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Category Archives: Tricks of the trade

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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Report: The Fresh Market

Report: The Fresh Market

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Well, I’ve had a little good blogging news this week–I have a number of new followers on WordPress! Welcome to my humble little blog, which I do little to promote at the moment, and consists of opinions, observations, recipes, and a whole lot of what I think of as wisdom. You, however, may call it something else–but please, keep it clean. This is a family blog. Swearing is reserved for driving around Houston, particularly during our long, hot summers.

So today our Fresh Market opened up, and finally, we get a little more gourmet in the Houston area known as Clear Lake. We’re near the NASA facility, and up until recently, was a thriving space community. The space program is, for the most part, winding down, and the population is doing the same thing. While space program people are mostly moving away to jobs in other parts of the city, for some reason there is some serious building going on. Fresh Market is part of that. Although we have Kroger, Randall’s and some very nice HEB stores, we have a hard time finding some gourmet items in this part of Houston–despite our diverse population.

And now, we have Fresh Market. Woo hoo! I hope they stick around.

There are a couple more of these stores in Houston, namely the one in the Post Oak area that I have forgotten to stop into when I have been in town. It’s not exactly near the Montrose Trader Joe’s, but I could have gone once or twice. Now that ours is open, I’m glad I stopped in. I went at 8:00 pm, because I figured all the free samples would be gone and I wouldn’t be tempted. I was right. I am trying to avoid sugar all week, in fact, completely. I had some coffee and a small cup of orange juice (which I normally only drink on airplanes.)

Let me iterate that I didn’t spend a lot of money this evening. I have gone to Half Price Books this week three times to sell some books, so I had some cash on me. It wasn’t a fortune, but then again, I didn’t spend too much, either–even though I could have easily spent $100 more. (Ask Neighbor K, she knows!)  When I start working again, I might buzz over and drop $100. But I’m not in need of that much of anything right now.

First up: you can get a cup of coffee for $1, all day, any day. (This is great, since the GER won’t go into Starbucks, and he can stop there if he wants some good coffee, not the rotgut from his local petrol station.) I had a sample of their decaf Kona, which was wonderful, but before that, a sample cup of hazelnut–which, unfortunately, was not decaf. Oops! Good thing I didn’t drink a whole 8 ounce cup. So it’s a nice place to stop for a coffee if you’re not near Starbucks or don’t want to go in with the crowd. Fresh Market also sells their own brand of bulk coffee for $11.99 a pound, every day. The hazelnut was wonderful, and so was the Kona. They also have almond amaretto, which I think I saw in decaf. I’ve got plenty of coffee for now, and I hardly drink it, mostly I drink tea these days. But a half pound of decaf hazelnut might be on my first big trip over there.

Oh, but this is one I’m not sure I’d be trying even if I was on the regular:

And look--it's on sale!

And look–it’s on sale!

My favorite flavored coffee is, not surprisingly, chocolate raspberry. Non-flavored, Kenya AA and Sumatra coffees. Caramel Pear? Oh, I don’t know about that. But hey, what I think smells like Raid is going to smell like heaven to the lady standing next to me.

Speaking of tea–you’ve probably seen PG Tips tea in your local grocery store, but have you ever seen PG Tips in decaf in your grocery store? Me either, until now.

PG Tips in Decaf

Um, no, I don’t belong to the Cuppa Club.

Fresh Market has 40-bag boxes of PG Tips Decaf tea in their regular tea section, along with most other teas you can find most places. YES!! I’ve been ordering it for 3 years now from Amazon.com. It’s so good. I grew up with Lipton tea, and after a British lady introduced me to it, I bought a box from HEB. Delicious tea, #1 in Britain, but the regular has so much caffeine. The decaf has all the flavor and none of the caffeine, thank heavens. And now I can get it in Clear Lake.

Another thing I got is another box of Maldon Salt, the flaky stuff from the UK that’s also enjoyed by many chefs and foodies. The box I bought three or four years ago is nearly empty, but if you go to Williams Sonoma to buy it, it’s expensive. Right now on their website, it’s $10.95 a box, but I think it’s like $12 or $13 in the store. In Fresh Market, it’s $3.99. Of course I bought some! I’ll use more of it too.

Saltandfrozenveg

Ordinary frozen veg, but good enough for today. And nice wooden floors, too.

