Grocery Shopping Tips to Save Money and Still Get the Best

I love grocery shopping. I know…I am a weirdo. Wandering the aisles, seeing what’s new, looking for bargains in the mark down bins, and sometimes running into neighbors in my local Smith’s is fun for me.  I have my local supermarket, but I don’t stop there with my grocery list. I have learned through trial and error, and happy accidents, that many of the things on my grocery list can be found at better prices, oftentimes fresher, if I am willing to shop in more than one store.

Read on for some of my biggest money saving tips.

We all get into a rut when it comes to routine tasks in our everyday lives. This includes grocery shopping. Sometimes, knowing the layout of the store makes for an easy, quick, and manageable task. I say throw caution to the wind and try another grocery store! It could be the same chain or a different one, but because the layout will be different, you MAY find grocery items you overlook in your regular store, or you may find that elusive ingredient from your childhood that you never seem to be able to find. For me, that item is Gravy Master – no, I am not buying 3 jars on Amazon for $25 and no, Kitchen Bouquet is NOT the same. It’s just NOT. And no, I don’t shop in W-Mart so I rarely see my beloved Gravy Master.

Everyone knows about their local Chinese grocery store, or Asian grocery store in general. You know you can get chicken feet for broth and stock. Of course you can get the freshest fish, wonton wrappers, premade lumpia and egg rolls. You want an abundance of gorgeous fresh mushrooms? They’ve got it! And because the turnover in the cases is a lot faster and more frequent, you are bound to get fresher product than you will at a traditional grocery store. There is so much more to international grocery stores and cuisines out there! And believe me when I say they overlap a LOT.

This is a “happy place” for me. The entire right side of the store is filled with grocery items from several countries across Europe and the Middle East. The entire left side of the store is every flavor of Asian you could imagine from Hawaiian to Japanese, Thai, Korean and everything in between. What makes this grocery store so great? Fresh fish at a fraction of what you pay at a traditonal grocery store. Because of the high turnover rate, their phyllo and puff pastry are better, fresher, and less likely to have freezer burn. The Bulgarian feta in the dairy case is outstanding.

They are so small and intimate they don’t even have a website! I love this place because when I go in, the owner is there and greets me. He is fantastic at helping me find what I think I want and offers suggestions on new things to try, and the herbs…seriously! Gigantic bunches for a lot less than a traditional grocery store. A few other things I love about this store – the amazing mortadella with pistachios at the deli counter. It’s $7.99/lb as opposed to $11.99/lb for the Boar’s Head version which no longer has pistachios in it. And let’s face it, mortadella without pistachios is basically fucking bologna! The freshest pita, and flat breads in various sizes all at great prices. And the French feta! It’s so creamy & smooth and Aladdin has the best prices I have seen.

Again, no website! When I first started experimenting with Indian cuisine, I was so confused and the folks here were AMAZING! Stepping into a new culture’s cuisine often involves unfamiliar grocery items and I was completely at a loss. Besan flour? WTF, and who knew there was more than one kind? I didn’t know what curry leaf looked like, let alone smelled like, but they helpfully showed it to me and taught me how to select good specimens. You want beautiful okra? Hit up this grocery store for the most gorgeous okra I have ever seen outside the south and at a fantastic price too!

Additionally, their spices are all priced extremely well and can be bought in multiple sizes of pkgs. Best of all, the spices are sold whole, not ground, so they will last a lot longer in your pantry (think cumin, coriander seed, star anise, cinnamon, etc.). Get yourself an inexpensive spice grinder like this one from Amazon so you are ready to roll when you load your cart with these whole spice beauties.

I know a lot of people use online shopping to streamline a task that for them may be enervating. I get it. Keep in mind you are in some cases paying a premium to NOT go in the store. Pay attention to delivery fees, pick up charges, and higher prices than if you actually go in the store.

During the pandemic, I used Misfit Market, Imperfect Foods, and the like. I felt like I was helping the planet with a food rescue situation, and it stopped me from going into the grocery store with a bunch of people that I didn’t know and probably didn’t want to be around. I have since stopped that practice because they aren’t cheaper, it wasn’t saving me money, I LIKE going to the store, and too often produce would arrive damaged or worse. In the end I had to go to the grocery store anyway to replace the unusable food items.

We love chili crisp (thanks Gemini & Kim for cluing me in on this condiment). The Hubs got so excited he ordered it online thru Amazon for $10…I pleasantly told him to stop grocery shopping unless I ask him to get something. The large jar at the Asian grocery store is less than $5. Keep in mind as well at the Mexican grocery stores, cilantro and green onions are typically 2 or 3 bunches for a dollar instead of a dollar each. And again, high demand and turnover make items like these fresher than at a conventional grocery store.

Final tip. If you are shopping in a traditional mass market grocery store, be sure to have their frequent shopper card and download their app. Lately I have found coupons through the apps that save big bucks on meat, dairy, and produce.

Relationship Status? It’s Complicated – Part 5 – Truly Cooking

First of all, apologies for not finishing what I started in a timely fashion. Cooking and writing have been the last things on my mind. We went on vacation for 2 weeks – one GLORIOUS week in Paris and a second week in London. The Hubs & I were able to cross things off our “bucket lists”. You can see the pics on my Instagram. And then we got wrapped up in NHL playoffs – Go Knights Go (Stanley Cup Champs in case you weren’t following along)! And so much else has happened and I have been a slacker.

So where were we? Oh yeah! Now I remember, I was about to tell you how I REALLY learned to cook…

Like I mentioned before, I became interested in cooking when I was younger, and I THOUGHT I knew how to cook well until I went to culinary school. What started out as a passion for me as a teen was finally realized in my 40’s.

