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Short post–Cranberry Bliss Bars

Short post–Cranberry Bliss Bars

Happy Sunday, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Starbucks website.

A Cranberry Bliss Bar, picture from the Starbucks website.

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

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

TARGET.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!!

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Pizza. Waffles.

Pizza. Waffles.

Happy Monday, Dear Readers:

So after my waffle and Thanksgiving post, have you started thinking about your own Thanksgiving celebration? I’m still intrigued with the idea of the pizza waffle, so I kept going. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute. But Thanksgiving is coming up quick–if you haven’t started thinking and planning, better hurry up!

The GER has been informed of Thanksgiving, but has not responded, even though I’ll be making a delicious pecan pie on Wednesday. If he doesn’t show up, I’ll go get him.

Want to give a quick welcome to new friend of the blog AC. She’s in California this week with her parents, but she’ll get around to reading this one eventually. She’s a longtime friend of LK, and is also a longtime Buddhist like we are. Woo hoo! I’m glad she’s in our district now, and glad she will be enjoying (or reviling) my posts.

Wal-Mart has a site with some additional tips and hacks that can help you out, including a quick way to chill a bottle of wine. Cover it with a damp towel, stash it in the freezer for 15 minutes, run it under cold water again, remove the towel, and enjoy.

BuzzFeed also has this article on making an entire Thanksgiving dinner in a Crock Pot. No kidding, it serves 6 to 8 people. It’s like any other Crock Pot recipe–you chop it up, layer it, put the lid on, turn it on, and leave it. (Instructions are included.) Uses boneless, skinless turkey breasts, thighs or other parts you like, and potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, the whole bit. Add cranberry sauce and a nice dessert, maybe a nice salad, and you’re good. Better than Thanksgiving In A Box, which I’ve seen once in Wal-Mart. I offer suggestions where I can, and just maybe one of my readers will be able to do this. It requires a 6-quart or larger Crock Pot (yes, I have a round one) and it is not gluten-free, since there’s bread and flour involved for gravy.

Doesn’t look bad, and maybe it could be made gluten free, right? Consider this option if you’re looking to make something but not a big, fancy dinner, and not a huge 20+ pound turkey. I haven’t tried it, but it looks pretty simple to do, and one of you dear readers may be looking for it.

The esteemed Washington Post recently ran an article about Houston as one of America’s great food cities. Well, DUH!! Of course we are!  Phoenicia’s two locations got a mention, as well as the Hong Kong Food Market, a chain grocery with multiple locations serving the large Asian community (and they don’t mind if this redhead pops in from time to time, either.)  Houston, like New Orleans, has a large Vietnamese population, migrated after the Vietnam war. But smoked brisket, barbeque and modern cuisine is also covered. I’ve not been in any of those restaurants myself, but I’ve heard good things about Underbelly. So there! And Houston is now #3 in the US, not #4, because of the inbound migration from other US states.

If you’re a fan of local raw honey, you may be able to find more of it one day. I already knew that Central Market on Lovers Lane in Dallas has a rooftop beehive that produces raw honey for sale. But I just found out that the Waldorf Astoria in New York is doing the same thing, and using the honey in the hotel’s kitchens. Pretty neat! It was, at one time, illegal to keep bees in NYC, but that’s changed, and the busy bees are making honey and pollinating all of New York. Could “rooftop beekeeping” catch on elsewhere? It’s always possible, especially for the rest of the Central Markets in Texas. But with more people starting and expanding urban gardens (some including backyard chickens), beekeeping may also not be far behind. Culinary seller Williams-Sonoma has an entire collection of what they call “Agrarian,” which includes beekeeping supplies. You can learn more about beekeeping in this section of their website. If you’re considering beekeeping, of course, you’ll need to do a little more research.

Switching gears. . .

If you like holiday humor, I discovered many (but not all) uncut episodes of one of my favorite Britcoms, My Family, is on YouTube. It aired on BBC America and PBS for a while, but they stopped. It’s one of the funniest sitcoms ever, although it’s probably not for kids. Only series 1 through 4 are available on DVD in the US, but a boxed set is available of the entire series, including 9 Christmas episodes, in the UK. You can order them from the UK, but of course, you have to have a region-free DVD player in order to play it. So. . .one of my goals is to one day a) get a region-free DVD player, and b) order that series as well as some other UK-only stuff and c) binge-watch all 11 seasons of My Family. Repeatedly. It’s that funny.

