We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sistercation Sangria + Soundtrack

by Michelle

   What do you get when you combine three sisters and a party-sized vat of sangria? The answer to that is happy ladies that sing, dance and tap into the humorous side of life, sharing stories, and mercilessly kidding each other. Getting to the bottom of that wine and fruit-filled vessle was a delightful way to spend an afternoon (and the better part of the evening). We tipped the dispenser rather precariously, I might add, until the lost drop was gone.
   Rhapsody provided the opportunity for everyone to play DJ. We endlessly riffed on each other's song selections as we danced spontaneously, laughed and whittled away the hours being absolutely care free. We didn't even bother getting out of our pajamas until Linda's friends called to say they were coming over for a drink to say hello to the visiting out-of-towners. Transfering into sweats and $6 dollar T-shirts from Target wasn't a huge step up in the dressing department, but hey it was all we could muster on Day Two (or was it Three?) of Sistercation.
   The first three days we were down for the count. We surrendered to the fact that there was no place we needed to be or go. After a few days of general slothdom, with the occasional spontaneous dance party thrown in, we collectively decided to venture out. It is Northern California, afterall, one must see the sites: San Francisco, Wine Country, and Highway 1. But first, we had to get matching pedicures. We were easily talked into the floral embellishment by the salon's proprietess. As Cyndi Lauper sings, and we wholeheartedly agree, girls just want to have fun.

And, more fun:

The "Three Graces" pirouette on North Salmon Creek Beach.
Sistercation Albums:
Battle Born by The Killers (Started many a morning with The Killers and Linda's Lattes)
Scars on 45 by Scars on 45 (Lovely while savoring Cassoulet)
7 Worlds Collide by Neil Finn (and friends)
Poetic Champions Compose by Van Morrison
The Best of INXS by INXS

Sistercation Tracks To Fit Our Various Moods:
Raspberry Beret and Kiss by Prince and The Revolution (Okay, we perhaps may agree upon this, pretty much anything by Prince, especially The Very Best of Prince is highly danceable)
Jungle Fever by The Time (Written by Prince)
Nasty Girl by Inaya Day (And yet another gem written by Prince)
Titanium by David Guetta Feat. Sia, and Without You by David Guetta Feat. Usher
I Can Only Imagine by David Guetta Feat. Chris Brown and Lil Wayne
Sometime Around Midnight and Wishing Well by The Airborne Toxic Event
Just Can't Get Enough by Depeche Mode
Let's Stick Together by Roxy Music
Between the Raindrops by Lifehouse feat. Natasha Bedingfield
A Little Bit of Riddim and Say Hey (I Love You) by Michael Franti and Spearhead feat. Cherine Anderson and Shake It feat. Lady Saw
Heartbreak Beat by The Psychedlic Furs
Take Hold of My Hand, Guitars Cadillacs, Suspicious Minds and Little Sister by Dwight Yoakam
Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way by Waylon Jennings
Rhythm by Awol One/Daddy Kev
She Came Along by Sharam Feat. KiD CuDi
Good Feeling by Flo Rida (Mix Rap with Pop and Michelle's all over it)
Wild One by Flo Rida feat. Sia and Club Can't Handle Me by Flo Rida featu. David Guetta
Bad Romance and Poker Face by Lady Gaga (carry over tunes from Sistercation Las Vegas)
Kids by MGMT
The Time (Dirty Bit) and Meet Me Halfway by The Black Eyed Peas
Dog Days Are Over by Florence and The Machine
Dance On My Own by Robyn
Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits
The Dead Heart, Beds Are Burning and The Forgotten Years by Midnight Oil (Theeeee Oilzzzzzzz)
She's A River by Simple Minds
The Emperor's New Clothes by Sinéad O'Connor
One Tree Hill and Elevation by U2 (and so very many more)
New Sensation and The One Thing by INXS
December by Collective Soul
Drop The Pilot and Call Me Names (I Love It When You) by Joan Armatrading
Runaway Wind by Paul Westerberg
Divine Thing by The Soup Dragons
Gangnam Style by PSY (If only you could have seen Juliette make a friend in Chinatown by referencing this song; talk about a 360 turnaround from get outta my shop to please stay for awhile. It's hilarious watching Juliette do the Gangnam moves "Juliette Style".)
Golden Years and Cat People by David Bowie
Real Wild Child (Wild One) by Iggy Pop (For you music trivia types, did you know that this song was co-produced by David Bowie?)
Pop Song 89 by R.E.M. (Linda always plays this song when we are together)
Time Bomb and Sexx Laws by Beck
Nothing Ever Hurt Like You by James Morrison
All Or Nothin' At All and Man's Job by Bruce Springsteen
Struggle and Tired Of Being Sorry (Spanish Faster) by Ringside
Hunger Strike by Temple of The Dog (Featuring Linda's dream date: Eddie Vedder)
Clampdown, followed by Train In Vain by The Clash
Thunderstruck by AC/DC (Linda's twins made their wrestling competition entrances to this song)
Tonight Is The Night by Outasight
Young Blood by The Naked and Famous
Stay Up Late, And She Was, and Wild Wild Life by Talking Heads (Linda nixed Psycho Killer... can you say part-ay pooper? But, hey, there's always the next song... it's easy to move on)
Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Bitch by Meredith Brooks
International Love by Pitbull feat. Chris Brown, which leads to...
Forever by Chris Brown (and if I'm going to list that song I might as well throw in Dynamite by Taio Cruz and Fire Burning by Sean Kingston - oldies but goodies, at least according to moi)
Blue Monday and Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order
Burn It Down by Linkin Park
Love Runs Deeper by Lindsey Buckingham
Echo and Into The Nightlife by Cyndi Lauper
Never Met A Girl Like You Before by Edwyn Collins
4 Minutes by Madonna and Justin Timberlake and Ray of Light by Madonna
Everybody Talks and Animal by Neon Trees
Glad You Came by The Wanted
I Touch Myself by The DeVinyls (Juliette + Karaoke + This Song = Standing Ovation)
Too Close by Alex Clare
Let's Spend The Night Together by The Rolling Stones
Steam by Peter Gabriel
Home by Phillip Philips
Losing You by Solange
Payphone by Maroon 5 Featuring Wiz Khalifa
I Don't Feel Like Dancin' and Take Your Mama by The Scissor Sisters
Steal My Sunshine by Len
Human by The Killers (We love us some Brandon Flowers)
Crossfire by Brandon Flowers
Elemental by Tears For Fears (We never close a sister gathering without this song being played)

