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Summer simmer: The Crock Pot

Summer simmer: The Crock Pot

Hello, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up to you, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, heat up some almond milk and chocolate:

Almond milk and chocolate heated in a double-boiler

Almond milk and chocolate heated in a double-boiler

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

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

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

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

Then add the chocolate mixture, then the eggs individually:

One of six eggs, beaten one at a time.

One of six eggs, beaten one at a time.

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

Now cook it!

Now cook it!

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

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

Too hot to eat!

Too hot to eat!

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

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NOW it’s ready to eat.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Epic Bars, the HeatCageKitchen garden, and other updates

Epic Bars, the HeatCageKitchen garden, and other updates

Happy Thursday, Dear Readers! And welcome to all the new followers of my humble blog. I’m glad you’re here!

Spring is here, isn’t it wonderful? (If you’re not buried in snow like some folks up in the northeast are; if this is you, my condolences.) We’ve had some rain going on, and today, a cool front has come through. The sun is out, the patio doors are open, and I had to put on socks and pull my warm boots out of the closet again. But it’s a beautiful day here in Houston. I enjoyed my stovetop cappuccino this morning, and the Yeast Free Hot Chocolate this afternoon..

Have you seen alt-health hero and natural hormone advocate Suzanne Somers on Dancing with the Stars? Why not? She’s doing great–go vote for her! (SomerSweet is still currently unavailable.) A new “vibrato” version of her longtime favorite Thighmaster debuted on the first night, and her second dance was much better. She’s also going to be headlining in Las Vegas soon; wonder if she’ll still have her famous “dishpan hands.” (One more thing I have in common with her!) You can see Suzanne & Tony’s dance numbers on YouTube as well as ABC’s website. This Monday is “Latin Night,” so let’s see what they come up with.

I have a few things to tell you about, some of which includes the HeatCageKitchen garden. It’s growing!!

Look closely.

Look closely.

Remember last weekend, I said I was going to get some organic celery and lettuce? I did it–the little green centers you see are the lettuce re-growing. I cut those on Saturday; today is Thursday, and they’re already sprouting! I think the celery is too, but I need to look a little closer before I plant it. The lettuce is going to be planted tonight.

I also was able to catch the end of the farmer’s market at Erma’s this weekend, and got some organic tomato plants:

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

They were 4 for $10, in the pouring rain, and thankfully, a couple of the vendors now have Square as a POS app on their phones. No more checks! I had a nice conversation with the Soap Lady, as well as the folks selling these.

One of those tomatoes is going to be. . .Chocolate Cherry. Hey–I don’t mess around. One is also a yellow tomato–those are delicious, too.

I forgot to pick up a basil plant, so I bought some organic seeds. Longtime readers know I am VERY serious about my pesto, and can’t wait to make more. I have one and a half left in the freezer from last year, and I’ll be using them up by the time the basil gets high enough.

I’ve also got garlic growing from sprouted cloves, and the rooted rosemary seems to be fine. I think the sunflower seeds are sprouting, because I see new little green shoots over there and I’m not pulling them up. The citrus trees, I have high hopes for with all those tiny fruits growing, but I’ll let you know in a future post.

Also for a future post: garbanzo beans, tahini and hummus. Tell you all about it soon. Going to try and grow organic garbanzo beans, too–maybe not for crops, but just to see what happens.

A followup to a previous post: this weekend I found some shampoo and condition with. . .Argan Oil. No kidding. Target has it, no kidding.

It just jumped right out at me!

It just jumped right out at me!

I am still using the Pantene that Neighbor K gave me, but I might try this type when I run out. You just don’t notice these things until one day. . . .

Now then. . .I bought some strawberries a few days ago at my local HEB. First words that came to mind: “Maw Maw, look! Strawberries!”

Yum.

Yum.

My Grandmother O’Donnell loved strawberries like I do, and used to take me up to Ponchatoula, Louisiana, to get some every year. (I was a little bitty kitty.) We got flats of them, and my grandparents would also buy some for other people. Pasadena, Texas, which is nearby, also has a strawberry festival, but I’ve never been; maybe I’ll go this year.

What made me think of it was last month, February 17th, was ten years since Maw Maw O’Donnell passed. As bad as it was at the time, I’m glad she didn’t have to live through Katrina. (I had a big oyster po-boy from Abe’s Cajun Kitchen when I got back to Houston from her funeral.) Maw Maw’s house in Arabi, one of the hardest hit areas, was sold a year before, and good thing, too–it was still on the lot, but not on the foundation, from what I was told. That would have seriously upset my grandmother.

