Good afternoon, Dear Readers from everywhere:
I just realized that Valentine’s Day is this weekend, and that I should drop in and talk about it just a bit. But first. . . .
There are some changes coming to this humble blog, and a big thanks to friend of the blog AK and another one of our writer friends, whom we know on Facebook, but I haven’t met in person. I don’t know if JM reads this blog regularly, but I know she has once, for sure. I’ve got a Facebook page set up just for HeatCageKitchen, as well as other social media accounts. I’ll tell more once I get it all done. The blog is growing up.
Last week was the open house for the Drs. Davis at Woodlands Wellness and Cosmetic Center. Much as I enjoyed it last year, this year I didn’t go. BUT–they posted pictures on Facebook, and once again had an appropriate show-stopper of a cake:
A good time was had by all, and I’m glad, even if I didn’t go. But I’m sure I’ll be visiting again one of these days for blood testing.
In other news. . . .
This isn’t really food related, but it might have been. When I say a cat is a cat is a cat, I’m not kidding. This wily cheetah decided that the back of a Jeep was a great place to hang with the humans recently. Honestly, it’s no different than when Catmandu and Kismet used to hop up on the back of my futon and park it there for a while. Cheetahs, as I understand from comments on the Daily Mail site and Facebook, are much friendlier to humans than other species of big cats. But as Big Cat Rescue will tell you, approaching big cats is never a good idea–and anyone caught petting one at their Tampa, FL facility is escorted out immediately, including staff. If you have a kitty cat that has ever turned on you while you were petting it or scratching it behind the ears. . .imagine the force behind a paw-swat from a 500-pound Siberian tiger. It can, as they say on FB, “escalate quickly.” ‘Nuff said. But this time, it turned out fine, and the short video is pretty amusing. Because. . .that’s a cat for you.
Now back to Valentine’s Day. Or as my brother called it yesterday, “women taking advantage of men” day. Oh, well.
If you’re looking for advice on romancing, proposing, or how to ask out someone you fancy, that’s someone else’s blog. This blog is for the day you decide to cook for that someone special, you already are going to cook for them, and you’re looking for something special for your date. You’re on your own on the romancing/proposing part, so search through WordPress for that kind of advice blog.
Do you have plans for Sunday? Are you going to hang out at home and watch a good DVD or two with your sweetie, or risk your life and head to a restaurant? I can hear it now: “Oh, Amy–what’s wrong with that?” Even Waffle House serves steaks and takes reservations on Valentine’s Day–and in some more rural areas, that’s the best and only–restaurant in town. (NOTE: I am not disrespecting Waffle House by any means.)
I’m not going to deny that it’s something special to go out for Valentine’s Day. But hear me out–when I was an administrative assistant, I was required to “go out with the bosses” for Administrative Professional’s Day. I really didn’t want to do this (particularly at an insurance company I worked for, where they took us to McCormick & Schmick in the Galleria and didn’t give us a choice) because it was a reminder that I was still in the steno pool. But at Boeing, that wasn’t always a bad thing. My Boeing supervisors were frequently busy, so we didn’t always go on that Wednesday–and that was a good thing. Why? Because you’re elbow-to-elbow with everyone *else* who’s doing the same thing; service is going to be slower, too. The last time, I had to request that Monday, because the next day, I was getting on a plane to go somewhere, and I wouldn’t be in town for AP Day. (I got to choose the restaurant that year.) Another time, we went two weeks later. Know what? We nearly had the whole place to ourselves! We could chat without yelling, and the service was better.
Want proof? This article from The Kitchn verifies what I just told you. Like retail stores on Black Friday, nobody *wants* to work that holiday, so you may get pinch-hitters who aren’t as experienced. And you’ll be elbow-to-elbow in a crowded restaurant on that one day a year when things could go wrong for you. Just something to consider if this is a really special date.
Once again, Starbucks is at it again with the #StarbucksDate. Create a special .GIF file (similar to an e-card, they’re all the rage now) to send to someone you’d like to meet up with (it could be your best friend, your elderly neighbor like Neighbor R, your brother/sister, or, heaven help you, the GER) and make a date to meet them at the Starbucks on your street for one of the new chocolate drinks they have this week, through Sunday. (They’d like you to put it on social media with #StarbucksDate, too.)
You know, I probably shouldn’t say “Starbucks on your street.” We have several in my neighborhood, including one two blocks from my front door. But I have a friend in semi-rural Louisiana who is about 20 miles from the closest Starbucks. I’m sure he’s not the only one.
This year’s offerings are three new seasonal chocolate-infused drinks:
And because I couldn’t wait, I personally sampled the Mocha Chocolate Latte this morning. Highly recommended. Unlike the famed Pumpkin Spice Latte, this was very good and not overly sweet. If your honey doesn’t drink coffee, there is the Molten Hot chocolate option as well as other dessert options. But remember, Starbucks has their “signature” hot chocolate all year long. Yes, they really do–it’s just that this particular variety is a “seasonal offering” for Valentine’s Day.
I am actually planning to take myself out for a #StarbucksDate. I’ve got a couple of books to read, (one by master copywriter Bob Bly, his newest book of great witticisms) and that might just be the place to do it. I’d like to have another Mocha Chocolate Latte, then get brewed decaf coffee (and free refills in my stainless steel travel mug) until I’m sick of coffee, or I finish the books. They’re not long books, but. . .there are less distractions in Starbucks than at home.
What if you’re going to camp in with your honey?