By the time I went back to school, I had been married for more than 20 years, The Offspring was in high school, I had done more than 1000 live cooking demos, and I thought I knew what I was doing. I knew I wasn’t going to get my degree, or work in a professional kitchen full time. This was for my own personal edification. I thought I was going to refine what I learned already throughout my life. Yeah…right… What I THOUGHT was going to happen, and what actually happened are two completely different things. It was 2009. I was 44.

There are four levels of competence in anything:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – you don’t know that you don’t know anything.
  2. Conscious Incompetence – you know you don’t know how to do anything correctly.
  3. Conscious Competence – you know what you know and have to think about doing it the right way.
  4. Unconscious Competence – You don’t even have to think about doing it the right way, you just do it. And it’s always correct.

Think about shoelaces as an example:

  1. Kids don’t realize they are supposed to be tied at first.
  2. Then when they do, they come running to you to get them tied, because they know they don’t know how.
  3. When they start to learn, they are focused, tongue sticking out of the corner of their mouth until finally…
  4. The laces can be tied while they are saying they want a snack.

The goal, in learning anything, is to reach level 4. And do it as quickly as possible. I went into culinary school thinking I was a level 2, maybe a 3 and found out I was a level 1. Talk about demoralizing! Here I was, the oldest person in the class and I knew next to nothing! SHIT! My life experience was not a benefit here and my admittedly slower physicality wasn’t winning me any bonus points either. SHIT! I thought my 20+ years of practical time cooking in a kitchen would help me…WRONG!

Day one of kitchen practical in Cooking Basics (when you are actually IN the kitchen and not a classroom) I received a rude awakening as to how much I really didn’t know. It was basic knife skills. Now, people who don’t spend as much time in the kitchen as I do think I have great knife skills and I will tell you I suck, but I used to suck more.

I know how to hold a knife properly, always have. I knew to curl my fingers back from the edge of the blade; a lesson hard learned. But my skill set ended there. Chef Jill came up behind me, “Lower your right shoulder. Stand square to the board. Bring your elbow in, quit sticking it out. You can’t make a straight cut like that!” I gently put my knife on the cutting board, blade facing away from me, turned to her, and asked, “Am I doing anything right?” She looked me square in the eye, “NO.” In my head I said, “Challenge accepted.”

Purchase at Blue Q – Image from their site

Julienne, Batonnet, Chiffonade…

My poor husband ate more potatoes while I was in cooking school than he had in the combined other years of our marriage. Potatoes are cheap and are great for practicing knife skills. My composter got all the potassium goodness from those peels, and I learned how to properly, dice, batonnet, chiffonade, julienne, mince and so on. I never did learn how to properly cut a tourné or make a quenelle from the mashed potatoes, but I was miles ahead of where I started. And I scored the highest in the class on the final and overall grade, both practical and written exams.

The fire inside me for food and cooking grew even stronger. The more I learned, the more obsessed I became. I knew what a Michelin Star was and what a James beard Award was, but it never occurred to me WHY these were such big deals until I learned how to REALLY cook. Then I got it. Truly got it. And the unfortunate and soul crushing realization that I would never be part of that world, at that level sunk in. Did that realization curb my enthusiasm for cooking? NOPE!

Glutton for Punishment

I went back for more. I took Garde Manger and once again was the oldest person in the class. No one wanted to be my “lab partner” because during introductions I admitted I was there to learn, not to get a job. The rest of the class was there for a degree or to move up in the positions they had. Poor Jeff got saddled with me and he was decidedly unhappy…until until he realized my passion for cooking and desire for perfection. Once again, I scored the highest on the exams and Jeff and I aced the final far ahead of our peers to the shock and dismay of one particular douchebag.

School ended for me there. The remaining classes that I wanted to take required the pre-requisite of a class where you learn to run the school restaurant. I was not at all interested in doing that. My only interest was the learning environment. Even though I was willing to pay cash to NOT take that class, they wouldn’t allow me to skip it. It may be time for me to revisit that…maybe.

Culinary school opened doors for me in other ways. I had the wonderful experience of working for Texas Pete on their west coast events as their show runner. Old High School pal Chef Tim Grandinetti got me involved with them. I catered small gatherings; we started a supper club. I joined a cookbook club; I taught my sister how to cook via YouTube during the pandemic and I still will do live online demos when asked.

Sport Cooking, the New Addiction?

I’ve become aware that I am a “sport cook”. Friend Kim Foster, who moderates the cookbook club, is a James Beard award winner for writing, and has a new book just released (The Meth Lunches) clued me into that. I learn to do something outrageous or complicated, just because I CAN. Then I promptly forget it, moving on to the next culinary challenge I set for myself. I learned to do Julia Child’s stuffed, boned duck en croute, made French country pâté, chicken liver mousseline, and so on. A few things I challenged myself with that I still do are curing and smoking bacon, stuffing my own sausages, and other curing & smoking tasks. Basically, it’s another manifestation of my addiction.

For a gal who came from a background of want and need – wanting acceptance, needing validation, food, clothes, and friendship – a passion grown from need changed everything. I welcome people to my table. I still get nervous when a Chef comes to dine at my table even though I know they aren’t judging me. Nervous to the point that last Thanksgiving, I cut myself so badly that I couldn’t stop the bleeding without superglue.

Now as I prepare to get ready for another Thanksgiving – my favorite holiday of the year – I am secure in knowing that whoever joins us will feel welcomed. Happy that my table will be a safe harbor for those who choose to join us. I don’t worry whether there will be enough, there is always plenty. I don’t worry that my new home is smaller than the old one, we will make room for everyone who chooses to join us.