Still, I think about Maw Maw at the grocery sometimes. She would have been 100 years old come October 10th, and certainly wouldn’t have let me take her to the grocery had she lived. I REALLY wanted her to come to Houston with my parents, so I could take her to Central Market (it was only open a few years at the time.) Nope. I could only regale her with stories about it.

Maw Maw taught me a lot about grocery shopping and all that, so I always feel like she’s with me the minute I go into any grocery store, be it HEB, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market, Erma’s Nutrition Center, any salvage grocery store I might find, or Central Market. I wonder sometimes what she would have thought about all the organic, gluten-free stuff, as well as healthier foods that are available now.

My brother just lost a neighbor, who, coincidentally, reminded him of Maw Maw O’Donnell. She was 87 years old, very active, in great health, did what she wanted, still drove, had the world on a string,and one day, she got something, was in the hospital, they gave her some prednisone, got worse, and never came out. It was over quickly, but everyone was left scratching their heads and asking, “why?” I said a prayer for her (he told me when they got home from her funeral) and hope that she will be reborn in good or better circumstances. My brother, like her family, will be having a period of adjustment. . .because she’s just not next door anymore.

However–we’re living in changing times as far as food goes. Isn’t it great? Let’s keep that momentum going, for us, as well as our descendents, and the rest of the world.

Anyway. . . .

I still haven’t been able to put my paws on a jar of Crisco’s new coconut oil. I have a coupon for a free one generously sent to me by the Smucker company, but can’t find hide nor hair of a jar, darnit. So I’m still on the hunt. I’m sure it’ll be here eventually.

The GER came by this morning to do a vehicular repair for me, and came once again bearing gifts. (I am still eating pecans bit by bit.) He handed me the part in a bag and said, “take a look at this and tell me if it’s the right part.” Oh, right, like I’m going to actually know! However, In the bag with the switch were these:

Food of the Gods, Vegan Style.

Food of the Gods, Vegan Style.

The GER has been undergoing a personal “detox,” where he has stopped drinking beer, Monster drinks and Red Bulls (ugh), and other unhealthy lifestyle choices, and ordered some supplements from Mercola.com (the official website of health advocate Dr. Mercola.) I’ve never ordered anything from Dr. Mercola, but I might try that joint stuff he sells. The chocolate bars were a “free sample,” which retail for about $5 each, no kidding. I had the dark chocolate bar with my morning cappuccino. Um. . .I wouldn’t eat them every day. They’re not bad, but since it’s not cut with sugar, milk and other fillers, there is more chocolate in them. They are not as sweet as a Hershey’s bar would be, and so the really strong chocolate taste comes through. One has rice flour in it, so while it’s gluten free, it’s not GRAIN free. Just a heads-up.

The GER did request that I procure some healthier versions of BBQ sauce for him, preferably without HFCS. Found some last week at Erma’s Nutrition Center; will check The Fresh Market this weekend. You know, there aren’t any in the grocery stores that I found, but thankfully, Erma’s had some. (He says he’s too lazy to make his own.) He opened the Annie’s, and is loving it; that version has cane sugar in it. The Organicville has Agave Syrup, which I’m completely familiar with, but the GER isn’t. But he can decide whether or not he likes that one.

The only two choices for HFCS-free BBQ sauce I could find. Neither is made in Texas.

The only two choices for HFCS-free BBQ sauce I could find. Neither is made in Texas.

Organicville also had a second type, which I would have bought too, but it contained soybeans. I warned the GER to avoid soybeans so that the phyto-estrogen didn’t overwhelm his system and turn him soprano.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but men should not be consuming large amounts of soybeans. It really can over-take a man’s testosterone, and end up with estrogen dominance. But that’s a Dr. Hotze issue.

Now if you really want healthy, keep reading.

Some time ago, I wrote about Epic Bars, the low-carb/paleo/gluten-free meal replacement bars made out of. . .meat. Unlike Slim-Fast and other meal replacements, these are not loaded with sugar, soy, and other key artificial ingredients to make you feel full. Epic Bars actually taste like a real meal, instead of sugar and chemicals. The first time I had one, I tried it along with a big iced coffee from a nearby Starbucks, and wasn’t hungry for quite some time. (It was July, so it was quite hot.) That, of course, immediately made me a huge fan.

BTW, for all you gluten free/gluten intolerant folks, they are now Certified Gluten Free, and the new labels sport it. Can’t argue with that one.