Limes are 2 for $1 there, but they’re high everywhere; I’ll try HEB or Food Town soon. I did get a couple of super-sized lemons and two nice grapefruit, as well as a small container of their store-brand half and half for coffee and tea. Their milk products are not treated with rBGH, but not all organic; HEB does the same thing. There is a fair amount of USDA certified organic product, but there are also containers of Cool Whip in the freezer next to the organic frozen fruit.

I know, they have to appeal to a wide range of folks, but anybody who puts Cool Whip on organic fruit of any kind just needs to head over to Wal-Mart and stay there. (That was my snarky opinion coming out.)

Oh, and speaking of dairy, they also have their own store brand of refrigerated almond milk! I’ll try that another day.

You know I was looking for this, and sure enough, they do gluten-free.

A good selection of gluten-free products, not only here, but in the freezer case as well.

A good selection of gluten-free products, not only here, but in the freezer case as well.

They’ve even got their own house brand of gluten-free products, and as you can see, they’re marked as such so it’s easy to find, and there are many products located in different parts of the store. However, as Dr. William Davis warns in Wheat Belly, much of it is made from corn flour, rice flour, tapioca flour, and other ingredients that have a high carb content and can give you an insulin spike. So, that’s something to take into consideration; you must read the labels.

If you like chutney and fancier versions of peanut butter and jelly, you’re in luck, they’ve got lots of it:

Whatever your heart desires here.

Whatever your heart desires here.

And then inspiration struck (or maybe it was the coffee.) There’s a recipe called Rapid Ragu in Nigella Express that I put off making until recently because I couldn’t find something called onion confit. I did find it a few months ago, in Central Market, but at $10 a jar, this imported French stuff that doesn’t last in the fridge too long isn’t practical to keep around (and it’s more on Amazon!)  However, while I didn’t buy it this time, I wonder if this will do the trick, and I can get it at Fresh Market for a lot less:

A possible replacement for hard-to-find Onion Confit?

A possible replacement for hard-to-find Onion Confit?

I’ll get it when I start working and I can drop the occasional $100 at the grocery store again. Not today–the recipe also calls for ground lamb, which is, shall we say, more than ground beef. I can wait for it, as well as another gluten-free cupcake from Frost Bake Shoppe.

And for the “I don’t have time to cook” crowd, a little shortcut:

Wash the jars and get rid of the labels and no one will ever know. . . .

Wash the jars and get rid of the labels and no one will ever know. . . .

In addition to many familiar products, they also have a fair amount of stuff you might not see in your regular grocery store, unless your regular grocery store is Korean:

I have never had a Korean mother-in-law.

I have never had a Korean mother-in-law.

Again, as wide of a range as you can get. I think I’ve had it once, and like sushi, was quite enough. I’m not slamming anyone’s cuisine–but I’ll pass on this kind of thing, OK? I grew up in New Orleans, lived in California in the 80’s and acquired a taste for Mexican food, and have been in Texas for 15 years, love the barbeque. Kimchi just isn’t for me, that’s all, and I’m just reporting.

Don’t judge me, I only took a picture and didn’t purchase any:

I have no idea what they will do, and I don't wanna flunk a drug test!!

I have no idea what they will do, and I don’t wanna flunk a drug test.

Another section nearby this one has olive oils left and right. But I just know everyone is waiting on pins and needles to find this.

Just in case you really, really, need to know about this stuff.

Just in case you really, really, need to know about this stuff.

No, I didn’t buy any of this, either. Heck, I didn’t even pick it up to see if it was imported from Italy, France, Greece or Croatia. Maybe if I invite a sophisticated gentleman for dinner.

The GER couldn’t care less if it was this stuff or Wesson. He’s nice like that.

Now, folks who know me know about my grocery bag collection–I’ve got several from East Coast chain Publix, HEB, Central Market, import store Phoenicia, Safeway, Trader Joe’s,and a bunch of other places in between. Fresh Market has some insulated tote bags like the one I got from Trader Joe’s a while back, but not as big. I passed on theirs as well as these, but I almost gave in.

Aren't these cute?

Aren’t these cute?

This is, obviously, for buying bulk goods so you don’t need the plastic bags. Again, I passed on them, but there will be a day where I get a few. Not only are they reusable for shopping, there’s probably a few things I can use them for at home..

Even Jezebel the step-kitty got a little something:

OK, she didn't mess with the salt.

OK, she didn’t get any of the salt.