The series revolves around a dentist, his wife and their three children. The daughter drops out of college when she is pregnant with her son Kenzo, the eldest son is an idiot, and the youngest is a smart, conniver who his always up to something, usually involving money and his computer. The series ran until 2011 when they ended it, and of course, I don’t know how it all wrapped up. Yet.

In the early-series episode called Ding Dong Merrily, there is a particularly amusing scene when the wife/mother, who sees herself as Britain’s premiere gourmet home cook, (and she isn’t) is stuffing a turkey for Christmas lunch. The husband, a dentist, walks in and asks what kind of a turkey it is. The wife responds, “Chocolate Raisin Turkey. It’s Moroccan!” Then the husband says, “Oh, no, look–your cookbook pages are stuck together. You’ve gone from poultry straight to dessert.” The wife replies, “That’s how great discoveries are made!”  Then he goes into the living room and looks at the TV schedule, and finds “Carols From The Oil Rig” in the TV schedule.

When Christmas Lunch is finally served, the mother asks the pregnant teenage daughter what part of the turkey she’d like; the daughter responds, “I’m a vegetarian, Mom.” The mother responds: OK, Janie, help yourself to vegetables.” When she asks the smart-aleck youngest son, he responds the same way. The mother replies, “I wish you’d told me before.” The son responds, “I wanted to see what it looked like first.”  It’s a half hour, and there are short commercial breaks, but if you really want to watch it, this show is what I’d call “probably not safe for work.”  There’s minimal swearing, not very much, no nudity or anything like that, it’s just more for grownups. Oh, and the phrase “up the duff” means the same thing as “knocked up” does here.

Happy Christmas!

Now, I’m still intrigued with the idea of pizza from a waffle maker, so I had to try it myself. Ree Drummond actually made one recently on her Pioneer Woman show on The Food Network, in an episode called Dorm Room Dining. Her eldest daughter, Alex, has left the ranch and gone to Texas A&M for college, so I guess this episode was just for her. There are also waffle-maker quesadillas and paninis, as well as what she calls a Wafflet, which is eggs, ham and mozzarella cheese. See? WAFFLES!! They’re sweeping the country!!

Well, almost. I went into our new Sur la Table here in Baybrook Mall for the grand opening, and was checking out some of their pizza things. I mentioned to two ladies next to me (one of whom was in a wheelchair) that I’m fascinated with pizzas made in a waffle iron. The one pushing the wheelchair gave me a rude look and said, “I guess that’s good if you’re single, huh?”  My response: “Depends on the size of your waffle maker, I guess.”  No, Toto, we’re not in The Woodlands, either. But they did sharpen my big knife for free. (First one is free, the rest are $5 each, all year long.)

So what happens when the star food blogger in the HeatCageKitchen gets a hankering for pizza? That’s definitely one of those things I miss having, but of course, there are alternatives to ordering from Papa John’s. So she goes on Pinterest and finds what she wants. This time, my new taste tester, Neighbor E, also got to try some pizza waffles. I’ve stocked up on pizza sauce, but will get more cheese soon,so I can make it anytime this winter, along with Pea & Pesto Soup.

Let that roll around in your head awhile, OK? Pizza. Waffles. Or, Waffled Pizza. Or nearly instant pizza from the waffle maker, depending on what recipe you use.

Pizza. Waffles.

I’ve uploaded these two to the Recipes page, one is a scan and one is a PDF created from the blog it came from. One is a thick crust pizza, the other a thin, crispy crust. I liked both, and so did Neighbor E, but Neighbor R wasn’t crazy about the thick crust. So here’s the first one, thick crust and easy.


The new function in WordPress, a “mosaic.”

I discovered that the quinoa flour called for in the recipe is about $13 a pound, but oat flour can be used. Well, I have used oat flour for many years, and it’s about $3 or $4 pound, depending on where you buy it. So guess what I used? I also don’t have sweet rice flour, so I used the brown rice flour I have.