I have since wondered if I could use Epic Bars as a diet thing–you know, one for breakfast, one for lunch, a couple of healthy snacks, and a “sensible dinner.” You know I’m adventurous enough to actually try it one day, right? I promise, if I ever do, I’ll write all about it. I mean, they really ARE healthy, so how could it be bad?

I’ll think about it another day. Right now, I’m enjoying the blast of cool spring air coming through, and hoping it lasts a good long while.

So I was thinking about doing an update on Epic Bars, and visited their website. Woo hoo! New flavors, new blends, and some different types of products than just the bars. And a sample pack! There are also bags of bites, and now something called “Hunter & Gatherer Mixes,” which combines organic beef jerky with 4 different combinations of dried fruits. Like the bars and the bites, they’re also grain-free, soy-free, gluten-free and GMO-free. I haven’t tried those yet, but will one of these days. They’re not really available much in my neck of the woods, but there are a couple of places I might drop into soon and see what they have. Of course, you can always order all the delicious Epic products on their website, too, which is what I did.

I bought the “Sampler Pack,” just to see what would arrive. Well, take a look:

Can't wait to dive in!

Can’t wait to dive in!

They’ve switched to a different type of packaging, so you can see what’s inside:

Now you can see what you're getting.

Now you can see what you’re getting.

That small one on the top is lamb, which, as you probably know, is more expensive. I’ve bought ground lamb many times, so I know what it costs, as well as other cuts. So, of course, that bar is going to be smaller–because they won’t use any kind of filler, like soy, to make it the same size as the rest of them. That, to me, makes them an honest company.

The biggest one of the bunch is the Uncured Bacon & Pork. I know, people becoming adverse to eating pork, but not me. Up to you. Pulled Pineapple Pork, too? Oh, yes, please. . .with dried pineapple pieces, thank you.

There is even a Chicken Sriracha bar! There isn’t any actual Sriracha sauce listed, but several spices, that, I guess, would give it the Sriracha taste. (I’ve never used Sriracha, so I’m guessing on this one, cause I’m not a fan of burning hot food.)  Organic chia seeds are listed as well, which means the seeds swell and help fill you up, too.

Sesame Chicken with BBQ. . .also sounds wonderful.

Beef with apple and uncured bacon? YUM.

They’ve also developed one with. . .liver and sea salt. I do not have one of those.

Longtime readers of this blog know that liver is one of those things I do NOT like, but Epic went with a new Liver and Sea Salt bar. I am quite reluctant to try it, because, well, it’s liver. They’re not sold individually, and a LSS sample pack has six bars, which means if I didn’t like it, I would be stuck with five.

Maybe I’ll find them locally and get one. ONE. Just to try it. Liver. I’ve got sea salt, if it needs more, to kill the taste of the liver.

Another hallmark of Epic is the humane way that the livestock animals are raised and treated. No hormones, antibiotics, or unnatural feed (like soy) for them, to produce a high quality product. Can’t argue with that. I hope that this kind of ranching and farming becomes the norm one day soon.

Remember with Epic Bars, you must drink plenty of water.

I saw on Epic’s Facebook page and on their blog that Epic is one of the many sponsors of an upcoming road race, called the Durty Spur Trail Run. I did pass the idea to Neighbor K, but she didn’t like the idea of running with livestock animals. Nevermind that she did a race a few years ago where she went through a lake where goats. . .congregate. K and Daft Pug came back filthy, and K was wearing a big, fuzzy hat that looked like Fred Flintstone’s lodge hat, complete with horns. But the smile on her face said she had fun.

This road race is way the heck out in the middle of Texas, literally. So if 10K or 30K is your thing, and you’re free on April 18th to go to Hamilton, TX, have at it. (I’m not available that day; I’ll be resting from an activity on April 17th, where I’ll be gone all day and dead tired when I get home that night–and no, not a road race.)

Hamilton might be one of them places I need to look at later for my “country writing retreat.” We’ll see. I’m just looking online right now. Texas is a big state, so there’s bound to be a place for me in the country somewhere.

So for now, that’s all from my little corner of Houston, in the great state of Texas. I’m working on a couple of new things to blog about, but of course, will keep you in the loop on the garden progress. I can’t believe I didn’t think of planting my lettuce ends–I could have been eating it all this time! Well, we move forward.

Til next time–Happy Dining!

