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The Two Bananas

The Two Bananas

Good evening, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry it’s been a week since I posted; I had a couple of obstacles, including a dying car battery and an impromptu late night meeting with the GER down at Buc-ee’s on Saturday night. We ended up chatting outside for a while, and it’s a good thing–with all the construction happening on I-45 in this area, that time let some of the miles-deep traffic dissipate. I made it home pretty easily. . .about 1:00 am. We just tend to chat about general stuff we’re interested in. Then I look up and see what time it was, and I gotta go home. Closest thing I’ve had to call a “date” in a while, so I’ll take it. He offered me one of those Mexican mineral waters he likes, so I guess you can say he “bought me a drink.” HA!

I did manage to acquire watermelon. Lots of watermelon.

I’ve been doing more on the copywriting side, contacting catalog companies to inquire if they use freelance writes. So far I got one “yes, we do, but I’m not the person you need to talk to,” but I’ll be back on it tomorrow. I’m not going to say too much about what companies I’ve contacted, but, well, today I made a discovery that left me laughing.

Some of you may know I’m a huge fan of British TV, particularly “Britcoms” like Keeping Up Appearances, Father Ted, and Waiting For God. One of the funniest Britcoms with the dual appeal of science fiction is called Red Dwarf. It’s sort of Star Wars meets The Three Stooges. (Even Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Jean-Luc Picard, is a fan.) Set three million years in the future, it focuses on the four space buffoons who bumble their way through everything and still manage to come out ahead. In Season 10 of Red Dwarf, they go back in time (by accident) and meet. . .Jesus. No kidding. Funny, and *not* disrespectful of Christians, it’s just good fun. But if you haven’t seen the series from the beginning (I have), it might not make as much sense.

Red Dwarf started in 1988 or 1989, and the audiences watching those first shows were brought from pubs located within the vicinity of the studio where it was being filmed. Back in the day, they couldn’t swear on TV like they can now, so they came up with a substitute swear word: “smeg.” Short for something really dirty, they used it all the time, telling each other to “smeg off,” calling each other “smegheads” (audience members call the cast members that to their faces now) and other derivatives to avoid saying some of the infamous Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say On Television. Dwarfers are also called “smegheads.”

Why am I talking about Red Dwarf? Well, today in my research, I discovered a line of kitchen appliances, big and small, by an Italian company called Smalterie Metallurgiche Emiliane Guastalla. That’s right, SMEG. No kidding. In English, it means “Guastalla Emilia Enamel Works.” But has no one in Italy ever heard of Red Dwarf?

It gets worse. In one of the prior seasons–and described in one of the books–the only human character, Dave Lister, has a thing for electronic gadgets, and finds the Talkie Toaster. Described in the accompanying book Better Than Life  on page 51, well:

Talkie Toaster {TM} (patent applied for), was made of deep red plastic, and according to the blurb on the packaging, could engage its owner in a number of pre-programmed stimulating breakfast conversations. Moreover, it had a degree of Artificial Intelligence, so, in time, it could learn to assess your mood and tailor its conversation accordingly. If you woke up feeling bright and bubbly, the Toaster would respond with chirpy repartee. If you rose in a darker mood, the Toaster’s Artificial Intelligence could sense this, and provide your breakfast muffins in suitably reverent silence.

Of course, it didn’t actually work as well as advertised. It’s obsessed with making toast and conversation, to the point of severe irritation. There’s an entire routine where Holly, the ship’s onboard computer system, argues with the Talkie Toaster about not wanting anything toasted. The Toaster responds, “It is my purpose. I toast, therefore, I am.” In other words, no smegging toast, thank you very much.

Take a look at these toasters and try not to laugh. They don’t talk, but they’re not cheap, either–the toasters run $200, and the blenders nearly $500, so they’re high-end appliances. But for a Dwarfer. . .it’s just too funny. You can look at the entire line of SMEG kitchen appliances at their official website.

OK, enough comic relief. The official Red Dwarf website is here. More funny stuff later.

This morning Neighbor K and I went walking at 5 am, and then she texted me to walk with her and the Daft Pug to Starbucks. I hadn’t hopped in the shower yet, so I put my shoes back on. One of us had to hold the Daft Pug while the other went in, but that’s OK. When it was my turn to hold the leash, he wanted to chase the black birds flying around at the fire station next door. Then K brought out her coffee, breakfast and a “Puppuccino,” which Starbucks offers to customers with canines during the summer. (You have to ask for it.) A sample-sized cup of whipped cream, icy cold, which the Daft Pug lapped up like he hadn’t eaten in a week. K also brought a small cup of water, but he was not interested and knocked it over. We were outside on a sealed concrete patio, so it won’t hurt anything, but he couldn’t believe he was at the bottom of the little cup. What a happy pug.

Sunday, the nice man who lives upstairs, Neighbor J, tapped on my door and offered me some green grapes and two bananas. “I’m going to Vegas tomorrow and I don’t want to come back to rotted fruit in the fridge.” Woo hoo! Thank you!  The grapes were gone momentarily, but what to do with the bananas?  Banana bread? Ice cream? Eat them? I didn’t want to go get anything, and since I keep ingredients stocked as best I can, I figured there would be something I could make that would use up two bananas and be a healthy nibble.

I should point out that I normally don’t eat bananas because of the high starch/sugar content. I used to, and when my parents were active Shaklee representatives, my Mom gave me a can of some kind of shake that required the addition of a whole banana in the blender. Nice, but that meant I was hungry by the time I got to work. In 1991, though, we didn’t have the advanced food transport equipment available like we do now–and because I had no car, I took the bus, so I couldn’t risk a leaky bottle with a smoothie in it.

Anyway.

My first visit was to the first Babycakes book. Bread would take a while, so I decided to look online for some inspiration. I get Facebook feeds from Elena Amsterdam of Elena’s Pantry, so I decided to visit her website and see what I could find. Typed the word “banana” in the search function, and oh, boy, did I get recipes. I looked through a few, expecting almond flour to be the first ingredient, but I also have some coconut flour, too. I searched for a few minutes, then. .  .

Bingo–Flourless Chocolate Banana Cake. Five ingredients, a couple of steps and a cake! Well. . .it’s gluten free, nut free and dairy free. There are eggs in it, too, and it’s baked, not raw. There are some Jewish holidays that forbid the use of flour, but I only know what I’m told and what I read. Like I told K, if you’re unable to have the usual specter of sweets, it’s a good thing to make.

If you’re not familiar with Elena Amsterdam, she’s a wife and mother of two who has written three books on paleo/grain free cooking; two are dessert books, and you can read her Amazon biography here. She’s an advocate for Celiac disease and grain-free nutrition after being diagnosed in 1998, went grain-free in 2001, and has been writing about it since 2006. Her cookbooks are on my wish list (I know, I need more cookbooks, right?) and her website is filled with not only simple, nutritious recipes but other good advice as well. You can also get her feeds on Facebook like I do if you’re on FB,  or you can sign up to get her emails if you’re not.

Elena describes herself as “an entrepreneur, wife and Jewish mother living in Boulder, Colorado.” (She’s GORGEOUS, too.)

So, what happens? Let me tell you.

The setup (minus three eggs.)

The setup (minus three eggs.) It was 10:30 in the morning

I should point out that the recipe calls for CACAO powder, not cocoa, but cocoa is what I had on hand, and Erma’s wasn’t open. So cocoa powder it was.

First up: separate the eggs:

Yes, they're cappuccino cups, but there's no cappuccino this time of year.

Yes, they’re cappuccino cups, but there’s no cappuccino this time of year.

Elena calls for a Vitamix, but all I have is my Cuisinart blender, so that’s what I deployed for the next step, whipping up the egg yolks, agave and salt (medium, for 1-2 minutes, although I only have high and low.) It looks like this:

I had to hold it because it started to turn. . .and leak.

