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The Big Fish

The Big Fish

Happy Saturday, Dear Readers!

If you’re here in the Houston area, I hope you are dry. . .if you’re not, well, Thursday (8/20) we had some serious rain going on, complete with thunder and lightning. The HeatCageKitchen garden was happy with the extra water, but the green onions, which have been supplemented recently with two bunches of organics I bought, are nearly a foot high after 2 weeks. Not bad!

Today was our monthly district meeting, and a pretty good one, too. Our fearless district leader and hostess, LK, has finally seen her dream of her sister and family practicing Buddhism after something like 27 years of practice. Today was they day that all four officially became Buddhists, and it was also her sister, JH’s, birthday. (I also became a Buddhist on my 24th birthday in 1986, so it’s always extra-special.) LK’s brother-in-law, JH’s husband, was not able to make it due to work commitments, but received an official certificate from SGI-USA along with JH and the kids. They lived in California until a year ago, and bought a house not far from LK, making LK one of the happiest people around.

To celebrate, LK drove down to Galveston this morning–during the period where we had sunshine before the rain came back again–and bought a beautiful cake to celebrate the whole thing:

Isn't it a beauty?

Isn’t it a beauty?

Indeed, it was NOT gluten free, and I told her I would just have one of the roses. (I didn’t, really.) Actually, I did bring home a slice of this beautiful creation for Neighbor R, my elderly neighbor, and I nibbled on the veg and some grapes that were there. Here’s a view of the inside after it was cut:

The Inside.

The Inside.

Neighbor K has been to PattyCakes many times since she works down there, and if I remember correctly, she brought me a couple of their delicious samplings a while back. They’re across the street from the well-known Mosquito Cafe, and are operated by the same people.

Since we have a couple of diabetics in addition to me, who avoids this kind of thing, LK kindly had cut veggies and Tzatzaki, which was very tasty. Might have to make that myself sometime. I’ve got the recipe, but I’ve never made it; however, I don’t know what recipe LK used for today’s delicious dip.

If you’re a fan of Starbucks, The Safe Haven With Food, and you’ve been enamored with their recent food offerings, I discovered a bit of a hack. By accident, of course. A couple of months ago, I met with a potential copywriting client at a Starbucks in nearby Pasadena (that’s where the business was located) and I got there early. While my computer was booting up and connecting to the WiFi, I found myself hungry for some reason. I looked in the case and found their little yogurt cups with fruit. I picked up the one with cherries, and thoroughly enjoyed it before she arrived.

A couple of nights ago I was hungry, and I started prowling in the fridge (as us single folks are wont to do) and saw the container of Fage yogurt in there, and suddenly the light lit up in my brain! Five frozen cherries, in a little dish, microwaved for about 20 seconds on 50% power to get the chill off them; chop them, put them back in the bowl, then spoon some of that Greek yogurt in the bowl. Mix well–carefully, or in a bigger bowl–and sweeten to taste. Use whatever you like–stevia, saccharin, Somersweet, whatever. Because, remember, the one in Starbucks has sugar in it–you don’t have to do that. I don’t miss the crunchy part, although I do eat it when I have one in Starbucks (it’s wheat free.) Which has been exactly. . .twice. I never forgot it, but at $3.95, it’s not a habit, only a handy option I’ve had twice.

The Starbucks Evenings menu hasn’t yet appeared here in Clear Lake, to my knowledge, but it has in New York. You can see the actual menu here, but from what Lindsay Putnam of the NY Post says. . .don’t bother. Remember that those breakfast sandwiches are frozen and heated in an oven before the barista hands it to you, so naturally, so is the Evenings menu–no real cooking goes on in Starbucks. If you do eat one, you think about how delicious it tastes. . .and not much else, OK? Yes, I have had the sandwiches a few times, less since I read Wheat Belly, but the last time I had one of those big croissant bun sandwiches was out of necessity a few months ago. So the Evenings menu, tempting as it may look, may in fact, disappoint. I’ll let you know if I get to try it.

Then again, New Yorkers seem to judge everything harshly, and it was brand new, so maybe she was just there on a bad day. Use your own judgment, as always.