 

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Chocolate alert: Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes


Good evening:

Well, yesterday was cooking day, and boy did I ever. I started out with a trip to my local Kroger stores. I say “stores” because I couldn’t get everything at the first Kroger, so I had to drop by the second. Next time I may go all the way to Friendswood and visit the one by LK’s place. Oh, wait, is she in League City? I forget. it’s over there on Bay Area and 518, or 528. . .I get those two mixed up. Anyway. . .I did get online and open up my online Kroger account and add some “digital coupons” onto my Kroger card. I also had some paper coupons that arrived in the mail on Friday. I saved a total of $45.45, which made me feel kinda stoked. Nevermind how much I actually spent, but I stocked up on some things and even tried something new.

It was great to watch that $90 tab go down to $63 in a heartbeat when my Kroger card was scanned. But I don’t do that every day.

I roasted a big ol’ pork loin roast, so that was easy. I made some barbecue sauce, because one thing I picked up on sale were some cross-cut shanks. Those went into the slow cooker this morning–delicious! Also made some more of the low-carb fruit muffins I made a couple of weeks ago.

And then I made some of the muffins I told you about in the last post from GF and Methe chocolate hazelnut muffins. Yes, they are worth the trouble to make, including with Somersweet. Wanna see?

First, you mix the cocoa powder and olive oil:

Chocolate and oil, mixed

Sounds a bit odd, but roll with it

Then you whisk up the dry ingredients:

Hazelnut flour and other goodies

Hazelnut flour and other goodies

Then beat the eggs until nice and frothy:

My Suzy Homemaker mixer again!

My Suzy Homemaker mixer again!

And then add this wonderful elixir:

Vanilla extract, HeatCageKitchen style

Vanilla extract, HeatCageKitchen style

And a little of this, too:

All Natural SomerSweet!

All Natural SomerSweet!

 

Add the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture first:

WHIZ!

WHIZ!

Mix in the dry stuff and stir it all up:

wpid-wp-1423534291155.jpeg

And then bake them at 375F for 25 to 30 minutes.

Here’s a tip: let them COOL. Overnight, if necessary. Why? Well. . .the GER came by last night, and I gave him the only one that came out perfectly. The rest, well. . .all I’m saying is let them cool completely. And maybe use paper muffin liners, too:

They sorta didn't come out of the pan exactly right. . . .

Delicious, but mine were not a feast for the eyes.

They sorta didn’t come out of the pan exactly right. . .don’t judge me. Or maybe I didn’t grease the muffin tins enough. Or maybe I need new muffin tins. . . .

I just talked to the GER and he’s not tried his muffins yet. I gave him one chocolate muffin and two of the blueberry muffins. When I mentioned that I was making some gluten-free muffins, he said, “oh, no! You nearly killed me the last time with that dinner!” Like the long-ago dinner with my brother and his family in 1997, I will likely not live that one down. Ever.

I didn’t feel like messing with the Nutella frosting, even though I could have whipped up some Homemade Nutella to make it.

Verdict: Delicious!! With hazelnut flour/meal more available in grocery and health food stores, it wouldn’t be difficult to whip these up anytime you wanted. If you’ve got a gluten-sensitive honey, get started on them Friday afternoon/evening so they’re cool on Saturday, which is Valentine’s Day. If you’re making frosting, I would do it ahead of time, too.

Note that Brenda’s original recipe calls for sugar. But because I’m a fiend for the alternative sweeteners and eschewing sugar, I used SomerSweet, which is primarily erythrytol. If you have something called Sweet N’ Natural, or another erythrytol-based sweetener, and prefer to use that, it might take some fiddling to get it right. But SomerSweet measure identical to sugar, so that’s what I go with.

And if you’re like me, don’t have a special someone, make them for yourself, (the recipe makes 6 or 7) because they’re just delicious. The rich chocolate-hazelnut taste is like nothing else you’ve ever had, and will become one of your favorites.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muffins and Meatloaf

Muffins and Meatloaf

Hello, Dear Readers:

Now that we’re all over the holidays again, time to get back to some “regular” cooking. For some of you, that will mean “light” cooking, some will just be cutting out the wheat, dairy, red meat, or whatever. In my case, as I mentioned last time, I’m back doing yeast free because I’ve got a bug in my gut. Again. Got more Yeast Control, and started taking it last Friday with some nausea, so I guess it’s killing off the little buggers

I’ve written about the yeast-free diet before and Candida albicans. If you are experiencing gastric things like heartburn, gas, bloating, and other embarassing symptoms, consider reading more and get rid of the yeast overgrowth. It’s an infection, like any other kind, it’s just not visible. NOTE: I’m not a doctor, nurse, medical person or scientist–just a patient who reads and pays attention. The Green Willow Tree still sells Yeast Control, and even though the price went up $4, it’s still relatively inexpensive. Especially when you consider how much not treating will cost you.