Expectations, Disappointment, Sour Grapes

This fall The Hubs took me back to upstate New York so I could see the leaves. I made a lunch reservation at American Bounty at the Culinary institute of America, the school I so desperately wanted to attend. If I am being honest, I was disappointed, but I am not sure why. Were my expectations high because the school was gilded in my mind? Did the remnants of my sour grapes about dreams not realized loom over the experience? Did the fact that I can eat extraordinary meals here in Las Vegas mute the expertise of the culinary students? Perhaps it was a combination of all of that. Still, I am glad I went.

Will you ever find me cooking in a commercial kitchen? Probably not. Heading toward 60 with a bum knee and a brutal and honest look at myself in the mirror, I can see that I physically don’t need or want the challenge that represents. For now, I will continue to challenge myself at home. Right now? I practice making quenelles to hide my dog’s medication. How’s that for fancy?

My Life in Curry – Curried Chicken Waldorf Salad

When I was in my early 20’s I had one curry dish and hated it and was completely sure that I hated “curry”. And then real life happened. Friend Zam fed me these insanely delish Indian hand pies filled with curried beef after a drunken night out. Friend Babs from Jamaica made me her version of Curry Chicken. Of course, back then, I was not the cook that I am today and asked neither of them for the recipes. I honestly wish I could recreate those meat pies Zam fed me. They were like Jamaican Meat Pies in form and function but seasoned in a completely different way. Zam, if you are reading this, I need that recipe!

I honestly didn’t know that you could MAKE your own curry powder!

In culinary school I was taught that “curry” is nothing more than a mixture of spices and seasonings used to flavor a dish. Imagine my surprise when we were instructed to make Curried Butternut Squash Soup. After scouring the spice shelves and not finding curry powder, I was told I needed to make it. MAKE IT?! I honestly didn’t know that you could MAKE your own curry powder! I truthfully thought that it was like cinnamon. It sits there on the shelf and then you buy it. To be fair, even though I had to create curry powder in culinary school, and can do it if required, I usually just go to the Indian Market and buy it. Or I go to the Asian Market and buy the Thai Curry Paste that I like. If I was a true badass, I WOULD make my own, but alas I am not.

The flexibility of Curry is one of the best things about it

Curry is a vast, varied, and thoroughly tasty subject. One of the best things about it for me is the flexibility. It can be hot or mild. Nearly any protein can be added, or NOT if you are cooking for vegetarians. In many cases it is gluten free, so when my celiac suffering friends come to dinner, I can whip up something tasty to be served with rice. Several cultures have their own special blends and within a culture those blends can vary by region. Friend Natasha informed me that southern Indian is incredibly different from northern Indian. I am NOT an expert by any standard on curry (or anything else for that matter). I just know what I like.

Changing Minds with Gentle Introductions

Members of my family have insisted they do not like curry. A fact that I am happy to report I am correcting. Sister Nancy recently learned she loves Thai Red Curry when I sent her the shelf stable ingredients via Amazon to make her own and talked her through a simple process on the phone. My mom has said for years that she “hates curry”. I fixed that for her with my Curried Chicken Waldorf Salad. That recipe is below.

While variety may be the spice of life, curry is the queen of my spice world right now. I find myself slipping it in wherever I think a tried & true staple is boring. That’s how I came up with the recipe below. Curried Fried Rice? Sure, why the hell not? Curried Chicken Salad? Hell yes! As I type I am inspired to try a few other things that may or may not pan out. But experimentation is how all innovation starts.

Curried Waldorf Chicken Salad

Here is the low down on a true Waldorf Salad from the Waldorf Astoria Cookbook (copyright 1969 by Bramhall House Publishing). There are 4 ingredients in a TRUE Waldorf – apple, celery, walnuts, real mayo (not Miracle Whip – perish the thought), served on a piece of leaf lettuce. There are no proteins, no grapes, nothing else. Just those 4 things.

Obviously, we are deviating here. I cut my mayo with plain full fat Greek Yogurt. This does a couple of things. First it cuts the calories significantly. Second, the natural acids in the yogurt stop the apples from getting slimy and browning (something I discovered by accident when I was trying to reduce the calorie count), so you can store it for a few days in the fridge. Take note – the last 3 ingredients are to taste and desired texture. Start with the lower amounts and add more if you like a little more dressing or seasoning in your salad.


1 large or medium crisp red skinned apple, (Honey Crisp, Cosmic, etc.) cored, seeded, and diced in ½” pieces

1 rib of celery diced in ¼” pieces

¼ C coarsely chopped walnuts* (or more to taste)

3 oz cooked chicken breast (leftovers from a rotisserie chicken work well here), diced in ½” pieces

¼ – ½ C plain Greek yogurt

3 – 4 Tbsp real mayo (both Hellmann’s and Duke’s work well here)

¾ tsp store bought yellow curry powder – Madras curry is a good choice

A pinch of kosher salt


Put everything in a mixing bowl except the walnuts and stir gently to coat. Make sure you have enough dressing to cling to all the ingredients without it being soupy. Taste it. If you want a little more curry, add it ¼ tsp at a time until you get the desired flavor. Same goes for the salt. Keep in mind, you can always add more, but you can’t take it out. Fold in the walnuts last so you don’t further break them up into fine pieces.

*I find the best way to chop walnuts for this recipe is to lay them on the cutting board and using the flat part of a large knife, gently crush them. You’ll get nice nuggets of nut meat without pulverizing the entire nut.

I Have Become a Movie Character

I have become a movie character, or at least an amalgam of characters. If you are a cinephile, you can thank me later for all the movie references.

And WHAT a Character!

