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Category Archives: Tools of the Trade

All about kitchen stuff!

Get ready to WAFFLE!!!!

Get ready to WAFFLE!!!!

Hello, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waffling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

See? It only makes two waffles at a time.

See? It only makes two waffles at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Back to waffling in current day America.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now back to waffling.

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

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

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

Wish I could find more of this!

Wish I could find more of this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

But what else is out there?

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

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

Brownies on a waffle maker, no kidding.

Brownies on a waffle maker, no kidding.

A few minutes later:

Done in a flash!

Done in a flash!

 

Anyway, you end up with this:

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

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

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

Are you seeing the value of this yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Awfully nice of him. Thanks, Dan!

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

You’re welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add the ingredients to the food processor and blitz!

Add the ingredients to the food processor and blitz!

 

This is what you end up with:

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

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

Fawaffles with Hummus

Fawaffles with Hummus

Oh, Holy Shish Kebab!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have no idea how tasty this is.

You have no idea how tasty this is.

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

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

Slice the skin like so

Then slice like you would a banana:

If this picture looks dirty, I'm sorry

If this picture looks dirty, I’m sorry

 

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

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The next step is to waffle them. Fit them onto your waffle maker like so, and then CAREFULLY smash down the top and hold it while your tostones toast:
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I didn’t take any more pictures of the waffled tostones, I was too busy eating them. Yes, they ARE worth the trouble.

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

My, what big onions you have!

Thanks, they’re organic.

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

Korean Scallion Pancakes

Korean Scallion (Pajeon) Pancake Waffles

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

Cover the whole thing:

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

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

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

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

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

Admittedly, not the most common dinner combo.

Admittedly, not the most common dinner combo.

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

Both stand up to waffle grilling

Both stand up to waffle grilling

 

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

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

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

 

Oh, yes. . . .

Oh, yes. . . .

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Waffling!

 

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Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Good evening, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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Hershey’s? Ice Cream Maker?

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

It's GOURMET.

It’s GOURMET.

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

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

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

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

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

Take a look:

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This was a cute little display:

A diorama!

A diorama!

Here’s a closeup:

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

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

Here’s another look at that eggplant:

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There are peppers of many kinds:

Sweet peppers

Sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

For the okra-loving folks.

Okra--the GER's favorite

Okra–the GER’s favorite

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

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A few shots from around the garden area:

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There’s an orchard, complete with berry bushes:

Blackberries!

Blackberries!

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

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

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

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

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

Prickly pear cactus produces fruit–did you know that?

Cactus pears, also called "Indian Fruit."

Cactus pears, also called “Indian Fruit.”

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

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Yes, those needles are indeed SHARP.

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

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

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!!

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

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

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

It's basil, but. . . .

It’s basil, but. . . .

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

AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!

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

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

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

French breakfast radishes!!

Sage and French breakfast radishes!!

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

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

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

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

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I hope to grow more and more.

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

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

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

Enjoy!

 

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Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs

Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs

Good morning, Dear Readers!

Listening to my favorite morning DJs earlier, they were talking about increases in salmonella and “bird flu” cases and using. . .foul language. (Get it?)

Seems that people are petting and kissing their pet chickens. No kidding. You want a pet? Get a cat. Chickens are NOT pets. . .chickens are broilers, fryers, parts and feathers. Don’t go kissing your chickens, OK?

Enough of that silliness. But that’s true–people are hugging, petting and kissing their chickens, to the tune of 450 cases. Anyway. . . .

I forgot to mention last night that the new Starbucks opened on my street a week ago. Woo hoo! Big, clean and bright, it’s a short walk or drive up the street. I’ve been there a few times, and because of the recent star dash, have upped my points and netted another free thing, which will be a nice crisp salad.

Our new Starbucks!

Our new Starbucks!

Very bright and white:

Nice!

Nice!

I haven’t asked, but I think this location is a bit bigger than the rest of the ones in my area, and with lots more light and plate glass:

This is called the "community table."  Lots of electrical outlets on the floor and attached to the underside of the table top.

This is called the “community table.” Lots of electrical outlets on the floor and attached to the underside of the table top.

The mural that tells you all about coffee.

The mural that tells you all about coffee.

They are not yet planning to serve the Starbucks Evenings menu, but three other locations in Clear Lake will be soon. When the weather cools in a few months, Neighbor K and I are going to take the Daft Pug over there and have a coffee outside, and he will have a puppucino. Of course, we can’t take the happy-go-lucky pug into Starbucks, we’ll go in one at a time and order. But it’s fine–he’s happy to go anywhere with his mama.