I’ve got some recipes posted on the Recipe Page, and there are others scattered throughout the blog; a search will help you find them. (The Sweet Potato Supper is a good one, and quite simple.) Then again, websites like The Food Network, MarthaStewart.com, AllRecipes.com, and TheKitchn are great places to start if you don’t find anything listed here. Really–the culinary world is at your fingertips, and a quick search will show you that.
These are really easy, because there’s no rolling out the dough–you bake it as a sheet cake, then cut them from the baked cake. Frost them, put some sprinkles on top, and you’re ready for your honey. NOTE: keep this recipe in your back pocket for other occasions, cut them in squares, rounds or other shapes, and you can frost them like cupcakes and use other appropriate colors and designs for, say, a birthday, graduation, or something else like St. Patrick’s Day (which happens in about a month.) Heck, your dog’s birthday, just don’t feed them to the dog. But for now, they’re for your Valentine.
Now, if these cookies aren’t your thing, there are a couple of things in the HeatCageKitchen archives that are delicious and gluten-free, including my all-time favorite, YeastFreeBrownies (I just uploaded it.) The recipe is no longer available on Dr. Hotze’s site, but I’ve got the PDF file for you on the Recipes Page.
Another good choice is last year’s Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes. First, I re-blogged a post from GF and Me last year, and then I made it myself. Of course, mine didn’t come out as pretty as Brenda’s, but they sure were good–even the fussy GER said so. The trick is finding hazelnut flour, or buying the hazelnuts, roasting and skinning them yourself, then grinding them up really good in the food processor–but not so far that you get a paste.
Click around on Brenda’s GF and Me site and you’ll find lots more delicious food and desserts for Valentine’s Day.
If you have more time to prep, I highly recommend the sugarless, Crock-Pot made Chocolate Fudge Custard I talked about last summer. You have to make it a day or two in advance, but it’s quite tasty and easy to make.
You didn’t forget your waffle iron already, did you? If Santa brought you a waffle maker (or the Cuisinart Griddler with the waffle maker plates, like mine) consider waffle brownies. If you haven’t read that previous post I linked to, please do, and you’ll learn more about waffling. You’ll also find this recipe in the post that I made and reviewed. However, if gluten-free isn’t your thing, brownies from a box–yes, like Duncan Hines or Jiffy brand–can be made in the waffle maker, fast and easy. You can also use boxed chocolate cake mix. If you’re thinking about a waffle maker, Bed, Bath and Beyond also (still) has the Cuisinart Griddler bundle package, and if you have a coveted 20% off coupon, use it.
Still another optioin–a bit healthier than most–comes from none other than Graze.com, this dual-layered Chocolate Strawberry Smoothie might be just the ticket. It has a few steps, so make sure you read the recipe before proceeding.
What to make for dinner for the two of you? There’s a myriad of options available, just pick one–but don’t overthink this or make it too complicated. Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll probably *want* to try something really fancy, complicated, and extremely gourmet. Foodies are like that. But if you’re a fan of the easy, make dessert early, maybe the day before (especially the custard) and consider Nigella Lawson’s Flash Fried Steak with White Bean Mash. I’ve written about this delicious white bean mash before, it’s one of my absolute favorites, and I even made it Monday for AC with mild Italian sausages from HEB. (I called it “Bangers & Mash,” which is actually sausage and mashed potatoes in the UK.) She loved it too, and will probably start looking for cannellini beans next grocery trip. Add a tasty salad like we did, and you’ll be all set. Wine? Your choice, but make it a good one, if you do.
One thing I started doing with the white bean mash is grating the lemon zest first, then grate in the garlic with your Microplane Zester. The garlic is more evenly distributed, spreading the flavor throughout the mash.
And you can say that you’re inviting him/her over for a steak dinner–it’s just not filet mignon, that’s all. (No, I’ve never cooked that one, for myself or anyone else.) And why not? If you’re cooking steak, say so! (Unless he or she is vegetarian. . .then you’ve got some extra work to do.)
Here’s the thing about Valentine’s Day: if you and your partner get along fabulously and enjoy each other’s company all year around, going all-out on Valentine’s Day is probably not needed–a nice dinner at home with a nice bottle of wine, a small, inexpensive gift, whatever you like. But if one or the other isn’t such a great partner all year long, but spends a lot of money on flowers, candy, jewelry, dinner out, etc., on Valentine’s Day. . .it’s money wasted. Be kind to each other, and, I hate to say it, but if things are just not working out well, you’re discovering you’re mis-matched, or you just don’t get along after the “honeymoon phase” is past, it might be time to reconsider the relationship. (Or, in my case, file a restraining order, ha, ha. Yes, I’ve had that kind of luck.) It takes two to tango, and usually, neither is totally innocent, but if you’re wondering why you’re in this relationship, maybe Valentine’s Day will be awkward. Better to be alone on V-D than stuck with someone you don’t want to be with–ask me, I know. (No, not the GER.) “Better off as friends” is not a bad thing, if that’s the case.
I’m not telling you to break up with your significant other on Valentine’s Day, (that happens occasionally) but if that’s where it’s headed, or things have significantly changed. . .take some time to think and consider. Next year things could be completely different–you could be single and unattached, you could be with someone better, or you and your Significant Other will have a better relationship by then.
I know, Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, is merchandised to death in the US, but it doesn’t have to bully you (or your partner) into spending too much money.
Again, I’m not a relationship author–but I speak from experience on being in bad relationships. I’d rather be by myself on Valentine’s Day than stuck with someone who let their “good face” down and I discover that I can’t stand. The longest relationship I ever had with a male was. . .Catmandu, the Russian Blue. (RIP.)
