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Category Archives: Fast & Easy

The Meal Kit

The Meal Kit

Hello again, Dear Readers:

Well, after my post on a great New Orleans mystery, I have heard exactly nothing about Hubig’s Pies. . .but that’s why it’s a mystery. I even sent a link to their Facebook pages and. . .nothing. But a lawsuit is probably more important than a blog post, so I really didn’t expect anything. Maybe one day.

Neighbor E finally got around to trying the Hostess Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes, after being given a home made cake he couldn’t resist. He said the cupcakes were smaller than he remembered, and while they tasted like dark chocolate and raspberry, they weren’t overwhelming. Really. They were OK. He told me that if I wanted to try one, to stop by. I’ll be happy to see E anytime, I just don’t to try one. I’m afraid I’ll find them irresistable, and spend a lot more to stockpile boxes of them before they go away.

Our monthly gardening lectures have started up again, and last month I was able to ask a very enthusiastic lecturer about. . .composting. Something went wrong when I did that last year, and now I know what it was. (Shouldn’t have chucked all that in the bin, though!) Guess I’m going to start doing that again. Soon as I move things around in the kitchen and on the breakfast bar to accommodate the compost crock. One new attendee drove from Deer Park to attend (about 14 miles from here.) I also got to see new friend of the blog Miss Shirley, who is always a friendly face no matter what’s going on.

OK. . .this time of year, people think about cleaning up their diet and eating healthier. New year, new start. But it does seem like a daunting task, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be. (Yes, I know when Valentine’s Day is.)

So let me ask you–do you dream of making an elegant, healthy dinner that looks like this?

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-Fry (from The Food Network's website)

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-Fry (from The Food Network’s website)

But for whatever reason, it usually looks more like this?

Enchiladas. . . .

Enchiladas. . .leftover, from the microwave.

I may have the solution for you.

The enchilada picture above came from a friend who texted me the other night, who said he was “cooking.” I asked him what he was cooking, and he said “enchiladas.” I envisioned a 9″ x 13″ pan of hot, bubbly, cheese-covered Tex-Mex deliciousness that he’d enjoy for a few days, like I do. Then he sent this picture. When I talked to him later that night, he mentioned that someone brought them to work and he took some home. I said, “that’s not cooking!” His response: “you and I have very different ideas about cooking.” To quote Mrs. Patmore from last week’s episode of Downton Abbey: MEN! (Didn’t know Mr. Carson would be such a fussbudget after the wedding, did we?)

Now let’s get serious about dinner.

I’ve been seeing ads on TV, in Martha Stewart Living and other places that offer what’s called “meal kits.” If you’re not familiar with them, the most prominent players are Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated. However, a quick search discovers several more:

You may remember the company Schwann’s and their little freezer-case trucks that drive around neighborhoods occasionally. Schwann’s is a bit different than these companies, as their food is frozen, much of it processed, and geared for longer-term storage once they drop it at your house. Crock Pot’s website similarly sells frozen meals that are intended for the slow cooker, and even offer an auto-delivery service. I find that a bit baffling–I mean, how hard is it to toss some ingredients into a pot and turn it on to cook all day? But everybody’s different–some folks actually like their dinner connected to the WiFi, too.

I just found this delicious recipe on Schwann’s website, and I made some. Pretty good, but chop the garlic fine, or you’ll be eating chunks of raw garlic and not kissing anyone for a while.

I found a lot of good information on The Kitchn, and a lot of reasons why–and why not–meal kits by mail are a good idea. Let me back up and explain a little.

Remember Graze.com, the snacks-by-mail company? They’re still around, and I’ve even seen TV commercials for them recently. They’ve changed things just a bit–the boxes are now eight snacks instead of four, and yes, the price has gone up, but they’re actually less expensive than buying two boxes, and the shipping is less than two little boxes of four. They’ve expanded their offerings, too. . .and if you find something called a “flapjack” in your snack box, you’ve hit the mother lode of snacking. (Especially the cocoa flapjacks–oh, my GAWD.)

Disclosure: I have NOT tried any of these meal subscriptions for myself, but may find them useful at some point in the future. I present this completely un-sponsored information for anyone who has seen these and considered trying out one of them for reasons known to you. I’m also not encouraging you to run out and try these services–but if any one of them appeal to you, and you decide to try one, I would love to know which one(s) you tried and how you liked it.

Anyway. . . .

The basic premise of the meal kit is similar to Graze’s subscription service, but what comes in these boxes are ingredients to cook full meals with no waste. Everything is included, including recipe cards with instructions, all the ingredients, down to tiny packets of spices and condiments, and the recipe and instructions to make it. (That’s a bone of contention with some folks.) If the recipe calls for one celery stalk, that’s what you’ll find in the box–one stalk, not a whole bunch. The packaging is also recyclable and compostable to further reduce waste (you can also return the packaging to them for re-use.) The means to make a fresh, home-cooked gourmet meal comes shipped in dry ice, and I think it takes about 30 minutes to prepare (but don’t quote me on that one.)

There are no leftovers, and no containers of that spice that you probably wouldn’t buy again unless you were making this particular dish again, one day, and wanted to make sure you had that spice around. If the recipe calls for a half-teaspoon of celery seeds and a quarter teaspoon of celery salt, that’s what’s included, in tiny little containers. (Salt, pepper and oil are assumed to be already in your kitchen and are not included.)

The companies all offer menus, and you pick from those menus based on preferences, dietary restrictions, etc.The shopping and prepping has been done for you, and shipped to you in an ice-packed box that is waiting for you when you get home. Easy, right?

One advantage–which may or may not be appealing–is that there isn’t a “broker” between you and the ingredients (that is, your grocery store.) Ingredients tend to be fresher (from what I’ve read) than buying them in the grocery store. Think about it–once that bell pepper or fennel bulb is in your grocery waiting for you, it’s traveled from heaven knows where, and may not even last long enough for you to buy it. Grocery stores toss out a fair amount of soggy, limp produce–but the meal kit gets the ingredients are directly from the producers and into your hands days before you’d find it in your local market. Shipped with dry ice, it’s ready for you to open, cut, peel and cook.

You can sign up to receive free recipes by email from Blue Apron, and you can check out their cookbook online for free. Blue Apron also has an online market where you can purchase kitchenware, bakeware, tools, pots and pans, books, binders, spices, and of course, lovely blue aprons, for yourself or for gifts.

Now the big question: how much does it cost? Well, they vary from company to company. You can see Blue Apron’s pricing plan here for two people and for a family of four. It works out to $9.99 per meal for a two-person kit, and $8.74 per meal for a four-person kit. Terra’s Kitchen offers farm-to-table ingredients, shipped in a “reusable, eco-friendly vessel,” and their online menu shows a range from $11.99 per meal to $17.99 per meal, although a better explanation is in their FAQs. Terra’s Kitchen also offers gluten-free, vegetarian and Paleo menus. PR Newswire also has this article on Terra’s Kitchen, and explains that you’ll spend $160 for 10 meals from 5 recipes, which assumes dinner for two for a week, or $16 a meal.

Now, why would someone use a service like these and spend that kind of money? The answer is obvious: convenience. However, after reading comments on this article on The Kitchn, I realized that it’s not just urban yuppies who are too lazy to shop (although I’m sure there are a few of those in the mix.)  This comment was particularly telling:

I wouldn’t call myself a lazy person. I am able at times to get to the store to buy the type food the send weekly. But I am handicapped, am my illness prevents me at times to even think of what I’m going to once my feet touch the floor in the morning. So please b4 you comment think of how convenient it is for some people to have food delivered to your home. It’s healthy food and preparing it helps exercise my mind.

Never thought about that. Seriously–how many shut-ins who can’t get out like they used to could benefit from delivered meal kits? It would also make a nice gift for newlyweds, new parents, etc.

Another suggestion in the comments was for folks going to a vacation rental to have a meal kit delivered to the location with a few days worth of supplies so that you don’t have to visit restaurants every night, and can cook for yourself a few times. Not bad, right?

And another comment was about learning to cook with guidance from these meal kits:

A friend of mine who doesn’t cook told me about this, and for the convenience of them doing the shopping for him, giving him the confidence or learn how to cook, this is a great idea.

Are they worth it? That depends on you. Blue Apron’s menus are limited, but Plated’s are a little more flexible, from what I read.

If you’re considering utilizing one of these services, The Kitchn has two articles on the subject (here and here) with lots of comments from people have used Blue Apron and other meal kit companies. Read the article AND the comments before you put up your credit card. A lot of folks who have used these services have a lot to say (not just complaints), and their different perspectives might be what you need to know before you decide.

With all of these companies, I noticed that you could cancel at any time, (it’s not like the infamous “forever” gym membership) and they will work with you to resolve any issues like missed deliveries. Much like Graze, you go online and tell them if you want a future delivery, get more boxes, or if you want to skip a week (which, I think, is 3 meals in one packaged delivery.)

Again, I haven’t tried these companies out myself, but I might try a few of them in the future, just to see what it’s like. I’m used to thinking about something I want to make, shopping for it, cooking it up, and enjoying it for a few days. For me, it’s kind of tough to wrap my head around–you’ll make beef noodle something, and here is exactly what you need to make it. There are so many subscription services available now that you can get pretty much whatever you want in a little box delivered. No kidding–coffee, tea, doggie biscuits, pantyhose, makeup, shaving blades and kits–the list is endless. If there’s something you want delivered regularly, do a search, and you just might a subscription for it. That’s on top of Amazon’s Subscribe & Save service, where you can have things you use regularly like grocery items, health & beauty things and baby stuff like diapers sent to you on a recurrent basis, often at a discount. For instance, a few years ago, when I couldn’t find the shade of L’Oreal hair color I wanted in stores, I set up a regular delivery of it, and it cost less than it did when I bought it locally.

Back to the foodie part.

If you’d like some of the benefits of these meal kits but for less money, there is another option called GatheredTable. It’s an online custom meal planner that includes a grocery list, recipe library with collections like “Crave Worthy Winter Salads,” “Date Night In” and “Game Day Favorites.” You can start out with a free subscription and get to the recipes, but to continue and get the full benefit of the site, it’s $86 for a year’s subscription paid at once, or an option to try it out for 99 cents for the first month, and $10 monthly after that. What you get for the money are weekly meal plans, “smart” grocery lists that are based on what you like to eat, “curated” recipes that are tested (as well as user-submitted recipes in the library). The benefit is that you save time and money by planning more, eating out less and create less waste. There is a huge library of recipes, and you can submit your own as well. You can clip and save your favorites and find new ones you might like. But you’re back to doing the shopping. Since my meal planning adventures include cooking for a week, I don’t know that it would necessarily benefit me. If I suddenly found myself cooking for a family or a group, then it would probably come in handy. Up to you.

Another option (if you like free) is in this article on using Google Sheets for meal planning and shopping. Note that you’ll need a basic idea of using spreadsheets, but since it’s cloud-based, the list can be shared among two or more people. Would that help? Best part–it’s free, all you’ll need is a Gmail account.

Meal kits are another option for folks who like to cook, but may not necessarily have the time to do the shopping or prep work involved in nightly meals. If you’re interested, do some reading, and if you know someone who’s tried it, ask them about it too.

