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Category Archives: The Slow Cooker

Valentine’s Day–again???

Valentine’s Day–again???

Good afternoon, Dear Readers from everywhere:

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

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

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

PeacockCAke

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

In other news. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chocolate-sugar-cookie-hearts-09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

 

 

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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:

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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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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.

IMG_2874

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:

IMG_2475

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:

wpid-20151112_162218.jpg

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:

IMG_2478

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

IMG_2479

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):

IMG_2480

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:

wpid-20151121_191038.jpg

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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Clearing the air

Clearing the air

Hello Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

File this under “Crock Pot Hacks.”

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Summer simmer: The Crock Pot

Summer simmer: The Crock Pot

Hello, Dear Readers:

Well, I’m back for a bit. The copywriting training went well, and I’ve been quite busy working on my marketing materials–and getting a little brain freeze occasionally. No, Blue Bell ice cream is completely unavailable, and I don’t want any other kind. Soon the “great ice cream listeria hysteria” will be over and Blue Bell will be in stores again. No, it’s been the writing and constructing of things I’ve needed for a long time. I have a better understanding of it, but it’s a bit slow going. There will be an email to the coach/instructor soon, if for no other reason than clarification of a few things.

One idea borrowed from my copywriting website is a page for my writing samples. I realized one night that I could start a recipe section on this website, and I have. At the top of the page, you’ll see a link to recipes, (you can click on the link too)  where my favorites old and new will be available as PDF files. I even created a logo that I think I’m going to use on the recipes and maybe elsewhere on the site. I’m not a designer, so that’s a “C priority” right now. But there are currently four recipes there, one from this post, and more will be added as I can.

While the rest of the country says “spring,” the 80-degree days are here, so we’re pretty much back into running our air conditioners 24/7 except for the recent spate of cool fronts that have come through. I’ve been wearing shorts for some time now, and even with the breezes we get, it’s still warm. Neighbor K’s adorable Daft Pug isn’t interested in the long walks anymore, but he’s good about. . .well, going outside for a sunshine break.

The HeatCageKitchen garden is roaring along–I’m getting tomatoes! I now have only three Meyer lemons growing, after one dropped off during the rainstorm this morning. . Mint, pesto, onions, parsley, cilantro–they’re all getting bigger, and so is the Anaheim chili pepper plant. Oh, and I’ve re-done the ‘re-grow your lettuce” experiment; it’s working this time, but I should plant one or two more lettuce cuttings. More on the garden soon.

Neighbor J upstairs has gotten into the habit of giving me the Sunday paper when he’s done with it, mostly for the coupons. He keeps the sports section, so naturally, I’m not complaining. He’s also the neighbor who has generously given me some venison and some raw honey on occasion. I need to bake him some muffins or a cake soon, as well as a couple that live in a different building. They generously planted some free landscape things in front of our little enclave; someone else dug up the free plants. Neighbor K and I keep saying we’d get around to it, but this sudden gift happened on Good Friday.

Remember: gifts do not always come wrapped up at Christmas. Ask anyone who’s received something handmade from me, like The E Man and friend of the blog KJ, both in New Orleans, who each received a package of handmade items recently; KJ didn’t know it was coming.

Speaking of The E Man, I recently helped him find Trader Joe’s in Baton Rouge. He happened to call me a couple of weeks ago and mentioned that he was in Baton Rouge, and I said, “Are you going to Trader Joe’s?” No, but he wanted to, so I employed a strategy I’ve used before: faith, hope, and Google Maps. He took a casual ride up Perkins road, saw lots of newly constructed housing and was amazed. It only took about 15 minutes or so, and he had to take another call. When I called back he was in the store and found the coffee samples. I may have created a monster.

Now, speaking of warmer weather, if you’re one of those people who has a taste for iced coffee, take heart. Nick Usborne at Coffee Detective has you covered. Nick just posted a tutorial on making iced coffee at home–and it couldn’t be simpler! I’ve been making it one cup at a time, and when I put almond milk in it, well, the milk curdles. No more. I first started drinking iced coffee when it was just hot in the Boeing building, and I poured my fresh coffee in a glass of ice and have loved it ever since. Check out Nick’s tutorial and start making your own. I did, using some decaf Community coffee last night.

wpid-20150504_183635.jpg

I just used the big French Press. Twice. Made it a little stronger than I should have; but since this was the first time, I’ll be able to do better next time.

If you have the room, and I don’t, you can also make coffee as you normally would and make coffee ice cubes so your drink isn’t diluted. Maybe in the country house.

Anyway, into the pitcher it goes for whenever I want some.

wpid-20150504_184235.jpg

If you go to a coffee shop, you will pay good money for iced coffee. Since Starbucks uses some kind of sugar-heavy mix, when I ask for a decaf iced coffee, they make it fresh for me. I don’t do that often, honest.

Sweet, cold, delicious iced coffee. Nothing like it, and made at home.

Sweet, cold, delicious iced coffee. Nothing like it, and made at home.