I am trying to get Neighbor K to understand the impact of the Starbucks Rewards Program. It’s fun, and a great distraction from the evils of the world that we were talking about just this morning (during our 5:00 am walk.) K just registered her Starbucks card last night and downloaded the app. I told her to keep an eye out for emails from Starbucks, particularly those that talk about getting extra stars, “star dash,” and accelerating her points balance, getting the free stuff and to the Gold Card level faster. Maybe it’s her handsome boyfriend that keeps her distracted from important things like this, too.

Anyway. . . .

Last night, I took my own advice and tried something new. I figured it would be good, and it is. So, shorter than last night’s post, the explanation of how I used some of my fresh sage from the garden last night.

I didn’t think to take pictures from the garden (DUH) but if you’ve grown sage.. .you know what it looks like. Just a green plant with round-oval green leaves a slight “stinky feet” smell when you cut it.

Compound butter is simply softened butter with some herbs mixed in to add different flavors to food. Frequently, restaurant chefs make it and drop a pat on top of a dish right after it comes off the stove or grill and after plating so that it melts on the way to your table. Generally compound butter is savory, but I’ve seen Ree Drummond (aka “The Pioneer Woman“) add fruit for a sweet version.

If you didn’t see it yet, there is a recipe for “Herb Butter” in the flier I linked in last night’s post, on page 2. I just used sage because. . .that’s what’s growing. If you have other herbs growing you prefer, go for it. Mint and lemon with lamb might be a good combo, right? Use your imagination, and if that doesn’t work. . .search online, you will find something you like!

While I had a breakfast cooking in the Crock Pot, I took out a single stick of butter, cubed it and let it sit out to soften. Later, after rinsing the leaves thoroughly and drying them with clean dish towels, I took my two-handed mezzaluna knife and chopped them very fine. Since I always buy unsalted butter, I grabbed the kosher salt from the stove side shelf and shook some in. Then I dropped the chopped sage in and mixed it well.

Compound butter with fresh sage and salt.

Compound butter with fresh sage and salt.

With that big red spoon, I divided that in half, since I had two big turkey thighs and wanted to make sure they were equally coated.

Two turkey thighs, less than $5 at the Friendswood HEB.

Two turkey thighs, less than $5 at the Friendswood HEB.

Again, I didn’t think to take a bunch of pictures, and didn’t want to coat my phone with compound butter, so pictures are skint for this one.

I oiled that baking dish, and started on the bottom side of the thighs. Using a little from each side of the dish, I was able to evenly coat both of them, starting on the underside, then turning them over and rubbing the butter under the skin, over the skin and making sure all the surfaces were coated.

I’m telling you, if you have the room, this kind of cooking makes the case for a countertop oven. Find one that does more than toast, and you can use to roast a whole chicken. If you’re in the South, you’ll understand.

I set the toaster oven on 400F, and cooked it for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Just because it’s cooked on the outside does NOT mean it’s cooked all the way on the inside. Not sure? Cut it open in an available spot and make sure you go down to the bone. I do let it sit for a bit before I mess with it. The hour and fifteen minutes did the trick. This is what you end up with:

Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs.

Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs

And there you go. Dinner good any night of the week, and fancy enough for company. Add a nice salad, or any kind of sides you like, and it’s a good dinner, then lunch the next day. (These two thighs translate into four meals for me, but of course I’m also having salad or something else with it. Doesn’t hurt that I love turkey, especially turkey thighs.)

Here’s a cook’s tip: using two forks, carefully lift the crispy skin off the turkey thighs and put them on a couple of paper towels to drain a bit. The skin is very crispy, tasty, and beats any potato chip for full snacking satisfaction. Of course, you have to take it off when the thighs come out of the oven, and drain the grease off on said paper towels. Let it cool for a few minutes and have at it. That’s your chef’s treat. You’re welcome.

Thinking ahead, yes, you could do this same thing with a whole turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You would just need more butter and more fresh sage. Start growing it now if you’re even thinking about it, so you’ll be ready for the holidays. You should definitely try this, with sage or any other herbs you like, BEFORE the holidays. Last thing you want is to find out that you can’t stand the taste of sage (or other herb) right before you serve that big 22-pound beast. Or worse, that your favorite herbs that are great on fish makes an otherwise wonderful turkey taste awful.

In Houston, HEB has all the parts, not just turkey breast like some groceries do. Like chicken, turkey thighs are generally less expensive and more flavorful than breast pieces, and are worth seeking out. Ask around, and maybe ask your butcher, too.

So–what are you waiting for? Make some compound butter with herbs and enjoy a new dinner tonight!

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

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Herbal Essence

Herbal Essence

Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers:

Wow–I apologize for the length of time in publishing. I just realized it’s been nearly a month! I’ve been busy on the copywriting side, just last week making the decision to change markets after pursuing something that just isn’t happening. Cross your fingers. . . .

