Grandma Mae Mather’s Ham and Potato Bake for the slow-cooker

Ham and potato bake is great when you have left over ham and need a good comfort-food regardless of the weather, but I have to say that I tend to make this dish in colder weather. My grandma’s version was for the oven, but it took longer for the potatoes to bake that way, so now I’ve taken her recipe and added to it and found that the potatoes are nice and soft at 5 hours on high.

Ingredients:
2 to 3 cups diced ham
7-8 medium sized potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1 tsp Litehouse instantly fresh red onion
½ tsp garlic powder

Fresh-ground black pepper
2 can (10.75 ounces) cream of celery soup
1/2-to-1 can of milk
Sprinkling of paprika

2 tbsp of cut-up cold, salted butter

Directions:
To work ahead: you can peel and slice potatoes the night before. I took Idaho golden potatoes and cleaned, peeled, and ran them through my Salad Shooter to make nice, thin slices. I placed the potatoes in a large casserole dish and covered them completely in cold water with a bit of salt and/or lemon juice. Make sure the potatoes are completely covered to avoid browning.

In the morning, drain and place the sliceham-and-potato-bakes of potato into a slow cooker that has been sprayed with cooking spray or use a slow-cooker liner. Top with the diced ham. Mix together the red onion bits, garlic powder, a bit of freshly ground pepper, the 2 cans of soup and ½ a can of milk in a medium bowl. Pour the mixture over the potatoes and ham. Mix all ingredients in the slow-cooker (layering the items didn’t work when I tried this the last time. I had to cook them for an additional hour.)

Sprinkle paprika over the top, drop bits of cold salted butter on top as well. Cover and cook on “High” for 5 hours until potatoes are tender or on “Low” for 7-8 hours. I serve this with Hawaiian rolls, baked La Brea rolls, or Italian bread. Peas are my go-to vegetable as well. You can add that to the individual bowls or separately.

 

Review of the Febreze HEPA-type tower air purifier

I received the Febreze tower-version of the HEPA-type air purifier for free to review from Febreze and Influenster about a month ago and have been using it every day. I have it in my living room that also is attached to the kitchen so that it takes in the air in the largest part of our home.

febreze-air-purifier-tower-1I have a humidifier in every room starting sometime in the fall-winter season. I did not have an air purifier before so didn’t know what to expect. We have a dog, Skylar, and both of us — well, all three of us with the dog — suffer from allergies at different times of the year. I was excited to try this air purifier because I have known people who have whole-house air purification systems and thought that would be awesome.

I read up on the air purifier and was pleased to learn that the Febreze air purifiers earned an Energy Star. “The energy efficiency of this Energy Star qualified model is measured based on a ratio between the models clean air delivery rate (CADR) for dust and the electrical energy it consumes, or CADR/Watt.” This tower version comes with two HEPA-type filters that have a built-in, odor-absorbing pre-filter. Both go vertically in the back behind the door. It’s fairly easy to assemble. I realized later that I needed to hit the reset button for it. It also comes with a scent cartridge that likewise has a reset button. The filters need replacing about every 4 months, and the scent cartridge every month. The purifier monitors for both, so it will indicate also when to change them — as long as the buttons are reset.  (I have a bad habit of reading those manuals after I’ve assembled and used something.) One thing the booklet said is to ensure the room is frequently dusted and vacuumed and that can add to prolonging the life of the filter. I do this once a week since we have Skylar Holmes. He sheds. A lot. Oh, and drags his food around when he eats, but that’s another story.

thanks-for-warming-up-the-spot-skylar
Yes. My dog uses his bed on the couch for a pillow and not as intended.

After using the air purifier in the living area for about a month, I have gotten so used to the sound that I sometimes forget to turn it off when we’re not there. The unit can run all the time, but the manual recommended to turn it off when we’re gone. I like that I can turn the scent to the lowest end and not smell anything because I am scent-sensitive at times due to troubles with migraine attacks. I can also adjust the control dial for the cleaning level. At the second and third cleaning level, I think it sounds like my “white noise” on my alarm clock. At the lowest, I find it blends in with the sounds around me.