Really, this is pretty simple, you just mix it up, pour it on the waffle maker and waffle it. Top it with whatever you like, and stash it under the broiler to melt the cheese.

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PIzza!!

The first time I bought Classico’s pizza sauce, but when I went to HEB last week, I discovered their store brand, (organic, no less!) for sixty cents less a bottle:

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Echoes of future pizzas.

Now, the second one, from the fabulous new book Will It Waffle?, takes a little more work. (It’s the book I wrote about in the first waffle blog post.) The recipe isn’t gluten free–so if you just want regular bread flour, go for it. However, I wanted to try this recipe, which also includes instant yeast, just to see if it would work with a gluten free flour. For this one, I picked up a bag of Bob’s Red Mill 1-for-1 baking flour, which, I think, ran about $4 in Kroger:

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This recipe involved letting the dough rise like you would bread. But since it was cool on Saturday, leaving the dough in a warm place to rise involved heating up the toaster oven, putting the dough in a bowl, covering it with a pot lid, putting it into the oven and turning it off for a couple of hours while I went out for a 2 hour bike ride:

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Worked like a charm, too:

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

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Daniel Shumski does tell you that the recipe makes extra crusts. Well, I waffled two regular sized pizzas and one about the size of a donut, and the rest were packed up to freeze for a future pizza (just let the dough thaw at room temp):

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After that, it was pretty much like dealing with pie crust but a lot more delicate. Roll it out on a floured board (you don’t need much.) Then, like a pie crust, roll it onto the floured rolling pin, the unroll it onto the plate until you’re ready to waffle it:

Neat, huh?

Then you just proceed with the cooking process on a heated waffle maker:

Take it out, top it, and just like the prior pizza, stash it under the broiler to melt the cheese:

wpid-20151121_191038.jpg

PIZZA!!

Since I’d been on the bike for 2 hours (ahhhh. .  .) I ate a whole regular sized pizza and the donut-sized pizza. Stop it–it wasn’t THAT much! I gave Neighbor E and Neighbor R each half of the second pizza right out of the broiler.

Now, with the yeasted crust, it’ll take a while because you have to let the yeast rise. However, the crust can be made in advance and thawed. I haven’t thawed any yet, but it probably shouldn’t take long. Then just roll it out and waffle.

This crust came out a bit like a crispy pappadam, the crispy bread served in Indian restaurants. I didn’t think it was going to taste good, because the raw dough wasn’t tasty at all. But boy, once you apply that waffle heat to it, it stiffens up really good, and the toppings just make it.

Three thumbs up! (Mine, E’s and R’s.)

Shimski also gives an option for a cannoli-style pizza, which I haven’t tried yet either. But I might, adding some sausage, pepperoni or something else. Hmmm. . .waffled pineapple, maybe? (Yes, pineapple on pizza is good.)

But with the first pizza, you can have it in the time it takes to call out for pizza, and it’s gluten free.

So here’s where I’ll close this delicious and interesting post, and wish everyone in the US (or anywhere) a Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy what there is to enjoy, and remember what you’re thankful for, too.

Don’t forget the best recipe ever for Leftover Turkey Chowder on the Recipes page, too.

And if you’re going out to Christmas shop on “Black Friday, ” please, please be careful–or reconsider. Sometimes it’s actually dangerous to go out shopping, and people have been badly hurt just trying to get at that great deal on a TV, DVD player, PC, or whatever. I might just walk up to my Starbucks instead, just to go for a walk that day.

Whichever pizza you chose, keep it in mind for a quick meal sometime. The fun is in trying something new, and experimenting with it. With or without salad, soup, or whatever else you might have with it, making pizza waffles is a neat way to make a pizza when you’re in the mood for it.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Dining!!

 

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A Gluten-Free Birthday

A Gluten-Free Birthday

Hello, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

So what else is going on?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Because you love pumpkin THAT MUCH.

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

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

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

Switching gears. . . .

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

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

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

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

Macchiato!

Ready to roll. . . .

Ready to roll. . . .

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

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

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Yes! It really is gluten free!!

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

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

Dessert! At 11:55 am.

Dessert! At 11:55 am.

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

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

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

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

Anyway. . .

