Favorite Things

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One of the many reasons I love doing segments on Your Life is I enjoy sharing things I love. This encompasses all sorts of areas like cooking, cleaning, spa stuff and even self study. My friends and family ask where I get my ideas and where do I get all the supplies and ingredients so I decided to talk about all of that and share this with them, and you, just in case you're interested, too!


A few years ago, I was walking through the bookstore and saw a whole table full of books on how to 'Green' up the home. This is an area of my life I thought I needed to be better but have always been intimidated by all that encompasses. One book there helped me get over that fear and it's called 'Gorgeously Green' by Sophie Uliano. The first sentence in the introduction is what got me hooked on it: "If I make one tiny positive change today, I consider myself green." That didn't sound so hard and gave me permission to start without promising I was going to save the world! In a very organized and easily understood method, Sophie has broken down how to 'green up' the home, beauty, fitness, style, food, travel and gardening. I know you can find this book on Amazon.com, used, for very little.

The area I was most interested in was the home and have adopted several of her house cleaning products that I make myself. She gives you recipes to follow to make your own but she also recommends store-bought items that you can find at your local grocer or at a natural food store. Here is the recipe for a counter top cleaner that I have used for several years. I have the ingredients under my kitchen sink so it takes no time at all to pour everything in a bottle. I use it both in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Gorgeously Green All-Purpose Spray

32-ounce plastic spray bottle (I have found these at WalMart for $1.00!)
2 cups water
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tsp pure castile soap or liquid glycerine soap
3/4 cup hydrogen peroxide
20 drops tea tree oil
20 drops lavender or lemongrass essential oil

Combine all ingredients in bottle and label. Shake before each use.

The tea tree oil is an excellent anti-bacterial along with the peroxide and vinegar. This spray is suitable for acrylic, ceramic tile, wood, marble and granite. She suggests adding 10 drops of citronella during the summer months when there are more bugs around.


Ten years ago I decided it would be fun to learn how to cook more than spaghetti, tacos and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. To inspire me, I took a cooking class at Sur le Table and the guest chef was Barb Fenzl. What a wonderful, warm, generous woman she is! I immediately found her cookbook, 'Seasonal Southwest Cooking' and have made almost everything in it! Her recipes are easy to follow and not intimidating at all. For a 'newbie' to cooking, it was perfect. The bonus is the pictures. The photography of the food and of different areas in Arizona makes this one of my favorite gifts to give, especially to those who live out of state. I can't count how many people have received this from me over the last decade! If I were forced to pick my favorite recipe, it would be 'Potato Casserole with Mexican Cheese.' Even though it's made without cream and not a lot of cheese, it comes out very rich and creamy. It will become a family favorite for sure!

Potato Casserole with Mexican Cheeses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 13x9-inch baking dish. 8-10 servings

4 TBS unsalted butter
2 cups thinly sliced yellow onion
1 TBS finely chopped garlic
salt and pepper to taste
3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup grated Panela (can substitute Gruyere)
1/4 cup grated Cotija cheese (can substitute Parmesan)

In large skillet, melt butter over med heat. Add onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook until onions are soft, but not browned, about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add potatoes and chicken stock. Toss together and turn out into the prepared baking dish. Butter a piece of parchment or waxed paper and press the buttered side onto the surface of the potatoes. Bake until potatoes are tender, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to broil. Remove parchment paper and sprinkle cheeses evenly over surface of the potatoes. Place baking dish under the broiler and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Allow the potatoes to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Two other chefs have inspired me greatly and that is Jeff Smedstad and Mad Coyote Joe. Jeff's cookbook is 'Elote', which also the name of his restaurant in Sedona, which is an incredible restaurant, by the way. It's closed Sunday and Monday, so be sure to keep that in mind and go early. It fills up fast and they don't take reservations. One of our favorite items to order is their appetizer, 'Elote', which is a corn dip for his corn tortillas, served hot and is so yummy. It is also the first recipe in the cookbook and you will be amazed how easy it is to make. I even make this at tailgate parties, it's so easy!


6 ears corn, husks intact *see notes
1 cup mayo
1 TBS Cholula brand hot sauce (can get this at any grocer in Mexican aisle)
2 TBS fresh lime juice
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp sugar
1/4 chicken stock
1/4 cup cotija cheese, ground or crumbled, for garnish
2 TBS chopped cilantro, for garnish
pure-ground red chile to taste, for garnish
crispy corn tortillas for scooping

Over med-hot grill, roast corn until husks are well charred, about 5 minutes. Turn occasionally so as not to burn the side contacting the direct heat. Set roasted ears aside until cool enough to handle, then shuck them. Cut kernels off the cob.

When ready to eat, mix the mayo, hot sauce, lime juice, salt, pepper, sugar, and chicken stock in a saute pan over med heat. Add corn kernels and warm through. Pour into a bowl and garnish with cheese, cilantro, and ground chile. Serve immediately with crispy tortillas.