Does it clean the air? That is harder to say for sure. I mean, I’m not a scientist. I do have a sensitive nose. I can say that stale odors, cooking odors, doggy odors, etc. that used to muddy up the air around us eventually clear our with the use of the air purifier. I cooked burgers one night and they usually end up filling all the rooms with the smell — even the towels in the bathroom — since our house is small. I checked the rooms and there was such a difference. We have air fresheners in our rooms, and I could smell them and not cooking smells competing. Also, sometimes I would smell what I call “old wood” smell when I walk into the house after being away. Now, I don’t smell “old wood” smell. My only thought was that I do wish for more scent options for that cartridge. Two are available: spring & renewal and linen & sky. I am reviewing the linen & sky. It is a nice scent and doesn’t overwhelm. And since I am prone to migraines, I guess that’s a plus!

I did receive the tower version in white, but I wanted to add that the air purifier comes in white or gray; it also is available as a mini tower or a table-top version: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Febreze-Mini-Tower-Air-Purifier-Gray-FHT180V/36855612. I recommend this product and I can see that the table-top version would do well in a bedroom setting: https://www.amazon.com/Febreze-HEPA-Type-Tabletop-Air-Purifier/dp/B00OE7P5CI. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will try to answer. I love researching things, too, so if I don’t have the answer I can find it for you.  For more information direct from the Febreze site, go to https://www.febrezeairpurifiers.com/.

Review of Dove dry sprays

My husband, David, and I received Dove dry sprays compliments of Target and Influenster.

I’ve been using the Dove Nourished Beauty dry spray for at least two weeks. I like that it has a nice cucumber and aloe scent. I notice it’s still with me by morning, so no doubt lives up to “lasts 48 hours” part on the can. In reality though, I haven’t tested that fully as I tend to shower and spray it again because that’s the norm for me. I would definitely purchase this product in future. Susan try dry campaign dove

My husband is using the Dove Men+Care Clean Comfort dry spray. He agrees that the product does the job well, but he just is “a stick man.” dave try dry dove menHe doesn’t like the inevitable cloud, he says, the product leaves behind when sprayed. It reminds him too much of the early days of deodorant use when he was in his teens. He will probably not purchase in future, but I might for me. I like the scent of his dry spray!

Thank you, Target and Influenster for choosing us to try these dry spray products.

 

General Tsoooo good made from scratch

Slow-Cooker General Tso’s Chicken

Gen Tso finished plate
The finished plate of Gen. Tso’s slow-cooker chicken, recipe from Tiffany of Creme de la Crumb.

‘Tis the season for slow-cooker meals once again! I would say I don’t know what prompts me to bring out my Crock-pot again, but truly by dinner time it’s been much colder — and darker, too — so not ideal for cooking on the grill here in Dayton, Ohio.

Blogger Tiffany, of Creme de la Crumb, started her site in 2013 “as a way to catalog [her] kitchen endeavors.” I found her August 2014 recipe for General Tso’s slow-cooker chicken when researching an easy recipe with a short cooking time: http://lecremedelacrumb.com/2014/08/slow-cooker-general-tsos-chicken.html. She gave the cook time as 4 hours, but it’s more like two-and-a-half hours in my Crock-pot. She used to waitress at a Chinese restaurant where they served “General Tsao’s chicken.” She changed the name a bit since she knew that most people know the dish spelled “Tso.” Tiffany had a comment from Lucy who explained that both are correct; it’s really just a difference in Chinese dialect. “Tsao,” pronounced “sow,” is Cantonese, while “Tso,” or “so,” is Mandarin, she said. See, now you can weave this topic into dinner conversation when you make this recipe.

I made Tiffany’s recipe the first time and kept to the original ingredients with no substitutions. Well, except that I did ensure that the hoisin and soy sauces were gluten free and preservative free, as well as had no MSG. (I think I could write a rap off that somehow.) The inclusion of the crushed red pepper flakes were killer when hubby Dave and I started to eat the meal. My mouth was on fie-ya! I think my lips were chapped. I do not kid. I had to stop eating my meal. It was a great-tasting dish, but it was definitely a hotter version of Gen Tso’s chicken. I decided that I’d give this recipe another try without those red pepper flakes.

