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Bread of the Clouds

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry I’m late finishing this post. I did *not* float away or become waterlogged this week; that was the north side of town, where they took a month’s worth of rain in an hour. You’ve probably seen the pictures of people rescuing terrified horses through several feet of water, a confused armadillo, some dogs, as well as people being pulled from their cars. I’m on the south side of this huge metropolis, where we had that kind of water last May. Twice.

Good thing that adorable baby tiger found wandering in Conroe, also north of Houston, wasn’t in my neighborhood. I might not give it up. . .until it reaches 100 pounds or so. (I love tigers.)

The garden has been enjoying all the rain, but I do need to get out and do some tidying up soon.

I also have been otherwise occupied this week, as well as not feeling up to any task. I didn’t attend last night’s gardening lecture at our local library, and missed seeing Miss Shirley again. If you’re reading this, Miss Shirley, my apologies–I just wasn’t up to going anywhere.

I’m sure all of you have heard by now that the musician Prince passed away yesterday at the age of 57. Like David Bowie a few months ago, fans are downloading his music from iTunes as fast as they can. I haven’t followed him in a long time, and the last new song I heard by him was called Black Sweat, in about 2006, I think. I got it from iTunes a few years ago, and it’s one of those wild, weird fun songs he was known for. I pulled out my copy of The Hits/The B-Sides that I haven’t listened to in a very long time, and will put some of them on my iPod to listen to.

So what’s going on in food?

Remember when I discovered Epic Bars a couple of years ago? I was in a shooting range in League City. No kidding. Guess what? You’ll be seeing more eateries in retail establishments starting this year, and it’s not just Epic bars. This article on SmartBlogs discusses retail eateries in the age of online shopping, and the revival of things like the old Woolworth’s lunch counters. Pasta consumption is down, and chefs are now doing the Spiralizer thing with veggies, something I haven’t tried yet.

It’s all in the Baum + Whiteman’s 2016 forecast. Increases in “clean” eating, dishes, and boasting about ingredient lists also figure in the paper. One buzzword this year is falafel–but you heard that word *last* year, right here, when I showed you how to make Waffled Falafel. Maybe 2017 will be the Year of the Waffle.

I’ve also read (elsewhere) that old-time soda fountains are making a comeback, but with a modern slant. Modern flavors like guava are added to what used to be a simple drink. Look for this to be the next “gourmet coffee,” where you order a custom-mixed non-alcoholic drink. I haven’t seen any of these in Houston, but if I find one (or more), you’ll read about it here.

Now, I’ve written frequently about gluten-free, sugar-free, and healthier versions of favorite foods. This one is apparently “sweeping the Internet,” so they say, and it’s all over Pinterest (but somehow escaped my detection.)  I’m a bit late to the game, but if you’ve never heard of Cloud Bread, I’m going to give you a primer, and show you how to make it yourself at home. And, let’s face it, anyone who loves bread is always wishing they could have it, right? So here we go.

I happened across this article in the Daily Mail recently, a London-based tabloid that has some pretty interesting articles from time to time (not to mention more real news than most US-based news organizations.) Of course, their writing can be pretty bad, which makes me think it’s outsourced, but that’s another matter.

Cloud Bread is made similar to a pancake recipe I used back in the 80’s in Sharon Claessens’ Lose Weight Naturally Cookbook. It was a pretty good book for the time. The pancakes I loved to make involved whipped egg whites, then mixing the yolks with cottage cheese (eek!) and a few other ingredients (I don’t remember if wheat flour was involved.)  They cook up like regular pancakes, but were described as “light little souffles.”

Darnit, now I wish I had my copy of it. Oh, well. . .I can buy it again one day. (Soon as I buy a house with a big enough study in it.) Many of these recipes had things like whole wheat flour in them, but it was the 80’s. Still, I remember them being mostly pretty good.

Finally, I made some. Verdict: not bad, good recipe to make all the time, if you can keep cream cheese around. I can’t, I keep nibbling on it. If I keep buying it, maybe I’ll get sick of it and just keep one or two in the fridge. I followed the basic recipe of 3 eggs, separated, 3 tablespoons of cream cheese, a quarter-teaspoon of cream of tartar (some suggest baking soda) and a packet of sweetener.

So, what do you do when you want to make this bread? You hit the grocery and buy eggs and cream cheese:

The setup

The setup

Separate the eggs, carefully:

Yolks and whites need to be completely separated.