Now, another story about the GER. He loves it when I write about him.

The GER goes fishing usually on Mondays with a friend who has a boat, and while this week’s haul. . .wasn’t, last week they caught more river monsters. I gave him a ride somewhere last Tuesday, and he told me to bring something to keep it cold. He told me to share it with Neighbor K, but K didn’t wanna mess with no fish that night, so I offered some to Neighbor R after I cooked it.

This was a big fish. Flounder, if I remember correctly. Not like catfish, frying catfish is easy. So I treated this big fishy with the respect it deserved and broiled it. I’m not kidding when I tell you it was a big one:

The GER's big fish

The GER’s big fish.

It was about 15 inches long, I think, but I forgot to measure it. I thought about stuffing it, but that wasn’t an option:

A big, heavy skeleton that would require some major filleting skills. . .which I don't have.

A big, heavy skeleton that would require some major filleting skills. . .which I don’t have.

Sometimes he’ll give me filets, but sometimes not, like this one. The only option was to roast it whole and pull the flesh off the skeleton, since there was no easy way to stuff it. I set out to the garden and gathered up a few things:

The setup.

The setup.

Green onions (from the ones I planted in the garden), mint, parsley, some rosemary and basil, plus some lime zest. Using that mezzaluna knife, chopped it as best I could, and added some kosher salt:

Gremolata a la Amy.

Gremolata a la Amy.

Then it’s just used as a rub on both sides of the fish:

Big, BIG fish!

Big, BIG fish!

I put it in the toaster oven on “broil” until I thought it was done, and it came out pretty darn good:

FISH!

It needed salt, in my opinion, and I gave the easily-removed, skinless chunks to Neighbor R, and made sure there were no bones in it. I had three meals out of that fish along with some baked sweet potato sticks. YUM.

In the last couple of posts, I spoke about Red Dwarf, the crazy-wild British comedy that combines science fiction with slapstick comedy. Here’s a short clip of the song I was singing while I was dealing with said fish in an episode from many years ago. The character, Cat, just LOVES fish! That comes back to haunt him in Season 9 when a despair squid is found in the water tank. . .oh, nevermind. If you’re not a fan, it won’t make a lot of sense. It’s kind of like explaining something from Doctor Who to someone who has never seen it or understands it. Like the GER!

Tomorrow is Sunday, and I’ve got to plan out the week’s eating. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I think there’s going to be some chicken in the Crock Pot. . .again. But since I found two big packets of chicken thighs on sale at Target Friday night, it’s a good thing.

School’s opening real soon, so if you’ve got students at home, you’ll be gearing up now to make those mornings easier. I’m looking at waffle iron hacks and cheats on Pinterest now, and I’ve started a board to keep them in one place. People have figured out how to cook all kinds of things with waffle irons, and YouTube has a collection of them as well. Just go to YouTube and type in the search box, “waffle iron hacks” and/or “waffle iron recipes” and you’ll see ingenious ways people have used a waffle iron for anything *but* waffles.

One of my writer friends, a Christian copywriter here in Texas, posted on Facebook instructions to take those cinnamon rolls in a can and cook them on a waffle iron, then pour that sugary frosting on top. Looks a lot more appetizing than the ones made the *normal* way.  It made me want to head to Kroger for a can and make them myself! But I didn’t, and I’m researching new ways to use the waffle iron daily instead of just occasionally, when you make waffles.

One interesting idea I saw on Pinterest was to spray the waffle iron, heat it, then put frozen tater tots on the bottom, covering the grid. Close the lid, and a few minutes later, crispy hash browns! Admittedly, that’s not something I would make for myself, (at least not with frozen tater tots) but I might do that for the GER or someone else who really liked hash browns. I’ve eaten hash browns occasionally, usually at Denny’s on my birthday with my Grand Slam; but as a rule, potatoes are not in my fridge.

Remember: 110v vs. 220v. And don’t forget your college student headed for the dorms this fall.

Have a great week, and whatever you do cook and eat–Enjoy!

 

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Hatch Chile Time!

Hatch Chile Time!

