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What to have for dinner

The Meal Kit

The Meal Kit

Hello again, Dear Readers:

Well, after my post on a great New Orleans mystery, I have heard exactly nothing about Hubig’s Pies. . .but that’s why it’s a mystery. I even sent a link to their Facebook pages and. . .nothing. But a lawsuit is probably more important than a blog post, so I really didn’t expect anything. Maybe one day.

Neighbor E finally got around to trying the Hostess Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes, after being given a home made cake he couldn’t resist. He said the cupcakes were smaller than he remembered, and while they tasted like dark chocolate and raspberry, they weren’t overwhelming. Really. They were OK. He told me that if I wanted to try one, to stop by. I’ll be happy to see E anytime, I just don’t to try one. I’m afraid I’ll find them irresistable, and spend a lot more to stockpile boxes of them before they go away.

Our monthly gardening lectures have started up again, and last month I was able to ask a very enthusiastic lecturer about. . .composting. Something went wrong when I did that last year, and now I know what it was. (Shouldn’t have chucked all that in the bin, though!) Guess I’m going to start doing that again. Soon as I move things around in the kitchen and on the breakfast bar to accommodate the compost crock. One new attendee drove from Deer Park to attend (about 14 miles from here.) I also got to see new friend of the blog Miss Shirley, who is always a friendly face no matter what’s going on.

OK. . .this time of year, people think about cleaning up their diet and eating healthier. New year, new start. But it does seem like a daunting task, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be. (Yes, I know when Valentine’s Day is.)

So let me ask you–do you dream of making an elegant, healthy dinner that looks like this?

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-Fry (from The Food Network's website)

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-Fry (from The Food Network’s website)

But for whatever reason, it usually looks more like this?

Enchiladas. . . .

Enchiladas. . .leftover, from the microwave.

I may have the solution for you.

The enchilada picture above came from a friend who texted me the other night, who said he was “cooking.” I asked him what he was cooking, and he said “enchiladas.” I envisioned a 9″ x 13″ pan of hot, bubbly, cheese-covered Tex-Mex deliciousness that he’d enjoy for a few days, like I do. Then he sent this picture. When I talked to him later that night, he mentioned that someone brought them to work and he took some home. I said, “that’s not cooking!” His response: “you and I have very different ideas about cooking.” To quote Mrs. Patmore from last week’s episode of Downton Abbey: MEN! (Didn’t know Mr. Carson would be such a fussbudget after the wedding, did we?)

Now let’s get serious about dinner.

I’ve been seeing ads on TV, in Martha Stewart Living and other places that offer what’s called “meal kits.” If you’re not familiar with them, the most prominent players are Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated. However, a quick search discovers several more:

You may remember the company Schwann’s and their little freezer-case trucks that drive around neighborhoods occasionally. Schwann’s is a bit different than these companies, as their food is frozen, much of it processed, and geared for longer-term storage once they drop it at your house. Crock Pot’s website similarly sells frozen meals that are intended for the slow cooker, and even offer an auto-delivery service. I find that a bit baffling–I mean, how hard is it to toss some ingredients into a pot and turn it on to cook all day? But everybody’s different–some folks actually like their dinner connected to the WiFi, too.

I just found this delicious recipe on Schwann’s website, and I made some. Pretty good, but chop the garlic fine, or you’ll be eating chunks of raw garlic and not kissing anyone for a while.

I found a lot of good information on The Kitchn, and a lot of reasons why–and why not–meal kits by mail are a good idea. Let me back up and explain a little.

Remember Graze.com, the snacks-by-mail company? They’re still around, and I’ve even seen TV commercials for them recently. They’ve changed things just a bit–the boxes are now eight snacks instead of four, and yes, the price has gone up, but they’re actually less expensive than buying two boxes, and the shipping is less than two little boxes of four. They’ve expanded their offerings, too. . .and if you find something called a “flapjack” in your snack box, you’ve hit the mother lode of snacking. (Especially the cocoa flapjacks–oh, my GAWD.)

Disclosure: I have NOT tried any of these meal subscriptions for myself, but may find them useful at some point in the future. I present this completely un-sponsored information for anyone who has seen these and considered trying out one of them for reasons known to you. I’m also not encouraging you to run out and try these services–but if any one of them appeal to you, and you decide to try one, I would love to know which one(s) you tried and how you liked it.

Anyway. . . .

The basic premise of the meal kit is similar to Graze’s subscription service, but what comes in these boxes are ingredients to cook full meals with no waste. Everything is included, including recipe cards with instructions, all the ingredients, down to tiny packets of spices and condiments, and the recipe and instructions to make it. (That’s a bone of contention with some folks.) If the recipe calls for one celery stalk, that’s what you’ll find in the box–one stalk, not a whole bunch. The packaging is also recyclable and compostable to further reduce waste (you can also return the packaging to them for re-use.) The means to make a fresh, home-cooked gourmet meal comes shipped in dry ice, and I think it takes about 30 minutes to prepare (but don’t quote me on that one.)

There are no leftovers, and no containers of that spice that you probably wouldn’t buy again unless you were making this particular dish again, one day, and wanted to make sure you had that spice around. If the recipe calls for a half-teaspoon of celery seeds and a quarter teaspoon of celery salt, that’s what’s included, in tiny little containers. (Salt, pepper and oil are assumed to be already in your kitchen and are not included.)

The companies all offer menus, and you pick from those menus based on preferences, dietary restrictions, etc.The shopping and prepping has been done for you, and shipped to you in an ice-packed box that is waiting for you when you get home. Easy, right?

One advantage–which may or may not be appealing–is that there isn’t a “broker” between you and the ingredients (that is, your grocery store.) Ingredients tend to be fresher (from what I’ve read) than buying them in the grocery store. Think about it–once that bell pepper or fennel bulb is in your grocery waiting for you, it’s traveled from heaven knows where, and may not even last long enough for you to buy it. Grocery stores toss out a fair amount of soggy, limp produce–but the meal kit gets the ingredients are directly from the producers and into your hands days before you’d find it in your local market. Shipped with dry ice, it’s ready for you to open, cut, peel and cook.

You can sign up to receive free recipes by email from Blue Apron, and you can check out their cookbook online for free. Blue Apron also has an online market where you can purchase kitchenware, bakeware, tools, pots and pans, books, binders, spices, and of course, lovely blue aprons, for yourself or for gifts.

Now the big question: how much does it cost? Well, they vary from company to company. You can see Blue Apron’s pricing plan here for two people and for a family of four. It works out to $9.99 per meal for a two-person kit, and $8.74 per meal for a four-person kit. Terra’s Kitchen offers farm-to-table ingredients, shipped in a “reusable, eco-friendly vessel,” and their online menu shows a range from $11.99 per meal to $17.99 per meal, although a better explanation is in their FAQs. Terra’s Kitchen also offers gluten-free, vegetarian and Paleo menus. PR Newswire also has this article on Terra’s Kitchen, and explains that you’ll spend $160 for 10 meals from 5 recipes, which assumes dinner for two for a week, or $16 a meal.

Now, why would someone use a service like these and spend that kind of money? The answer is obvious: convenience. However, after reading comments on this article on The Kitchn, I realized that it’s not just urban yuppies who are too lazy to shop (although I’m sure there are a few of those in the mix.)  This comment was particularly telling:

I wouldn’t call myself a lazy person. I am able at times to get to the store to buy the type food the send weekly. But I am handicapped, am my illness prevents me at times to even think of what I’m going to once my feet touch the floor in the morning. So please b4 you comment think of how convenient it is for some people to have food delivered to your home. It’s healthy food and preparing it helps exercise my mind.