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

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

Trader Joe's. . .chocolate?

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

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

Anyway. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!

Amy

 

 

 

 

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The Big Fish

The Big Fish

Happy Saturday, Dear Readers!

If you’re here in the Houston area, I hope you are dry. . .if you’re not, well, Thursday (8/20) we had some serious rain going on, complete with thunder and lightning. The HeatCageKitchen garden was happy with the extra water, but the green onions, which have been supplemented recently with two bunches of organics I bought, are nearly a foot high after 2 weeks. Not bad!

Today was our monthly district meeting, and a pretty good one, too. Our fearless district leader and hostess, LK, has finally seen her dream of her sister and family practicing Buddhism after something like 27 years of practice. Today was they day that all four officially became Buddhists, and it was also her sister, JH’s, birthday. (I also became a Buddhist on my 24th birthday in 1986, so it’s always extra-special.) LK’s brother-in-law, JH’s husband, was not able to make it due to work commitments, but received an official certificate from SGI-USA along with JH and the kids. They lived in California until a year ago, and bought a house not far from LK, making LK one of the happiest people around.

To celebrate, LK drove down to Galveston this morning–during the period where we had sunshine before the rain came back again–and bought a beautiful cake to celebrate the whole thing:

Isn't it a beauty?

Isn’t it a beauty?

Indeed, it was NOT gluten free, and I told her I would just have one of the roses. (I didn’t, really.) Actually, I did bring home a slice of this beautiful creation for Neighbor R, my elderly neighbor, and I nibbled on the veg and some grapes that were there. Here’s a view of the inside after it was cut:

The Inside.

The Inside.

Neighbor K has been to PattyCakes many times since she works down there, and if I remember correctly, she brought me a couple of their delicious samplings a while back. They’re across the street from the well-known Mosquito Cafe, and are operated by the same people.

Since we have a couple of diabetics in addition to me, who avoids this kind of thing, LK kindly had cut veggies and Tzatzaki, which was very tasty. Might have to make that myself sometime. I’ve got the recipe, but I’ve never made it; however, I don’t know what recipe LK used for today’s delicious dip.

If you’re a fan of Starbucks, The Safe Haven With Food, and you’ve been enamored with their recent food offerings, I discovered a bit of a hack. By accident, of course. A couple of months ago, I met with a potential copywriting client at a Starbucks in nearby Pasadena (that’s where the business was located) and I got there early. While my computer was booting up and connecting to the WiFi, I found myself hungry for some reason. I looked in the case and found their little yogurt cups with fruit. I picked up the one with cherries, and thoroughly enjoyed it before she arrived.

A couple of nights ago I was hungry, and I started prowling in the fridge (as us single folks are wont to do) and saw the container of Fage yogurt in there, and suddenly the light lit up in my brain! Five frozen cherries, in a little dish, microwaved for about 20 seconds on 50% power to get the chill off them; chop them, put them back in the bowl, then spoon some of that Greek yogurt in the bowl. Mix well–carefully, or in a bigger bowl–and sweeten to taste. Use whatever you like–stevia, saccharin, Somersweet, whatever. Because, remember, the one in Starbucks has sugar in it–you don’t have to do that. I don’t miss the crunchy part, although I do eat it when I have one in Starbucks (it’s wheat free.) Which has been exactly. . .twice. I never forgot it, but at $3.95, it’s not a habit, only a handy option I’ve had twice.

The Starbucks Evenings menu hasn’t yet appeared here in Clear Lake, to my knowledge, but it has in New York. You can see the actual menu here, but from what Lindsay Putnam of the NY Post says. . .don’t bother. Remember that those breakfast sandwiches are frozen and heated in an oven before the barista hands it to you, so naturally, so is the Evenings menu–no real cooking goes on in Starbucks. If you do eat one, you think about how delicious it tastes. . .and not much else, OK? Yes, I have had the sandwiches a few times, less since I read Wheat Belly, but the last time I had one of those big croissant bun sandwiches was out of necessity a few months ago. So the Evenings menu, tempting as it may look, may in fact, disappoint. I’ll let you know if I get to try it.

Then again, New Yorkers seem to judge everything harshly, and it was brand new, so maybe she was just there on a bad day. Use your own judgment, as always.