Last night, I started the prep for this recipe. That first time around, I spent longer than 15 minutes prepping everything to go into the pot. I first whisked together 1 cup of corn starch (I know. It seems a lot, but it replaces flour in most breadings.); a teaspoon each of salt and garlic powder; and half a teaspoon of black pepper in a bowl before storing in a gallon-size zip-locked baggie. I got to work on the sauce from there and again doubled the recipe, using a half cup of hoisin sauce, a half cup of soy sauce, and a half cup Gen Tso 2of rice vinegar. I added to that 4 tablespoons of sugar; 2 tablespoons of dried, minced garlic; 4 tablespoons of water; and instead of the crushed red pepper flakes, added a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper.

 

 

I put half a cup of the combined sauce in a smaller glass Pyrex container that I would add at the end of the cook time the next day. My house smelled strongly of garlic and I went to sleep content that I had it all together for the next day.

Today, I cut up four, boneless, skinless chicken breasts — the kiGen Tso 6nd that are individually wrapper — and dredged those through the dry ingredients in the zip-locked baggie. I’d forgotten what a mess it turns into when using corn starch in a recipe. You can see that in the photo of the plate with the chicken pieces. It’s not unlike powdered sugar really.

I would advise giving all your chicken pieces a ride in the zip-locked baggie twice. It just gives more of a coating for the chicken. I used a large skillet the last time that wasn’t cast-iron. My oil darkened by the time I had all the pieces browned. Cast-iron pans can cook at lower heats. I added the oil to the pan once it heated to medium heat. The chicken came out evenly browned.

I placGen Tso 8ed the finished chicken on a paper-towel-lined plate to get rid of some of the excess oil. Then, I put in a liner for my slow-cooker and arranged the pieces into the bottom, pouring the sauce on top.

At first, you might think like I did: “That doesn’t look like the sticky sauce I see when I order General Tso’s.” That magic happens in the two-and-a-half-to-3 hours of cook time on low in the slow cooker.

I did keep checking the slow cooker and stirred the sauce after two hours because I was concerned it would burn along the sides. Others who tried this recipe said you could turn this into a one-pot meal and just pour the sauce over the chicken, cover the pan and let it simmer for a bit if you don’t have 2-3 hours to cook. Here’s the after photo of this dish. The “heat” was less this time using the cayenne powder. I could have used 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne probably to make the heat more subtle. I serve this over Uncle Ben’s rice (the kind that’s portioned out in pouches you boil for 11 minutes) and include steamed green beans. Hope you enjoy!Gen Tso 10

 

A summer party dessert, part 2

pineapple sunshine cake

I promised I would tell you about this easy, moist, yellow cake recipe with its lovely hints of the tropics inside called “Pineapple Sunshine Cake.” I made this recipe along with pasta salad from my previous post about the party with the ladies from Bible study.

I — like many people — love searching Yummly. Oh, you’ve never been? Well, here’s the link: http://www.yummly.com/

I added the app for Yummly — “Yum” — onto my Kindle, so now when I am too tired to read, but I can’t sleep, I explore all the various cooking and baking options. And I wonder why I am still awake an hour later. Doh!

So — probably not helping my insomnia, but I do find so many great recipes.

I decided on this recipe from blogger, Ashlyn’s “Belle of the Kitchen: Recipes for a Healthier Appetite”: http://belleofthekitchen.com/2015/04/03/sunshine-cake/

It was very easy to follow and the ingredients weren’t costly like some recipes. For the cake I needed:

1 box of yellow cake mix
4 eggs
½ cup oil (I used canola oil, but you could use coconut oil, too.)
1 (8 oz) can of crushed pineapple with juice

I had 8 oz pineapple tidbits already and one big can of the crushed pineapple in my pantry. I was worried I wouldn’t have the right amount, according to the recipe, because I am so fastidious when it comes to following recipes. I improvised by taking the tidbits out of 8 oz can and added the crushed as a way to measure out exactly 8 oz.

Ta-da!

(I put the pineapple tidbits in smaller containers for a snack or something to pack with hubby’s lunch.)