And if you’re single and alone on Valentine’s Day–remember, you too could be stuck with someone you wish would just go away forever. If that’s the case, and you can, take some time and take yourself out for a #Starbucksdate. Better yet, use the .GIF creator and send it to one of your *real* friends for a #StarbucksDate and get something chocolate on Sunday. It’s OK to be single and unattached on Valentine’s Day, I promise.
You might be making these cookies or something else for someone next year, so be ready.
Hello, Dear Readers:
Well, my continued apologies for being so darn late. I was going to write, then postponed a couple of times, then. . .I got sick. And as I explained in my last blog post, I said goodbye to my third kitty cat in 3.5 years. Not feeling up to much of anything; sometimes the words don’t come.
I still can’t believe she’s buried in the cold ground.
Me and the GER are still grieving for Jezebel the step-kitty, and now it’s his turn to get sick. He was self-medicating with Nyquil, but he must be feeling better, because his last email discussed beer. . . .
Me, I haven’t been sleeping well, so I’ve missed some walking with Neighbor K. I’m still walking, but haven’t been at the same time as K. She’s been very nice about it. I’m going to try again tomorrow for the 4 am wake-up call.
Thanksgiving was. . .solitary. That was unexpected, but since the GER got sick, it was just me. Well. . .I made some gluten-free bread over the weekend for turkey sandwiches. The seven-inch gluten-free apple pie was mine, all three pieces (not at once.) The cranberry sauce is gone, but I need to find a different sweetener than Somersweet; let’s just say I was stuck at home for a while.
Last night I made a turkey sandwich from last week’s Herb Roasted Turkey Breast, just like the one I made last year:
I made this baby with some of the Just Mayo I have in the fridge. Obviously I don’t use it very often. (Those are flax seeds, which give the bread a bit more crunch.)
Also included for dinner was last year’s Green Bean Gremolata, plus some quinoa. I had intended to make some sweet potatoes, but that didn’t happen. It was OK.
Now onto our featured subject matters.
If you’re interested, here’s a nice article on Trader Joe’s. I actually have one of those big blue hot/cold bags on the left of that rack; it’s huge, works great, and it’s $6. A related company (somehow) is Aldi, which I’ve not written about much, because, quite frankly, I’m not a fan. A small produce section, a little meat, a few housewares, and about 80% of the floor space is dedicated to flour-based mixes and other processed foods. Looks like a convenience store food pantry to me, and every time I go in there, I wonder why. The first and second time, I had a coupon. The third and forth, I was looking for something or other and was disappointed. So, unless you buy lots of boxed biscuit and waffle mix, bagged snacks and other junk food, well, Aldi may not be for you. Your choice, of course.
Right before Halloween, I found this:
I didn’t buy them, but darn, that’s cute! If I had children around, you bet I’d be grabbing two of them.
Now, for those of you who have not been following this humble blog since its inception two years ago, my birthday was Sunday, October 26th. (Can you believe I’ve been food blogging for two years? Thanks, Akinnyi!) Now, last year it was a Saturday, and I also had a weekly paycheck. Not now, so I limited the spending. However. . . .
I started out (when I finally got up) with a Grand Slam from Denny’s:
They also asked for proof this time, which I was happy to provide. I was reading Backwoods Home magazine at the time, and there’s that cute kitty picture to the lower right. Awww. . . .
Like last year, I subbed a couple of ingredients to have it gluten free, so it cost a little, but I gave the waitress a bigger tip. She brought the cut fruit first, so I nibbled on that before the plate came.
Next up was Starbucks for my free coffee, which was downgraded to a Skinny Hazelnut Latte instead of the caloric Hazelnut Macchiato. I also headed to Sephora, which, if you’re registered, offers a little gift on your birthday; this year it was a nice shade of lipstick, which I may try to buy more of at some point, with some mascara. Last year they had something for men which I donated to the GER; he loved it.
I made some gluten-free pizza like I did last year, and instead of a cake, I made cupcakes. . .but they’re not my best work, so no pictures. I did, however, on Saturday venture into Nothing Bundt Cakes for one of their gluten-free offerings:
While there is promise in this bag, I can promise it’s nothing like the one from Frost Bake Shoppe in The Woodlands.Chocolate Chip Cookie is the only gluten-free they offer, but that’s OK. That was the first flavor I had when I went to Frost the first time–and with a lot more icing.
Nothing Bundt Cakes has stores popping up all over the place, so if you’re interested, I give it a big. . .meh. (There is actually one next door to Trader Joe’s in The Woodlands, across the street from Frost Bake Shoppe. No kidding.) Seriously, it wasn’t bad, it was just. . .OK. If you’re dying for something sweet and that’s the only place besides a convenience store, go for it. Otherwise, I’ll wait. I’m guessing it’s the replacement for the cupcake craze, but that hasn’t subsided yet.
Somewhere between Denny’s and Baybrook Mall, then home, I received another present: streptococcus bacteria. That’s right, I got strep throat on my birthday. I didn’t know about it until Tuesday, either. Monday I was REALLY tired and bowed out of a morning walk with Neighbor K, but figured I’d just stayed up too late or something. That’s all it is, right? I decided that Tuesday would not be the same–I walked with K, then headed to Starbucks for two fingers of regular in the big decaf. It worked! What a productive day! Then the GER had some fish, so I drove down to his place to get it, and on the way home, fatigue set in again. When I finally got in and shut my door, not long afterwards the “ring of fire” in the back of my throat happened, all at once.