Never thought about that. Seriously–how many shut-ins who can’t get out like they used to could benefit from delivered meal kits? It would also make a nice gift for newlyweds, new parents, etc.

Another suggestion in the comments was for folks going to a vacation rental to have a meal kit delivered to the location with a few days worth of supplies so that you don’t have to visit restaurants every night, and can cook for yourself a few times. Not bad, right?

And another comment was about learning to cook with guidance from these meal kits:

A friend of mine who doesn’t cook told me about this, and for the convenience of them doing the shopping for him, giving him the confidence or learn how to cook, this is a great idea.

Are they worth it? That depends on you. Blue Apron’s menus are limited, but Plated’s are a little more flexible, from what I read.

If you’re considering utilizing one of these services, The Kitchn has two articles on the subject (here and here) with lots of comments from people have used Blue Apron and other meal kit companies. Read the article AND the comments before you put up your credit card. A lot of folks who have used these services have a lot to say (not just complaints), and their different perspectives might be what you need to know before you decide.

With all of these companies, I noticed that you could cancel at any time, (it’s not like the infamous “forever” gym membership) and they will work with you to resolve any issues like missed deliveries. Much like Graze, you go online and tell them if you want a future delivery, get more boxes, or if you want to skip a week (which, I think, is 3 meals in one packaged delivery.)

Again, I haven’t tried these companies out myself, but I might try a few of them in the future, just to see what it’s like. I’m used to thinking about something I want to make, shopping for it, cooking it up, and enjoying it for a few days. For me, it’s kind of tough to wrap my head around–you’ll make beef noodle something, and here is exactly what you need to make it. There are so many subscription services available now that you can get pretty much whatever you want in a little box delivered. No kidding–coffee, tea, doggie biscuits, pantyhose, makeup, shaving blades and kits–the list is endless. If there’s something you want delivered regularly, do a search, and you just might a subscription for it. That’s on top of Amazon’s Subscribe & Save service, where you can have things you use regularly like grocery items, health & beauty things and baby stuff like diapers sent to you on a recurrent basis, often at a discount. For instance, a few years ago, when I couldn’t find the shade of L’Oreal hair color I wanted in stores, I set up a regular delivery of it, and it cost less than it did when I bought it locally.

Back to the foodie part.

If you’d like some of the benefits of these meal kits but for less money, there is another option called GatheredTable. It’s an online custom meal planner that includes a grocery list, recipe library with collections like “Crave Worthy Winter Salads,” “Date Night In” and “Game Day Favorites.” You can start out with a free subscription and get to the recipes, but to continue and get the full benefit of the site, it’s $86 for a year’s subscription paid at once, or an option to try it out for 99 cents for the first month, and $10 monthly after that. What you get for the money are weekly meal plans, “smart” grocery lists that are based on what you like to eat, “curated” recipes that are tested (as well as user-submitted recipes in the library). The benefit is that you save time and money by planning more, eating out less and create less waste. There is a huge library of recipes, and you can submit your own as well. You can clip and save your favorites and find new ones you might like. But you’re back to doing the shopping. Since my meal planning adventures include cooking for a week, I don’t know that it would necessarily benefit me. If I suddenly found myself cooking for a family or a group, then it would probably come in handy. Up to you.

Another option (if you like free) is in this article on using Google Sheets for meal planning and shopping. Note that you’ll need a basic idea of using spreadsheets, but since it’s cloud-based, the list can be shared among two or more people. Would that help? Best part–it’s free, all you’ll need is a Gmail account.

Meal kits are another option for folks who like to cook, but may not necessarily have the time to do the shopping or prep work involved in nightly meals. If you’re interested, do some reading, and if you know someone who’s tried it, ask them about it too.

Meantime, I think the time is right for some Pea & Pesto Soup for me. It’s a beautiful winter day here in Houston, and I’m ready for some.

Happy Dining!

 

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The mGuard User Conference in Houston

The mGuard User Conference in Houston

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

This, I believe, is the longest blog post I’ve ever written. You are forewarned to get your coffee now, before you start, so you can read the whole thing. Naturally, I have a lot to tell you, and there are many pictures. So get your coffee, tea, muffin, or whatever else you like to drink or nibble, and settle in for a lot of info, foodie and not. This is also the first blog post with a lot of technical information in it–I hope it’s understandable even if you aren’t an IT professional.

And away we go!

Remember a couple of years ago I wrote about The Day of Two Desserts?  It’s happened again, but not quite in the same way. And I think it’s more than two. Oh, yeah–fallen WAY off the “healthy eating” wagon again. It was delicious.

Last week I was lucky enough to go to a conference here in Houston that was not only interesting, but diverse in flavors. Believe it or not, it wasn’t food-related, either! The mGuard User Conference, held at the the Marriott West Loop by the Galleria (ironically located next door to the Houston location of my alma mater, Tulane University), was specifically for IT people in industrial cyber-security. Like the last one, I was the lone copywriter in attendance. I passed on the cocktail reception of affiliate Phoenix Contact’s Customer Technology Center the night before; it was a really long drive on Beltway 8 with tolls, and then a 40-mile drive home at night. . .then I would have to get up early the next morning. No. I missed breakfast on the first day, but managed to make it on Thursday. I’ll explain a bit more about that Houston traffic later.

I had a schedule, but I had no idea there were delicious breakfasts AND lunches included in this conference, as well as Seattle’s Best Coffee and snacks all day long!  And yes, I did again forget the words “gluten-free” and just said “thank you.” Oh, and dinner at NASA. Keep reading, I’ll tell you all about it.

The purpose of attending this conference, like the trade show two weeks prior, was to network and market myself to people who are most likely to need a copywriter who understands things about IT. After 8 years in IT supporting the space program, I do understand things like cloud computing, data centers, and I get Big Data. I knew exactly what APT meant, too–“Advanced Persistent Threat,” a really bad one that doesn’t stop; they just keep trying. So I market myself and talk to people who deal with these things every day. In this case, these are people who are on the front lines of cyber-security, and keeping people safe. It’s not just about messing with your Twitter account.

Now, again, it wasn’t about the food, and it wasn’t why I went. (That’s what we call a “benefit” or “bonus.”) Nor was the cool coffee cup and the neat little laser pointer and tiny flashlight. (I don’t have a cat anymore, so I can just laser-point to stuff on my desk.)  I watched two live hacking demonstrations, one that showed how an mGuard product blocked a direct attack. (I also have product information to read more about them, so I can write articles for my copywriting website about these things.) Towards the end, those nice little cards they had on the tables with Marriott logo came in handy for me to write headlines. One man from Austin saw me later and told me he saw me writing feverishly! Well, that’s the truth–I couldn’t take notes fast enough, then the bug for headlines hit me, and I thought my hand was going to fall off.

During the first live hacking demonstration, it took about ten minutes for the bloke to sign in, bypass security and hack his way into something. When you’re talking about a chemical plant, or the steel mill’s blast furnace that was hacked in Germany, you’re dealing with loss of life, damage in the physical plant, trade secrets being lost and exploited and shutdown of operations. In most, if not all cases, cyber-attacks can, and will, cost the company a lot of money.

One speaker pointed out that a DOS (“denial of service”) attack, which floods the target’s site rendering it unusable, can be had online for about $150. No kidding. No, I have no plans to shop for a hacker. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. With more and more of everything moving online onto The Internet of Things, the threat and dangers of people with ill intent is a bigger and bigger deal. (As well as a bigger industry.)