I’ve never bought Newman’s Own cat food, in fact, I didn’t know they had it, and I’ve never t ever seen it. That one, as you can see on the far left of the picture, is USDA certified organic. The one on the right isn’t, not that I saw, but since it was rabbit, I bought it as a treat for Jezebel. I put out half a can, and she went after it. I’ll give her the other half tomorrow, and save the Newman’s Own for another day. Both, as you can see, are also grain free, which I try to buy much as I can. I’ve also given her some cat food from Trader Joe’s that she likes, but this stuff is grain free. (Normally, it’s Fancy Feast; the vet’s office feeds that to their boarded cats.)

Wish I could have given some of this to Catmandu, but he did get Blue Buffalo duck a few times. On the other hand, as fussy as he was, he might not have eaten the rabbit. Jezebel appreciates the good food, but she’s now enjoyed samples of my cooking as well to the point where I can’t make a cup of tea without her demanding to be given some. She nearly climbed in my lap the other day when I was eating some chicken. My bad.

Now, this is an interesting site at the checkout lane:

What a good idea for impulse buys!

What a good idea for at-the-checkout items!

Although Fresh Market has a collection of natural toiletries like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods does, this is a great idea on the way out. Well priced and convenient, I like this the best out of all the stores I’ve been in. I have plenty of lip balm and hand sanitizer at the moment, so I didn’t get any. But when I run low, I know where to go, because I try to keep hand cream and hand sanitizer in all my bags, including my purse, just in case. And the lip balm is less than Burt’s Bees–good, since summer isn’t waiting for anyone (except way up north, where some of my friends report a wind chill factor this week.)

Oh, I forgot to to mention the deli, bakery, meat department and the dining area at the front of the store! DUH–and I didn’t take any pictures of those, either. Sorry about that–I should have at least glanced at their takeout. (I did see sushi.) You can get some lunch or coffee and have it at a table and chairs, much like Central Market in Houston. It’s a smaller area than Central Market’s but quite nice.

The only bad thing I can say about Fresh Market is they don’t carry those Mynts that I love from Trader Joe’s, but I think I can live with that. I’m stocked up for a while, and I’m sure I’ll be at Trader Joe’s again one day. Plus, I can order them from Amazon if I really need some.

Verdict: a pretty good gourmet place to shop!

Their store is about the size of Trader Joe’s, not real big like Central Market or Publix. While they have a fair amount of store-brand product, they also carry a fair amount of national brands, too, along with some imported things. I can see myself spending some money in there and saving money on petrol in the future, or at least in for some takeout or a forgotten item one day.

If you’re lucky enough to get one of these in your neighborhood, go during their grand opening if you want to sample all kinds of stuff. If not, do what I did and wait until 8:00 pm (they close at 9:00 pm.)

Note: even The Woodlands doesn’t have one of these, although they have Trader Joe’s. But even the New Orleans area has four of them, one on St. Charles Avenue; traffic must be a bear.

Ours is next to the Lifeway Christian Store across from Baybrook mall, just behind Zoe’s Kitchen–another new addition to our area, which I should write a review for soon. I’ve enjoyed food from Zoe’s a few times, although not in a while. Neighbor K likes them too; she visited the one in San Antonio when they opened a couple of years ago. Heck, if you’ve got a Zoe’s in your neighborhood, you’re lucky on that one as well.

Happy Dining!!

 

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Saturday Night Steak (and other updates)

Saturday Night Steak (and other updates)

Good evening Dear Readers:

I haven’t written since March 10, and for that I apologize. Even WordPress started nagging me about it! I’m still not working, but working ON it. I have some more gluten-free stuff to share, and I may have a big decision to make soon. But more on that as it happens, since I haven’t been offered anything in the top hiring state in the nation in the 8 months I have been actively looking for a job. Nuffin’.

Enough of that.

Remember the blog post I did on lunch bags a while back? Updates: I’ve got more sewing done, and the last of the lunch bags is complete. I have decided to retire the book Lunch Bags, at least for a while, until I have more inspiration or someone asks for one. This interesting lunch bag is the reason I bought that darn book in the first place. I even found the same fabric used in the book, but kept getting vexed by the directions. Finally, I finished it, more or less just like the book, even though I’m not carrying a lunch bag around anymore.

A triumph over. . .oh, heck, it's finished.

A triumph over. . .oh, heck, it’s finished.