Yolks and whites need to be completely separated.

Then add a packet of sweetener, if desired, to the yolks:

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Next up, three tablespoons of room-temperature, soft cream cheese are mixed into the egg yolks:

3 tablespoons of cream cheese

3 tablespoons of cream cheese

Right into the bowl:

Cream cheese. . .so delicious.

Cream cheese. . .so delicious.

Mix well:

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And set it aside. Next up, wash the beaters VERY clean and VERY dry. You’ll be whipping egg whites next. (You can also whip the egg whites first.) If your bowl and beaters are not absolutely clean, or have even a speck of yolk or fat, they will not whip at all. (I *was* paying attention to all those Martha Stewart shows.)

First, add the cream of tartar to the egg whites:

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And whip like you would any meringue-like recipe:

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Whip all the way until you get the stiffest peaks you can get.

Once that’s done, you mix the yolk mixture into the beaten egg whites:

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Mix carefully so you don’t deflate the egg whites. It should look like this:

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Next, take a parchment-lined baking sheet, (or spray with non-stick spray) and use the batter to make rounds:

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They won’t spread out when baking like cookies will, so what you see is what you get with these babies.  Bake for whatever time your recipe says (mine was 300F for 30 minutes) and they come out like this:

Cloud Bread, a bit over-baked but still good.

Cloud Bread, a bit over-baked but still good.

They’re not “tasty” on their own, but they do taste good. I just spread soft cream cheese on the first few I ate. Will they make a sandwich? If you’re careful. I’ve also toasted them in the toaster oven, and they came out a bit crumbly, but I’ve not not tried a standup toaster (because I don’t have one, actually.) My thinking is if you’re going to take them for lunch, wrap everything separately, and make the sandwich when you are ready to eat it. On Momables, she gives instructions on how to use them for kids’ lunches.

This video shows you exactly how to make these rounds.

In this DM article, one of the paper’s writers actually tries the recipe–and bungles it. Here’s where the writer messed up: she added agave syrup to the mixture. It’s fine as is–introducing more liquid into whipped egg whites does what? Flatten them. It’s extra weight and extra moisture, since agave syrup is heavy like honey. Big DUH–the young blonde girl didn’t think. Adding anything that brings in extra weight or moisture will mess the whole thing up. Wait until they’re baked and make a sandwich with them.

One comment from the Daily Mail’s article: “it’s NOT a new invention. . .it’s a lift of a recipe from a diabetics cookbook from before they had insulin…” What your grandma told you is true: everything old is new again, isn’t it? 

This is the recipe from Momables:

Grain Free Cloud Bread Recipe

There’s also this article from Yahoo, and this one from Woman’s Day. Apparently Cloud Bread is “the next trend taking over Pinterest.” Yeah, well, I want to know why all the Pinterest folks haven’t yet figured out how to add grapes to the Crock Pot and have it turn into red wine, OK?

And here’s a different recipe on Food.com, which tells you to put the bread into a Ziploc bag overnight. THEN it becomes more soft like sandwich bread.

Checking out Pinterest, I’ve also seen pizza and breakfast sandwiches made with Cloud Bread, but I haven’t gotten as far as trying them all out. Mostly, it’s a case of Amy wanting to have her cake and eat it too. You can–go look on Pinterest!

Now I wonder–will it waffle? That was the other delay, I was going to make a breakfast sandwich with eggs and bacon and the like and see how it waffled. Well. . .I haven’t gotten around to it yet, OK? If I do, I’ll let you know.

But honestly, I thought they were pretty darn good, and even if you’re not doing low-carb, diabetic, grain free eating, these wouldn’t be a bad little addition to your cooking routine for a quick bread and something different. And all you need is some cream cheese on your grocery list to make it.

Enjoy!

Elena’s Cashew Bread

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Do you eat bananas? I used to, until I discovered they have a high starch/sugar content. Don’t get me wrong, bananas taste delicious, but. . .it’s like eating sugar out of the sugar bowl. Same with white potatoes–too starchy for me. But if you’re a banana fan, here’s an interesting article about how the banana became an American grocery staple in about 100 years.

My grandmother used to tell me to take the “seed” out of the bottom of the banana when I peeled it. I’m not sure that’s a seed, since the plants reproduce asexually–on their own, no pollination required. Every banana sold in the world is a clone, but I’d still take the bottom part off if I were eating them. Read it and give it some thought.