I had to hold it because it started to turn. . .and leak.

Next up, add the grapeseed oil and banana, mash it up and blitz it again:

I cut them, then mashed with a fork, knowing that the blender would pretty much cover the rest.

I cut them, then mashed with a fork, knowing that the blender would pretty much cover the rest.

Now, make it chocolate and blitz it again.

Next time maybe I'll get some cacao powder.

Next time maybe I’ll get some cacao powder.

This is what you end up with:

Chocolated-up banana mix

Chocolated-up banana mix

Now–shift gears and whip the egg whites until they’re stiff:

IMG_2733

Under the bowl is just a bit of rubber shelf liner. I keep them handy to keep bowls and cutting boards from sliding while I work.

Once you’re there with the egg whites, dump the chocolate mixture into a bigger bowl, and add the beaten egg whites:

Almost there

Almost there. Neat contrast, isn’t it?

Once you’ve got them in the same place, fold them together with a spoon or spatula. Don’t use the mixer again, because you’ll “flatten” the egg whites.

Fold, not blend or mix.

Fold, not blend or mix.

I think I forgot to take a picture of the cake before it went into the toaster oven, but you grease an 8″ springform pan and add the cake batter to it. I lined the bottom of mine with parchment by putting a sheet on top of the base and clipping the ring on it, making sure it was tight, then spraying a bit of oil on it. It’s the same thing you do for a cheesecake, and trim the excess from the bottom. But of course, I didn’t take THAT picture, sorry.

So bake it  for 25 minutes or so, and this is what comes out:

Cake.

Fresh out of the oven

I should have waited until it cooled a bit, but no, I burned my paws a little getting the ring off, then the cake on a plate, removed the parchment, then flipped it over onto another plate so it would look nice for the camera.

Cake.

Cake!

Amazingly, mine looks pretty much like Elena’s, only without the food stylist and fancy photography. But how does it taste? Aye, there’s the rub.

I had the first slice, and then I packed up some for Neighbors K, R and J (the upstairs neighbor who gave me the bananas.)  I thought it wasn’t bad, and passable. The texture is soft and moist, even after a few days in a container in the fridge.  I gave K two slices for her and her SO (“significant other”) and accidentally gave R two slices. I cut it and packed up the slices while it was still hot, so the condensation inside the containers clouded them. I knocked on K’s door and give her a second slice for the SO–don’t want to leave him out.

The verdict from two of the three HeatCageKitchen taste testers: It’s OK. Not great. K said it was “weird, like those Weight Watchers brownies with black beans in them.” K’s boyfriend also tried it, and said the same thing. R said it “wasn’t bad, had an aftertaste; but the pizza was really good!” J is in Vegas for a couple more days, but I wanted to get it to him before he left so that he could have it before he left. I didn’t want to bother him while he was getting ready to leave, so I didn’t knock to ask; but I think I know what he’ll say.

Now, I don’t always expect glowing reviews of my cooking. If the recipe isn’t good, I need to know that, right? At least it’s not bad enough to be tagged as a “hot mess.”

Again, I used what I had handy, which included cocoa powder, not CACAO powder. (Maybe next time.) Let me explain why I think it tasted a bit weird.

If you try to eat a bar of unsweetened chocolate, which is 100% chocolate (mostly), it’s pretty pure, and will be bitter–that’s why chocolate is cut with other ingredients like butter, cream, coconut oil, and sugar or other sweeteners are added. Unsweetened cocoa powder is, essentially, pure chocolate, much like the baking chocolate in bar form, so I’m thinking I should have likely cut back on the cocoa powder, or added a little more agave syrup. I’ll do that next time, or use the cacao powder. Like I should have.

If you (or someone in your circle) is in a position where you can’t have certain foods or ingredients, and want to “have your cake and eat it too,” this recipe might be a good option. I’ll look for cacao powder and try again one day. Maybe the GER might want to try it–he says he might want to try last week’s pizza recipe, but I warned him that I need some notice, since the quinoa soaks overnight. (And I nibbled all the sliced-up sausage, darnit.)

The recipe is available on the Recipe page in PDF format so that you can print or download it for later. My notes are included, along with a link to the original recipe on Elena’s Pantry.

It’s now August. Fall will be here before you know it, and that means MY BIRTHDAY!! I know it’s time when the pomegranates start showing up in the grocery (and they’re *not* the ones grown in Chile.)  What am I going to do this year? Heck, I dunno. I’ll know when October gets here. Pizza, cake, something free from Starbucks, Denny’s and Sephora, and anything else I can find to sign up for by October 15th. It’s MY birthday, right?

For now, I’m going to have some more watermelon, clean my messy kitchen, do evening prayers and hit the sack.

Until next time. . .Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Pesto and the Quinoa Pizza

Pesto and the Quinoa Pizza

Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers!

Have I got some updates for you–with pictures. Real pictures with the digital camera, not with the iPhone. Yes, this includes pizza, and it IS gluten-free, but stick with me, so I can explain the entire process.

For whatever reason, I was able to select and load all the pictures with one click of a button, instead of one at a time like I normally do. I was amazed that all I had to do was let them upload, and they did, although it took a while. Maybe I’ll use the digital camera more often.

You know, I haven’t had watermelon in a long time. I think I should get one–maybe a bigger one and cut it into pieces to nibble on all day. (Have I just created “The Watermelon Diet?”) I love watermelon, always have. Musician Herbie Hancock even wrote a cool jazz instrumental called Watermelon Man. (The whole song is there, but the comments can be a bit rude.)  I know there’s a whole ridiculous PC thing about watermelons, but. . .watermelon is good. People from all walks of life like to eat. . .watermelon. Maybe it’s just a southern thing, I don’t know. But is that so bad? If you don’t like watermelon, that’s OK–just don’t eat it. More for the rest of us who really like (or just LOVE) watermelon.

OK, enough of that.

The HeatCageKitchen garden looks like a jungle, particularly the tomato bushes, which are in excess of six feet tall, but not terribly productive. Last week was the July gardening lecture at the library, and they gave us some pepper plants. I got two, and intended to give one to the GER, but being the fussbudget that he is, he declined it. So Neighbor K got the bigger one, called “Holy Moly.” She likes that hot stuff. I have a smaller one, and I should put it into a bigger pot, but I haven’t done that yet.

The lettuce experiment has ended for the time being. It is, as they say in TV, “on hiatus.” In last week’s gardening lecture, it was mentioned that lettuce is. . .a winter crop. With tomatoes being a primarily spring/summer crop, how lettuce and tomato became a common salad, I dunno. What really irritated me was that the last stub that Neighbor K gave me shot up to a foot high–I even wrote about it. Later in the afternoon, the really tall leaf was broken in half and hanging down to the soil. What I figured out was that some nasty worm got in it and ate the leaf at the halfway point, causing it to bend. I trimmed it, and continued to water, but it finally dried up and that was it.

I planted the rest of the basil seeds last night. Darnit. I’ll try again in a couple of months when the temperature goes down.

This is one of the tomato plants, with just three tomatoes on it. I think it’s the Chocolate Cherry plant:

They're coming, soon, I guess.

They’re coming, soon, I guess.

This is the top of the Sungold plant:

More flowers, but no tomatoes. Yet.

More flowers, but no tomatoes. Yet.

I’ve harvested all the Anaheim/Hatch chiles, but there are more flowers and more peppers behind them. I’ve got to go on Central Market’s website and find some recipes to use them up.

The one bell pepper is growing nicely:

Weird, yes, but it will be delicious.

Weird, yes, but it will be delicious.

I plan on leaving it on the plant until it turns red. I like red bell peppers.

Now, the Key Lime plant has several in different stages of growth:

I think the last lime count was 9.

