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The Thanksgiving Post: Apples and Spaghetti Squash

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I hope you’re feeling better by now. The election, and all the associated nastiness, is over for a while. Now it’s time for transition, and hopefully, getting back to whatever passes for “normal.” It was a nail-biter, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop eating BF’s ice cream. (I didn’t eat all of it, just a little.) We stayed up until 3:00 am or so watching the results, and back-checking CBS News on our phones against what was showing up on Facebook in our feeds. Bizarre–I’ve never done that before, but we finally hit the sack once it was all over. Good thing we didn’t have anything planned for the next day, and he was off work. No more sugar-laden ice cream, and the weight is going back down again, thank heavens.

Time for some comfort food, OK? Keep reading, there’s a recipe for you shortly.

We’ve been doing some renovation type of cleaning in the Casa, which includes having one of his, um, ex-girlfriends finally come get her stuff out of his house. She’s got some of it, but some still resides for a few more days. (What are we, Public Storage?) His daughter took the things she wanted and I helped her clear out stuff she didn’t want. All that’s left is his friend from the Navy. Well, with moving stuff around and out, painting the back room for my soon-to-be studio office, and clearing car parts out of the house, we’ve set up a little breakfast area by the kitchen:

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino for Amy!

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino!

This is my IKEA Tarno patio set that we just put there and put a tablecloth over, and BF decided to add my tiny lamp (Lampan, also from IKEA.) I repaired the miniblinds which had been damaged by a passed-on pooch, and cleaned the window really well. Know what? It’s kind of nice to have breakfast right there, or dinner. When we get things better situated, we’ll put my regular dinette there, and I’ll repair more of the miniblinds, now that I know how. (Looked it up on eHow and learned on the fly.) The blinds are closed so you don’t see that the Casa “beautification project” has not yet carried over to the patio out front.

After my trip to New Orleans on Sunday, where I bought some lovely pork chops, chicken sausage  and chicken thighs for us, BF decided Monday to get. . .one of those “kits” to make tacos for lunch on Tuesday. I kid you not. At least he had the sense to get the crunchy taco kit, which has corn tortillas. No word about “gluten free,” but there was no wheat or its derivatives in any of the ingredients that I saw, so I was glad about that and reluctantly took part. (It does say that it was partly produced with GMO ingredients; my guess is the corn, which I rarely eat.) He asked me to brown the ground beef to get started, and of course, twenty minutes later, we had tacos–because he went into the living room to watch more TV. GRRR. . .but I got the job done.

Dinner was Mustard Pork Chops in the Crock Pot, which I may post soon. It was pretty good, and worthy of doing again. Because he really wanted. . .tacos. . .the chicken shifted to lunch on Wednesday, where I made him, for the first time, Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatora, or “The Hunter’s Stew,” which, in Nigella’s case, is “lazy hunter’s stew.” (It only takes 30 minutes.) Although it’s long been a comfort food favorite for me, this was his first taste of it. Thumbs up–he likes it, and I can make it again for him. (Thanks.) The next day for dinner at work, he took some with a cup of rice, since he thought it “needed” some. No problem, I cooked up a small batch of white rice for him and added it to the container. Along with a slice of made-from-scratch pound cake from his friend’s birthday, he was all set for work.

Now, if you’re interested in making this “hunter’s stew,” I want to point something out that’s not immediately obvious: although the printed recipe calls for a half-cup of pancetta cubes–which is perfectly acceptable, albeit expensive and hard to find here–you can also slice up 3 or 4 slices of bacon in place of it. That’s the way I’ve always made it since I saw the original show.  The show may be on YouTube; you’d just have to look for it.

It really is a nice comfort food. Even if it does come from across the pond. You’re welcome.

I’ve been in the larger Winn-Dixie in Hammond, and indeed they do have more organic produce. Surprise–they even have fresh sushi. I still hate sushi, but–they have it! I did some recon in the morning, and then did some shopping later in the day, mostly meat, eggs, butter, cheese, etc. I almost–ALMOST–thought I was in Kroger. And I kept saying “I live down in La Marque. . .” which, of course, is in Texas. Well, it’s probably because I felt like I was in Kroger. I sure do miss my HEB, though–the pork loin roasts I used to get on sale for $3 in HEB are something like $12 here. What’s up with that? I did find a nine-pound pork loin that was about 3 feet long, but we don’t have any place to store that monster. Another time.

Rouse’s has purchased a rival grocery store chain, so there will soon be a Rouse’s in Hammond for me to visit, right near that Winn-Dixie. That’ll be good, too.

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Thanksgiving is coming. It’s next week! I really have lost my sense of date and time. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I won’t be cooking turkey. That’s OK, I cook turkey all year long (I just wish I could get turkey thighs here; maybe Albertson’s has them.) I asked BF the other night what our plans were for Thanksgiving; he said his brother usually does a big spread, and we would attend. (Just have to figure out what I’m going to wear.) Well, if I’m allowed, I’ll bring some of that fantastic Cranberry-Ginger Relish and maybe one or two other small things, but I warned BF that I would likely eat before I went. Longtime readers know that things like sweet potato pie, sweet potatoes with other abominable things added to it and all things bread, pie and gravy are not coming my way. I’ll be happy to have some turkey–maybe a little mashed potatoes, too–but no gravy, please! Gravy, to me, kills the taste of everything under it. So this will be interesting, and maybe I’ll pull the Nordic Track out in the morning before we go.

Think I should just stay home and watch Britcoms?

So, what do you do when you’re hosting such an occasion and have health concerns to consider? (Besides panic, that is.) Or, surprise, his new girlfriend is a vegetarian, and he’s going vegan soon too? Knowing this in advance helps, of course, but sometimes you don’t, so having some extra vegetable dishes helps (just don’t use chicken stock!) I’ve written about these kinds of things before, and you can also get some help on Martha Stewart’s website, under “All Things Thanksgiving.” Sur la Table has also published its annual Thanksgiving Guide, and it’s available online or as a free download to print. BF and I caught a bit of the Rachael Ray Show the other day, and someone named Clinton Kelly was making dishes you could make in advance: Turkey Meatballs, a Roasted Vegetable Soup (which looked pretty good, actually), which you could make in advance and freeze, then serve from the Crock Pot and some popover kinds of things with smoked salmon.  The Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash is really good, too. Of course, if you’re looking for something specific, please check out the worlds’s biggest idea database, Pinterest.

One thing I can’t emphasize enough is getting started on your Thanksgiving planning early. Get that turkey NOW, if you haven’t already. Get your brine mix, or make it, NOW, because the turkey has to thaw first, AND you have to make the brine ahead of time. Buy your ingredients early, especially the unusual stuff, like puff pastry or something else that everyone will be looking for like fresh or dried sage. Doing potluck? Ask and assign people a specific dish–dressing, veg, cornbread, whatever–so you avoid the problem of everyone stopping at the grocery and picking up a cake or cupcakes at the last minute. All dessert and little turkey does *not* make happy dinner guests, you know? A broad variety of different vegetable dishes, and maybe including maybe a pilaf or risotto (using vegetable stock) can keep everyone happy and well-fed while including the vegetarians and not calling them out for it.

Brining a turkey? Here’s one from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman (warning: it has brown sugar) and one from Martha Stewart’s website. If you want to brine a turkey–and I highly recommend it–get going. Now. Juniper berries might be hard to find soon.

It’s also a great time to dust off the slow cookers and the waffle makers if you’re not using them regularly. Make sure all your appliances work before the big day, too. And isn’t there something you can slow-cook or waffle ahead of time? (Cranberry Ginger Relish can be made a few days in advance, thank heavens.)

Yes, it’s time to get your thinking cap on. Quick. Whether you’re hosting or just attending, it’s time to take inventory so your Thanksgiving will go well and everyone, including yourself, will enjoy themselves. (Here’s some advice I wrote about last year that may help.)

Here’s another tip: READ your recipes and understand them before you shop and get started. Case in point: last night I decided to make something new for me and BF. Seems he’s never had eggs with tomatoes in his life, despite his claim of “I’ve been all around the world!” So, I found this recipe for Skillet Eggs and Tomato Sauce in one of the Everyday Food cookbooks last night, and asked him if he’d like to try it. He said he would try it, with a bit of reluctance in his voice. (Next question I asked: “Do we have any anchovies?” Oh, the look on his face was priceless.) In the book, this recipe makes two servings, not the four that’s on the website. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the book called for a HALF can, 28 ounces, of tomatoes. Skimming over the ingredients, I just figured I could use two cans of tomatoes, 14.5 ounces. That’s pretty much the same, all right? WRONG–it was, indeed, way too much tomato, and that was his first comment. (I ate them, though.) I noticed the difference when I put the book away–and then made a note of it. He said he’d like to have it again, with half as much tomatoes. Done. (And maybe an anchovy, too, but don’t tell BF–I hide that kind of stuff in a drawer of the fridge.)

The point: please READ carefully and understand before you do something dumb like I do sometimes. Especially for Thanksgiving. OK? Don’t forget the hot mess I made when I invited The GER over a few years ago. It can happen to you. READ. Please.

Now, would I leave you without help for Thanksgiving? Of course not.