Oh, BTW–the garden will be revamped real soon. However, I bought some green onions recently to make sure I had enough for a recipe I was making, and planted the white rooted stems. Guess what? Five out of the six are growing:

The little stubs. They're growing!

The little stubs. They’re growing!

Plant the bottoms,and they grow. The rest of them have been growing for five years. I chop them and use them whenever I want to, and I don’t buy them unless, like that instance, I wanted to have the right amount.

So. . .

Are you still on your obligatory New Year’s diet? Or have you fallen off the wagon already? Most people do by the second week. It’s fine, til you get HUNGRY. Or someone brings delicious food into the office.

If you’re trying to cut down on meat, or calories, or whatever’s new and popular in dieting, you may be considering going vegetarian/vegan. Many meat substitutes are made with soy and other ingredients humans should not be ingesting. However, over the weekend, I found this little item, called Neat, in HEB and thought I should pass it along:

Neat, a soy-free substitute for meat.

Neat, a soy-free substitute for meat.

I haven’t tried it yet, just looked. This is what’s in it:

IMG_1709

I’ll do some more investigative reporting and get back to you. Warning: if you are allergic to nuts, keep going–there are indeed tree nuts in this mix. YUM. . .

So I’m back on doing whatever I need to during the week, and housekeeping stuff mostly on the weekends. I belong to a number of groups on Facebook, many for writing and some for cooking. Neighbor K told me about Low Carb Among Friends, the group headed by George Stella. If you don’t remember that name, he had a low-carb cooking show on The Food Network; some of his recipes are still on FoodNetwork.com, if you search. Low carb faded away, except for die-hards like myself. I bought his first book, and I knew he had one more book available, but I never looked for any more. They’re all available, either as Kindle books or paperback. One day I’ll go look them up and maybe get the paperbacks.

Why not just get the Kindle version? Because. . .I found a great recipe on Facebook and couldn’t find it again, darnit! But after quite a lot of searching and re-posting it to my wall, I’ve got it for you at this link. (Scroll down past the article to find it.) Gluten free, using almond flour, and sugar free using Somersweet:

Two main ingredients

IMG_1678

And a few berries, meaning I can’t make them right now because that makes it not yeast-free, darnit–but they’re good. You start out with some berries, which, in my case were blackberries on sale:

Big, juicy blackberries!

Big, juicy blackberries!

Just cut them to the same size as blueberries and raspberries:

IMG_1679

The recipe is supposed to make 12, but I ended up with a few more. After you grease the muffin tin, start beating the eggs:

Eggs. . .

My favorite little hand mixer

And then add in some other stuff to make a batter:

Was that the blueberry batch?

That may have been the blueberry batch

Bake them, and let them cool:

IMG_1680

Don’t do this, BTW–you want to use the same size muffin tins for extras. Otherwise, if you forget like I did, they cook too fast and burn a little. . . .

And you have some delicious, fruity, gluten-free muffins for breakfast or anytime you want something sweet.

Yum. . .

Yum. . .

Simple as using a mix, and a lot healthier. (The actual recipe is below.) Except that I can’t have butter for a while, darnit. I’ll live.

Now for something completely different.

Quick question for you: Do you like meatloaf?

Lots of people are divided on the subject, much like cats (people either love them or hate them, but very little in between.)  My mother made it occasionally, but I can’t say it was particularly memorable. Then again, with 4 kids, meals don’t tend to be memorable, they tend to be as fast as you can. Meatloaf didn’t happen often, and honestly, it wasn’t one of my favorite meals until recently.

You know how I like to find meat on sale? Well, frequently ground beef is marked down for quick sale. One day I realized I had a lot of it and figured I needed to do something WITH it. . .hence meatloaf.

Additionally, I’ve developed a liking for meatloaf sandwiches, complete with mayo and other stuff, but I didn’t bake any bread this week. Didn’t feel like it this week.

Here’s the problem: in a loaf pan, they take FOREVER. One day I figured out how to bake it in about 30 minutes. But I digress. . .I’m getting ahead of the story.

See, meatloaf just needs some flavorings and a binder. You just dump them into a bowl, mix them up and bake them. Easy, right? Most standard meatloaf recipes call for bread crumbs. Not in my kitchen! If I do have bread crumbs, it’s from gluten-free bread, and I’ve usually eaten them anyway.