Well, the rain finally stopped, and now Houston will be hot, dry, with occasional afternoon “pop-up” showers as the TV weather folks like to call it.  During TS Bill, members of the Eyewitless News Teams were everywhere, scaring people to death, causing panic buying of supplies and insisting that they watch TV 24/7 or DIE! Sheesh. . .we’re fine, and now I’m back to watering the HeatCageKitchen by hand, with a big plastic watering can with a sprinkler spout.

My friends in New Orleans will be blessed with a Trader Joe’s next year. Woo hoo! The store will be located in Metairie, a few miles from where I used to live, and you could tell a whole lot of folks were happy about that one. Baton Rouge already has one, and The E Man has declared it great. But, really–after all the driving I’ve done to get to Trader Joe’s, I could not explain enough how lucky they were to get one that wouldn’t be an hour or more away. Of course, there were complaints: “why did it have to be in Metairie?” (Because you don’t make money in low-dollar neighborhoods.) A few commenters on the WWL-TV Facebook page complained about having to drive maybe 15 miles across the river to get to it. Oh, please–try driving an HOUR in Houston to get to one! (It’s why I only go when I am already planning to be near one, and stock UP.) And then a large number of commenters asked, “What’s a Trader Joe’s?” That’s REAL New Orleans.

Continuing with the Karma of Spare Parts, I ordered replacement parts for my Cuisinart blender/food processor as well as my toaster oven two weeks ago. GRRR. . .but now the floor of the toaster oven is clean, the pan is new and not worn down from scrubbing, the blender works correctly and the food processing attachment isn’t cracked anymore.. I’ve been meaning to replace the baking pan and drip tray for a while. I just didn’t think I’d have to replace another part of the blender already. But parts wear out, as we all know, and no, this was not due to doing something stupid. (Like last time.)

Neighbor K has also had her own Karma of Spare parts to deal with. In the last year or so, she has been required to replace:

  • Air conditioner
  • Washer
  • Dryer
  • Dishwasher (just last week)
  • Mattress and box spring
  • Something in her car

K has been injured twice in the last calendar year, once requiring physical therapy. She has also had take the Daft Pug to the vet recently for a back strain. DP also has liver issues, requiring additional medication. Poor little pug. He just doesn’t seem as enthused to go out with me in the afternoon these days, but it is hot, and pugs don’t do well in hot weather. We keep it short, and he does what he needs to and we go inside.

Now onto more fun things.

Summer is the time for salads, and this recent article in The Wall Street Journal discusses the simple, fresh, green salad, which, we hope, makes a comeback. Keep the pasta, tuna, and other salads and just return to the simpler salad, you know? As they say in the copywriting world, “don’t over-think it.” Dressing for salad HeatCageKitchen style is a light sprinkling of any kind of salt you like (kosher is handy by the stove), 1 tablespoon olive oil from Trader Joe’s and 1 teaspoon of Alessi’s Raspberry Blush vinegar (if you can find it) or Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar. Shake it up, pour it over your salad, toss it really well, and eat it in front of the computer like I normally do.

Just don’t put too much basil in your salad, or you’ll regret it. I speak from experience. One or two finely chopped leaves in ENOUGH. Seriously.

Anyway. . . .

The garden, as you might expect, is in full bloom and doing stuff. For the first time ever, I have a bumper crop of Anaheim chile peppers.

Anaheim, er, Hatch chile peppers

Anaheim, er, Hatch chile peppers

I’ve used a few, and harvested a few more. I don’t let them get as big as the ones in the grocery store, because a) I don’t think they’ll get that big, and b) they’ll turn red and get hotter. So I pick them and make grapefruit salsa, but I also have to find more uses for them. One of my first creations went, naturally, into the Crock Pot. One packet of chicken thighs, two 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes, and two seeded and ribbed Anaheims finely diced:

There we go. It was pretty good. Now to figure out what to do with the rest of them.

I recommend the boneless/skinless variety, and cooking about six hours. While I like the skin-on version for roasting, the skin gets rubbery when you slow-cook it in liquid for 6 hours. But because I was just itching to cook something, that’s what I did.

Seen recently in a magazine:

Give a woman a fish, and she’ll eat for a day. Teach a woman to garden, and everybody gets tomatoes.

Have you ever known someone to have so many tomatoes they couldn’t deal with it? Yeah, that isn’t me. However, I have been getting some tasty little tomatoes in spurts:

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

The little ones have thinned for a while, but I see flowers on the grape plants, so I’ll be having more soon. There were three of the bigger ones, called Cherokee Purple. Here’s a closer look at that one:

A Cherokee Purple Tomato. Looks red to me.

A Cherokee Purple Tomato. Looks red to me.

The bottom end of the Cherokee Purple

The bottom end of the Cherokee Purple

No, I don’t know why it’s called “purple,” but they sure taste good.

