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Valentine’s Day–again???

Valentine’s Day–again???

Good afternoon, Dear Readers from everywhere:

I just realized that Valentine’s Day is this weekend, and that I should drop in and talk about it just a bit. But first. . . .

There are some changes coming to this humble blog, and a big thanks to friend of the blog AK and another one of our writer friends, whom we know on Facebook, but I haven’t met in person. I don’t know if JM reads this blog regularly, but I know she has once, for sure. I’ve got a Facebook page set up just for HeatCageKitchen, as well as other social media accounts. I’ll tell more once I get it all done. The blog is growing up.

Last week was the open house for the Drs. Davis at Woodlands Wellness and Cosmetic Center. Much as I enjoyed it last year, this year I didn’t go. BUT–they posted pictures on Facebook, and once again had an appropriate show-stopper of a cake:

PeacockCAke

A good time was had by all, and I’m glad, even if I didn’t go. But I’m sure I’ll be visiting again one of these days for blood testing.

In other news. . . .

This isn’t really food related, but it might have been. When I say a cat is a cat is a cat, I’m not kidding. This wily cheetah decided that the back of a Jeep was a great place to hang with the humans recently. Honestly, it’s no different than when Catmandu and Kismet used to hop up on the back of my futon and park it there for a while. Cheetahs, as I understand from comments on the Daily Mail site and Facebook, are much friendlier to humans than other species of big cats. But as Big Cat Rescue will tell you, approaching big cats is never a good idea–and anyone caught petting one at their Tampa, FL facility is escorted out immediately, including staff. If you have a kitty cat that has ever turned on you while you were petting it or scratching it behind the ears. . .imagine the force behind a paw-swat from a 500-pound Siberian tiger. It can, as they say on FB, “escalate quickly.” ‘Nuff said. But this time, it turned out fine, and the short video is pretty amusing. Because. . .that’s a cat for you.

Now back to Valentine’s Day. Or as my brother called it yesterday, “women taking advantage of men” day. Oh, well.

If you’re looking for advice on romancing, proposing, or how to ask out someone you fancy, that’s someone else’s blog. This blog is for the day you decide to cook for that someone special, you already are going to cook for them, and you’re looking for something special for your date. You’re on your own on the romancing/proposing part, so search through WordPress for that kind of advice blog.

Do you have plans for Sunday? Are you going to hang out at home and watch a good DVD or two with your sweetie, or risk your life and head to a restaurant? I can hear it now: “Oh, Amy–what’s wrong with that?” Even Waffle House serves steaks and takes reservations on Valentine’s Day–and in some more rural areas, that’s the best and only–restaurant in town. (NOTE: I am not disrespecting Waffle House by any means.)

I’m not going to deny that it’s something special to go out for Valentine’s Day. But hear me out–when I was an administrative assistant, I was required to “go out with the bosses” for Administrative Professional’s Day. I really didn’t want to do this (particularly at an insurance company I worked for, where they took us to McCormick & Schmick in the Galleria and didn’t give us a choice) because it was a reminder that I was still in the steno pool. But at Boeing, that wasn’t always a bad thing. My Boeing supervisors were frequently busy, so we didn’t always go on that Wednesday–and that was a good thing. Why? Because you’re elbow-to-elbow with everyone *else* who’s doing the same thing; service is going to be slower, too. The last time, I had to request that Monday, because the next day, I was getting on a plane to go somewhere, and I wouldn’t be in town for AP Day. (I got to choose the restaurant that year.) Another time, we went two weeks later. Know what? We nearly had the whole place to ourselves! We could chat without yelling, and the service was better.

Want proof? This article from The Kitchn verifies what I just told you. Like retail stores on Black Friday, nobody *wants* to work that holiday, so you may get pinch-hitters who aren’t as experienced. And you’ll be elbow-to-elbow in a crowded restaurant on that one day a year when things could go wrong for you. Just something to consider if this is a really special date.

Once again, Starbucks is at it again with the #StarbucksDate. Create a special .GIF file (similar to an e-card, they’re all the rage now) to send to someone you’d like to meet up with (it could be your best friend, your elderly neighbor like Neighbor R, your brother/sister, or, heaven help you, the GER) and make a date to meet them at the Starbucks on your street for one of the new chocolate drinks they have this week, through Sunday. (They’d like you to put it on social media with #StarbucksDate, too.)

You know, I probably shouldn’t say “Starbucks on your street.” We have several in my neighborhood, including one two blocks from my front door. But I have a friend in semi-rural Louisiana who is about 20 miles from the closest Starbucks. I’m sure he’s not the only one.