There ended up being three of these Zipper-top Lunch Bags on page 71, two of which looked like this:

One of three lunch bags

One of three lunch bags

I gave one to my SGI-USA District Leader, and this last one went to faithful reader Aunt Kathy. Surprisingly, I had enough materials left to make a third, although I kept thinking this was a fourth. (I went to Tulane at night, so I can’t count.) I hate wasting fabric and supplies, so Neighbor K got this version:

A wilder version of the Zippered Lunch Bag

A wilder version of the Zippered Lunch Bag

If you’re wondering why I call it that, it’s because I used black on the bottom and for whatever reason, I’d previously cut more Insul-Fleece with this fabric to line it with:

And the screaming red liner for lunch bag 3. Told you it was wilder

And the screaming red liner for lunch bag 3. Told you it was wilder.

I forgot to take a picture before I gave it to her, so yes, if you’re reading this, K, these pictures were taken in your kitchen when I brought the pug back in. (K also was the recipient of the first bicycle lunch bag.)

A note about Insul-Fleece–it won’t keep lunch icy cold for a long period of time, you’ll have to stash the bag in the fridge at work, or at least carry something that won’t spoil easily.

I’m not sewing that much, mostly on the weekend. I’ve got a couple of things to stitch up this weekend and I hope I get them all finished on time.

OK, now through the bedroom to the HeatCageKitchen garden on the back patio. NOTE: I am NOT making escargot from the snails I keep finding. Yuck. I just toss them over the fence and tell them to go find a new life.

So the gardening is, well, it’s going, and if you remember the little tomato survivor, it finally turned red and became part of a garden salad.

The one, lonely winter-surviving tomato.

The one, lonely winter-surviving tomato.

Incidentally, that plant is starting to come back, as you can see from the greenery at the bottom. Need to trim off the brown parts so the green can thrive. I think I waited a bit too long to use the tomato, because it became a bit, oh, you know, odd, like it was over-ripened, but not too far. Hate to toss that hardy plant after the multiple freezes it went through.

I also had my computer in the shop for a few days, and before I picked it up yesterday I ducked into Garden Ridge a couple of doors down. I saw lots of hanging planters for both tomatoes and strawberries, including one that you plant bell peppers on one end and tomatoes on the other. A hanging salsa grower? I’m game.

So I gathered up a few ingredients including mint, lettuce, Italian flat-leaf parsley, two garlic shoots, and one hardy tomato and made a gourmet salad. Ready? Here it is.

Le Salade a la Amy Garden

Le Salade a la Amy Garden. You would pay top dollar for this in a snooty restaurant.

Those dark colored leaves are lettuce from the “city mix” I planted several months ago. For whatever reason, that was pretty much everything I harvested, and a little has grown back. Oh, boy.

Sure, I put a bit of salt and fresh-mixed dressing on it–who wouldn’t? Of course it was tasty, but I put too many mint leaves in it. Not earth-shattering, just a little potent.

Speaking of salads, I have gone back to doing the lettuce-in-a-jar thing after a few months of not doing it, mostly because of the very cold weather. While we didn’t get any snow this time around, not many folks are interested in cool, crisp lettuce when the heater is on and the fireplace is lit. You want warm. . .much as I love salads, this winter, I gave it up for a while.

So you probably know my penchant for seeking out stuff on sale, particularly meat on sale, and at SuperTarget, I can definitely get lucky.

The steak to start with

The steak to start with. No, Fancy Feast was not part of the deal.

This particular steak was a good flank steak, and the kind that’s organic grass fed and all that. But what to do with it?

When I had a “regular” job (that is, one I knew I was going to every day) my favorite single-girl payday meal was a steak salad I created with the usual lettuce/tomato/cucumber, and added either sugar snap peas, avocado, or some other veggie that looked real good that day. My preferred steak was the Flat Iron Steak, which I’d never heard of before but eagerly tried and loved.

The dressing is one of my favorites from Suzanne Somers’ Get Skinny On Fabulous Food, (page 149) with six tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, two tablespoons lemon juice, two cloves of garlic, and salt with freshly ground black pepper. Whiz that together with your hand blender or mini blender, and set that aside.

I discovered flat iron steaks while prowling in Kroger’s meat department one day. They were, at the time, relatively inexpensive, although the price has gone up considerably in the last couple of years. I would get a big one, use my little meat tenderizer tool thingy and get it cooking. Of course I wouldn’t eat the ENTIRE steak at one time; they are usually as long as my forearm. Depending on the size of the steak, I would have one third to one fourth on the salad, and then cut up the rest for more delicious salad later. Sliced thinly and against the grain, the steak and the accompanying salad veggies are wonderful together with that simple vinaigrette.