Meantime, I think the time is right for some Pea & Pesto Soup for me. It’s a beautiful winter day here in Houston, and I’m ready for some.

Happy Dining!

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Hummus and the HeatCageKitchen Thanksgiving

Hummus and the HeatCageKitchen Thanksgiving

Hello, Dear Readers:

How was your Thanksgiving? Did you get everything done on time? Did everyone enjoy themselves? Anyone grumble? Most importantly: did you waffle something?

Yesterday a cool front blew through, and we had rain all day, some of it pretty heavy. But in the late afternoon, when it was finally over, we were treated to this:

Never seen a pink-tinged rainbow before. I posted it on Facebook yesterday, and someone said it “indicates protection.” I hope so. (That was nice of him.)

New friend of the blog AC came by last week to chant, and I treated her to some Pizza Waffles and yeast-free microwave chocolate cake. The recipe no longer resides on Dr. Hotze’s website, but I’ve posted it on the Recipes page if anyone wants to make it. AC is going through some similar karma, and I figured she’d enjoy something different. She was planning to come Tuesday but had to postpone until Wednesday, which ended up being better for me. I made the waffle batter on Tuesday, stashed it in the fridge, and just needed to add a splash of milk and stir it again before making them. Once I got the waffle maker heated up, I went to work–I was in the zone! Poured batter in for the first one, then started on the cakes. When the first waffle went into the toaster oven, the second one was poured. Then back to the cakes. Cakes were made one at a time, plated, and brought to the table to cool. Then the pizza was ready, cakes cooled, and we had a delish dinner. I sent her home with not only the two remaining pieces of pizza, but also with some grapefruit salsa I’d made, clothes I was going to donate, a number of plastic containers of various sizes, a small green lunch bag, and some old computer speakers. I carried the big black bag to her car, and it turned out she was given a couple of lamps that day, too! Made out like a bandit, she did, and there’s a little less stuff in here. So it was pretty good for a Wednesday.

You’ll notice the end of most everything “pumpkin,” and the advent of everything “mint,” “peppermint,” or “Christmas flavored.” Seriously, you did notice all the pumpkin stuff now on sale, right? (I was in Cost Plus World Market on Saturday for a bite of chocolate and saw lots of it for 70% off.) Just remember that you can get canned pumpkin in the grocery all year around, if you’re a huge fan of it. Once Christmas is over, if not before, heart-shaped red things will be showing up. . .but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Starbucks still has them, far as I can tell, until the end of the year. But if you’re still wanting a “pumpkin spice latte,” check out this alternate version I’ve added to the Recipes page. (I haven’t tried it myself, but it looks a lot better than the original.) It came to me in a recent Graze box (because I had a few discounts to use up) and I intended to add it earlier but forgot. Really, this one you can have in May if you like–and no chemical ingredients, so go for it. Here’s an alternate yeast-free PSL version from Dr. Hotze’s Vitamin Shop website, if you’re really into the PSL. (I told you what happened when I tried the real thing at Starbucks, because I had a coupon for it.)

If you haven’t tried Graze yet, use the promo code AMYO2RN78. You get your first and fifth Graze box free, and you’ll get your own promo code to pass along to your friends–which leads to discounts and more free boxes later.

You can also send a Graze box as a last-minute Christmas gift, too–but hurry.

Do you like Crisco? Do you know the history of it? Fellow copywriter Steve Maurer wrote this column a while back for his own website, but I’m finally remembering to reference it here. The article is actually about content marketing (intended for companies interested in using him to write for them) but he adds in some very interesting historical information about. . .Crisco. Yes Crisco vegetable shortening, the bastion of Southern biscuits and church suppers all over America. Bet you didn’t know the story started out with candles, did you? It’s not a long read, but if you’re a fan of the stuff, you might find it interesting–and he ties in the content marketing part very well.

How was MY Thanksgiving? Well. . . .

It was kind of quiet here–the GER sort of “missed” a number of emails on the subject. I called him the night before, and he said, “Oh, I guess I forgot. I’m going to eat with Kyle and his mama.” Needless to say, I didn’t bother baking that pecan pie with the chocolate crust. I returned the pecans and one or two other unneeded supplies to HEB and that was the end of it. . .and the end of his holiday dinner invitations, darnit.

Fortunately, I had a sympathetic friend who was all kinds of nice about it. However, that friend is in Louisiana, so an hours-long drive wasn’t an option, particularly since this friend had to go to work on Black Friday. Early.

I did, however, bake plenty of the gluten free (and vegan) cornbread that’s on the Recipes page (page 53 of Babycakes). I only made one loaf at a time, and enjoyed the heck out of it. (Not all at once, of course.) I actually considered waffling some of the batter, but never got around to it. I have plenty of corn flour, so it won’t be a problem to make more. I was planning to bake the Babycakes cornbread and the Martha Stewart recipe that nobody ever turns down. Well, the GER turned me down, so I never made any. All that vegan, gluten-free deliciousness was MINE.

One thing I did do was brine and roast turkey thighs. The new Sur la Table in Baybrook Mall had a grand opening, where I asked them to sharpen my big, heavy and dangerous kitchen knife. While I was there, I picked up some turkey brine, which was on sale for Thanksgiving. I also found the Prepara Roasting Laurel on sale, and got one intending to cook several thighs.

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I saw it in the catalog and thought it was pretty neat. It’s just silicone, and you can shape it to hold stuff up, or in place, like stuffed bell peppers. It works in anything, up to 500F. I bought it not only for Thanksgiving and possibly Christmas, but also to put under whole roasts and things in the Crock Pot. Neat, huh? I got it on sale, and it went right into the dishwasher and came out clean. Highly recommended if you do that kind of thing, and even at the full price of $20, it’s still a well-priced item. I just might finally try roasting a chicken in the Crock Pot to make it come out like a rotisserie chicken from HEB.

But since I only cooked four turkey thighs, I used it anyway, and they came out perfectly roasted and tasty.

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Roasted them at 350F for an hour, and it was just what I wanted. In addition to cornbread, I made some Cranberry Ginger Relish and of course, roasted sweet potato french fries. I was considering making this interesting dish with acorn squash (it’s also in Clean Slate) but I knew what kind of look I would get from you-know-who, so I never bought the ingredients. I didn’t even make dessert, because I just didn’t feel like messing with anything else. Christmas will likely be a Lemon Chicken, one of my favorite Martha Stewart recipes from years ago. The first time I made it my parents were coming to Houston to see me and my then-spouse. My mother’s comment was that it was quite salty; but I like it, so I marinate it the full two days. In the magazine there were other accompanying recipes, like lemon-roasted potatoes, as well. Since I only got two Meyer lemons off my tree this year, I’ll stick with the chicken.

Now. . .look out!! Christmas is coming!! And that means. . .parties. Office parties, church parties, friend parties, cocktail parties. . .and you’re likely to be on the hook for bringing something, right? OK, I’ve got you covered.

Make hummus. Seriously. Quick, easy, and tasty.

Now, hummus is one of those things that not many people knew about or made, but it’s kind of always been around, and gaining popularity for a few years. Me, I’ve only started eating it in the last few years, after I found this hummus recipe in Real Simple magazine. (A PDF copy is also available on the Recipes page.) I make it quite often, and also made the same recipe when I made Waffled Falafel (instead of the hummus recipe that came with it.)

I can’t find the article from the Wall Street Journal that discussed turning tobacco farmers into chickpea farmers, but with hummus growing in popularity, more chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) need to be grown. One older gentleman who farmed tobacco his whole life had no idea what chickpeas were, much less what they tasted like or why he should switch. Once offered some hummus and other items with chickpeas, he was convinced.

Now back to hummus. What is it, actually?

Hummus is a nice thick dip made with chickpeas, olive oil, a bit of garlic, salt, and something called tahini. If you’ve never tried it, tahini is simply ground sesame seeds, turned into a paste, much like peanuts turned into peanut butter. (You want the kind that is nothing but ground sesame seeds; Trader Joe’s has one that has wheat flour in it as a thickener.)

There are many brands of tahini, both domestic and imported. Kroger’s Simple Truth has some that’s actually made in Israel, no kidding. But this is a different brand I found, also made in the US, with just sesame seeds:

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This is what you look for, no matter which brand you buy:

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Despite the font on the bottle, this hummus is actually made in Texas:

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Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the additives until I got home. This also came from Kroger, but from the international section, where you may have to look to find it in your town.

20150228_124209.jpgAdmittedly, it was a bit odd, but I’m remembering to read labels, too.

Tahini tends to be on the expensive side, but you will only use a small amount when you make hummus. Any more than a tablespoon or two, and it will be too strong.

The easiest and quickest way to go is to use canned chickpeas. At the HEB in Friendswood, I think these run about 72¢ a can.

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Goya, the national brand, might run $1 or so per can. Your choice.

However, if you’re like LK’s sister, and you want no canned foods, you can always get some dried chickpeas and cook them overnight in the crock pot.

Dried garbanzo beans. Do you pass these up in the grocery? Now you don't have to.

Dried chickpeans. Do you pass these up in the grocery? Now you don’t have to.

Dried chickpeas are usually with the rest of the dried beans, although I’ve never seen them in bulk bins like pinto beans are here in Texas. But bagged up like this, a pound will usually run anywhere from about 88¢ to maybe $1.25 (but that’s here in Houston, too.) But the organic chickpeas from Arrowhead Mills on the right were about $5.15 in Erma’s Nutrition Center, but that’s because they’re organic and all that. I didn’t buy them to make hummus with, though–I bought them to sprout and plant in the HeatCageKitchen Garden, which I haven’t done just yet.

Chickpeas are pretty darn good on their own (like in Waffled Falafel) but they’re also great mixed in salads, or other cooked dishes. My favorite frozen veg blend from HEB has, among other things, cooked chickpeas. It’s just frozen veg, no sauce or seasonings.

If you go the dried bean route, you just put them in your Crock Pot, cover them with water to an inch or so over the top, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on low, and leave it alone. Overnight worked for me, but of course, daytime cooking works as well. (Note that with the Waffled Falafel, you soak them in water to cover in the refrigerator overnight, and they’re cooked in the waffle maker.)

Now for the hummus part. Recipes abound for it, but I became a fan several years ago when I found that recipe in Real Simple. For a few years now, I make a double batch on the weekend and keep it in the fridge to nibble on sometimes. I stopped doing it earlier this year, but I shouldn’t have. I made some this weekend and realized how much I missed it.

You’ll need a food processor, of course. For one recipe, just drain and rinse one 15-ounce can of chickpeas (or about a cup and a half or so of some you’ve cooked yourself) and dump that into the bowl. Add one clove of fresh garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the aforementioned tahini, a teaspoon of ground cumin, and a quarter-teaspoon of paprika. Whiz that up like this:

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Add a little hot water until it becomes a nice smooth consistency, and it comes out like this:

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Perfect hummus.

Now, I’d like to point out that although the original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. . .I only use 1 tablespoon per batch. Commercial hummus has too much lemon in it for me, and you can’t taste anything over the acidic bite. Half the lemon juice gives it a subtle flavor and makes it just perfect.