This year’s offerings are three new seasonal chocolate-infused drinks:

And because I couldn’t wait, I personally sampled the Mocha Chocolate Latte this morning. Highly recommended. Unlike the famed Pumpkin Spice Latte, this was very good and not overly sweet. If your honey doesn’t drink coffee, there is the Molten Hot chocolate option as well as other dessert options. But remember, Starbucks has their “signature” hot chocolate all year long. Yes, they really do–it’s just that this particular variety is a “seasonal offering” for Valentine’s Day.

I am actually planning to take myself out for a #StarbucksDate. I’ve got a couple of books to read, (one by master copywriter Bob Bly, his newest book of great witticisms) and that might just be the place to do it. I’d like to have another Mocha Chocolate Latte, then get brewed decaf coffee (and free refills in my stainless steel travel mug) until I’m sick of coffee, or I finish the books. They’re not long books, but. . .there are less distractions in Starbucks than at home.

What if you’re going to camp in with your honey?

I’ve got some recipes posted on the Recipe Page, and there are others scattered throughout the blog; a search will help you find them. (The Sweet Potato Supper is a good one, and quite simple.) Then again, websites like The Food Network, MarthaStewart.com, AllRecipes.com, and TheKitchn are great places to start if you don’t find anything listed here. Really–the culinary world is at your fingertips, and a quick search will show you that.

Looking for a special treat? Found on The Pioneer Woman’s Facebook feed this week, these Chocolate Sugar Cookie Hearts are an easy treat, especially if you have kids.

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Source: The Pioneer Woman website (note: NOT gluten free!)

These are really easy, because there’s no rolling out the dough–you bake it as a sheet cake, then cut them from the baked cake. Frost them, put some sprinkles on top, and you’re ready for your honey. NOTE: keep this recipe in your back pocket for other occasions, cut them in squares, rounds or other shapes, and you can frost them like cupcakes and use other appropriate colors and designs for, say, a birthday, graduation, or something else like St. Patrick’s Day (which happens in about a month.) Heck, your dog’s birthday, just don’t feed them to the dog. But for now, they’re for your Valentine.

Now, if these cookies aren’t your thing, there are a couple of things in the HeatCageKitchen archives that are delicious and gluten-free, including my all-time favorite, YeastFreeBrownies (I just uploaded it.) The recipe is no longer available on Dr. Hotze’s site, but I’ve got the PDF file for you on the Recipes Page.

Another good choice is last year’s Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes. First, I re-blogged a post from GF and Me last year, and then I made it myself. Of course, mine didn’t come out as pretty as Brenda’s, but they sure were good–even the fussy GER said so. The trick is finding hazelnut flour, or buying the hazelnuts, roasting and skinning them yourself, then grinding them up really good in the food processor–but not so far that you get a paste.

Click around on Brenda’s GF and Me site and you’ll find lots more delicious food and desserts for Valentine’s Day.

If you have more time to prep, I highly recommend the sugarless, Crock-Pot made Chocolate Fudge Custard I talked about last summer. You have to make it a day or two in advance, but it’s quite tasty and easy to make.

You didn’t forget your waffle iron already, did you? If Santa brought you a waffle maker (or the Cuisinart Griddler with the waffle maker plates, like mine) consider waffle brownies. If you haven’t read that previous post I linked to, please do, and you’ll learn more about waffling. You’ll also find this recipe in the post that I made and reviewed. However, if gluten-free isn’t your thing, brownies from a box–yes, like Duncan Hines or Jiffy brand–can be made in the waffle maker, fast and easy. You can also use boxed chocolate cake mix. If you’re thinking about a waffle maker,  Bed, Bath and Beyond also (still) has the Cuisinart Griddler bundle package, and if you have a coveted 20% off coupon, use it.

Still another optioin–a bit healthier than most–comes from none other than Graze.com, this dual-layered Chocolate Strawberry Smoothie might be just the ticket. It has a few steps, so make sure you read the recipe before proceeding.

What to make for dinner for the two of you? There’s a myriad of options available, just pick one–but don’t overthink this or make it too complicated. Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll probably *want* to try something really fancy, complicated, and extremely gourmet. Foodies are like that. But if you’re a fan of the easy, make dessert early, maybe the day before (especially the custard) and consider Nigella Lawson’s Flash Fried Steak with White Bean Mash. I’ve written about this delicious white bean mash before, it’s one of my absolute favorites, and I even made it Monday for AC with mild Italian sausages from HEB. (I called it “Bangers & Mash,” which is actually sausage and mashed potatoes in the UK.) She loved it too, and will probably start looking for cannellini beans next grocery trip. Add a tasty salad like we did, and you’ll be all set. Wine? Your choice, but make it a good one, if you do.

One thing I started doing with the white bean mash is grating the lemon zest first, then grate in the garlic with your Microplane Zester. The garlic is more evenly distributed, spreading the flavor throughout the mash.

And you can say that you’re inviting him/her over for a steak dinner–it’s just not filet mignon, that’s all. (No, I’ve never cooked that one, for myself or anyone else.) And why not? If you’re cooking steak, say so! (Unless he or she is vegetarian. . .then you’ve got some extra work to do.)