Owwww. . .I was sick.
Makes sense, right? With a 24-48 hour incubation period, and I had full-blown strep. On Wednesday, I headed to the Redi-Clinic in Friendswood for a positive strep test and another round of amoxicillin, which I finished taking the following Friday. That evening, after starting the amoxicillin, my temp was running 101.2. Is this any way for a grown woman to get sick?
Count your blessings, ladies and gentlemen: My brother’s mother-in-law passed away a week before. The day he returned from up north, our uncle passed away suddenly after some medical difficulties at 74 (which isn’t really “old” anymore.) I stitched up some handmade things to send my aunt, (our mother’s sister), his widow, with a sympathy card, but haven’t heard back from her yet.
Later that night, I logged into Facebook to gripe about the strep, and one of my copywriter friends posted about one of her clients whose wife had a really bad kind of cancer and was given a week to live.
If that wasn’t bad enough. . .my walking partner, Neighbor K, was doing some housework and was standing on a broken pub-height chair. I think you can guess what came next. She’s going to be fine, but was injured enough to where she couldn’t get up and walk in the mornings with me, and was home from work for a few days.
K sent me a text message while in traffic asking me to take the Daft Pug out for a walk and feed him. No problem there, but when she told me more, I gave her the lecture about standing on a chair! Wal-Mart has stepladders for $15 (or they used to but they’re cheap.) Heck, she could have borrowed mine! But I make myself available if she needs something. We picked up her car from the urgent care clinic the next day.
I very quickly stopped griping about strep throat, OK? I’ll take the strep, thanks very much. Takes a week to get rid of for good, and I’m needed elsewhere.
Now, despite all that, my birthday was made a lot happier due to the actions of friend of the blog AK, who took me seriously when I posted this silly thing on my FB wall on September 29th:
The holidays are coming and I’ve been very, very good. Check with the HPD, they’ll vouch for me. No tickets, accidents, or assault charges again this year. 🙂
I would like to ask for the Suzy Homemaker washing machine and dishwasher, both of which are now on eBay. They work, just like they’re supposed to. I promise I will take good care of them and use them happily. I can wait on the stove, since there are frequently a number of them available.
But if someone gets them before you or your elves are able to bid and win, I’d be happy to have the Super Grill or the stand mixer in working condition. Please note that as happy as I would be with the Super Grill, I can’t cook a whole turkey with it.
Also, would you please bring Jezebel a nicer attitude. She’s getting pushy around dinnertime, especially when I’m eating. I can’t make a cup of coffee without her meowing in the kitchen.
Also, please let me know what gluten-free treat you’d like me to bake for you this year so I can leave whole bunch in a basket by the fireplace. The cat won’t touch them, honest. Let me know if they need to be sugar free as well. I can make some lovely gluten-free vegan raspberry scones that nobody ever turns down. I promise they won’t taste like baked flour balls, unlike other baked items you’ve had.
Thank you, Santa.
Along with it was the listing for this Suzy Homemaker washing machine, which I posted with the “letter.” I was just messing around. . . .
AK is an awfully nice person, and knows that I’ve had a difficult year. So, without telling me, she bought it and had it shipped to me, arriving a week before my birthday.
Here it is, no kidding, mine, all mine:
Happy Friday, Dear Readers!
Do you like coffee? How about cappuccino? You know, with the frothy milk and all that. This one’s for you.
I have officially been blogging for two years now. No kidding, October 29th was when I set this site up. Woo hoo!! I’ll drink to that. Wine would be nice, but more likely coffee.
Houston and much of the south is COLD this week–no kidding, we’ve had a freeze warning. VERY unusual to be this cold this early in the season, but I’m happy. I think the cat’s happy, but I’m not sure.
What a great time to make some coffee, tea, or hot chocolate! Let’s concentrate on coffee this time.
Last year my decade-old cappuccino machine finally died, and I bought another one. As I mentioned in a recent post, I went through the process of finding replacement parts for an old Bialetti stovetop espresso maker the GER gave me many years ago when we were dating. However, Nick Usborne at Coffee Detective talking about how to make it quickly and easily on top the stove with a Bialetti. I just never knew it was this easy, so. . .I’m doing it.
Anybody want a Krups cappuccino maker? Hardly used, a year old. . . .
Nick also talks about something that many of my copywriter friends are hooked on, Bulletproof Coffee. I’ve also seen it called “Butter Coffee.” While I’m not a doctor, nurse or other scientific/medical professional, I don’t believe you will be able to repel bullets like Superman when you drink it. Just a thought. Friend of the blog AK (who made my recent birthday quite happy) swears by it, talking about brain power and amazing feats of thinking. I think it’s the caffeine, to be honest, but she’s a terrific lady, so I don’t say nothin’. You can read more about it on Facebook, and their official site is here.
No, I’m not interested. Sounds really weird, even for me. Fortunately, Nick The Coffee Detective has tried it too. He wasn’t exactly tap-dancing, either. Maybe another day. That Octane stuff is more expensive than butter.
Speaking of coffee, I also got my Bialetti issues straightened out. The one with blue roses is a 6-cupper, and I’ve returned all the spare parts to their sellers. Done. I’ve used it as well as a very small one now that I have sources for decaf espresso. Can you believe it? Starbucks and HEB. No kidding, get it anytime. DUH.