Pretty much what any tomato looks like, right?

Pretty much what any tomato looks like, right?

 

I did save some seeds from the last one, and will find something to store them in later. Like the Chocolate Cherry, it has a rich, deep tomato flavor that might only need a very light touch of salt. Maybe. Keep my fingers crossed that more are coming.

The jalapeno plant finally has one growing, but I don’t know how long to leave it grow. The ones you buy in the grocery are about as big as a finger, so it might have a while to go. Sage is doing well, I’ll use that soon in a compound butter to roast some turkey thighs (yes, again.) I have moved the bell pepper plant over by the tomatoes, and guess what? I’ve got a bell pepper coming, and one or two more behind it. It’s a red bell plant, so they’ll be attached for a while.

I am still doing battle growing lettuce, but the last stub that Neighbor K gave me has grown about a foot high. Woo hoo! I’ve got one more started in the soil, and one didn’t make it. Two more romaine stubs were put in water just last night and I hope to plant them soon. The re-grown celery is doing well, but it’s not growing like the stuff you see in the grocery; it’s mostly leaves and thin stalks. I also need to get more green onions for plantable roots, since the ones I have seem to be fading off.

I killed the cilantro, unfortunately. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

Since January, I have been attending monthly gardening classes at the local library. (This Thursday evening is on fall vegetables.) Lecturers are brought in by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension and the Harris County Master Gardener Association. (I missed April’s lecture because I had to be downtown early the next day for a copywriting event.) I’ve enjoyed all the classes and listening to the different instructors and their helpful info. I literally happened upon the info in the library one day in January and have made it a point to attend every since.

I just looked up those websites, and realized that there are resources there I never looked at before. DUH.

Last month was the June lecture, and they brought in a nice lady who talked about growing and using herbs. (No, not the kind you smoke–get your mind out of the gutter!) Longtime readers of this humble blog know that I love my pesto, and have struggled to grow cilantro. Well, guess what I found out? Cilantro is hard to grow here because it’s so hot! I’ll try again in the fall–fall to spring is the best time for cilantro, not during the summer.

The instructor (whose name I forgot to write down) said that she occasionally gets a call or visit from a chef asking for cilantro. She points said chef in the direction of HEB to buy some. And when I used my little scraggly cilantro growth a couple of weeks ago for grapefruit salsa, it never grew back like basil or parsley. Darnit. Fortunately, cilantro is cheap in this part of the country. (You can find that one on the recipe page too, called OrangeOnionSalsa. I use grapefruits more often, because I have them around, but oranges are also very delicious.)

I did get one very valuable tip from this lady: water in the morning, not at night. DUH! I’ve been doing that (once the monsoon was over) and I found only one persistent pest this morning. (Gave him a free flight to his new hunting area.)

One pointer: if you don’t have quite enough basil for your recipe, you can use Italian flat-leaf parsley as a filler, and it’s good, too. I forgot about that, and the recent first basil harvest/pesto night used up most of the basil and parsley and gave a nice yield. It’s now in the freezer; I’ve used up all but one of my previous pesto batches, dated with plastic wrap over the top and sealed up in a little square glass container.

The lecturer offered attendees some small basil plants that were grown by a group she works with, but she wasn’t sure what type of basil. Smells like basil to me. I don’t care; I just said “thank you.” I’ll have another pesto day soon, since my original basil plant is growing back, the new one is about a foot tall, and the parsley is also growing back nicely.

That’s when I found myself needing spare parts again. Remember when I stuck the wooden spoon in the blender and broke the cutting assembly? Thought I was good on the blender until then. Well. . .while I was trying to blend up that pesto, the blender would start and then “slip,” like a wonky transmission on a car when you shift it. Then I saw and smelled smoke. . .and nothing was lit. Seems that the the “blender collar,” which screws onto the bottom of the jar and holds the gasket and cutter assembly together to sit on the motor base, was worn down for whatever reason, and was causing the “slipping.” You can see the blender and spare part listing here.)  Because it’s also been used and worn, plus cracked in one place, I added a new food processor work bowl to my shopping cart, as well as a replacement drip tray and crumb pan (which is more like the bottom of an oven) to the cart. I wasn’t planning on doing this again, but. . .I can’t use my blender without it. I was going to replace the worn-down toaster oven parts eventually, so I did it all at once.

Oh, and the pesto was completed in my food processor, which, when I win the lottery, will also be replaced, probably with a Cuisinart or other upscale version. When you buy cheap, you buy twice.

I harvested plenty of basil, and got to work with it.

Parsley and some basil

Parsley and some basil

Thought I had more pictures, but really, pesto making is not that exciting–unless you’re me, of course.