Soon I’ll be posting an update on the HeatCageKitchen garden. This year I’m trying for tomatoes–again–as well as strawberries, basil and hoping for more bell peppers. Heck, peppers of all kinds. Soon as I get the weeding done, which requires several dry days and my favorite cheap & easy DIY non-toxic weed killer. And a lot of time to move the buckets around so I can spray the whole plot.

I went out this morning, and I have two bell peppers that are getting bigger but also changing color. There are spots on each that look to be turning dark purple, and I’m not sure why. I hope it’s just a genetic anomaly and not some disgusting disease or an annoying creature that’s ruining them. Fingers crossed, and I’ll likely have to buy another bell pepper plant anyway. But the Anaheim chili plant is starting to develop more leaves and lots of flowers. That means peppers are coming. They will take a while to get big enough to pick, but when they do, it’s OrangeOnionSalsa (probably using grapefruits) for me.

The Meyer Lemon tree has seven viable buds on it, one of which has gotten a little bigger, and I’m hoping they all stay, and maybe more develop. The Key Lime tree has plenty of little buds, too. And the green onions, which are growing quite well, are developing buds on the tops of some of the blades. What the heck? I’ll take some pictures.

This week AC came for dinner again, and since I’ve been thinking about other things, I was caught a bit short. Last week, Neighbor R gave me an oregano plant with lots of leaves on it, and soon I’ll plant it in a bigger pot, maybe with the basil:

 

Fresh Oregano!

Fresh Oregano!

But I wanted to trim it and use the excess, so I headed over to Pinterest and did some searching. One recipe kept coming up: chimichurri sauce. Generally used on steak, I grilled some chicken breasts and it was magnificent on top of them. So that’s going to be an upcoming post. Of course I didn’t take pictures, but I’ll do what I can.

In addition to salad, I also decided to make her a taste-tester and made something I found on Facebook by Elena Amsterdam. I frequently look at Elena’s recipes on Facebook, and save the link on the ones that look interesting. Well, when I looked at this one, it had five ingredients–and I had them all in the pantry. I bought cashew butter by mistake one day, and it’s been there for a while. This recipe is really easy, bakes up in 45 minutes, and comes out of the oven smooth and light. No sugar, flour or dairy, either.

Let me show you how simple this is to make.

The setup.

The setup.

First up: grease your loaf pan (I think mine is 9″ x 5″ like the recipe suggests)

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Set that aside, and start making the bread.

You need one cup of cashew butter, which is widely available in most grocery stores. I thought I was buying almond butter that day, DUH, but I’m glad I had it now. (I’d already measured it out before I realized I was supposed to take a picture. Another DUH.)  So you add that one cup of cashew butter and five eggs into the food processor and pulse it until it’s mixed well:
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Then you add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg):
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Then pulse it again. After the ACV, add in three-fourths of a teaspoon of baking soda:

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And a quarter teaspoon of Celtic sea salt:

I don't know why it has to be Celtic, but I have some, so I use it. I also have Maldon's sea salt flakes.

I don’t know why it has to be Celtic, but I have some, so I use it. I also have Maldon’s sea salt flakes.

Then just pour it into your greased loaf pan.

Pours really easy.

Pours really easy. Scrape all that batter out!

Put the pan in a 350F oven for 45 minutes:

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And this is what it looks like when it’s done:

Looks like regular bread, doesn't it?

Looks like regular bread, doesn’t it?

Let this cool for 2 hours before removing and slicing. Once you do, this is what you end up with:

Tah-Dah! Cashew Bread! (It even looks like Elena's.)

Tah-Dah! Cashew Bread! (It even looks like Elena’s.)

To store, wrap it in a paper towel, then seal it in a bag, and store it in the fridge for one week.

I didn’t know what to expect when I tried it, but I’m guessing anything Elena Amsterdam makes is going to be good, if you follow the directions like she tells you. This time, I did.

By now you’re asking yourself, “That’s nice, Amy, but what does it *taste* like?” Verdict: pretty good, quite delicious, with a light texture that toasts up well. Even AC said it tasted like bread. “Major thumbs up,” AC says. Not real salty, just enough to be enjoyable.  Honestly, it tastes like BREAD, although not *exactly* like wheat bread. It’s not sweet (obviously, since no sweetener is involved), but it’s light like white bread, and tastes like. . .bread. No kidding. I toasted it up and made a meatloaf sandwich with it, too. Oh, YEAH. More cashew butter on the grocery list.