Industrial cyber-security involves keeping attacks from places like chemical plants, which we have here in Pasadena, and in places like Chalmette, La. (My Grandmother lived in nearby Arabi, in St. Bernard Parish.) Anywhere that can suffer massive damage from a network intrusion is vulnerable. With the news about Big Data revolutionizing efficiency of operations at Rolls-Royce’s industrial division, cyber-security is more important than ever. Listen–Rolls-Royce is working on self-sailing ships, much like Google’s (in)famous self-driving car. Remember the movie Speed? Can you imagine one of the self-sailing ships getting hacked and hijacked? Every old disaster film would be coming true in a heartbeat–that’s how fast someone can get into a network, and nobody knows what’s happening until it’s over and they have to do damage assessment and disaster recovery. It’s a really big deal.

Oh, and how does this happen so easily? In so many offices, there are User IDs and passwords on a Post-It note on monitors, because they just HAVE to keep that handy. Handy for someone interested in sabotage too, but for some reason, it doesn’t dawn on these folks to keep it safe. I used to keep that on a Post-It note, too–locked in my desk drawer at all times until needed. But then, I worked in IT, and had mandatory training in things like that. I also paid attention.

Other inroads to critical network infrastructure could be by service people connecting to the customer’s network with their own laptop and taking malware back to their company. Even worse, receiving a “vetted” flash drive from a client and finding out how badly it was infected, because no security updates were done in a long time. Or their current security didn’t stop something. Happens all the time.

It was pointed out very well when I found one of the little cards on the table with this handwritten on it:

What happens when Josh does field service and plugs his computer into the customer’s network?

Well. . .anything can happen, really. Or Josh could go into the network and have a field day–depends on whose side he’s on. Or he could just have a little fun with making the network entertaining. However, I don’t know Josh, so you see why it’s a big deal.

No, there is no 100% fail-safe solution, no “magic pill.” But what works best is a combination of good security hardware and software, due diligence in keeping up with updates and security patches, and staying on top of educating employees on the importance of best practices for security, and making sure they are followed on a daily basis. That’s how you can best keep a network safe in an industrial setting. (Crossing your fingers helps on top of that, too.)

One of mGuard’s many offerings are a private cloud and a VPN (virtual private network.) I actually have a VPN on my small laptop that I travel with, so I also know how that works. Lot safer than being hacked at Starbucks–and that’s true of company laptops, too–and I’ve done that as well.

One point made that there are basically three types of people who can do damage by getting into computer systems: governmental agencies (FBI, CIA, etc.), hackers (i.e., Anonymous) and. . .employees. And who is the most likely individual to do something like this? The one who wears the company’s badge.

LOTS of talk about The Internet of Things. I mentioned that term recently when I wrote about the Internet-connected Crock Pot. I mentioned the Rolls-Royce story to Sid Snitkin from ARC Advisory Group, and asked him if he thought things were becoming techie for the sake of being techie. He agreed–the tech guys want to do more and are pushing the envelope. I told him about the Wemo-enabled Crock Pot that you can remotely control with an app, and asked him the same question: “Do you really want your dinner connected to your Wi-Fi?” Mr. Snitkin hadn’t heard about that Crock-Pot, but was quite amused by it.

On the long tables in the conference rooms were little IKEA bowls with hard candy (I checked the bottom, the tags were still on them) and pitchers of water with small glasses. I helped myself to some ice water and noticed something in the bottom of the glass. I thought there was something that fell out of the pitcher! No, just a design element:

A bubble.

A bubble.

 

Yes, there’s a bubble in the base of the glass. EVERY drinking glass in this hotel (or at least the ones we used.)  Scared the daylights out of me for a minute until I realized what it was. Just a little bubble in the base. Jury’s still out on whether it’s a good element or not.

Now. . .let’s get to the food. Remember when I said I believe you can’t have a bad meal in a Marriott? I still believe that.

While I missed breakfast the first day, I was graciously invited to lunch AND dinner. Both were wonderful. Lunch on the first day was Italian. . .oh, was it ever. We started out with Cesar Salad and an antipasti spread with grilled veg, prosciutto, salami and provolone cheese. Then the hot plates held delicious tortellini with cheese and pesto and roast chicken. Yes, I had a few of the really delicious tortellini, even though it was *not* my birthday. I passed up the bread sticks and butter, but I could smell the wonderful bread-y aroma.

Then I found dessert on the other side. I thought it was like the tiny Tiramisu I had two weeks before at another Marriott hotel, but I couldn’t see that far. Get a look at this:

Cheesecake and small cannoli. They were about the length of your index finger.

Cheesecake and small cannoli. They were about the length of your index finger.

 

A closer look at the delicious cannolli:

Delicious, not too sweet, with pistachios and chocolate. There is nothing wrong here.

Delicious, not too sweet, with pistachios and chocolate. There is nothing wrong here.

Never mind how many cannolis I might have accidentally eaten. Obviously, any dieting became vaporware at that point. (For you non-techie folks, that means it went away in light of such deliciousness. POOF! Gone.) I wish I could have brought home a few for my Neighbor R, but I didn’t have a way to get them home without smashing them in my business bag. Long time ago, I had one of those hard-sided briefcases for college, but. . .it’s gone, and they don’t make them like that anymore.

Now, deliciousness didn’t end there. I noticed that there was a “dinner at NASA,” but had no idea what I was in for. You can read more about it here, but we were in for a real treat. Retired astronaut Dr. Storey Musgrave was our keynote speaker at Space Center Houston, and he had a lot to say. He’s a really nice man, too–he took pictures with anyone who asked, and before the Phoenix Contact official photographer took my picture, I begged him for a selfie:

Me and the wonderful Dr. Musgrave.

Me and the wonderful Dr. Musgrave.

I made it smaller so it’s not badly pixelated (and because I look bad enough.) Thank heavens I bought a 3 Way Poncho at the holidays; unfortunately, I shrunk the black one this weekend!

Dinner was a bit simpler but no less delicious at NASA. Servers walked around with appetizers, which included. . .BACON WRAPPED SHRIMP! I don’t remember what else they had–I was only interested in the shrimp, but difficult as resistance was, I didn’t eat THAT many.  For dinner, we were served some tasty fish, stewed beef, green beans, and even French fries! (I passed on the bread, which many folks used to make sandwiches with the beef.) When those of us who drove arrived, dessert was already out, and I was able to talk to one of the servers beforehand. Take a look at this beautiful tart:

The pie of mystery.

The tart of mystery.

I wasn’t sure what kind it was; the lighting in Space Center Houston is not conducive to a culinary event, since its focus is on space, science and everything related to it. I asked one of the very nice servers what it was; they were working their paws off, so the man I talked to was caught short. He couldn’t remember! I asked, “is it blueberry, by chance?” YES–it was. Mystery solved. So after dinner, and before Dr. Musgrave’s wonderful presentation, this is how that lovely tart was served:

Blast off to heaven, y'all.

Blast off to heaven, y’all.

You weren’t expecting freeze-dried anything, were you? Freeze-dried “astronaut food” is actually for sale at the gift shop during business hours, but no, this was the real thing. Like I said, any thoughts of “diet” and “clean eating” became vaporware at that point. Yes, it was worth it–and like a holiday, not a regular thing for me. (At this writing I’m back on the clean eating again.)

You may have heard the story about the Galileo shuttle craft from the original Star Trek series that was passed around and fell into disrepair. It was bought and restored by fans, and is now parked at Space Center Houston:

The Galileo shuttlecraft, used to go from the Enterprise to other ships or planets via the cargo bay (I think.)

The Galileo shuttlecraft, used to go from the Enterprise to other ships or planets via the cargo bay (I think.)