Yum. I need to make that dressing again soon. Shaking oil & vinegar in a jar is easy, but that one is fantastic.

My method for cooking just about any kind of steak is simple: stash it under the broiler in the toaster oven. Oh, wait, you want to do it on top the stove? OK, here you go: cast iron pan, a little olive oil, heat on high while you prep your steak (salt/pepper, whatever.) Once you know it’s screaming hot, toss that steak in and IMMEDIATELY turn down the heat to medium. DO NOT go check Facebook because you will ruin a good steak. Do not do that, either.

After a few minutes, when you can easily pick up the steak with tongs, a fork or other implement, flip it. Don’t pull or scrape the steak from the pan–if it’s stuck, leave it until it’s not stuck anymore, which shouldn’t be more than a few minutes, like 5 to 7. (You did put oil in the pan, right?) Cook on the second side until it’s done to your liking–red, pink, completely cooked through, whatever. I prefer some red/pink in the middle, because I will microwave the leftovers later and I don’t want to overcook them.

Really, you should leave a steak to rest for five minutes before you cut into it. Some of us are impatient, but I do it most of the time.

This particular steak I cooked on top of the stove, but because I have more time on my hands than most, I decided to marinate it before hand.

Ahh, there's the rub!

Ahh, there’s the rub! Lemon zest, garlic shoots and finely chopped rosemary from the garden.

I’ve said this before, I love the garlic shoots, and if you’ve never tried growing garlic, it’s not difficult. I haven’t yet harvested any, because I don’t think it’s time, but I’ll keep you posted.

To the chopped stuff, I tossed in some olive oil–I didn’t measure, but I’d say it was between a quarter cup and an eighth of a cup. Mixed it all together, along with some salt and pepper, dropped the steak in and coated both sides, put some plastic wrap on top and stashed it in the fridge.

After the overnight bath

After the overnight bath

The next day I just used my steak-cooking method and it came out wonderful:

That's what a steak is supposed to look like!

That’s what a steak is supposed to look like!

After the requisite rest period, it looks like this when you slice it:

Oh, yeah. . . .

Oh, yeah. . . .

Yes, it was a really good steak. Twice. The lemon, mild garlic and rosemary infused the meat with a mild but distinct flavor that was tasty, but not overpowering like some marinades and flavorings can do. I don’t mind a stronger flavor, but this was certainly worth the time and effort. I’ll do this again sometime, maybe with garlic cloves rather than the shoots (which I probably won’t have much longer anyway once I harvest.)

It’s gluten free! (By virtue of having no bread/wheat around, of course.)

You could always do this on a grill, too. . .I just didn’t. Feel free to grill and let me know how it turns out, please.

It was a good night, and I even had a glass of wine after dinner. With more sewing done and projects given away, it was a pretty good weekend.

More to come in upcoming blog posts.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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And down we go (the rotisserie affair)

And down we go (the rotisserie affair)

Good evening, again, Dear Readers:

After last night’s triumphant return to the blogosphere, I fell. No, not like “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” No, I’m sick. Bronchitis. Feels like two guys are in my lungs letting loose with flamethrowers every time I cough.

Someone in my current office environment was sick last week and just had to go to work, coughing, hacking, etc. How nice that one of the princes thought it would be OK to cough up a lung all day long in an open-air office.

Thanks for that.

So after an $89 visit to a local Redi-Clinic and a $19 prescription at Target for a high-potency broad spectrum antibiotic, I decided that I would get something quick to eat. After all, I’m sick, darnit, I deserve a little something else.

Note: this is how I discovered the Cranberry Bliss Bar at Starbucks many years ago. I was at Target waiting for a prescription in the winter and there it was. . .well, I’m gluten free now, but that’s how it happened.

The Rotisserie Chicken is a wonderful thing, and can be part of a regular day. Just not too often. These babies are all cooked, nice and hot and stay hot until you get home (if you don’t live too far away from the heat case.) Much as I like to cook, and enjoy making food at home. . .once in a while, stuff like this is a BIG help.

Come to Mama. . .

20140108-210239.jpg

One of two remaining hot rotisserie chickens in SuperTarget this evening.