There was a lot of great information in this lecture, so finally, I’m going to share it before Thursday’s lecture on fall veggies. <hanging head>

One point that was made that I knew about 20 years ago–do NOT attempt to make flavored olive oil at home. The risk of bacterial growth is great; companies that do that have sophisticated processing equipment that eliminate the possibility of toxicity, and it’s not possible to create flavored olive oil at home for Christmas gifts. You could indeed make someone very ill–and we don’t want that!

However–flavored vinegars are a great holiday gift, because I’ve done it. The vinegar kills any possibility of bacterial contamination on contact. Back in the 90’s, I got the idea from one of the Christmas Martha Stewart books, and after researching it discovered that oil wasn’t a good idea. I collected wine bottles from friends that I knew drank wine, soaked them clean and proceeded to make them for Christmas. Everybody enjoyed them. . .at least, that’s what they said. Now I know to use a Champagne or similar vinegar; plain white vinegar is a bit too strong.

If you’re going to make flavored olive oil for yourself, just make a small amount to use within a week. It will NOT be safe to make a month in advance for gifts. Those, you buy for Christmas.

I’ve added to the recipe page PDF versions of two of the handouts we were graciously given. One is a recipe for HerbJelly, and the other is a page of links to additional information, plus a number of recipes using fresh garden herbs. Yes. . .including pesto. It’s not the one I use, but it’s pretty darn close. I’m not saying this recipe is or isn’t better than the one I use; I’m sure there are plenty of perfectly good pesto recipes out there. If you have one you like better, by all means, use it–just make that pesto and freeze it for the winter!

Of course I made some Pea and Pesto Soup. You KNOW I did. Used up the end of a container after filling up a new one.

Pine nuts are expensive, but if your grocery has a bulk section, buy just what you need and use it right away, or buy a larger amount and immediately freeze what you don’t use. (I strongly suggest a glass or plastic container intended for use in the freezer; the thinner grocery bags can become brittle in the freezer and you run the risk of losing an expensive ingredient when the bag crumbles and/or breaks. Yes, I speak from experience.) If you don’t like pine nuts, walnuts are also good in pesto.

Oh, and my apologies for the pen markings on the PDF. . .I’ve been doing that since I was at Tulane. Can’t help myself, and my cookbooks are also marked up pretty good. Yes, even the new Clean Slate book. I also add the date and my initials along with comments whether I like or dislike a recipe. Hey–why not?

Whether you grow them yourself, or hit the farmer’s market on a regular basis, herbs are great, and for more than just basil pesto. Between the links and the recipes I’ve provided, you can easily learn more and learn to enjoy more herbs. What are you waiting for?

Enjoy!

 

 

The Microegg

The Microegg

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

Well, I’ve been busy, as you might imagine, and I think I’m *finally* through with an important piece of marketing for my copywriting services. I’m going to email the instructor and get an opinion tonight or tomorrow.

Tomatoes are starting to show up in the HeatCageKitchen garden!

My first organic yellow tomato. Woo hoo!

My first organic yellow tomato. Woo hoo!

I’ve picked two more, and will probably get a couple more yellows tomorrow and possibly my first red. The Chocolate Cherry plant has some green ones, but no ripe ones yet. (That could be a whole blog post by itself.) The GER tells me to get my zucchini recipes ready, and I put my hands on three just this morning. He’s got a couple of whoppers growing in his garden, and if there are enough, I’ll be taking them off his hands. Just hope I can return the favor with. . .something.

And after an inconsiderate animal (probably a possum) dug up not one, but two of my Romaine lettuce re-growths, I asked Neighbor K for the stub off her lettuce when she was coming back from Kroger one evening. She did, and it’s growing nicely. I’ll get more lettuce soon, and have asked K for any subsequent lettuce stubs. They grow fast, and the celery is growing nicely too. More on the garden soon.

A couple of weeks ago I went back to Woodlands Wellness & Cosmetic Center for my six-month follow-up and a couple of blood tests. I got to see the wonderful Dr. Sakina Davis and told her about the things I’ve been doing to try to sleep. . .I think I’ve got it down. Maybe I’ll talk about that in an upcoming post. But when I head to The Woodlands, there are two stops I just have to make: Trader Joe’s and Frost Bake Shoppe.

It was afternoon, and I got THE last gluten-free cupcake in the shop. Boy was I glad, too.

Gluten-free Chocolate cupcake with Vanilla icing.

Gluten-free Chocolate cupcake with Vanilla icing.

 

Perfection. And, as always, tastes even better than it looks, just like a gourmet cupcake should.

Yum. . .come to Mama. . . .

Yum. . .come to Mama. . . .

 

I didn’t bring back a bunch this time, because, quite frankly, it’s too hot right now (and that would have been a bit expensive this time around.) Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to go back and I’ll remember to bring an ice chest to bring them back. And I don’t think I’ll be going back until the fall, so my insulin levels are safe.

