Rustic Cuisine”. Cook up the pasta in water with salt and a touch of oil. The salt gives more flavor the the macaroni (I learned this is the “Italian” word for ALL pasta) and the oil keeps it from sticking. Heat the sauce through and add the cheese, cook until it melts in.

Ta Da.. RED SAUCE ala DiPaolamomma!

Oh did you see some bread in my fancy, food styled ala ME dish there? What’s a pasta dish without bread.. and I can give ya that and stay under that $8 too! I used a can of thin pizza crust dough (got it on sale, duh! Paid .80). I cooked it on my pizza stone with a little olive oil, salt, garlic powder, dried Italian seasoning and a sprinkling of that cheese.. pretty much free. And get your greens in too. I made a baby spinach salad with a simple olive oil and lemon dressing (spinach $2.60, lemon $1)… total cost $7.86!!!!

Now this is just a base sauce. I make it in big batches sometimes and just add to it. Tonight I browned half a pound of chop meat (or that is what my mother-in-law calls it, I call it ground beef). Then I tossed in some mushrooms and 1/4 cup of bread crumbs (to thicken it up), and 1/2 cup of red wine. Dump it over rigatoni and wha La there you have a good Bolinase!

Speaking of that fine wine… I made that too! Yep, with the help (okay a lot of help) from my hubby and drawing on the long DiPaola family tradition we make wine. This one was a Cabernet. Of course I put my spin on it, the grapes came from California…shout out to my home state! The title of this year’s Cabernet is “Desiderare Sangue”.. in Italian this means “I want blood”.. an homage not just to the fact that hubby and I dig Vampire flicks and books. But also to our two toddlers. Once, while daddy and I were enjoying a glass, one of them asked what it was. He said “blood” so every time we have a glass of wine they say “I want blood”. Yep everything in my life is some how kid related!

Now why should you care? Cuz you heart me of course.. oh, that’s not enough for you? My my I’ve spoiled you with this whole give away thing huh? Well I guess I can’t break with tradition, can I? So here you go, a contest for this week. Leave a comment for me, tell me what your favorite meal is. I’ll pick a winner this Friday and if she (or he) is up for it maybe they will share the recipe with the rest of the class! I’ll feature that recipe and the winner on Sunday.

See I told ya I’d find a way to give something else away this week! The question is, am I done? I guess you’ll just have to keep coming back!!

Sorry kiddos but I can only offer this prize to a U.S. resident. I’m not being snobby, just cheap, it costs do darn much to mail things outside the country.