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Three food blogs worth visiting

EVERYTHING RACHAEL RAY

www.rachaelrayblog.blogspot.com

Everything Rachael Ray is exactly that -- a site devoted to Food Network chef, talk-show host and cookbook author Rachael Ray. Here, you can find out everything about RR: news, upcoming shows, ratings, clips, appearances, recipes. There's an RR timeline and an RR forum. There's even an RR "store."

You would think that anyone who devoted so much time to Everything Rachael Ray would be in need of a life if not a diet or meds and professional help. Well, you would be wrong.

Madeline Miller, 29, is delightfully normal and engaging. She's tall, thin, with shoulder-length blond hair and a professional appearance. She's smart, funny and splotches like a strawberry when she gets excited. When she's not Everything Rachael Ray, she's a lawyer, all raw beef and business.

But in the kitchen, a klutz. Never knew fresh from frozen. "Everything was Shake 'n Bake or came out of the freezer," says Miller, who grew up in Grass Valley, Calif. After college, she went to McGeorge School of Law and literally survived on fast food.

"Before I started cooking, I had never eaten broccoli," laughs Miller. "The only time I had a tomato was when it was on top of a Taco Bell pizza."

Then she got engaged. Then life turned serious. One epochal evening, she and her fiance were watching the Food Network. Hi! Rachael Ray! Miller decided to make Rachael Ray's recipe for Country captain chicken. For the first time in her life, she walked into a supermarket produce section. The recipe turned out well. Her fiance, eating, was speechless.

"The whole 30-minute concept," says Miller, of the appeal of RR recipes. "They're pretty simple. And I like her attitude. She drops things in the kitchen. Nothing is perfect. I just like her approach."

She bought an RR cookbook. Started putting favorite RR recipes on the refrigerator. Then, she says, "I was trying to find a Rachael Ray blog. But there isn't one. So, I said, 'Why don't I start one?'" That was last year.

Today, Everything Rachael Ray averages about 700 to 900 visits a day. Miller says she puts in about 20 minutes on her postings and, no, it doesn't interfere with her legal career. If anything, it has enhanced her life.

"I just found some happiness in it," she says. "I have 12 cookbooks. I write, I take photographs, I have this niche I'm filling."

Despite her loyalty, Miller has never actually met Rachael Ray. "If I ever meet her," she says, "I would like to thank her. I never ate fresh vegetables before. Now I eat fresh green beans."

SAUSAGE, BEANS AND BROCOLLI RABE SOUP

Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 30 minutes Serves 10

This recipe is from Rachael Ray's "30 Minute Meals" on the Food Network.

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (2 turns of the pan)

1 ¼ pounds bulk Italian sweet sausage

1 medium onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 large potato, peeled and chopped into small dice

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bay leaf

2 15-ounce cans white beans, drained

Salt and pepper

4 cups chopped broccoli rabe and greens

2 quarts chicken stock

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano, to pass at the table

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and sausage and brown. Add veggies, bay leaf and beans. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook mixture 5 minutes to begin to soften the vegetables.

Add rabe and wilt. Add stock and cover pot. Raise heat and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 15 minutes.

Adjust seasonings and serve soup with grated cheese, for topping.

Per serving, using low-sodium broth: 385 cal.; 19 g pro.; 27 g carb.; 22 g fat (8 sat., 11 monounsat., 3 polyunsat.); 48 mg chol.; 623 mg sod.; 5 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 52 percent calories from fat.

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VANILLA GARLIC

www.vanillagarlic.blogspot.com

Black bottom cupcakes, butternut squash cupcakes, pumpkin with curry spice cupcakes, even chocolate with pink peppercorn cupcakes. Vanilla Garlic seems to be on an insatiable odyssey to find the perfect cupcake.

Garrett McCord is Vanilla Garlic. Just 23, he has an English degree from the University of California at Davis and is working on his master's at California State University in Sacramento. The kid can whip up the words!

About cupcakes, about his sushi-hating boyfriend Rob, about dousing a bacon fire at 2 a.m. with Windex, about his gluttonous cat named Eat Beast, who once submerged his entire head in a vat of batter. McCord thought the foolish cat had drowned, until Eat Beast came up for breath. And licked his whiskers.

Here's McCord on his zucchini cupcakes with cream cheese frosting: "None of the flavors berate you, but instead talk to you softly, ask you how your mom is, and then give you a back rub."

Not bad.

McCord, from Mission Viejo, Calif., is as thin as a spatula, with blueberry eyes and choppy blond hair. It was while starving in a UC Davis dorm room that he crafted his first decent meal: pad Thai ramen. Since then, life has been all singed hot pads and mixing bowls.