I noticed this sign was new:

The new "warning" that comes with the Frost cupcakes.

The new “warning” that comes with the Frost cupcakes.

 

Oh, yeah.

Now that it’s warming up, you might be thinking about iced coffee. If you are out and about and in the vicinity of a Dunkin’ Donuts, might I suggest you try their iced coffee. Last weekend, I visited one of my writer friends, and we stopped off there after lunch. Both of us really enjoyed the iced variety, and I’ll tell you more with the restaurant review, in an upcoming blog post.

But I have to share this quick product review. I just got this product a little while ago. I was on Casabella’s website the other day, ordering replacement brushes for my 12-yo carpet sweeper; the GER insisted I get one while I was living in his beastly house because of all the thread and sewing debris on the carpet. Well, it’s about time for a new brush. And then I found something else.

Dear Readers, do you like eggs but don’t like messing around to cook them? Do you believe you “can’t cook,” but excel at microwave dinners? Do you like egg sandwiches–with cheese? Well, I have a tool for you. Casabella’s Microegg is cute, neat, and can microwave one or two eggs for you quickly. Why is this better?

Because–it’s SQUARE. And by cooking the egg square, it will fit better on a sandwich. Are you seeing the logic?

My package from Casabella arrived today, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. I was getting hungry, because I put off lunch to wait for the package. (I’m one of those people who uses FedEx, UPS and the Post Office’s tracking features to find out where my packages are and when I can expect them to show up. This helped find a lost package I’d sent to two friends in Oakland, CA earlier this year.)

I ripped open the box and tossed the replacement brushes aside. (They even included a $5 coupon for my *next* order.)  THIS is what I wanted to try:

The Microegg.

The Microegg.

 

Isn’t it cute? After I took it out of the package, read the simple instructions and washed it, I put it to work. Because it was past lunch! This is the inside:

IMG_2052[1]

And you can sit the yolk right in the middle if you want to. You can also scramble the eggs, if you like. (Maybe next time.)

Two eggs, ready to roll.

Two eggs, ready to roll.

Since I was eating lunch and trying it out, I cracked in two eggs. There is actually a molded “latch” that holds the top onto the bottom, via that little tab. If you’ve ever tried cooking eggs in a microwave before, you’ll know they explode. This contains the explosion and cooks your eggs without the mess. (Mostly.)

Now, the instructions say to add one egg and cook in the microwave for 40 to 60 seconds, but it can also handle two. I guess it all depends on your microwave. Mine is a 700-watt, plus I added two eggs, not one, and one minute gave me this:

Almost there!

Almost there!

So, back into the microwave for 1 minute it went:

Cooked!

Cooked!

Well, OK, over-cooked a bit, but this was operator error–NOT the fault of the tool. Although Casabella has an easy return process, I will NOT be returning this baby. Ever. I’ll just cook the eggs for a shorter period of time, that’s all.

They suggest a slice of cheese if you like, put on top the egg before you cook it. Then you’ve got your egg and cheese ready for your toasted, buttered bread. But of course, I was in such a hurry that I plum forgot. So I got some shredded Colby Jack cheese out of the freezer and topped it when it was cooked:

Cheese and egg. . .yum.

Cheese and egg. . .yum.

For a quick breakfast, lunch, dinner, or “I just got home and I’m starving” meal, this is a pretty good thing to have around. It just couldn’t be simpler, you know? Add some iced coffee and you’re good to go.

Oh, yeah. Anytime.

Oh, yeah. Anytime.

 

See that little bottle to the left of my glass of iced coffee? Um. . .when I made my last batch of iced coffee, I might have accidentally put it into the 19-year-old pitcher I got as a wedding present. . .and then I heard a loud CRACK, and saw coffee seeping onto the stove. And I had a mess to clean and a pitcher to toss out.

I went to Target later and bought that one and a bigger one. So the lesson there is to put the hot coffee into a BIG mixing bowl and let it COOL before putting it into a refrigerator vessel. And it helps that both Anchor Hocking pitchers have “NO HOT LIQUIDS” etched on the bottom. At least they have lids.

Now, if you’re thinking about bacon too, what next? Well, if you have a toaster oven, you could put some bacon on a rack in a baking sheet and bake it at 400F until it’s crisp. (Drain on paper towels, of course.) You could try one of those microwave bacon cookers; I don’t have one anymore. Or you could use an antique method of cooking just a little bacon, or even sausage links or a patty:

The Suzy Homemaker Super Grill

The Suzy Homemaker Super Grill

 

This one is currently listed on eBay for $149. No, I am not bidding on it. It’s not even on my watch list. There are other listings for a lot less, but this one apparently has never been used, or just used once for the seller to ask that much for it.