You just tear the pieces off, and. . .yum. No carving required.

The step-kitty got some, too. She’s so cute, jumping up to grab my hand with her paws so she can get that chicken. I’ve posted videos on Facebook and sent them to her owner, who saw her in action at Thanksgiving (or was it Christmas?). Awww. . .I just tore off a few pieces of breast meat, small enough for her to handle, and let them cool. (Of course anytime I’m near the stove, she demands what she thinks is food; she doesn’t understand coffee or tea.)

Now, I’ve seen Giada de Laurentiis turn these into chicken salads, instead of messing around with poaching or roasting chicken herself. Big time saver, and sometimes, that’s just what you need.

The SuperTargets around here sell these same chickens the next day in the refrigerated case for $3. No kidding. Need a bunch? Get them cold, and they’re cheap. I’ve done that a few times, too.

And because I’m super-sick, what I politely call my “Sunday treat,” only it’s not actually Sunday:

Ahhhh. . .chocolate and coconut. . .

Ahhhh. . .chocolate and coconut. . .

It is my current favorite. I bought two, and one will be for tomorrow. If I can wait that long. . . .

Yes, I’ll be going back on the hCG diet real soon. I bought the hCG tablets this time, let’s see if this works better than the alcohol-free liquid.

Oh, and I got another coupon tonight from Starbucks for $2 off an espresso drink. Looks like I’ll be heading over there soon.

Stay warm and dry, and please take care of yourselves. Please bring your pets and critters inside so they can be safe and warm, too. Winter isn’t over yet.

More to tell you soon.

Amy

 

The Chocolate Cake Affair

Good evening:

Regular readers of this humble blog may remember the chocolate-laden, gluten free post I re-blogged last week from fellow foodie writer Sophie James, who writes a very elegant blog called Stories from the Stove. Of course, that’s where the similarity ends, because mine is. . .less elegantly written. But that’s OK, I get my point across, and that’s a nice gluten-free cake she’s got there.

I’m going to tell you about another chocolate cake in a minute, and the story that’s attached. In a minute. Because, it was my BIRTHDAY.

This week marks a number of starts. First, I have switched phone companies and now have an iPhone 4s. I really didn’t want a Smartphone, because I see how dumb it makes people. But I was missing too much important email; people and companies assume everyone has one, so it became a necessity.  I’ve loaded it up with lots of cool apps, including one from east coast grocery chain Publix, which includes a nice grocery list function. It’s free and really handy, although it can be a little fussy. And you don’t have to go to Publix to use it! My local HEB used to have a similar thing on their website, but not anymore—and the only apps HEB has are all for HEB Mexico.) There are a number of free grocery list apps available for the iPhone, but I’ve been using the Publix grocery list for a couple of years on the PC, so I decided to stick with that one.

Once in a while, I actually make a real, live phone call with my iPhone. Go figure!

I also take comfort in the fact that people who are considered geniuses have very messy desks. That’s why you’re not seeing pictures of mine. Ever.

Also this week for my music fans, Def Leppard’s CD/DVD set of their Viva Hysteria concerts in Las Vegas earlier this year was released this week. If you buy it from Amazon, they also have something called “AutoRip” where you can download the audio for free, right away, and import it directly into iTunes before your hard copy arrives. Mostly I want to see the concert video, since I couldn’t get to Vegas to see these five handsome UK males (and they didn’t come to Houston this year) so that will be next week. I also have their previous live CD Mirrorball, and kept up with their shows on Facebook, so I kind of know what to expect.  If you’re a fan—and yes, I am—you can read more on DefLeppard.com.

Yeah, I know, it’s not foodie related. But it’s new. And it’s Def Leppard. RAOW.

The current diet phase is over, and I’ve lost ten pounds. Woo hoo! Should have been more, I tell myself, but if you don’t sleep 8 hours or so a night, and you sneak some chocolate now and again, you won’t lose as much weight. I know this because I’ve seen it myself on the daily diet charts. On the mornings where I slept less than 6 or 7 hours, I either stall or gain a bit. When I sleep enough and more or less follow the program, I drop it. Mostly I sleep in on the weekends, because there is too much to do when I get home at night. My evening task lists always start with, “feed cat. Feed big cat.” You can guess which one is the big cat.