Remember last time, when NM handed me a bunch of apples to take home? Well. . .I did put them in the Crock Pot, and darnit, they were pretty tasty! I made them at the same time as the pork chops, but not because I had pork chops. BF wasn’t wild about them cooked, he’d rather have fresh. But, it’s fall, and it feels like fall, so I wanted to try something different.

I actually made two batches, in two different slow cookers, to see what would happen with two different sweeteners–SomerSweet and Agave Syrup. I think this would make a great lower-carb/gluten-free alternative to the traditional apple pie. Either for everyone, or just for guests like me who would rather keep the calorie count down.

If you’re planning to have an apple dessert, or more than one, for Thanksgiving, this is an easy one to toss in and forget for a while. I actually made it a second time with bigger, fresh red apples so I could take pictures and show you how it’s made.

When I cruised through Pinterest to find apples in the Crock Pot, I didn’t find much in the way of healthy versions–mostly, they were loaded with sugar. GRRRR. . .but of course, we have alternatives in our world, don’t we?

The setup

The setup

Yes, that’s the same sherry vinegar I have around to make Cranberry Ginger Relish, but since I don’t use it often, and it only takes a small amount, I decided to try it in this apple dish. You could use red wine vinegar, or just leave it out if you wanted. But I found that the sherry vinegar added a nice depth of flavor that’s not often in apple dishes.

I started out by washing all the apples, of course:

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

The first time I made this, I used just cinnamon. I decided to use apple pie spice for this incarnation, because I’m glad I did. I made some using this recipe, but because not everything is unpacked, I couldn’t find any allspice. So, it was back to Winn-Dixie for more after I picked up BF from work Sunday afternoon. He wanted some hot chocolate because the weather had turned cold. While he was prowling around looking for that, I went to the spices. Hmmm. . .should I get the stuff called “natural,” which is a rather nebulous word on food products, or get the brand I frequently bought in Houston?

It's "natural," whatever that means." No, it's not organic, I checked.

It’s “natural,” whatever that means.” No, it’s not organic, I checked.

 

That's more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

That’s more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

I picked up that bottle that was $1.64 and put it in the little hand basket. Then BF returned to the spice aisle and was of the impression that I’m not getting what I wanted. He then said to me, “Look! Here’s all the ‘allspice’ you could ever want, right here!”

He called this "allspice."

He called this “allspice.”

Oh, he was so funny, gesticulating towards all those spice blends. Giggling, I took the little bottle out of the hand basket and showed it to him:

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

BF was in the Navy, you know. Fortunately, he was *not* on KP in the galley (kitchen), or he would have been keel-hauled for making that mistake. He only had to put up with me laughing at him all the way home.

This apple pie spice mix recipe from Life Made Sweeter is quick and easy, and I made a double batch to make sure I had enough:

The setup

The setup

 

Just blend them up!

Just blend them up!

 

Bottled, but I couldn't find my label maker in time.

Bottled, but I couldn’t find my label maker in time.

And use it like you would the store-bought stuff. No sugar or other additives to worry about. (Of course, yesterday, I found another carefully packed box marked “Amy Pantry,” which had not one, but two bottles of allspice. GRRR.)

Back to it–I started by putting a bit of olive oil in the bottom of the crocks:

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Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering if there’s a deliberate reason for a black and white crock. Well, yes, and I used it–the black one was mine, a replacement during a Karma of Spare Parts incident, last year, I think, when I sent the 4-quart crashing to the floor on a Sunday. They no longer had white, so black it was. The white crock belongs to BF. The difference came in handy: the black one had apples cooked with Agave Syrup, and the white one had apples cooking in SomerSweet.

Neat, huh? (Worked for me!)

Then started cutting the apples and adding them to the crock, and rolling them around in the oil:

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Yes, I was drinking coffee whilst I made this. It was early, and cold that morning.

Then I added in the apple pie spice mix to both crocks:

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Added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract:

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

Then added in a tablespoon of the sherry vinegar to each one:

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

And then I added the respective sweeteners:

Agave in the black one

Agave in the black one on the left

 

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the right one

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the white one on the right.

Mix it all up again to coat the apples with the rest of it:

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Agave pot

 

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SomerSweet pot

And cooked it on low for about 4 hours.  What happened? Well. . .it was interesting, and BF gave me his honest opinion (I only had to needle him a little bit.)

Hmmm. . .looks like Miss Food Blogger forgot to take a picture of the results. Oh, well. I had three things going on at once. . .and we just ate them!

While BF would prefer eating apples raw, he said that the apples cooked with SomerSweet were a little less sweet, and still somewhat crisp, although they weren’t hard like a fresh apple. The agave syrup crock apples were softer and sweeter than the others, and that’s the one he preferred.

If I had cooked them longer they would have probably been a lot softer, and maybe even soft enough for applesauce. But peeling all them apples? No thanks. It was just something to use them up the first time.

Agave syrup works for a lot of different things, including a replacement for honey, with less of an insulin spike than honey would give. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, I just read about these things.)  SomerSweet’s primary ingredient, erythrytol, is a sugar alcohol that’s also quite sweet and works like regular sugar, also without the insulin spike.

For you and your guests who don’t want pie or other heavily-sugared dessert, baking apples in your Crock Pot may be a good alternative to have around, and in the Crock Pot, couldn’t be easier. But why wait for Thanksgiving? Apples are in season now, and available all year around–make some this week or this weekend, and see how you like it. Tweak it to make it yours, and offer it with pride on Thanksgiving Day. It’s one of those things you can set and forget.  You may be asked to make it again next year, or even before then–and what would be wrong with that?

Now for another side dish that’s also low-carb. Spaghetti Squash. Have you tried it? I have. They’re hard as a rock and can be somewhat dangerous to cut, especially the larger ones. Easiest method I knew of, until now, was to cut it in half, scrape out all the seeds and strings, coat the inside with a touch of olive oil, and roast at 350F cut side down for an hour.  I used to use the toaster oven to roast even the larger ones, but now I don’t have a toaster oven. What to do? Well. . . .

I also follow a blog called Half Baked Harvest. I found a recipe there a while back, and I may have posted it here, but I can’t find it now. HOWEVER–a few weeks ago, this recipe for Crockpot Spaghetti Squash with Lasagne Bolognese showed up and got my attention. I haven’t made the Bolognese sauce yet, but I might one day.

But cooking a spaghetti squash in the Crock Pot? Why haven’t I tried this before?

Tieghan makes up her sauce, adds it into the Crock Pot, then puts the whole, untouched spaghetti squash right on top the sauce. No kidding. So I pulled out the big one and put the (little) squash in it, because the ovals were needed for the apples.

I just pulled off the sticker, washed it off, dropped it in, turned it to low and left it alone for a good 8 or 9 hours.

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You put the food in, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on, and leave it alone:

Really--just let it go.

Really–just let it cook itself.

I did this early on Monday, and about suppertime, this is what came out:

It's cooked, it really is.

It’s cooked, it really is.

And out comes a perfectly cooked spaghetti squash:

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Either use a good potholder or wait til it cools, then cut it in half to remove the seeds. Once you’ve got the “guts” out of it, scrape out the “spaghetti” with a fork into your serving bowl:

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Photo credit: BF, because I can’t do this and snap the picture.

Add some butter, salt and fresh herbs:

I only had rosemary handy.

I only had rosemary handy.

Mix it up well, and if needed, re-heat in the microwave or on top the stove, or leave in the oven to keep it warm:

Yum.

Yum.

And you’ve got delicious and perfectly cooked spaghetti squash for your vegetarian guests. (You could also use olive oil if you don’t want to use butter.) But don’t be surprised if the non-veg folks dig into it–spaghetti squash is delicious when cooked well and seasoned right. (If only I could get BF to try a bite of it; he hates squash across the board.)

So, did I give you some new ideas for a great Thanksgiving meal? Alternatives for your guests, maybe? Or just something different and deliciousi for dinner this weekend? (November also has 29 *other* dinners to prepare besides Thanksgiving, you know.) I hope this helps, and I hope everyone has a tasty and happy Thanksgiving next week.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Amy, there you go again, banging on about SomerSweet again. You have the last three cans of it in existence!” Well, here you go. I hope to finish the post on a new replacement for SomerSweet for you, but I want to reach out to the company and find out more from them. I will tell you that I found it in Whole Foods in Mandeville, it’s called Swerve, and the company is located in New Orleans!

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More to come on this, hopefully soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

Amy’s Sunday Drive

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Bet you weren’t expecting *that* ending, were you? Nope, me either–and that was before I wrote it. But all’s well that ends well in the HeatCageKitchen. He still likes me.

I think I’ve lost about 10 pounds since moving. I got my scale out after we visited Neighbor E a couple of weeks ago to get my stuff, and have been using it almost daily. It’s the sleep, and not eating a lot of carbs or eating too late at night. The housework is helping, too. Eventually I’ll be using the kettlebells again, doing some yoga, and utilizing the EZ Gym, which I plan to put up on a wall. Might be bikini-ready next summer, but we’ve got some time. Meantime, my set of 3-Way Ponchos are pressed, washed, and ready to wear. (Glad I bought them when I did–the purple one is no longer available, but I have a Simplicity pattern to make more of them later.)