So what do you do with it? I eat it just like that with a spoon. . .but as a dip, it’s wonderful. Chips, celery or other veg, or whatever you like to dip. Up to you.

NOW do you see why I posted it? Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I just gave you something to take with you to a holiday party, and it’s really easy and simple to make. I make a double batch that usually lasts me the weekend, but two double batches should be enough for a party. And nothing in it is perishable, so it won’t go bad if it sits out on the table for a while. (Leave it in the fridge until you leave for the party, though.)

Now let’s kick it up a notch.

Remember when I went to the Woodlands Wellness Lunch in February? Chef Michael’s hummus was delicious–but his second batch, with sun dried tomatoes, was an unexpected surprise. (Served with sweet potato chips, you become enlightened.) Want to make new friends? Make an extra double batch of this hummus, and add six sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, and blitz it. The hummus will turn a slightly different color and have a wonderful taste to it. I did it with six, but start with two and work your way up to see how you like it. THAT will get you noticed!

Wherever you go this holiday season, keep hummus in mind as a quick, easy go-to thing for a potluck. Heck, even if you’re already making something else, hummus wouldn’t be a bad idea to add to the potluck. (My experience with potlucks is that everyone loves to bring desserts, but I’m sure that’s just me.)

Soon you’ll be seeing commercials on TV for exercise equipment, diet programs, Weight Watchers and other “New Years’s resolutions.” Wait for it. . .it’s coming. You’ll see them while sipping egg nog and nibbling the gingerbread house. A little moderation during the holidays might help, but if you’re like me, you might not be able to leave the cranberry pecan biscotti alone. Eating healthy most of the time can help offset the one-off (or two-off) party where the food is just too good to leave alone. (I speak from experience.)

Not sure if I’ll be posting again until after the holidays; if I find something important, I’ll be sure to post it here.
Whatever you do, here’s wishing everyone a great holiday season and a joyous, prosperous New Year. (Including me.)

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pizza. Waffles.

Pizza. Waffles.

Happy Monday, Dear Readers:

So after my waffle and Thanksgiving post, have you started thinking about your own Thanksgiving celebration? I’m still intrigued with the idea of the pizza waffle, so I kept going. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute. But Thanksgiving is coming up quick–if you haven’t started thinking and planning, better hurry up!

The GER has been informed of Thanksgiving, but has not responded, even though I’ll be making a delicious pecan pie on Wednesday. If he doesn’t show up, I’ll go get him.

Want to give a quick welcome to new friend of the blog AC. She’s in California this week with her parents, but she’ll get around to reading this one eventually. She’s a longtime friend of LK, and is also a longtime Buddhist like we are. Woo hoo! I’m glad she’s in our district now, and glad she will be enjoying (or reviling) my posts.

Wal-Mart has a site with some additional tips and hacks that can help you out, including a quick way to chill a bottle of wine. Cover it with a damp towel, stash it in the freezer for 15 minutes, run it under cold water again, remove the towel, and enjoy.

BuzzFeed also has this article on making an entire Thanksgiving dinner in a Crock Pot. No kidding, it serves 6 to 8 people. It’s like any other Crock Pot recipe–you chop it up, layer it, put the lid on, turn it on, and leave it. (Instructions are included.) Uses boneless, skinless turkey breasts, thighs or other parts you like, and potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, the whole bit. Add cranberry sauce and a nice dessert, maybe a nice salad, and you’re good. Better than Thanksgiving In A Box, which I’ve seen once in Wal-Mart. I offer suggestions where I can, and just maybe one of my readers will be able to do this. It requires a 6-quart or larger Crock Pot (yes, I have a round one) and it is not gluten-free, since there’s bread and flour involved for gravy.

Doesn’t look bad, and maybe it could be made gluten free, right? Consider this option if you’re looking to make something but not a big, fancy dinner, and not a huge 20+ pound turkey. I haven’t tried it, but it looks pretty simple to do, and one of you dear readers may be looking for it.

The esteemed Washington Post recently ran an article about Houston as one of America’s great food cities. Well, DUH!! Of course we are!  Phoenicia’s two locations got a mention, as well as the Hong Kong Food Market, a chain grocery with multiple locations serving the large Asian community (and they don’t mind if this redhead pops in from time to time, either.)  Houston, like New Orleans, has a large Vietnamese population, migrated after the Vietnam war. But smoked brisket, barbeque and modern cuisine is also covered. I’ve not been in any of those restaurants myself, but I’ve heard good things about Underbelly. So there! And Houston is now #3 in the US, not #4, because of the inbound migration from other US states.

If you’re a fan of local raw honey, you may be able to find more of it one day. I already knew that Central Market on Lovers Lane in Dallas has a rooftop beehive that produces raw honey for sale. But I just found out that the Waldorf Astoria in New York is doing the same thing, and using the honey in the hotel’s kitchens. Pretty neat! It was, at one time, illegal to keep bees in NYC, but that’s changed, and the busy bees are making honey and pollinating all of New York. Could “rooftop beekeeping” catch on elsewhere? It’s always possible, especially for the rest of the Central Markets in Texas. But with more people starting and expanding urban gardens (some including backyard chickens), beekeeping may also not be far behind. Culinary seller Williams-Sonoma has an entire collection of what they call “Agrarian,” which includes beekeeping supplies. You can learn more about beekeeping in this section of their website. If you’re considering beekeeping, of course, you’ll need to do a little more research.

Switching gears. . .

If you like holiday humor, I discovered many (but not all) uncut episodes of one of my favorite Britcoms, My Family, is on YouTube. It aired on BBC America and PBS for a while, but they stopped. It’s one of the funniest sitcoms ever, although it’s probably not for kids. Only series 1 through 4 are available on DVD in the US, but a boxed set is available of the entire series, including 9 Christmas episodes, in the UK. You can order them from the UK, but of course, you have to have a region-free DVD player in order to play it. So. . .one of my goals is to one day a) get a region-free DVD player, and b) order that series as well as some other UK-only stuff and c) binge-watch all 11 seasons of My Family. Repeatedly. It’s that funny.

The series revolves around a dentist, his wife and their three children. The daughter drops out of college when she is pregnant with her son Kenzo, the eldest son is an idiot, and the youngest is a smart, conniver who his always up to something, usually involving money and his computer. The series ran until 2011 when they ended it, and of course, I don’t know how it all wrapped up. Yet.

In the early-series episode called Ding Dong Merrily, there is a particularly amusing scene when the wife/mother, who sees herself as Britain’s premiere gourmet home cook, (and she isn’t) is stuffing a turkey for Christmas lunch. The husband, a dentist, walks in and asks what kind of a turkey it is. The wife responds, “Chocolate Raisin Turkey. It’s Moroccan!” Then the husband says, “Oh, no, look–your cookbook pages are stuck together. You’ve gone from poultry straight to dessert.” The wife replies, “That’s how great discoveries are made!”  Then he goes into the living room and looks at the TV schedule, and finds “Carols From The Oil Rig” in the TV schedule.

When Christmas Lunch is finally served, the mother asks the pregnant teenage daughter what part of the turkey she’d like; the daughter responds, “I’m a vegetarian, Mom.” The mother responds: OK, Janie, help yourself to vegetables.” When she asks the smart-aleck youngest son, he responds the same way. The mother replies, “I wish you’d told me before.” The son responds, “I wanted to see what it looked like first.”  It’s a half hour, and there are short commercial breaks, but if you really want to watch it, this show is what I’d call “probably not safe for work.”  There’s minimal swearing, not very much, no nudity or anything like that, it’s just more for grownups. Oh, and the phrase “up the duff” means the same thing as “knocked up” does here.

Happy Christmas!

Now, I’m still intrigued with the idea of pizza from a waffle maker, so I had to try it myself. Ree Drummond actually made one recently on her Pioneer Woman show on The Food Network, in an episode called Dorm Room Dining. Her eldest daughter, Alex, has left the ranch and gone to Texas A&M for college, so I guess this episode was just for her. There are also waffle-maker quesadillas and paninis, as well as what she calls a Wafflet, which is eggs, ham and mozzarella cheese. See? WAFFLES!! They’re sweeping the country!!

Well, almost. I went into our new Sur la Table here in Baybrook Mall for the grand opening, and was checking out some of their pizza things. I mentioned to two ladies next to me (one of whom was in a wheelchair) that I’m fascinated with pizzas made in a waffle iron. The one pushing the wheelchair gave me a rude look and said, “I guess that’s good if you’re single, huh?”  My response: “Depends on the size of your waffle maker, I guess.”  No, Toto, we’re not in The Woodlands, either. But they did sharpen my big knife for free. (First one is free, the rest are $5 each, all year long.)

So what happens when the star food blogger in the HeatCageKitchen gets a hankering for pizza? That’s definitely one of those things I miss having, but of course, there are alternatives to ordering from Papa John’s. So she goes on Pinterest and finds what she wants. This time, my new taste tester, Neighbor E, also got to try some pizza waffles. I’ve stocked up on pizza sauce, but will get more cheese soon,so I can make it anytime this winter, along with Pea & Pesto Soup.

Let that roll around in your head awhile, OK? Pizza. Waffles. Or, Waffled Pizza. Or nearly instant pizza from the waffle maker, depending on what recipe you use.

Pizza. Waffles.

I’ve uploaded these two to the Recipes page, one is a scan and one is a PDF created from the blog it came from. One is a thick crust pizza, the other a thin, crispy crust. I liked both, and so did Neighbor E, but Neighbor R wasn’t crazy about the thick crust. So here’s the first one, thick crust and easy.


The new function in WordPress, a “mosaic.”

I discovered that the quinoa flour called for in the recipe is about $13 a pound, but oat flour can be used. Well, I have used oat flour for many years, and it’s about $3 or $4 pound, depending on where you buy it. So guess what I used? I also don’t have sweet rice flour, so I used the brown rice flour I have.

Really, this is pretty simple, you just mix it up, pour it on the waffle maker and waffle it. Top it with whatever you like, and stash it under the broiler to melt the cheese.

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PIzza!!

The first time I bought Classico’s pizza sauce, but when I went to HEB last week, I discovered their store brand, (organic, no less!) for sixty cents less a bottle:

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Echoes of future pizzas.

Now, the second one, from the fabulous new book Will It Waffle?, takes a little more work. (It’s the book I wrote about in the first waffle blog post.) The recipe isn’t gluten free–so if you just want regular bread flour, go for it. However, I wanted to try this recipe, which also includes instant yeast, just to see if it would work with a gluten free flour. For this one, I picked up a bag of Bob’s Red Mill 1-for-1 baking flour, which, I think, ran about $4 in Kroger:

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This recipe involved letting the dough rise like you would bread. But since it was cool on Saturday, leaving the dough in a warm place to rise involved heating up the toaster oven, putting the dough in a bowl, covering it with a pot lid, putting it into the oven and turning it off for a couple of hours while I went out for a 2 hour bike ride:

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Worked like a charm, too:

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Then you punch it down, knead it, and you end up with six potential pizzas:

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Daniel Shumski does tell you that the recipe makes extra crusts. Well, I waffled two regular sized pizzas and one about the size of a donut, and the rest were packed up to freeze for a future pizza (just let the dough thaw at room temp):

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After that, it was pretty much like dealing with pie crust but a lot more delicate. Roll it out on a floured board (you don’t need much.) Then, like a pie crust, roll it onto the floured rolling pin, the unroll it onto the plate until you’re ready to waffle it:

Neat, huh?