One day while breezing into my local bar, whipping off my sunglasses and surveying the room looking for my peeps, I was compared to Miranda Priestly – the character based on Anna Wintour. And I wasn’t offended. Calm, collected, and confident on the outside, using bitchiness to camouflage the raging mess on the inside. The tables have turned. I have now become Myrna Loy. Not the fun, cool Nora Charles version everyone wants to be friends with from the “Thin Man” films.

Myrna Loy & William Powell from the Thin Man

But the slightly neurotic, persnickety Muriel Blanding…and my husband is becoming the Cary Grant character from that film. Someone compared us to Shelly Long and Tom Hanks in The Money Pit, but let’s face it, Grant and Loy did it first and did it better.

Why Can’t ANYTHING be Simple?

Each time we tackle a project in the house, it leads to 3 others that must be completed before we can move on and do the initial project. And each complication adds a week or more to our timeline. Here’s an example – My original goal was to have the kitchen complete by 1 October. When I had the original measurements for the cabinets done, that was a realistic goal. Here’s the hold up: an ugly drop ceiling had to be removed and the actual measurements needed to include the additional 14 inches I was gaining. Once the hideous soffit was removed, we found out WHY there was a drop ceiling. To accommodate the plumbing for the master bath. A call to the plumber to raise the pipes to allow the raise of the ceiling and we have a one-week delay.…

We Are on Our Way

The measurements have been done and the cabinets and pulls have been ordered and now there is an 8 week wait…with all the delays and supply chain difficulties that are acting like gum in the gears, it is now looking more like 15 November. And that doesn’t include the gas line and stove…but that is another whole story in and of itself.

Have I mentioned that I am NOT patient? I am almost Veruca Salt (original Willy Wonka) level impatient without the brattiness. Well, most of the time I am not bratty. When I finally decide on something, I want it NOW. Not 3 weeks from now, but today; tomorrow at the latest.

Why am I telling you this?  Because at the end of it all, becoming a movie character has built some character. I am learning to be more flexible (not my strong suit). I am learning to go with the flow more. Side note: On vacation I am usually really flexible and willing to just roll with whatever looks like fun, but in day-to-day life? Not so much.

And through all of this, I am cooking. While it might sound fun to dine out every night, when you actually ENJOY cooking and your kitchen is your happy place, it’s really not. As I type, my mom is visiting, and I am cooking for her. I am trying out new recipes, shopping in the local ethnic markets and learning new things. Joyfully cooking in my hot mess of a kitchen with holes in the walls, bare board flooring and no cabinets. And a god-awful electric stove. “It builds character”, I keep telling myself. At this point I think it is more fun to BE a character.

Shameless plug – if you haven’t already – please take the time to SUBSCRIBE to the blog AND to the YouTube channel. And follow along on Facebook and Instagram to see what I am eating and cooking NOW.

I’ve Moved and How it Changes the Way I Cook

If you have been following along via my last post, or Instagram or Facebook, you know I have moved. And while I don’t WANT to make this blog about home renovations, for now, it will include the trials and tribulations of how having moved has an impact on my kitchen time. My kitchen is my happy place. On most days, I would rather spend time there than anywhere else…even in this “Welcome to the Gates of Hell” weather we have been having. Renovations haven’t changed that, I just had to alter my approach to things. For now, bread making is suspended. Anything I make must be uncomplicated, no new challenges, and it MUST bring me comfort.

My cookbook club chose Repertoire by Jessica Battilana as our book to work from for the time being. This dish was stellar and perfect comfort food for the Hubs and I in the midst of chaos. You can order your copy here from
The Writer’s Block

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

As I type, I have moved everything out of my kitchen for the massive tear out. I am sitting in what will be my breakfast room, completely surrounded by my kitchen stuff. The only cabinet left in the kitchen is the one supporting my sink. The walls in the kitchen are partially torn out and we can see the original walls from 1939. I was sharing this info with Friend Natasha, and she said, “So, what are you doing for eating now?” I have grills, the stove is still hooked up, I have my portable burners, I have running water and an InstantPot, so I am rolling with the punches and following the old military adage – Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome. We are eating anything that can be created with the above appliances, and of course supporting our local restos by dining in and take out.

I’ve Moved this Shit Four Times Already!

By the time this renovation is complete I will have touched every single item in my kitchen at least 6 times (packing it from there to here; unpacking it here; putting it in the cabinets here; moving it out of the cabinets onto temp shelving and then having to move the temp shelving to another room, and so on). It’s really making me wonder, “HOW MUCH stuff does one human need in their kitchen?” Having sold cookware for 17 years, I have quite the collection of kitchen ware. And I am not kidding when I tell you that I have at least a dozen skillets and fry pans, not including my cast iron. Then came my LeCreuset addiction which added even more. We moved, in part, to downsize. In my effort to downsize, however, the one category I am having difficulty reducing is my kitchen gear. If I give something away, what will happen when I need it?! Having moved every fucking item in my kitchen four times in less than three months, I am ready to part with some stuff. But which stuff? Who do I gift it to? And no, none of the LeCreuset is going anywhere!

I Cleaned When I Moved! Isn’t that Enough?

When we moved from the Big House, I scrubbed so it would be nice for the family taking possession. That’s the military wife in me. With each of our PCS moves, the house had to be spick & span before we could check out. When we moved into this house, it was filthy, so I scrubbed again. I am at the point in renovations where I have stopped cleaning. There is a film of plaster dust on everything and while it triggers my minor OCD, I have decided it is futile to clean daily right now.

What the Hell is in My Mouth?!