We have not yet replaced the toaster oven, and while we have plans to, it’s a matter of. . .money. It’s OK–I’m not doing a lot of specialty baking right now, but BF promises that there will be a replacement soon. Maybe not a $200 Cuisinart (but I have coupons from Bed, Bath & Beyond if we do go), but he will get me another one–he told me he will, and he doesn’t break promises. I knew it was going to need replacement months ago, I just put it off, hoping things would improve and I could buy one myself. Well. . .BF knows to put a bug in Santa’s ear, if nothing else. And I’ll make him those boxed brownies again, too, if he asks.

I would have published this post two weeks ago, but, well, the pictures weren’t coming out straight. Then I had to leave the library and pick up BF from work. Then I couldn’t make it back to the library. Then, last Monday morning. . .I pulled a back muscle, and couldn’t move much. I was crab-walking for nearly a week! Finally. . .my back is better, albeit still a little bit sore. Crab-walking over, I’m back at the library. I’ll be working on more new subjects to write about to bring to you. I just don’t find out about new “things” like I used to. Guess I need to go read more.

The back room is finally cleared out, and we hope to do some painting before setting up my studio–sewing room, exercise area, media room and “corner office.” We have a few of my things in there, plus some of my clothes, but. . .we’ll try to get some painting done first. Then, over time, more book shelves, a china cabinet (maybe from IKEA), another big rack for kitchen stuff (I’ll make that cover, finally), some shelves above the doorways, and some other things to turn the former “man cave” (and I do mean“cave”) into a house for a man and a woman to happily live together in. My IKEA Fusion dinette will sit by the front door and become a breakfast nook (soon as we get the car parts outside and replace the damaged miniblinds.) One thing at a time, right? Once we get a lot of my things in the back to furnish the studio, the rest of the house will be neat, tidy and company-ready.

That silly 60-pound pit bull knocked the Meyer lemons off the tree, one at a time! They are now in the kitchen window, hopefully ripening, and I’ll take any seeds and propagate them into more trees. (Meyer lemons are $4 a pound at Fresh Market, so why not?) Last night the Hounds of Baskerville also knocked over the cut celery stubs I cultivated into re-growing. I hope that they weren’t too far gone and that I can save them, but celery is cheap. I told him I would “whip that dog into shape.” Yeah. One look in those eyes and you know I won’t be whipping anything. (We don’t really hit the dogs, of course, but we know someone did once.) But I’m giving them occasional treats so they’ll get used to me, and listen when we start doing doggie boot camp training. (BF gets some treats, too.)

The basil plant I bought from HEB to cut and propagate is now in the kitchen window, and I hope to have more plants growing soon. (PESTO!!!!) I haven’t talked BF into building me a cold frame yet, but that Plexiglas out in the shop isn’t scrap (darnit.) I really, REALLY need to plant the green onions and start more of them, but I haven’t gotten to that yet. The Hatch chili plants are now all outside; soon I hope to start planting stuff, I just keep saying “tomorrow.” But it’ll happen, and BF will stare at it with buggy eyes wondering what the heck is going on, just like the pantry.

I read BF the last blog post, and he said that I was wrong on one thing: he does not drink more than a cow produces in a day. Seems that when he was a kid, he worked milking cows. A cow produces 25 pounds a day, he says, and a gallon weighs 8 pounds. (BF was in the Navy, you know.) Well, a quick check at DairyMoos.com shows that his math is a bit off, BUT–BF drinks about half a gallon a day, I think. Seriously, he really does, and <nails on chalkboard> Coca-Cola at work during lunch. I told him we should get our own milk cow. (I’ll be the one taking it for walks and cleaning the litterbox.)

I had another trip to Baton Rouge a couple of weeks ago, but BF and I also had an errand there one night as well. I begged, PLLEEEEEEEEZZZEE???? and he took me to Trader Joe’s for a stock-up run afterwards. He didn’t know what that was, and I promised him it would be faaaaaaabulous.  (I’m guilty of over-using that word.) He saw the Petco two doors down, and we buzzed in there first. THEN we grabbed a beautiful red basket and headed into TJ’s. Got more olive oil, a packet of uncured bacon ends, some chocolate for my birthday cake, (the one from Suzanne Somers) and a few other small things. On the way out, I saw something in the freezer case–frozen quiche. This one is about the size of a pot pie, except the crust is on the bottom. So he would finally understand, I showed it to BF. “You are NOT going to get me to eat that!” he exclaimed. I wasn’t asking him to, I just wanted to show him what it looked like, so he can have a frame of reference, and understand frittata. Yeah, that worked.

I brought my own cloth shopping bags, including the cold bag I made a couple of years ago, and we were right at home with them. I explained to the (male) cashier that this was BF’s first time in TJ’s. BF protested: “I was ambushed.” It’s not the mall, for heaven’s sake–TJ’s is the size of a large convenience store. But I won’t drag him into one ever again, he’ll only go if he wants to (or he wants to keep an eye on me.)  BF’s verdict: “It’s just a grocery store.” Oh, well–he eats good. Like this chocolate delight from our last trip to my HEB in Clear Lake:

Yeah.

Yeah. All chocolate, all the way through.

As I mentioned in the last post, I visited the Mandeville Fresh Market a couple of Sundays ago, and boy did I bring home some goodies. BF was impressed with dinner–and I didn’t have to work too hard, either. Much like my years of living in Clear Lake and shopping after an in-town SGI activity, I went to a study meeting at the lovely home of PB and NM and went shopping afterwards, since I was in the vicinity. (They are the nice folks who came over and home visited me a week or so after my abrupt, unfortunate departure from Texas.) This time, I was on their turf. It was a small meeting, just seven of us, in the middle of an idyllic wooded setting.

I asked PB about getting to Whole Foods, and once again, I ended up at The Fresh Market, but that’s OK. (I got there a couple of weekends later after the district meeting.) See, once you get off the freeway, you go left for Whole Foods and right for The Fresh Market. . .and I got those directions mixed up. Oh, well.

I went primarily to get something for Sunday dinner, and *maybe* to mooch a little more free coffee, too. Well, I had some, but this time I could have coffee. Well, I bought some–a half-pound of decaf Hazelnut Creme. Yum. BF, as always, was not impressed. But it smells so good!

Yum.

I didn’t waste any time.

I walked around and examined the glass meat case and thought about different things I could make for dinner. I also picked up a few favorites:

Cannellini!!

Cannellini!!

I’ve since discovered that the local Winn-Dixie stocks Bush’s brand cannellini beans. Woo hoo! (No shelf-stable unsweetened chocolate almond milk yet, but I’ll keep looking around.)

I haven’t yet made any hummus, but when the time comes, I am ready to rock and roll:

Great to have on hand for a quick batch of hummus.

Great to have on hand for a quick batch of hummus.

Originally, I was going to cook up Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatora, but I would need to buy more than I’d planned on, plus I wouldn’t know where the white wine was. Looked a little more, and prowled more, and by the meat case, I saw the jars of Frontera “chili starters.” Different types of base sauces where you brown meat, add the jar, cook it a little more, and it’s done. Well. . .BF has an issue with tomatoes and heartburn after a certain hour of the night, so I passed on the first one. Then I saw the jar called “white chili.”

Never saw these in Houston, or maybe I just didn’t go to the right places. Chef Rick Bayless has a line of Frontera  food products, which includes three types of chili starters, and the “white” chili has. . .Hatch Chiles!

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See? Good stuff here.

 

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Very simple instructions for a tasty dinner.

I asked at the meat case, and was assured that it was not a hot kind of chili. So, those two items were loaded into my little hand basket along with the cans and the coffee.

I was so proud of myself–a healthy, delicious dinner inside of 20 minutes! I hoped BF would agree that it was tasty and fast. I kept him in suspense, and let him know dinner was, um, “in the bag.” Now to convince him it would be good.

On the way home, I thought it would be a good day to finally make our “special cake.” You know, the one with the Hatch Apple Pie Filling. I already had the cake mix and the butter, so why not? (There goes the “healthy” part.)

This beautiful jar contains some delicious apple pie filling that’s accented with the flavor of Hatch chilis. You didn’t think you could do that? HEB carries lots of Hatch products that are sweet–the cookies come to mind as well.

The secret to a very special cake!

The secret to a very special cake! (Yes, his “antique” house has a stove that’s avocado green–but it works, so who cares?)

Here’s what’s on the rest of the jar:

img_3413 img_3412 img_3411 img_3410

I used the whole jar, of course, because that’s what the recipe calls for:

The recipe!

The recipe!

Yes, it’s worth it, for an occasional splurge. RARE occasions.

BF was at work until 4:00 pm, but one of his car guys was coming over. I asked BF if the man would be joining us for dinner, and he said “yes.” When I got home, the man was outside napping in his truck, waiting for BF to return to the homestead. I went inside to get started.

I got started on the cake first, since that would take 45 minutes to bake. Here we go:

The setup.

The setup.

This is what’s called a “dump cake,” in which you dump everything together and bake it. The recipe was provided by the HEB Cooking Connection folks in the Clear Lake City Blvd. location, and it’s the same one Neighbor E and I were privileged to try before Hatch weekend. (E has since made his own at home to enjoy.) First, I cut the butter into bits buy cutting lengthwise, turning the stick and then cutting it lengthwise again, to make these little squares:

img_3420img_3421

Two lengthwise cuts and you get little squares!

Next, I put the little squares into a bowl and stashed them in the freezer to keep them cold.