You can’t actually go IN the Galileo; it’s not really a space ship. The article can tell you more; it’s just an empty prop. The scenes that were aboard the Galileo were actually shot on a Desilu sound stage. Behind the Galileo (out of sight) is a replica of the console that you saw on the show. And of course, there’s a board nearby with the history of it, too. Neat, huh?

You’ll be happy to know that I did NOT indulge in the open bar, even though I was just a few miles from home. Two reasons: one, I don’t drink and drive, and two, it’s not nice to run the risk of getting tipsy in front of people you might be doing business with. Just not good business practice. Now, there was an executive coach to and from the hotel, but I didn’t want to go back to town then drive home again. There were also adult beverages on the bus, but no facilities. I didn’t hear about anyone having problems, so I guess everything went fine.

The folks on the bus also had a first-hand look at what us locals were talking about when we said “Houston traffic.” The event organizers were told by several local attendees to LEAVE EARLY, so they adjusted the schedule in order to do that. I myself left the hotel at 4 in order to get home and change. I arrived home at 5:30, and had just enough time to change, freshen up, change my jewelry and drive to NASA. Those of us who did that arrived before the buses.

The buses were able to take the HOV (“high-occupancy vehicle”) lanes, which means 2 or more passengers. (In New Orleans, it’s 7.)  Since I was taking METRO park-and-ride buses in the 9 months I worked downtown, I saw all the traffic while we passed it; at least, until the bus stopped for traffic in the HOV lanes. The passengers were shocked to see the amount of traffic; most came from smaller places, with a few from nearby Baton Rouge, LA. We who live here know what’s out there, and they found out we weren’t kidding. Houston was the 4th largest city in the US when I moved here in 1998; now it’s 3rd, but only by a fine margin. In the last six or seven years, Houston traffic has quadrupled with so many people migrating here, and there’s no sign of that slowing down. When companies like U-Haul show statistics that their trucks keep going to Texas, you know what’s going on.

It’s the Great State of Texas for a reason. But really–we’re full, OK? Austin is bursting at the seams with the Californians who tend to chose it over Dallas or Houston, and even the Austinites aren’t happy about that. So please, we can’t handle any more mass inbound migration.

The next day, Thursday, I managed to make it for breakfast. I left home at 6:30, and spent 30 minutes on a stretch of road near home that took me about 2 miles. Amazingly, though, I handed the key to a valet right at 8:00 am, and was able to eat some delicious eggs, sausage, bacon, and coffee until it was time to go to the seminars.

Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention was that not only was there a retail Starbucks on the first floor lobby, we were actually served Seattle’s Best Coffee, which is smoother than the sharper-edged Starbucks coffee. (I’m talking about brewed coffee, not the fancier Frappuccino stuff.)  AND–get this–they had flavored syrups available! Upstairs they had sugar-free hazelnut! ! It was like they knew I was coming, and all that decaf was just for me! So awesome!

Another wonderful thing we were treated to (at least, in the ladies’ room) was the opportunity to try this from Sun Coast Salts:

The one-minute hand massage. Smells as good as it looks.

The one-minute hand massage. Smells as good as it looks.

 

Yes, I was indeed tempted to bring a jar the next day and take it home–but I didn’t. I’ll get some soon. This one is called Ocean Breeze, and was also available in the Marriott gift shop (but of course, I forgot to stop there on the way out.)  I couldn’t find the company’s location on the website, other than to say they charge sales tax for purchases made in Texas. Someone told me they were in Galveston, which would make sense. It smells wonderful, and really does exfoliate your hands when you massage it for a minute or so. Rinse really well, especially if you are wearing rings.

If you need a nice gift for someone soon and are out of ideas, I just gave you one. You’re welcome.

I also lucked out and walked right up to the hotel’s general manager, a nice man named Reed Randolph. I told him how tasty lunch was on Wednesday, and he said that Thursday’s was going to be even better. It was.

Mr. Randolph also sent me some additional pictures of their food styling at the Marriott West Loop for your enjoyment.

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photo

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photo(1)

You’re welcome.

Before I talk about Thursday’s lunch, let me drop in a little cultural history. Texas has a long history of Hispanic cultural influences, from both the American side (like Spaniards that found their way here) and the Mexican side. (Yes, I know, California, Arizona and New Mexico, too, but this is about Texas.)  One of those is Mexican food, which has morphed into what’s called “Tex-Mex.” That is, Mexican food with Texas influences, leading to all kinds of tasty things. My Dad will tell you that Mexican food all tastes the same, and doesn’t understand why I, born and raised in New Orleans, developed a taste for it when I got older. One manager I used to work with at Boeing would say that “Mexican food is just the same five ingredients arranged differently.” That’s funny, but I don’t really agree. But when it comes to taste, everything is relative–one person’s favorite thing to eat is another person’s “won’t-touch-it-with-a-ten-foot-pole.” Me and the GER both love cilantro, but there are some people for whom cilantro tastes like dish soap, including Ina Garten, The Barefood Contessa. No kidding.

Hispanic folks have been migrating to Texas for, well, quite a long time, and it’s not uncommon to find Spanish-speaking folks in places like Chinese buffets and even the odd Japanese steak house, either serving or working in the kitchen. You can bet that they do NOT speak Japanese, even if they speak perfect English. Many of the servers at the Marriott were nice (short) Hispanic ladies with lovely accents, and were very helpful. Why do I bring this up? Lunch on Thursday.

Thursday they served us. . .Mexican food. Oh, YES!!! Now, going out for Mexican food in Houston is like going out for red beans & rice or a shrimp/oyster po-boy in New Orleans. But mGuard is a company based in Germany, and I’d guess that at least 50% of the attendees were from out of town. (There were many German accents in that conference, too–so how often can you get a burrito in Berlin?)  I had breakfast with two men from Canada, and one was born in Africa; they worked for the same company. (I told one of them about Nite Guard, since he and his wife are battling raccoons, and are forbidden by Canadian law to defend themselves against the invasive critters.) Another nice man was born in Argentina. You get the idea–many folks don’t have the opportunity to have really good Mexican food like we do here, on nearly every street. So this was a treat for some faraway guests. I hope they enjoyed it.

Tamales are a traditional Mexican thing, and, I’m told, a lot of trouble, so most folks don’t make them all the time, and save them for Christmas. Having eaten a good sampling of tamales in my life, I have yet to have a bad one. So imagine my surprise when, along with the Ancho salad dressing with the surprise heat, I find TAMALES. Oh, yes. . .I had two, they were small. There was also fajita fixings, but I skipped the tortillas and just had the fillings.

One taste, and you know there were some Mexican abuelas (grandmothers) working in the kitchen. Nobody makes tamales like a Mexican grandma!

Then I saw it–dessert.

IMG_2102[1]

Isn’t it beautiful?

Say it with me: Flaaaaaan. . . .

Yes, it was rich, creamy and just the perfect amount of sweet with whipped cream on top. If you’ve never had a real flan, consider finding a recipe and making one. Fortunately, I missed the churros that were also there, otherwise I’d need help getting down the stairs. (No elevator up there, just some steep stairs.)  Last time I had churros was at the Marriott in Delray Beach, Fl, at Bootcamp. They served it with melted Nutella. . .I’m so glad I missed them this time, or I would have slept through the next session on Securing The Internet of Things.

After all the sessions and the networking coffee breaks, we had a short but interesting Q&A session, and then it was over. I brought home two of these lovely coffee cups, with permission, since there were a number of them left over, and gave one to Neighbor R:

For use while working on your Virtual Private Network.

Intended only for use with Virtual Private Coffee Pot.

Unlike last time, I did pay for parking, but it was $20 for both days, and is a business expense, since I went to do some marketing. The valets were also very nice.