For the frosting I needed:
1 (8 oz) container whipped topping, thawed (I always buy two of those just in case I need or want more “cloud cover.”)
1 small box instant vanilla pudding
1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple again with juice

After I set my oven to 350 degrees, I sprayed a 9×13 pan with PAM’s baking spray.

http://www.pamcookingspray.com/non-stick-spray-products/baking-spray/

The recipe doesn’t indicate a need for that, but ever since I started using this when baking, I have had baked goods release more easily from the pan when cutting up slices.

I had the eggs sit out for about 30 minutes to bring them to room temperature. Again, the recipe doesn’t indicate to make sure the eggs and the butter are at room temperature. I just have learned that your cake will come out so much better if I remember this step.

Dawn Perry, a food editor at “Real Simple” magazine, explained that “at room temperature, eggs, butter, and milk bond and form an emulsion that traps air.”

She said that while your cake is baking “the air expands, producing light, airy, evenly baked treats.
Batters made with room temperature ingredients are smooth and evenly incorporated.

“Cold ingredients don’t incorporate evenly to bond, resulting in dense cookies, rock-hard breads, and clumpy cheesecakes. Batters made with cold ingredients won’t come together smoothly.”

My other “trick” is to cracked an egg on the surface of the counter and drop it into a ramekin one at a time before adding it to the bigger bowl of overall mix.

I wish I could tell you who told me this — probably Alton Brown of Food Network –but cracking eggs one at a time in another bowl helps to avoid added shells and bad eggs getting into your beautiful mix. (I know, I know. I might be a bit paranoid.) Also, most recipes recommend adding one egg at a time to make sure they’re all incorporated.

Once cake mix, eggs and oil are married up, I then added the 8 oz can of crushed pineapple and poured the mixture into the pan. I baked the cake for the full 30 minutes, but Ashlyn indicates to bake 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of the cake came out clean. I have a thermometer in my oven (which I recommend), so I usually check anything 5 minutes before the lowest time to make sure it doesn’t burn

Cooling pineapple sunshine cake

I let the cake cool on the counter for a while, and then put it in my refrigerator to make sure it was really cold.
In a medium bowl and with my spatula, I gently mixed together the whipped topping, vanilla pudding mix, and 1 8 oz can of crushed pineapple to spread over the top.

The finished product: frosted pineapple sunshine cake.

Of course, I did need to make a “baker’s cut” and sample it with David. I mean, I didn’t want to bring this to a party and it not taste good, right?

Two pieces of pineapple sunshine

Yum! This cake recipe, even with pineapple that is usually sweet on its own, was just the right amount of light sweetness for a summer party. I think the ladies enjoyed it.

Jean Cope, our group’s leader, kindly told me she had two pieces. That made me feel great. I think I will have to try this again with another fruit like mandarin oranges. I will post again when I do.

A summer party pasta salad, part 1

I am in love with these little babies. I had to wait for a price check because they were new to Kroger.
I am in love with these little babies. I had to wait for a price check; they were new to Kroger.

I’ve missed seeing the ladies from my women’s Bible study. Summer months are set aside to allow down time for church staff and families.

Jean Cope, the lady who heads up our group, has said in the past, “We ladies need our girlfriends.” I think that’s why she works to bring us together on breaks. She and others have hosted get-togethers at their homes so we can see each other before our fall groups start up again.

One member, Jan, hosted us at her home in Tipp City, north of Dayton. (Tipp City, originally Tippecanoe City, is celebrating 175 years this year.) I decided I’d make two dishes to bring: Italian pasta salad and pineapple sunshine cake.

I will tell you in this post about the first: the Italian pasta salad. For help, I went straight to Allrecipes.com and used this “Awesome Pasta Salad Recipe”: http://m.allrecipes.com/recipe/52734/awesome-pasta-salad/

I will now interrupt this post to bring you the following message.

Allrecipes.com has so many recipes to offer. Even better, sometimes the recipes come with a video, which I love. Recipes originate with from professional chefs to “chief cook and bottle washers” at home. They have a magazine, too, that I subscribe to that shows the very best of recipes. These are the recipes tried and reviewed in the hundreds and have high marks — at least 4 and a half to 5 stars.

I did keep to the recipe, but I changed the ingredients to add more color and flavors to the mix.

