Spirited Cake

The original recipe I used called for Crème de Menthe, but you really could use any type of liqueur you have sitting in your liquor cabinet. This cake is great for a party. You can make it ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Ingredients

15.25 oz. box white cake mix
3 eggs
½ cup canola oil
1 cup water
3 Tbsp. flavored liqueur
16 oz. can Ghirardelli chocolate syrup
8 oz. frozen whipped topping, thawed
2 Tbsp. flavored liqueur

Directions

Prepare cake mix according to package directions, but substitute 3 Tbsp. liqueur for the same amount of water. Pour batter into a greased and floured 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Bake according to package directions. When cake is done, remove from oven and place pan on wire rack. While cake is still hot, pierce in several places with a fork. Pour chocolate syrup over cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Fold 2 Tbsp. liqueur gently into whipped topping to blend. Spread whipped topping over cake, slice and serve. Serves 12.

Zucchini Dill Soup

If you can’t find pre-sliced zucchini or yellow squash in the grocery store, slice it yourself. Feel free to be creative and toss in your own ingredients to suit your tastes. This soup can be reheated the next day. 

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1-1/2 to 2 lbs. sliced zucchini and yellow squash
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp. chopped garlic
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
5 cups low sodium chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream (optional)

Directions

Melt butter in large pot over medium-high heat. Add zucchini, onion, garlic, dill and parsley. Sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth and bring soup to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. When done, remove pot from heat. Let cool slightly and then blend with immersion blender. If you like a creamy soup, gently stir in the heavy cream at this stage. Ladle into individual bowls and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

Publix Cooking Class – Oregon

We attended a Publix Aprons Cooking School Class featuring the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I always enjoy these demonstrations with a sampling of different wines and recipes to take home.

Aprons Cooking School

We started out with a taste of Elouan Rose wine. It was light and on the dry side and a pleasant welcome drink.

STARTER COURSE

The first course was Coriander Encrusted Sea Scallops with Cauliflower Puree and Apricot-Shallot Jam. This was delicious. Normally I wouldn’t make scallops at home or order them in a restaurant because they can become rubbery if overcooked, but these were tender and done just right. They paired well with the jam. The accompanying wine was a Chateau St. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc that was a pale yellow color with a slightly fruity taste.

Starter Course

Cooking Tips from the Chef (any errors are due to my misinterpretation):

Iodized salt, like table salt, can turn bitter when you cook with it. He prefers Morton kosher salt, which does not contain iodine and is consistent in quality. A second choice would be sea salt, but characteristics can vary depending on place of origin.

The chef prefers grapeseed oil as you can cook at higher temperatures with it. He suggests you don’t use extra virgin olive oil for cooking as it burns at a lower temperature. Vegetable oil or regular olive oil is okay. Use the EVOO in salad dressings and such.

If oil isn’t hot enough, the food can absorb it. Test with a popcorn kernel. When it pops, the oil is the right temperature.

When preparing scallops, remove the abductor muscle.

SALAD COURSE

Baby Kale Salad with Pears, Burrata, Bacon, and Spiced Yogurt Vinaigrette was our salad. The dressing went well with it. The accompanying wine was A to Z Pinot Grigio. We liked this one.

Salad Course

Cooking Tips

Slice an onion from root to stem, not the other way.

Burrata cheese is a mozzarella cheese stuffed with a ricotta-like cheese. It comes in a ball, and you can find it in the specialty cheese section.

MAIN ENTREE

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Orange-Cherry Gastrique and Shiitake Risotto was a tasty entrée and fairly easy to make. The accompanying wine was a Sidur 2017 Pinot Noir. This was okay but I like a Cabernet better.

Main Entree

Cooking Tips

You can buy the boneless duck breasts in the frozen food section. Defrost and slash the fat side to prevent it from curling when cooking.

Put honey for 20 seconds in the microwave to liquefy if it’s crystalized.

DESSERT

Peach Panna Cotta with Biscotti Crumble and Blueberry Compote wasn’t overly sweet and was paired with an A to Z Riesling.

Dessert

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Coronado Springs Resort Dining

Continuing our tradition of trying new places to eat in Orlando, we dined at Toledo, the new rooftop restaurant inside Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. A magical elevator takes you to the top floor where you emerge into a spacious lounge area. You can come for drinks and the view if you don’t care to stay for dinner. Here we are gazing toward Hollywood Studios. You can see the new Star Wars land under construction and the Tower of Terror.