Now, another story about the GER. He loves it when I write about him.

The GER goes fishing usually on Mondays with a friend who has a boat, and while this week’s haul. . .wasn’t, last week they caught more river monsters. I gave him a ride somewhere last Tuesday, and he told me to bring something to keep it cold. He told me to share it with Neighbor K, but K didn’t wanna mess with no fish that night, so I offered some to Neighbor R after I cooked it.

This was a big fish. Flounder, if I remember correctly. Not like catfish, frying catfish is easy. So I treated this big fishy with the respect it deserved and broiled it. I’m not kidding when I tell you it was a big one:

The GER's big fish

The GER’s big fish.

It was about 15 inches long, I think, but I forgot to measure it. I thought about stuffing it, but that wasn’t an option:

A big, heavy skeleton that would require some major filleting skills. . .which I don't have.

A big, heavy skeleton that would require some major filleting skills. . .which I don’t have.

Sometimes he’ll give me filets, but sometimes not, like this one. The only option was to roast it whole and pull the flesh off the skeleton, since there was no easy way to stuff it. I set out to the garden and gathered up a few things:

The setup.

The setup.

Green onions (from the ones I planted in the garden), mint, parsley, some rosemary and basil, plus some lime zest. Using that mezzaluna knife, chopped it as best I could, and added some kosher salt:

Gremolata a la Amy.

Gremolata a la Amy.

Then it’s just used as a rub on both sides of the fish:

Big, BIG fish!

Big, BIG fish!

I put it in the toaster oven on “broil” until I thought it was done, and it came out pretty darn good:

FISH!

It needed salt, in my opinion, and I gave the easily-removed, skinless chunks to Neighbor R, and made sure there were no bones in it. I had three meals out of that fish along with some baked sweet potato sticks. YUM.

In the last couple of posts, I spoke about Red Dwarf, the crazy-wild British comedy that combines science fiction with slapstick comedy. Here’s a short clip of the song I was singing while I was dealing with said fish in an episode from many years ago. The character, Cat, just LOVES fish! That comes back to haunt him in Season 9 when a despair squid is found in the water tank. . .oh, nevermind. If you’re not a fan, it won’t make a lot of sense. It’s kind of like explaining something from Doctor Who to someone who has never seen it or understands it. Like the GER!

Tomorrow is Sunday, and I’ve got to plan out the week’s eating. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I think there’s going to be some chicken in the Crock Pot. . .again. But since I found two big packets of chicken thighs on sale at Target Friday night, it’s a good thing.

School’s opening real soon, so if you’ve got students at home, you’ll be gearing up now to make those mornings easier. I’m looking at waffle iron hacks and cheats on Pinterest now, and I’ve started a board to keep them in one place. People have figured out how to cook all kinds of things with waffle irons, and YouTube has a collection of them as well. Just go to YouTube and type in the search box, “waffle iron hacks” and/or “waffle iron recipes” and you’ll see ingenious ways people have used a waffle iron for anything *but* waffles.

One of my writer friends, a Christian copywriter here in Texas, posted on Facebook instructions to take those cinnamon rolls in a can and cook them on a waffle iron, then pour that sugary frosting on top. Looks a lot more appetizing than the ones made the *normal* way.  It made me want to head to Kroger for a can and make them myself! But I didn’t, and I’m researching new ways to use the waffle iron daily instead of just occasionally, when you make waffles.

One interesting idea I saw on Pinterest was to spray the waffle iron, heat it, then put frozen tater tots on the bottom, covering the grid. Close the lid, and a few minutes later, crispy hash browns! Admittedly, that’s not something I would make for myself, (at least not with frozen tater tots) but I might do that for the GER or someone else who really liked hash browns. I’ve eaten hash browns occasionally, usually at Denny’s on my birthday with my Grand Slam; but as a rule, potatoes are not in my fridge.

Remember: 110v vs. 220v. And don’t forget your college student headed for the dorms this fall.

Have a great week, and whatever you do cook and eat–Enjoy!