Then you just proceed with the cooking process on a heated waffle maker:

Take it out, top it, and just like the prior pizza, stash it under the broiler to melt the cheese:

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PIZZA!!

Since I’d been on the bike for 2 hours (ahhhh. .  .) I ate a whole regular sized pizza and the donut-sized pizza. Stop it–it wasn’t THAT much! I gave Neighbor E and Neighbor R each half of the second pizza right out of the broiler.

Now, with the yeasted crust, it’ll take a while because you have to let the yeast rise. However, the crust can be made in advance and thawed. I haven’t thawed any yet, but it probably shouldn’t take long. Then just roll it out and waffle.

This crust came out a bit like a crispy pappadam, the crispy bread served in Indian restaurants. I didn’t think it was going to taste good, because the raw dough wasn’t tasty at all. But boy, once you apply that waffle heat to it, it stiffens up really good, and the toppings just make it.

Three thumbs up! (Mine, E’s and R’s.)

Shimski also gives an option for a cannoli-style pizza, which I haven’t tried yet either. But I might, adding some sausage, pepperoni or something else. Hmmm. . .waffled pineapple, maybe? (Yes, pineapple on pizza is good.)

But with the first pizza, you can have it in the time it takes to call out for pizza, and it’s gluten free.

So here’s where I’ll close this delicious and interesting post, and wish everyone in the US (or anywhere) a Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy what there is to enjoy, and remember what you’re thankful for, too.

Don’t forget the best recipe ever for Leftover Turkey Chowder on the Recipes page, too.

And if you’re going out to Christmas shop on “Black Friday, ” please, please be careful–or reconsider. Sometimes it’s actually dangerous to go out shopping, and people have been badly hurt just trying to get at that great deal on a TV, DVD player, PC, or whatever. I might just walk up to my Starbucks instead, just to go for a walk that day.

Whichever pizza you chose, keep it in mind for a quick meal sometime. The fun is in trying something new, and experimenting with it. With or without salad, soup, or whatever else you might have with it, making pizza waffles is a neat way to make a pizza when you’re in the mood for it.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Dining!!

 

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Thanksgiving Advice from the HeatCageKitchen

Thanksgiving Advice from the HeatCageKitchen

Hello, Dear Readers:

This time every year, home cooks all over America fret about Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the idea of cooking a turkey. Maybe it’s the idea of hosting the “perfect” Thanksgiving dinner. Or maybe it’s because they really, REALLY can’t cook. Whatever the reason, I’m here to try and shed a little light on having an enjoyable and un-harried time at your own party. One place to start–but by no means is the be-all and end-all–is this link to Martha Stewart’s website, with everything Thanksgiving. There are even meatless recipes for your vegetarian guests, or if you just don’t want to deal with a bird.

Before we get started. . . .

Is Domino’s Pizza part of your regular dinner routine? Well, check out Domino’s new Ultimate Pizza Driving Machine. Four years in the making, it will ensure your pizza is hot and fresh with the built-in warming oven that opens to the outside. No passenger seats means that your pizza delivery person is solo, and there’s more room in the vehicle for what’s important–pizza, drinks, sauces, and dessert. If that’s what you do for a living, of course. Or if you just love Domino’s. I’m sure we’ll be seeing one of those cruising around Clear Lake one of these days.

What do I tell you about getting free coffee from Starbucks? Register your card!!!

Last week I got an email that Starbucks Rewards members could get a “free scoop” of this year’s Christmas blend in advance from stores from 2pm to 5 pm. I hopped in my ride and went (as well as one other stop), asked for it, and was handed a HALF POUND BAG. No kidding.

It's HERE!!

It’s HERE!!

See what you get for being a diligent Starbucks customer?

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The downside is that it’s regular coffee, not decaf, so I’ll be using it a tiny bit at a time. I’ve just about finished last year’s Christmas blend:

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Bought on sale AFTER Christmas for half price

Starbucks 2015 Christmas Blend will be available soon in stores. Rewards members can order it now (including decaf) from the Starbucks store online. I told Neighbor E about it–except that he doesn’t drink coffee. BUT–he went and got his half-pound, and now he has a gift for his sister, or anyone else he wants to give it to.

This weekend ushered in Houston’s real fall weather with rain and wind. It may be COLD for Thanksgiving, and if so, that will be great.  I made what I believe is my final batch of pesto for the year, because those plants probably won’t get any bigger–and will likely be gone in the next few weeks. But that’s OK, you know my freezer is stocked with delicious, freshly made PESTO. (Now to get sweet peas in the freezer instead of the “regular” ones.) Bring on the Pea Pesto Soup!

One of the new basil plants ended up being a feeding stem for the neighborhood slugs. I just left the poor thing alone, so that the slugs will eat that and leave my other two to grow.

Elsewhere in the garden, I have seven little jalepenos growing, and the Anaheim/Hatch peppers seemed to have slowed down a bit. That’s OK, I have some in the fridge, and will probably just roast them up and put them in another slow-cooked breakfast quiche. The jalapenos, I have no idea yet. The two Meyer lemons are ripening and getting bigger, and I’ll probably pick them in December. There are two bell peppers coming, and once they start turning red, they’ll be brought inside for. . .something. I made a pot of chili and used the first one, which turned a beautiful shade of red over a week.

The celery stalk that’s been re-growing for a while is probably in need of cutting and using. I need to plant more celery, the garlic and lettuce pretty soon, too. One of the pepper plants I received after our monthly garden lectures didn’t make it, but the one I bought recently seems to be doing OK. The parsley is growing back, and I’ll use that soon. There is one tiny Key lime on the bottom of the tree, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen with it. I’m re-growing some green onions and they’re already shooting up several inches. I’ll transplant the new ones into the container soon. The sage, which I’d hoped would be ready for Thanksgiving. . .well, nothing happened. Might need to go buy one at Kroger, along with some organic celery so I can grow more.

Now let’s get on with Thanksgiving. Again, remember two things:

  • You will prepare 29 other dinners in the month of November
  • A turkey is a big chicken. If you can roast a chicken, you can roast a turkey successfully

Several years ago, I was watching Nigella Lawson make an appearance on either Martha Stewart’s or Rachel Ray’s daily show. It was right before Thanksgiving, part of the promotional tour for one of her books. She mentioned that a British friend who’d moved to New York didn’t know how to roast a turkey. She called on Thanksgiving Day for help, keeping Nigella on the phone until the turkey was done. I don’t even want to know how much that phone call cost.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do that. Assuming you had Nigella Lawson’s phone number.

As I mentioned in the last post, your humble waffle-making appliance can be redeployed to open up to a whole new world of helpful culinary possibilities. This includes Thanksgiving–especially dessert and any breads or rolls you may be considering serving. My suggestion would be to do some research now, roll it around in your head, and test out one or two (or more) recipes beforehand. So when it’s time to start preparing and cooking for Thanksgiving, you know how the waffled brownies or stuffing waffles will come out, and you’ll be ready. If you are cooking for a family, they’ll enjoy trying out the new recipes, too. (Unless they’re like my eldest brother, or the recipes don’t work.)  Many things will cook faster in a waffle iron, and if you need more than one, ask your friends, relatives and/or guests if they would bring one for you and your Thanksgiving Day “staff” to use. (The simpler the machine, the better.)  Don’t worry about if they’re all square or round. If you have more than one and they’re mixed, use the square machine to produce breads, and the round ones for dessert–that way you can keep track of what everything is. And that book on waffling wouldn’t be a bad thing to get, either–lots of good recipes for both bread-y things and sweet things, too. All I’m saying is give it some thought.

Think about that for a minute–hot, crispy waffles from stuffing. Hot, crispy cornbread. . .waffled. Even mac & cheese, waffled. The possibilities really are endless–and unique. (Just keep them warm in the oven or toaster oven until dinner.)  Start trying recipes now and you’ll be ready for Thanksgiving.

Speaking of appliances, consider your Crock Pot, too. I have a low-carb recipe on the recipes page for a chocolate custard that you make in the Crock Pot a day or two in advance and refrigerate. There are more recipes available online for anything you want to make for Thanksgiving. Borrow a Crock Pot from a friend who’s not using theirs; ask nicely. Again, planning ahead, give it some thought, maybe even making a schedule (which is a good idea for a big affair.) Will you have to cook something overnight? Make sure you plan for that.

A frequent suggestion from people like Ina Garten is to make as much as you can in advance. (Hint: The Crock Pot is perfect for this!) Cranberry sauce, for instance, can be made and refrigerated three days ahead. This recipe for Cranberry Ginger Relish has never failed me. (A printable copy is also available on the Recipes page.)  It’s simple, it’s absolutely delicious, and can even be made sugar-free (If you have some, SomerSweet is wonderful, but other comparable sweeteners can also work–try them out first if you have diabetics attending.) I highly recommend finding sherry vinegar for this recipe–I found the last bottle at Cost Plus World Market, but any upscale grocery like The Fresh Market, Central Market, or Whole Foods may have it as well.

You can find downloadable planning guides from Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma at these links. (It seems I kept the paper one from 2007; wonder if I should toss it.) Martha Stewart’s website has  Everything Thanksgiving, and The Food Network also has a “make ahead Thanksgiving” to make and freeze. And everyone’s new favorite redhead, Ree Drummond, has your back with more recipes and a section for what to do with it the day after.

And that’s just off the top of my head. Even grocery store websites have them, like Texas-based HEB and the east-coast grocer Publix. You may have your own favorites, too–that’s OK. But start thinking now, and make your lists and schedules before you realize it’s tomorrow!!

I will also remind you of the day I had the GER over for Thanksgiving two years ago. We’re still friends, thank heavens, but read what *not* to do in that post. Like start a glass of wine and keep refilling and drinking it. While cooking. He’s still not over that one.

Don’t forget about spatchcocking a turkey. Yes, it works for any bird, but with a turkey it’ll cook a lot faster than the standard roasting. I did it last time, and got no complaints about the turkey from the GER:

Looks a bit strange, being flat, but it cooks a lot faster

Looks a bit strange, being flat, but it cooks a lot faster

If you have a turkey roaster like I used to, it can, all year long, double as a secondary oven. Roast your turkey in it at the holidays, but use it for whole chicken, turkey parts, or other things the rest of the year. (I got rid of mine when we no longer had the “Buddhist Thanksgiving.”) Remember–110 vs. 220. If you have enough room, and a large family, this is a good thing to have around. Our hostess one year put that roaster in the laundry room–but that’s fine, because it kept it out of the way. But once or twice a year? Spatchcock that bird and get it done faster.

Turkey roasts at 350F and comes out just fine, whether you spatchcock it or leave it whole. Honest, my mother still believes that you have to cook the turkey at 200F for 8 to 12 hours to “kill all the germs.” Don’t do this–350F is a better temperature to do that, just like a chicken. Here’s a basic primer on roasting turkey, from The Food Network.