The Spanish Edition of Dancemania:
Ven A Bailar and Dance Again (Bailar Nada Más) by Jennifer Lopez feat. Pitbull (but Linda would prefer you watch the muy caliente video). We would choose to play the song in Spanish (except there is no Pitbull on the español version - sob - so we're stuck listening to the English version and the video is in English, too.) Oh well, nothing to do about it, except dance, dance, dance.
Escapar by Enrique Iglesias and I Like It by Enrique featuring Pitbull
Suerte (Wherever, Whenver) and Ciega, Sordumuda by Shakira and Rabiosa feat. Pitbull
Ave Maria by David Bisbal
Más, Livin' la Vida Loca (Spanish Version - a must!!!!) and Nobody Wants To Be Lonely by Ricky Martin featuring Christina Aguilera
And, we'll end with:
I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho) and Back In Time by "Mr. Worldwide" Pitbull - the dude has the magic touch so just about all his tracks will get everyone's feet moving, ours do!

Linda's Sangria, also known as Sistercation Sangria

   We applaud Linda for recording the recipe while the action was unfolding. Truthfully, you can use just about any type of red wine for this recipe since you are adding fruit and sparkling lemonade. Ours ranged from inexpensive to moderately priced fruit-forward wine that ranged from $7 to $14 per bottle. The lemon Italian sparkling soda added the right amount of sweetness without adding additional sugar.

3 750-ml bottles of red wine, chilled or at room temperature
1-1/2 cups of cognac, such as Hennesey, or brandy
2 large oranges, washed and dried, and sliced into rings and then in half
2 lemons, washed and dried, and sliced into rings and then in half
1 peach or mango, sliced (okay to use frozen)
1 basket of strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 cups of lemon Italian sparking soda, we recommend Whole Foods Market brand

1. Mix together all ingredients in a 1.5 quart container. Stir and refrigerate for several hours.
2. Play your favorite music and enjoy a glass - or two - of sangria with your favorite "peeps". To kick things off play Summer Wine by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood (the cover by The Corrs with Bono is terrific, in which case the next song suggestion is When The Stars Go Blue... just sayin' that's what I'd do). And, for that matter, if you are going to play Nancy Sinatra, then surely These Boots Are Made For Walkin' is a shoe-in (pun intended) for next song. I could do this all day (and we did). Which reminds me of that song we used to play. Hang on a moment while I queue it up

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Herbed Chevre with Marinated Roasted Peppers

by Michelle

   Lest you think we sisters have completely dropped off the planet, today's the day, on behalf of my siblings, I shout a collective hello to the blogosphere and post an easy, praiseworthy appetizer ("appy" if you speak Canadian, which I like to do, and not only in the privacy of my own home).
   This tasty cheese and pepper bliss can be prepared a day in advance. It also gets bonus points for traveling well, so if you need to transport a dish to a friend's house or to a picnic, you'll have your bases covered. Geez, what's up with the sports meaphor? Not sure where that came from!
    I have found that this appetizer and pickled shrimp have become easy go-to recipes for me not only because they taste frickin' awesome, but are also easy to prepare and can be made in advance.

