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Category Archives: Ingredients

Review of everything from soup to nuts, if it goes into something.

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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Paleo Breakfast Pie (from the Crock Pot!)

Paleo Breakfast Pie (from the Crock Pot!)

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Are you warm? Are you snowed in? I’ve alternated between T-shirts/shorts and jeans/sweaters this week. At least we have the final season of Downton Abbey and the limited-run 10th series of The X-Files to keep us entertained. Oh, and the Superbowl is upon us again, and. . .I don’t care.

Got a message from Neighbor E this morning. He’s found the Dark-Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes, and now, E is happy:

Is that coffee?

Neighbor E doesn’t drink coffee, so I asked him what was in his coffee cup. . .he whipped up his version of the Starbucks Chai Tea Latte. Never had one, because I always go in for coffee. But hey–I duplicate the Hazelnut Macchiato on the stove top, so why not? (E also told me that a  longtime local Starbucks location has also closed, but there are at least three more in the vicinity to take its place.)

Remember the new delivery vehicle being developed for Domino’s? I saw one in Clear Lake this week:

Since I was on the wrong side at a stop light, I could only get this side. But check out what it says on the fuel tank:

It says, “Unleaded Fuel Only. No Pizza Sauce!”

Makes you wonder if it’s a joke or if someone actually tried it.

In the Valentine’s Day department, Kroger had this jewel:

Perfect size for whom? Guess it’s supposed to a polite size for when your honey comes over, and you eat “the whole cake with two forks.” OK.

My kettlebell workouts ceased for about a week when I had a mysterious floodwaters in the bathroom–and it wasn’t the tub or commode. It was discovered, finally, and the blockage has been cleared. I couldn’t figure out how the water was coming into the area under the AC unit. But I’m back on it, with a heavier 15 pound kettle bell. The 10 pound weight wasn’t heavy anymore. (Other than the initial stiffness, I haven’t hurt myself, either.)

So, is anyone doing a Paleo diet this year? “Paleo,” if you’re not familiar with the term, is short for Paleolithic, as in Paleolithic Man. Yes, cave man, and not necessarily the ones I’ve dated. A Paleo diet is, as I understand it, a diet of food that Paleolithic Man would have consumed–meat, veg, little fruit, and nothing processed or the product of agriculture or manufacturing, like grains (and bread), cheese and butter (but I think milk is OK, because it’s just. . .milk.) Like low-carb and gluten-free, lots of folks have taken the proverbial ball and run with it, with books, blogs and articles abound on the subject. Once you learn the basics, go from there.

Some time ago, I stumbled onto a recipe via PaleOMG, written by Juli Bauer. She’s not only a foodie, she’s also a blogger, fitness person and bride-to-be. She blogs about all these things and creates some delicious Paleo food in the process. She’s also published a couple of cookbooks, something I haven’t aspired to doing yet. If you go check out her blog, be aware that she does use language I reserve strictly for the process of driving around in Houston (especially with the huge inbound migration we’ve received in the last few years.) I don’t really do that on this blog, but that’s just me (except I know I said “fart” once.)

As I’ve mentioned here before, I am very happy to toss a bunch of things in the Crock Pot and let it cook all day, particularly in the summertime, when you don’t want the kitchen to heat up past 80F (when it will feel like a “Heat Cage Kitchen.”)  I went back to review the site, and to see what else Juli had, and came across a recipe for Sweet Pulled Pork Waffle Sliders. WAFFLES? Yes, waffles used as sandwich bread with freshly made mayo and slow-cooked pork shoulder. In this case, the waffles are made with almond flour and some other Paleo-friendly ingredients. I think I’m going to have to make this soon. . .my waffle maker has been put up for a few weeks, darnit. I haven’t forgotten it, of course, I’ve just been doing other stuff, like tossing stuff in the Crock Pot and making phone calls all day long.

But this weekend, I found one of Juli’s recipes I’d printed some time ago and forgot about. The Easy CrockPot Breakfast Pie has just a few ingredients, but is easy to make and is dairy-free. Why dairy-free, you ask? Well, it’s good to have handy if I have to do yeast-free again, and if I run out of milk or something. It’s a little different, because I got used to cheese and milk or cream in my breakfast cookery. But this is a welcome change, and it contains. . .sweet potato. THAT got my attention!