Here’s the thing about Valentine’s Day: if you and your partner get along fabulously and enjoy each other’s company all year around, going all-out on Valentine’s Day is probably not needed–a nice dinner at home with a nice bottle of wine, a small, inexpensive gift, whatever you like. But if one or the other isn’t such a great partner all year long, but spends a lot of money on flowers, candy, jewelry, dinner out, etc., on Valentine’s Day. . .it’s money wasted. Be kind to each other, and, I hate to say it, but if things are just not working out well, you’re discovering you’re mis-matched, or you just don’t get along after the “honeymoon phase” is past, it might be time to reconsider the relationship. (Or, in my case, file a restraining order, ha, ha. Yes, I’ve had that kind of luck.)  It takes two to tango, and usually, neither is totally innocent, but if you’re wondering why you’re in this relationship, maybe Valentine’s Day will be awkward. Better to be alone on V-D than stuck with someone you don’t want to be with–ask me, I know. (No, not the GER.) “Better off as friends” is not a bad thing, if that’s the case.

I’m not telling you to break up with your significant other on Valentine’s Day, (that happens occasionally) but if that’s where it’s headed, or things have significantly changed. . .take some time to think and consider. Next year things could be completely different–you could be single and unattached, you could be with someone better, or you and your Significant Other will have a better relationship by then.

I know, Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, is merchandised to death in the US, but it doesn’t have to bully you (or your partner) into spending too much money.

Again, I’m not a relationship author–but I speak from experience on being in bad relationships. I’d rather be by myself on Valentine’s Day than stuck with someone who let their “good face” down and I discover that I can’t stand. The longest relationship I ever had with a male was. . .Catmandu, the Russian Blue. (RIP.)

And if you’re single and alone on Valentine’s Day–remember, you too could be stuck with someone you wish would just go away forever. If that’s the case, and you can, take some time and take yourself out for a #Starbucksdate. Better yet, use the .GIF creator and send it to one of your *real* friends for a #StarbucksDate and get something chocolate on Sunday. It’s OK to be single and unattached on Valentine’s Day, I promise.

You might be making these cookies or something else for someone next year, so be ready.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Short post–Cranberry Bliss Bars

Short post–Cranberry Bliss Bars

Happy Sunday, Dear Readers:

I know, I said I wasn’t going to publish again until after January 1, but you know how these things go. This is a shorter post than usual. I am, as always, anxiously awaiting this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Husbands of River Song. When I found out what the title was, all I could think of was, “she’s had more husbands than me? I thought she was just married to The Doctor.” Well, at least she gets to travel in time and space. I get to drive around Houston occasionally. Mostly in my little knothole.

I also have an idea for another post that I may publish next week about a New Orleans foodie-related mystery that’s been going on for more than 3 years. Heck, my humble blog may get it moving again. More on that later.

Now to answer why I’m posting on a Sunday. This is an EMERGENCY blog post–I have to tell you what Nicole over at Gluten Free on A ShoeString has done.

I’ve written about Nicole before (see this re-blog on Gluten Free Donuts), and I get emails when she publishes. Of course, she’s always baking up delicious things for us gluten-averse folks. If you’re interested in more gluten-free baking, hop on over and follow her blog, for she has lots of tricks up her sleeve to keep your baked goods dreams fulfilled.

Today, she reached the pinnacle of gluten-free re-makes.

Nicole has created a gluten-free version of my personal favorite, Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar. Why is this significant? Because. . .Cranberry Bliss Bars are a seasonal treat at Starbucks that are something to LIVE FOR. Seriously. (Unlike the heavy-sugared Pumpkin Spice Latte.) Take a look:

From the Starbucks website.

A Cranberry Bliss Bar, picture from the Starbucks website.

This is, of course, not a big treat, but it is big on flavor. One taste and you are a goner.

I first tasted this treat when I was sick, and coming home from the only doctor’s office I knew about near Hobby Airport. (This was a no-questions-asked walk-in clinic that would take non-insurance patients, long before I was going to see Dr. Davis at Woodlands Wellness.) They had an on-site pharmacia for patients, but it was closed that day. Driving my sick self home down I-45, I thought, “now where the heck am I going to get my prescription filled?” And then it dawned on me.

TARGET.

The Baybrook Super Target has a pharmacy AND a Starbucks! So. . .while I waited for my prescription, I got a nice, hot coffee. I was really sick, you see, with yet another painful swollen-gland throat infection (including fever) and I figured I deserved a little something sweet that day. It was that time of the year, and I just pointed to the red and white thing. It was carefully packed in a bag and handed to me as I paid my tab.