Here’s a closeup of one of them:

IMG_2687

Now, something’s weird with the Meyer lemon plant:

They're turning yellow too soon

They’re turning yellow too soon

For whatever reason, these two seem to be ripening before they’re finished growing. Last year, I got four, they became the size of grapefruits, THEN they turned yellow. These are the size of lemons you get in the grocery store, and there are no more flowers. I’m guessing this is all I get in the way of Meyer lemons this year, but we’ll see.

Now, at my last gardening lecture, I was given a nice basil plant, which wasn’t the same sweet basil we’re all familiar with, but it smelled the same. This is how big it got in a month:

The unspecified basil plant

The unspecified basil plant

About two feet high. Now, I just made pesto about a month ago, and while the other plant started growing back (and the worms found it) I still had a significant amount:

The basil I already had growing

The basil I already had growing. Mint and celery are doing pretty good, too.

So I think you can guess what happens next. Yes! I made more PESTO!! (Can you tell that makes me happy?) I went out and whacked down almost all of that basil, and brought it inside. If you’ve never seen pesto being made (or have no idea what it is), I’ll walk you through it.

The hack job

The hack job

Pulled all the good leaves and washed them good:

Ahh, beautiful basil!

Ahh, beautiful basil!

I also ran them in the salad spinner, then dried them best I could with clean, dry dish towels. I toasted up some pine nuts and put them in a cold bowl before I started the rest of the process. My newly refurbished blender performed perfectly!

Load it up!

Load it up!

Turn it on, and then drizzle in the olive oil:

IMG_2692

This was extra-virgin olive oil from Trader Joe’s. EVOO is best, since it has that potent olive flavor.

It takes a few minutes, and my blender shuts off if it runs too long, but I tilt it and shake it a bit, then turn it back on, and the process happens pretty quickly:

IMG_2693

Look inside, take a deep breath, and enjoy it:

Pesto! But it's not yet finished.

Pesto! But it’s not yet finished.

Dump it, scrape it and drip every last drop of the green deliciousness into a bowl and add some Parm cheese:

Now it's finished. Just mix.

Now it’s finished. Just mix.

Stir it all together (or leave the cheese out if you can’t have dairy) and pack it up for storage:

Done!

Done!

These Clip-Art Freezer Labels are from Martha Stewart’s website, and a “Good Thing” from the magazine in September 2004. I bought the paper and made a batch several years ago, and they’re great for this kind of use. However, sticking them on the OUTSIDE of a freezer container or bag means the adhesive gets cold and falls off. But for this, it’s great. Seal it up and freeze:

Ready for the winter!

Ready for the winter!

My last batch of pesto was made just in June, and the prior batch, which I’ve used once for Pea Pesto Soup, was made back in September of 2014. By planting the rest of the organic basil seeds, I hope to make at least one more, and hopefully, two more batches of pesto for the winter.

Now–who wants pizza? No, Don’t call Papa John’s. . .

Someone posted the video for this on Facebook last week, and I just HAD to try it out. I did–twice. Yesterday, I made it a second time, mostly to take pictures and report on it, and partly because. . .I wanted some.

Now, when you say you want this pizza, you have to plan ahead, OK? You soak the quinoa overnight; Sunday’s was 24 hours, and it seemed to taste a little better. So here we go.

The setup.

The setup.

Pour 3/4 cup of dry quinoa into a bowl, and cover with water to soak for at least 8 hours (a full 24 is better, the crust had a better taste.)

IMG_2666

After I’d set the quinoa aside to soak, I used my mini food processor–the one for which I replaced the cracked bowl recently–and the slicer blade to slice up the sausage:

Perfectly sliced sausage!

Perfectly sliced sausage!

And then I grated cheese:

Perfect!

Perfect!

And packed them both up for the fridge:

Oops.

Oops.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Amy, why did you buy Monterey Jack cheese for a pizza?” Simple–when I was in Target, I saw a block of white cheese with an “M” on the wrapper and grabbed it. I didn’t actually READ it. It wasn’t bad, actually–but the second incarnation yesterday actually had Mozzerrella cheese on it.

Closeup of the sausage label

Closeup of the sausage label

I bought this sausage at Cost Plus World Market, and it’s pretty good. I had a $10 “shopper’s coupon,” so I went back for more, plus a few other things I needed.

After the soaking (the next day), drain the quinoa and rinse well:

IMG_2702

Add it to your food processor, along with 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup of water, and blitz it for two minutes:

This is the one that I replaced the bowl for recently; it uses the blender's motor with a gearbox on top.

This small food processor uses the blender’s motor with a gearbox on top.

After two minutes or so, stop it, and you should have a batter like this:

IMG_2707

You’ll need a 9″ cake pan for this, not your regular pizza pan. Spray it with a bit of cooking spray, line it with parchment, then spray again. Now you’re ready to pour in the pizza crust batter:

Yes, that's what it's supposed to look like.

Yes, that’s what it’s supposed to look like.

Smooth it out, and then bake it at 425F for 15 minutes. Take it out of the oven, and remove from the pan:

Careful with the crust at this stage, it's still kind of mushy inside. A big spatula works best.

Careful with the crust at this stage, it’s still kind of mushy inside. A big spatula works best.

Flip the crust, remove the paper, and put it face down back into the cake pan, returning it to the 425F oven for 5 to 10 more minutes, until the crust is browned and golden.

IMG_2712

Should look like this:

The baked crust

The baked crust

Take a closer look:

Not thin, but not real thick, either.

Not thin, but not real thick, either.

Ready for some pizza? Now it comes together:

Essential toppings.

Essential toppings, with an ice cream base cooling in the white dish on the back burner.

Start by spreading some pizza sauce on the crust:

Add the sauce. . .

Classico’s is pretty good and easy to find, but I didn’t think to make my own. Next time.

IMG_2718

Then add some of the sliced sausage, or whatever you like instead of sausage:

IMG_2719

Until you have neat concentric circles, or whatever I ended up with here:

IMG_2720

Now, add. . .CHEESE!!

This one has the *right* cheese on it, OK?

This one has the *right* cheese on it, OK?

Bake it for just a few more minutes at the same 425F until the cheese is melted. If you want to add other meats (ground beef, raw sausage) or veg, like mushrooms or bell peppers, you should cook it ahead.  You’re not cooking it, at this point, you’re just melting the cheese.

Are you ready for some pizza?

Tah-dah!

Tah-dah!

That’s it, fresh out of the oven. I borrowed this from Neighbor K to cut it:

The OXO 4-inch pizza wheel

The OXO 4-inch pizza wheel, which I gave her, originally.

Because I wanted it to look nice on camera. Except I think I didn’t get a picture of me actually cutting the pizza. So I go with the remains of the plate:

Ahhh. . . .

Ahhh. . .fresh pizza!

Truth to tell, hot out of the oven, I immediately cut one of those four slices in half, and brought some to Neighbor K and her significant other, and that piece you see cut on the right was rushed over to Neighbor R. K and R are the official HeatCageKitchen taste testers, and I only asked for their opinions in return. R must have been hungry, because she gobbled that slice right up–she said she loved it! I got a text from K later that she loved the pizza too–so two thumbs up from the taste-testing team. What about K’s boyfriend? “He doesn’t eat healthy food.” Oh, well.

And I had the rest of it today. The pizza is gone, but I can always make another one. It just takes a bit of advanced planning.

Now I also want to warn you about something that Cooking Light doesn’t mention. Because of the carbohydrate nature of the pizza, you may very well fall asleep if you eat more than one or two slices. Honest. Last week, when I tried it the first time, I was thrilled at the result and gobbled up a third slice. This was in the afternoon, like 5 or 6 pm. A little while later, I found myself needing a nap, and had to crawl to the futon where I passed out cold–I couldn’t help it. I woke up when the phone rang about 7:30, and I didn’t want to answer it until I saw that it was friend of the blog AK, calling from Ohio. (THEN I was happy to answer it.) I strongly suggest having some protein with it, or at least a good salad to offset the sleepy effect you might get.