The recipe is as follows:

Easy CrockPot Breakfast Pie

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients
  • 8 eggs, whisked
  • 1 sweet potato or yam, shredded
  • 1lb US Wellness Meats Pork Sausage, broken up
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • any extra veggies you want to put in there: peppers, squash, etc.
Directions
  1. I greased my Crockpot with a bit of coconut oil to make sure none of the egg stuck to it. (Amy’s Note: I also used one of those slow cooker liners, as you’ll see in the pictures.)
  2. Shred your sweet potato. I used the shredding attachment on my food processor to make it super quick, but you could use a grater as well.
  3. Add all ingredients to your CrockPot and use a spoon to mix well.
  4. Set it and forget it.
  5. Place on low for 6-8 hours. I cooked it for more than 7 to make sure the pork sausage was completely cooked through.
  6. Slice it like a pie.

I skipped her smart-alecky final line, and eventually I’ll have it up on the Recipes Page as a printable PDF file for anyone who wants it. So let me tell you how easy this is to make.

The setup

The setup.

Not a whole lot of ingredients as you can see, but I forgot the dried basil in this shot. Now, as I said, I used one of these:

Keep your dirty-mind comments to yourself, please.

Keep your dirty-mind comments to yourself, please.

They’re kind of hard to find, so I get 2 boxes when I head over to that nice HEB in Friendswood. When you set it up, it looks like this:

Yes, looks silly but it works great, especially in this recipe.

Yes, looks silly but it works great, especially in this recipe.

I greased it with either coconut oil by hand or sprayed on olive oil, I don’t remember. Then, get on with it:

Shredded sweet potato

Shredded sweet potato

I do love my little shredding toy. When you’re done with that, dump it into the crock, and get on with the onions in the same fashion (and why not?)

Shredded onions are so much easier, and less tears.

Shredded onions are so much easier, and less tears.

Because the last part of the ingredient list calls for “any extra veggies you want to put in there: peppers, squash, etc.,” I added a bag of frozen veg from Kroger:

These bags are $1 each for 12 ounces.

These bags are $1 each for 12 ounces.

I added in the spices next:

IMG_2900

Yes, I know what it looks like.

Now, Judi’s recipe calls for some mail-ordered pork sausage that’s clean, antibiotic free, gluten- and sugar-free, and all that. However, since I just wanted to try it, I used readily available sage pork breakfast sausage from Kroger. Knowing that I was going to make this dish, I left it out for several hours to take the chill off and let it soften up. (One day I’ll be buying stuff like that again.)

Let me point out here that in most of these slow-cooker breakfasts, you brown and crumble the sausage on the stove top in a cast-iron pan, then toss it into the CrockPot, then add the eggs, milk or cream, and other stuff. In this recipe, the raw pork sausage is added directly in and the dish cooked for a longer amount of time.

Yes, it was still sticky and hard to work with, but I did it.

Yes, it was still sticky and hard to work with, but I did it.

Take your spoon and mix it up well. Now get on with the eggs–you can whisk them, as the recipe states, but I’ve discovered that the lovely immersion blender works better:

Eggs!

Eggs! (I had a coupon for Egglands Best, I promise.)

Mine came with this beaker, but I’ve also done this with mixing bowls:

Blitz!

Blitz! (Start on low speed to make avoid egging your own kitchen.)

This recipe doesn’t have milk or cheese, but when you are adding milk to eggs, the immersion blender works really well to make sure it’s all incorporated. Now, just pour it over the mixture:

Almost ready to cook.

Almost ready to cook.

Give it another stir and pack it in a little:

Ready to roll! (Well, cook.)

Ready to roll! (Well, cook.)

Mine took about 7 hours to finish, but I also turned off the heat, unplugged it, then left the lid slightly off to let the heat escape and help it cool. When it was just warm, I removed the pie from the crock, and this is what I got:

See how easily it lifts out of the Crock Pot?

Yes, I know it looks a bit strange.

One advantage of the slow cooker pot liners is the ability to lift this baby out, drop it directly onto a cutting board, peel off the sides of the liner, flip it, remove the rest of the liner, then cut it just like a cake or a pie. If you’re single like me, you just pack it up in containers and have a microwave-ready breakfast every morning right from the fridge.

This is more or less what you end up with:

The Crock Pot Breakfast Pie

The Crock Pot Breakfast Pie

Now, you get out of this what you put in, and you see two cut red beans there on the bottom, and probably a bit of cauliflower there, too. Those, of course, were from the frozen veg mix I added to it.