Starbucks, as I’ve mentioned, offers a free treat on your birthday with a registered Starbucks card (and app, if you want.) Also offered was 15% off (I think) on anything ordered from the Starbucks store. So. . .I took advantage of it. While they have a wide range of great drinkware, that 16-ounce travel tumbler was also on sale, and I’m really glad I got it–I’ve put both coffee and tea in it this week and it stays warm a few hours. Not bad, and would work great on a long commute. . .I’m sure someone already figured that one out.
This is what I use for everyday coffee, since discovering the French Press many years ago. (I have five because I used to have a boyfriend who did not drink decaf.)
You can put these in the dishwasher, but the glass can break. However, you can re-order the beakers at Bodum’s website.
Yes, I know, more spare parts.
Now, I like cappuccino better–who wouldn’t?–but it’s more expensive to buy and a bit more trouble to make. But since reading Nick’s article, well, I wanted to, so I did. However, I had two of those ubiquitous Bialettis in my possession–a cute little red one cup and the retrofitted antique six cup. Armed with a coupon, I made my way to Bed Bad, & Beyond and got a 3-cup model.
Disassembled, this is what it looks like out of the box:
No kidding, made in Italy:
Now, like everything else, I’ve got multiples. Any wonder why I need a bigger place?
The little red one was just so cute. Also purchased with the 3-cup pot is a butter warmer to heat the milk. Just like Nick!
I haven’t made much cappuccino because of the issue of getting the decaf stuff. Now that I’ve found it hiding right under my nose, I can have it anytime I want. (Which is daily, with whole milk steamed and frothed.)
So I now I do it in my own kitchen, just like Nick! Ready to do this on your own?
As you’ve seen, it unscrews into two halves, and a funnel that fits exactly into the bottom chamber. The bottom chamber is filled with fresh water to just under the little nozzle. Add the funnel, and fill it with the fine-ground espresso:
Screw the top back on and turn on the heat.
Now, if you’re going to heat milk like this, be aware that if it boils over, your coffee will be cold by the time you finish cleaning that up. No kidding. Don’t go talking on the phone and turn your back. Boiled-over milk or cream is a huge mess you do not want on your hands. (Yes, I have, thanks for asking.)
How do you know it’s hot enough? Stick your (clean) finger in it periodically. When it’s hot enough, you’ll know. But get it off the stove quick and start the frothing action. The pot I have has a heavy bottom, so it will hold the heat (and double as a projectile or blunt object in an emergency.)
Then start frothing with a little $3 tool from Cost Plus World Market:
My suggestion is to have a cork trivet or some other place to put hot pots down in between stages.
Put your sugar/sweetener/flavorings in the bottom of the cup first. Using a big spoon to hold back the froth, pour the liquid milk into the cup first, then the espresso, then dump the froth on top. Since I only have two hands, I can’t show you that part!
When it’s all done, this is what you end up with:
Yes, this is what you pay upwards of $5 a cup for in coffee shops like Starbucks. Look, there’s labor involved, plus it costs money to set up those great locations, so understand that part. But if you really, really like the frothy milk and all that, or the smooth tastes of lattes, it’s nice to be able to do it at home and enjoy it whenever you want.
Let me reiterate that decaf coffee is great in the modern age. If you’re being told to cut down the caffeine, or you realize you have a problem, don’t think your future is with Sanka. Lots of great decaf is there for the sampling, so go find your favorites. Mine are Sumatra, Kenya AA, and. . .anything with chocolate and raspberry in it.
So get brewing, and bake something delicious to go with your cappuccino or latte while it’s cold enough to put on the oven, too.
Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers:
I hope everyone had a peaceful Memorial Day yesterday. Here in Houston, it was OK first thing in the morning, but as the afternoon wore on, the clouds started coming through and eventually we got some serious rain. It’s great, we needed it, only the timing was off. It rained pretty heavy this morning, too, although it receded when I went out to bring my sewing machine to Hancock Fabrics.
Oh, I broke it last week. I took it to Hancock Fabrics for repair; there’s a gentleman who picks them up every Tuesday and repairs them, then returns them a week later. I did NOT intend for that to happen, but it did. Oh, well.
At least the HeatCageKitchen garden is happy with the rain.
Yesterday I had my first mojito. That’s a Cuban cocktail with lime and mint and rum. . .and sugar. I used Suzanne Somers’ recipe from her Cocktails book, and sweetened it with SomerSweet. I could only get key limes yesterday at Food Town, but that’s OK. The recipe calls for vodka or light rum; I had vodka left from making vanilla extract, so that’s what I used, along with mint from the garden.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a regular thing–I just felt like having a good cocktail, and this mojito doesn’t have any sugar. After binge-watching 7 seasons of Burn Notice out of order, I figured a mojito would be great to try. Delicious! But more on that later.
Two things I managed to complete this weekend were carpet cleaning and tidying up the pantry. The pantry in this place is a floor-to-ceiling corner cabinet with three doors and five shelves that is deep enough that you could get lost in it. The pantry measures 8′ high, 22″ wide and 21′ deep, with some wasted space above the top shelf. More on that extra space later.
In one of my prior reorganizations, I labeled each shelf to categorize things and keep it organized. Over time (particularly when I don’t have time to be neat) the organization kind of took a nose dive, and it looked like this:
The bottom part of the pantry, which sits on the floor, looked like this:
I actually couldn’t close the pantry doors. That’s great, because I have plenty of supplies.
I added these door racks when I moved into this place, and they too are full of spices and wraps.
Can you tell I love my Brother P-Touch label maker?