Yes, it’s good. Yes, it’s gluten free. Yes, it’s fussy, but it’s really worth it.

Remember, too, that it will NOT taste like wheat. It will not taste exactly like Papa John’s, Domino’s or DiGiorno pizza. Ever. But if you like quinoa (and I do) this is a nice alternative, especially if you have to go gluten-free.

I’ve added the recipe for this pizza crust and my favorite pesto to the recipes page so you can reference it easily, and if you like, print a copy for yourself. Credit is given, of course, and the pesto is from Giada de Laurentiis’ first book, Everyday Italian. I’ve used it for years and it works perfectly every time.

So. . .it’s not for a big family, and if you have a toaster oven, this is the perfect project for it. Remember that you have to soak the quinoa for at least 8 hours; I recommend the full 24 hours, because it seemed to taste better. Plan ahead, and you and your friends or your SO can have some gluten free pizza soon.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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Clearing the air

Clearing the air

Hello Dear Readers:

Today is a short, but useful tip for those of us who love to cook, but hate the after-effects. I’m speaking, of course, about cooking odors.

If you’re still smelling last week’s fish, or just a general funk when you come home after being away from it, your first impulse might be to spray an air freshener. It will cover up the smell for a while, but when the fragrance wears off, you’re still left with. . .that smell.

How do I know? I’ve done it. And it’s been an Achilles’ Heel for quite some time. Without an exhaust fan in here that removes the air. . .it stinks.

Air fresheners are, in fact, toxic, if you didn’t know that. Urban legends abound that the plug-in types start fires , although there was, indeed, one incident in Britain that could have been worse. I have a couple of things to spritz from (ahem) Yankee Candle, but I don’t like to use them often. I used it most recently when my appliance repair guru came by to take care of the dishwasher.

About a week or so ago, I came back from an early morning walk with Neighbor K and I said the same thing. “Gawd, it stinks in here.” I’ve opened up the windows, taken out the trash, vacuumed and cleaned up the carpet, and still. . .it stinks. When I roast my favorite turkey thighs or any kind of chicken, if I don’t open the windows for a good 10 minutes, I go to sleep with thickly poultry-scented air. (Remember, it’s summer in TEXAS.)  So  finally, I got on Pinterest and started clicking around.

What do I tell you about Pinterest? It’s NOT Facebook (although you can share stuff ON Facebook, Twitter, and other places if you want to.) You can find answers to all kinds of questions, learn new things, find new and creative projects (I’ve cooked and sewn many Pinterest projects, like the Meyer Lemon Cake), and find ideas to improve your quality of life. (YouTube also has videos abound that you can use to solve problems–and cute kitty cat videos to make you feel better when you can’t solve them today.)

What I found was a simple solution using. . .a Crock Pot! And, of course, the kitchen stalwart, baking soda. I don’t have one of those “little dippers,” so I just used the one I had, the 4 quart. I set it up and left it alone, although I checked the water periodically to make sure it didn’t run dry.

Just some water and baking soda--that's it, but you can also add essential oils, citrus peels or other natural fragrance.

Just some water and baking soda–that’s it, but you can also add essential oils, citrus peels or other natural fragrance.

 

Next day, we went out for our morning walk. I came back inside, and after a few minutes realized that I smelled. . .nothing. No kidding, I didn’t. OK–maybe it’s just a fluke, and I wasn’t paying attention. Went back outside, came back in, and didn’t smell it again. Maybe it was the early morning air. . .I had to test my hypothesis.

K was working from home that day, and later in the day, she texted to ask if I had any mayo she could borrow. (But, of course!) So when she knocked, I opened the door a crack and asked her to take a big breath when she walked in and tell me what she smelled. Guess what? No cooking odor–K actually said it smelled “fresh.” Eureka–It works!

This is not to say it’s a permanent fix, especially in here. I’ve kept the Crock Pot on for the better part of a week. This afternoon, when I came back from walking Daft Pug, I still smelled it. But I know I can get rid of it, and have another pot of fresh baking soda and water in the Crock Pot now, hoping it’ll be better tomorrow.

File this under “Crock Pot Hacks.”

Baking soda, with table salt and vinegar, also makes a fine drain cleaner for slow-running drains anywhere in your house. Like salt and vinegar, I buy big boxes of it, (store brands are bigger and cheaper) in multiples because I’m always using it for something *other* than baking.

This book by Christine Halvorson has more great uses for baking soda.

Finally, I found a good solution for a long-standing problem! I can’t say enough good about Pinterest. . .so much knowledge there, along with cute kitty cat pictures.

Use this kitchen tip anytime, but especially a few days in advance if you are planning on having company. No need to let them know what you cooked last week, right?

Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Buc-ee’s: The Texas Road Trip

Buc-ee’s: The Texas Road Trip

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I’ve got a few things to tell you about, and this time, it involves the GER. He doesn’t always read every blog post, but he does like it when I write about him. Neighbor K gets a kick out of reading about herself too, sometimes–I warn her when she gets a mention.

I recently went into my local Fresh Market for something, and passing through the produce section, nestled in with the mangoes and pineapples, was this monster:

No, it wasn't moving.

No, it wasn’t moving.

Jack Fruit. WHAT? I wasn’t about to spend $1.79 a pound for something I didn’t know anything about. Nobody in the store could tell me anything. Frankly, if I bring home something that size, it better purr, bark or vacuum the floor on a timer. If you can tell me more about this “Jack Fruit,” you win the Internet today. (Comments below, if you’re interested.)

Ok, enough of that.

I’m not the only one who looks for healthy eating and all that, but you probably know that already; FoodBabe is one of the best-known bloggers on the subject.. Chicago-based food blogger BreAnna over at Crafty Coin recently visited her local Aldi store, and like me, wasn’t exactly impressed. I wrote a little about it last year, and have not been inspired to go back in it. When I see the weekly fliers in the mail, I look, but I haven’t seen any reason to make a special trip or stop in on my way home from somewhere. (Disclosure: I commented on that blog post myself.)

Now on to the GER.

As I’ve mentioned before, the GER is an ex-boyfriend, and a few years ago, became a very good friend. His Dad, the late Big Joel, was an avid friend of the blog, and read every posting before he passed away 2 years ago. Since the GER has been back in Texas, he’s been back to his old habits (some good, some bad.) One of those is gardening, and he’s been very kind to share some of the yield from time to time:

Results typical from the GER's garden

Results typical from the GER’s garden

They were, of course, delicious, and they didn’t stick around long–we both love salads. I wish I had something to give him, but I didn’t.

So I’m driving home on a Wednesday night from a chanting session at LK’s, streaming some music on iHeart in the car, when the music stops. The phone rings; it’s him, the GER.

Now, since the GER is a bit of a Luddite, I don’t actually have a picture of him on my phone, so I decided to use this one in his contacts entry:

The Sausage Piggy, a cute thing I found in the meat case at Fresh Market one day.

The Sausage Piggy, a cute thing I found in the meat case at Fresh Market one day.

I showed it to him and he didn’t quite know what to make of it. But then he got a good look at it, and he got a kick out of it.

He doesn’t do Facebook or any other social networking, despite my suggestion he get on Pinterest (to find all kinds of great, useful information) and LinkedIn (to network.)  And don’t *even* make the suggestion of a smartphone. . . .