Now,  preheat the oven to 350F, and butter a 7″x 11″ pan. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I needed that specific size, so I used the 9″ x 13″, which was too big. I made do, though:

This dish is, unfortunately, too big.

This dish is, unfortunately, too big.

img_3425

I used the spatula to keep the filling to one side of the baking pan. It worked.

Since the pan was big, this is what I ended up with:

img_3426

Carefully pour the cake mix on top, but don’t mix them:

No. . .this not gluten free, wheat free, or in any way healthy.

No. . .this not gluten free, wheat free, or in any way healthy.

Carefully pour the cake mix on top of the pie filling--but don't mix it.

Carefully pour the cake mix on top of the pie filling.

 

img_3431

Done!

 

img_3430

The spatula made it easy to spread evenly.

Now retrieve your butter squares from the freezer, and start laying them on top the cake powder:

Butter!

Butter!

 

Until it looks like this.

Until it looks like this.

Drop this baby into your preheated oven, set the timer, and about 45 minutes later, this is what you end up with:

Aaaahhhh. . . .

Aaaahhhh. . . .

It’s hot, so you might want to let it cool a little–or completely–before eating. The top is sweet and crispy, while the bottom is soupy and sweet with the flavor of Hatch chilis (but no pepper heat.) Serve it with whipped cream, ice cream (BF’s preference) or just plain. However you serve it, you’ll be popular. It’s that good.

While that was baking, I got busy with the rest of dinner:

The setup

The setup.

 

img_3438

With ground turkey or ground chicken, you really need a bit of oil–they don’t have enough fat like ground beef or pork.

 

img_3439

Just one pound was all that I needed.

Can’t get much easier than this–get it into the hot pot:

img_3440

And brown that ground turkey up:

img_3441

And you end up with this.

Once the meat is browned well, add in the starter and a cup of water:

Here we go!

Here we go! (Don’t get this jar mixed up with the Hatch Apple Filling, or your results will be very, very different.)

Yes, you need water or it's way too thick.

Yes, you need that cup of water or it’s way too thick.

Cook it for 20 minutes, and this is what happens:

White bean chili!

White bean chili!

By now, the Hatch Apple Dump Cake has come out of the oven, and has cooled.

Yum.

Yum. (No, I didn’t eat it out of the baking pan.)

The “cake” actually forms a bit of a crust, since it’s baked on top with the butter. More like a pie crust than a cake–but don’t kid yourself, this is REALLY worth the splurge, folks.

Now, with these two manly men on the patio working on a car and making lots of noise, I brought dinner out to them, fresh and hot, and we had dinner together:

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Unfortunately, they didn’t get this point, and walked into the kitchen. . .I yelled, I mean, called, at them to come outside to the patio. Both were a bit surprised that I would bring dinner out *to* them, particularly the friend, who, apparently had not been briefed on my mannerisms and habits. I try to be polite and helpful, you see, and I thought it would be better to bring it out to them so they wouldn’t have to stop for too long. When car guys get together, they don’t like interruptions. They just want to do CAR STUFF. So I did what I could to make that happen and make clean up easy (hence the paper bowls.)

BF knew all about the Hatch chili thing because, well, I told him. More than once. However, his “car guy” friend got the lecture, and I joked with BF that he was going to go home and tell his missus all about it. Know what? He did–we got a call from him on the way back from Houston the next week, and I answered since BF was driving. I asked him if he’d told the missus, and he said, “Oh, yeah! I told her all about them, and how good it was.” See? Education is a great thing, and one more person in the world knows about the wonderful Hatch chiles.

Now, despite my love for Pinterest and new trends, I have apparently missed the phenomenon known as a “Dump Cake.” Well, I’m not baking cakes terribly often, unless it’s sugar-free and gluten-free, and they’re usually for me or a specific group of people (like the recent vegan stuff I made to bring to LK’s place in Clear Lake for district meetings.) But checking Pinterest just now, there are hundreds of “Dump Cake” recipes, in which you assemble a few ingredients–dump them into a pan–and bake them. There are even Dump Cake recipes that go into. . .a Crock Pot. No kidding. Wonder if there are any Paleo versions? I’ll be checking that for sure.

This article from Buzzfeed lists 15 “super-lazy” dump cakes that require nothing more than a bowl to mix them in and an oven or slow cooker to bake them. Two highlights are this Black Forest Dump Cake that makes me want some (but I know better, I gained a pound and a half!) and a gluten-free Blueberry Dump Cake from Nicole at Gluten Free on a Shoestring. And then there’s this very sweet one from Moms With CrockPots.

Diabetics–start your insulin!

Once again, the holidays are coming up quick, and it will soon be time to be firing up your slow cookers and waffle makers to keep it all going. Office parties, family get-togethers and all manner of other social events will show up quick. So, a “Dump Cake” can be one more arrow in your arsenal of recipes for the holidays or anytime you need something quick.

See? You learned something today. Well, I did, anyway.

Happy Eating!

 

The “Use It Up” Frittata

Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers:

I’m quite happy to receive two very nice comments on my last blog post, one from Miss Alice herself. I hope you try Miss Alice’s Magic Beans soon and enjoy them. I’m looking forward to the next time I can make some, but BF says “I’m all beaned out for a while.” But I made something fast last night that I thought I should tell you about.

I also mentioned that my beloved Cuisinart toaster oven is now. . .toast. Oh, it still works, but. . .not well. Let me explain further.

The model I have, I think, I bought about 2009 or 2010. It’s a well-built workhorse, and it’s done a great job for me since I bought it. The one I had before was a Christmas gift from the GER, and I used that heavily until the electrics went. Well, the front panel on this one, which contains the circuit board, come loose a while back. It was fine, I guess, until it got a little jostled in the move. We moved it to Neighbor E’s place, and it sat for a month until we moved it last week to my new location, and it was moved around a bit more, in the back of the pickup. I plugged it in, and the readout acted a little wacky, but after a couple of unplugs and re-plugs, it seemed to be working fine.

I’ve been cleaning out the back room that will soon be my “studio”, and going in and out of the main part of the house. Not suspecting there was any reason to be concerned, I put a lovely pork loin roast into the beloved toaster oven and went about my business. I checked on it periodically, and the Herbes de Provence-coated roast was cooking along just fine.

Until it wasn’t. I had an emergency. And BF was at work.

I went back into the main part of the house and saw thick, heavy smoke. (Thank heavens the dogs are outside.) I went into the kitchen, and just saw more smoke–no flames, thank heavens, but SMOKE. Now, I’m accustomed to a little of it, particularly roasting things like turkey and chicken at 400F–my eyes burn a little, and I had to open up the patio doors to let that all out. Took a few minutes with the air conditioner cranked down to about 65F. Then the odor and smoke is gone, and I can go back to what I was doing. But this was the thick white smoke that comes from something burning.

I rang BF at work for help, and he told me what I needed to know. He has a big floor-stand fan that’s missing the front (I’ll get that cleaned and back together soon), and I had that plugged in and blowing fresh air in as well as one from my place by the front door. Opened all the windows and sat on the patio with the curious pit bull who kept  licking my face to let me know it was OK while BF texted me and said, “Relax.

The pork roast was charred, but tasty once you cut past the burned bits (which the dogs happily munched.)

The next day I did some forensics–cleaned the whole thing up, but didn’t take any pictures. It was that bad! The drip tray was full of grease, and grease was baked onto the glass door. The square ceramic IKEA baking dish (similar to this one) was burned and broken into about six pieces from the center out, much like a large cookie–not shattered in a lot of little pieces. It was old, so I wondered if maybe it just had micro-fractures I didn’t notice and the heat did it in. Everything gets jostled around in a move, and we did have a few minor casualties, including broken glass. The breaking apart allowed the rendered-off fat to drip to the heating elements, then fill the drip tray and smoke up the house. Right?

Not exactly.

This where all my root-cause analysis and detective skills come in. See why I like to watch shows like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and Burn Notice?

After I’d cleaned up that disaster and made it look shiny, I turned it on and set the temperature at 400F, which is what I use frequently (although the pork loin roast was set to 350F.) I left I it alone, and watched it while I washed dishes. I noticed that the convection fan was running, and it was getting pretty hot–but at no time did the readout indicate “temp ready,” which is what it’s supposed to do.

So I got to thinking–maybe it wasn’t the dish? After I left the library on Monday, we stopped at Walmart for milk (as we do every couple of days, because he drinks more milk than a cow produces in a day), and I went to the kitchen stuff section to get a little inexpensive oven thermometer. I just sat it in the baking pan and repeated the test. Guess what?

Now we know why.

Now we know what happened.

The temperature regulator is toast. The oven “works,” but it doesn’t stop at 350F or 400F, it just keeps getting hotter. That’s what fractured the baking dish into six pieces and allowed the grease to drip onto the heating element, smoking out the house. Had I used a stainless steel or aluminum pan, the roast probably would have still been charred, and it may have indeed smoked, but the metal wouldn’t have fractured like that.

So. . .we’re debating on spending money on a new, and for now, less expensive toaster oven from <gulp> Walmart or Target. Or should we send this nearly $200 model to the Cuisinart repair place in Arizona, and spend a currently unknown amount of money to have it repaired? The circuit board will have to be replaced, and likely the entire front panel, since it’s not exactly attached anymore and hangs by two wires. Is it worth it to have this one repaired, or would it be better to buy new? If we do, it will likely be an Oster, Black & Decker, or Hamilton Beach; I would just take measurements on this one to make sure I get one that’s relatively the same size. Meantime, I’m using the big oven for everything, or the little one on the left. That oven thermometer will be used to check the temps on those ovens as well.