And you know what? It was pretty good. I was wondering if it would be disappointing, but it’s not–it’s really different. Not like the kind with eggs/cream/milk/cheese, but pretty darn good. I got two thumbs up from both Neighbor R and Neighbor E, who added:

“. . .it fascinates me. For healthy eating I doubt you could do much better. But all the ingredients blend in together and there isn’t one that stands out (kinda like cake without the icing). A restaurant I go to for brunch has some incredible vegetarian sausage. Thinking if piled a bunch of that in there to give it some spice, it would be a hit.”

Thanks, E! I noticed too that there wasn’t one thing you tasted over another, it just kinds of all blends up. Much as I love sweet potatoes, I didn’t really taste them like you do when you eat them “straight.”

Three thumbs up for this one! And since it’s done in the Crock Pot, it’s easy, too. Looks like we have a winner here, a great warmer for cold winter mornings, wherever you are.

Enjoy!

 

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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.

IMG_2524[1]

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.)

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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:
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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:

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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:

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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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Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Remember when I said the next post would be about waffles, unless I had something better to write about? I do–and I’m not reneging on waffles, either. In fact, after I finish writing this, I’m going to try out a gluten-free waffle recipe just for you! (Well, and me, too.)  I’m anticipating three or four different waffles on the recipe page, and one may even involve using. . .wheat. We’ll see when I get there.

Are you a Trader Joe’s fan? Well, I finally had a flash of inspiration, and decided to do something about the lack of a TJ’s down here south of Houston. I put a link on NextDoor.com, and suggested everyone in my area write TJ’s and tell their friends to do the same. So far, several people have, including Neighbor K, who became a fan after hearing me bang on about it, and made her first trip.  If you’re one of my local readers, do this now and tell EVERYONE YOU KNOW. If we get enough people writing, we might actually get one closer than the Montrose store. I suggested Friendswood or League City, but anywhere closer than Montrose or Memorial would be wonderful. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have TJ’s at all, and you miss them terribly, you can go to this link as well and ask about getting a TJ’s in your area. Do the same thing–tell your friends. Go to this link and send them a short email about where and why. Save the text on a Word document in case the site goes bonkers, like it did for me. It worked the second time.

A couple of weeks ago, I was strolling through Target and found this with a clearance sticker on it:

IMG_2350[1]

Hershey’s? Ice Cream Maker?

End of the summer, an ice cream maker. However, it’s one that requires this:

It's GOURMET.

It’s GOURMET.

Now that we have Blue Bell back, we don’t need this. And of course, in fine print at the bottom, it says, “artificially flavored.” No thanks. I like my Cuisinart model and the recipes I have in cookbooks.

So anyway. . .guess who has more pesto in her freezer? Yes! ME! (You can envy me now.) As of last night, I now have SIX containers of pesto! No, I haven’t poured steroid fertilizers out back. I went on a little day trip on Monday. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve written about the monthly gardening lectures I attend at my local library, third Thursday of the month, 6:30 pm. Nice people, and sometimes, there’s munchies. (No, I passed on the cake last week.)  The lady who coordinates the lectures and attends every month is a nice person named Shirley Jackson. She’s always there, picks up the surveys, gives announcements and sometimes, she’s the friendliest face I see all day.

One of the announcements has been since the beginning the “open garden” day at the Genoa Friendship Garden in nearby Pasadena. That’s not someplace I normally hang out, and despite writing it down, I never seem to remember. Except for one day I dropped a pitcher of iced coffee on the floor, and. . .oh, never mind. Finally, Monday, I paid them a visit.

Sponsored by the Harris County Master Gardeners and Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension, it’s a little spot where all kinds of plants are grown, and they have plant sales–cheap. I spent a whopping $3.50 yesterday, for two tomato plants and a sweet pepper plant that I’ll put into a big pot this weekend.

Take a look:

IMG_2784

This was a cute little display:

A diorama!

A diorama!

Here’s a closeup:

IMG_2782

If you like eggplant, they’ve got a garden variety that, it is claimed, actually tastes good.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

Here’s another look at that eggplant:

IMG_2803

There are peppers of many kinds:

Sweet peppers

Sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

For the okra-loving folks.

Okra--the GER's favorite

Okra–the GER’s favorite

They grow green onions, just like I do, only more of them. I also got answers to questions about the garlic that never seems to grow well in my garden. One nice lady said it was probably critters. I’ll try again soon.