You know, nobody says on their deathbed, “I’m so glad I passed on that cannoli.” Sure, if I were allergic I would have skipped a number of things. But since I don’t. . .I had some. Despite my luck to attend two conferences in a month’s time, I do not have these kinds of opportunities very often.

In the afternoon there were some hubcap-sized cookies along with fruit and granola bars. I took two cookies with me intending to bring them to Neighbor R on Thursday evening. However, when it was over, I went to Trader Joe’s in town for a few things, and was in traffic long enough to where I was chewing my nails. . .so the giant chocolate chip and oatmeal-raisin cookies kept me from starvation on the I-610 South loop to I-45 South. But I got Neighbor R three bottles of her favorite Pinot Grigio wine from Trader Joe’s, and she forgave me for eating the cookies. (Yes, they were delicious, too.)

Many thanks to mGuard, Phoenix Contact and Innominate for such an interesting, informative conference and graciously allowing me to attend and network. (And eat!)

Many thanks to Reed Randolph and his wonderful staff at the Marriott West Loop for making the conference a success with such tasty food and personalized service.

Many thanks to Space Center Houston and Dr. Story Musgrave for a memorable event–and the selfie!

And many thanks to the awesome Joshua Boswell, whose training is slowly giving me the confidence to go out and do things like this without feeling really stupid.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go exercise until I drop. Not going to get anywhere if I don’t. If it rains, the bike will stay indoors and I’ll get back on the Nordic Track.

I’ve got a few posts in the draft folder that I hope to finish for you soon. Meantime, have some good food, and enjoy it.

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

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Part 2: The HeatCageKitchen Christmas!

Part 2: The HeatCageKitchen Christmas!

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry I dropped the ball again. . .but there’s more to tell about Christmas dinner. And dessert, of course!

If you’re in the US, you’re likely freezing your butt off. I know I have been, but heck, I love it. I’ve got firelogs, and the little laptop in the living room with the fireplace burning all day long (including early this morning.) It’s been raining in addition to being cold, so there’s been coffee, tea, yeast-free hot chocolate and more tea.

And if you’re Down Under, you’ve got shrimp on the barbie. Enjoy them for me, OK?

On the sewing side, I finally finished the hot/cold grocery bag LAST NIGHT. (On the pattern, it’s bag E.) What I’ll show you is the prototype for the planned gifts for Neighbor K and Neighbor R that didn’t happen. First, I used up some denim that R had given me a few years ago, because I thought it would be great. Nope. Too thick. Then I couldn’t sew on the Velcro, even with the help of a friend who sews.The bag has actually been stitched up for quite a long time. So a few months ago in Joann Fabrics I came across contact cement. Hey–my Dad used it all the time on stuff! So I bought a bottle (with a coupon, of course) and finally, yesterday, I finished the darn thing:

The Hot/Cold grcocery bag, Butterick #5338

The Hot/Cold grcocery bag, Butterick #5338

I had to wait until I could work outside, and the rain has stopped for a few days. Contact cement has some mind-bending fumes, and I can’t afford to get bended, you know. This is the side of it:

That little flap holds it onto the rack that the bags sit on. Neat, huh?

That little flap holds it onto the rack that the bags sit on. Neat, huh?

This is the inside, though this is one time it doesn’t look like the pattern envelope picture. Hey–at least it’s not a cocktail dress:

The hot/cold quilted batting that will, hopefully, keep milk cold and a rotisserie chicken hot on the way home.

The hot/cold quilted batting that will, hopefully, keep milk cold or a rotisserie chicken hot on the way home.

Next time I go to Trader Joe’s, or even HEB, I’ll give it a field test and let you know how it works. That inside fabric is $10 a yard–it better work great!

Now to continue with the holidays. . . .

So I wondered what to have for Christmas dinner, and despite my love for roasting turkey, I went with chicken. Specifically, two small organic chickens, and a recipe from Suzanne Somers’ Sexy Forever Recipe Bible, called Zannie’s Perfect Roast Chicken. It really was, and simple, too. After rinsing them off, you rub some garlic on it, there’s lemon, onion, and a bunch of herbs. Oh, heck, let me show you–this is the actual recipe from the book:

This is actually one of the pictures--I don't know her personally!

This is actually one of the pictures–I don’t know her personally!

Two organic chickens piled high with herbs and stuff.

Two organic chickens piled high with herbs and stuff.

I took out my really big roasting pan and went after it. I topped it with slices of butter before putting it into the oven. I left it completely alone in the oven. And after two hours, I had some delicious chicken that I enjoyed for quite a while:

Some of the best chicken ever.

Some of the best chicken ever.

While that was in the oven I was making some of my favorite sweet potatoes, and also made a complicated but interesting dessert involving gelatin. I showed you the finished product in the last post, but this is the long process to make it.

You can find the recipe for Cafe Gelatin here, and my comment at the bottom from the first time I made it.

The first layer is a espresso panna cotta layer, which involves ground espresso and filtering it through cheesecloth.

Filtering the espresso panna cotta layer

Cheesecloth filtering

Because you use real ground espresso in this, not instant, and you don’t want to crunch down on a coffee ground. Next up is the absolutely vexing espresso gelatin layer:

This is what will be diced and added to the top later

This is what will be diced and added to the top later

 

I say “vexing” because if you scroll past the recipe, you’ll see my comment from 2008, the first time I made this recipe. Unfortunately, the same thing happened this time–needs a little more gelatin than the recipe specifies. I could do it for the stuff in the baking dish, but it was a bit too late for the stuff I poured into the glasses:

You can't see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here.

You can’t see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here.

The espresso gelatin layer doesn’t set like it should because there isn’t enough gelatin in it. Like the last time, I re-boiled the remainder, added a bit more, and set it back in the fridge for later.

Now to make sure each glass came out exactly right, I used a good ol’ Pyrex measuring cup:

Never underestimate the power of the right measuring cups.

Never underestimate the power of the right measuring cups.

I know, people might eyeball it, but even though it was for me, I wanted to make absolutely sure it came out as good as I could get it.

Now, in between each layer, it had to go into the fridge to set, so I covered them with plastic wrap just in case:

The espresso panna cotta layer, going into the fridge

The espresso panna cotta layer, going into the fridge

Of course once that’s set up well, you add 2 tablespoons of the espresso gelatin layer on top, and let that set. Then you get on with the vanilla panna cotta layer, and when the time is right, strain that with cheesecloth like the first layer, and pour a quarter cup into each glass, over the espresso gelatin layer, like this:

This one came out perfect.

This one came out perfect. Sort of.

Since the espresso gelatin layer didn’t set up well, I had to be VERY careful pouring in the top layer, or the espresso gelatin would bubble up, just like the first time, and not make it as pretty. Are you seeing the problem?

You can't see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here.

You can’t see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here. Darnit.

So I poured each quarter cup in by tablespoons until it was done.

I know, you’d think I was serving Christmas Lunch to HRH Queen Elizabeth. No, just me. But I want to get it right, because it’s SO good.

So back into the fridge they went for longer, and the rest of the espresso gelatin was firming up too. Meantime, I made my favorite Spicy Sweet Potatotes with regular paprika and no cayenne. When those were done, so was the chicken:

Some of the best chicken ever.

Some of the best chicken ever.

So while Queen Elizabeth might not have been impressed, I thought it was pretty tasty and was pretty darn happy with it. And of course, at the end, I ran a knife through the espresso gelatin in the baking dish to make tiny dices, and fixed up the final part of the delicious sugar-free dessert:

Ahhh. . .finally!