Herbed Chevre with Marinated Roasted Peppers

   Although I almost always have jalapeño peppers in my kitchen (I do live in the southwest afterall), there are times, where in a pinch, I have substituted sliced, pickled jalapeños for fresh roasted. That being said, I have not, not even one one ocassion, substituted commercially prepared roasted bell peppers in this recipe. I always roast the peppers on the grill, or on my gas stovetop or in the oven.

one 11-ounce package chevre goat cheese
4 red bell peppers, roasted, skins and seeds removed
2 jalapeño peppers, roasted, skins and seeds removed
about 1 Tbsps or Herbes de Provence or dried mixed Italian herbs
2 medium to large lemons, juiced
about 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
a pinch of chili pepper flakes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh thyme
fresh basil
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed - optional

For serving:
assorted crackers
sliced baguette

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center position.
2. For the roasted peppers, wash and dry and place on a pie plate or cookie sheet. Drizzle the red bell peppers and jalapeño (if using) with olive oil and distribute the oil evenly over the peppers using your hands. Place in the oven for one hour, turning once or twice for even cooking. The small jalapeños will not take as long to blister, so keep an eye on them - about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove peppers from the oven and let sit until the peppers are cool enough to handle. Remove and discard the skins, core and seeds. Cut the peppers into strips. Set aside while you make the dressing.

3. Juice the lemon and whisk in about 1/4 cup olive oil. Add minced garlic, chili pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and whisk again. 

4. Carefully remove the chevre cheese from its packaging to a large plate. Sprinkle on the dried herb blend and gently roll and press the herbs into the cheese. Again, carefully transfer the cheese to a large, gallon ziplock bag. Cover the cheese with the prepared bell peppers and then pour the dressing over the peppers. Add the capers, if using. Close the ziplock and remove as much air from the bag as you can. Transfer the ziplock to a plate and store in the refrigerator.
5. About 30 minutes before serving, carefully remove the cheese to a serving dish. Pour the peppers and sauce over the cheese. Garnish with scattered leaves of fresh thyme and a small cluster of basil.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pinquito Beans: Santa Maria Style Barbecue

by Linda

   As a teenager growing up in the Central Coast area of California, I spent several summers with a hoe in hand, chopping weeds out of the Pinquito (also known as Poquito) bean fields for a local couple who raised this variety of heirloom beans in Lompoc.
  These beans are used in preparing one of the hallmark dishes of the Santa Maria Style Barbeque that also features grilled Tri Tip, Salsa Fresca (Pico de Gallo) and Garlic Bread. These beans are almost impossible to find outside of the Central Coast cities, but they are available by mail order. When I make a trip home, I stock up on beans for Juliette and Michelle, also, and then mail the beans to Arizona (an expensive proposition), but their pleasure in having a little piece of home in their pantries is worth the effort. This recipe will serve twelve.

Pinquito Beans

   A note from Michelle: My daughter Maddie dislikes chunks of fresh or canned tomatoes, so when I recently made Pinquito beans, I blended the roasted tomatoes with a small can of tomato paste, which made her very happy. Also, for best results the beans need to soak overnight, and like all soups and stews, the prepared beans improve with flavor if allowed to rest in the refrigerator for a day before gently reheating for serving.
   One final tip: do not salt beans at the beginning of the cooking process because the salt can make beans tough. Always add salt after the beans are cooked through. Also of note, the basic structure of the pinquito bean remains intact even after extensive cooking. Therefore, it is downright difficult, if not nearly impossible, to overcook this particular varietal of legume.


1 pound of Pinquito/Poquito beans
about six strips of bacon
1 large head of garlic, cloves peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
1 pound of spicy Italian sausage: chicken, turkey or pork, removed from casing
bacon fat or high-heat oil, as needed
1 to 2 yellow or white onions, diced
one large pinch of red chile flakes
1 jalapeño, seeds removed and minced
3 large ribs of celery, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced, optional
1 large green or red bell pepper, seeds removed and diced
1 Tbsp of dried Italian seasoning
1 28-oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
sea salt to taste (about 1 Tbsp overall)
freshly cracked black pepper

Special Equipment:

a large Dutch oven or a crock pot


1. Transfer the beans from the bag to a colander. Run your hand through the beans and discard any rocks that you might find. Rinse the beans with water. Transfer the beans to a large Dutch oven or soup pot and generously cover the beans with water. Let the beans sit overnight.