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A few shots from around the garden area:

IMG_2797IMG_2796IMG_2794IMG_2793

There’s an orchard, complete with berry bushes:

Blackberries!

Blackberries!

I think these are grapes, but I couldn’t find a label for it:

IMG_2800

And they didn’t forget the kitties, either! (I bet there’s a huge feral cat colony living there, somewhere, that comes out to party in the Garden at night.)

IMG_2798

I was quite surprised to see an area of desert plants, separated from the rest of the garden:

That's the biggest Prickly Pear cactus I've seen since the last time I was in the desert.

That’s the biggest Prickly Pear cactus I’ve seen since I left California. In 1988.

Prickly pear cactus produces fruit–did you know that?

Cactus pears, also called "Indian Fruit."

Cactus pears, also called “Indian Fruit.”

Yellow flowers develop on top of the little fruit buds, that’s why there is an indentation. Then the flower dries up and falls off (just like zucchini or peppers) and the fruit buds start growing. When they turn dark purple, you can pick them and peel them, because they’re sweet. I’ve seen “Indian Candy” at truck stops in California and Arizona. (But not in a long, long time.)There were other desert plants, as well, like this, I believe is called an Ocotillo:

IMG_2791

Yes, those needles are indeed SHARP.

NOW–remember what I said about more pesto? Get a look at this:

IMG_2805

I mentioned to one of my “tour guides” that I grow basil for the sole purpose of making pesto and freezing it for the winter. I told him about Pea & Pesto Soup, and told him that if he made that for his wife, she would be very happy with him. He reached down and cut me a couple of huge branches, big as a wedding bouquet. (Don’t read anything into that.) I stopped on the way home at Randall’s because I knew I didn’t have enough pine nuts to make two or three batches. I might start using walnuts one day–I like walnuts too, and they’re less expensive than pine nuts.

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!!

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!! (Tomato plants in the foreground.)

Another one of my tour guides (listening to my discussion of said soup) asked me, “how do you have time to do all that cooking?” I smiled and said, “I’m single.” He was delighted to hear about Pea & Pesto Soup, but insisted that I make some and bring it to him to try. I’d guess he was in his mid-70’s, and he was not about to go online to find the recipe. (Most of the people working there were women.)

There are several varieties of basil growing, like this one:

It's basil, but. . . .

It’s basil, but. . . .

As I’ve done so many times, I picked a leaf and tasted it. Suddenly behind me, I heard a woman’s voice say, “That’s not culinary basil.

AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!

It wasn’t poisonous, but I did indeed spit it out quickly and ask about it. She said, “I’ve never had anyone pop a leaf in their mouth like that.”

I got to ask lots of questions, and I found out a lot of things I didn’t get from the lectures. First, I’m under-watering my plants. DUH! Second, there isn’t enough room for all the water to drain properly, so I have to get a bigger drill bit soon and drill bigger holes in the bottom of the paint buckets. If I have time next month, I might go take a ride, now that I know where it is and how easy it is to get to from here.

I went into the greenhouse to get some plants, and there were some free seeds, limit 5. That was all I needed.

French breakfast radishes!!

Sage and French breakfast radishes!!

Lettuce will be happening again, soon, too, thanks to the seeds and the cooler weather that’s coming.

It’s not a big greenhouse, but there were plenty of plants for sale. I missed the kale, though. Sorry, K.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Now, to give you some perspective on why gardening can be a good thing, consider the Meyer lemons that I’m hoping will get bigger. I’ve got seeds from last year’s lemons, and I may need to prune the tree a bit. But on a recent trip to The Fresh Market, I found some Meyer lemons:

IMG_2308[1]

I hope to grow more and more.

I sent that picture to Neighbor K. She was quite surprised to see how much they were. NOW do you see why I want to grow them? I do hope mine grow full size before they completely ripen.

You can find out more about the Genoa Friendship Garden at this link. The Garden is open to the public on the third Monday of the month from 8:30 to 11:00 am, and they sell plants cheap. If you’re looking for something to do in Houston, there are two gardens; this one is on my side of town.

Time for fall gardening, and I’ll be hoping that radishes finally grow back there. They grow quickly, and best in the cold winter. Fingers crossed, and I’ll tell you all about it. . .if it works.

Enjoy!

 

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