This is what happens when life unravels. And sometimes, it’s highly annoying. Oh, well. . .so let me tell you about last night’s dinner.

I may have mentioned this, but we don’t have cable TV in our rural hideaway. (No Internet yet, either, until I can pay for it. I’m working on that.) We have two, and occasionally three, sets of PBS stations at our disposal–New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and the one from Mississippi comes in occasionally (along with a radio station.) The other night, I turned on one of the stations to see cookbook author and chef Lidia Bastianich cooking with eggs. (It was a rare night when something called NCIS something-or-other wasn’t on.)  PBS now has multiple stations, and one of them is called @Create. It’s where they run lots of cooking shows, including Martha Stewart’s, most of the day. (There area also other craft shows, as well as shows like this interesting one called Urban Conversion.)

I haven’t made a frittata in a long time, and I figured, now is a good time to start making them again. Especially since there’s a hungry man in my environment. He was out in the workshop for a while, elbow-deep in some kind of car grease, and came in halfway through the show. Lidia was taking the frittata out of the oven, and turned it upside down onto a plate, much like you would a pineapple-upside-down cake. She’d sliced up some large tomatoes and put them on the bottom of the pan, added a couple of other things, and then poured the eggs over the whole thing. When it comes out, and you flip it, it has a lovely top. BF didn’t know what that was, and I told him–a frittata. He said he could do without the tomatoes.

Lidia also answered a viewer’s question about using leftovers to create frittatas. Lidia said that was a great idea, because leftover meat and veg are perfect for creating one-of-a-kind frittatas whenever you want. That’s when I realized–I could make them too! Why haven’t I done this in a long time?

If you’re like BF and have no earthly idea what that word means, well. . .let me ask you, do you know what a quiche is? (He doesn’t know what that is, either.) If you do, it’s basically a quiche without a crust under it. That’s the biggest difference, and they are prepared differently. Quiche is French while Frittata is Italian. Paleo, gluten-free and low-carb folks have adopted frittatas as one of their own, because they’re low-carb and fit right in. Purists may prefer the quiche, and the crust that comes with it (and it can be gluten-free with the right crust, but have a lot of carbs.)

If you really don’t know what either one is, think “egg pie.” Vegetables, meat, or a combination of the two, in a baked egg/milk or cream/cheese base that’s cooked on top the stove first, then put in the oven to finish it. It’s great for breakfast and brunch, of course, but also good for a quick lunch or dinner. The trick is to get started on it soon. . .and don’t wait until late like I did last night.

I found a very basic recipe for frittata on The Food Network’s website, as well as more recipes and an explanation of the difference at Chowhound. Here’s a primer on them from The Kitchn, which I will probably bookmark on my phone so I can refer to it again one day. Lidia also has a YouTube channel, and you can search it for a number of frittata recipes, too–I just can’t find *the* one I saw last week. If you search Food Network’s website for “frittata,” you also will find a myriad of recipes. But I’ll show you what I did with ours so you can see how easy and varied they can be when you’re wondering what you can make that’s new, or you have leftovers to use up.

I call it The Use-It-Up Frittata. Because that’s what I did–and I didn’t want to mess with a Red Baron Pizza.

The setup

The setup.

We had two pork chops left from the weekend, (recipe is here, but I used almond flour) and I figured BF didn’t want any more of them, so I used them elsewhere. Of course, for this, I wanted those HEB eggs from Texas chickens, green onions that are growing on the kitchen windowsill, and a hatch chile pepper that came from my garden in Houston. (It’s the only one that isn’t bright red, but I’ll use the rest for myself later.)

I started by grabbing a handful of green onions:

I didn't use all the green onions, but don't worry, they'll grow back soon.

I didn’t use all of them but don’t worry, they’ll grow back soon.

Chopped them up really well, then moved onto the pepper:

Hatch!

Hatch!

And you know I saved those seeds, too:

Always, always. I'm determined to grow Hatch chiles in rural Louisiana.

Always, always. I’m determined to grow Hatch chiles in rural Louisiana.

Chopped them up really fine, too:

Always, ALWAYS wear gloves!

Always, ALWAYS wear gloves!

Then I chopped up the two pork chops:

These really are delicious!

Delicious.

You want to chop meat small like this because bigger pieces will make it harder to eat once you cut the frittata. Next up, I added the onions and Hatch into a cast-iron frying pant to cook for a bit:

A little butter, a little olive oil

A little butter, a little olive oil, a little heat

Turn the oven on when you’re starting to cook on top the stove. You don’t want to wait for the oven to heat up. I recommend 350F, I think 375F was too high.

I think this was a bit too high of a temp.

Pretty soon, the veg will be cooked:

This is good.

This is good.

At this point, I added in the chopped pork chops to heat them:

See why you chop it small?

See why you chop it small?

And let them heat while you deal with the eggs:

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

I think I used 8 of these babies, from Texas chickens (yes, it’s a prejudice.) I also used my huge 8-cup Pyrex mixer so I’d have plenty of room. (You’re going to wash something anyway, right?) I cracked them right in and added a bit of milk:

img_3463

The eggs and milk work well together, especially here.

And because, DUH, I had this handy, I shook in about a quarter cup or so:

Yes, the infamous green bottle.

Yes, the infamous green bottle.

I have some Manchego in the freezer, but guess who doesn’t like that, either? So this is what went in:

Into the pool with it:

Into the pool with it:

Plugged in the immersion blender:

This is why the 8-cup bowl is best for this kind of thing.

This is why the 8-cup bowl is best for this kind of thing.

And hit the button:

Blitz! The egg mixture doesn't go flying all over the place. And it pours easily.

Blitz! The egg mixture doesn’t go flying all over the place. And it pours easily.

Now you’re ready to pour the egg mixture into the pan. Carefully, please:

NOW it's happening!

NOW it’s happening!

Your frittata is almost ready:

img_3476

Don’t forget to use the spatula to get every last bit of egg, milk and cheese out of the bowl and into the pot!

I put the universal pot lid on it so that it might cook a bit faster on top:

I'm sure BF looks at this and thinks to himself, "of course, she bought the red one."

I’m sure BF looks at this and thinks to himself, “of course, she bought the red one.”

Then I put it directly into the preheated oven to finish cooking (minus the lid) slicing through it to make sure it was completely baked:

Done!

Done!

With cries of “I’m hungry” from BF, and apologies for the the delay, I served this to him:

Use-It-Up Frittata

Use-It-Up Frittata!

I love it. It’s quick, easy, and because the pork chops were already cooked and seasoned, I didn’t have to do much of that. But what did the man of the house think?

“I don’t really like it. Can I have a grilled cheese sandwich instead?”

Yes, he really said that. And I did make him one, in the same skillet. I’ll be eating frittata for breakfast this week while he has some cereal and milk. That’s what he likes.

I asked him why he didn’t like it, and he said that it was “just too many flavors going on at one time.” So if I ever attempt a frittata again, I’ll have to tone down the flavor combinations and follow a recipe. (Not like there aren’t many around.)  I felt bad that it didn’t live up to expectations, and it wasn’t as special as I thought it was. He appreciated the effort, but just didn’t like the finished product.

And now the word “frittata” will be, in his mind, synonymous with something awful.

He did mention something about stuffing the other night, the kind out of a box. I consulted Will It Waffle? and made him. . .Stuffles. When I mentioned that I *could* waffle the stuffing, he got this smile on his face and asked, “Are you serious?” I nodded, and he said, “OK, go ahead.” And, you know, that was a pretty darn good thing to do. You just add some melted butter and water to a packet of the stuffing mix in a bowl, mix it up well, then heat up the waffle maker. Add a half-cup to each section, close the top for a few minutes (watch it, of course) and you’ve got hot, salty, greasy, crunchy, tasty Stuffles. If anyone wants the recipe, send me a note and I’ll write a post on it. (No, it’s *not* gluten free.)

Meantime, we’re doing what we need to around the homestead. BF has taken vacation time next week (the “use it or lose it” type) and it also happens to be. . .my birthday! Gifts don’t always come wrapped in a box. No Denny’s around, but I’ll be getting my yearly free salad (or something) from Starbucks, and maybe one or two other “birthday free things” I can find. Well, I knew I would miss some things when I moved here.

Y’all, frittatas are a great way to make a quick egg dinner for yourself, your family, as well as breakfast, brunch or lunch. Heck, really, anytime you’re hungry and have a few minutes.

Except for The E Man. Unfortunately, he’s allergic to eggs. My sincerest apologies to you, my friend.

So will you try it this week? If you’re in an area where it’s already cold, frittatas can really fit the bill any time. Here in the south, it’s not a long oven time, either.

Enjoy!

 

 

The Cool Post

It’s summer in Texas. Heck, it’s summer everywhere–people are frying steaks and eggs on sidewalks and car hoods. They’re not in Texas, either.

Never fret–I have some nice recipes to keep you cool and comfy.