I do this pantry re-org every so often, when I really have to, and it’s usually an all-or-nothing thing. I take everything out of the pantry, wipe down the shelves, clean up any spills, and put it all back.
It was ALL OVER my kitchen. Which is fine, because then I can see what’s stuffed where:
Ran out of room on the countertops, so I used the floor:
And when I ran out of room in the kitchen, I moved it out:
I’m low on baking soda, almond milk, kosher salt and nearly out of quinoa. I’ll live without the quinoa, of course, and I’ll get more soon. Normally I have a large jar full of quinoa, but I’ve been using it and not replacing it. Now I’m nearly out. See why your pantry needs to be tidy?
I tossed some things that were way too old that I didn’t realize I still had, like 10+ year old packets of star anise and pennyroyal. (I’ll find a place for that big apothecary jar that used to hold the packets, maybe in another cabinet.) I also consolidated some things, like three containers of Herbes de Provence:
Now, longtime readers of this blog may remember my column last year on the old Suda Salvage store in River Ridge, Louisiana. I bought this bottle of Central Market herb mix on one of my last trips to Suda.. If you’ve never been in Central Market, you won’t know that this bottle sells for about $7 or $8 in HEB and Central Market. The contents of this unopened bottle and another small, partial bottle went into a larger bottle of Herbes de Provence from Phoenicia. Saved a little space, and really, I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference. Dried herbs are pretty good for a long time anyway.
Now, because the pantry is as deep as it is wide, stuff gets stuffed way back in there, and you don’t realize you’ve got a jar of curry paste and three unopened jars of French chestnut creme bought on sale at Williams-Sonoma right after Christmas after Nigella Christmas came out.
It took pretty much all afternoon. Between consolidating, tossing stuff I don’t need anymore, and figuring out what goes where, it took about six hours. No kidding. I was too tired to clean carpets when I was done, that’s why I was doing it Monday.
Did I mention two broken sewing machines? Anyway. . . .
I did manage to make more of my favorite sugar-free Barbecue Rub I told you about last week, using up the thyme in the fridge. (The thyme was in one of those cups like the ones you get cold coffee drinks with whipped cream in at Starbucks, with the hole in the top.) I also have two very large containers of chili powder, after running out one day and not realizing I’d already bought some. Time to start making more chili.I also didn’t realize how much decaf coffee I have in the pantry. After sorting it and corralling all of it into shallow plastic basket containers, I put this box in the front so I’ll use the stuff in this first:
The canister holds a nearly-full bag of . . .decaf coffee. I got the canister several years ago when they were selling them at HEB with a pound of regular Community Coffee shrink-wrapped to the front. I gave the coffee to someone else, just so I could have the canister. You can’t buy it on their website right now by itself, but it is available as part of a set.
I got the scoop at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in Houston in 2011 from the Community Coffee reps, who had plenty of fresh hot decaf on tap and gave these babies away. You can buy them for 50 cents on Community’s website. (You can see my pictures from the food show with this link on Facebook.)
Maybe one day I’ll write a blog post about my coffee cups, coffee and stuff, and the French press pots I use. I’ll give that some thought. I’ve got a lot of coffee in the back of that pantry, along with the tea. Need to start drinking it again. I did make some iced coffee, but going up and down the stepladder had a lot to do with that.
Another thing I discovered a surplus of is. . .SomerSweet. I’d bought a case of 12 during a sale, and another case of 12 during another sale, and had some already, but didn’t realize it. Once I’d pulled everything out, I sorted these cans by expiration date. Now, it’s a dry powder, and it’s in a sealed can, so a sell-by date doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad. But there are three cans that I will use first, (the ones with check marks on them) and the rest in time.
I have a stockpile, not a stash:
I happily made myself a delicious sugar-free mojito last night using SomerSweet. Took a little more SomerSweet than the recipe required, but that book was written when the cans were very small. Now SomerSweet is cup-for-cup with sugar, so you multiply the old amount by 5 or use the sugar equivalent.
I’ll be doing that again one day. Maybe soon.
Now, you’ll notice that there is a lot more space above the SomerSweet, wasted space. Last time I had wasted space like that I put in some wire shelving that held extra stuff and emergency supplies. I have considered adding it here, but I’m not ready to do that just yet.
Another thing I discovered was a supply of canned salmon. At $2 or $3 a can, it’s great to keep on hand for quick meals and for emergency backup food. However, now and again, I make some salmon salad, just like tuna salad, and put some things like garden parsley and celery in it. I also have a couple of other recipes that use a can of salmon, and I’m always looking for more that taste good. Right now I think I have 15 cans, and you know I’ll eventually buy more. (I don’t like salmon croquettes, however.)
So, when I had everything sorted, organized and neatly returned to the pantry, this is what it all looked like:
And look–now I can close all three of the pantry doors!
Seriously, I should have done that a long time ago. Like a lot of things, I put off dealing with the pantry.
I am also a big believer in dumping my purse occasionally and tidying that up, too. Because I’ve been interviewing, I have a nice purse I bought in December just for interviewing, and I’m also using a cloth purse I made just for short trips like the library or the grocery, so I’m aware of everything in my purse. But over time, stuff accumulates, gets heavy and gets lost.
Dump your purse regularly, and you’ll be able to lighten the load a bit, and keep from losing things, too.