View from Toledo

Inside the restaurant, we were led to a quiet table among the bustle. We began our meal with an olive medley and flatbread with melted cheese for appetizers.

I ordered tilefish for my entrée and was pleasantly surprised by the tasty dish. Dessert was the best, a couple of chocolate concoctions that we all shared.

Dessert at Toledo

Our other days in Orlando were taken up with family visits. On this night, we were celebrating our son’s birthday. We’ll soon have a lot more to celebrate as my husband and I become grandparents for the first time later this year.

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Orlando Explorer

Our most recent visit to Orlando had us visiting Epcot for the Festival of the Arts. I tasted the mushroom risotto at the Masterpiece Kitchen around World Showcase but held off eating more until we went to the Morocco café for a vegetarian platter with hummus and more.
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At Disney Springs another day, I indulged in a root beer float at Ghiradelli. We enjoyed the ambiance as we strolled through the marketplaces and past numerous restaurants. Our adventures continued at historic Winter Garden as we strolled downtown. The main street still has its old-time charm, while a brewery hall attracts a young crowd with several fast-food eating choices. Here’s a peek at the lobby of an earlier era Edgewater Hotel and an adjacent ice cream shop.
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We took walks at Disney’s Riverside and Boardwalk resorts, and gained a couple of extra pounds from dining out the entire weekend. Now we’re home, and we brought a cold along with us as a souvenir.
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Valentine's Day Cooking Class

For something different than the usual dinner at a restaurant for Valentine’s Day, we signed up for a Publix Aprons Cooking School class. We’ve enjoyed these before, and the night’s menu looked appealing. It was a popular choice. The place was full with 48 people present to watch the demo-style class.
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As we waited for the show to start, one of the chefs poured us each a welcome glass of Cupcake Sparkling Rosé wine. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I grew up on rosés before learning to appreciate drier varieties. Remember Lancer’s?
First course was a Pistachio Shortbread with Goat Cheese, Strawberries, and Mint-Honey paired with a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. This was almost like dessert. The shortbread was a tasty cookie. The wine went well with this selection but it was a bit too fruity for my taste. I’d like it better before dinner.
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The next course was really good and very hearty. I could have made a meal out of this alone. We got a generous portion of Seared Sea Scallop Chowder with Smoky Sourdough Croutons paired with Bread & Butter Chardonnay. This wine went on my “I Like It” list. The soup was delicious. You could vary the recipe at home and make it with shrimp or lobster instead. If you use scallops, remove the abductor muscle from the sides.
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The main dish showed me a cooking technique I’d never heard of before. It used a temperature-regulated water bath. You insert the food in a vacuum sealed plastic bag, so you’d also need the vacuum device. I’ll never make this at home with all the extra equipment required, but the meat was tasty and tender. The dark things are purple potatoes. Sous Vide Lamb Loin with Butter-Roasted Radishes, Carrots, and Baby Potatoes paired with a La Crema Pinot Noir. I liked the dry red wine. Tip for pearl onions: cut off the bottoms and blanch in boiling water for a minute, and the skin peels right off.
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The dessert, a Butterscotch-Toffee Budino (pudding) was paired with a Veuve Cliequot Brut Champagne. Apparently, the tinier the bubbles, the more expensive the brand. This one had lots of tiny bubbles. The pudding was like a dense flan, a rich dessert that melts in your mouth.
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We had a gourmet meal and wine for a decent price, plus we got to see an entertaining cooking demo and take home the recipes. Let’s check their calendar and see what’s appealing that is coming up next.
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Christmas Day in Disney Springs

On Christmas Day, we saw the Aquaman movie at Disney Springs, followed the Christmas Tree Trail, and ate dinner at the House of Blues. It was a magical day. Here are some photos:
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House of Blues
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We celebrated New Year’s Eve with dinner at Buca di Beppo in Davie.
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Our Florida weather continues to be mild, so we are enjoying the parks.
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Further Adventures in Orlando