I caught Valerie Bertinelli’s cooking show last Saturday, and her good friend Faith Ford came by for lunch. Apparently, it was hot in SouCal when they filmed this episode (or they were just pretending) because Valerie didn’t want to turn on the oven. However. . .she did turn on the stove. I mean, how else do you cook lobster tails? While I’m not suggesting anyone go out and buy fresh lobster (I know I’m not, crawfish are the same thing), if you want some, many stores will steam them for you. (I think HEB does.) Valerie’s Lemon Icebox Cake was pretty fast and looked nice and cool. (It does call for Vanilla Wafers.) The episode is called Too Hot To Cook, but cook she does, albeit on the stove top–but not for very long. Want some real fresh-brewed iced tea? They make some, there’s a honey-sweetened recipe in this episode too.

Naturally, I’m up to my summer coffee making:

This will be iced coffee once it cools down.

This will be iced coffee once it cools down.

Now, if you’re thinking about going iced on your coffee, as always, The Coffee Detective has articles to get you started. This one explains how to make iced coffee at home, and this article has specialty  cold coffee-based drinks. (Warning: Nick uses alcohol in some of these recipes.)  How long does it stay in the fridge? Until I finish it. Which is going on twice a week now.

If you are in an area where it’s that hot, do you now see the wisdom of the Crock Pot? Even my mechanic friend JK is thinking seriously about making nice, cool Overnight Oatmeal after I told him about it. (I forgot to ask The E Man if he’s tried it.) Don’t be embarrassed–get one or two if you don’t have a slow cooker, and if you have a family, consider a larger waffle maker, too, for making brownies, hash browns and all that kind of thing. There is no need to turn on that oven, unless it’s a toaster oven.

Still looking for recipes for your slow cooker? Sign up at All Free Slow Cooker Recipes and get them in your inbox every day. (In addition to my favorite, Pinterest.) A searchable recipe database means you can go find what you want on a dime. Don’t heat up your kitchen in the summer, please.

I’ve already made my first batch of basil pesto for the year, which I didn’t document, because, well, I’ve done it more than once. However, the rooted basil cuttings have now been planted, and I expect a large amount of basil, and subsequently, pesto, in the near future. Last year I was lucky enough to get extra from my visit last year to the Genoa Friendship Garden, so I kind of made out like a bandit with the pesto. I have five containers in the freezer, and since we didn’t have a really cold winter in Texas, I didn’t make as much Pea & Pesto Soup as I thought. However, at some point, I’ll need to get more of those square containers I use to freeze individual batches. Earlier this year, I also broke one, darnit.

Speaking of the garden, I got more tomatoes:

And that was it.

They were delicious. And that was it.

Four more are behind it, and I’m watching the newly planted basil cuttings too. No more strawberries, and the jalapenos are taking their time. The lettuce, is, of course, gone now.

Anyway. . . .

Last weekend, for whatever reason, I pulled a couple of old cookbooks off the shelf and started flipping through them. I wanted to make something different, and wondered if there was anything I could make that I had on hand, or with minimal shopping. Something I hadn’t made in a while, or never tried. Turns out there was. The first recipe, Cool Lentil Salad, is a good one. Why have I never made this before?

The first book in question is Martha Stewart’s Healthy Quick Cook. Published in 1997, this book features elegant but somewhat “lighter” menus, including desserts, that are low fat. (Not all the customer reviews are positive, but that’s OK.) “Casual but sophisticated,” it says on the inside cover. Well, we know what “low fat” usually means–higher in carbs, sugar, salt, and other additives to cut the fat but make it taste good. In these recipes, most everything is made from scratch, as Martha usually does, although I admit to making just a few recipes from the book. Maybe I need to go back and read it again. This salad is made from simple ingredients, quick to make and is a nice, cool addition to a summer dinner.

I can still hear my ex-husband say to me, “You expect me to eat that??” Ah, memories. . . .

Recipe 1: Lentil Salad

Unfortunately, you do cook the lentils on the stove, but only for 10 minutes. After that, it’s just tossing everything together.

The setup.

The setup.

The parsley and celery came from the garden, and I really, really needed to cut the parsley. I’m forever telling LK to water the parsley plant she has out front of her house, and. . .mine is watered, but it really needed cutting too. Finally, I cut it. The re-grown celery also needed to be cut, and I took half of that off. (I’ll use the rest in something else.) The lentils. . .well, they’re in a sealed jar, OK? Next trip to Phoenicia, and I’ll re-stock. I haven’t made any lentil dishes since I made Stewed Lentils & Tomatoes earlier this year.

So I started out by boiling the rinsed lentils and garlic in salted water:

I rinsed off the lentils first.

I rinsed off the lentils first.

And let them simmer for 10 minutes. Meantime, I started chopping celery:

This is re-grown celery from the garden.

This is re-grown celery from the garden. I actually don’t like the leaves.

You’ll need half a cup:

Made it!

Made it!

When the lentils are, as the book says, “crisp-tender”, that is, cooked but not mushy with a textured bite, drain them:

IMG_3063

Discard that garlic, then run the cold water over them:

IMG_3064

I’ll toss that garlic clove later.

And toss the lentils into a bowl (your serving bowl, if you like.) Finely chop that red onion (or as best as you can get it):

IMG_3065

And add it with the chopped parsley into the bowl.

Now, I have to tell you about my recent little benefit: I was at HEB on a Saturday, and when I was walking into have lunch, I mean, get my shopping, I noticed that someone dropped a big, beautiful red bell pepper. It was just sitting there! I figured someone would go back for it, but when I left HEB, someone carefully perched it on the short concrete pylons in front of the door. So. . .it came home with me. And I said, Thank You.

My benefit bell pepper

My benefit bell pepper

I put it on the Butusdan for a few days, but noticed it was getting a tad wrinkly. Into the fridge until I figured out what to do with it, and so I tossed it into the lentil salad. The bell pepper was an addition, not part of the recipe:

IMG_3068

Now for the dressing: It’s just 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of warm water. I whizzed that all together with the frother:

And sending it flying everywhere because the bowl was too small

And sending it flying everywhere because the bowl was too small.

Poured it over the salad in the bowl and mixed it together:

Cool Lentil Salad

Cool Lentil Salad

It’s pretty darn tasty, and will complement many summer dishes perfectly.

Recipe 2: White Bean & Olive Salad

This tasty throw-together salad only appeared in the Houston Chronicle via The New York Times many years ago. It was an Everyday Food recipe, and was never in a book or on their website–despite my request to add it. Fortunately, I kept the newspaper section in my personal notebook, and have enjoyed it for many years. It’s simple, and uses just a few simple ingredients for a cool, tasty side dish.

The setup.

The setup.

There’s a reason I put out three kinds of mustard–because, quite frankly, I think you should have a choice. The original recipe calls for Dijon mustard. However, the first time I made it, I only had Creole Mustard, and have been using it in this recipe ever since.

If you can find this mustard, its strong flavor may make you a convert.

If you can find this mustard, its stronger, unique flavor may make you a convert.

I think it’s a lot more flavorful than the Dijon, but that’s just me. You could certainly try the grainier variety of Dijon, too.

Why do I have two kinds of Dijon? Because at Trader Joe’s, it’s cheap.

So, you rinse two cans of cannellinni beans, and add them to a serving bowl:

YUM!

YUM!

Chop (or halve) a quarter cup of Kalamata olives:

IMG_3087

I just prefer them chopped, that’s all.

These are the olives, available in most markets:

Kalamata olives. Watch out for pits, some have them.

Kalamata olives, also from the olive bar in your grocery. Watch out for pits, some have them.

Add them to the bowl. Now thinly slice half a small red onion (in this case, left from the Cool Lentil Salad):

Red onions!

The red onion has a less acrid bite than standard white or yellow onions. But I don’t buy them often.

Time to mix the dressing–and I used my secret weapon again.

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Wash VERY carefully by hand, with hot soapy water when you’re done.

Into a small bowl, add 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, and one tablespoon of mustard. In my case, I like the Creole mustard in this dish, but the original recipe calls for Dijon:

Almost dressing

Almost dressing

And out comes the Aerolatte milk frothing tool to mix and emulsify the dressing.

Whiz!

Whiz!

Note that you MUST wash it carefully by hand to get it clean. Don’t want olive oil in your frothed-up latte, do you?

Then it’s just a matter of pouring it over the salad, and mixing it up:

IMG_3090 IMG_3091

Voila! A tasty no-cook salad that’s quick and delicious anytime. It makes four servings, by the way:

Yum.

Yum.

This, too, will hold up in the fridge for a few days. If you can keep your paws out of it. It’s THAT good.

Recipe 3: Ginger Ice Milk

The third recipe, also from Martha Stewart’s Healthy Quick Cook, is Ginger Ice Milk, and takes a bit of prep work before it’s ready to eat. Remember that this book came out in the 90’s, when low-fat was still the prevailing mindset in “healthy.” It calls for 3.5 cups of  “low-fat” milk–which is mostly or all sugar, if you didn’t know that. (I’m guessing it’s either skim, 1% or 2%, but it’s still more sugar than fat; whole milk is both sugar and fat.) No way am I going to put a half-cup of sugar into a pitcher of sugar. So, much like lattes and iced coffee, I made it with whole milk, and sweetened it with SomerSweet. (Yes, I still have some.)

The setup

The setup.

I’m not sure whether to call this “ice milk” or “ice cream.” Whatever you call it, you’ll enjoy it in the summer heat.