When I was at Boeing, I had a BlackBerry, along with a wired headset for long meetings and a Bluetooth headset for traveling. One day I took the all-black Bluetooth off and stashed it in my black purse, “just for a little while.” For a couple of weeks, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I knew I hadn’t lost it, but couldn’t remember where I’d stashed it. I was about to tell my boss I’d lost a piece of equipment, and found it when I dumped my purse. It was in there the whole time, I just couldn’t remember where I put it in a hurry thinking, “I’ll get to it later.”
Men, you are not off the hook–tidy up your wallet now and again, and make sure there aren’t any “ex” pictures in your wallet, OK? And you don’t want to sit on a big lump of whatever’s in there, right?
I’ll get my sewing machine back next week, I hope, and I’ll be happily stitching again.
Yes, I know that there is a grocery store by the name of Pantry Pride. There used to be a huge chain, but they’re gone now, and the only one is in St. Mary’s, Ohio. I looked it up, and figured it was safe to use it for a title.
Meantime, have a great week, and Happy Dining!
Regular readers of this humble blog may remember the chocolate-laden, gluten free post I re-blogged last week from fellow foodie writer Sophie James, who writes a very elegant blog called Stories from the Stove. Of course, that’s where the similarity ends, because mine is. . .less elegantly written. But that’s OK, I get my point across, and that’s a nice gluten-free cake she’s got there.
I’m going to tell you about another chocolate cake in a minute, and the story that’s attached. In a minute. Because, it was my BIRTHDAY.
This week marks a number of starts. First, I have switched phone companies and now have an iPhone 4s. I really didn’t want a Smartphone, because I see how dumb it makes people. But I was missing too much important email; people and companies assume everyone has one, so it became a necessity. I’ve loaded it up with lots of cool apps, including one from east coast grocery chain Publix, which includes a nice grocery list function. It’s free and really handy, although it can be a little fussy. And you don’t have to go to Publix to use it! My local HEB used to have a similar thing on their website, but not anymore—and the only apps HEB has are all for HEB Mexico.) There are a number of free grocery list apps available for the iPhone, but I’ve been using the Publix grocery list for a couple of years on the PC, so I decided to stick with that one.
Once in a while, I actually make a real, live phone call with my iPhone. Go figure!
I also take comfort in the fact that people who are considered geniuses have very messy desks. That’s why you’re not seeing pictures of mine. Ever.
Also this week for my music fans, Def Leppard’s CD/DVD set of their Viva Hysteria concerts in Las Vegas earlier this year was released this week. If you buy it from Amazon, they also have something called “AutoRip” where you can download the audio for free, right away, and import it directly into iTunes before your hard copy arrives. Mostly I want to see the concert video, since I couldn’t get to Vegas to see these five handsome UK males (and they didn’t come to Houston this year) so that will be next week. I also have their previous live CD Mirrorball, and kept up with their shows on Facebook, so I kind of know what to expect. If you’re a fan—and yes, I am—you can read more on DefLeppard.com.
Yeah, I know, it’s not foodie related. But it’s new. And it’s Def Leppard. RAOW.
The current diet phase is over, and I’ve lost ten pounds. Woo hoo! Should have been more, I tell myself, but if you don’t sleep 8 hours or so a night, and you sneak some chocolate now and again, you won’t lose as much weight. I know this because I’ve seen it myself on the daily diet charts. On the mornings where I slept less than 6 or 7 hours, I either stall or gain a bit. When I sleep enough and more or less follow the program, I drop it. Mostly I sleep in on the weekends, because there is too much to do when I get home at night. My evening task lists always start with, “feed cat. Feed big cat.” You can guess which one is the big cat.
I also ordered a case of 12 cans of Somersweet two weeks ago to stock up for a while. There was a free gift with purchase, travel sizes of some of her exclusive toxin-free hair care products. The day the box arrived, I got an email from SS’s website telling me that “Somersweet is 25% off!” Had I waited a week, I would have saved about $22.50. AAAAHHH!!! But that’s kind of the way my luck goes sometimes; I didn’t know that was coming. Darnit.
Last week was the annual Bootcamp for American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI), where I’ve been for the last three years, twice on my birthday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it this year, but will try again next year. It’s like missing the family reunion to me, but I wasn’t able to go for a handful of reasons. Keep your fingers crossed for next year. Last year they not only baked my cake, I also had 325 copywriters sing me Happy Birthday.
This year, I’m on my own. But that’s OK too.
It was also at last year’s Bootcamp that my friend Akinnyi from London, a very nice man, said to me, “well, why don’t you write a food blog?” On the way home, the ideas started to gel, and I got on WordPress a few days later. In fact, when I logged on tonight to start this blog post, WordPress had a message for me: Happy Anniversary! It was one year ago, October 29th, that I started this blog.
Foodies have been rolling their eyes ever since. Including Sophie James, I bet.
This one’s for you, Akinnyi. Thanks for the idea. I ran with it.
Since I didn’t go to Bootcamp this year, I had to bake my own birthday cake. I already knew which one it would be, because I baked it many times before. It’s the Chocolate Ganache Cake from Suzanne Somers’ original 2002 Desserts book, incorporating her newly released Somersweet in to the recipes so that delicious desserts were available to make and not give you sugar crashes or toxins from aspartame. It was a while before I tried Somersweet, but eventually I was won over, and I still buy it today, in it’s updated form.
So this cake is, indeed, gluten free, because there is absolutely no flour of any kind, no sugar, and made from basic ingredients (and Somersweet). But since Suzanne Somers Desserts was published in 2002, most people hadn’t heard the term “gluten free” unless they were suffering with celiac disease or some other reaction from wheat. In this book, it’s considered “low carb,” because that’s primarily what SS’s books were about. Sugar manifests in many forms, wheat included, since most carbs turn to sugar in your bloodstream. That sugar then stimulates the insulin response, and that’s where things can go awry, particularly with continued intake of sugar.