*notes: Don't tell Jeff but I cheat with the corn. You can used canned or frozen. The best corn for recipes like this is Trader Joe's frozen roasted corn. It is amazing and because it's roasted, it adds an extra layer of taste. And being that it's frozen, it's always handy for last-minute.

Mad Coyote Joe is a local chef who used to be on 'Sonoran Living' and has several cookbooks, all of which are terrific for the person who wants to learn how to make Mexican food. He even goes over all the different chiles, fresh or dried, and explains in easily understood language what the heat factor and flavor of each one.

One of my favorite recipes is 'Ensalada de Orzo Diablo', which is basically a spicy pasta salad. This recipe has been given to and used by many of my friends and family. It keeps well in the refrigerator for days and is perfect in the summer alongside a grilled steak or salmon. And is a terrific pot luck item!

Ensalada de Orzo Diablo

Salad Ingredients

 3 cups dried orzo, cooked al dente, rinsed
 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
 1  red bell pepper, diced
 2 habanero chile, minced (to taste)
 1 cup black olives, whole, pitted
 1 cup golden raisins
 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
 1/3 cup red onion, diced
 10 ounces peas, frozen, cooked and chilled
 salt, pepper


 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
 1/2  cup cilantro, chopped
 1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
 1 1/2  tsp dark brown sugar
 2 garlic, minced
 1 1/2 tsp salt
 1 tsp pepper
 2/3 cup olive oil


1. Cook pasta al dente, rinse and set aside.

2. In large salad bowl, whisk all vinaigrette ingredients except oil together and drizzle in the oil while whisking. Add the orzo and toss well.

3. Add all remaining ingredients and toss again. This salad is best if chilled overnight in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to marry. Serve at room temperature.

4. Regarding the habanero chiles: as you probably know, the habanero is muy caliente (lots of heat!). You may eliminate this entirely keeping in mind it will take away a layer of flavor that enhances the salad. For gringos not used to heat, I use 1/2 of one habenero and discard the seeds. But I will say that if you use both habaneros, seeds intact, you will be surprised it's not real spicey. Be sure to mince the habaneros to a tiny size.

For inspiration on what to cook week days when it is sooo hard to decide, I subscribe to Martha Stewart's 'Everyday Food' magazine. What I love about this magazine is it's seasonal and easy. They have areas they cover every month (Dinner 1-2-3, In Season, Bites, How-To, Eat Smart and Have You Tried?) and then have other articles which are more about that particular month. The January issue includes how to use frozen hash browns (with 3 recipes), slow cooking, and an instant party for the Super Bowl (4 recipes). I would encourage you to look for this magazine in the grocery store and then seriously consider being a subscriber. I have used this magazine for years and can't count how many recipes I still make throughout the year.


To be honest, I have stopped subscribing to a lot of magazines (who has time to read all of them?) except for just a few, including 'Everyday Food'. Another one that I will always subscribe to is 'The Herb Companion.' This magazine covers how to live a more natural life using spices, herbs and essential oils. There are suggestions on how to keep an herbal garden, build immunity with herbs, and recipes for drinks and food using natural ingredients. They always have terrific recipes for lotions and potions and I have to admit to stealing many of them for my segments on Your Life. But don't tell anyone! This magazine is a little harder to find at the grocery store but I have seen it at bookstores. You can also go online (www.herbcompanion.com) to look it over and see if you want to subscribe. Another great source for that person who is considering doing more of this and needs a place to start.


I am always asked where I get all my ingredients and containers for my gifts and general lotions and potions. We are fortunate to have a terrific natural food store here in Apache Junction (I know! I was shocked, too!) called 'The Good Apple' but I also use the internet. This not only saves me in gas (I figure I live 45 minutes from EVERYWHERE!) but it saves me from taking all day hunting items down.

For herbs, spices and essential oils, my favorite site is www.mountainroseherbs.com. I order in bulk amounts so it saves me bunches of money, even with the shipping and handling. Even though you may be able to find these products cheaper elsewhere, I am very content with their prices and quality and recommend them highly. This is also a good place to visit if you are considering making more things yourself. It's worth a peek.

I get most of my containers at www.sks-bottle.com. Like Mountain Rose Herbs, this site is good on prices and quality. And the variety is terrific. I have to admit that both of these  sites are dangerous for me. There are so many things I just have to have!

My latest Favorite Thing I Love is the book, 'Make the Bread, Buy the Butter' by Jennifer Reese. Jennifer was a laid-off worker who decided that, to save money, it would be a good idea to start making her own foods. In the process, she discovered that while some things were better homemade, there were others that just weren't worth the effort or the cost. She has catalogued all these experiments in a very humorous, insightful way (breaking it down to 'Make It or Buy It,' Hassle Factor and Cost Comparison) and, so far, I am enjoying this new discovery. Don't be surprised if you see me making a few things from this book on a future segment.