Generally, you allow 13 to 15 minutes per pound of turkey. That means a 10-to-12 pound turkey will cook in 2.5 to 3 hours. A turkey 20 pounds and up will take about 3.75 to 4.5 hours. You MUST check the temperature and make sure that the MEAT registers 165F in the thickest part of the breast or leg, without touching the bone. If you can “shake hands” with the turkey, that is, jiggle the leg, you’re probably done–but use that thermometer before you take it out of the oven. When you do, let it rest for 20 minutes or so before carving.

Now, how do you prep that turkey? Longtime readers will know I’m a big fan of brining a turkey, but you have to prepare well ahead of time–this takes a few days. First, if the turkey is frozen, you have to let it thaw in the fridge for a few days. THEN you prepare the brine. THEN you prep it for the roasting part.

You can make your brine or buy some. I’ve bought it when I’ve done it, but between The Food Network and Martha Stewart, you can find away to do it yourself. Oh, and don’t forget The Pioneer Woman’s turkey brine, too. But you can also find turnkey turkey brining supplies at both Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma (who also has smoked and pre-brined turkeys available, some in organic.)  Both Sur la Table and Williams-Sonoma have lots of recipes on their pages as well–so there’s no shortage of ideas. Still–plan ahead, and make a schedule if need be.

“Stuffing,”as we know it, is probably not the best thing to make–cooking it inside the turkey, as we now know, can be problematic. Many people cook “dressing” on the side in a baking dish to prevent things like salmonella from undercooked parts. I’ll agree with that, of course, but many people don’t. I get that–but in my kitchen, I’d rather not risk making someone ill from one the molecule that didn’t get cooked. If you want to cook stuffing inside the bird, go for it–just don’t over-stuff it. There was, at one time, a stuffing cage available, but I don’t remember where I saw that one. You put the stuffing into the wire cage, put it inside the bird and roast it. When it’s done, you just simply pull the cage out of the bird and serve it.

But you know, stuffing waffles sounds like a lot more fun. I mean, why not? If you’re game, you can make more than one kind of stuffing, and waffle them up. Don’t like that idea? Consider Rachel Ray’s idea for Stuffin’ Muffins–bake the dressing in muffin tins, and everyone gets the crunchy part! (Here’s a along with an accompanying video.)  I’ve actually done my own stuffin’ muffins, but not that recipe, and they were well received.

Side dishes are as varied as the people who cook them. What do you like? What don’t you like? (Please don’t tell me about sweet potato casserole with marshmallows and other sugar-overload ingredients–that’s one of those things I hate and won’t eat.) Personally, I really like Ina Garten’s roasted Brussels sprouts–they’re roasted at a high heat for an hour, and they really are good when they’re salty like French fries. I haven’t made these in a long time, but they are hot, salty, and delicious, especially right out of the oven.

Oh–and another thing. You may find yourself with a vegetarian guest. No need to leave them out. Martha Stewart also has a selection of vegetarian recipes to chose from, which also may double as side dishes. That acorn squash recipe with the grapes is from Clean Slate, and I plan to make it with quinoa one day. If you know someone is vegetarian, you can easily plan ahead. If not, make one or two, and you’re covered.

I will say that when we did the Buddhist Thanksgiving, (which was also a potluck) you never knew what was going to show up. Sure, we had turkey, dressing, dessert, and some traditional things. But we also had Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Japanese rice balls, sushi, taco salad, and anything else someone decided to bring. Cultural diversity on your plate–delicious, and not entirely traditional, but it sure was fun.

Sweet potatoes are wonderful when they are roasted just like white potatoes, and butter is added, along with salt if needed. Why would anyone completely obliterate sweet potatoes with marshmallows, pineapple rings and Maraschino cherries? UGH. Here’s the best sweet potato recipe ever--use regular or smoked paprika, not hot, and don’t bother with lime wedges. Make sure your oven is working properly, and bake them in a single layer. You’re welcome. (There is also a Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe in Will It Waffle? that I haven’t tried.)

What’s for dessert? Depending on how many people you have, you may want to make small amounts of more than one dessert, or double up on one particular dessert, such as a pie or a cake. How complicated of a recipe are you willing to make? Are you the person who would pick the most visually appealing dessert and make it no matter what? A pie from scratch, including handmade crusts? Or are you asking people to pick up pie at the grocery the day before? Give that some thought–and include your waffle maker in your thoughts, too, like the Waffled Apple Pie. (Or anything you might find on Pinterest, YouTube or Facebook.)

If you’re looking for something less complicated than a multi-layered cake or hand-made pies, these Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Squares are easy to make and very delicious. Now, I LIKE pumpkin, I don’t LOVE it like some folks do, but this recipe is great. Canned pumpkin puree is available year-round. They sound a bit odd, but these came out delicious and perfect, and you can make them anytime you want them. This was an Everyday Food recipe many years ago, and I made them to bring to a Buddhist meeting. There wasn’t a crumb left, so that made me feel good.

If you are dead-set against anything pumpkin, here’s an easy, seasonal dessert that will have your guests asking for seconds–Pear And Sour-Cherry Flat Pie. Using frozen puff pastry, dried sour cherries and fresh pears, it’s pretty simple to put together, although you must keep the puff pastry cold until you’re ready to work with it. As always, read the directions before you start, and make sure you have a) all the correct ingredients, and b) plenty of parchment paper. I ran out the Thanksgiving morning I made this pie, and used aluminum foil instead. (I made two of them, of course.) I just didn’t have time to go get any parchment paper that morning. So we had to pick the pie pieces off the aluminum foil (and vice versa) when serving. But it still went over well. Also, the Dufor’s brand of puff pastry was unavailable here, so I got what I could find–plenty of Pepperidge Farms.

An apple cake is also a safe bet, and recipes abound for those too. I can’t seem to find the apple cake recipe I made ONCE that was from the October 1996 Martha Stewart Living, but I did find the applesauce that you use to make the cake. Since I was recently married, and working full time, I had to make the applesauce one weekend, freeze it, then make the cake the next weekend, or maybe the day before Thanksgiving. It was wonderful! My recently-widowed aunt raved about that cake for years. If I ever go back I might try to bring her one of those cakes, or maybe send her one for Christmas if I can figure out how.

Yes, this was long before I went gluten free.

Also, may I respectfully suggest getting as many of your ingredients as you can now, especially popular things like the puff pastry, cranberries, etc. Anything that you can freeze ahead of time would be a good thing to do. How do I know? As I say, I speak from experience. I know, particularly with something in Martha Stewart Living, that I’m not the only one who wants to make something and needs that one ingredient nobody buys the rest of the year. Grocers have no idea there’s an uptick in sales coming for that one thing, and they’ll run out because they were unaware it was going to be something everyone wanted. So if it calls for frozen puff pastry, cranberry preserves, or anything else that isn’t a regular grocery item, I get it in advance and make sure it’s in my pantry, fridge or freezer. Because if you wait for a few days before Thanksgiving, you’ll realize that a lot of folks got the same idea. Shop early, freeze or refrigerate whatever you can, and start early.

Additionally, you’ll want to check your regular pantry supplies and make sure that if you need something, you have it.  Make sure you have enough, and maybe extra, of staples–flour, sugar, salt, pepper, limes, lemons, etc. Anything you’re used to just reaching into the pantry or fridge for–make extra sure you have plenty. Here, I know that Kroger is open during the day, but in many places, there aren’t any stores open. Once again, I speak from experience.

Now–if you are NOT hosting a party, not invited to one, or will likely be alone on Thanksgiving–take heart. It’s OK to do that.

Read this excellent one-page article on the idea of the Orphan Thanksgiving from the November 2013 issue of Martha Stewart Living. It’s a different take on a non-traditional holiday. If you have friends who are in the same boat–no family around, can’t go, don’t want to go, whatever–consider starting a new tradition, or even just having Thanksgiving with your motley crew together this one time. That’s how the “Buddhist Thanksgiving” got started, for people not going anywhere that year. I got experience doing Thanksgiving for people who were happy to be there, enjoyed everything and went home and talked about it. I would not spend another wretched, dismal holiday with people (in this case, family)  who had nothing nice to say to me after a six-hour drive and two carefully crafted desserts (one a sugar-free cheesecake for the diabetics.) In 2005, when the idea was proposed, I jumped on it, and we started the Buddhist Thanksgiving that was great while it lasted.

I decided too (on the six-hour drive back from New Orleans) that if I’m going to be alone on Thanksgiving, I’ll cook what I want, do what I want and watch whatever TV I want. Know what? I cook some favorites, (turkey thighs are the best!) maybe try one or two new dishes, watch some good old-fashioned British comedy, and enjoy the day. Watch whatever you like–football, reruns, maybe rent DVDs (or borrow them from your public library like I do.) For Christmas, I order several holiday episodes of Britcoms that I don’t have, like Keeping Up Appearances. And of course, at the end of the evening, the now-annual Doctor Who Christmas special. I try not to do too much housework on the actual holiday, like washing clothes or something, in order to enjoy a real “holiday.”

But if you are going to be alone, away from home, or away from those close to you, make the most of the day if you can. If you have to work. . .well, I’ve done that too. But if your Thanksgiving Day is going to be solitary, away from family and/or friends, or just not what you’d like, keep reading.

Have a nice dinner anyway, turkey and cranberry and the like if you can pull it off (even if you’re making–ugh–Stove Top.)  If you’d rather something non-traditional, roast chicken, pork roast (Crock Pot!) or even a chuck roast. Potatoes, or whatever YOU like as a side dish. (Quinoa is always good, too.)  For dessert–your favorite, whether it’s apple, pumpkin or pecan pie, a cake of some kind, or whatever dessert you like the best. Chocolate? Go for it. But enjoy the day YOUR WAY, whatever you can create or obtain. Doesn’t have to be expensive.

Make yourself a nice dinner. Enjoy it with a nice wine, if you drink. (If not, no big deal.) Enjoy your dinner, and be grateful for all that you have, even if it isn’t everything you want. (I’m working on that myself.) Be happy, even for a little while. Have a friend who’s alone? Invite them, if it’s possible. Watch some if you like, or go out for a walk if the weather’s cooperative. (And if you have snow, do enjoy it!) Enjoy what there is to enjoy, since all we have is today anyway.

If you’re in an area where it’s cold already, make some hot chocolate or something else warm to enjoy. (Like some decaf coffee, or cappuccino if you have one of these little pots.) If you have one, light the fireplace (if it’s cold enough) or just camp in and enjoy the warmth of the TV. If you’re in an area where it’s warm, and there’s a beach–well, go for it. Find a way to enjoy a holiday if you’re able to.

Holidays can be difficult on single people, or folks who are, for whatever reason, all by themselves. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. It’s up to you, and up to you to figure out how you want to enjoy it.

I’ll invite the GER again this year, but he may decline like he did last year. That’s OK–I’m going to enjoy turkey, cranberry ginger relish, and anything else I feel like making again. Dessert? Who cares? I’ll find something to make!