Happy Sunday, Dear Readers:

Are you ready for this new week? Summer’s almost over, at least, for the upper states. Here in Texas, summer lasts until at least October. I could actually have a pool party if the weather held out that long. We’ll see. Last year I got strep throat. . .I don’t want that again.

The rains have returned to Houston this week, and while it’s not really “cool,” it is a little “less hot.” In 30 days the temperatures will go down about 10 degrees, and my plants will be happy about that.

Have you been watching Giada de Laurentiis’ new show, Giada in Italy? Giada took her daughter Jade on vacation in Positano, Italy, and they made a new series out of it. Or something like that. She’s cooking Italian food IN Italy, many with an American or California twist. Today’s show was cooking at a friend’s restaurant in the area, and there was a lot of Italian spoken while they worked. They cooked one of his signature dishes, and one of hers from her Las Vegas restaurant, plus her Sin City Cookies, also served in Vegas. Conveniently, Giada’s mother, stepfather, daughter and a couple of other close friends were there during filming, so they got a thumbs-up from everyone. Yes, Giada is waiting tables in this little place, too.

One thing Giada pointed out while she was making the cookies: chocolate chip cookies are an American creation. I knew that, of course, but she was serving them to Italians in a small town on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. There was no reaction from any of the local folks who had the cookies, but if Giada served them with her 10,000 megawatt smile, they didn’t pay much attention.

Speaking of the cookies. . .Giada used a stand mixer to make the cookie dough. . .and you know, it sure looked familiar. So I did a little clicking around, and guess what I found? Giada’s set list–and in it, no kidding, was SMEG! The stand mixer was a SMEG, but did not have the name stenciled across the side. Either they don’t sell it that way in Italy, it was specially made for Giada, or the props department removed the lettering and painted over it. But it was, indeed, a SMEG.

It’s what happens when you pay attention. Anyway. . . .

The garden’s doing OK–I’ve picked a number of Anaheim/Hatch chiles, and darnit, I found one more today while I was taking pictures. Maybe some of the grapefruit salsa will be in my future this week.

I was SO happy to be finally getting a nice looking red bell pepper, and the really hot summer got to it:

The red bell pepper that almost was.

The red bell pepper that almost was.

The big white, wrinkled spot on the right is where the sun scorched it. I did, of course, water it, but heat indexes of 121 were just too much for it. I’ve never seen that happen. So, I’ll let it ripen a bit more and see what happens next. Might be just that side–and if the rest of it is OK to use, it’ll go into a pot of chili. There are flowers on the plant, so I could see more peppers, but like anything else in a garden, you wait for it.

In addition to the peppers and the sprouting orbs of tomatoes:

IMG_2275[1]

That’s actually a little red tomato, but for some reason, it looks like a double. Go figure. It’s one of the four organics I bought in the spring. There are several little green orbs, but this one. . .well, if it matures properly, I’ll happily eat it. The Sungold has about a dozen orbs, and plenty of flowers behind them. Sungold is a prolific-producing hybrid, and it’s been the one I’ve picked most often this summer. The Cherokee Purple and Chocolate Cherry haven’t done anything but sprout more leaves, so I guess it’s done–but I’ll wait and see on them, too.

Both basil plants are growing back nicely:

Basil, celery and. . .weeds.

Even if the new organic shoots are taking their sweet old time:
IMG_2271[1]

If it nets me one or two more pots of pesto, it’s worth the wait. Fingers crossed.

The citrus trees are doing well; the Key Lime tree has several orbs that should be ready for picking at some point in the next month or two; there were even some new flowers on it this week. But the Meyer Lemons are still a complete mystery:

IMG_2277[1]

They just sit there, not growing, just sitting there.

I have no idea.

Now, if you’re a longtime reader, you know it’s Hatch Chile time in Houston. Well, in New Mexico, too. The plant I have which grows these magical chiles is in a pot, not in the ground, and it has been a prolific producer this year. If it were in the ground, I’m sure the chiles would be as big as the ones I saw in Kroger this afternoon:

Hatch Chile, up close

Hatch Chile, up close

This one was about nine inches long–much bigger than the ones I get, which are about as big as my index finger. I also don’t leave them on the plant too long, or they’ll get red–and hot.