I sat in the corner, like the sick cat that I was, slowly sipped my coffee and took a little bite of this heavenly and festive triangle. I had never tasted such a combination, and immediately fell in love with it. I sought out at least one every holiday season (for they are not cheap and the price has nearly doubled this year) but ran into an issue in 2013 when. . .I went gluten free.

I passed on them in 2013, but I did manage one of them last year. Only one. And I may do it this year too, whilst they’re available. But now, I don’t have to worry–because Nicole has figured out how to make them gluten free. (Note: we get them down here in Texas at Starbucks, so I’m sorry they aren’t available everywhere, from what Nicole says.)

Nicole uses something called Better Batter, which I admit I’ve not heard of before (she uses a lot of different and cool stuff that I don’t know about.)  However, what I can put my paws on quickly is Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Baking Flour, which has similar ingredients and does include Xanathan gum. (If your local grocer doesn’t carry it, you can also buy it from Amazon.)  It’s the flour I used for one of the recent pizza waffle recipes. One caveat Nicole points out is that if your GF flour doesn’t have Xanathan, you’ll need to add half a teaspoon (included in the recipe.)

I think there’s a bag of this flour in my grocery list this week, along with dried cranberries, cream cheese, and white chocolate. Holy Shish Kebab!!

If I make some, there will be some taste-tester deliveries. I doubt that the GER would be interested in something like this–he tends to prefer gas-station dining for some reason. (No, it’s not my cooking. It’s just his idea of convenience cooking.) But if I do manage to make them, I’ll be crowing about it here. Because now that we have a gluten-free work-around, Cranberry Bliss Bars are not just for the holidays anymore.

If you’re one of those people who loves the Cranberry Bliss Bars, now you can make them yourself, and even in gluten-free.

Merry Christmas!!

 

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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.

IMG_2525[1] IMG_2526[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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A Gluten-Free Birthday

A Gluten-Free Birthday

Hello, Dear Readers:

My sincerest apologies for not posting over a month. I have, indeed, been messing around with the waffle maker, but, as they say, life happens. Boy, has it ever. Since October 4th, I have:

  • Lost an elderly family member
  • Nearly made a trip to New Orleans for a funeral (he was cremated with no services)
  • Lost the use of my dryer, after the washer went out two months ago, requiring me to buy another set
  • Discovered that a longtime “friend” really wasn’t
  • Changed my cell phone plan and that of the Android tablet that was a “gift” from said “friend”
  • Got my new AT&T  Internet service installed (and I’m no longer paying half the cost to someone else)
  • Bought a new headphone-attached desk phone (for the copywriting side)
  • Dealt with a long-standing plumbing problem, which took an emergency to be fixed–but it’s done.

At least now I can use that MagicJack the way I intended, as a business line. I do love my new portable desk phone. (All I need now is an income.)

As I’ll explain in the upcoming (and long-overdue) waffle post, friend of the blog ER becomes new blog taste-tester Neighbor E. There’s a lot of things we don’t agree on, but he’s a great guy, and we get on well. He’s been reading about my cooking for a while, so now he’s going to be taste-testing. Don’t worry–the GER is still around, and ER is *not* a new boyfriend. Don’t give the poor man a heart attack.

So what else is going on?

Much as I love sewing, lately, I haven’t made as much as I did before. I keep it for the weekends, and this past weekend, in addition to making a few small things, I finally, FINALLY, finished my first “real” quilt, called the Ticker Tape Quilt:

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It’s not a large quilt–it only measures 41″ x 51.5″, known as a “lap quilt.” However, what I do know is that now that it’s completed, I can take a nap under it, and turned sideways, it fits me perfect. This is the back of it:

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This quilt is found in Sunday Morning Quilts, and it’s the last one in the book. Why did I chose to make the last one? It was the easiest, in my eyes, and I had most of what I needed to create it, including the batting. The backing fabric and the binding fabric (around the edges) I bought, but I didn’t need much of either fabric. What took so long was sewing down each of those itty-bitty pieces until the top was full. I had them all pinned into place, but once I got off the edges, the pins were stabbing me, so I took out all the pins and just sewed them on one at a time to prevent blood stains on white fabric. I now see the wisdom of what’s called “quilt blocks” and will likely follow one of the other quilts in the book to use more fabric scraps for a queen-sized quilt. But at least this one’s done and ready for cold weather, and napping on the futon in front of a roaring fire.

Remember when I said I was already sick of pumpkin-flavored everything? Hostess takes the latest swing at bat:

They put pumpkin flavor in TWINKIES!!! IMG_2404[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because everyone LOVES pumpkin, right? Conservative writer, blogger and (handsome) pilot Bill Whittle posted this to Facebook a few days ago:

Because you love pumpkin THAT MUCH.

One for the petrolheads. And because you love pumpkin THAT MUCH.

Because every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man. My only question: does it come in 5W-30?