You may not realize this is happening until your doctor starts talking about “options for managing your diabetes.” I know this because my Dad continually ate what he was told by his doctors that would “improve his heart health,” only to later find out the hard way that none of it was true. Didn’t help his heart and didn’t prevent diabetes.
Anyway, enough of the Wheat Belly lecture.
This book was published just after Somersweet first came out in 2001, and the entire book, plus another called Chocolate, are all healthier versions of various desserts (although some may have small amounts of sugar for the times you can handle it.) This particular cake calls for a small amount, since the original Somersweet was 5x sweeter than regular sugar. Today, Somersweet is cup for cup like sugar, so I did a little reconfiguring to make it come out right.
The actual cake part is made by beating 8 eggs for several minutes with some baking soda and getting so much air into them that they bake up and come out baked as a cake. I haven’t made this one in 3 years, but it’s pretty simple to make, and works every time.
You bake the cake for longer than the 15 minutes in the book. I think the new Somersweet changes that part, since it used to be just 15 minutes. But that’s OK. What you get out of the oven (using a 9 inch springform pan) looks like this:
Then you cut it into three layers, not the two I used to do:
This is an extremely delicate matter, because one wrong move and the whole thing falls apart. It’s heavy and dense, so you have to have a big spatula or two to move the bottom over to the cake plate.
A trick I learned from the Barefoot Contessa recently is to put a small dollop of buttercream under the bottom layer so the cake sticks to the cake plate. I did that, and later regretted it when I put squares of wax paper underneath so I could make it without a mess. Uh, right. . .
So, I grabbed my offset spatula and got busy with it:
See the wax paper squares? That was intended to keep the ganache from dripping all down the shelves of my fridge. Unfortunately, it not only facilitated dripping chocolate, it made the ganache drip outside the confines of the baking pan I put the cake plate to to contain the mess. So it made a bigger mess than it was designed to contain. It figures.
That’s what’s known as irony, if you didn’t know that before.
After that last picture, I stuck the whole thing, plus the dishes of buttercream and ganache, in the fridge to chill and thicken up a bit, hence the drips on the top shelf.
This cake recipe includes a rich chocolate buttercream filling and a very nice ganache that is poured over the whole cake. Trust me when I tell you that I do not waste a drop of it. One of the benefits of being in your own kitchen is that YOU get to lick the beaters. If you have kids around, then you have to bake when they’re not around or are otherwise occupied.
In the end, it all worked, and while it doesn’t look quite the same as the picture in the book, it’s pretty tasty looking.
I picked up some raspberries at Kroger, and decided to up the ante a bit, because, well, I love raspberries with chocolate to begin with.
Four years ago I also bought that ceramic cake plate because putting it on a dinner plate wasn’t working. Of course, on this one it’s a bit, um, earthy, so the chocolate doesn’t exactly stand out. DUH. But that’s what was available at Hobby Lobby the day I went over there. It has been collecting dust, because I’ve gone to Bootcamp the last three years and didn’t bake my own cake.
Of course, the kitchen suffered and boy did I work to get that taken care of:
So, here’s what my favorite gluten free, sugar free, low-carb Somersweet chocolate birthday cake looks like when you cut a slice:
And to serve it:
I did share with one of my neighbors and one of my Buddhist friends I visited the next morning. I would have shared with two of my neighbors, but the other one had surgery around her mouth and can’t chew. She got some delicious Tuscan White Bean and Garlic Soup. She didn’t want all of it, so naturally, I ate the rest this week. I gotta make me some more of that soup soon–it’s so good, and takes just about 20 minutes.
Now, it was indeed my birthday, so I headed out first to Starbucks for my free birthday drink. Want to guess what that was? Well, if you read my blog earlier this year, you’ll probably figure it was a Hazelnut Macchiato, and you’d be right. And because it was a splurge, it was my free one, and it was my birthday, I got a big one, and it went on my Starbucks card. I watched someone ring up a $4.65 cup of coffee and it went to “no charge.” However, I only do that once a year, when it’s offered. And check out the artwork on my coffee cup:
I then went to Denny’s for a free gluten-free Grand Slam. Well, almost free:
OK, so there’s the seasonal fruit cup off-camera that was 49 cents, and then the blueberries for the oatmeal was another 49 cents, and one more thing, I think, for a total of $1.61. Maybe it was the milk for the oatmeal; but still, it was pretty darn good.
Now for dinner, I decided on pizza–home made, gluten free pizza. I took out the Wheat Belly Cookbook and got to work. However, I also used a canned pizza sauce without sugar in it, as well as some delish sausages bought on sale at Cost Plus World Market. (Because it was my birthday, I had a $10 off coupon, plus they allowed me to use a 10% off purchase coupon I got in the mail. Cool!) Not bad, not bad, and I had plenty left for breakfast.
Overall, it was a pretty good day, and I even got a new shirt nearly completed too. The weather was good, the sun was out, the sky was a beautiful blue, and fortunately, everything was pretty good.
Sunday brought an old friend for dinner, and he was wowed with not only the cake but a delicious salad from Giada de Laurentiis and one of Nigella’s delicious dishes from her last book. More on that later.
Of course Monday came along, and I now live for next weekend, where I am promising myself I will not drive anywhere for anything and stay home for 48 hours. I hope so.