Every time I turn around, I find pieces of dry wall (sheetrock) lying about. I must clean everything before I cook anything and clean everything after I cook. The dust is literally on every surface of my house, including my cookware and plates because everything is on open shelving for the time being. NO matter how well you “tape off” a room, the dust finds a way to out-maneuver you. Whenever I get grit in my mouth, I wonder, “Is it spices I didn’t grind finely enough? Sand? Sheetrock?” Who the fuck knows at this point?! And frankly right now, I just don’t give a damn.

Shameless plug: If I have invited you on Facebook and you haven’t accepted, why not? They changed the platform and I don’t know who is along for the ride. Be sure to follow along on Instagram for the most recent pics and SUBSCRIBE to this blog by entering your email address and joining the mailing list. You will hear from me Tuesday nights at 8 pm PT when I choose to write something, and no, I don’t share your info.

*To purchase the cover photo in a poster – visit Red Bubble

Food in the COVID Times

Why do we go out to eat? We have food at home! I know how to cook. If the size of my ass is any indication, I am pretty good at. So why do we go out to eat? I’ll tell you…

I Can Do Anything for 30 Days!

When this pandemic and self-quarantine situation started, I said – out loud mind you – “As long as I can get fresh produce, I have enough meat to last us at least 3 weeks.” I knew we wouldn’t be dining out, so I took stock of the chest freezer and did quick nonsense mental math about food to meal ratios and figured I was good. I knew we wouldn’t starve. I thought without dining out at least twice a week we’d save some cash. This was looking pretty good. I can do anything for 30 days! I’ve got this! Then 30 days stretched into 60 days. And even though I love to cook, I grew tired of cooking my own food. I really missed dining out.

And then came the ennui associated with being alone…All. Of. The. Time…and the boredom eating…and the crying. Thanks COVID, now I am a blubbering mess with tighter jeans and a freezer full of meat. Why the hell was I crying? I’ll tell you why – I was lonely. I missed my friends. And I missed the social interaction of eating with other people.

Balm For My Tortured Soul

Truthfully, with the closures of all the places we enjoy eating, and most of them not offering take-out, I honestly thought I’d be making all of my own food. And I did. I tried new things, learned a few vegetarian recipes (My son’s GF is a vegetarian and they join us for dinner each Sunday), and I cooked nearly every day. I made bread. I tackled things I don’t normally make, and we ate well. Trying new things aside, I quickly found myself bored with my own food. saved me from kitchen boredom. The cooking kits and “cook along” events with some of my favorite independent restaurants here in town were a balm for my tortured soul. I was able to “dine out” even though I had to cook it myself, but I got restaurant quality ingredients and expert instruction from the chef/owner of the resto, and we ate good food. Why did I love this so much? I’ll tell you why – it was like getting a one on one master class for the price of ingredients and my food boredom was cured, if only for one meal.

I Love to Be Pampered

I learned things, or remembered things I had forgotten, during this. James Beard Award Nominee (Best Chef Southwest) Chef James Trees deserves 1000 thanks for sharing his technique on how to make the perfect cacio e pepe. It only has like four ingredients and you’d think that would make it easy. And you’d be wrong. It’s one of my favorite dishes and mine was good, but not great. I couldn’t figure out why it always tasted better when I ordered in Esther’s Kitchen. I thought I was using all the same ingredients. Maybe it was one of those “it always tastes better when someone else makes it” things? NOPE! There is a technique to it that I wasn’t doing. You can watch the video HERE and I’ll let you figure out which step(s) I was skipping or skimping. Thank you, James, now mine is great too! But knowing how to make it won’t stop me from ordering it when I go out to eat, and do you know why? I’ll tell you why – there is something intimate and pampering about eating your favorite dish that someone else has made for you.

At Long Last, Food IN a Restaurant

Finally the restaurants slowly began opening. My very first meal outside my home was with pal Antonio Nunez at his The Stove for brunch. I sat alone at a high topped table and visited with Antonio between his duties as chef/owner. It was glorious. I’ll tell you why – it was the first meal in over two months that I didn’t have to cook or clean up after. Not doing dishes is another reason why we like to go out to eat.

Corned Beef Hash & Eggs at The Stove in Henderson, NV
Perfectly runny eggs-over-easy top a mound of house made corned beef. Instead of cubed meat, it is shredded and wickedly tender. It was perfect for my first meal outside my home.

Friday night we went to Sparrow + Wolf for their third anniversary dinner. As always, Chef Brian Howard made me happy with his food. As always John Anthony and the front of the house made me happy with their service and attention to detail. Most important of all, we were with friends celebrating a birthday. We celebrate with food, whether it is at home or in a restaurant. We laughed, drank champagne, and left happy and full of food that we didn’t have to create. And we felt good about ourselves for doing it. I’ll tell you why – many of our friends (actual friends, not Facebook friends) are in the restaurant community. They have been out of work for months and we were thrilled to be able to support them upon reopening.

Enjoy these pics of our starting dishes and our lovely dessert. To see ALL of the wonderful food, go visit me on Facebook or Instagram.

So why do we go out to eat even when we have food at home? We do it for the socialization. We do it to relieve food boredom. We do it to get pampered with our favorite foods. We do it so we don’t have to do the dishes. We do it to support our friends and neighbors and our community. I have a list of places and dishes and cocktails that I can’t wait to revisit. Who wants to go with me?

As I sat down to edit this piece this morning, I realized yesterday was the 9th anniversary of this blog. I know I haven’t written as much as I did when I first started, and I have no more excuses. I am just out of fresh ideas. If you have a topic you’d like me to write about, let me know.

And in celebration of my 9 years of being on the web, I started a YouTube channel with all the Quarantine Kitchen videos from Facebook. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss one even if you can’t watch live. There are other fun nuggets there as well, like sabering a bottle of champagne in Egypt. Go check it out. And subscribe to Good for Spooning on everything, including this blog. Thanks!