 

And I’ll have it for a few days. Thanks, Nick!

Now, I’ve written before about the wonders of the Crock Pot. Do you have one? Do you use it? Seriously, do you? Well, you should. If you don’t, go get one. But before you do, let me tell you what you can find. Well, let me tell you how I found out about all this.

I first started using one when I lived with the GER. When we weren’t getting along and I was planning to move, I stopped at Big Lots one day after a Buddhist meeting (I didn’t want to go home, basically) and found that they had white Crock Pots for $19.99 each. (This was 2004.) I bought a big round 6-quart and a smaller, oval 4-quart. I used both of them regularly, but slacked off a bit in recent years (I’ve been busy.)

One of the biggest draws is that the 110v Crock Pot doesn’t heat up the entire kitchen like your 220v stove will. Put food in it in the morning, and it’s ready to eat when you get home, no extra cooking, baking, or anything. So. . .with summer on its way, dust yours off, read the instruction manual and get started.

Continuing The Karma of Spare Parts, (oh, you have no idea) I haven’t used either of my Crock Pots in a while because a) the 6-quart needed a new knob to replace the melted and cracked one that didn’t work well, and the 4-quart oval needed a new lid after the old one lost the handle. I just got sick of waiting. Finally. . .I got on Crock Pot’s website and ordered them, darnit!

They arrived Easter Saturday, and I was SO happy. . .I had a piece of pork ribs I was going to drown in BBQ sauce, and I was going to make a breakfast, too, all on Easter Sunday. I figured the ribs would fit in the 4-quart one. Nope–change gears. Pulling the 6-quart out of the cabinet and transferring the meat, I moved the 4 quart to the other side of the kitchen. The plug caught in my apron somehow, I felt the pull when I moved, and before I could stop it, the next thing I heard was. . . .CRASH.

The 4-quart oval stoneware piece was in pieces, although the brand new lid and heating unit were fine. Oh, this was a big problem. I had to go out anyway, and one place I did go was Wal-Mart to, ah, “rent” another Crock Pot until I could get a new stoneware insert for the 4-quart. (Returned it a week later.) Meantime, I had a schedule and I had to get on with it. The day was saved, and the next day, I was cruising through a cookbook and found a chocolate custard recipe to make.

The next day I called Crock Pot and asked if they might have any white ones, but no, all they have now is black. That’s OK. I also needed to make sure I had the right one, and I did. The new stoneware arrived a few days later, and all was back to normal, more or less.

The Crock Pot started out as a bean cooker back in the 1970’s, and I’ve actually used it for garbanzo beans recently; that’s the subject of an upcoming post. But it didn’t take long for people to figure out that inexpensive cuts of meat cook up really nice and tender in it. Whole meals can be made in them, if you like (and if you have a small family.)

I clicked around Crock Pot’s official site, and I found a number of interesting things, including recipes, travel gear for Crock Pots, and something I wish I had when I was working–a Crock Pot for lunch! It’s small enough to tote around and carries just enough for lunch. You just plug it in at your desk and your lunch is nice and hot whenever you get to it. No waiting for a microwave that may not be sanitary, or leaving your lunch in the community fridge where someone might mistake it for theirs (or worse, mess with it.)  Awesome, and I wish I’d known about these a long time ago.

Now, the technology side comes out when I see the WeMo web-enabled Crock Pot. If you’ve never heard the term “The Internet of Things,” well, it means stuff that we use every day that is (or will be) *Internet-connected. While the smartphone is an obvious example, this is a definite contender. You download a free app for your smartphone, and you can turn the temp up or down, or turn the thing off by way of your phone. Great idea for people on the go, but it begs one question:

Do you really want your dinner hooked up to your WiFi?

Look, I’m kind of tech-savvy, especially after being in IT for 8 years. I’m so glad I have an iPhone (even if it is a 4.) The iPhone does, shall we say, butter many parsnips, and it’s a great help in a lot of ways. But connect your Crock Pot? Is that really necessary? One of the benefits of slow cooking is that if you’re a little late, it won’t burn. This, of course, is your choice, but even as a writer who does marketing, I just think it’s techie for the sake of being techie.

Up to you, of course.

There is also a blog, a spot for replacement parts, customer support (US based) and a page where you can order food just for your Crock Pot all ready to drop in. Call me whatever you like, but is it that difficult to cut up some stuff and throw it in? I’ve seen them once or twice in stores, but you can order them online. Up to you.

My first, and favorite book for slow cooking is The Everyday Low Carb Slow Cooker Cookbook, which I bought when it was new. (The GER wasn’t sure what to make of that, but that’s OK–I still confuse him to this day.)  Another one I have but only recently rediscovered is Dana Carpender’s 200 Low Carb Slow Cooker Recipes from 2005. That’s where the next recipe comes from. (I also have her book 15-Minute Low Carb Recipes, which I also need to go back and look at sometime.)