A few months ago, I did purchase a Suzy Homemaker Super Grill, with the griddle and drip pan, but it was MUCH less expensive! No box, and I copied the instructions from another listing to print. I cleaned it–very carefully–and did indeed cook a few pieces of bacon on it. I unplugged it, let it cool, cleaned it again very carefully and packed it back in the box. It works with a little heating element that heats up the little pan. Takes a while, too–but that little space on the left allows you to warm buns while the burger or hot dog is cooking. Not bad for a 50-year-old toy appliance.

When I get to my country house, I’ll have the entire collection on display. And, I will use them occasionally, too.

Casabella’s website has lots of neat little kitchen things like The Microegg, as well as high-quality cleaning products like the sweeper I mentioned (and the GER insisted I buy!)  Bed, Bath and Beyond has a selection of Casabella’s cleaning and storage products, but almost none of their kitchen stuff. What a shame.

So, Dear Readers, you have a little weekend tip (if you’re reading this on Friday.) This is especially useful if you live alone, or with one other person–especially if the other person doesn’t eat eggs. Another tool to pack up in a gift box for the graduate going off to college, too.

Make it a good weekend, and Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

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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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Chef Michael’s Argan Oil

Chef Michael’s Argan Oil

Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers!

Well, it’s been an up-and-down couple of weeks since my last post, and for that I apologize. I’ve been working on the copywriting side, and even visited with the GER last week. But I did get lucky right after my last post—in addition to a lot of good feedback, I got a call from Chef Michael and his wonderful wife, Rosemine, and we talked for over an hour! I won’t give away any of their trade secrets, but they did have a lot to say, and I do appreciate their time.

Chef Michael has been making tasty food for many years, and they opened the Gourmet Kitchen in 2011 in The Woodlands/Tomball area. They specialize in corporate events, like the open house at Woodlands Wellness. But what I also didn’t know is that they also do event catering for the Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville, TX. No kidding! I’ve not even heard of that winery, but that’s not surprising, since Texas has quite a number of them, including Haak Vineyards & Winery (in my part of town, they do weddings) and Messina Hof (in Bryan, near Texas A&M.)  If you’re in the mood for a winery trip, check out Bernhardt’s concert series, both winter and summer—and you’ll be able to sample some of the same delicious food from Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen while you’re there. I’m not saying it’s going to be gluten-free like it was at the open house—that all depends on what the winery (or any client) requests. But whatever it is, you’ll be treated to some of the best tasting food north of the Tunnel.

I asked Chef Michael what got him started making gluten-free and yeast-free food. Most caterers don’t want to deal with “special menus” but can accommodate vegetarians with easy substitutions (I know that from corporate experience.) His answer was simple: “Dr. Davis asked for it.” Now that option is available on his catering menu for Dr. Davis as well as anyone who is looking for a healthier option for their event. You can read more about it here. Definitely not what you’d call “diet food,” and utterly delicious.

Remember this picture from my last post?

One of the delicious  dishes from Chef Michael's repetoire

One of the delicious dishes from Chef Michael’s repetoire

Well. . .that was one of the questions I asked Chef Michael and Rosemine: What the heck is Argan Oil? Rosemine told me, and since then, I’ve certainly learned a lot about it.

Now, before I tell you more, let me preface it this way: if you’re familiar with making anything with chocolate (including things like cakes and ice creams) or are a fan of the Barefoot Contessa, you’ll know that adding a small amount of coffee in a chocolate recipe helps bring out the chocolate flavor. You don’t taste the coffee, but it enhances and improves the taste of whatever you’re doing with the chocolate. My favorite Yeast Free Brownies are a perfect example.

The Argan Oil in Chef Michael’s cooking was like that. Not something I noticeably tasted in the forefront, but something in the background that really enhanced the flavor of everything. Olive oil is great, and so is coconut oil, but Argan’s warm, nutty flavor is a little something special without covering or overpowering the rest of the flavors.

Argan Oil comes exclusively from Morocco, and is used primarily in European and Mediterranean cooking. It’s only been known and available in the US in the last ten years or so (and why have I never heard of it?) One website I researched said that it was unknown outside of Morocco until French chefs started putting it in everything. Now Argan is gaining ground as a gourmet oil and as a health/wellness/beauty product.

Processing and extraction of Argan Oil are all done by hand, by Moroccan women who make a living with the arduous process. It is a nut oil—so if you have a nut allergy, it may not be for you. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, just a food blogger.) The nuts are dried, and are heated to remove the “nutty” aroma for cosmetic use. The culinary oil is then toasted to enhance the nutty flavor that it’s prized for.

Now I wonder if an Argan tree will grow in Texas—but it takes 30-50 years to bear fruit!  Maybe I’ll try growing hazelnuts; I don’t have that kind of patience (or time left.)