Happy New Year! Time is moving on, so let me tell you about our latest adventures in Orlando over Christmas. We took a stroll at The Mall at Millenia that was nicely decorated for the holidays.
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Dinner included an evening at Bosphorus Turkish Cuisine. We began with their hollow lava bread and hummus appetizer. I really liked the zucchini patties served with yogurt. I could eat this savory dish for an entire meal. The appetizer includes three huge pancakes, so be prepared to share. I didn’t care so much for the falafel ones. My husband had the lamb shish-kabob for his entrée, and I had moussaka. I always like this eggplant dish.
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I’d wanted to explore the Island Grove Wine Company at Formosa Gardens in Kissimmee. It’s mostly a retail store with a café and tasting bar. Although they advertise tours and a botanical garden, these don’t really exist. We each enjoyed a turkey sandwich along with our wine tasting. I liked the dry blueberry, the slightly sweet peach, and the cranberry wine. The company has a full-fledged winery at Hawthorne, FL: https://www.islandgrovewinecompany.com/
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From here, we went down the street to an indoor flea market but the twisting stalls held a collection of shlock. Good place for tourists but not for us. It doesn’t compare to the Festival Marketplace at home.
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Coming Next: Christmas Day in Disney Springs
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Research Insights – Olive Oil Scams

While doing research for my books, I love to learn about esoteric topics. For Trimmed to Death, #15 in my Bad Hair Day Mystery series, I focused the story on food. Hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a bake-off contest that’s a recipe for disaster when a contestant ends up dead.


In considering the possible crime involved, I came across the topic of olive oil fraud. This led me to delve into the Florida olive growing industry and how olives are processed. Yes, I’m an olive fan. And now I’m more aware of fraud in the olive oil import business. Read on, and you can become more knowledgeable, too. Disclaimer: This information is based on my interpretation of the data so you are urged to verify the facts yourself.
The Problem
Olive oil scams rake in millions of dollars and involve fake labels and inferior products. The Italian extra virgin olive oil you paid a hefty price to buy? It may originate from somewhere else entirely. For example, a criminal ring from Italy passed off a blend of imported oils from the Middle East as authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Italy’s authorities unraveled the scheme, which involved twelve companies and a certification laboratory. Thousands of tons of olive oil were fraudulently bottled and labeled as made in Italy. Just so you know, Italy may be the world’s largest importer and exporter of olive oil, but Spain is the largest producer. Much of what comes from Italy is merely bottled there.
In another case, seven well-known Italian olive oil producers were investigated for falsely passing off inferior olive oil products as extra virgin. Italian authorities conducted operation “Mama Mia” and seized 2,000 tons of falsely labeled EVOO worth $14.5 million. Two months later, they seized another 22 tons of counterfeit oil. Italian newspaper La Stampa tested twenty of the most popular brands in Italy and discovered forty-five percent was falsely labeled.
As much as eighty percent of olive oil labeled as extra virgin may be diluted with lower grades of oil. These can include refined oils that have been processed with heat or chemicals. Or the EVOO may be adulterated with processed seed oils, such as soybean, peanut or sunflower. These seed oils can cause potential allergic reactions. Sometimes the extra virgin olive oil is cut with stale oil left over from earlier crops, or it may even be sold rancid. The market is rife with fraud, with estimates that nearly seventy percent of all store-bought EVOOs sold in the United States are falsely labeled.
Olive OilFL
What is being done about it?
The U.S. Congress ordered the FDA to begin testing imported oils for adulteration and misbranding. Italian producers have created their own seal of quality that says 100% Qualita Italiana. California producers have a California Olive Oil Commission (COOC) 100% Certified Extra Virgin seal. The North American Olive Oil Association has its own certified logo.
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What can you do?
Check the label and see if the country of origin is listed. Look at the date for when the oil was pressed or harvested and try to buy it less than a year old. Ignore the “bottled on” date as well as “use by” a certain date. See if it has one of the certification seals above. Look for specialty olive oils produced by local olive growers in Florida and California. Shop at specialty stores that provide information about chemical analysis, olive variety, where and when it originated. These shops do tastings and sell in small quantities. Once opened, olive oil deteriorates quickly. So it’s better to buy two small bottles than one bigger one.
Olive Branch
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TRIMMED TO DEATH
Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, she discovers a dead body in the strawberry field. Can she unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!
Get your copy here:
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BN Nook: http://bit.ly/2sH9vcH
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Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/trimmed-to-death
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