2. The next morning drain the beans. Once again cover the beans generously with water. Bring the beans to a boil over over high heat. Once the beans are boiling, stir, and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer for about 2 hours until the beans are tender. Add two teaspoons of sea salt and stir. Lower the temperature to warm. Stir occasionally.
3. While the beans are simmering, I like to oven roast the bacon and reserve the rendered fat in a glass jar. After the bacon is cooked, I chop the strips into small bite-sized pieces and reserve. Alternatively, you may prefer to dice very cold bacon and cook it in the pan after you finish frying the sausage, which is the next step.
4. In a large skillet, over medium heat, crumble the sausage and fry until cooked, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the cooked sausage from the skillet and reserve. Depending upon what type of sausage you used, you may have a lot of fat in the pan, or very little. I typically have very little because I use sausage made with poultry. This is the time that you would add the raw bacon, if using. Stir fry the bacon until the fat renders and the bacon is cooked through, about 5 minutes. If you cooked the strips of bacon previously, add about a tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat to the pan and then add the diced onions and sprinkle with a little sea salt, ground pepper and a pinch of the chili flakes. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until the onions are soft.

5. Once the onions are soft, add the minced garlic. Cook for a few minutes, stirring often until fragrant. Add the celery, bell pepper, jalapeño, carrot (if using) and Italian seasoning. Sprinkle the vegetables with sea salt and ground black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 5 to 10 minutes.

6. Add the roasted tomatoes, or blended tomatoes (as described in the introduction) and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer.
7. Back to the beans. Remove and save the excess bean water. I simply ladle the excess bean water from the top of the pot and transfer to a Pyrex measuring cup. To the beans, add the cooked vegetables, sausage, and bacon. The beans should be covered with liquid. If the liquid is low add reserved bean water to cover.
8. Either transfer the beans to a crock pot and cook on low for four to six hours until ready to serve, or cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven preheated to 325°F. Check the beans every couple of hours. Add more reserved bean water, if needed, to keep beans covered with liquid.
9. Before serving taste beans for seasoning. Add more salt if needed.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Maddie's Favorite Lime Curd

by Michelle

   Many years ago, a friend and I hosted a ladies luncheon in the heart of spring. We invited the women in our lives: grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts and associated children and we had the most delightful time enjoying a seasonally perfect day before the onslaught of summer in our desert home. For dessert I prepared a "make your own tart" bar. I stacked up homemade tart shells in a large covered glass jar. An abundance of fresh berries were tossed in a bowl. I went crazy preparing curds: lemon, lime and orange. Heavy cream was ready for the dispensing in a Whip-It!. Chocolate curls rested in a bowl ready to be scooped with a spoon. I especially have fond memories of the children, as if in candy land, excitedly preparing his or her own tart. The Whip-It! was practically the biggest hit of all. The surprise that day was the resounding favorite curd was not lemon, but lime. The creamy goodness was the right amount of sweet and tart.
   My daughter was instantly hooked and we've made lime curd exclusively since that day. Maddie's favorite thing is when I pack a small container of lime curd in her lunch to dip fresh strawberries at the height of season. I'm surely the "best mom ever" on those days.
   I'm always finding new ways to use lime curd... as a filling between cake layers, to grace a pavlova, or simply as an aforementioned dip with fresh fruit. Lime curd is particularly delicious with blackberries. And raspberries. And strawberries. And blueberries. And... well, scones, too.
   If you haven't tried your hand making curd, rest assured, it is incredibly easy. The curd keeps well in the refrigerator, for well over a week, if it lasts that long, which it probably will not. Because it lasts for so long, it is a useful recipe for entertaining... no rushing around at the last minute to finish dessert. Please try the curd, you and yours will surely adore it as much as we do.

Maddie's Favorite Lime Curd

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sear-Roasted Pork Chops with Marsala Cream Sauce

by Michelle

   My husband is not a big pork lover, so when he recently left home for a few days to attend a seminar, our daughter, Maddie excitedly requested I make her favorite pork chop recipe that we learned to prepare from Auntie Linda. I'm sure everyone has a similar story, a special dinner reserved when one parent is out of town. It might even be a frozen dinner. I remember enjoying Marie Calendar's chicken pot pie when I was a kid and frozen dinners were strictly a no-no if dad was at the table. 
   My husband fondly recalls when his dad was away from home, he and his two brothers would look forward to their mother whipping-up Beef Roll-Ups, a tasty combination of thinly pounded steak filled with simple bread stuffing and smothered in a tomato infused gravy. This sounds like a meal that Jay's dad would adore, so no one quite knows why this particular entrée was on the naughty list.  
   I like pretty much anything doused with sauce. My maiden surname is French afterall; it is in the gene pool. And the marsala sauce couldn't be easier: one cup of marsala wine with one-third cup heavy cream. The sauce is reduced in the oven while the pork continues to cook.
   This recipe is so simple that a novice cook could feel rather confident preparing it. We love to serve the pork chops with mashed potatoes, the better for drizzling more marsala cream sauce. And you'll want more sauce; trust me. You may substitute boneless pork chops, but the bone-in chops have more flavor.
   While this time I chose to make mashed potatoes to serve with the pork chops, I also like, and perhaps even prefer Milanese Mushroom-Saffron Risotto. Since I had two cooked sides, Sautéed and Caramelized Mushrooms, and Sautéed Spinach with Garlic, Shallots, and Lemon Juice, I preferred to have an uncooked veg in the form of Grape Tomato Halves Tossed with Balsamic Syrup Vinaigrette lending a touch of brightness to the meal.