Ingredients

Some of the ingredients for pasta salad

1) 16 oz of tri-color spiral pasta (Barilla sells in a 12 oz, so I used 1 box and added 1/3 cup from the second box.)
2) 3 cups  Nature’s fresh cherry tomato medley (heirloom cherry tomatoes), halved
3) 1 package (6 oz) provolone cheese, cubed
4) 1 package (3 oz.) of Private Selection Old World Milano salami, cut in bite-size pieces
5) 1 package (6 oz) of Private Selection Old World pepperoni, cut in bite-size pieces
6) 1 large orange bell pepper, cut in 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces

7) 1 can of black olives, drained
8) 1 jar pimientos, drained (finally found those at Meijer)
9) 1/2 bottle of Olive Garden Italian salad dressing
10) Love — Ha! OK, I really just wanted an even 10 ingredients.

After I boiled the pasta in salted water to the al dente (somewhat firm) stage, I ran it under cold water and put it in the refrigerator while I prepped the rest. Pretty, huh?

Barilla's tri-colored rotini pasta

The most labor-intensive part is getting ingredients together to play, which I learned this week is called “mise en place” (miz-ahn-plahs), or “put in place.” I have much to learn about honing and sharpening knives I found out, but that’s for another blog post. I need to work on cutting everything as uniformly as possible. I am not ready for Chopped. Chef and judge Marcus Samuelsson would not approve of the cuts I made.

The orange bell pepper was easy to cut though. The recipe calls for green bell pepper, but I was going for visual impact. I made the pieces smaller than the recipe for a selfish reason: I didn’t want to wind up with heartburn from the heat. I really hate heartburn. I remembered to remove the seeds, of course, where the heat also resides.

Those heirloom tomatoes at the top of the post, so pretty, were soft, but still firm enough for cutting. To think, I almost left Kroger without them because the register didn’t recognize the container. I am glad I waited. They are the sweetest, tastiest cherry tomatoes.

The salami and pepperoni I chose were not like the hard pepperoni and salami one buys at the deli counter. I couldn’t cube them nicely. I stacked them up, too. The pepperoni was easier, but cutting up that salami was more like tearing them up. I just made sure they were bite size. I stacked up the provolone the same way as the meats, but realized I could have bought cubed cheeses and saved time.

Private Selections Old World Pepperoni and Salami
Private Selections Old World Pepperoni and Salami

After draining and rinsing the black olives, I sliced those up, too, and added the jar of pimientos. I had never bought either of these products. I usually eat Spanish olives or calamata. I didn’t really know what pimientos were other than they are inside olives. They are sweet, heart-shaped cherry tomatoes. I found the can of black olives easily, but went to Meijer for the pimientos and later saw them also at Target.

Now, the recipe I used calls for a whole bottle of Italian salad dressing. I didn’t want to use all of it since I was making it at night for the next day. My reasoning was that the Olive Garden’s Italian dressing I bought had lemon juice and white-wine vinegar, acids that I figured would break down over time. I just made sure everything had a nice coat, tasted it, and put it in the refrigerator for the next day. I did add a little more salad dressing before taking it to Jan’s, but not the rest of the bottle. It would have been too soggy.

As you can see, I like colorful dishes. Usually, I’ll pick up already made pasta salads, egg salads, and chicken salads at the deli counter. I think my first attempt at making pasta salad was a success, except for my knife skills and too much pepper (in my opinion though; I did have heartburn.)

Awesome, color-filled pasta salad

Potatoes, pot-ah-toes…Hasselback potatoes rock!

I used to buy at Kroger these potatoes wrapped already to cook in the microwave oven. The potatoes always came out perfectly cooked inside, but the skin, of course, had no crunchy, delicious texture. Today I may start overly large potatoes in the microwave oven, but I always cover them in canola oil, salt, and wrap them up in foil before putting them into a 475 degree oven. It usually takes 50 minutes with me turning the potatoes over half way through until it’s cooked. A baked potato just like Outback Steakhouse might make is my goal.