So I’m driving along and it’s him–and it’s about 9:15 pm. Much like Neighbor K, The GER doesn’t call often, so I answer when he calls. (K and I text a lot, even from next door.)  He asks what I’m doing, and I tell him where I am. He has some extra vegetables from his garden, and wants me to stop by and get them. Not at his house, but at a halfway point. “Why don’t you meet me at Buc-ee’s in Texas City?” he says. It was about a 15 minute drive, and I arrived before he did.

Now, I think I’ve been in a Buc-ee’s, but not in many, many years. If you’ve never been in a Buc-ee’s, well, you’re in for a treat. Seriously. A longtime Texas highlight, they have more than the usual Stuckey’s and other side-of-the-road places and sometimes truck stops. Voted the cleanest bathrooms in the US, Buc-ee’s is the destination on your way to your destination.

In the case of the Texas City location, it’s on your way to Galveston.

There are 24 Buc-ee’s in Texas, and the Texas City location opened up last year. Honest, since I don’t go to that area much anymore, I didn’t really care that much. With 90 gas pumps outside, and a large store inside, it’s pretty much everything you need on your way. . .somewhere. (Click here for a list of all Buc-ee’s locations.)

So what’s so great about it? Well, I walked into someplace at least twice the size of Trader Joe’s, with bait and fishing gear, typical Texas souvenirs, and. . .fresh coffee. Would I lie to you?

Mmmmm. . .coffee. . .

Mmmmm. . .coffee. . .

In fact, a whole wall of coffees:

A lot more coffee than Starbucks, with no rewards program.

A lot more coffee than Starbucks, with no rewards program.

To the right of the picture is a condiment bar with the usual sugar and creamer, which included those tiny plastic containers of half-and-half, as well as the flavored coffee creamers. Yes, hazelnut and several other flavors! The ones you put IN your coffee come in the price of coffee; however, if you want to take more with you, they are 10 cents each. Fair price for on-the-go convenience.

Yes, they had decaf. It was fresh and hot. And yes, it was GOOD!!

The decaf, like the rest of the coffees, is refreshed regularly.

The decaf, like the rest of the coffees, is refreshed regularly.

Since I have become a Starbucks Gold Card holder, I know the difference between a tall, grande and venti. (I think there’s also one more beyond venti that’s an XXL, too, but I’m not 100% sure.) However, at Buc-ee’s, there is a 16-ounce and a larger one (20-ounce, I think) and both are under $2 a cup. I didn’t ask about refills, but then I’m not hanging around there like I would in Starbucks. (Didn’t ask about WiFi, either.) So I poured myself a cup and paid for it, then did some prowling while waiting for the GER to show up. Take a look at some of the neat stuff the Texas City Buc-ee’s has available for travelers and others interested in fine Texas-made goods.

Cutting boards--perfect gift for the chef.

Cutting boards–perfect gift for the chef.

Fresh-looking decor for any southern kitchen.

Fresh-looking decor for any southern home.

More nice decor

Beauty products for gifts, or because you forgot something.

I thought I had more pictures, but I can’t find them now.

Right across the aisle from these nice things is an entire section dedicated to. . .BAIT. Fishing stuff, and bait for your fishing trip. No kidding. In the middle of the store, (left of the coffee area) is a deli counter where you can order sandwiches and other food, a bakery, and at the far end, candy, beef jerky, chips, salsa, and other nibbles that you can’t get anywhere else.

That’s the GER’s favorite place–the wall of junk food.

I saw candies of all kinds, from the everyday stuff you find in Wal-Mart to the self-branded things exclusive to Buc-ee’s, and then the jerky, pretzels and other in-house snacks. I sipped my coffee and observed some more.

You can read some additional articles on their press page. The Houston Chronicle covered the opening day, where people were lined up long before dawn to go in when it opened. (More pictures there, too.)  Even the esteemed Wall Street Journal weighed in on the Buc-ee’s experience.

Admittedly, I never thought to go check out the ultra-clean bathrooms. Maybe next time.

Remember that it was night, and eventually, the GER called and asked, “how long before you get here?” I explained that I was ALREADY there, enjoying the Buc-ee’s experience and having some pretty good coffee. He was on one side of the building, driving around looking for me, and I was walking around those lovely house things, wondering if I needed something that I didn’t have room for.

Dallas has it’s first Buc-ee’s, opened last month. Much like Trader Joe’s, many folks knew what it was because they’d been to one on their travels down this way, or heard about Buc-ee’s because someone told them about it after their trip down this way. I’ve never been to Dallas myself, but one day would like to visit. I’ve been told that people in Dallas are quite. . .well, they all believe that they are related to the Ewings, and everyone dresses in fine clothes and big diamonds, like The Real Housewives of Dallas or something. Not here in Houston (although there is that element in the mix.) Before Katrina, Houston was a happy-go-lucky town, even among the society set. Now, with most of New Orleans and the additional increased migration from California, New York, Washington, and many places in between, we’ve got ALL kinds, good and bad. I won’t be living anywhere else but Texas. Austin is fabulous, and San Antonio is also quite nice. But I don’t think I’ll be moving to Dallas, just visiting one day.

If you’re planning a road trip into Texas this summer–or anytime–make sure to include a Buc-ee’s in your travel plans. Fill up with fuel, get some coffee, pick up something you forgot, get some souvenirs and t-shirts, and don’t forget the snacks you just can’t get anywhere else.  Bring back some neat Texas souvenirs to your friends, family or colleagues who weren’t lucky enough to go with you, and make sure you take home a little of the Lone Star State for yourself too.

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs

Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs

Good morning, Dear Readers!

Listening to my favorite morning DJs earlier, they were talking about increases in salmonella and “bird flu” cases and using. . .foul language. (Get it?)

Seems that people are petting and kissing their pet chickens. No kidding. You want a pet? Get a cat. Chickens are NOT pets. . .chickens are broilers, fryers, parts and feathers. Don’t go kissing your chickens, OK?

Enough of that silliness. But that’s true–people are hugging, petting and kissing their chickens, to the tune of 450 cases. Anyway. . . .

I forgot to mention last night that the new Starbucks opened on my street a week ago. Woo hoo! Big, clean and bright, it’s a short walk or drive up the street. I’ve been there a few times, and because of the recent star dash, have upped my points and netted another free thing, which will be a nice crisp salad.

Our new Starbucks!

Our new Starbucks!

Very bright and white:

Nice!

Nice!

I haven’t asked, but I think this location is a bit bigger than the rest of the ones in my area, and with lots more light and plate glass:

This is called the "community table."  Lots of electrical outlets on the floor and attached to the underside of the table top.

This is called the “community table.” Lots of electrical outlets on the floor and attached to the underside of the table top.

The mural that tells you all about coffee.

The mural that tells you all about coffee.

They are not yet planning to serve the Starbucks Evenings menu, but three other locations in Clear Lake will be soon. When the weather cools in a few months, Neighbor K and I are going to take the Daft Pug over there and have a coffee outside, and he will have a puppucino. Of course, we can’t take the happy-go-lucky pug into Starbucks, we’ll go in one at a time and order. But it’s fine–he’s happy to go anywhere with his mama.

I am trying to get Neighbor K to understand the impact of the Starbucks Rewards Program. It’s fun, and a great distraction from the evils of the world that we were talking about just this morning (during our 5:00 am walk.) K just registered her Starbucks card last night and downloaded the app. I told her to keep an eye out for emails from Starbucks, particularly those that talk about getting extra stars, “star dash,” and accelerating her points balance, getting the free stuff and to the Gold Card level faster. Maybe it’s her handsome boyfriend that keeps her distracted from important things like this, too.

Anyway. . . .

Last night, I took my own advice and tried something new. I figured it would be good, and it is. So, shorter than last night’s post, the explanation of how I used some of my fresh sage from the garden last night.

I didn’t think to take pictures from the garden (DUH) but if you’ve grown sage.. .you know what it looks like. Just a green plant with round-oval green leaves a slight “stinky feet” smell when you cut it.