Kroger gets into the Hatch act.

Kroger gets into the Hatch act.

Central Market posted some pictures on Facebook this weekend of the farm land in Hatch, NM. Friend of the blog BL, who I used to work with at Boeing, lives in Las Cruces, NM, and when I posted the pictures on my wall, he said that he lives about 20 miles away; it’s just farm land. But hey–they grow these beautiful peppers there, so why not post them?

I didn’t buy any, although I thought about it. I mean, they grow in my back garden. . .maybe next week.

There are 100 recipes in Central Market’s database, and I went looking for a recipe to use the ones that have been in my fridge for a while, waiting on me to finish thinking about what to do with them. I also had two jalapeno peppers, also grown in the back garden, about the size of the top digit of my thumb. Here’s a primer for “first time Hatchers,” if you’re interested, too. But with the second harvest coming soon for these peppers, I decided to take the pepper by the horns and do something.

Breakfast.

I roasted them up under the broiler–and that’s a smell you can’t bottle or fake, it’s wonderful:

Roasted peppers. . .yum.

Roasted peppers. . .yum.

I’ve done this before, but not in many years. You roast them until the skin burns and bubbles like this, then put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, or a cover like I did:

They're cooling, and the dampness helps the peel come off.

They’re cooling, and the dampness helps the peel come off.

If you don’t, you end up with a hard-to-chew outer layer–like the shipping plastic on your smartphone screen, or the keypad on that new microwave oven. It’s easy to remove once they’re cool enough to handle.

This is one I peeled.

This is one I peeled.

When I was finished, this is what I ended up with:

IMG_2265[1]

The remains of the day (and the good stuff in the bowl.)

Now, to give you some perspective on how much I ended up with, two cans of the same types of roasted chili–one from Target, a 7-ounce can, and a 4-ounce can of Hatch brand chiles (grown and processed in New Mexico), and the chiles I roasted and peeled.

Good thing you can buy them canned, right?

Good thing you can buy them canned, right?

I think I bought the Hatch brand chiles at HEB. I’m so glad they’re gluten-free! (Yes, they usually are, even without the labeling.)

Yes, I know–“what took you so long, Amy?” Well. . .I just had to think about it. I’ve got lots on my mind, you know, and only two paws for workin’ it and taking pictures. (The paws still burn a little from the capsaicin.)

Oh, and I’ll repeat my warning that I posted months ago: when you are handling chiles, do wear gloves. You can get a box of 100 for about $8 at Sally Beauty Supply, don’t worry about what color they are. Seriously–you do not want to be fumbling around trying to put milk in the eyedropper while your eye is burning. Dairy milk, that’s the only cure I could find on an iPhone during Christmas when I forgot to do it earlier. At least I didn’t rub my eyes this time. The heat is concentrated in the seeds and ribs, but you can still end up burning your eyes if you do something wrong. I speak from experience. Only bell peppers won’t burn you alive, OK? WEAR GLOVES WHEN HANDLING PEPPERS.

Breakfast went into the Crock Pot–2 cups of milk, 10 eggs, the chiles, and some Italian sausage, browned beforehand:

Just plain old Italian sausage.

Just plain old Italian sausage.

And don’t forget the Colby cheese:

Colby's good, like a milder Cheddar; but Cheddar's good, too.

Colby’s good, like a milder Cheddar; but Cheddar’s good, too.

Then the whole business was mixed with a hand-blender (aka “boat motor”) and the cheese mixed in:

Into the Crock Pot it goes!

Into the Crock Pot it goes!

And cooked for four hours.

I’ll eat it all week, soon as I pack it up into containers so I can soak the Crock Pot stoneware thingy.

If you’re thinking about Hatch chiles, you’d better hurry up–pay 77 cents a pound now for US-grown chiles, or $1.98 a pound later for Mexico-grown chiles (which are available year-round.)  Hatch chiles don’t last long, so get a move on. There are recipes on Central Market’s website, or you can create your own.

Next post, I’ll tell you about the big fish that the GER brought me last week. For now, I’ve got to get to bed.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2015 in Breakfast, Fresh from the Garden, Ingredients

 

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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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