Sear-Roasted Pork Chops with Marsala Cream Sauce

Grape Tomato Halves Tossed with Balsamic Syrup Vinaigrette

by Michelle

Grape Tomato Halves Tossed with Balsamic Syrup Vinaigrette

   I recently splurge purchased a bottle of Organic Creme by Il Tesoro de Modena, a condiment that is made by reducing balsamic vinegar to a thick syrup and adding natural fig flavor which adds a burst of flavor when drizzled over a cheese plate, ice cream, cured meats, grilled vegetables, and this easy salad recipe.
   For a do-it-yourself approach, it is easy to make a balsamic condiment by pouring inexpensive balsamic vinegar into a medium saucepan and boiling the liquid until reduced to a syrup consistency.

16-ounces (1 pound) grape tomatoes or sugar plum tomatoes
4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
about 2 Tbsps balsamic reduction of your choice
about 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
about 2 Tbsps olive oil
about 1 to 2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
about 1 Tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley

1. Wash the tomatoes and shake to dry. Cut each tomato in half through the stem. Place the tomatoes in a bowl and add the minced garlic. Sprinkle the tomatoes with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Taste. Adjust the seasoning, as needed to suit your taste. The tomatoes can sit for awhile, up to an hour before serving. The flavor will develop as they sit. Just stir every so often.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate (Sugar Free)

by Michelle

   Back in mid-January, Linda significantly changed her diet by opting to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle. Subsequently, in a mere four months, Linda lost 50 pounds. Really, it's stunning, if you give it a full moment of thought. And, Linda is not the exception. Many people are finding a new lease of life by going gluten-free and their results are similar, the weight comes right off. To be clear, Linda also eliminated all refined sugar, processed vegetable oils, grains (for the most part) and legumes from her diet as well.

Linda in November of 2011.
Linda 50 pounds lighter in June of 2012.
   Except for me. Ugh. I've lost four pounds... since February. I suppose I should be celebrating every pound shed, but there's that whole sisterly comparison thing going on and if it has been so incredible easy for Linda, well... why not me? Linda and I have spent many hours over the phone checking and double-checking our routines. We deduced that we are essentially following the same gluten-free ground rules. To verify that there was not hidden gluten in my diet, I spent an exhaustive amount of time compiling a Gluten-Free Baking Primer: From Alcohols and Vinegars to Flours and Starches.  All that and four pounds.
   To investigate further, earlier this month I met with Misty, Linda's gluten-free mentor. The conclusion was that I must - and this is not optional - eat two tablespoons of coconut oil everyday (read about the benefits of the incredible coconut). Or, if while I'm traveling, I cannot eat coconut oil, then I need to eat good fats in other ways (eggs basted in butter, anyone?) Misty also politely advised me, tongue in cheek, that if I eat much more dairy I should buy myself a dairy cow. So, I'm increasing my intake of coconut oil, and decreasing consumption of dairy - except for where it really counts like crumbled gorgonzola on the Rockin' French Salad or parmesan sprinkled over Chicken Piccata. Or a dose of cream in my hot chocolate. You get the idea.

Five months ago...
      For months, Linda relied heavily on Misty's Coconut Milk, Whey Protein and Blueberry Smoothie as a delivery mechanism for the coconut oil. Linda finally burned out on the delicious smoothie and looked for another way to accomplish her goal. The alternative turned out to be chocolate. Yay for chocolate and three cheers for starting out mornings with Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate. On her health quest, Linda has also obliterated most sugar from her diet. She fiddled around with various "natural sweeteners" that are widely available. Through trial and error Linda settled on a sweet combination (pun intended) of: Xylitol and Truvia to season her morning brew.
   There are a few points you should know before embarking upon this recipe. Xylitol, for many people, is a powerful laxative.That's the downside. The upside is that the human body builds a tolerance to the effects of Xylitol over the course of a week or two. Start with one-half to one teaspoon and work your way to two. May I suggest you have a leisurely morning at home the first time you try Xylitol? Just to make sure a bathroom is close by. So, I'm sure the former statement begs the following question: Michelle, why would I subject myself to building a tolerance to Xylitol? Afterall, it sounds like so much fun. The answer is that Xylitol is low carb, low calorie and diabetic safe. It is a natural sweetener that looks and tastes just like sugar - huge bonus. No weird aftertaste.