During the day, McCord works at Families First, a social service agency. At night, he and Rob make the dining scene. Theirs is a lively table repartee. Recently, while sick in bed with the flu, McCord tried to interview Guy Fieri of Tex Wasabi fame. Like a bacon fire, it was something of a disaster.

Even so, Vanilla Garlic, which was started last May as a bit of a lark, is growing in popularity. It averages 400 to 600 visits a day. Not quite Chocolate and Zucchini numbers. But it's a start.

"It just weirds me out," says McCord, incredulous at his full house of readers. "I never thought it would go anywhere."

VANILLA BEAN CUPCAKES

Prep time: 25 minutes Cook time: 22 minutes Makes 12 cupcakes

This recipe is from www.vanillagarlic.blogspot.com.

INGREDIENTS

1 vanilla bean

¾ cup milk

½ cup butter, room temperature

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 egg, room temperature

2 ¼ cups flour

Pinch of kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

INSTRUCTIONS

Cut vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape seeds out and put them a saucepan with the milk. Heat milk until it just begins to bubble around edges. Remove from heat and let sit for 4 hours or longer in fridge. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, and cream for about 2 minutes. Sift flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder together. In a bowl, add some of the flour to butter-egg mixture, then some of the vanilla milk. Continue to alternate dry and wet ingredients, ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Scoop into cupcake papers and bake 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Per cupcake, using whole milk: 255 cal.; 3 g pro.; 41 g carb.; 9 g fat (5 sat., 3 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 40 mg chol.; 179 mg sod.; 0 fiber; 23 g sugar; 31 percent calories from fat.

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CAKEGRRL

www.cakegrrlscakery.blogspot.com

Kristy DeVaney, 28, is Cakegrrl. The Ohio native, who once operated a bakery out of her Dayton apartment, moved to Sacramento on June 9, 2004. To celebrate her birthday, her new entree in life, she had a piece of triple fudge cake at Rick's Dessert Diner.

She says: "I ate it. I was alone. I was ecstatic!"

Today, DeVaney works as art director for Senior magazine and lives in a studio in downtown Sacramento. She started her blog last year, and it's a compendium of recipes (many her own), dining reviews, food fund-raising parties (she attends them all), and local chitchat about, what else, food.

She seems to photograph, albeit badly, every crumb that goes into her mouth.

Cakegrrl, to hear her tell it, exists in a continual state of famishment. "I always have recipes in my head," she says, her brain this Cuisinart of thought. "I am always planning my next meal. That's how foodies are. I always have ideas. It's always, 'What am I going to have next?' "

This may be some literary license. In truth, Cakegrrl is about the size of a peeled bay shrimp. And she counts her daily caloric intake like Scrooge counts his coins. She's a workout fiend. Nonetheless, like a jazz musician, she can "taste" notes in her head, can riff melodious ingredients out of thin air.

Proof of the pudding was her recipe for strawberry guacamole, an unlikely combo, which won a medal at a recent strawberry festival. The first time that DeVaney actually made the recipe was for the contest. And even then, she never bothered to actually taste it!

Cakegrrl has some chops.

So, who is Cakegrrl? DeVaney's wicked alter ego? A devil's food cake wannabe to this otherwise angel's food good girl from meat-and- potatoes Ohio?

"She's me," she laughs. "She wants to be a cook. She wants to be a food writer. She's fun. I wouldn't trade myself for anyone. I'm happy to be me."

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COUCH POTATO COOKIES

Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 10 minutes Makes about 30 cookies

This recipe appears on cakegrrlscakery.blogspot.com.

INGREDIENTS

½ cup butter

½ cup butter flavored shortening

¾ cup brown sugar

¼ cup white sugar

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup crushed potato chips

½ cup trail mix (or Milk Duds or Reese's Pieces)

½ cup chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 385 degrees. Cream butter, shortening and sugars until light and creamy. Add the egg(s) while mixing, and then add the almond extract. Add in the flour and baking soda, stirring until just incorporated, and then fold in the crushed potato chips. Finish the mixture by pouring the trail mix and the chocolate chips into the dough and folding those in as well.

Drop cookie dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets by tablespoonfuls. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until they brown to your liking.

Per cookie: 133 cal.; 1 g pro.; 13 g carb.; 9 g fat (4 sat., 3 monounsat., 2 polyunsat.); 22 mg chol.; 36 mg sod.; 0 fiber; 8 g sugar; 57 percent calories from fat.

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