Compound butter is simply softened butter with some herbs mixed in to add different flavors to food. Frequently, restaurant chefs make it and drop a pat on top of a dish right after it comes off the stove or grill and after plating so that it melts on the way to your table. Generally compound butter is savory, but I’ve seen Ree Drummond (aka “The Pioneer Woman“) add fruit for a sweet version.

If you didn’t see it yet, there is a recipe for “Herb Butter” in the flier I linked in last night’s post, on page 2. I just used sage because. . .that’s what’s growing. If you have other herbs growing you prefer, go for it. Mint and lemon with lamb might be a good combo, right? Use your imagination, and if that doesn’t work. . .search online, you will find something you like!

While I had a breakfast cooking in the Crock Pot, I took out a single stick of butter, cubed it and let it sit out to soften. Later, after rinsing the leaves thoroughly and drying them with clean dish towels, I took my two-handed mezzaluna knife and chopped them very fine. Since I always buy unsalted butter, I grabbed the kosher salt from the stove side shelf and shook some in. Then I dropped the chopped sage in and mixed it well.

Compound butter with fresh sage and salt.

Compound butter with fresh sage and salt.

With that big red spoon, I divided that in half, since I had two big turkey thighs and wanted to make sure they were equally coated.

Two turkey thighs, less than $5 at the Friendswood HEB.

Two turkey thighs, less than $5 at the Friendswood HEB.

Again, I didn’t think to take a bunch of pictures, and didn’t want to coat my phone with compound butter, so pictures are skint for this one.

I oiled that baking dish, and started on the bottom side of the thighs. Using a little from each side of the dish, I was able to evenly coat both of them, starting on the underside, then turning them over and rubbing the butter under the skin, over the skin and making sure all the surfaces were coated.

I’m telling you, if you have the room, this kind of cooking makes the case for a countertop oven. Find one that does more than toast, and you can use to roast a whole chicken. If you’re in the South, you’ll understand.

I set the toaster oven on 400F, and cooked it for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Just because it’s cooked on the outside does NOT mean it’s cooked all the way on the inside. Not sure? Cut it open in an available spot and make sure you go down to the bone. I do let it sit for a bit before I mess with it. The hour and fifteen minutes did the trick. This is what you end up with:

Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs.

Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs

And there you go. Dinner good any night of the week, and fancy enough for company. Add a nice salad, or any kind of sides you like, and it’s a good dinner, then lunch the next day. (These two thighs translate into four meals for me, but of course I’m also having salad or something else with it. Doesn’t hurt that I love turkey, especially turkey thighs.)

Here’s a cook’s tip: using two forks, carefully lift the crispy skin off the turkey thighs and put them on a couple of paper towels to drain a bit. The skin is very crispy, tasty, and beats any potato chip for full snacking satisfaction. Of course, you have to take it off when the thighs come out of the oven, and drain the grease off on said paper towels. Let it cool for a few minutes and have at it. That’s your chef’s treat. You’re welcome.

Thinking ahead, yes, you could do this same thing with a whole turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You would just need more butter and more fresh sage. Start growing it now if you’re even thinking about it, so you’ll be ready for the holidays. You should definitely try this, with sage or any other herbs you like, BEFORE the holidays. Last thing you want is to find out that you can’t stand the taste of sage (or other herb) right before you serve that big 22-pound beast. Or worse, that your favorite herbs that are great on fish makes an otherwise wonderful turkey taste awful.

In Houston, HEB has all the parts, not just turkey breast like some groceries do. Like chicken, turkey thighs are generally less expensive and more flavorful than breast pieces, and are worth seeking out. Ask around, and maybe ask your butcher, too.

So–what are you waiting for? Make some compound butter with herbs and enjoy a new dinner tonight!

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

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Herbal Essence

Herbal Essence

Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers:

Wow–I apologize for the length of time in publishing. I just realized it’s been nearly a month! I’ve been busy on the copywriting side, just last week making the decision to change markets after pursuing something that just isn’t happening. Cross your fingers. . . .

Well, the rain finally stopped, and now Houston will be hot, dry, with occasional afternoon “pop-up” showers as the TV weather folks like to call it.  During TS Bill, members of the Eyewitless News Teams were everywhere, scaring people to death, causing panic buying of supplies and insisting that they watch TV 24/7 or DIE! Sheesh. . .we’re fine, and now I’m back to watering the HeatCageKitchen by hand, with a big plastic watering can with a sprinkler spout.

My friends in New Orleans will be blessed with a Trader Joe’s next year. Woo hoo! The store will be located in Metairie, a few miles from where I used to live, and you could tell a whole lot of folks were happy about that one. Baton Rouge already has one, and The E Man has declared it great. But, really–after all the driving I’ve done to get to Trader Joe’s, I could not explain enough how lucky they were to get one that wouldn’t be an hour or more away. Of course, there were complaints: “why did it have to be in Metairie?” (Because you don’t make money in low-dollar neighborhoods.) A few commenters on the WWL-TV Facebook page complained about having to drive maybe 15 miles across the river to get to it. Oh, please–try driving an HOUR in Houston to get to one! (It’s why I only go when I am already planning to be near one, and stock UP.) And then a large number of commenters asked, “What’s a Trader Joe’s?” That’s REAL New Orleans.

Continuing with the Karma of Spare Parts, I ordered replacement parts for my Cuisinart blender/food processor as well as my toaster oven two weeks ago. GRRR. . .but now the floor of the toaster oven is clean, the pan is new and not worn down from scrubbing, the blender works correctly and the food processing attachment isn’t cracked anymore.. I’ve been meaning to replace the baking pan and drip tray for a while. I just didn’t think I’d have to replace another part of the blender already. But parts wear out, as we all know, and no, this was not due to doing something stupid. (Like last time.)

Neighbor K has also had her own Karma of Spare parts to deal with. In the last year or so, she has been required to replace:

  • Air conditioner
  • Washer
  • Dryer
  • Dishwasher (just last week)
  • Mattress and box spring
  • Something in her car

K has been injured twice in the last calendar year, once requiring physical therapy. She has also had take the Daft Pug to the vet recently for a back strain. DP also has liver issues, requiring additional medication. Poor little pug. He just doesn’t seem as enthused to go out with me in the afternoon these days, but it is hot, and pugs don’t do well in hot weather. We keep it short, and he does what he needs to and we go inside.

Now onto more fun things.

Summer is the time for salads, and this recent article in The Wall Street Journal discusses the simple, fresh, green salad, which, we hope, makes a comeback. Keep the pasta, tuna, and other salads and just return to the simpler salad, you know? As they say in the copywriting world, “don’t over-think it.” Dressing for salad HeatCageKitchen style is a light sprinkling of any kind of salt you like (kosher is handy by the stove), 1 tablespoon olive oil from Trader Joe’s and 1 teaspoon of Alessi’s Raspberry Blush vinegar (if you can find it) or Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar. Shake it up, pour it over your salad, toss it really well, and eat it in front of the computer like I normally do.

Just don’t put too much basil in your salad, or you’ll regret it. I speak from experience. One or two finely chopped leaves in ENOUGH. Seriously.

Anyway. . . .

The garden, as you might expect, is in full bloom and doing stuff. For the first time ever, I have a bumper crop of Anaheim chile peppers.

Anaheim, er, Hatch chile peppers

Anaheim, er, Hatch chile peppers

I’ve used a few, and harvested a few more. I don’t let them get as big as the ones in the grocery store, because a) I don’t think they’ll get that big, and b) they’ll turn red and get hotter. So I pick them and make grapefruit salsa, but I also have to find more uses for them. One of my first creations went, naturally, into the Crock Pot. One packet of chicken thighs, two 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes, and two seeded and ribbed Anaheims finely diced:

There we go. It was pretty good. Now to figure out what to do with the rest of them.