Gift Guide for Foodies – 2018 Holiday Edition

It’s that time of year again – Gift-mas. That time when you KNOW you have to get ready for the gifting season and you are stumped on what gift to actually give. I’ve got you covered! Most of the items on this list are from small manufacturers or small businesses, local artists, and one is a new book, just released, by a friend of mine. Let’s dig in! Be sure to read through to find a  coupon code and info for ordering online to save you the hassle of driving around. Check websites for details on Hanukkah and Christmas delivery cut off dates. You are welcome. Also – wait until “Cyber Monday” to order online for offers that may be available that day only.

The Tailgate Cookbook

Tailgate Cookbook by Beth Peterson

Written by pal Beth Peterson – get your tailgate on!

This is the perfect gift for the tailgating fanatic on your gift list! Loaded with tried and true recipes from my pal Beth Peterson (former World Food Champion), this book is sure to be a hit with all of the football fans on your list. Even if you dislike football (like me) the recipes are sure to make you the “host with the most” for any get-together. $19 on Amazon – Paperback format only.

This Blue Carbon Steel Frying Pan

Beautiful Blue Carbon Steel pan by Made In

Blue Carbon Steel is the love child of cast iron and stainless steel and THIS pan at just $69 is the perfect gift for the home cook who is ready to go to the next level. With better heat conductivity than stainless and the superb searing properties of cast iron without the weight, this is a game changer for the budding chef or expert home cook. You season this pan like you would cast iron to get non-stick properties (don’t worry – instructions are included and there is video on their site). While you are at the site, check out their entire line. The majority of their line is made in Austin, Texas, but this pan and a few other things are made in France. $69 Pre-order now for shipping on the first of December.

Funky Jewelry

Twisted Fork Bracelet by MarcelloArt on Etsy

If you have ever seen me in person, chances are I was wearing this bracelet. I have a love of all repurposed silverware so this made a perfect gift for me. If you have a gal on your list that is tough to shop for, this might just be the perfect gift. I even wear it in the kitchen. Because it is silver and there are no stones to fall out, no clasp to come undone, it works just as hard as I do. There are several retailers on Etsy, so check them out. This image from MarcelloArt on Etsy Pictured item $30, but prices vary depending on design.

Tasting or Saucing Spoons

Hangry Stamped Spoon by Sky Metal Designs on Etsy

Photo from Sky Metal Designs on Etsy – link above

These make fab stocking stuffers and you can get customized ones (like the Hubs bought me a few years ago) or any of several designs that are commercially available. Check out these two sites for some great gift ideas. Friend Nanette bought me a rose gold saucing spoon from Gray Kunz that I love (pictured). Prices vary. Gray Kunz Spoon available at JB Prince. Stamped tasting spoon available at Sky Metal Designs on Etsy.

Rose Gold saucing spoon available at JB Prince

Photo from JB PRince – link above

Time – yes, you can buy itKitchen Timers available on Amazon - give the gift of time

Most microwaves and ovens have timers on them, but what do you do when you need more than one? These handy little guys are magnetic, so you can stick them to the fridge. With count up and down features, they are great for recipe development (seeing how long something ACTUALLY takes to cook) or timing anything on the stove top, smoker, grill, or in the oven. In a set a three, you can keep one and gift two or give them all as a gift together for that “time challenged” person. $14 on Amazon

The Gift of Flavor – Raw Spice Bar Spices

Raw Spice Bar Global Spices Starter Set $78 on their website - give the gift of flavor

Global Spices Starter Set- as pictured $78. Photo from their website


No more bland food. No stale spices and herbs. Raw Spice Bar has fresh and flavorful spices, herbs, and spice blends to help you! The gift sets are a treat for anyone who loves to experiment. The individual spices and seasonings are perfect for replenishing your own pantry or creating your own gift set or gift basket. Get your orders in now for holiday gift giving and holiday cooking in your own kitchen. I am officially in love with their Poultry Seasoning and their Apple Pie Spices. Pro Tip- when making pumpkin pie, using your regular recipe, add all the spices volumes together (e.g. 1 Tbsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp cloves, ½ tsp ginger = 1 Tbsp + 1¼ tsp total) and sub that volume of Raw Spice Bar Apple Pie Spices for a balanced and slightly different take on your pumpkin pie. Bonus for all of my readers from Raw Spice Bar – 10% off your total order through 31 December when you use the coupon code  goodforspooningspices!  Prices vary.



Gift Guide – Holiday 2017 – What to Buy NOW!

It’s that time of year again – Gift-mas! What do you get for the Foodie/Chef/Cook on your list? Here’s the Holiday Gift Guide for this year. Sorry for my absence, but I have been playing with, experimenting, and doing recipe trials with one of the items on this list.

Carnivore Club 

If you have been following along, you know I am a Charcuterie Whore. I simply love cured meats in all forms. The Hubs bought Carnivore Club as a surprise for me and it comes monthly until he cancels. Of course you can opt for a single box as a gift for someone on your list. Each box comes with 4 -6 artisanal meats created by small producers, so not only are you giving a unique gift, you are indirectly supporting small businesses. $50/month

Photo from their website


Instant Pot

I was skeptical about this “wonder appliance”, the Instant Pot. Whenever there is a ton of hype online, I am wary. So, I borrowed one from friend Kristie and was suitably impressed enough to buy one for myself. Several sizes and options are available depending on household size and cooking needs. The 6 quart Ultra (pictured below) is the one I chose and have yet to figure out all the options. I can tell you I whipped up a lamb stock in about 45 minutes using the “soup/chili” pressure cooking option. My crockpot, rice cooker and pressure cooker have all been donated because this pot does all three tasks and so much more. It’s a great gift for busy households. I’ve been playing with this a lot and I will be posting in depth about it soon. It’s a little pricey, so watch for specials at retailers. Starting at $139.