 

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The Two Bananas

The Two Bananas

Good evening, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry it’s been a week since I posted; I had a couple of obstacles, including a dying car battery and an impromptu late night meeting with the GER down at Buc-ee’s on Saturday night. We ended up chatting outside for a while, and it’s a good thing–with all the construction happening on I-45 in this area, that time let some of the miles-deep traffic dissipate. I made it home pretty easily. . .about 1:00 am. We just tend to chat about general stuff we’re interested in. Then I look up and see what time it was, and I gotta go home. Closest thing I’ve had to call a “date” in a while, so I’ll take it. He offered me one of those Mexican mineral waters he likes, so I guess you can say he “bought me a drink.” HA!

I did manage to acquire watermelon. Lots of watermelon.

I’ve been doing more on the copywriting side, contacting catalog companies to inquire if they use freelance writes. So far I got one “yes, we do, but I’m not the person you need to talk to,” but I’ll be back on it tomorrow. I’m not going to say too much about what companies I’ve contacted, but, well, today I made a discovery that left me laughing.

Some of you may know I’m a huge fan of British TV, particularly “Britcoms” like Keeping Up Appearances, Father Ted, and Waiting For God. One of the funniest Britcoms with the dual appeal of science fiction is called Red Dwarf. It’s sort of Star Wars meets The Three Stooges. (Even Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Jean-Luc Picard, is a fan.) Set three million years in the future, it focuses on the four space buffoons who bumble their way through everything and still manage to come out ahead. In Season 10 of Red Dwarf, they go back in time (by accident) and meet. . .Jesus. No kidding. Funny, and *not* disrespectful of Christians, it’s just good fun. But if you haven’t seen the series from the beginning (I have), it might not make as much sense.

Red Dwarf started in 1988 or 1989, and the audiences watching those first shows were brought from pubs located within the vicinity of the studio where it was being filmed. Back in the day, they couldn’t swear on TV like they can now, so they came up with a substitute swear word: “smeg.” Short for something really dirty, they used it all the time, telling each other to “smeg off,” calling each other “smegheads” (audience members call the cast members that to their faces now) and other derivatives to avoid saying some of the infamous Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say On Television. Dwarfers are also called “smegheads.”

Why am I talking about Red Dwarf? Well, today in my research, I discovered a line of kitchen appliances, big and small, by an Italian company called Smalterie Metallurgiche Emiliane Guastalla. That’s right, SMEG. No kidding. In English, it means “Guastalla Emilia Enamel Works.” But has no one in Italy ever heard of Red Dwarf?

It gets worse. In one of the prior seasons–and described in one of the books–the only human character, Dave Lister, has a thing for electronic gadgets, and finds the Talkie Toaster. Described in the accompanying book Better Than Life  on page 51, well:

Talkie Toaster {TM} (patent applied for), was made of deep red plastic, and according to the blurb on the packaging, could engage its owner in a number of pre-programmed stimulating breakfast conversations. Moreover, it had a degree of Artificial Intelligence, so, in time, it could learn to assess your mood and tailor its conversation accordingly. If you woke up feeling bright and bubbly, the Toaster would respond with chirpy repartee. If you rose in a darker mood, the Toaster’s Artificial Intelligence could sense this, and provide your breakfast muffins in suitably reverent silence.

Of course, it didn’t actually work as well as advertised. It’s obsessed with making toast and conversation, to the point of severe irritation. There’s an entire routine where Holly, the ship’s onboard computer system, argues with the Talkie Toaster about not wanting anything toasted. The Toaster responds, “It is my purpose. I toast, therefore, I am.” In other words, no smegging toast, thank you very much.

Take a look at these toasters and try not to laugh. They don’t talk, but they’re not cheap, either–the toasters run $200, and the blenders nearly $500, so they’re high-end appliances. But for a Dwarfer. . .it’s just too funny. You can look at the entire line of SMEG kitchen appliances at their official website.

OK, enough comic relief. The official Red Dwarf website is here. More funny stuff later.