So what do you do, Miss Food Blogger?

Longtime low-carb devotees will tell you some Parmesan cheese will work well. And it does. . .long as you’ve not given up dairy. A couple of things I’ve tried have been ground chia seeds (not much!) and this past week, about 1/8 cup of coconut flour in place of the breadcrumbs. I still used beaten eggs as a binder, but somehow without the flour component, it can fall apart. The coconut flour worked great, and no crumbly meat loaf. I’m thinking that’s a keeper.

Since I’m also a devotee of the Tex-Mex, I started tossing in a can or two of chiles. Yes, THOSE canned chiles. I get the mild ones so that they don’t burn me, but if you like it hotter, by all means, get the spicier ones, or even the canned chiles in adobo sauce. (That’s hot!)

Another “essential” in most meatloaf recipes is the presence of something I used to like but now avoid: ketchup. Unless you make it yourself, and I have, ketchup can be as much as 25% sugar–usually in the form of the evil high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A few years ago, I found a store-bought ketchup brand with “100% pure sugar.” But. . .it’s still sugar, so I don’t mess with it. (That was for the weekend boyfriend who didn’t give a fig about any healthy stuff.)

So what did you do, Miss Food Blogger?

The simple and inexpensive solution was to simply use tomato paste. A whole can. No kidding, per pound of meat, one 6-ounce can of any kind of tomato paste, so long as it’s not flavored with stuff. I can’t find the picture, but I actually did buy tomato paste once with some kind of “Italian seasoning” in it, only to discover later that it had sugar in it, and quite a lot of it. Back to Kroger I went for a can of the correct type.

As I’ve said before–if I’m eating cake, chocolate, or something else confectionary, I know I’m probably eating sugar. But if I don’t know it’s in my tomato paste, or something else where you wouldn’t expect it, I get testy about that.

If you’re diabetic, or otherwise sensitive, you get it.

So here’s the set up:

Basics for the HeatCageKitchen meatloaf

Basics for the HeatCageKitchen meatloaf

Two tablespoons of chili powder and one tablespoon of cumin and coriander, and mix it all together with some garden onions and 1/8 cup of coconut flour:

The dry ingredients first

The dry ingredients first

And two pounds of meat, two beaten eggs, some garlic, and maybe some salt:

Getting there. . . .

Getting there. . . .

Stash it in the pan, bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, but keep an eye on it.

Now here’s the difference:

The flat meat loaf!

The flat meat loaf!

Yes, it’s FLAT. That’s the pan that goes into the toaster oven (it actually came with it) and after I line it with parchment paper, I pat down that mixture and bake it.

I know, this one split. . .I can’t find the picture of this week’s meatloaf, darnit. This week’s got a little over-done, but didn’t split. I think this is the one I used ground chia seeds in.

The pan is actually 12″ square, and is the broiler drip pan for the toaster oven. It can be used individually as a baking sheet, and can be purchased separately. Because I’ve used it so often as a baking sheet, I wore off the finish and now use parchment or foil for that. (It’s not stainless steel, I think it’s aluminum or something.)

If you don’t have a countertop oven, you can use a regular baking sheet and spread it out to whatever size you want it.

The key here is FLAT. And it takes less time than the loaf pan–a lot less.

However you make your meatloaf, there’s a chance flat might work for you.

So, that’s what’s up here, whilst my writer friends up north are digging through snow and ice and camping in until the state of emergency is lifted. One of those writer friends is in North Salem, MA–she just posted a picture showing snow that’s nearly 6 feet. Poor thing is from San Diego. . .and I am jealous. We don’t get snow in Houston very often, and it sure don’t look like a Hallmark card!

Here’s one of her pictures, if you’re in the South and don’t know what it looks like:

Snow from my friend Robbin in North Salem.

Snow from my friend Robbin in North Salem.

If you’re in the middle of all that, please take care, stay warm, and don’t go out unless you have to.

I’m in shorts and a T-shirt, and have been on my patio for a few days now. But that’s not every day, because Friday it’ll be cold again, and I’ll be back in front of the fireplace this weekend.

Stay warm, if you’re up north, and please be careful. If you’re in a baking mood, and you’re snowed in, now’s the time to bake, folks.

And if you’re of a mind, here’s my favorite yeast-free hot chocolate recipe, good anytime, even if you’re not yeast free.

