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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

 

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Done!

 

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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.

 

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

 

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Just one pound was all that I needed.

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

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And brown that ground turkey up:

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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 Big Fish

Happy Saturday, Dear Readers!

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

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

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

Isn't it a beauty?

Isn’t it a beauty?

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

The Inside.

The Inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The GER's big fish

The GER’s big fish.

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

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

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

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

The setup.

The setup.

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

Gremolata a la Amy.

Gremolata a la Amy.

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

Big, BIG fish!

Big, BIG fish!

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

FISH!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I scream, you scream. . .

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

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

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

“Cat–the *other* white meat.”

“Cat–it’s what’s for dinner.”

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

Cat sandwich. Perfectly normal, right?

Cat sandwich. Perfectly normal, right?

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

Ok, no more sewing news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again, GER.

Now onto the ice cream.

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

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

Ready?

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

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

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

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

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Homemade creme fraiche and homemade vanilla extract

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

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The add the eggs and vanilla:

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

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

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

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

Straining the mixture, giving it a finer texture.

Straining the mixture, giving it a smoother texture.

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

Delicious, but not yet. Gotta wait.

Delicious, but not yet. Gotta wait.

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

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

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

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

Cooking the blueberries

Cooking the blueberries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ice cream!!

Ice cream!!

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

The bottom half, or part 1

The bottom half, or part 1

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

Done!

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

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

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

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

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

What happened after that?

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

 

Raspberry Mousse Brownies

Good morning, Dear Readers:

A quick re blog from another blogger who liked last night’s post.

It’s Chocolate and raspberry, my favorite everything.

It is NOT gluten free. But I almost don’t care. And I bet with a little thought, it could be.

Enjoy!