Warning #1: fresh ginger has a real bite! And, you should observe sitting times and probably not leave it for 2+ hours while heading out for a bike ride. Just 45 minutes of infusion should have done it. (I forget these things.)

Warning #2: If you have an ice cream maker like mine, that requires the freezing of a component (in my case, the bowl) make sure you freeze it ahead of time as instructed. That’s in addition to making the base for the iced treat you’re freezing, and letting it chill completely. Mine from Cuisinart requires 24 hours for the bowl to freeze up properly, and I actually put it in the freezer on Wednesday. If you have one of the fancier ones with an internal compressor (that is, it’s plug-and-play like this one with no freezing beforehand, which cost more), then you don’t need to freeze ahead. One day. . .I’ll get a plug-and-play ice cream maker, or a bigger freezer so that I can keep *two* of the freezer bowls frozen at the ready and make my own ice cream a lot more often. At least I don’t have to make ice for days in advance like I did with the one I used to own.

Warning #3: Ginger can develop a mold on the surface if you leave it too long in the fridge. Like I did:

Yuck! Cut that off!

Yuck! Cut that off!

I only made this to use up the ginger. And, because I like making my own ice cream.

This recipe is dessert for a meal inspired by Japanese cuisine. The protein is <cough> tofu, and there is nori (flat dried seaweed) involved in a “Vegetable Handwrap.” Now, I’ve eaten burritos for quite a number of years, but even I know that it is not possible to chew through the nori wrap! (It’s like chewing aluminum foil lined with plastic wrap–it’s too stiff to make burritos.)  Obviously, the rest of that menu will never happen in my kitchen, but the dessert is a good one.

So, it’s pretty simple to make: heat up 3.5 cups of milk with a half-cup of sugar (I used SomerSweet), and stir, but don’t boil:

IMG_3097

Warm until the sugar or sweetener dissolves, and whisk occasionally to make sure it does.

While that’s happening, peel the ginger (recipe calls for a 3-inch piece, but good luck finding that to spec). I learned from Martha to scrape the peel off using a spoon. Then slice it like the red onion above:

Yes, like that.

Yes, like that.

When the sweetener has dissolved, add the fresh ginger, lower the heat and let it lightly simmer for 15 minutes. Then take it off the heat, add the grated ginger, and let it infuse for 45 minutes:

IMG_3105

We don’t say “steep” anymore, we say “infuse.”

It was at this point that headed out on the bike for 90 minutes. That’s where the powerful ginger taste came from. It’s almost hot, no kidding.

After 45 minutes, remove the ginger pieces (I had to strain out the tiny bits):

IMG_3111

Those tiny browner bits are the ground ginger. I used a small spatula to push them through the sieve and back into the milk mixture.

Then let it cool, then chill it thoroughly. (This is why you plan ahead.)

Once it’s cool (and you’ve frozen your bowl, if need be), it’s time to make this into a sweet treat.

IMG_3115

Now, there’s something I found unusual with this recipe. See where the milk level is? Well, start to finish took about 40 minutes (and thank heavens for earbuds, that machine is loud.) But as it churned, the mixture sort of expanded:

Second picture. See it?

Second picture. See it?

Now get a look at it right before I turned the machine off:

Close to the top.

Close to the top.

I’ve never seen that happen before. But it was time to shut it off, and I did.

Ginger Ice Milk!

Ginger Ice Milk!

Theoretically, the square glass container on the right should have been elegant sufficiency. However, I had to resort to putting the “overflow” in another container. Well, that’s OK–it’s sugar free, I’ll have it whenever I want some. (I also have some cantaloupe sorbet in a separate glass container, sitting underneath these two.

One thing I noticed is that when I put this dish in the freezer with a spoon, it didn’t freeze hard like ice cream does:

Ice cream with a BITE!!

Dessert with a BITE!!

Checking the containers in the freezer, they’re not frozen hard, either. So, you’ll have to eat this quickly before it melts.

Oh, and I also ate the “crumbs” I scraped off the inside of the freezer bowl:

Or maybe I should have let it churn longer?

Or maybe I should have let it churn longer?

Delicious–but let me repeat the warning that ginger can be quite spicy, and it gives a bite to this frozen dessert. I may have left it infuse too long. But it’s SOOOO good!

Recipe 4: Quinoa, Pea & Mint Salad

The last recipe is actually on page 17 of Martha Stewart’s Dinner At Home, a book similar to the ill-received Healthy Quick Cook, but without the “healthy” connotation. Like the first book and one or two before it, the menus are arranged by season to take advantage of what’s available. They don’t call this a “healthy” cookbook, but for the most part, it is–elegant made from scratch dishes using easy to find fresh ingredients. I made this from what I had already, plus mint from the garden, and I have to say, it’s quite good. So let’s make some!

The setup

The setup

I bought that chicken stock for something else a long time ago, and I finally used it. Peas I try to keep around for Pea and Pesto Soup, so that’s only a cup. I have quinoa as well, and that’s a cup. The mint, of course, came from the garden. So, let’s make this one.

First, put the chicken stock (or broth) in the pot, then rinse the quinoa:

One cup of quinoa, rinsed.

One cup of quinoa, rinsed.

 

I know, not the prettiest picture. Keep reading.

I know, not the prettiest picture. Keep reading.

Heat it to boiling, cover and simmer for 10 minutes:

IMG_3128

After 10 minutes, add the peas, fresh or frozen:

Quinoa isn't quite cooked yet.

Quinoa isn’t quite cooked yet–see the little holes where the bubbles are?

Cover and let this simmer for another 5 minutes.

IMG_3133

After 5 minutes, remove it from the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and then 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil:

IMG_3136

Mix well, and then add into a serving dish (which is probably cool):

IMG_3137

Let this sit for five minutes or so to cool a bit, uncovered. Then stir in the mint. I just added the leaves whole, since they weren’t big. If you have big leaves, tear them a little or even chop a little:

Mint!

Mint!

Mix it up well, and serve either warm or room temperature. If you’re doing the weekly cooking thing, this will sit in the fridge all week and hold up just fine. Best to cook after the sun goes down, or if you’re the hardy type, before the sun comes up. (I used to do that.)

Now, if you’ve got grilling on your mind, the July/August issue of Hobby Farms magazine has a quick recipe for Grilled Bell Pepper and Tomato Kabobs with Herbs and Olive Oil. I haven’t tried this one, but it looks tasty and is simple. It would go well with an outdoor grilled dinner.

More farm-type recipes are available on their website. This month’s issue also includes a Letter to the Editor about foot rot in sheep. EWWWW, poor babies! If you see a sheep kneeling to graze, that means it’s in pain and needs immediate medical attention. But if you do have sheep, you’ll likely smell it, too.

What will you have that will keep your house from feeling like a HeatCageKitchen? (Go to the Recipes page for PDF files for all these tasty dishes.)

Happy Dining!

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Overnight Oatmeal

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

No, I haven’t been swimming in the deluge of water that’s come to Texas. It finally stopped raining for a couple of days, and I’ve gotten back on the bike. I missed it. We’ve had some off-on showers, like the one that passed over us yesterday afternoon. It was the length of an average song by The Monkees.

Haven’t drowned in a vat of melted chocolate, either–I wish. In fact, I haven’t had chocolate in a while–but that’s a good thing. The most dangerous thing I’ve done recently is go visit Neighbor E and mess with his newly adopted cat. Big, fluffy and sweet, even to the dog, but she does like to bare her claws, too.

I found this funny online somewhere a while back and have forgotten to include it. I’ve made some kitchen mistakes, as everyone has, but despite what might the GER might tell you, I’ve never been this bad.

We've all been there.

We’ve all been there.

Thought you might enjoy that one.

The HeatCageKitchen garden is very green and very happy these days. Looks like I might get a few more Key limes after all. In addition to the one little bud growing:

20160614_093704

There is a sudden bunch of little flowers at the top of the tree that should yield a few more of them.

That's not a corsage!

That’s not a corsage!

The 3 Meyer lemons are getting bigger:

One of three.

One of three.

And there are a few tomatoes around:

Whenever it ripens, it will be red.

Whenever it ripens, it will be red.

Plus more behind them:

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And these are little yellow SunGolds.

The basil has grown up pretty well, and it’s time to make some pesto from the big plant. Don’t worry, there’s more basil coming (I just need to plant these little rootlings):

See? It works!

See? It works!

I’ll plant them in this pot, and eventually I hope they become two feet tall:

See the previous rootlings that are growing?

See the previous rootlings that are growing?

Although it’s officially summer, we’ve been warmed up for a while. Now that it’s June, well, you won’t be wanting to turn on that stove anymore, will you? Have you dusted off your Crock Pot and started cooking in it yet? Why not? Check some of my older posts for some recipes, or hit Pinterest and search there. You’ll never run out of recipes for your Crock Pot or waffle maker there–trust me on that. (No grapes into the Crock Pot=wine yet.) Seriously, though, there’s no reason to heat up the kitchen if you don’t want to. And I found another “forget it” thing to tell you about that can keep you cool this summer, and make mornings a little easier, whether you’re single or married with children.

But first. . . .