So when I saw the accordion-like photos of the Hasselback potato with various toppings on them I was on board. I had thought that they were a Hasselbeck family recipe, like the NFL quarterback, Tim Hasselbeck. No. Not even close. It’s “back” not “beck.” Wikipedia says the dish is named for the Hasselbacken hotel and restaurant in Stockholm, where this dish originated.

I searched online for an easy recipe and read a few before settling on this one from The Kitchn:  http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-hasselback-potatoes-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-199763.

As I waited for the oven to reach 425 degrees, I cleaned and dried three small-to-medium potatoes. I cut slices in the potatoes just enough to the bottom, but not all the way through each potato. I then mixed up two teaspoons of dried, chopped garlic (Litehouse brand) with a stick of melted butter and used a basting brush to slather it on the potatoes. buttered up hasselbacks before cooking

I drew up some of the tin foil around the potatoes, as you can see above, so that they were close together. Into the oven they went for 30 minutes. I used a paring knife to check to see how done they were then and poured the rest of the butter mixture over the potatoes, giving each one a generous amount of salt and pepper. I kept them in the oven for about 25 minutes more and found that the potatoes where soft inside and the skins were crisp. I was concerned about that because the butter mixture was boiling in the bottom of the casserole dish when I pulled it out of the oven.

The slices on the potatoes fan out while cooking.
The slices on the potatoes fan out while cooking.

I cannot multitask, by the way, so in my haste, I went to grab my kitchen tongs to take the potatoes out but instead my left index finger touched — however briefly — the scorching hot Pyrex dish. Oh.my.word. I loudly yelped. That burn was so bad I had leathery, red, shiny skin on that finger all night and the next day. I tried the first-aid spray I normally use on sunburn, but the best thing was filling a bowl with cool water and soaking the hand while I watched the latest episode of “Chopped.”

Steak and Hasselback potatoes
Steak and Hasselback potatoes

I think I overdid it on portions, but the Hasselback potatoes were cooked through. It was so much easier to tell that, too, than the way I have to unwrap the potatoes, test the insides, wrap them back up, etc.  Like I said, I’ve bought the larger, grilling potatoes, I’ve cut into them and they have to stay in the oven for much longer than I’d like when the rest of the meal is ready. I am loving this alternative to traditional baked potatoes. I will have to try them with cheese, a la scalloped potato style, next time, like this one from TastyKitchen.com:  http://tastykitchen.com/blog/2011/10/scalloped-hasselback-potatoes/

But when plating in future, I will remember not to hurry no matter how delicious the food nor how hungry I am. Who knew a burned finger could hurt for so long?

I should never rush when plating. Ow!
I should never rush when plating. Ow!

Review for L’Oreal’s Smooth Intense Ultimate Straight collection

I am a member of Influenster.com, a place to discover and review products, that my hairstylist, Angie Burns, told me about two years ago. She knew I liked to review products, so why not receive products to try free of charge? While reviewing for them, I have had three boxes sent my way with complimentary products to test and review. Influenster will send a survey to me, and as long as I finish in the allotted time and am perfect for the campaign, I then will receive what’s called a “voxbox” full of items to test and review.

I was chosen, for instance, to sample the L’Oreal Paris Smooth Intense Ultimate Straight collection and received four complimentary products in this line to review.

When I shop for haircare products, I generally look for sulfate- and paraben-free shampoos and conditioners because my hair is colored at home. I don’t always buy the same brand of products either. I might buy the shampoo and conditioner from the same brand line, but not the styling products, or a shampoo from one brand and a conditioner from another. Even with these sulfate- and paraben-free products though, I have noticed my hair has been looking pretty dry, fly-away, and sometimes frazzled. I wash it every two days to help some, but I have a feeling there are two reasons my hair looks like a tangled nest sometimes: the rising temps outside as well as the added heat I apply with my blowdryer, then curling or straightening iron.

Glamour shot of the first three products that are currently in my shower: straightening shampoo, straight-boosting pre-conditioner, and straightening conditioner.

I was thrilled to have full-size products to try in this Ultimate Straight line. The products boast of having “kera-tourmaline” a combination of pro-keratin, which “penetrates hair fiber with essential protein for healthier hair,” and tourmaline, which “reacts with heat to boost the straight effect from root-to-tip.”