Enjoy, wherever you are!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

George Stella’s Berry Muffins

Prep Time 15 min / Cook Time 25 min / Serves 12

SHOPPING LIST
Nonstick cooking spray
4 large eggs
2 cups almond flour
¾ cup sugar substitute
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup blueberries
1⁄3 cup raspberries

  1. Place oven rack in the center position and preheat to 375°. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add the almond flour, sugar substitute, vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt, and mix well, creating a batter.
  3. Gently fold the berries into the batter and fill each of the greased muffin cups 2⁄3 of the way full.
  4. Bake 20–25 minutes, until the tops of the muffins turn a light golden brown and a toothpick stuck into the center of one comes out mostly clean. Let cool 10 minutes be-fore serving.

NOTE: The recipe states that strawberries should not be used because of their high water content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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:

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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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I scream, you scream. . .

I scream, you scream. . .

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

I’ve got a few things to tell you about before the ice cream. . .but it’s worth the wait. I bought a different brand of melatonin, and it for whatever reason, I couldn’t sleep. For a week. I’m finally taking the correct brand, and I’ll sleep like a big kitty now. (Until I have to buy more.) That’s why I’m late writing this–I’ve been half-awake and half-asleep all week. Ugh.

Speaking of the feline species, how about a cat sandwich? I have a brother who likes to say:

“Cat–the *other* white meat.”

“Cat–it’s what’s for dinner.”

Don’t panic–Jezebel and all the other kitties are safe. I found this on Facebook, (HuffPo also has a short article) and it’s just too cute not to pass on.

Cat sandwich. Perfectly normal, right?

Cat sandwich. Perfectly normal, right?

Hope I didn’t scare anybody! I might try to make one of these one day, or at least buy one. I think it’s cute. They’re sold by Amazon Japan, but right now are out of stock. I only found one book on sewing cat beds on the American Amazon site, but it’s a Kindle book. I guess sewing cat beds aren’t the hot thing just yet. Jezebel’s bed needs a softer cover–she doesn’t like the heavy duck I used, so one day I’ll get a yard of something soft and furry to cover it with.

Ok, no more sewing news.

The HeatCageKitchen garden is doing great, despite the weeds, which is one of my to-do projects for the 3-day 4th of July weekend. In addition to weird little frankenberries in the hanging basket, there is a thicket of lettuce growing in one of the pots, and will soon be teamed with a couple of beautiful gifted tomatoes from the GER’s garden soon for a. . .salad. There is also one Anaheim chili pepper growing, and it seems to double in size overnight. There will be more coming later, but for now, it’s my first.

Anaheim chili pepper. You've seen these, right?

Anaheim chili pepper. You’ve seen these, right?

What do you DO with this? Well. . .you’ve probably seen them in your local grocery store, but the only recipe I have for them is a grapefruit salsa, which I’ve been making for 20 years. I love it. I’ll post that recipe when I make it, so you can see it. I make it when I take those grapefruit off my Buddhist altar, if I don’t just eat them outright or make something else with them.

No tomato flowers yet, but I hope to see them soon. That plant survived an unusually harsh and long winter, but it seems to be doing fine. No other tomato plant survived anything. But the basil is doing well and growing fast, so I should be able to start making some pesto soon. Maybe if the tomato plant does well, I can cobble up some caprese salad, too. I’ll keep you posted.

The infamous GER also called me on Monday telling me to come get some fish he’d caught. He went fishing had more than he could deal with, and I was afraid it would fill an ice chest. It was a good amount, but not too much. He says it’s “Red Drum,” but I have no idea what that is. No matter–he’d filleted it nicely, and I know it was fresh because I bit on a fish scale when I was eating some. No complaints.

When I saw the size of these fillets, the first thought that came to mind was “River Monsters.” But a little olive oil, salt and a sprinkle of my favorite Cajun Land Creole Seasoning with Green Onions, baked for about 15 minutes (if not less) and it’s delicious.

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No, the cat food has nothing to do with it.

Thanks again, GER.

Now onto the ice cream.

Remember the blueberries the GER brought last week? I made ice cream last Sunday!  (Yes, it’s gluten free, ha, ha, ha.) I still have some, since it only requires 1.5 cups of blueberries.  Instead of sugar, I used SomerSweet, and that’s my recommendation for sugar-free; the original recipe calls for sugar. Should you decide to make this recipe, what you use to sweeten it is entirely up to you.

I do recommend everything else the same as in the recipe, and not using, say, fat-free cream cheese or skim milk instead of the regular stuff. If you do, I cannot guarantee the outcome. (Read: you’re on your own.)

Ready?

The finished product. But it's a long journey to the end product. . .keep reading.