If you’ve never used a slow cooker before, or you need a refresher, let me tell you the basic rules:

  1. You put the food in
  2. You put the lid on
  3. You plug it in
  4. Turn it on
  5. Leave it alone

Got it? One other thing–make sure that when you put the lid on, it is covered and there are no “escape holes” for heat to leak out. You could come home to dry, tough food you weren’t expecting. I’ve done it, that’s why I say that.

When you go to clean the stoneware, make sure it’s cooled, or you use hot water to wash/soak it with–or you’ll be getting on the Crock Pot website and ordering a replacement.

Last night I went on Pinterest and typed in “Crock Pot Hacks.” I actually started another board to save them. One tip that I found was to line the crock with foil makes it easier to clean and helps everything cook evenly. However, I found a list of tips here that you might find interesting. One pin involved wrapping potatoes–sweet or russet–in foil and baking them in the slow cooker, but dry. Another one involved some wire and stuff, turning it into a sous-vide machine. I’m not posting it here because I do NOT want any of my readers getting shocked because it looked easy to do. (I’m thinking about you, GER, ’cause I know you’ll try it.)  But if you’re interested in finding new recipes, or other stuff you can do with a Crock Pot, check out Pinterest for more. Just start searching–you never know what you’ll find, and it’s not like Facebook at all.

Last night on Facebook I saw a short video titled “Shredding chicken like a boss!” It was a video of someone with a hand mixer shredding chicken that was obviously cooked in the Crock Pot–it was still hot. (Looked like chicken breasts, in a big Crock Pot.) The cook used the hand mixer on low speed, and the chicken was shredded in no time! It may be on YouTube as well.

Now–dessert time. How about some chocolate custard made in the Crock Pot? (That’s one of the recipes on the new page.)  It takes just a few ingredients and couldn’t be simpler.

First, heat up some almond milk and chocolate:

Almond milk and chocolate heated in a double-boiler

Almond milk and chocolate heated in a double-boiler

When it looks like that, whisk in your sweetener (I used 3/4 cup of SomerSweet, but the recipe calls for 2/3 cup Splenda, which you know I won’t use.)

The original recipe called for some kind of low-carb milk called Carb Countdown. I’ve never seen it, but the same amount of almond milk worked just fine. I don’t know if coconut, rice or other alternative milks will work, but if you want to try it, go for it. I just can’t guarantee anything.

Next, grease or spray a 6-cup glass casserole dish, and pour the cream in:

IMG_1950[1]

I used a bit of olive oil, that’s why you see the globules on top. No big deal.

Then add the chocolate mixture, then the eggs individually:

One of six eggs, beaten one at a time.

One of six eggs, beaten one at a time.

Carefully put the casserole dish into the slow cooker, pour water around it, up to 1″ of the top rim. DO NOT get water into the custard, please.

Now cook it!

Now cook it!

Cover the slow cooker and cook it on low for 4 hours.

What you get later looks like this, but it’s not ready to eat yet.

Too hot to eat!

Too hot to eat!

You take the lid off and let it cool. When it’s not burning hot anymore, carefully remove it from the crock, cover it, and when it’s cool enough to refrigerate, well, do so. Once it’s nice and cool, this is what you slice and serve:

IMG_1958[1]

NOW it’s ready to eat.

It’s rich, fudgy and substantial. Made in advance, it’s a nice option for a dinner party, or for a single woman to enjoy all week by herself. Hey–it’s my kitchen, I’ll enjoy a sugar-free, low-carb chocolate thing anytime I want.

Incidentally, the second time I made this, I topped a slice with some bought-on-sale raspberries and a light dusting of SomerSweet. Yum.

So, it didn't come out of the dish just right. I'm not FoodBabe, either.

So, it didn’t come out of the dish just right. I’m not FoodBabe, either.

 

A printable PDF copy of this recipe is available on the new recipe page, so you can try it today if you like.

With summer pretty much here in the south, and coming everywhere else, a Crock Pot is going to be a good thing to have around. There are so many models available in various price ranges that it’s a good investment for cooks everywhere.

There are hundreds of books on slow cooking; I just listed two that I have. But with all the cooking websites available, it’s easy to find and keep recipes you like and either stash them in your DropBox, save them to your hard drive or print them and save them in a notebook. I found two e-books last night on Pinterest–one Paleo and one gluten-free that I’ll be reviewing soon.

College students in dorms also might want to think about Crock Pots, too–and learn to use it before they go to school in the fall. Might that be a good gift idea for a graduating senior? Just a thought.

And really–now that the long, cold winter is done, you want to get outside again, right? Let dinner cook itself. It’s easy to do, and couldn’t be simpler. Follow simple directions and you’ll have some tasty food waiting for you on your schedule. (You almost can’t burn it–that should make the “I can’t cook” crowd happy!)

Have you got a favorite thing you use the Crock Pot for? Post it in the comments (nice, please), so we can all try it! (If I do, I’ll post a review later.)

Whatever you cook in it, get that slow cooker out and start using it again. After a few times, you’ll be glad you did.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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