Three weeks ago, I went to Target, and discovered that I had in my coupon case a register coupon for $1 off a Pumpkin Spice Latte from a Target Starbucks. I thought, “OK, I’ll see what the big deal is about.” There are people who live their life for the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. I will not be joining that crowd. I had my first–and my last–PSL ever. Why? Well, it’s like drinking a candy bar with a LOT of excess flavoring in it. It was decaf, as usual, but it was still strong enough to make my teeth wiggle. Whipped cream did nothing to tame the intense, heavy flavor that was more sugar and calories than I needed at once. Verdict: I’d rather drink barium sulfate, which is that stuff they give you in the hospital to light up your insides for an X-Ray or MRI.

Switching gears. . . .

Longtime readers know that I’m a big fan of Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes are pretty easy, very tasty, and she’s a really nice lady. Guess what? Ina has a protege. Her name is Lidey Hueck, and I found out about her blog, called Lidey’s Table, on Delish.com. Lidey herself has a recipe for make-ahead oatmeal that’s right up my alley–cook it on Sunday, eat it all week. She has a few blog posts of her own, and does social media for Ina. And of course, Lidey has learned how to cook from the master herself. Lucky cat!

October 29th was my 3-year “anniversary” of blogging on WordPress. What started out as a fun project has become something more–but I don’t know what yet. But WordPress congratulated me when I signed on, so here I am.

That also means my birthday was last week. Woo hoo! Well, I didn’t cook at all that day. I promise, it was all gluten free. Here’s how it went.

First stop was the new Dunkin’ Donuts on Bay Area Boulevard, for my birthday reward coffee (they load it directly onto the app, and I presume, onto the plastic card as well.) I chose a decaf hazelnut macchiato:

Macchiato!

Ready to roll. . . .

Ready to roll. . . .

Dunkin’ Donuts puts graphic illustrations of their coffee drinks on a mat by the registers that shows exactly what the fancy Italian names mean. In this case, a Macchicato is a double shot of espresso, with steamed milk in the bottom and foamed milk on top. Of course, the machine that made decaf wasn’t working right that day, so it took longer. But it was my birthday, and I wasn’t in a hurry. No, they don’t have gluten-free donuts, but I wasn’t interested even if they did. It was the coffee I wanted, and I was quite happy on the way out. I also watched that large $3.69 cup ring up $0.00. It was a pattern repeated throughout the day.

Next top: the Freeman Library to pick up a Sherlock DVD I requested. I early voted the week before, so I was done, and headed to Baybrook Mall’s Denny’s for the famed Free Grand Slam On Your Birthday. Yes, you have to prove it. I got there about 11:00 am, and was served by a very nice lady named Linda. After checking my driver’s license to make sure I was telling the truth–yes, they really do ask–I was greeted with the news that Denny’s now has GLUTEN FREE ENGLISH MUFFINS!! No kidding–Linda said they have had them about 3 months, and assured me that they were good. I took a chance and ordered them, and asked for butter. Take a look:

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Yes! It really is gluten free!!

Linda was right–that gluten-free English muffin was hot and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It was heavenly with butter on it. Has to be the best one ever, and no swapping out stuff to make it “gluten free” Woo hoo!  Linda mentioned that she has a niece who has to eat gluten-free, and the stuff she has is usually like cardboard. I suggested checking out the Wheat Belly books, particularly the cookbooks, and read more about it, so she could better manage it.

But you know, I didn’t plan on making anything special this year like I normally do. With everything else going on, and the possibility of two six-hour car trips, it just wasn’t in the cards. HOWEVER–I ordered myself some dessert at Denny’s (and partly so I would be able to tip Linda, because, DUH, I forgot to bring cash again.) So, the most gluten-free and least expensive dessert was, in fact, just what I wanted–ICE CREAM.

Dessert! At 11:55 am.

Dessert! At 11:55 am.

And why not? Chocolate ice cream with hot fudge (marked “GF” in the menu) with whipped cream and a nut topping. I asked Linda, “Since I’m having this much chocolate before noon, does that make me a junkie?”

OK, you know I love chocolate, any time of year. The Food of the Gods.

After Denny’s, I headed into the mall for a quick stop at Sephora, who offers a free gift every year for registered participants. A couple of lovely lip pencils, which I will use. . the next time I wear lipstick, I guess. Monday was the second time I’d worn makeup in October, and that was the first time since. . .July? I don’t go many places where I need makeup. (I wore it the next day, but I’ll tell you about that in a bit.)

I did a bit of prowling in the mall, even getting ambushed by one of those kiosk people trying to sell me a $129 cosmetic product I don’t need for $39. I didn’t buy, but I am considering bringing a small spray bottle with me next time and filling it half with water and half with vinegar or rubbing alcohol so that the next time someone gets too close, I can let them know to back off. The smell will go away, but not the fear after they nearly assault me. I hate that. I know they have a job to do, but some of them are obnoxious.

Anyway. . .