Instant Pot 6 Qt Ultra model Photo from their website


Rock Crok™ Slow Cooker Set – The Pampered Chef

While on the surface, the Rock Crok™ Slow Cooker Set may seem like a repeat of the Instant Pot, trust me, it isn’t. The insert goes in the microwave, freezer, fridge, oven, on the stovetop and on the grill on its own for optimal versatility. Sear your meat on the stove and pop the “crok” into the base and use it as a slow cooker. I have bought this as an engagement gift 4 times this year. It’s a perfect gift for cooks just starting out, or households where both heads of household work and getting dinner on the table is a challenge. If someone you know loves their crockpot, they are going to flip over this. Again, a bit pricey, but every time I gift this, the recipients are delighted! Bonus, not sold in stores, only available through a Pampered Chef sales rep, so you’ll be supporting a small business person. You can order here! $169

4 Qt Rockcrok set from The Pampered Chef – photo from their website

Raw Spice Bar

That person on your gift list that loves to cook and is impossible to shop for because they have everything? Raw Spice Bar has you covered! This fab company sends freshly ground spices once a quarter complete with recipes to spark the imagination. You can select the type of recipes you want to send, vegetarian, omnivore, paleo, light & healthy are all available as options. Tired of making the same old recipes? Buy it for yourself! All the recipes are seasonally appropriate and this is REALLY affordable. $52 for a two quarterly shipments or get an annual gift of 4 quarterly deliveries for $88.

Raw Spice Bar – photo from their website

Cooking Classes

Is there a budding cook on your gift list? A perfect solution is to gift them with a cooking or tasting class or two! Here in Vegas try Artisanal Foods to shop local. They have both tasting and cooking classes on a variety of topics and at various price points. While you are there, check out the tremendous selection of hard to find comestibles. Don’t live here in Vegas? No problem! Sur la Table (nationwide) offers classes in stores with demo kitchens and many local bakeries, restaurants, cooking schools, and chefs offer cooking class experiences. My friend Maureen recently took a bread baking class at her local bakery and the photos were mouthwateringly good! Check locally for availability. Prices will vary.

These are some of the loaves Friend Maureen baked in her Bread Baking Class at Wide Awake Bakery

M(sqd) Knife Bag

Is there a chef on your gift list? Someone who does live cooking demos? Anyone who travels with their knives? THIS is the bag! I have a knife roll, like most traveling “knives for hire”, and I don’t really like it, but I like the hard and semi-hard cases that are available even less. This knife bag is so smartly designed, rugged and USABLE! Nice leather detailing and pockets for everything (including a tablet), make this the perfect gift for any traveling chef or cook. The messenger bag design means hands free flexibility. $99, free shipping and available online only at this time.

Messenger style knife bag from M(sqd). Photo courtesy of M(sqd). Visit the website for more images.

It’s On Me – Gift Cards Reinvented

I know I have included this gift idea before, but I still love It’s On Me and I love it even more now. Digital gift cards that people can’t forget if they have their phone with them. You get to treat your giftees to a round of drinks without even being in the same city. Easy to gift and easy to redeem, all they do is show their phone with the gift image to the server. You can buy lunch for a friend, gift a round of drinks at their fave bar, or treat a friend to dinner. Chef’s table dining experiences, golf packages and so much more are available to choose from. You can shop from your phone with the app or from your computer via the website linked here. Digital delivery, via text means no shipping charges. They have expanded their markets to include Detroit, San Francisco, and Seattle among others. Bonus – It’s On Me is locally owned here in Vegas, and all of the participating merchants are selected for their excellence so you don’t have to worry about giving a dud gift. Prices vary, but basically starting at $10.

Stuck in a Rut. But How Do I get “Unstuck”?

If you have been searching for my posts lately, I am sorry. I’ve been stuck in a rut. A rut doing the same old things, visiting the same old places and generally NOT trying new things. It is blistering hot outside (Hello? It’s Vegas!). I am bored, and I am too damn hot and bored to do anything about it!

“I don’t like it down here. It stinks.”

We all get there at different times in our lives. Those times when trying new things or stretching our comfort zone is a fucking chore. I am there. Right now. I am stuck. In fact I am a little down in the dumps, and as my Mom says, “I don’t like it down here. It stinks.” I know that getting out and doing stuff, trying new things, always makes me feel better, but frankly, I have no interest in doing much of anything right now.

So how do I get “unstuck”? Well…I have been cooking of course; sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. I have been trying new things, and teaching others some tried and true things. And yet, I still find myself stuck in this fucking rut!

I made these sourdough sesame bagels. They came out looking more like pretzels. I think I figured out WHY they were so dark, but haven’t had the gumption to try them again to test my theory (too much lye in the water bath). Stuck.

A little darker than I wanted or expected. I suspect too much lye in the bath, but I don’t care enough to re-try the recipe…Stuck

No stretching my comfort zone. Stuck.

I hosted our monthly supper club – Cooking with Gemini – again. It was Greek themed this time. I offered gyro meat, spanakopita and dolmades. And I made labneh for the first time; not that difficult. No stretching my comfort zone. Stuck.

Pals John and John learned to work with phyllo and created the spanakopita. I do love men in the kitchen.

I did check out a relatively new place, Cured & Whey for a fab panini (Spanish ham and Manchego cheese with quince jam) and some lovely conversation with the owner. But I would hardly call that stretching my comfort zone. Stuck.