Sue Moran of The View From Great Island just posted something she calls “Vegan Breakfast Bowls.” Now, they do look tasty, but they’re not the tofu-and-bean combination that might spring to mind. Sue’s breakfast bowls are more like granola types of mixtures with fruit, nuts almond milk, chia seeds and the like. (The post is sponsored by the producer of the non-dairy milk she uses. I’ve never seen 1915 BoltHouse Farms products, and they are available here–but I’m not touching soy milk.)  I’m a bit skittish about using chia seeds after my experience a couple of years ago, but occasional chia dishes might be OK. I haven’t tried them since, but I would always urge caution and suggest backing off if you find yourself with gut pains.

So, another item I’ve seen on Pinterest and places like Facebook is something called “Overnight Oats.” Bloggers have been doing them for some time, I just never paid attention because. . .I generally don’t eat oatmeal. I got some coupons on Friday, and in the flier, I see that Quaker Oats is getting in on the act. It’s really simple, you just soak them overnight in milk with some other ingredients to make a full meal. Quaker’s page has a primer on how to put them together, including a YouTube video. Got any Mason jars around? There you go–toss it together the night before and stash in the fridge. (But it’s not mandatory–any big enough bowl or container will do.) Your breakfast is waiting for you in the fridge. How easy is that?

But it can get boring. . .so I head over to Pinterest and find some new stuff. Oh, boy, did I find some, too–not all of them Paleo/Sugar-Free versions, but who cares?

I’d forgotten until just now that Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, has made two recipes on her Food Network show for Overnight Oatmeal–one for her daughter’s Dorm Room Dining episode, and another when she found herself alone on the ranch.

Two of the more photogenic and interesting recipes I found on Pinterest are the Lemon Cream Pie Overnight Oats from Destination Delish, and the very decadent Hazelnut Brownie Batter Overnight Oats from Life A Little Brighter.

Lemon Cream Pie Overnight Oats | Destination Delish – Oats, chia seeds, lemon zest, and maple syrup are soaked in almond milk for a healthy breakfast inspired by a lovely lemon dessert

Lemon Cream Pie Overnight Oats | Destination Delish – Oats, chia seeds, lemon zest, and maple syrup are soaked in almond milk for a healthy breakfast inspired by a lovely lemon dessert (Source: Destination Delish)

Hazelnut-Brownie-Batter-Overnight-Oats-6

Hazelnut Brownie Batter Overnight Oats from LifeALittleBrighter.com. OMG–Chocolate!!!! (Source: LifeALittleBrighter.com)

Granted, using coffee creamer in your breakfast oatmeal might be a bit unusual, but. . .if it’s what floats your boat, so what? I think that would be a “special occasion” kind of recipe for me. I don’t buy that kind of thing, never did. Just give me milk or half-and-half for my coffee, please.

After seeing the Quaker website for it, I decided to try Overnight Oatmeal for myself. I had to head to Target last night, and picked up this container of oatmeal for $2.04:

Plain, old-fashioned oatmeal.

Plain, old-fashioned oatmeal.

As a rule, overnight oatmeal is not made with the instant/microwave kind, which is already packaged with sugar, flavorings, dried fruit, etc. (You can try it, but results are not guaranteed.) This is what you’re looking for, just. . .oats:

See it? 100% oats.

See it? 100% oats.

The suggested container is a Mason/Ball jar, and the point of the Quaker ad was to offer a “free” jar for you to make said Overnight Oats in. However, I’m sure any bowl or kitchen container would work well. I just happened to use one of the Ball jars that I bought for the lettuce experiment.

The setup.

The setup.

Quaker’s website says to use a one-to-one ratio of oats and milk (or water.) That goes in first, a half cup each:

Oats

Oats

 

Milk

Milk

Then it’s just a choice of ingredients, really. In my case, I wanted to try it with whatever I had on hand, which included the dreaded chia seeds:

20160613_224118

Just a tablespoon, although next time, I might try less.

And a tablespoon of peanut butter. Crunchy, of course, or what’s the point?

I just prefer crunchy, that's all

I just prefer crunchy, that’s all.

I should point out if you are planning to add nuts as a garnish or crunch, like slivered almonds or chopped walnuts, don’t add them until you are ready to eat. That way they don’t get. . .soaked. But since crunchy peanut butter is my preference, well, it was crunchy enough for me. Then I tossed in a tablespoon of cocoa powder:

Chocolate!

Chocolate!

Two tablespoons of agave syrup:
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And some vanilla extract:

Mexican vanilla, not the homemade stuff this time.

Mexican vanilla, not the homemade stuff this time.

Although I grabbed the homemade extract at first, and left it in the setup picture, I later realized that adding a tablespoon of vodka in an uncooked breakfast dish was probably not a good idea. So I added a tablespoon of the grocery store stuff. (Were I cooking the oatmeal, the vodka-based vanilla would have been fine.)

At this point, you can also add fruit if you like: berries, bananas, cherries, whatever you like. If you add frozen fruit, don’t thaw it out–the liquids given off by the thawing fruit will flavor the oatmeal. Recipes abound, so take your pick. Banana? Go for it. Blueberry? Drop them in. Yogurt? Go for it. I’m sure it would be difficult to do this “wrong.”

I could have also added some cinnamon, or other sweet-enhancing spice, I just didn’t think about it last night. But it all went into the jar, and I gave it a stir:

20160613_224627

OK, this was prior to the stir.

Put the lid on it, and stashed it in the fridge before bed. (Even though I had some breakfast quiche there that I made Sunday.)

Most of the reading I’ve done says to leave the oats for at least 8 hours so they soften up enough. It’s a bit like ceviche, really–there’s no heat involved, but soaked in liquid overnight, it’s “cooked.”

So what happened? I was looking forward to this. After I stirred it last night, I licked the fork. . .it was pretty tasty, but I waited. So when I fumbled into the kitchen, (after some coffee) I took it out of the fridge:

Good morning!

Good morning!

A closer look.

A closer look.

At this point, it doesn’t move without help. The chia seeds also absorb a whole lot of the liquid, so it’s like you added powdered gelatin. If you want your oats a bit thinner, you could add a little more milk or water at this point.

Because it really won't move.

Because it really won’t move.

I used that big silicone spoon-type spatula to get it all out of the Ball jar and into a bowl. Scraped every drop of it out.  I’m not fishing it out with an iced tea spoon. I want some food!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Overnight Oats

Amy’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Overnight Oats

It was pretty good, and filling, too. If I were still working downtown, I’d take some of this with me to eat mid-morning.

Now, if you’re the kind who likes to make breakfast ahead of time like I do, Overnight Oats will hang out in the fridge for a couple of days (that’s what I read), but I don’t think it will be that good at the end of a week. So, you’d make enough for Monday through Wednesday, and on Wednesday evening, make some for Thursday through Saturday. (And on Sunday, it’s waffle time! Or out for brunch.)

And where has this been all our lives? Hiding out in someone’s grandma’s idea factory, I guess. But now that it’s out on social media, the idea is available for all of us to enjoy, just like the great waffling ideas.

See, we as Americans, or maybe some of us, have this thing where we want to make things better. Sometimes, it’s a blogger like me messing around with a new way to do something, or like Elena Amsterdam, making easy, tasty grain-free foods. Sometimes it’s a kid who looks to solve a problem and ends up inventing something new and highly useful. And sometimes it’s an engineer, project manager or IT person who just knows there’s a better way to do things and changes the direction of an entire company or industry. But we all think about it–there’s got to be a better way.  As Americans, we look to do that. I know it’s not always Americans, though–our “better way” ideology has spread, thanks to things like social media, and now one good idea can be spread across the world to those in need of it.

Now we know that we can make oatmeal without the stove or microwave, and a hot breakfast on a 95F day can be turned into something delicious and cool. And it’s easy! (I plan to tell Neighbor R about this, in case she wants to try it.)

So, like slow cooking and waffling, Overnight Oatmeal is one more new trend to make life–and your breakfast–easy, and keep your kitchen from heating up in the long, hot summer. (Especially in Texas.)  Do a search, or get on Pinterest and find something you like for breakfast tomorrow, so you can set it up this evening. With Pinterest recipes, you could literally eat a different variety of oatmeal every day and never have the same thing twice.

This is a screen shot of just typing in “overnight oatmeal” into Pinterest:

Screenshot 2016-06-14 14.32.39

See? (My first screenshot on the blog!)

Now, you see the pictures (or “pins”) that come up, but look above that. Just under where I typed in “overnight oatmeal,” you see all those little rectangles with different descriptions in them. “In A Jar,” “Healthy,” “Crockpot,” “Frozen Fruit”–all those are buttons that refine your search by those topics. (That’s a thing when you search for something on Pinterest–very useful.) Touch the arrow to the right, and you’ll see more refinements. Keep going until you hit the end, if there is one. Just takes a little getting used to, and you can find just about anything on Pinterest. Type in something else you’re interested in if you don’t believe me.

And here’s something else to think about: if you make it while you’re either making dinner or doing the washing up, you’re done for the night.

So–what will you try first?

Do you have a suspicious spouse/partner who will look at you funny when you put that jar in the fridge, or will you have to hide your new breakfast? (Not me!) If you do, don’t be surprised if you try or create something tasty and it turns out *they* like it too (as Krista from Destination Delish found out.) Make enough for two (or more, if necessary.) If they don’t like it, well, like my father used to tell us. . .”more for me.”

Enjoy!