Ahhh. . .finally! Definitely NOT Jell-O.

Yes, eventually, it was worth it. Had I gotten up earlier I could have been done earlier, but you know how that goes.

Neighbor R wasn’t home, but K was, and I offered her one. (I had six. She got a perfect looking one.) She didn’t have it right away, but I did point out that it was made with Somersweet, so no guilt. A day or two later when she finally got to it, I got a text message: “Excellente, chica!” She loved it. And rightly so–it’s a nice, refreshing dessert that even works on Christmas.
Now that the holdiays are over, we’re all on diets again, right? I am, actually, the yeast-free diet that I’ve written about before. Why? Heartburn. . .but I was sick in October, so the antibiotics started that process. Then all the dairy, sweet stuff. . .well, you know. Sugar feeds yeast, that’s all I’m saying. . .so I’m back on it with some Yeast Control and missing the milk in my coffee already.

I’ve got more updates coming soon. Happy New Year!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year!!

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Did you have a great holiday period? Even good? Did you eat some good food? Great food? Of course I did! But I hope everyone enjoyed everything, even if you’re groaning about it now. It was delicious, but we move on to better eating and exercise, at least for a while.

The big holiday is over, and now everyone is trying to figure out how the heck to get back into their clothes that are suddenly tight. Well, you’ve got options: yoga, walking/running, weight training, Pilates, take your pick.

I am in pain. My feet hurt, my elbows hurt, my shoulder hurts, my back hurts, and yes, my butt hurts. For the last two weeks I have been doing what most people call “spring cleaning.” I figured that nobody was doing anything in the corporate world (including marketing departments) so I took the two week holiday period and cleaned the closets, my desk, all of it. The process of cleaning started because Neighbor K was worried about all the fabric and the possibility of another mouse in ‘da house. Well, all the fabric scraps are now sealed into huge Ziploc bags, patterns all went into huge plastic containers with click-to-seal tops, and then. . .the closets needed cleaning. The bathroom needed a cleaning and re-arranging. The kitchen, with the exception of the pantry, also got a once-over. Then the desk area, including the filing cabinet. The living room, the bedroom, and then finally, carpet cleaning. I also had to clean dog and cat hair from the carpet cleaner, since Neighbor K uses it occasionally and buys the soap for us to use. (That’s nice of her!)

I made five trips to the Salvation Army on NASA Road 1, the last one being today. After the third trip, just for fun, I did a bit of shopping and found a fabulous pair of knee-high boots with heels on them that actually FIT. My calves are large from years of walking and driving a 5-speed manual transmission, so most knee-high boots don’t fit me, much less with jeans on. They were not expensive, either, and look like they were never worn. The no-slip rubber soles make them safe. A dose of shoe polish made them look fantastic. I’m going to town tomorrow, and I think I’ll wear them with that new Guy Larouche jacket I finally finished New Year’s Eve.

Finally--3 years later!!

Finally–3 years later!!

Yes, it’s supposed to look like that. Check out the pattern if you don’t believe me.

It’ll be cold enough.

I also went to Half Price Books twice, returned an old cell phone to Verizon for recycling, and put out several extra bags of trash, including two huge bags of shredding. I can’t believe I still had old stuff that should have been discarded and/or shredded a long time ago, but I keep finding stuff to get rid of. Friend of the blog ND has also been going through boxes that she hasn’t looked through in years. She said it was the track of her life, then realized that if she didn’t make it home one day, her family would find all that stuff. I reminded her that if there’s anything she doesn’t want anyone to find, now is the time to get rid of it–while she still can!

So now the whole HeatCageKitchen headquarters is neat and organized for 2015. Soon I’ll be working in the garden, which, surprisingly, is now free of weeds since my August experiment with non-toxic weed killer. I just noticed it the other day–a little grass, but NO WEEDS. Hot DAWG!!

I have a confession: I did indeed make the biscotti I blogged about right before Christmas. I got up Christmas morning and made them first, carefully dipping them into the chocolate and carefully sprinkling on some French grey sea salt just like in the picture.

I told you I made some.

The exalted biscotti

Guess what? They were AWFUL! No joke–they were OK before the chocolate dip, but once I finished them off, yuck. They just did NOT entertain my palette. So, my apologies. I had planned to give some to Neighbor K, but that idea tanked quick. I ate them, but mostly to get rid of them. K says they are awful because they are gluten free. Oh, well.

On a recent trip to a local go-to grocery, I saw this sign:

Seriously?

Seriously?

Please explain to me how bananas are “no gas.” Bananas are high in starch/sugar, which is the best way to get gas. A bit like “cancer cures smoking,” isn’t it? But I’m sure a number of folks believed that one, considering what store it was in.

So, let’s start with Christmas lunch, which I enjoyed by myself while the all-day Doctor Who marathon was on. The recipe was Gingery-Hot Duck Salad from Nigella Lawson’s book Nigella Bites. It was partly exotic and partly to use up this duck I bought months and months ago and has been bouncing around in my freezer until I figured out what to do with it. Quack:

IMG_1622[1]

Yes, from American raised duckies.

The instructions on the duck breast call for scoring the fat, so I did as I was told:

It's about the size of a chicken breast, really.

It’s about the size of a chicken breast, really.

And put that baby in a fry pan, skin side down:

IMG_1627[1]

Now it gets interesting, doesn’t it?

While that’s going on, you get on with the salad part. You can find the link to the recipe here, but I will tell you that the American version of the book calls for “one small red chili, finely chopped.” Well, I couldn’t seem to find me a red chile, so this is what I ended up with:

The infamous Scotch bonnet, which is one of the hottest peppers available.

The infamous Scotch bonnet, which is one of the hottest peppers available.

Chop that baby up good:

I even used a knife like Nigella uses! (But that's not one from her collection.)

I even used a knife like Nigella uses! (But that’s not one from her collection.)

Here’s a tip: after handling hot peppers, don’t touch your eyes for any reason. If you do. . .get an eyedropper with milk, and use it. No kidding. If you’re not alone, get help–an eyedropper full of any kind of dairy milk, and drop it in your affected eyes. How do I know this? I had to look it up on a mobile device while my eyes were burning. I did it once with contacts in my eyes, too–and saved the contacts, thank heavens.

Well, anyway. . .you get on with the dressing and the salad part:

Salad!! My favorite!!

Salad!! My favorite!!

The pepper is well chopped, so it’s distributed into the citrus-based dressing. I actually bought some Thai fish sauce just for this recipe; it’s not expensive, and I found it in HEB so I didn’t have to go to Hong Kong Market. Woo hoo!

Duck is not like chicken. Blander, with a slightly gamey taste. I’ve long wanted to cook duck for Christmas, and a whole one was a bit on the high side for me. No matter, I’ll do it one day–just not in a Suzy Homemaker oven.

No, I didn’t get any more Suzy Homemaker appliances, but I look at them every day. I bid on an absolutely pristine Super Grill last weekend but didn’t win it. RATS! Sold for $20 plus shipping. Next time. . . .

I asked Neighbor K if she’d like to have some Christmas lunch, but she declined. (The GER was also invited and declined, he wasn’t feeling terribly festive. Then again, he rarely is without beer.)

So what was for Christmas dinner?

That will be the next blog post, possibly tomorrow. But I’ll leave you with a preview, one of the finished Cafe Gelatins I made just because I wanted it again. Sugar-free and delicious, but a LOT of trouble. I’ll tell you about it next time, too. Take a look:

IMG_1639[1]

I don’t have the fancy $130 per stem wine glasses Martha Stewart used for the photo shoot. Mine are $9.50 a dozen from IKEA. But no matter, they worked just as well. I did offer Neighbor K one, and she accepted. She ate it a day or so later, and texted me that it was “excellente, chica!” Something like that. In other words, she loved it. Me too. Neighbor R was gone for a week, so I sorta finished them off before she got back. YUMMMmm. . . .