The finished product. Yes, it’s even better than it looks.

There is a story as to how I got to this point. Hop in and I’ll tell you all about it on the way. . . .

First, of course, you prep your ice cream maker. In my case, it involves freezing the big bowl thingy for 24 hours. Once that’s done, you assemble everything else.

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Homemade creme fraiche and homemade vanilla extract

You mix up the creme fraiche, cream cheese and 3/4 cup of the sugar/sweetener:

IMG_0589[1]

The add the eggs and vanilla:

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Time to heat the milk and cream–carefully, or you’ll have a huge, stinky, difficult-to-clean mess on your hands.

Don't let this mixture boil--you only want it to warm up and steam, about three minutes.

Don’t let this mixture boil–you only want it to warm up and steam, about three minutes.

When it’s warm, you add part of it to the cream cheese mixture, then put the whole business back on the stove and cook it until it’s thick. Again, do not let it boil. When that’s done, turn off the heat and set up your bowl in the ice bath, then use the strainer. (Obviously I’ve done some prep work, and got the ice bath ready before I started.)

Straining the mixture, giving it a finer texture.

Straining the mixture, giving it a smoother texture.

As you can see, a little bit of lumpiness remains, but not a lot. You could skip this step, but. . well, that’s up to you. When done, let it cool in the ice bath for a bit–but don’t drop water in it on the way out.

Delicious, but not yet. Gotta wait.

Delicious, but not yet. Gotta wait.

While this cools, get on with the berries. Toss 1.5 cups in a pan with 2 tablespoons sugar/sweetener:

Blueberries and SomerSweet. Delicious on their own, but stay with me.

Blueberries and SomerSweet. Delicious on their own, but stay with me.

Cook them up, and mash half of them up while they cook, and until the blue stuff becomes thick and syrupy.

Cooking the blueberries

Cooking the blueberries

Here’s where I differ a little from the recipe–when the ice cream mixture is cooled down, and you’re ready to add it to the ice cream maker, remove the bowl from the ice water bath, dry off the bottom of the bowl, add it to the ice cream maker and turn it on. Turn your attention to the blueberries–add them into a separate bowl, put the bowl into the ice water bath, balancing it so that water doesn’t seep in, and let it cool.

Chill the blueberries now, while the ice cream is freezing.

Chill the blueberries now, while the ice cream is freezing.

At this point, you’ve got the ice cream in the ice cream maker, it’s plugged in, turned on, and doing what it does best.

Ice cream in the ice cream maker, getting frozen. YUM.

Ice cream in the ice cream maker, getting frozen. YUM.

It’s coming together now. Are you with me? Yes, it’s very much worth the trouble.

Once the ice cream is a nice, stiff, frozen consistency,

Ice cream!!

Ice cream!!

Take out half, and add it to your low-sided container, then add half the cooked blueberries on top:

The bottom half, or part 1

The bottom half, or part 1

Repeat with the second half of the ice cream, and the remaining cooked blueberries.

Done!

Done! (Yes, I know, it looks like a big mess. It’s not.)

At this point you cover it and freeze it until. . .it’s hard. I put a layer of plastic wrap on top, and put the container’s top on it, then froze it.

And that, Dear Readers, is how you get to this point.

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A lot of trouble, yes, but this ice cream is really, really, really good, and worth the trouble.

I actually haven’t eaten any yet, because, well, I’m waiting for the GER to come by and have some. Unfortunately, he had a ROOT CANAL this week, so he’s not been up to doing much, poor thing. But it’s frozen, so I can wait a while, or maybe make more later.

What happened after that?

I made too much creme fraiche, so the remainder became chocolate creme fraiche:

IMG_0609[1]

So did the remaining cream cheese. But it looks the same as the creme fraiche, so I’m not going to bother you with a picture of that one. Just toss a few things together and whip up with your hand mixer.

I don’t even know how many times I ran the dishwasher last weekend. I just re-washed the ice cream maker’s insert and moved on to the next one. This is what some of us call FUN.

I’ve also made, since then, Cinnamon Ice Cream and Coffee Ice Cream from my favorite book, and to use up the egg whites from the Cinnamon Ice Cream, I’ll make some grapefruit sorbet soon.

It’s that time of the year–make some ice cream!! This one is a bit more troublesome, but very delicious. Recipes abound online and in books and magazines, so find one that looks good to you and go for it. And if you have an ice cream maker–what are you waiting for?

Enjoy!

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Desserts, Fruit, Special Occasions

 

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