Whatever you make, however you celebrate it, do enjoy your Thanksgiving. Be safe, be happy, and be ready–the next day, all the pumpkin stuff goes away in favor of peppermint and Christmas everything, starting with the infamous “Black Friday.” Now you see why you need to be happy? If you’re going shopping the next day, you’ll need all the strength you can get.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

 

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Get ready to WAFFLE!!!!

Get ready to WAFFLE!!!!

Hello, Dear Readers:

Today, it’s all about you and your waffle maker. It’s not just for breakfast anymore. But there is some breakfast to be discussed, as well as lunch, snacks and dinner. As I mentioned in my previous post, life has gotten in the way big time, but I have been using my waffle maker regularly and finding new things to cook in it. As well as things NOT to put in it. But really, there is more to a waffle maker than just breakfast.

This article discusses the cultural transformation of breakfast here in the US. It’s not just grabbing a bite on the way out. . .it’s a “breakfast occasion,” or an “experience,” I guess. To paraphrase the late Rodney Dangerfield, breakfast wasn’t getting respect. Now it is.

From the same website, an article about how food manufacturers are “riding the wave of gluten free.” Of course, if you actually HAVE problems with gluten, you’ll know it’s not a new thing in food, something pundits don’t seem to get. More and more observers think gluten-free is a “food fad,” like super-foods or juicing. If you are gluten-intolerant, let them know it isn’t.

And the company that helped sustain me during my years as a working student at Tulane, Taco Bell, now serves alcohol. I didn’t drive for a long time, so I could indulge a bit after class if I was taking the bus home. But that’s about 20 years too late. Last time I tried to get food at Taco Bell, I couldn’t tell one thing from another on the menu and ended up at a Starbucks asking for breakfast sandwiches. At about 5:00 pm on a Sunday.

OK, now onto the most hotly anticipated blog post I’ve written this year! (Maybe.)

Do you like waffles, but don’t make them very often? Do you have a waffle iron but just give in and buy Eggos? (If you do–shame on you!) Is your waffle maker in the back of the cabinet, covered in dust, because it’s just too much trouble for once in a while? Or are you stuck in a rut, maybe sick of “clean eating,” and want something new? Have I got a treat for you, and clean eating even can be part of it.

Waffling.

Recently I bought a new combination tabletop grill and waffle maker. (I know, I shouldn’t have.) The Cuisinart Griddler is something I’ve looked at for some time, but of course, I also wanted the waffle plates, which, when bought separately, are $40 extra. Then one day, I got one of those glossy fliers from Bed, Bath And Beyond (with a coupon attached.) The Griddler normally retails there for $99.99, and you have to order the plates separately–but now all of a sudden, the waffle plates are being offered as a “bonus” with the Griddler.

Woo hoo! (And now Amazon is selling the Griddler and waffle plates as a bundle.)

I know, I know. . .I REALLY shouldn’t have. I was feeling really blue, and when I found out about the bonus plates, I grabbed one of the coveted 20%-off coupons, drove down to my local BBB and my credit card bought me an early birthday present. So I got what I wanted, for about half the price I would have paid normally.

After explaining this to Neighbor K (who thought I’d done something really bad, but it wasn’t shopping), I showed it to her and offered her the old waffle iron, and she accepted.  I was thinking of giving it to the Salvation Army if she didn’t want it. It’s nice, and it works, but it only makes two at a time and is a pain to clean.

The old waffle maker, bought about 2010 or so from HEB.

The old waffle maker, bought about 2010 or so from HEB.

See? It only makes two waffles at a time.

See? It only makes two waffles at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I got married (in 1981) one of my bridal shower presents was an early model of this Black & Decker 3-in-1 waffle maker and indoor grill. In fact, that’s what I was thinking about one day when I started seeing these recipes, and actually looked at it again on Amazon. But I really wanted the Cuisinart Griddler with the waffle plates, which ended up being nearly the same price, and I was lucky enough to get it. Like the B&D, the grill/griddle plates pop out and are reversible (the Cuisinart waffle plates aren’t reversible.) Honest, I wasn’t much of a cook in 1981, but I tried, and utilized the counter top grill many times. It’s where I tried out the two waffle recipes from The 20 Minute Natural Foods Cookbook on my (first) husband. He’s still alive, so it couldn’t have been that bad.

If you’re looking for inexpensive, I did accidentally find this model on Gevalia’s website–yes, the mail-order coffee company–that’s in the clearance section. Never mind why I was on Gevalia’s website. No, I didn’t sign up, either–you can buy their coffee in SuperTarget now.

Admit it–you signed up back in the 80’s for the free coffee pot, didn’t you? Well, of COURSE I did! I killed a few coffee pots, too, back in the day. I had one of the first drip models that ground the coffee and brewed it. Now I use a French press, and I just have to keep the spare glass beakers around–easier, since Sur la Table will be opening soon in my neighborhood.

Back to waffling in current day America.

Some time ago, I started seeing posts on Facebook–both pictures and video–of different things to make with a waffle maker. First was an omelette. (If you go to YouTube or Pinterest and type in “waffle iron recipes,” you’ll get thousands of hits, so enjoy yourself.) Then I saw someone place frozen tater tots on a waffle maker, lower the top, and come up with. . .hash browns. (The only time I’ve ever *wanted* to buy frozen tater tots.) Another entry saw canned cinnamon rolls, popping them open, and placing them cut side down onto the waffle area and lowering the top. Cook them for a few minutes, drizzle some of the icing on it, and they’re ready. (The only time I very *nearly* bought a can of cinnamon rolls to try it.) Take a look:

Come on. . .you know you wanna. . . . (From Pinterest)

Come on. . .you know you wanna. . . . (From Pinterest)

You can find an article with 17 recipes for your waffle iron on BuzzFeed, including one from a blog I’ll talk about in a bit. But there are literally hundreds of recipes like these on Pinterest that float over to Facebook, and videos on YouTube galore. Just about using the waffle maker for something other than waffles. Like bacon or sausage and scrambled eggs on the waffle maker. Did you think about doing that? People have–and you can too. How about a low-carb, Paleo pizza?

If you’re one of those people who likes the idea of a breakfast SANDWICH, you have some options as well. Matt Robinson of RealFoodByDad also has a Frittata Waffle that’s an easy option for those who need breakfast on-the-go. I need to try that idea soon, too, and maybe look up more or fiddle about with this recipe, too.

Before I continue, let me point out that the Cuisinart Griddler, and many others like it, have a grease trap that you must remove, empty (if needed) and clean. The Black & Decker 3-in-1 doesn’t have a grease trap; you put a little bowl behind the corner if you’re going to cook something like bacon. Also, make sure it’s on a flat surface. Why?

I recently attempted to cook scrambled eggs on the flat griddle, because the waffle plates were in the dishwasher. It wasn’t flat on the stove surface. (I don’t have a lot of room here.) My perfectly scrambled eggs rolled directly into the grease trap. It was clean, thank heavens. No matter–using potholders, I removed the grill plates and replaced them with the waffle plates after I washed them by hand. When the waffle plates were hot enough, I went back to cooking eggs on the waffle plates. Like I tell you, I speak from experience.

Now back to waffling.

Intrigued by these simple but innovative ideas, I went looking for a gluten-free waffle idea, since I haven’t made any in some time. I’ve made the vegan ones from Erin McKenna’s second book many times, Babycakes Covers The Classics, but that’s been a while (although I made a batch one Sunday because I was out of eggs.) I looked in The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, and found a recipe on pages 135 and 136. Made with nut flours and beat in your stand mixer, they’re pretty good, especially with the sugar-free raspberry syrup I bought and never used (it’s gone and they don’t make it anymore.)

Waffles from The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking

Waffles from The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking

Wish I could find more of this!

Wish I could find more of this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a simple recipe, but I only had almond flour handy, so that’s what I used.

But what else is out there?

Pinterest yielded some delicious options, although my first attempt at gluten free waffle brownies didn’t work well. The second recipe, from the blog Edilble Perspectives, is pretty darn good, even if I messed around a little with the recipe to make it sugar free. I only had brown rice flour, not sweet rice flour, and of course, had to fiddle about with the chocolate and Somersweet to make it sweet with unsweetened chocolate.

Just mix it up like you would any standard brownie recipe and drop it on the hot plates:

Brownies on a waffle maker, no kidding.

Brownies on a waffle maker, no kidding.

A few minutes later:

Done in a flash!

Done in a flash!

 

Anyway, you end up with this:

IMG_2827

You know you want one. And it’s gluten free. And sugar free.

Top them with additional SomerSweet (or other sweetener), add ice cream, or however you like to top brownies, and enjoy the heck out of it.

If you want fast and easy, (and aren’t concerned about GF or anything) you can also get a boxed brownie mix, make it like you normally would, but instead of baking them in the oven (even the toaster oven), use the waffle maker. They’re almost instant brownies. You can do the same thing with cake mixes.

Are you seeing the value of this yet?

Doug Armstrong shows you how to turn leftover pizza into pizza pocket here, along with some other interesting kitchen hacks in a 4-minute video. His “waffle iron hacks” video is here, and Doug shows you paninis, the cinnamon roll trick and other desserts with your waffle maker in this 3 minute video. He’s British, and he’s pretty cool in the kitchen, too.

Has it hit you yet that the humble, unappreciated waffle maker is actually a modified, useful indoor grill? Pay attention, grill masters–you’re about to get your winter alternative lesson. A waffle maker can be especially useful if you don’t live in the Lone Star State, where we grill outdoors just about year-around. But what’s wrong with a little indoor grilling, as long as there’s an electrical outlet nearby?

When I was cooking up some chicken thighs one night, I decided to try out one on the waffle maker. Know what? They cooked much faster on the waffle maker, so I turned off the toaster oven and cooked the rest that way. The second time, I decided to use the meat mallet on a pack of chicken thighs, coat them with a salt/pepper/garlic powder mixture, and they came out even better.

There’s even a blog dedicated to such an activity. Will it Waffle? is dedicated to finding out exactly what you can do besides make waffles in your waffle iron. Even Neighbor K was impressed with the concept (especially since I gave her the old waffle maker.) No idea if she’s tried it yet, though. The blogger and cookbook author, Daniel Shumski, who’s been waffling nearly everything he can think of, put together a book and published it–Will It Waffle?

Just published in August, this timely book has some delicious recipes and is easy enough for even novices to use. You KNOW I had to have it. But even more importantly, I had to talk to the author. I got on his website, and sent him an email. He was very nice, and offered to answer questions about it. Instead of printing the questions and answer, I’ll just tell you what he wrote back:

Using my waffle iron for more than just waffles goes back about six years. The story behind it is this: I had this waffle iron and I loved making waffles, but I didn’t love the idea that I had an appliance that I only used for one thing. I figured it must be capable of more. So I gave it a shot. Before long, I was trying French toast in the waffle iron .. then cookies… then burgers. And, as with any experiment, if something works, it encourages you to keep going. So I was off!
At the same time I was trying things, I was doing a blog chronicling my waffling adventures. It was fun to get the feedback and — as with any successful experiment — the positive feedback keeps you motivated to try more things.
At some point, my current publisher and I connected and we decided there might be a place in the world for a waffling cookbook. I loved doing my waffling blog and I love reading blogs, but I’m also very fond of cookbooks, so I was excited about the possibility of bringing waffling to a potentially wider audience. 
It’s hard to pin down how much I waffle these days. More than most people, it’s fair to say. The key in my mind is to have the waffle iron accessible. For some people this means on the countertop. For others, it means in a cabinet that’s easy to reach. Too many people have their waffle iron in some neglected corner or forgotten in a box in the garage. When it’s accessible, you’re one step closer to waffling. 
My advice for people interested in waffling is to not be afraid to experiment. It’s part of the fun! 
Hope this helps!
Happy waffling. 
-Dan

 

Awfully nice of him. Thanks, Dan!