Once I left the mall, I had a couple of quick stops to make, and I made the last stop to the Starbucks On My Street for my birthday reward. Starbucks shortened up the time window to use it, so I made sure I got it on my birthday. Instead of a coffee drink this year, I got what I really wanted–a Zesty Chicken & Black Bean Salad. YUM. . .I had it after my 90 minute bike ride. No kidding. . .I really did ride the bike on my birthday, because I enjoy the ride, and because after the ice cream Sundae, I REALLY needed it. The weather was cloudy and slightly cool after all the rain we had, so it was just perfect for riding, no sun in my eyes. I rode until I thought I felt rain, and came in. That salad tasted great after the ride.

The next day, it was time for a petrol fillup and a long drive to The Woodlands for some blood testing at Woodlands Wellness. Since I was  going up there already, I asked Neighbor R if she’d like some wine. Of course, she said yes, and I happily shopped for her beloved Pinot Grigio and got more of the stuff I use regularly, like olive oil, cocoa powder and the like. Trader Joe’s is also introducing seasonal items, such as the aforementioned pumpkin-flavored everything, and this item, which I’ve never seen before, but I believe is a seasonal item, since I was told by an employee “we just got that in.” (Aldi also treats baking chocolate as a seasonal item.)

Trader Joe's. . .chocolate?

I haven’t tried it yet, but I have to say the Aldi’s worked well for the Yeast-Free Brownies. I haven’t made those in a while, much as I love them, because the price of chocolate has doubled, and SomerSweet has been unavailable for nearly a year. I’m kind of afraid to make some until I figure out what other sweetener I can use that will be comparable. I’ll let you know if I find one.

Much as I’ve been jockeying for a Trader Joe’s down here in Clear Lake, I kind of wonder if they’ll open it up right after I move out of the area. Well, that would be irony, wouldn’t it? Or I’ll never get out of Clear Lake, and there will happily be a Trader Joe’s. It would go a long way, along with the beautiful library we have, to making it tolerable.

Anyway. . . .

I had some more of Trader Joe’s delicious Goat Milk Brie (one of my favorites) and a got a large log of goat cheese to cut in half, and use one for a Corsican Omelette the next day (and use up some of the mint out back) and freeze the other half for another day. A basic stocking up on the supplies I use the most, and like the best, until the next time I go, or I have to hit up HEB and hope I can find it.

Oh, and friend of the blog LK was enjoying her tenure at the Williams-Sonoma this time last year, until they announced that they were closing the Baybrook Mall store, saying only that it was a “corporate decision.” With the expansion of Baybrook Mall (nobody knows *why* it’s happening, they’re just doing it) she figured that there was another vendor who wanted it, probably Sur la Table. Guess what? Sometime this month, Sur la Table will indeed be opening in Baybrook Mall.  I get their catalogs, and have since I started going to the one in The Woodlands. I noticed it on the new catalog this morning: Opening In Baybrook Mall Soon. We got our answer, Sur la Table will grace Clear Lake soon.

Then Wednesday, they turned off the hot water for a while. When it came back on, it was gushing in the bathroom. . .but that’s not going to get covered here. Thankfully, it’s over, and I hope it stays fixed for a long time.

Thanksgiving is in a couple of weeks, and I will do my best to help you out. If you have any questions, post them here, or send me an email. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I will find out what I can for you. I’ll also be posting some recipes, including some delicious cranberry sauce that will have you throwing out the canned stuff. However, I want to emphasize two points about Thanksgiving (and really, for Christmas too):

  • You will prepare 29 other dinners in the month of November
  • A whole turkey is, in fact, nothing more than a big chicken, so if you can roast a chicken, you can roast a turkey

I saw turkey brine mix in Fresh Market yesterday, so I’ll discuss that as well. If you’ve never brined a turkey before, it’s well worth doing, and you can find directions on Martha Stewart’s website, and Ree Drummond has one here. I’ve not tried Ree Drummond’s, but read the whole article, since she makes very good points on the subject. (And her kids are smart alecks!)

Oh, and another off-topic item: if you’re a Def Leppard fan, their brand new self-titled studio album is just out. I don’t have it yet, but I will eventually. These bad Brit boys of arena rock have been bringing it for more than 35 years, and have no intention of stopping (even though three of them live in California and two are vegans.) They’ve been working on this one for a couple of years in between touring, and refuse to compromise or capitulate. I’ve seen comments on Facebook that it’s their best yet, but I haven’t heard it so I can’t answer for it. But I do have some of their CDs, including their last three, so I’m sure it will be the same high-quality fans are accustomed to. (For the record, they’re not “heavy metal” as some tend to classify them.)

OK, OK–if your idea of good music is Glenn Miller, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, or something they play on the smooth jazz station, Def Leppard probably isn’t your cup of tea. That’s OK. I actually like all three of those in addition to Def Leppard.  I’m just passing along info for the fans.