   Because chocolate typically requires a fair amount of sugar to taste great and Xylitol will leave you with short-term trots, Linda introduced Truvia into the mix. Truvia is a calorie-free natural sweetener that is a combination of Erythritol and an extraction of stevia leaves. One packet of Truvia provides the same sweetness as two teaspoons of sugar. Truvia is also suitable for use by diabetics. The drawback to Truvia is that it has a slight aftertaste. I don't mind the flavor, but Linda is more sensitive to it.
   As I'm building my resistance (which I like to pronounce with a terrible French accent), I am using one packet of Xylitol, one packet of Truvia and a small glug of maple syrup. You might prefer one packet of Xylitol and two packets of Truvia. Taste is such a subjective thing that you will likely need to do a little experimenting for yourself to uncover the right sweetness for you. In the meantime, the following recipe is what Linda has settled on and it is mighty tasty.
   As usual, Linda is ahead of the curve and is completely off coffee. I am not. In fact, I really like coffee and don't particularly want to stop drinking my morning dose. With that being said, I do understand the benefits of avoiding caffeine so I am dutifully (slowly but surely) switching from full caffeinated espresso (made in a stovetop Bialetti pot) to decaffeinated. The main reason is to curb my body from manufacturing excess cortisol which is the stress hormone. Additionally, switching from granulated sugar to the natural sweetener duo listed below, will prevent a spike in my blood sugar so that I will not crash before lunch. It's all about moderation, but this hot chocolate will make you feel as if you are being decadent, even though you are not. It actually helps promote weight loss!

Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate (Sugar Free)

   For the unsweetened cocoa powder we highly recommend Valrhona, and Ghiradelli is a nice alternative. Makes one 16-ounce mug or two 8-ounce cups.
   *Linda's note: I revised this recipe in October of 2014. For that post click here.

2 Tbsps extra virgin expeller pressed coconut oil
2 tsps unsweetened Valrhona or 1 Tbsp Ghiradelli cocoa powder
2 packets or 2 tsps Xylitol
1 packet or 1 tsp Truvia®
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Boiling hot water or coffee (preferably decaffeinated)
2 Tbsps heavy cream (optional, but oh so yummy and healthy)

1. Heat a kettle of water. The first step is to warm your mug with the hot water. Pour out the water.
2. Add the coconut oil to the mug and then the cocoa powder. Stir the coconut oil and cocoa powder together until melted. Add the 2 teaspoons of Xylitol and packet of Truvia and mix well. Add 1-3/4 cups of hot water (or decaffeinated coffee/espresso) into the mug. Stir well. Add cream if desired (highly recommended). Add vanilla extract. Stir again. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Preserved Lemons

by Michelle

 "Lots of cultures, from North Africa to Italy to Asia, came up with the idea of salting lemons as a way to keep them throughout the year. But in Morocco, that necessity really turned into the mother of invention, ultimately creating a culinary phenomenon that had a huge effect on the cuisine, to the extent that the preserved lemon completely displaced the fresh article. Moroccans don't even think of fresh lemons in connection with food beyond garnishing drinks and making lemonade." ~Mourad Lahou

   The new object of my affection is cookbook Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou. The self trained chef is owner of Aziza restaurant located in the Richmond district of San Francisco. I'm gearing up to prepare a Morrocan feast in July, so my first step is to prepare preserved lemons.

   This recipe is adapted from from Mourad: New Moroccan by Mourad Lahlou (Artisan ©2011). If you are even remotely interested in Morocco and Moroccan cooking, this cook book is for you. I devoured it - metaphorically, of course - from cover to cover.

Preserved Lemons

   I highly recommend removing and saving the peel from the lemons that you will be juicing. Lemon peel freezes well. When I find that I have a lot of lemons to juice, and I have a surplus of lemon peels, for me, I gotta make Limoncello. If that plan fails for whatever reason, there's always the option of preparing the best Lemon Cake on the planet. 