I recommend the boneless/skinless variety, and cooking about six hours. While I like the skin-on version for roasting, the skin gets rubbery when you slow-cook it in liquid for 6 hours. But because I was just itching to cook something, that’s what I did.

Seen recently in a magazine:

Give a woman a fish, and she’ll eat for a day. Teach a woman to garden, and everybody gets tomatoes.

Have you ever known someone to have so many tomatoes they couldn’t deal with it? Yeah, that isn’t me. However, I have been getting some tasty little tomatoes in spurts:

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

The little ones have thinned for a while, but I see flowers on the grape plants, so I’ll be having more soon. There were three of the bigger ones, called Cherokee Purple. Here’s a closer look at that one:

A Cherokee Purple Tomato. Looks red to me.

A Cherokee Purple Tomato. Looks red to me.

The bottom end of the Cherokee Purple

The bottom end of the Cherokee Purple

No, I don’t know why it’s called “purple,” but they sure taste good.

Pretty much what any tomato looks like, right?

Pretty much what any tomato looks like, right?

 

I did save some seeds from the last one, and will find something to store them in later. Like the Chocolate Cherry, it has a rich, deep tomato flavor that might only need a very light touch of salt. Maybe. Keep my fingers crossed that more are coming.

The jalapeno plant finally has one growing, but I don’t know how long to leave it grow. The ones you buy in the grocery are about as big as a finger, so it might have a while to go. Sage is doing well, I’ll use that soon in a compound butter to roast some turkey thighs (yes, again.) I have moved the bell pepper plant over by the tomatoes, and guess what? I’ve got a bell pepper coming, and one or two more behind it. It’s a red bell plant, so they’ll be attached for a while.

I am still doing battle growing lettuce, but the last stub that Neighbor K gave me has grown about a foot high. Woo hoo! I’ve got one more started in the soil, and one didn’t make it. Two more romaine stubs were put in water just last night and I hope to plant them soon. The re-grown celery is doing well, but it’s not growing like the stuff you see in the grocery; it’s mostly leaves and thin stalks. I also need to get more green onions for plantable roots, since the ones I have seem to be fading off.

I killed the cilantro, unfortunately. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

Since January, I have been attending monthly gardening classes at the local library. (This Thursday evening is on fall vegetables.) Lecturers are brought in by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension and the Harris County Master Gardener Association. (I missed April’s lecture because I had to be downtown early the next day for a copywriting event.) I’ve enjoyed all the classes and listening to the different instructors and their helpful info. I literally happened upon the info in the library one day in January and have made it a point to attend every since.

I just looked up those websites, and realized that there are resources there I never looked at before. DUH.

Last month was the June lecture, and they brought in a nice lady who talked about growing and using herbs. (No, not the kind you smoke–get your mind out of the gutter!) Longtime readers of this humble blog know that I love my pesto, and have struggled to grow cilantro. Well, guess what I found out? Cilantro is hard to grow here because it’s so hot! I’ll try again in the fall–fall to spring is the best time for cilantro, not during the summer.

The instructor (whose name I forgot to write down) said that she occasionally gets a call or visit from a chef asking for cilantro. She points said chef in the direction of HEB to buy some. And when I used my little scraggly cilantro growth a couple of weeks ago for grapefruit salsa, it never grew back like basil or parsley. Darnit. Fortunately, cilantro is cheap in this part of the country. (You can find that one on the recipe page too, called OrangeOnionSalsa. I use grapefruits more often, because I have them around, but oranges are also very delicious.)

I did get one very valuable tip from this lady: water in the morning, not at night. DUH! I’ve been doing that (once the monsoon was over) and I found only one persistent pest this morning. (Gave him a free flight to his new hunting area.)

One pointer: if you don’t have quite enough basil for your recipe, you can use Italian flat-leaf parsley as a filler, and it’s good, too. I forgot about that, and the recent first basil harvest/pesto night used up most of the basil and parsley and gave a nice yield. It’s now in the freezer; I’ve used up all but one of my previous pesto batches, dated with plastic wrap over the top and sealed up in a little square glass container.

The lecturer offered attendees some small basil plants that were grown by a group she works with, but she wasn’t sure what type of basil. Smells like basil to me. I don’t care; I just said “thank you.” I’ll have another pesto day soon, since my original basil plant is growing back, the new one is about a foot tall, and the parsley is also growing back nicely.

That’s when I found myself needing spare parts again. Remember when I stuck the wooden spoon in the blender and broke the cutting assembly? Thought I was good on the blender until then. Well. . .while I was trying to blend up that pesto, the blender would start and then “slip,” like a wonky transmission on a car when you shift it. Then I saw and smelled smoke. . .and nothing was lit. Seems that the the “blender collar,” which screws onto the bottom of the jar and holds the gasket and cutter assembly together to sit on the motor base, was worn down for whatever reason, and was causing the “slipping.” You can see the blender and spare part listing here.)  Because it’s also been used and worn, plus cracked in one place, I added a new food processor work bowl to my shopping cart, as well as a replacement drip tray and crumb pan (which is more like the bottom of an oven) to the cart. I wasn’t planning on doing this again, but. . .I can’t use my blender without it. I was going to replace the worn-down toaster oven parts eventually, so I did it all at once.

Oh, and the pesto was completed in my food processor, which, when I win the lottery, will also be replaced, probably with a Cuisinart or other upscale version. When you buy cheap, you buy twice.

I harvested plenty of basil, and got to work with it.

Parsley and some basil

Parsley and some basil

Thought I had more pictures, but really, pesto making is not that exciting–unless you’re me, of course.

There was a lot of great information in this lecture, so finally, I’m going to share it before Thursday’s lecture on fall veggies. <hanging head>

One point that was made that I knew about 20 years ago–do NOT attempt to make flavored olive oil at home. The risk of bacterial growth is great; companies that do that have sophisticated processing equipment that eliminate the possibility of toxicity, and it’s not possible to create flavored olive oil at home for Christmas gifts. You could indeed make someone very ill–and we don’t want that!

However–flavored vinegars are a great holiday gift, because I’ve done it. The vinegar kills any possibility of bacterial contamination on contact. Back in the 90’s, I got the idea from one of the Christmas Martha Stewart books, and after researching it discovered that oil wasn’t a good idea. I collected wine bottles from friends that I knew drank wine, soaked them clean and proceeded to make them for Christmas. Everybody enjoyed them. . .at least, that’s what they said. Now I know to use a Champagne or similar vinegar; plain white vinegar is a bit too strong.

If you’re going to make flavored olive oil for yourself, just make a small amount to use within a week. It will NOT be safe to make a month in advance for gifts. Those, you buy for Christmas.

I’ve added to the recipe page PDF versions of two of the handouts we were graciously given. One is a recipe for HerbJelly, and the other is a page of links to additional information, plus a number of recipes using fresh garden herbs. Yes. . .including pesto. It’s not the one I use, but it’s pretty darn close. I’m not saying this recipe is or isn’t better than the one I use; I’m sure there are plenty of perfectly good pesto recipes out there. If you have one you like better, by all means, use it–just make that pesto and freeze it for the winter!

Of course I made some Pea and Pesto Soup. You KNOW I did. Used up the end of a container after filling up a new one.

Pine nuts are expensive, but if your grocery has a bulk section, buy just what you need and use it right away, or buy a larger amount and immediately freeze what you don’t use. (I strongly suggest a glass or plastic container intended for use in the freezer; the thinner grocery bags can become brittle in the freezer and you run the risk of losing an expensive ingredient when the bag crumbles and/or breaks. Yes, I speak from experience.) If you don’t like pine nuts, walnuts are also good in pesto.