The nut comes from the Argan tree, or Argania spinosa. The nut kernel is surrounded by a fleshy fruit, which is removed by hand and used for animal feed. Attempts at mechanizing the separation and extraction process have not yet worked, but I’m sure that will change in the future when someone figures it out. For now, the local women’s cooperatives that do the labor-intensive extraction work helps the women make a living and provide for their families.

So what do you do with it? Unlike olive or coconut oils, you generally don’t cook with Argan Oil. It’s something to be used as-is and in small amounts, like a salad dressing or a “finishing oil.” It’s a bit like the fancy pink Himalayan salt I bought at the Metropolitan Food & Entertaining Expo a couple of years ago. You’d sprinkle a pinch on top of something right before serving, rather than measure some and add it to the recipe. Argan Oil is also used as a dip, similar to the little dip dishes of olive oil in Italian restaurants. It doesn’t have the high smoke point of coconut or olive, so a few drops at the end is all you need.

Argan Oil is similar to olive oil in health benefits, too, rich in Vitamin E and other essential fatty acids. It may also be more resistant to oxidation than olive oil. Some people swear by taking a tablespoon or so first thing in the morning.

There is an additional product from the Argan tree, called Amlou, with a consistency similar to peanut butter. It’s a Moroccan thing, much like peanut butter is to us. It’s made from stone ground almonds, local honey and Argan Oil, and is also available jarred. Spread it on crackers, toast, or whatever you like.

Topically, Argan Oil is used straight for sunburn, wrinkles, acne, stretch marks, and as a hair treatment—but only a little at a time. Medical benefits (according to ArganFarm.com) include lowered cholesterol, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, pain treatment, lower blood pressure and regulation of heart function.

Again—I’m not a doctor, just a food blogger reporting what she reads. While the topical applications are probably safe and effective, I can’t positively answer for the medical benefits; you’d have to try it and see, assuming you don’t have a nut allergy.

Now, I didn’t know the rest of all this about Argan Oil. About a year or so ago, one of my writer friends posted a comment on Facebook about “Morocco Oil” that she bought to use in her hair. (That’s another name for Argan Oil.) She loved it. I meant to try it and I forgot. A couple of months ago, Neighbor K told me to try some Pantene shampoo and conditioner that contained Argan Oil. After looking at a dizzying array of Pantene products, I found the right one and wielded my coupons at the checkout.

Then while Rosemine explained it to me on the phone, I walked into my bathroom and realized that I really did have some. Of course, it wasn’t straight oil, it was in Pantene shampoo and conditioner, and some Tresomme hair styling stuff that contained some Argan Oil, noted on the label.

I really had no idea.

If you’re interested in learning more about Argan Oil, there are a number of sites dedicated to it.

This article on Food Republic gives a writer’s experience learning about Argan Oil while visiting Morocco in 2012.

In the US, Zamouri Spices is a Kansas-based company that not only imports Argan Oil for culinary and cosmetic uses, it also carries a number of Moroccan products that are difficult to find here in the US. (Being from New Orleans, it’s not something I’d ever look for.) They also carry spices, tangines (those round triangular-lidded clay pots), copperware, tea and tea accessories, and other related items.

From the UK is Argan Oil Direct, which also has free shipping worldwide and a USDA organic certification. This site offers two free e-books (which I haven’t read yet) and has a lot of information on it. This is also a company with a home base in Morocco, and is part of one of the Berber family that owns land that the trees grow on.

If you don’t mind ordering online from overseas, ArganFarm.com is run by a native Moroccan named Bader Eddine, and he lives in Essaouira City. His company sells direct from the people who extract it, and also offers a free e-book so you can read more about it. Although the book is well written, Bader’s English is a bit wonky, since it’s probably not his first language. That’s OK–at the end of the book is an offer for free shipping to 200 countries (including the US.) I didn’t see any mention of organic in the book or on his website, but it might be.

Please note that I have not personally ordered from any of the overseas websites. If you do, make SURE to use a credit card, so that if something goes wrong, you can, if need be, dispute it.

Amazon also has a large selection of Argan Oils available from several vendors, some from Zamouri, for both cosmetic and culinary use.

If you’re in The Woodlands, and your company has an upcoming function where the food is that important (or if your event is in The Woodlands), make sure you contact Chef Michael’s Gourmet Kitchen at 281-660-8680, or email them at cateringbychefmichael@gmail.com. You can see more on their website, including menus, additional information, and even a few recipes! Chef Michael and Rosemine can help design a menu that’s perfect for whatever you need. You can see some pictures of their elegant spreads, and even a picture of them at the winery, in their online gallery.

I’m working on a few things for upcoming posts. But darnit, sometimes things are so new that I can’t get my hands on it yet. I’ll let you know when I can.

Happy Dining!

 

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