I also ordered a case of 12 cans of Somersweet two weeks ago to stock up for a while. There was a free gift with purchase, travel sizes of some of her exclusive toxin-free hair care products. The day the box arrived, I got an email from SS’s website telling me that “Somersweet is 25% off!” Had I waited a week, I would have saved about $22.50. AAAAHHH!!! But that’s kind of the way my luck goes sometimes; I didn’t know that was coming. Darnit.

Last week was the annual Bootcamp for American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI), where I’ve been for the last three years, twice on my birthday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it this year, but will try again next year. It’s like missing the family reunion to me, but I wasn’t able to go for a handful of reasons. Keep your fingers crossed for next year.  Last year they not only baked my cake, I also had 325 copywriters sing me Happy Birthday.

This year, I’m on my own. But that’s OK too.

It was also at last year’s Bootcamp that my friend Akinnyi from London, a very nice man, said to me, “well, why don’t you write a food blog?” On the way home, the ideas started to gel, and I got on WordPress a few days later. In fact, when I logged on tonight to start this blog post, WordPress had a message for me: Happy Anniversary! It was one year ago, October 29th, that I started this blog.

Foodies have been rolling their eyes ever since. Including Sophie James, I bet.

This one’s for you, Akinnyi. Thanks for the idea. I ran with it.

Since I didn’t go to Bootcamp this year, I had to bake my own birthday cake. I already knew which one it would be, because I baked it many times before. It’s the Chocolate Ganache Cake from Suzanne Somers’ original 2002 Desserts book, incorporating her newly released Somersweet in to the recipes so that delicious desserts were available to make and not give you sugar crashes or toxins from aspartame. It was a while before I tried Somersweet, but eventually I was won over, and I still buy it today, in it’s updated form.

So this cake is, indeed, gluten free, because there is absolutely no flour of any kind, no sugar, and made from basic ingredients (and Somersweet). But since Suzanne Somers Desserts was published in 2002, most people hadn’t heard the term “gluten free” unless they were suffering with celiac disease or some other reaction from wheat. In this book, it’s considered “low carb,” because that’s primarily what SS’s books were about. Sugar manifests in many forms, wheat included, since most carbs turn to sugar in your bloodstream.  That sugar then stimulates the insulin response, and that’s where things can go awry, particularly with continued intake of sugar.

You may not realize this is happening until your doctor starts talking about “options for managing your diabetes.” I know this because my Dad continually ate what he was told by his doctors that would “improve his heart health,” only to later find out the hard way that none of it was true. Didn’t help his heart and didn’t prevent diabetes.

Anyway, enough of the Wheat Belly lecture.

This book was published just after Somersweet first came out in 2001, and the entire book, plus another called Chocolate, are all healthier versions of various desserts (although some may have small amounts of sugar for the times you can handle it.) This particular cake calls for a small amount, since the original Somersweet was 5x sweeter than regular sugar. Today, Somersweet is cup for cup like sugar, so I did a little reconfiguring to make it come out right.

The actual cake part is made by beating 8 eggs for several minutes with some baking soda and getting so much air into them that they bake up and come out baked as a cake. I haven’t made this one in 3 years, but it’s pretty simple to make, and works every time.

Beating eggs for 8 minutes fluffs them up for a perfect cake

Beating eggs for 8 minutes fluffs them up for a perfect cake

You bake the cake for longer than the 15 minutes in the book.  I think the new Somersweet changes that part, since it used to be just 15 minutes. But that’s OK. What you get out of the oven (using a 9 inch springform pan) looks like this:

It got a bit browner than I planned

It got a bit browner than I planned

Then you cut it into three layers, not the two I used to do:

Oops. But we can fix it

Oops. But we can fix it

This is an extremely delicate matter, because one wrong move and the whole thing falls apart. It’s heavy and dense, so you have to have a big spatula or two to move the bottom over to the cake plate.

A trick I learned from the Barefoot Contessa recently is to put a small dollop of buttercream under the bottom layer so the cake sticks to the cake plate. I did that, and later regretted it when I put squares of wax paper underneath so I could make it without a mess. Uh, right. . .

So, I grabbed my offset spatula and got busy with it:

Filling the first layer

Filling the first layer

Filling, or repairing, the top layer

Filling, or repairing, the top layer

Starting the ganache process. it didn't go well

Starting the ganache process. It didn’t go well

See the wax paper squares? That was intended to keep the ganache from dripping all down the shelves of my fridge. Unfortunately, it not only facilitated dripping chocolate, it made the ganache drip outside the confines of the baking pan I put the cake plate to to contain the mess. So it made a bigger mess than it was designed to contain. It figures.