I did talk to my sainted aunt a day or so after Christmas, and tried to describe this to her over the phone. She has no computer, so emailing a picture is not an option. She said, “well, I have some sugar-free Jello I can make!” No. . . as I’ve said before, I don’t *DO* Jello. But Auntie doesn’t read this blog, either.

Oh, and dinner was also roast chicken, but not just any chicken. But you’ll have to wait for the next blog to hear all about the Cafe Gelatin and the roast chicken.

Happy New Year!

 

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Pineapple Chicken Mozambique

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Happy Monday! I know, Mondays are awful, right? No, not necessarily, but we’ve been conditioned to believe that they are. It’s just that for a great number of Americans, the work week starts on Monday, and the fun ends until Friday. However, I’ve had enough fantastic Mondays and bloody awful Fridays to be able to tell you that you shouldn’t hang a label on either one.

No, not yet.

I’ve completed watching all 7 seasons of the USA Network super-spy TV show Burn Notice thanks to the free DVDs I get from the library. No, it’s not instant gratification, since you have to order them and wait for them to arrive, but if you’re patient, you can watch a whole lot of stuff for free. Been doing that for 20 years now. I’ve moved on to a BBC program that our Houston PBS station was running but stopped, called New Tricks. It’s about a group of retired police officers under the supervision of a somewhat disgraced Detective Superintendent who is assigned the UCOS, or Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad. I’m on Season One, which I’ve never seen, and I’m waiting on Season 9, which is where the TV station stopped broadcasting it. Season 10 will be out on DVD soon, and I’ll be putting my request in for the library to get it to me when it’s my turn. Smart, well written and impeccably acted by a skilled British cast, there is nothing on American television like it.

One day, when things get a little better, I’m going to have SO many DVDs!! My next DVD player will be region free so I can buy the shows from overseas and watch them. Yes, I already have a few in mind.

So I’ve got a little good news about the HeatCageKitchen garden. First, what’s growing is growing well. Last week’s drought-busting rain helped, even though I do water regularly. However, I’m still fighting off the slugs. Somehow, the darn things are still getting at my basil and pepper plant leaves, although I can’t figure out how. I have discovered that some are finding ways around the eggshells, particularly on the basil. GRRRRRR.

Still hoping for a bumper crop for pesto later this year. If not. . .it's off to Trader Joe's for big clam shells full of fresh basil!

The beleaguered basil

Still hoping for a bumper crop for pesto later this year. If not. . .it’s off to Trader Joe’s for big clam shells full of fresh basil! One way or the other, I’ll have lots of pesto in my freezer this winter.

I haven’t done anything with the garlic scapes,which, as you can see, are happy. I’ve gone through some parsley, though.

But the big news is the little strawberry plant that I transplanted into a hanging planter. I think it’s about 3 years old, and last year it got parked in a paint bucket for a while. It’s now producing berries! Right now there are 13 of them in various stages of development, and one is turning red as of this morning:

See it?

See it?

I don’t know if it will fully develop, or what, but it’s trying to. There is one berry that’s developed into the proper shape, but will likely get bigger,and not changing color just yet.

The perfectly shaped berry. I can't wait to eat it!!

The perfectly shaped berry. I can’t wait to eat it.

Oh, boy, I love strawberries, and if this little plants starts putting them out. . .I’ll be one happy foodie.

Week before last, I told you about a replacement book I bought, The 20-Minute Natural Foods Cookbook by Sharon Claessens. I’ve looked through it a few more times and remembered some good food I’d made a long time ago. I think I finally ditched the beat-up copy I had maybe seven, eight years ago, but I remember using it last about the late 1990s, maybe. I remember the ex-husband coming home to my favorite Spaghetti with Garlic Salmon Sauce (page 48), and complaining about the kitchen smelling like “stinky cat food.” No, he wouldn’t eat it, but that’s what he gets for coming home early.

This weekend, feeling a bit nostalgic (and thawing out more chicken than I needed) I decided to make the dish on the back cover of this book, Pineapple Chicken Mozambique. The dish calls for a quarter of a small, ripe pineapple, but all Food Town had was big ones–so I’ve got a lot of chopped up pineapple in the fridge. I’m thinking about putting it on a small baking sheet and freezing it, because I just didn’t intend to have that much left.

Admittedly, I do like pineapple, but not a whole one at once. Yes, I would, in a prior life, occasionally have pizza with pineapple on it, along with ham, sausage, pineapple or some other kind of meat, olives, bell peppers, and whatever else I could remember. I have to say pineapple on pizza might seem weird. . .but it was REALLY good.

I was also out of onions, so I got some, and wouldn’t you know it? No turmeric! I ALWAYS have that orange-looking powder around, but not this time, so I had to get some. And raisins–a six-pack of those little lunch-box sized boxes. I only needed 2 tablespoons, and that’s what one of those boxes provides. I nibbled on a couple, then the rest went into my briefcase and my weekend/non-work bag. Along with a couple of small packets of peanuts, I might be able to survive a long drive home from town without stopping for a bite somewhere.

Now, while this book is all about 20-minute cooking, what they didn’t do in 1982 was mention the prep time. I had to gather up some parsley and chop that, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces, then deal with the huge pineapple. I think the whole thing took about 30 minutes, maybe 35, including prep time, which is still not bad for a quick meal for two people. (or one, if you’re that hungry.).

BTW, you can now buy pineapple already peeled, cubed and and dealt with in most produce sections, as much or as little as you want. THAT’s a time saver we didn’t have back then, too, and why didn’t I think of it yesterday? Next time, I’ll get the pre-cut pineapple instead.

One alteration I made was to use olive oil, not corn oil, since most corn oil (to my knowledge) is hydrogenated. Grapeseed oil, as faithful reader Kanani mentioned last month, might be a good substitute, since it’s a flavorless oil, and would let the good taste of the food come through; however, grapeseed oil can be expensive. While I didn’t have a problem with the olive oil, I may try the grapeseed one day and see if it makes a difference.

Oh, and because they are nearly the same thing, instead of tamari, I used regular soy sauce, the kind you find in packets in nearly every Chinese restaurant in America. (If you are gluten-intolerant, you’ll need to find that kind.)  Soy sauce is fermented, so I don’t have a problem with it, and it provides pretty much all the salt you’ll need anyway.

Also, this dish is intended to “serve with brown rice or whole wheat noodles,” but I bet a little quinoa would work too, or some gluten-free pasta, if you have some. Then again, you could just eat it by itself like I did and have more veg on the side, a salad, or some home-made gluten free bread. Otherwise, without the noodles, it’s what I like to call “gluten free by default.”

Remember, this was an “exotic flavor” back in 1982. So how do you make this golden oldie? Like this.


 

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique

2 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless

1 medium onion

2 teaspoons oil (corn is specified, but I used olive)

1 teaspoon butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 small, ripe pineapple

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (I grow the Italian flat-leaf kind)

2 teaspoons tamari (I used soy sauce)

2 tablespoons lime juice

  1. Cut the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces. Chop the onion.
  2. Heat a medium skillet and add 1 teaspoon oil. Add the butter, then the onion. Stir over medium heat, adding the cinnamon and turmeric. While the onion is cooking, peel the pineapple section and remove the tough inner-core fibers. Cube. Yield should be about 1 cup of pineapple cubes.
  3. When the onion is translucent and slightly tender, remove from the skillet and set aside. Add the remaining oil. Heat the skillet until quite hot, but not smoking, and quickly add the chicken. Stir to brown all sides of the chicken.
  4. When the chicken is just nearly cooked throughout, after 3 to 4 minutes, add the onion, pineapple cubes, raisins, parsley, tamari and lime juice. Heat through and serve.