NOTE: If you’ve got a gift-giving occasion coming up–birthday, wedding, or the upcoming Christmas and Hannukah–this book and any kind of waffle maker will make a really great gift for someone who cooks, is learning to cook, or wants to stretch their culinary muscles. Even if the gift is to yourself.

You’re welcome.

The book starts out with breakfast recipes, bacon and eggs, including a waffled sandwich, French toast with chocolate and whipped butter, sausage and hash browns. For lunch, sure you can waffle sandwiches–but did you think about quesadillas? How about a Waffled Croque Madame?  (Page 49.) Burgers, meatballs, pizza salmon, and filet mignon–yes, in a waffle maker, folks. A Waffled Tamale Pie that looks amazing.

I won’t be trying the waffled kale or the waffled eggplant. You KNOW how I feel about eggplant, right? But if kale and eggplant is your thing, Daniel’s got you covered there, too.

What did I do with this book? Oh, lemme tell ya. . . .

The first thing I tried was the “Fawaffle,” or “waffled falafel.” I already had everything on hand, so I tried it first. As you may know, I do love FiveMinuteHummus, and make my own frequently. But I’ve never had falafel in my life. Nobody ever took me to a Greek restaurant, either in NOLA or here in Houston, so I had no idea what it was. (Ironically, last weekend’s new Pioneer Woman show featured Ree Drummond making things she’s enjoyed out of town, but never made at home before–a more traditional version of falafel as well as chicken & waffles, which I’ll discuss later.)

Well, I made it. I waffled falafel in my own kitchen, and it’s a recipe I’ll make for the rest of my life. Delicious comfort food. Yes, it’s that good, with or without hummus. Just remember that you have to use dried chickpeas, soak them in the fridge overnight, and then mix everything together. I left out the 2 tablespoons of flour, and I was thankful that it wasn’t an essential–so mine are gluten-free, too!

Soak the beans first, then use the food processor to blend it all together:

Add the ingredients to the food processor and blitz!

Add the ingredients to the food processor and blitz!

 

This is what you end up with:

IMG_2847

And just load ’em up into the heated waffle maker:

IMG_2849

Admittedly, it’s a bit weird–but you know me. If it sounds good, I’ll try it at least once. So, tell me–good?

Fawaffles with Hummus

Fawaffles with Hummus

Oh, Holy Shish Kebab!

Also note that falafel is traditionally deep fried. But here, in the waffle maker, there’s just a little oil involved. And it’s fast, too.

I decided to enlist someone else’s taste buds, so I went to see Neighbor K with two freshly waffled Fawaffles and a little hummus. Asked her to try them and see what she thought. At first she said she’d try them later–fair enough, no rush, but she took one bite. Then another. And another, and proceeded to gobble them up right in front of me until she’d finished them both. I warned her that they had onion in them, so Daft Pug should not be sampling them.

I mentioned that I’ve never had falafel in my life, never been to a Greek restaurant either, so this was my first time making and eating it. I grew up in New Orleans, most of the food was local, Italian, and one or two Mexican. You had to go out of your way to find Greek, although I’m sure it’s not that way anymore. K’s comment: “You’ve never had falafel? You’re weird!”

And that’s the last time K was offered something to taste test, and the last time she will appear in the blog. Ditto for Daft Pug. Sorry, Little Buddy. (I have a new taste-tester lined up, the aforementioned Neighbor E.)

Meantime, I wanted to try something else I’d never used before–plantains. Friend of the blog RR is Puerto Rican by birth, and of course, his mother cooks a lot of Spanish-influenced dishes. (I’ve told him for years that if ever I find myself with a Hispanic boyfriend, she’s on the hook for some cooking lessons.)  I texted him, but he wasn’t available to chat, so I sent him this picture:

Frying the plantains. I had to keep remembering that they're not bananas!

Frying the plantains. I had to keep remembering that they’re not bananas!

RR texted back: “Look at you!” I’ve never had plantains, either. But I sure did like this one.

The first thing you do is make the dipping sauce, which is nothing more than cilantro, garlic and olive oil:

You have no idea how tasty this is.

You have no idea how tasty this is.

Let that sit while you’re making the rest of it, then remove and discard the garlic. Oh, yum! Now back to the other part.

Plantains don’t “peel” easily like a banana does, you have to chop off the ends, and then make slices in the tough, fibrous covering:

Slice the skin like so

Then slice like you would a banana:

If this picture looks dirty, I'm sorry

If this picture looks dirty, I’m sorry

 

Let me back up a bit. Waffled Tostones are plantains sliced up, fried quickly and then waffled. Plantains that have been sitting as long as these were became sweet, but the first time I tried doing this, they were ripe but not sweet. These ended up being soft like a ripe banana, so it didn’t work quite as well as the first time. Once I got the slices done, they went into the frying pan. (I used refined coconut oil.) They’re fried up pretty quickly, so you carefully take them out and put them on a paper-towel-lined plate. (Be especially careful if there are children about–hot oil is no fun in the wrong place.)

IMG_2857

The next step is to waffle them. Fit them onto your waffle maker like so, and then CAREFULLY smash down the top and hold it while your tostones toast:
IMG_2859

I didn’t take any more pictures of the waffled tostones, I was too busy eating them. Yes, they ARE worth the trouble.

Because the green onions became two feet high in the HeatCageKitchen garden, I decided to try Daniel’s Korean Scallion Pancake Waffle (aka “Pajeon.”)  I ended up doing this twice–once according to the book, and once with gluten-free flour. Know what? They’re both good. Plus, Daniel also points out something that I like to mention: cut the white, rooted bottoms off your scallions from the grocery store and grow them back. He suggests putting them in a glass of water–I’ve done that, and I’ve stuck them directly into soil, and both methods work. However–I highly suggest buying organic green onions if you’re going to grow them. First, they’re probably not genetically modified, and two, no other issues like pesticides or other stuff. I’ve grown both, and the organics shoot up to the sky.

My, what big onions you have!

Thanks, they’re organic.

But seriously, this recipe, while really easy to make, is, essentially, a flour ball–so keep that in mind if you’re trying to cut down on that sort of thing. A cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon and a half of sugar, and a cup of water. Mix it, and pour over your cut onions which you place in between the divots.

Korean Scallion Pancakes

Korean Scallion (Pajeon) Pancake Waffles

And the blogger learns a new word: divot, or the thing that makes the square in the waffle. (Honest, I didn’t know!)

Cover the whole thing:

IMG_2415

Close the lid, cook them til they brown nicely (this is true for both regular and gluten-free flour) and you end up with this:

IMG_2416

They don’t turn golden brown like breakfast waffles, so don’t overcook them.

Make up a bit of dipping sauce from the book (1 tsp toasted sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, and 2 tablespoons honey, then mix it or shake it up) and you’ve got a tasty little snack going on. I didn’t eat a whole gluten-heavy waffle, but I did nibble a bit that came off on the waffle plate. Tasty, just like the gluten-free version, and while it’s somewhat crispy on the outside, the inside texture is more like sticky rice. With no egg, yeast, or baking powder, it’s just kind of sticky. This is not a deterrent, however.

Daniel also suggests using other veg, such as zucchini or carrots, in place of the scallions; just cut them down to matchstick size to fit the grooves.

Another week, I wanted to try out two more recipes, but I sorta did them my way. Grilled Pineapple and Grilled Halloumi are two separate recipes from the book (there is watermelon involved with the Halloumi), and I had them just because I wanted to have something different.

Admittedly, not the most common dinner combo.

Admittedly, not the most common dinner combo.

I had some Halloumi left from a previous trip to Trader Joe’s; it’s quite expensive elsewhere, so I get it when I go and freeze it. (Unfortunately, at Trader Joe’s, it’s a “seasonal” item for grilling.)  If you’ve never had Halloumi, it’s like feta, but not quite as acidic. Halloumi also doesn’t melt away like feta, holds its shape and stays in the fridge a long, long time.  I started by slicing up the cheese and cooking it half and half:

Both stand up to waffle grilling

Both stand up to waffle grilling

 

After the pineapple was finished, I finished up the cheese:

If I'd only realized it was already sliced. . .next time.

If I’d only realized it was already sliced. . .next time.

 

Oh, yes. . . .

Oh, yes. . . .

 

I cooked it all up, and sat down to watch Season 11 of New Tricks, which had just arrived from my local library. I’m also binge-watching Sherlock.

Now, before you go getting worried and thinking, “Amy’s eating pineapple and cheese for dinner?” Well, these are items I already had on hand, and it was easy, so I did. It’s not Velveeta, either. I don’t buy Halloumi very often, either–only when I head to Trader Joe’s. (No sign of them coming to my part of Houston yet.) Unfortunately, because it’s a “grilling cheese,” Trader Joe’s considers it a “seasonal item,” darnit! So if I want more, it’s back to Kroger or HEB for some that’s at least double the price. Wish I’d known–one day I’ll have a cheese freezer where I can buy it on sale and keep it for whenever.

Most of the recipes in this book involve. . .flour. So, there’s a good chance I won’t be making all of them. But there are plenty of recipes that don’t involve flour or might be worth experimenting with gluten free flours to try these interesting recipes. I sure would like to figure out how to make that pizza crust with GF flour and waffle it. Maybe next weekend I’ll try it.

Oh, and one thing on the famous “Chicken & Waffles”–it’s NOT, as many people believe, a “Southern dish.” I grew up in the South, and never heard of Chicken & Waffles until the last couple of years. (Friend of the blog CN likes a place in Houston called The Breakfast Klub, a Midtown Houston place that serves, among other things, Chicken & Waffles; I’ve not been there myself.) Some clicking around revealed that no, it really isn’t Southern at all–and NPR has a whole story about it. If you start talking about C&W being “Southern,” be prepared to have your face slapped. It began in Harlem, of all places, and is now served as a “soul food” dish nationwide. I wanted to yell at Ree Drummond last weekend for calling it a “Southern tradition,” because, it really isn’t. Now that you have been educated on the subject, please do not say that again. Thank you.

But you can certainly MAKE Chicken & Waffles all in the waffle maker, of course.

Admittedly, not everything will waffle. Smoothies, soup, salad greens–no. But to go with that Pea & Pesto Soup, a nice Gridded Grilled Cheese sandwich (page 37) or a nice Fawaffle might just fit the bill, right?

Remember, Thanksgiving is coming up quick. Wouldn’t some waffled brownies, cakes, or other desserts have a place? (Waffled Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, page 163, Red Velvet Waffle Ice Cream Sandwiches, page 169, or a Wapple Pie, page 175.) How about some Stuffing Waffles on page 156? Consider Waffled Macaroni & Cheese on page 67, where Daniel supplies his own recipe for a baked M&C and waffling it. Sure, it’s more work than a box–but it is Thanksgiving, right? Make extra, because it’s going to go fast. And anything you can do ahead of time is always going to help.