In the meantime, I’m going to get ready for bed, since I got an extra hour of sleep and I want to get to bed early so I can get up before the sun, like I used to do.

The waffle post is almost finished, and I’m also going to make some suggestions for waffling part of your Thanksgiving if you’re up for it. But no, not a turkey. You’ll be cooking til Christmas.

Thanks for sticking with me. I will try *not* to be too much longer with the waffle post. Or any other posts.

Happy Dining!

Amy

 

 

 

 

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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:

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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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HeatCageKitchen Garden and The Return of Blue Bell Ice Cream

HeatCageKitchen Garden and The Return of Blue Bell Ice Cream

Happy Friday, Dear Readers!

My sincerest apologies for the lateness in posts. I’ve been busy on the copywriting side, so writing here has been postponed. But I’ve got some things to tell you about, including the return of Texas’ favorite ice cream. I’ve got a new cookbook, which I’ll tell you about in a future post, as well as a new piece of kitchen equipment.

I’ve finally decided to start watching the Harry Potter films. I’ve read all the books more than once–the most addictive books ever–but I’ve never seen the movies. I ordered them from the library, and shortly I’ll be watching “Year 6” (Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince.) After that, the two halves of Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows should arrive, hopefully next week. I tried watching Mad Men. UGH. Five episodes of season 1 was all I could stomach. Like a lot of folks, I’m waiting for Downton Abbey’‘s final season to start. We are all distressed by this, of course, and hope Mr. & Mrs. Bates catch a break and the wedding of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes goes off without a hitch. (I think Lady Mary gets married, because in the trailer, I thought I saw a wedding ring on her left hand.) After so much Harry Potter at once, I’m now wondering where I can use the incantations “Stupefy!” and “Expecto Patronus!” in daily life.

Have you noticed the plethora of pumpkin-flavored everything yet? Starbucks has brought back their (in)famous Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL), now with real pumpkin! Honest, I’ve never had one. Maybe when I win the lottery. However, after discovering a meme creator for my phone, I made another one of these, that we see every year:

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No kidding. Last weekend’s trip through The Fresh Market yielded this:
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Neither the Pumpkin nor the Chocolate Cherry come in decaf. Darnit. I didn’t check Pecan Pie, because HEB has a Texas Pecan flavor in decaf.

And because I couldn’t resist poking fun at the GER again, this one went on Facebook:

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That actually IS the GER’s  profile picture in my iPhone. Because I know he wouldn’t let me take one of him. If I did, he would break the phone. So the piggy pic from Fresh Market has to do. Yes, he knows. In fact, it was his birthday this week–he wasn’t interested in a cake, either. Oh, well.

So let me give you an update on the HeatCageKitchen garden.

As I mentioned last time, the recently planted organic spring onions have taken off:

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I’m not kidding when I tell you they’re easy to grow–just cut the white rooted part and stick it in water, or better, dirt. They’ll keep growing a while, until of course, you attempt to transplant them. Hopefully this container will last at least as long as the last one did, and I don’t have to buy more for five years.

More rain off and on, so no weeding yet. But soon.

Look! Basil!

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Both plants had lots of leaves, although the slugs have had a munchfest on the bottom leaves and on the little sprouts which are slowly getting bigger. I hope they get bigger before Christmas. . .MAN this is the longest I’ve seen seedlings grow past the first two leaves. Never fear. . .I also had plenty of parsley, and you know what that means!

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I measured everything and discovered I had enough for TWO batches of pesto! Some of it is parsley, but I don’t mind. Longtime readers know of my affinity for pesto, and for Pea and Pesto Soup. Hopefully the two big plants will grow back, and the seedlings will be nice and big so I can make even more for the winter. This, of course, means a trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, for more of those little containers, but who cares? It’s PESTO!! (Can you tell I never had it growing up in New Orleans?)

In addition to the citrus trees doing whatever (the Meyer lemons are still the same, no change), the tomato plants are. . .well, I don’t know what’s going on with them. Let me fill you in:

  • The Sungold plant has given me some tiny tomatoes for seeds, and flowers indicating more to come
  • The Chocolate Cherry and Cherokee Purple have done nothing since the initial harvest of a few
  • I’ve trimmed the dead stuff off all the tomato plants, two of which exceed six feet
  • The Chocolate Cherry and Cherokee Purple have new growth from the bottom of the plants
  • The Tumbling TomTomato has given me four more full-sized yellow orbs
  • The Tiny Tom (red) has given me these alien-looking things that I hope contain seeds I can save for next year:

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The first ones I got were nice, round tomatoes. What do you call this nonsense? Seriously, have you ever seen anything so WEIRD? Take a closer look after I picked them and brought them in:

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I’ve gotten three or four like that, the size of the top digit of my pinky finger, and the ones that are coming behind it are round (you can see it bottom right, under the leaves.) What the heck do you call that?