What you end up with looks like this:

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique!

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique! (The cat food just sits there, honest.)

Want a closer look?

I do love my Splayds!

I do love my Splayds.

The combination of cinnamon and turmeric adds a nice color to the onion and chicken without being overpowering. I do think I should have measured the lime juice instead of just eyeballing it, because it was a bit tart. That, of course, was MY fault.

For a quick and easy meal for two, this is a good one, and you can get the needed ingredients on a quick trip through the express lane, assuming you have none of the onion, the spices, soy sauce, oil and butter, that makes for a supermarket drop-by on the way home. For four people (or more), just a little math is involved, and maybe a bigger pot.

For a busy Monday, or anytime you want something fast, you won’t go wrong with this recipe.

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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Chicken Chili Sunday

Chicken Chili Sunday

Happy Sunday, Dear Readers!

If you’re in Houston, or in the New Orleans area, you’ve probably got your air conditioner back on. I had jeans on earlier and put shorts on when I got home from Kroger. DUH. It’s our OCD weather. Here in Houston, we’ll have chances of rain and another cooling front next week. Will it freeze? Not according to what I saw, but who knows? Sometimes, not even the National Weather Service does, so we just wait and see. They do their best, but you know the old saying, “Man plans, God laughs.” Mother Nature’s like that, too.

If you’re in an area where it’s still freezin’ cold, I’ve got a recipe for you today. Takes a little while, but worth it. Keep reading. VERY delicious, and perfect for cold days.

So, did you OD on chocolate for Valentine’s Day? Did you get your honey a little something nice, or make a great meal? (You didn’t get a “payday loan” to get it, did you?)  I had some hot chocolate, and yesterday, I finally made some yeast-free brownies . I just wanted some, that’s all. I went to Kroger today and didn’t even bother with my usual Sunday treat, a dark chocolate Mounds candy bar–the coconut pieces drenched in chocolate.

Oh, and SOOOOO much red stuff on sale today–candy, stuffed animals, cutesy things, you name it. I saw floral arrangements of every kind with markdown stickers on them. However, I’m not sure why they were trying to sell arrangements with dead flowers in them. Maybe they were just too busy to get rid of them. Unless there’s a market for dead flowers I’m not aware of.

There’s a whole lot of this modern world I’m not aware of. I started to realize this point many years ago when I went out with a guy to a downtown club one night and he asked me point blank after a glass of wine and his second beer if I had any tattoos anywhere. EEEWWWWW!!!  I thought he was thoroughly nuts to ask me that, but later I realized young women started getting tattoos, usually hidden at that time. Not me!! (And yes, he is thoroughly nuts.)  I was told a couple of years later that I should “get over” my aversion to tattoos. Yeah. No, I still don’t have any. Just a number of scars from different injuries (oops!)

Anyway. . . .

Hey, get a load of this weird lime I cut today:

How did they do that?

How did they do that?

Wonder if I can capitalize on it. Nevermind, I already squeezed into a glass of water.

So a couple of weeks ago, neighbor K gave me a pack of chicken tenders, that, quite frankly, don’t fit in the freezer. This was my main motivation for wanting to make Chicken Chili from Barefoot Contessa Parties, but also since I hadn’t had it in a long time. And through a series of events, I finally got the stuff made.

Last time I made this dish I ended up fobbing some off to both neighbor K and neighbor R, because it made SUCH a huge amount. This time, by default, I halved it. I wrote down TWO of each color of the bell peppers, not four, but bought four cans of the tomatoes. Oh, and the tomatoes had basil already in it, but of course I didn’t realize this point and bought basil anyway. More on that later.

K’s packet of chicken tenders yielded 11 pieces, and the recipe calls for 4 chicken breasts. I guess it’s about the same. Rubbed them with some olive oil and sprinkled on some salt/pepper/garlic powder seasoning and roasted them in about 20 minutes or so. While that cooled, I was workin’ the stove.

Chicken tenders.jpg

The recipe starts out with a LOT of chopped onion. If anyone I had called while I was doing this, they would have thought I was crying. I used up some golf-ball sized onions from the fridge that another neighbor gave me from his brother’s garden. Then I went to the soft-ball sized onions. That big food processor got USED today.

So you cook the onions for about 15 minutes, then add the minced garlic. Then the huge pile of chopped bell peppers.

You know these are delicious, right?

You could eat these whole, couldn’t you?

You know how when you are in your own kitchen alone, you can lick the beaters? Well, this is the same principle–when I work with big peppers like this one, I slice the tops off first to get the center and seeds out (like the one on the far left) and that sliced off top is MINE. Do NOT touch my tops. I have to make sure that the pepper tastes right, and darnit, it’s the cook;s privilege. So don’t mess with it. . .or else.

Incidentally, that green cutting board with the hole in it is a new thing, and I got one right after Christmas when I was in The Woodlands. I think the pictures from that day have been lost (don’t ask) but I sure did enjoy using this cutting board and have tossed out a couple that were long overdue to be discarded.

The Zeal Non-Slip Board To Pan Cutting Board is big, a little heavy, has some rubber along the bottom, and a hole in one corner. An unusual design from Britain, it allows you to cut to your heart’s content and then dump everything into a bowl, pot, or whatever. I thought it was a bit odd when I saw it, but it was on sale (of course) and I got one. I love this cutting board! Just don’t tip stuff the wrong way, and you’ll be fine, right?

Anyway. . .

Then the two cans of tomatoes, buzzed through a food processor once or twice, and added to the pan to cook.

These were ten cents more than the regular canned tomatoes.

These were ten cents more than the regular canned tomatoes.

Can you see the crime scene starting in my kitchen?

Halfway done.

Halfway done.

Don’t worry, I wiped it up right after I took the picture.

So you cook this tomato-laden pot for about 30 minutes, and the peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic and basil melt together and get sweet. The chicken should be cool enough to handle by now (even if you used bone-in breast pieces), so it’s chopped into 3/4 inch pieces.

This is what the tenders looked like after I chopped them. 4 breast pieces might yield a little more.

This is what the tenders looked like after I chopped them. 4 breast pieces might yield a little more.

The chopped chicken is then dumped into the pot, and cooked for 20 more minutes.

The original recipe makes 12 servings, but the one I linked to halves that recipe to 6 servings. But, go figure, it made seven servings, and now I can enjoy this delicious recipe until next Saturday.

This recipe made seven big servings. Packed up the rest for the week.

This recipe made seven big servings. Packed up the rest for the week.

Yum!

Now, I didn’t realize I didn’t need the basil, and it’s a too much trouble to bring it back to Kroger, so I did the next best thing.

Fresh basil. Two for something, I think.

Fresh basil. Two for something, I think.

Think I’ve got enough for pesto?

20140216-172845.jpg

Well, I made some. Had everything on hand, whizzed it up in the blender, and it’s packed and stashed in the freezer.

If the cops ever investigate my freezer, they’ll be asking about all that pesto. But–what could be wrong with pesto? I’m not losing any sleep over it. Long as I have peas in the freezer, I’ll be having Pea & Pesto Soup. A lot.

The dishwasher is finished, the trash has been taken out, and I need to wrap it up soon.

If you’re cold, stay warm. If you’re warm, stay cool. And have something good to eat.

Happy Sunday!

 

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