I did need to remember to keep these three products in order in the shower at first. That was until I realized I failed to completely read the second product in the line. I was washing with the straightening shampoo, and then going to the pre-conditioner, followed by the conditioner every two days instead of using the pre-conditioner only once a week. (Doh!, as Homer Simpson would say. ) My ‘do didn’t suffered though. My hair has been so straight and shiny despite the hot, humid weather Dayton has experienced in the last few weeks.

So now let me explain each step. The straightening shampoo ($4.99) is supposed to “relax” the strands of your hair to prepare for the once-a-week pre-conditioner ($6.99) (notice I said: once a week), a concentrated treatment that adds “umph” to your straightening regimen, followed by the straightening conditioner ($4.99). The shampoo has a yummy, strawberry smoothie scent, while the pre-conditioner and conditioner have a subtle berry scent. Scent is yet another reason I might choose one haircare product over another one. (The fact that I have made a strawberry pavlova and strawberry shortcake in the same time I was testing these products does make me wonder if I was influenced in any way.)

I posted this photo of my hair after first using the L’Oreal Paris Smooth Intense Ultimate Straight line and most comments thought I’d had my hair cut and colored, not that I was using new products. I hadn’t colored in 6 weeks, so — Bonus! Hair is straight, shiny and wakes up my color.

The shampoo is not sulfate free. I’ll just put that out there. Now, it’s been over six weeks since I colored, and my friends and family said they loved the color and cut when I posted a review. Ha! I was happy about that because I wanted to wait a few more weeks before color-treating my hair again. I don’t know how these products do with newly colored hair yet. I color my hair a copper to auburn color and those are colors that don’t have a long life before they turn more golden brown. I will have to test these products after coloring and update as needed.

The straight perfecting balm is fantastic. It delivers heat protection up to 450 degrees and it smooths on through my hair without missing any strands, unlike the heat-protecting sprays I’ve tried.

The final product, the Straight Perfecting Balm ($6.99), steals the show and is a keeper. In the past few months, I have attempted to find the best heat-protecting, leave-in product for use with my new straightening iron. This one smells like berries, too, and is a medium pink color, which reminds me of Strawberry Shortcake (the character from the ’80s, not the dessert I made). I just put a dime-size amount in the palm of my hand and work it throughout my hair. By the time I’ve blow-dried my hair with a roll brush, I just need a few turns of either the curling or straightening iron and I’m ready to face the world. My hair looks smooth, shiny and healthy.

Overall, using these four together, I have found that my hair looks less dry, frizzy, and damaged than it had been prior to using these products. I definitely recommend this product line to those who apply heat frequently throughout the week while styling their hair. With prices ranging from $4.99-$6.99 a piece, the L’Oreal Ultimate Straight line is also economical for the quality of the products. It’s easy on the wallet, in other words, and that is always a plus.

Finally! Rare appearance + lifetime achievement award for my favorite “villain”

Bravo to Tim Curry! I signed on to Facebook and saw that Curry received the Actors Fund Lifetime Achievement Award at the Tony Awards last night, June 7, 2015. Finally! He’s one of my favorite actor/villains. I knew he suffered a stroke in 2012 and wondered how he was doing. I was encouraged to hear his sense of humor coming through in an interview he had with Los Angeles Magazine. “I’m doing well and I’m looking forward to (the Actors Fund event),” he said. “I’ve done a few benefits for the Actors Fund and I think it’s a marvelous organization. I hope not to have to use it.” tim curry as shakespeare

It’s true that most news articles have focused on the stroke he suffered and on the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but Curry has done so much more over the course of his career. Some of my favorites, dated probably, are the “Clue,” “Three Musketeers,” “Home Alone 2,” and “The Muppet’s Treasure Island.” I remember seeing him on TV programs, such as the mini-series, “Will Shakespeare,” “Roseanne” and “Criminal Minds” more recently. He also is an excellent singer, has recorded on albums, and is known for his stage performances from “Amadeus” and “My Favorite Year” to “Spamalot the Musical.”

His voice is so distinctive and no doubt why he’s racked up quite a list of voice-acting credits. (See http://www.imdb.com for the complete list.) I am so happy he was finally honored with a lifetime achievement award. He so deserves it.