House made pickles came with this fab sandWISH and I loved every bite.

As I write I am getting ready to revisit Chicago for the first time in several years, and while I love the city, I am left wondering should I hit up the tried and true spots that I love and can’t enjoy here, or should I try new places, or a combo of both? Will I “ruin” my trip if the new places don’t live up to the hype or expectations? Will I label myself as a boring tourist if I stick to what I know and already love?

I despise being called boring. If you want to insult me, that’s one of a very few words that’ll REALLY piss me off. And yet I am about to label myself that way because I am STUCK. In fact, I feel boring and probably deserve that hated word. So, for now, I am reading M.F K. Fisher’s recollections of Provence in 1970, and I find myself very much in her mindset; simultaneously wanting familiarity, and wanting to experience new things at the same time. And I curiously find myself increasingly annoyed by people who never annoyed me before, like M.F.K. did all those years ago in Provence.

Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by [Barr, Luke]

So, I’ll sit here, reading, drinking tea, and smoking, waiting for my next adventure to begin.

To see all of my food pics – be sure to follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (Good for Spooning on all platforms). There are convenient buttons at the top right of this page for you to share this post. As a matter of fact, invite your friends to follow along!


Cooking Together – Therapy I Can Enjoy

I know some of you do not enjoy cooking, and that’s ok. But what if I told you it is like therapy when you do it with friends? I personally love cooking. I don’t enjoy it for myself; I am happy with something grabbed out of the fridge if I am eating alone. I am happiest when cooking for, and with, a crowd. Maybe that’s why for almost 20 years I did live cooking demos as a job. It could explain why I love what I do now (managing culinary events and tradeshows). Perhaps that’s why I have always wanted my own food show.

Friend John M and I have often joked that we should have our own TV show about cooking together. We both love cooking and love doing it together. And more times than not, we end up laughing our asses off. Each of us enjoys cooking alone, but when we cook together, the enjoyment is amplified. We smile more, relax more, and the act of cooking together ratchets up the enjoyment of the meal itself. Sadly we don’t always MAKE TIME to have this happen, but that has changed.

Friends cooking together is more than “many hands make light work”. It’s fun therapy anyone can get behind.

Friend Gemini is going through a rough time physically and LOVES to cook. We have tried to get our schedules to synch up to enjoy cooking together for ages and we finally made that happen. Cooking with Gemini was born! It started with inviting Gemini and her guy John to my house to cook. Then we invited a few other couples where at least one member of the duo loves to cook. I literally had a house full of Johns, as every single man in attendance was named John! Toss in Friend Janet who loves cooking and has some chops, and Friend Lynn and we have a winner. Moment of Truth – Lynn HATES to cook, but she is HELL on clean up and she took all of the pics, so that is her contribution. We intentionally chose menu items that we had never tried before, or wanted to learn from someone else.  We decided on fish baked in a salt crust, which none of us had ever tried to do, and fresh gnocchi. Gnocchi is a personal favorite of mine and I coached everyone through that process. Some prep was done ahead of time, but the idea was to do as much as possible together.

All the tension melted away

At first there was a little tentativeness on everyone’s part. For me, I am very comfortable being bossy, but I don’t USUALLY like to boss my friends around. I needed to get over that and take charge of the flow. For others, they felt in some way like they didn’t want to step out of bounds in my kitchen, or get in someone else’s way. All the tension and tentativeness melted away gradually while we made gnocchi with truffles and garlic and amberjack baked in a salt crust. We laughed while we drank wine and stood shoulder to shoulder to roll gnocchi. Everyone who wanted to “get their hands dirty” was given a job and of course there was shock and a learning curve involved. Especially when we went to crust the fish and realized it hadn’t been gutted…my fault. The Hubs was appalled I didn’t learn to do that in culinary school (they were always cleaned for us). Thank goodness for former Boy Scout John M! He coached me through the process, and it was easier than I imagined with his guidance. A salad of blanched veggies with hearts of palm and sun dried tomatoes rounded out the meal.

Gutted Amberjack stuffed with lemons getting ready for the salt crust.

Hand rolled gnocchi. The lines in this case come from a gnocchi board available at Sur la Table (link above)

Food is so much more than fuel

Most of the folks in attendance knew at least one person other than The Hubs and me, but no one knew everyone. Politics were left at the door. We talked about food, booze, books, movies, games, ourselves and our lives. We got to know one another on a deeper, more intimate level and everyone left relaxed. As if they had gone to a therapy session with a masseuse or a shrink. We had such a good time; we decided to make a monthly event of it. Our next event will be Cajun/Creole themed. It was decided that sticking with one base idea and working off that premise would make a more cohesive evening, food wise. We also decided to keep it small and intimate and only the folks invited to the first one will be invited to future events to grow and nurture these new friendships, to foster the love of cooking and to keep it manageable for everyone to be able to participate. For each attendee, food is so much more than fuel. We all LOVE food, appreciate the details and effort that go into the prep, and revel in the outcome. And doing it all together made it so much more than just a shared meal.

Friend John M removes the skin after the salt crust has been cracked off.

The gnocchi were finished in olive oil with black truffles that came from Try the World in my “Italy box” and fresh garlic


To finish off the meal, Gemini brought a gorgeous flourless chocolate cake with chocolate ganache. She garnished with candied flowers and freshly whipped cream and plated it a la minute.

Flourless chocolate cake with ganache and candied flowers

If you are in need of self-care, try cooking with friends. Set up your own cooking supper club. You’ll end up feeding more than your body; you’ll feed your soul and your mind too. Watch for future pics of “Cooking with Gemini” on my Facebook page and Instagram.