Oh, and my apologies for the pen markings on the PDF. . .I’ve been doing that since I was at Tulane. Can’t help myself, and my cookbooks are also marked up pretty good. Yes, even the new Clean Slate book. I also add the date and my initials along with comments whether I like or dislike a recipe. Hey–why not?

Whether you grow them yourself, or hit the farmer’s market on a regular basis, herbs are great, and for more than just basil pesto. Between the links and the recipes I’ve provided, you can easily learn more and learn to enjoy more herbs. What are you waiting for?

Enjoy!

 

 

Crisco. . .coconut oil?

Crisco. . .coconut oil?

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

Well, Houston is again the recipient of a lot of rain, courtesy of a tropical storm named Bill. After some terrifying reports from local TV stations, people were panic-buying bottled water, bread, milk and other essential supplies for riding out a storm. Neighbor K stopped at Kroger on the way home and told us what they were out of when she got there.

I wasn’t really worried–we’ve gone through this before–but I did boil some eggs just in case. Now I have 8 hard-boiled eggs in the fridge. . .I’ll use them for something. As a devotee of the blog of Houston’s Chronicle’s science writer Eric “SciGuy” Berger, I knew where to go for honest information. (He also posts on Facebook.) He’s not a meteorologist, but he is a go-to guy for weather info without the hype. We’re fine now, and Bill will be gone soon.

In the “a little good news” department, a new Starbucks is being built on my street, just a couple blocks away. Woo hoo!! If all goes well, it will open June 29th. When I passed it a couple of days ago, they were putting the stucco on the outside. But the rain may have set them back a little. We’ll see. Me and Neighbor K will take the Daft Pug for a walk and have a coffee one day soon after it opens. Maybe they’ll still have the doggie cappuccinos when we do.

You might not believe this, but Crisco, the bastion of church-lady-cooking everywhere, now sells-no kidding–coconut oil. This is not a Facebook rumor/prank, an email forwarded from five other people, and I’m not joking. They really do, and this is the picture that circulated on Facebook a while back:

Crisco's new Organic Coconut oil

Crisco’s new Organic Coconut oil

 

Crisco Coconut Oil. USDA certified organic, and sourced from The Philippines. How do I know this? Simple: I asked. Specifically, I called the company directly and asked about it. Very new, so it’s not yet available everywhere.

Two things I asked about specifically: Is it refined? Is it hydrogenated? Yes, it’s refined so there is no coconut taste. No, it is NOT hydrogenated. Thank heavens for that.

But why now?

I spoke to Don on Crisco’s consumer information line, and he said it was just the next step for Crisco. Since all their other products are vegetable in nature, coconut is something else to offer their customers. Remember–for better or worse, Crisco’s traditional shortening, in cans for scooping or sticks for measuring, is a VEGETABLE shortening, and not like animal-based lard.

Don was kind enough to send me a coupon for a free one, but. . .I can’t find it now. I had it in my purse since FEBRUARY, took it out recently, and now I don’t know what the heck I did with it. HOWEVER–I bought some Crisco Coconut Oil. If I find the coupon before it expires, I’ll go get more.

A few weeks ago, Neighbor K called me and asked, “now, what gluten-free coconut thing are you looking for and can’t find?” When I told her what it was, I got the idea to go back on Crisco’s website and look again with their product finder. EUREKA, I FOUND IT! Where?

Wal-Mart. <insert frowny face here>

Turns out that I had a reason to go into Wal-Mart–I found two undeveloped rolls of 35mm film on my desk recently, from 2007 and 2009. (Don’t ask.) However it happened, I just never got it developed, and now it’s difficult to get 35mm film done. Wal-Mart sends it out to a lab, it takes about a week, and negatives are not returned–you get a CD of digital picture files. (I couldn’t get waited on in Walgreen’s; they’ll stop developing 35mm film July 1.) So after I picked up those pictures, I went over to the grocery section and FOUND IT.

Next to the LouAna, and fifty cents more, it’s pretty much the same coconut oil you get in nearly every jar. It performs well, has no taste, and does exactly what it should. I’ve made a few batches of popcorn with it, and it’s great. I also put it to the test with the exclusive HeatCageKitchen frozen chocolate recipe.

In either soft or melted coconut oil, mix in two tablespoons of cocoa powder with a dinner fork, one at a time. If you like, drop in a little almond extract–not much, it’s pretty potent. Then sweeten it with two tablespoons of SomerSweet or your favorite natural sweetener, one tablespoon at a time with your fork. Once it’s all mixed well, stash it in the freezer (or fridge, if you’re not in a hurry.) When it hardens up, carefully cut it apart with the point of a knife, and have some tasty chocolate chunks.

Crisco Coconut Oil performed perfectly with both the popcorn and the frozen chocolate test. So, here it gets the HeatCageKitchen seal of approval. (Not quite as prestigious as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, but that’s OK.)

Now for the other reason I went to (ahem) Wal-Mart.

In one of the rolls of film were pictures of the two Cranberry, Almond and Cinnamon Tart I made for Thanksgiving in 2007. (The other roll had pictures from the Texas Renfest in 2009 or 2010, and included a couple of shots of the ex-boyfriend Voldemort. Those prints will soon be going through the shredder; I can’t remove them from the CD.) It was unique, interesting, and I knew it would be a hit. So let me tell you about that tasty dessert.

Years ago we used to do a “Buddhist Thanksgiving” at the home of a couple who were from Taiwan. I used to kid the wife that “it’s never too early to start planning Thanksgiving.” I would say this, of course, in July. In addition to roasting two turkeys, I also made something fabulous for dessert, usually from the November issue of Martha Stewart Living. I found the recipe here, but I think it’s incomplete. The Pate Sucree (sweet pie crust) doesn’t include how to make it, but I think you just use the food processor. Subscribers got the lovely tart picture you see at that link on the front cover; I think newsstand issues had a turkey picture.

A rich, delicious tart for Thanksgiving or any fall occasion (like my birthday.)

A rich, delicious tart for Thanksgiving or any fall occasion (like my birthday.)

 

Look at that picture. Wouldn’t YOU want to wow guests with that one? (No, it isn’t gluten-free.) Well, I couldn’t wait to make it for Turkey Day. Here’s what it looked like without a lot of expensive camera equipment and food styling:

 

From the November 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living

From the November 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

In order to make it, I  had to order cranberry preserves from New England Cranberry. When I called to order, the man didn’t understand the uptick in orders for that, nor why someone from Texas was ordering three jars of it. I explained it to him, and he said, “Oh, OK.” I suggested he go look for the issue on the newsstand on the way home, and go look up the recipe. Never ordered it again, but I hope he figured it out.

One of them ended up going to work with me the following Monday, because so many desserts were brought in that we all took some home. But it sure was good.

I haven’t made that one since, and the Buddhist Thanksgiving kind of went away, but at least I know I could do it.

Another tasty option was the Pear and Sour Cherry Flat Pie, also made only once, the year before this tart. Make SURE you have plenty of parchment paper, because it’s a bear to run out of it. For this flat pie, you really do need it.

So if you are interested in moving towards coconut oil, you have another option. As I mentioned in my post on the subject last year, coconut oil’s price has steadily increased, likely due to increased demand. But the versatility and health/anti-viral qualities of coconut oil are second to none.

In my recent trip to Wal-Mart, LouAna was $6.49, next to Crisco’s $6.98. In my local HEB, I think it was $5.98 last time. LouAna also has an organic coconut oil, but I haven’t tried it yet; it comes in a smaller container than the quart-sized regular type. Other outlets have their own coconut oil, including HeatCageKitchen favorites Trader Joe’s and Central Market.

And while it’s a little early, you also have a couple more options for your fall desserts Try them now before the time comes, so you’ll know they’re good and what it takes to make them. (Cranberry preserves are available year-round.)

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

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