That’s what’s known as irony, if you didn’t know that before.

After that last picture, I stuck the whole thing, plus the dishes of buttercream and ganache, in the fridge to chill and thicken up a bit, hence the drips on the top shelf.

This cake recipe includes a rich chocolate buttercream filling and a very nice ganache that is poured over the whole cake. Trust me when I tell you that I do not waste a drop of it. One of the benefits of being in your own kitchen is that YOU get to lick the beaters. If you have kids around, then you have to bake when they’re not around or are otherwise occupied.

Simple chocolate ganache. Yes, thank you.

Simple chocolate ganache. Yes, thank you.

Chocolate Buttercream. Is there anything more perfect?

The finished product, ready to eat

The finished product, ready to eat

In the end, it all worked, and while it doesn’t look quite the same as the picture in the book, it’s pretty tasty looking.

I picked up some raspberries at Kroger, and decided to up the ante a bit, because, well, I love raspberries with chocolate to begin with.

Just a little something extra to make it all mine!

Just a little something extra to make it all mine!

Four years ago I also bought that ceramic cake plate because putting it on a dinner plate wasn’t working. Of course, on this one it’s a bit, um, earthy, so the chocolate doesn’t exactly stand out. DUH. But that’s what was available at Hobby Lobby the day I went over there. It has been collecting dust, because I’ve gone to Bootcamp the last three years and didn’t bake my own cake.

Of course, the kitchen suffered and boy did I work to get that taken care of:

The remains of the cake (after filling and frosting)

The remains of the cake (after filling and frosting)

Chocolate ganache everywhere!

Chocolate ganache everywhere!

So, here’s what my favorite gluten free, sugar free, low-carb Somersweet chocolate birthday cake looks like when you cut a slice:

Rich. Thick. Chocolate. Any questions?

Rich. Thick. Chocolate. Any questions?

And to serve it:

OK, OK, so I flopped it on its side. It's edible.

OK, OK, so I flopped it on its side. It’s edible.

I did share with one of my neighbors and one of my Buddhist friends I visited the next morning. I would have shared with two of my neighbors, but the other one had surgery around her mouth and can’t chew. She got some delicious Tuscan White Bean and Garlic Soup. She didn’t want all of it, so naturally, I ate the rest this week. I gotta make me some more of that soup soon–it’s so good, and takes just about 20 minutes.

Now, it was indeed my birthday, so I headed out first to Starbucks for my free birthday drink. Want to guess what that was? Well, if you read my blog earlier this year, you’ll probably figure it was a Hazelnut Macchiato, and you’d be right. And because it was a splurge, it was my free one, and it was my birthday, I got a big one, and it went on my Starbucks card. I watched someone ring up a $4.65 cup of coffee and it went to “no charge.” However, I only do that once a year, when it’s offered. And check out the artwork on my coffee cup:

Coffee Cup art

Isn’t that cool?

I then went to Denny’s for a free gluten-free Grand Slam. Well, almost free:

IMG_0028[1]

OK, so there’s the seasonal fruit cup off-camera that was 49 cents, and then the blueberries for the oatmeal was another 49 cents, and one more thing, I think, for a total of $1.61. Maybe it was the milk for the oatmeal; but still, it was pretty darn good.

Now for dinner, I decided on pizza–home made, gluten free pizza. I took out the Wheat Belly Cookbook and got to work. However, I also used a canned pizza sauce without sugar in it, as well as some delish sausages bought on sale at Cost Plus World Market. (Because it was my birthday, I had a $10 off coupon, plus they allowed me to use a 10% off purchase coupon I got in the mail. Cool!) Not bad, not bad, and I had plenty left for breakfast.

Pizza!

Pizza! (And half the Mango Mojito with Somersweet)

Overall, it was a pretty good day, and I even got a new shirt nearly completed too. The weather was good, the sun was out, the sky was a beautiful blue, and fortunately, everything was pretty good.

Sunday brought an old friend for dinner, and he was wowed with not only the cake but a delicious salad from Giada de Laurentiis and one of Nigella’s delicious dishes from her last book. More on that later.

Of course Monday came along, and I now live for next weekend, where I am promising myself I will not drive anywhere for anything and stay home for 48 hours. I hope so.

Enjoy!

 

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