This morning Neighbor K and I went walking at 5 am, and then she texted me to walk with her and the Daft Pug to Starbucks. I hadn’t hopped in the shower yet, so I put my shoes back on. One of us had to hold the Daft Pug while the other went in, but that’s OK. When it was my turn to hold the leash, he wanted to chase the black birds flying around at the fire station next door. Then K brought out her coffee, breakfast and a “Puppuccino,” which Starbucks offers to customers with canines during the summer. (You have to ask for it.) A sample-sized cup of whipped cream, icy cold, which the Daft Pug lapped up like he hadn’t eaten in a week. K also brought a small cup of water, but he was not interested and knocked it over. We were outside on a sealed concrete patio, so it won’t hurt anything, but he couldn’t believe he was at the bottom of the little cup. What a happy pug.

Sunday, the nice man who lives upstairs, Neighbor J, tapped on my door and offered me some green grapes and two bananas. “I’m going to Vegas tomorrow and I don’t want to come back to rotted fruit in the fridge.” Woo hoo! Thank you!  The grapes were gone momentarily, but what to do with the bananas?  Banana bread? Ice cream? Eat them? I didn’t want to go get anything, and since I keep ingredients stocked as best I can, I figured there would be something I could make that would use up two bananas and be a healthy nibble.

I should point out that I normally don’t eat bananas because of the high starch/sugar content. I used to, and when my parents were active Shaklee representatives, my Mom gave me a can of some kind of shake that required the addition of a whole banana in the blender. Nice, but that meant I was hungry by the time I got to work. In 1991, though, we didn’t have the advanced food transport equipment available like we do now–and because I had no car, I took the bus, so I couldn’t risk a leaky bottle with a smoothie in it.

Anyway.

My first visit was to the first Babycakes book. Bread would take a while, so I decided to look online for some inspiration. I get Facebook feeds from Elena Amsterdam of Elena’s Pantry, so I decided to visit her website and see what I could find. Typed the word “banana” in the search function, and oh, boy, did I get recipes. I looked through a few, expecting almond flour to be the first ingredient, but I also have some coconut flour, too. I searched for a few minutes, then. .  .

Bingo–Flourless Chocolate Banana Cake. Five ingredients, a couple of steps and a cake! Well. . .it’s gluten free, nut free and dairy free. There are eggs in it, too, and it’s baked, not raw. There are some Jewish holidays that forbid the use of flour, but I only know what I’m told and what I read. Like I told K, if you’re unable to have the usual specter of sweets, it’s a good thing to make.

If you’re not familiar with Elena Amsterdam, she’s a wife and mother of two who has written three books on paleo/grain free cooking; two are dessert books, and you can read her Amazon biography here. She’s an advocate for Celiac disease and grain-free nutrition after being diagnosed in 1998, went grain-free in 2001, and has been writing about it since 2006. Her cookbooks are on my wish list (I know, I need more cookbooks, right?) and her website is filled with not only simple, nutritious recipes but other good advice as well. You can also get her feeds on Facebook like I do if you’re on FB,  or you can sign up to get her emails if you’re not.

Elena describes herself as “an entrepreneur, wife and Jewish mother living in Boulder, Colorado.” (She’s GORGEOUS, too.)

So, what happens? Let me tell you.

The setup (minus three eggs.)

The setup (minus three eggs.) It was 10:30 in the morning

I should point out that the recipe calls for CACAO powder, not cocoa, but cocoa is what I had on hand, and Erma’s wasn’t open. So cocoa powder it was.

First up: separate the eggs:

Yes, they're cappuccino cups, but there's no cappuccino this time of year.

Yes, they’re cappuccino cups, but there’s no cappuccino this time of year.

Elena calls for a Vitamix, but all I have is my Cuisinart blender, so that’s what I deployed for the next step, whipping up the egg yolks, agave and salt (medium, for 1-2 minutes, although I only have high and low.) It looks like this:

I had to hold it because it started to turn. . .and leak.

I had to hold it because it started to turn. . .and leak.

Next up, add the grapeseed oil and banana, mash it up and blitz it again:

I cut them, then mashed with a fork, knowing that the blender would pretty much cover the rest.

I cut them, then mashed with a fork, knowing that the blender would pretty much cover the rest.

Now, make it chocolate and blitz it again.

Next time maybe I'll get some cacao powder.

Next time maybe I’ll get some cacao powder.