Ingredients for a for a 1-quart batch:
About 6 Eureka or Lisbon lemons (avoid Meyer)
About 6 to 10 lemons for juicing
About 2 Tbsps of Diamond® kosher salt per lemon

Wash the lemons in soapy and warm water.
1. Sterilize the jars and lids that you will be using either by boiling on the stove top for 20 minutes or by running through the dishwasher. Keep both lids and jars warm until ready to use.
1. Scrub the lemons really well with soap and warm water. Dry thoroughly.
2. Carefully cut six lemons into quarters, stopping within 1/2-inch from the stem. The lemon will be quartered, but still intact.
3. Spread the four quarters open and fill with as much salt as you can, up to 2 tablespoons. Place the lemon cut side up (to keep the salt in place) in the sterilized jar. Repeat with as many lemons as the jar will hold, pushing down so the lemons are packed into the jar. Put the lid on and let sit overnight.
4. The next day, press down on the lemons and add an additional salted lemon if space is available. If there's only a little rooom, it is fine to add a salted half or quarter lemon.
5. Juice the remaining lemons, a few at a time, pouring the juice into the jar until it is filled to the brim and the lemons are completely submerged.
6. Put the lid on the jar, turning it until it's just finger-tight. Put the jars in a dark spot such as a cupboard or pantry, but definitely not in the refrigerator. For the next week, shake the jar once a day to help dissolve the salt. Add more lemon juice if you notice that the lemons are no longer submerged.
7. Let the lemons rest for a month. If you notice a little bubbling around the edge of the jar lid, don't be concerned. It is a normal part of the fermentation process.
8. After a month, the lemons on top may have floated above the surface of the liquid, and they may have oxidized a bit, which is no problem. The lemon peel might be a little brown, but it is edible.

   "In Morocco, it's usually only the yellow rind of the preserved lemon, stripped of most of its white pith, that's used in cooking. In some long-cooked dishes a whole preserved lemon is sometimes simply thrown into the mix, and it eventually just melts away, but most of the time, the rind is used, and th erest of the fruit is discarded. That said, you may want to use the entire thing - and even they syrupy brining liquid - in various ways, as I often do. It all depends on the lemons you start with and your personal tolerance for flavor intensity." ~Mourad Lahlou

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Great Summer Reads from the Salvation Sisters

by Michelle
   Sometimes I wonder if a more effective list would be to offer the names of all the books I have read or listened to over the past couple of years that I did not like or would not recommend for one reason or another. 'Tis better to focus on the positive rather than the negative, don't you agree? So, without further ado here are books, in no particular order, that we sisters highly recommend just in time for your summer vacation.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson
Random House ©2010
Audiobook Narrated by Peter Altschuler
   This is a book that Linda listened to and then highly recommended to me. I planned to download it from Audible, but I was caught at an airport with nothing to read (horror of horrors), and purchased it at LAX when I happily spotted it at the news stand. The tale is cheery and will put a smile upon your face. In a word: delightful.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
Dial Press ©2009
Audiobook Narrated by: Paul Baymer, Susan Dewidan, Roselyn landor, John Lee, Juliet Mills
    At the time, my twelve year old daughter and I listened to the audiobook on a road trip from Arizona to Northern California to visit my sister, Linda. Featuring five narrators, the audiobook is an absolute joy to listen to. Each character is vibrantly brought to life and the engaging story is a fictional account of the events that occurred on Guernsey Island during the German Occupation in World War II.
Dublin Murder Squad Series:
In The Woods (Penguin ©2008) Audiobook Narrated by Steven Crossley
The Likeness (Penguin ©2009) Audiobook Narrated by Heather O'Neill
Faithful Place (Penguin ©2011) Audiobook Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Broken Harbor (Viking ©2012)
by Tana French
   Damn, Tana French can write. Lovely, fine prose. The common thread between the books is the Dublin Murder Squad, some characters do cross over into the subsequent novels, so it is important to read the novels in order to avoid spoilers. The novels are not crime novels that you would typically find in the genre. While the novels are technically mysteries, I found myself more involved with the character development and entering the psyches of the Murder Squad's investigators.

Royal Thai Detective Novels:
Bangkok 8 (Vintage Books ©2003) Audiobook Narrated by Paul Boehmer 
Bangkok Tattoo (Vintage Books ©2006) Audiobook Narrated by Paul Boehmer
Bangkok Haunts (Vintage Books ©2007) Audiobook Narrated by Glen MCready
The Godfather of Kathmandu (Vintage Books ©2010) Audiobook Narrated by Stephen Hogan
by John Burdett
   The son of an American GI and a Thai prostitute, devout Buddhist and ganja smoking Royal Thai Police Detective, Sonchai Jitplecheep navigates the underbelly of Bangkok solving crimes all the while striving to balance his karma. The nuanced observations by the author regarding the sex trade, drug trafficing, politics, corruption and east versus west perspectives on all topics is quite captivating and thought provoking. I bet you'll be hooked by the second chapter, farang!
by Gregory David Roberts
St. Martin's Griffin ©2005
Audiobook Narrated by Humphrey Bower
   Check-out the author's website, specifically the author's facts page. I had quite a bit of fun reading (with exagerated emotion) the author's bullet point biography - about a yardstick long - to my family one night over dinner. The book is loosely autobiographical, so you'll get the idea fairly quickly how things will surely go down over the course of the story. Rumor has it that Johnny Depp was committed to star in the film. The project was shelved last year, but perhaps it will be rekindled. We can only hope because it seems like a perfect role for Mr. Depp, in all the best non-Tim Burton ways.