At the moment, I don’t have any waffling recipes posted on the recipe page, but I hope to get them up soon, along with some Thanksgiving recipes (if I can find them again.) But really. . .they’re everywhere, just go look for them on Pinterest for starters.

Give it some thought as you plan your upcoming holiday meals, or even next weekend. A waffle maker can make things easier, especially if you get some extra help. Remember, it’s 110v, so you can plug it in anywhere–and that will come in handy in a crowded kitchen, any time of year.

Happy Waffling!

 

 

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Rapid Ragu and the Cafe Nervosa

Rapid Ragu and the Cafe Nervosa

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

Are you ready for fall? Or are you already sick of pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING?

The other night I was in Target, and saw the new “limited edition fall frolic” scent of cat litter that one of my writer friends posted to Facebook last week. I opened the bottle and took a sniff. Not bad, smells nice, and I wouldn’t mind it in a candle. But don’t be surprised if you change to this “fall frolic” scent and your cat starts avoiding the litter box. Their little noses don’t like scented stuff like that. I know–I had cats. I did that. They let me know about it in their own “specially scented” way.

I’ve had the old Steely Dan song Deacon Blues stuck in my head since reading the Wall Street Journal’s article the other day. (Don’t let that old “long-haired-hippie-freak” picture throw you too much–they’re old men now.)  I haven’t heard that song in a long time, and at over 7 minutes, it’s a big earworm. The song was quite complicated and layered, especially for the time, and will forever be associated with the late 1970’s. (For anyone younger than 40, that also means no Auto-Tune. They actually had to play their own instruments, and usually wrote their own music.)  However, since I hadn’t heard it in years. . .now it’s stuck in my head.

You’re welcome.

I suppose I should pull out their Two Against Nature CD and put it into iTunes so I can listen on my iPod sometime. I bought it the day it was nominated for a Grammy, but haven’t played it in a while.

After our two-day autumn tease last weekend, with Sunday morning a wonderful 62 degrees, summer is back for a while, with hot, muggy days and warm muggy nights. And lots of those annoying snails. One of my neighbors suggested today getting some deer whiz from someplace like Bass Pro Shops. (Yes, I said “whiz,” but I could have called it something else less polite.) I’ll let you know what happens if I try it.

This week I have been plagued with alimentary issues, some of which I won’t discuss, but will lead me to the yeast-free diet again. I start Monday, I think, soon as I figure out if I’ve consumed all the dairy stuff I made. I think I did. But I’ve got some Yeast Control, and I’ll be on it. Started Labor Day weekend, and I actually noticed it when I had a glass of wine with Neighbor R. It just never went away.

I conquered the heartburn but yesterday found myself with horrific nausea. After a quick search of using powdered ginger (all I had handy) I came across this comment on a LifeHacker article:

I’m a huge hypochondriac, and over the years I’ve come up with the perfect concoction for whenever I feel the slightest bit sick:

  • Hot water
  • honey
  • lemon juice
  • powdered ginger (~1/2 tsp)
  • cinnamon (~1/2 tsp)

It will seriously make any ailment better.

It worked.

Who has time to run to the store when you don’t know what time the next wave will happen? Thank heavens for the Internet. If you’re not familiar with Lifehacker.com, go take a look next time you need to learn how to do, fix, or figure out something. I forget that sometimes. People share all kinds of articles there. You just might find out something you didn’t know you needed.

So, I’m going to watch the final Harry Potter film this evening, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, and then I’ll be done with them. I guess I either figure out what to borrow next, or wait for the end of Downton Abbey, which as we all know will start its final season soon in the UK,and in January here in the US. (It will also be released on DVD in late January.)

Last week I went to pick up the earlier Harry Potter DVDs and took a quick look through the library’s bookstore. You never know what you’ll find, and this particular day, I found a couple of good ones, at $1 each. Are you ready for this?

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It was a dollar. I could not resist. I always need funny. And, get this–it’s autographed by the author!

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“Husband Hunting?” It’s still a thing? Really? Guess Deanna found that man of her dreams. I’ll read it when I run out of movies to watch. Mostly as a defensive measure–if I know what to do to actually find a husband, I’ll also know what NOT to do.

It’s counterintelligence for a dollar. You just can’t get that kind of a bargain every day.

But the one I could not pass up, for $1 was. . .yet another cookbook. Yes, I know, I don’t need another one, but I could not pass up Cafe Nervosa: The Connisseur’s Cookbook. Fans of the TV show Frasier will remember the endless social interactions of the characters at Cafe Nervosa, and the two pompous brothers would occasionally drive the staff up a wall. (Am I the only one who was glad to see Kelsey Grammar rid himself of that steel wool mess on the back of his neck after the second or third season?) It’s still on in reruns on a number of cable channels. Frasier Crane is one of the longest-running TV characters on American TV, keeping Kelsey Grammar employed first through many seasons of Cheers, then on the namesake show. I used to watch it weekly when I could. . .ooh, maybe I should see if the library has those DVDS for me to binge-watch next?

The book itself was actually produced by Oxmoor House, (1996) once the publisher for Martha Stewart’s compendium books as well as other titles. On the front cover is a picture of our favorite psychos. . .I mean, psychiatrists, enjoying a cup at a table by the wall. Inside are color pictures of some of the dishes, which are quite fancy fare, some black-and-white pictures from the show, as well as bits of dialogue. The book tops out at 108 pages, including the index and two pages of metrics equivalents.

There are several recipes for biscotti, as well as breads, muffins and scones, along with paninis, sandwiches, salads, desserts (yes, Tiramisu is on page 75) and coffee drink variations, like a German and a Mexican version of Cafe au Lait. On page 98, there’s a recipe for Cafe Pontalba, which requires coffee and chicory. Do they drink coffee & chicory in Seattle? I doubt it–but since Oxmoor House is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, it’s more likely a southern recipe they added into a book about. . .Seattle.

I haven’t made anything from this book yet, but there are a few recipes I’d like to try sometime. Chicken Salad Au Vin on page 34 looks good, and Quiche for the Fine-Boned might work with some kind of gluten-free crust under it sometime this winter (or maybe no crust at all.) Lots of cheese, though, and a can of my favorite chopped green chiles. On page 66 is also a nice looking Chocolate Dessert in Creme Anglaise that might be nice to try one day. There are a couple of nice-looking ice cream desserts that might have to be attempted eventually, too.

Page 69 has this typical dialogue between Frasier and his brother Niles:

Frasier: Niles, I think you’ll find this Courvoisier is the perfect brandy to top off our evening.

Niles: It was an exquisite meal marred only by the lack of even one outstanding Cognac on their carte de digestifs.

Frasier: But think about it, Niles. What’s the one thing better than an exquisite meal? An exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick at all night.

Niles: Quite right. Let’s savor it.

The jazzy closing theme song was not like other shows, with “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs.” There’s an explanation for it along with the complete lyrics here.

If you’re a Frasier fan, you might just enjoy this book.

Now. . .what did I make last weekend? Oh, I was prowling through The Fresh Market week before last and decided that I would make some of Nigella Lawson’s Rapid Ragu from Nigella Express. (Nigella’s newest book, Simply Nigella, comes out November 3rd, along with a raft of books from Giada de Laurentiis, Ina Garten, and I forget who else.)  I have only made Rapid Ragu once, and the reason I don’t make it more often is because of two things: ground lamb and sweet onion confit from France, bought once from Central Market. However, I decided to go for it, and instead of the French stuff, I got some of this, which I’d considered trying for some time:

A close substitute.

A close substitute.

I actually contacted Stonewall Kitchen (when I was contacting catalog companies as a copywriter) and decided to ask them about it. The comment came back as, yes, it would work, so I got some. To this day I hate the fact that I’d missed this product when Fresh Market sold it “buy one, get one free.” Darnit. They haven’t done it since. But at half the price of French sweet onion confit, I’ll deal with it. I’m sure Nigella wouldn’t mind.

Next up was the ground lamb, which I bought as two big seasoned burgers.

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There were two, and when checked out, it was enough for the recipe, as well as less expensive than going to Kroger for some:

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So here’s the rest of it:

The setup

The setup

Another exception to this recipe was the use of bacon instead of pancetta, because, after all, pancetta is Italian bacon, and I didn’t feel like springing for it. Target sells half-cup containers of cubed pancetta, and this recipe calls for a full cup–so that’s a good $10 or $15 for pancetta.

  1. The good stuff from Fresh Market.

    The good stuff from Fresh Market.

Bacon definitely works here, and I chopped it accordingly, with the kitchen scissors until I had a cup of the little darlings:

Yum.

Yum. I only cut half the package, just like that.

Then we cook: heat the oil up and fry that delicious bacon (or pancetta) in it until it’s crispy:

Bacon. Fried. In garlic oil.

Bacon. Fried. In garlic oil.

Then you get busy with the lamb.

See? Burgers!

See? Burgers!

Add that to the pan and break them up to brown, just like you would for sausage or ground beef for spaghetti sauce:

IMG_2772

Remember that these were burgers bought as-is, with parsley and rosemary already added in.

Add in the can of tomatoes, water, Marsala wine, lentils, and the onion jam (or carmelized onion confit, if you’re willing to splurge for it) and bring to a boil.

MMmmmm. . . . getting there.

MMmmmm. . . . getting there.

And let it cook for 20 minutes.

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Stir occasionally. It won’t be long now.

I wasn’t sure how much Cheddar cheese I had at home.  The recipe calls for either Cheddar or “grated red Leicester,” and I have no idea what that is, but I bet it would be expensive if The Fresh Market had some. So I got some Cheddar while I was there:

I don't normally buy anything "baby," but this was just what I needed.

I don’t normally buy anything “baby,” but this was just what I needed.

And grated it right up:

So glad I bought this blender/food processor combo when I did.

So glad I bought this blender/food processor combo when I did.

After grating up cheese and adding things to the dishwasher for the eventual washing up, IT was ready. I split it up into four of those food storage bowls I use, and added some of the grated cheese on top of each of them:

Lunch for three more days!

Lunch for three more days!

It was as delicious as I remember, and I’m glad I made it. I have more of the onion jam in the fridge, so I can make it again one day soon, should I find ground lamb on sale.

Dig in!

Dig in!

I guess I should mention that it happens to be gluten-free, but really, it was already, since there’s no flour or anything in it, right? But with the wine and the onion jam, it’s NOT low-carb.

But it sure is good.

You can find a printable version of this on the recipe page, if you’re interested, along with a number of others I’ve put to paper. Ragu is to Europe what chili is to Texas, I think, and although it has lentils in it, I don’t think the word “chili” would occur to anyone eating this delicious, meaty dish.

Oh, and since “bowls” are now a thing (as are “toasts,”) this will fit the bill perfectly for a day where dinner needs to be a dump-and-stir proposition. And with winter coming, this is a good one to keep in your back pocket for a cold night and a quick meal.

Enjoy!

 

 

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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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