This is what you end up with:

Chocolated-up banana mix

Chocolated-up banana mix

Now–shift gears and whip the egg whites until they’re stiff:

IMG_2733

Under the bowl is just a bit of rubber shelf liner. I keep them handy to keep bowls and cutting boards from sliding while I work.

Once you’re there with the egg whites, dump the chocolate mixture into a bigger bowl, and add the beaten egg whites:

Almost there

Almost there. Neat contrast, isn’t it?

Once you’ve got them in the same place, fold them together with a spoon or spatula. Don’t use the mixer again, because you’ll “flatten” the egg whites.

Fold, not blend or mix.

Fold, not blend or mix.

I think I forgot to take a picture of the cake before it went into the toaster oven, but you grease an 8″ springform pan and add the cake batter to it. I lined the bottom of mine with parchment by putting a sheet on top of the base and clipping the ring on it, making sure it was tight, then spraying a bit of oil on it. It’s the same thing you do for a cheesecake, and trim the excess from the bottom. But of course, I didn’t take THAT picture, sorry.

So bake it  for 25 minutes or so, and this is what comes out:

Cake.

Fresh out of the oven

I should have waited until it cooled a bit, but no, I burned my paws a little getting the ring off, then the cake on a plate, removed the parchment, then flipped it over onto another plate so it would look nice for the camera.

Cake.

Cake!

Amazingly, mine looks pretty much like Elena’s, only without the food stylist and fancy photography. But how does it taste? Aye, there’s the rub.

I had the first slice, and then I packed up some for Neighbors K, R and J (the upstairs neighbor who gave me the bananas.)  I thought it wasn’t bad, and passable. The texture is soft and moist, even after a few days in a container in the fridge.  I gave K two slices for her and her SO (“significant other”) and accidentally gave R two slices. I cut it and packed up the slices while it was still hot, so the condensation inside the containers clouded them. I knocked on K’s door and give her a second slice for the SO–don’t want to leave him out.

The verdict from two of the three HeatCageKitchen taste testers: It’s OK. Not great. K said it was “weird, like those Weight Watchers brownies with black beans in them.” K’s boyfriend also tried it, and said the same thing. R said it “wasn’t bad, had an aftertaste; but the pizza was really good!” J is in Vegas for a couple more days, but I wanted to get it to him before he left so that he could have it before he left. I didn’t want to bother him while he was getting ready to leave, so I didn’t knock to ask; but I think I know what he’ll say.

Now, I don’t always expect glowing reviews of my cooking. If the recipe isn’t good, I need to know that, right? At least it’s not bad enough to be tagged as a “hot mess.”

Again, I used what I had handy, which included cocoa powder, not CACAO powder. (Maybe next time.) Let me explain why I think it tasted a bit weird.

If you try to eat a bar of unsweetened chocolate, which is 100% chocolate (mostly), it’s pretty pure, and will be bitter–that’s why chocolate is cut with other ingredients like butter, cream, coconut oil, and sugar or other sweeteners are added. Unsweetened cocoa powder is, essentially, pure chocolate, much like the baking chocolate in bar form, so I’m thinking I should have likely cut back on the cocoa powder, or added a little more agave syrup. I’ll do that next time, or use the cacao powder. Like I should have.

If you (or someone in your circle) is in a position where you can’t have certain foods or ingredients, and want to “have your cake and eat it too,” this recipe might be a good option. I’ll look for cacao powder and try again one day. Maybe the GER might want to try it–he says he might want to try last week’s pizza recipe, but I warned him that I need some notice, since the quinoa soaks overnight. (And I nibbled all the sliced-up sausage, darnit.)

The recipe is available on the Recipe page in PDF format so that you can print or download it for later. My notes are included, along with a link to the original recipe on Elena’s Pantry.

It’s now August. Fall will be here before you know it, and that means MY BIRTHDAY!! I know it’s time when the pomegranates start showing up in the grocery (and they’re *not* the ones grown in Chile.)  What am I going to do this year? Heck, I dunno. I’ll know when October gets here. Pizza, cake, something free from Starbucks, Denny’s and Sephora, and anything else I can find to sign up for by October 15th. It’s MY birthday, right?

For now, I’m going to have some more watermelon, clean my messy kitchen, do evening prayers and hit the sack.

Until next time. . .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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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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