Prodigal Summer (Harper Perennial ©2001)
The Lacuna (Harper ©2009)
by Barbara Kingsolver
   A favorite author of we three sisters. Barbara Kingsolver narrates her own books, which worked well with Prodigal Summer, but took a little getting used to in The Lacuna, a book which includes Frida Kahlo as a primary character. I was gobsmacked upon discovering Ms. Kingsolver had the courage to write dialogue for the revered artist. Thankfully, she succeeded.
Jitterbug Perfume (Bantam ©1990)
Half Asleep In Frogs Pajamas (Bantam ©1995)
Skinny Legs And All (Bantam ©1995)
Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates (Bantam ©2001) Audiobook Narrated by Keith Szarabajka
Villa Incognito (Bantam ©2003) Audiobook Narrated by Barret Whitener
... and more by Tom Robbins
   Welcome to the wacky, wonderful, mind-blowing world of Tom Robbins. No one, and I mean no one, writes like Tom Robbins, except, of course, Tom Robbins. Controversial, philosophical, funny as hell. Highly quotable. Tom Robbins loves women, and women love Tom Robbins. Especially the Salvation Sisters.

The Sixteen Pleasures
by Robert Hellenga
Delta ©1995
   Don't let the title fool you, the book is not fodder for those that desire titillating subject matter. More than a few general public reviewers posting on Amazon seemed to be a tad disgruntled by that fact. If, by chance, you are headed to Florence, Italy read this book before you go. If you are not planning a trip to Florence also known as Firenze... well, you'll be jonsing to go by the end of the story. Immediately follow reading this novel by watching A Room With A View and you'll be booking flights.

The Mists of Avalon
by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Ballentine Books ©1982
Audiobook Narrated by Davina Porter
   The story of the Arthurian Legend of Camelot told through the feminine perspective.

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
Penguin ©2009
Audiobook Narrated  by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell
   Most folks by now have read the book and seen the film. Although I enjoyed the film, the book is better. That is pretty much always the case, n'est-ce pas? The vocal performances by the four narrators is superb. My daughter, a young teenager at the time we listened to this book, was just as enthralled as I with the engrossing tale of friendship and burgeoning civil rights movement during the year 1962 in Mississippi.
Riding in the car with young adults:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce Mysteries)
... and more by Alan Bradley
Bantam ©2010
Narrated by: Jayne Entwistle
   A great listen with a tweener in the car. My daughter and I had hours of fun listening to this audiobook while driving to and from school. The book encouraged me to refer to the kitchen as my  my sanctum santorum until someone informed me, I think it was Juliette, that the urban dictionary might help bring me up to date on the the latter day definition. I am now barred from asking people about his or her sanctum santorum. Foiled again.

Bloody Jack (Hartcourt Children's Books ©2002)
Curse of the Blue Tattoo (Hartcourt Children's Books ©2004)
Under the Jolly Roger (Hartcourt Children's Books ©2005)
... and more by L.A. Meyer
Narrated by Katherine Kellgren
   Follow the high-seas adventures of London-born and subsequently orphaned Mary "Jacky" Faber. Katherine Kellgren's spirited narration (and I do mean spirited) has inspired my daughter to perform lively impersonations of Jacky, and sometimes in the most unlikely of places, which always makes me belly laugh.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and The Heroes of Olympus series)
... and many, many more by Rick Riordan
Hyperion ©2005
   Perseus "Percy" Jackson, son of Poseidon, is the protagonist of this popular series that both boys and girls will enjoy. As usual, the book is soooooo much better than the film.

The Harry Potter Series
by J.K. Rowling
Arthur A. Levine Books ©1997-2007
Narrated by Jim Dale
   I posit that the best way to experience the publishing phenomen known as Harry Potter is to have Jim Dale read each novel to you. Fabulous. My family and I have listened to each book more than once. And naturally, boys and girls of all ages love to hear the spectacular tale unfold of the boy wizard that attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
In the Kitchen:

Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
by Gabrielle Hamilton
Random House ©2011
   I admired this book for Ms. Hamilton's unflinching honesty about herself. She's a talented writer. If the whole food thing doesn't work out (snicker), she will have an ever hungry writing career to feed.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
by Anthony Bourdain
Co Prsa ©2000
Narrated by Anthony Bourdain
   The book that made Anthony Bourdain a household name. We sisters are fan girls.
Mourad: New Moroccan is a great read and Mourad is my new chef crush.
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