In all seriousness, the very dry, hot summer has taken a toll on all the plants, and even though they were watered regularly, I’m guessing that wasn’t enough. Remember, my beautiful red bell pepper scorched, and I had to toss it. Can’t even put that in the compost bin (which I plan to re-start soon.)  However, there are more on their way. I hope:

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Already got one being worked:

Bottom of the baby bell pepper

Bottom of the baby bell pepper

Oh, and I think my sage plant is toast. Just shriveling up on me. Oh, well, I can find another one, I’m sure.

On the other hand, the Anaheim/Hatch chile peppers are coming back like gangbusters:

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One of many, MANY peppers that are coming in the next few weeks.

The thing about these is that they are the same color as the leaves, so I actually have to go out and poke around and feel through the leaves, otherwise I’ll miss one. It’ll stay too long and get red-hot. Not something I want in my breakfast casserole. There are little flowers all over this plant–I’ve never had that happen before with an Anaheim. If this keeps up, I might not have to buy the cans for a while.

Now we switch gears for something important.

If you’re in Texas, you know we’re celebrating the return of Blue Bell Ice Cream. Not everyone is celebrating, however–it’s in limited distribution and not all the flavors are available. lt’s only available in Houston and parts of Alabama, and only four flavors: Homemade Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate, Butter Pecan, Cookies and Cream, and The Great Divide (half chocolate, half vanilla.)  My favorites, Sugar Free Vanilla and MOO-llennium Crunch, are not currently available, but remember, they’re coming back from a complete suspension of operations. You can find out more with this locator can show you where it’s available now.

Neighbor K gifted me a pint last week, since I wasn’t feeling well all week:

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She wasn’t sure if I’d prefer chocolate or vanilla–chocolate would be my first choice, but since it was a gift, I was not going to be picky, and said “thank you.” It was wonderful!

I did get more a couple of days later:

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I posted these pictures on Facebook, to the consternation of many folks, one of whom attempted to get some in Lumberton, TX, and was told, “go to Houston.” He was rather unhappy about that.

Another individual posted a rather bad picture of someone (possibly himself) with a half-gallon on the table, lid off, a belt around his upper arm,and a cigarette lighter under a tablespoon of ice cream. Yes, I agree, bad taste, although you do get a fair amount of dark humor on Facebook. But that’s how deprived we’ve been.

When I went back for another pint a couple of nights ago–eaten in three parts over 3 days–I intended to get more chocolate. While standing in line, I happened to look down and saw that one of the ingredients was. . .WHEAT!!

SAY WHAT????

Flour? In ice cream? OK, I’ll give on the Cookies & Cream–you expect that. But plain old chocolate? Oh, NO!!!

Today I called Blue Bell to ask about that very thing. Cheryl Ignasiak in Customer Relations asked around her office, and was told that flour is not actually added to Dutch Chocolate ice cream. But because the possibility of cross-contamination exists with the Dutch Chocolate, they have to list it on the label as an “ingredient.” Cheryl was very nice, and of course, I wasn’t out to do a “hit piece” on Blue Bell (I leave that for people in areas where they’ve never had it), I just wanted to know the score on this for folks who read this blog that do have problems with wheat, so they can know if they’re exposed.

Cheryl did tell me that Homemade Vanilla and my other favorite, MOO-llennium Crunch, are both gluten free. So that was good news. (But better news would be that they MAKE MOO-llennium Crunch again.)

Again, Blue Bell is not at full production yet, and they are working towards that goal. Eventually, everyone will be able to get some, and all the flavors will be available again. Cheryl was nice enough to email me a list of their products that are suitable for folks avoiding gluten, and you can read the PDF file here:

Nutrition Notes GLUTEN Ice Cream.

That’s quite a few flavors for folks with gluten issues. Good news, indeed.

I know, I know. . .the Great Ice Cream Lysteria Hysteria of 2015 is almost over. (Blue Bell wasn’t the only brand that was hit.) I did try to get by with other, lesser brands of ice cream. Admittedly, HEB’s Creamy Creation is not bad, but I didn’t think about it. I did make ice cream a couple of times, and on one occasion bought Target’s Market Pantry ice cream. Know what? I discovered that not only is a lot of air whipped in, making the container feel half-empty, one I almost got had. . .wheat flour. I put that stuff back and got something else. Blue Bell, when frozen, doesn’t feel “squishy.” It gets HARD, like ice cream should be.

If you are in the areas that get Blue Bell, rejoice and go buy some. If you are not, you have two choices: drive to an area that has some, bring your ice chest, and get some. Then, be patient–the house-elves are working as fast as they can to get everything up and running for full production.

Oh, wait–Blue Bell has employees, not house-elves, don’t they?

Nevermind–I’m going watch that Harry Potter movie before bed.

Happy Friday!

 

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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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