Neighbor R said that it was good, “but I’ll never get used to this gluten free food!” Neighbor E said that it “the texture is good, but it tastes like bread if you took the sugar out.” I’ll agree with that assessment. Again, it doesn’t taste exactly like regular wheat bread will, but if you can’t have regular breads, maybe you’ll enjoy having Cashew Bread.  It tastes a lot better than some of the “gluten-free bread” you can buy in the grocery store.

In my local Kroger, cashew butter is found in the natural food section, and that jar ran about $6, if I remember correctly. I can’t find it on the app in my local HEB, but they may have a setup to grind cashews fresh like they do peanuts and almonds in their Healthy Living section. I haven’t checked that yet. However, I did see where Jif now has a cashew butter. . .much like peanut butter, always, always, read that label, especially if you or someone in your household might be allergic to something in it.

This recipe is also Paleo, which is kind of a second cousin to low-carb. I have a very basic understanding of Paleo, which is to eat food that would have been regularly eaten by Paleolithic Man. Yes, “cave man.” Since cave men didn’t have formal agriculture, and things like dairy products and grains, bread, cheese, and other modern conveniences–even low-carb or gluten-free–are out of the picture. Remember that breakfast casserole I made a couple of months ago, which included a shredded sweet potato? That’s a Paleo recipe (but not one of Elena’s.) I know, cave men didn’t have Crock Pots either, but it’s the principle of Paleo, even if it’s far removed from the practice of hunting and gathering. We just roll with it.

Unless I’m wrong, there’s not gluten in cashews or cashew butter, so it’s also going to be gluten free (read the label in case there are thickeners or additives.) The only persons who should avoid cashew bread are. . .people who either don’t like cashews or are allergic to them.

If cashews don’t agree with you, then, yes, you’ll have to leave this one alone. You have my sympathies. I love cashews.

Would almond butter work? I don’t know, but I’m guessing it would. I haven’t tried it yet, but I have some in the fridge, so I just might one day. For now, I’m enjoying the cashew bread. I have some cashew meal in the fridge I bought at Trader Joe’s a while back. I might try using the food processor to turn that into cashew butter later. Can’t hurt. I’ve done it with hazelnut flour before.

No, I don’t think I’m going to try making waffles with this. . .or will I? Let me think on that one. For now, a loaf of bread in the toaster oven makes me pretty happy.

This recipe can be found here on Elena’s blog, and a printable copy is on the Recipes page (scroll all the way down.)  There are a number of comments, and a lot of good information in them. Do read them if you’re interested in baking this bread for yourself.

One of these days I’m going to get Elena’s cookbooks and start using them. Especially the cupcake book. Yum.

If you’re missing bread, this might be your ticket It’s easy, delicious, no letting the yeast rise or lots of ingredients. You put them in the food processor and pulse, pour it and bake. Doesn’t get any easier than that.

Enjoy!

 

 

Valentine’s Day–again???

Good afternoon, Dear Readers from everywhere:

I just realized that Valentine’s Day is this weekend, and that I should drop in and talk about it just a bit. But first. . . .

There are some changes coming to this humble blog, and a big thanks to friend of the blog AK and another one of our writer friends, whom we know on Facebook, but I haven’t met in person. I don’t know if JM reads this blog regularly, but I know she has once, for sure. I’ve got a Facebook page set up just for HeatCageKitchen, as well as other social media accounts. I’ll tell more once I get it all done. The blog is growing up.

Last week was the open house for the Drs. Davis at Woodlands Wellness and Cosmetic Center. Much as I enjoyed it last year, this year I didn’t go. BUT–they posted pictures on Facebook, and once again had an appropriate show-stopper of a cake:

PeacockCAke

A good time was had by all, and I’m glad, even if I didn’t go. But I’m sure I’ll be visiting again one of these days for blood testing.

In other news. . . .

This isn’t really food related, but it might have been. When I say a cat is a cat is a cat, I’m not kidding. This wily cheetah decided that the back of a Jeep was a great place to hang with the humans recently. Honestly, it’s no different than when Catmandu and Kismet used to hop up on the back of my futon and park it there for a while. Cheetahs, as I understand from comments on the Daily Mail site and Facebook, are much friendlier to humans than other species of big cats. But as Big Cat Rescue will tell you, approaching big cats is never a good idea–and anyone caught petting one at their Tampa, FL facility is escorted out immediately, including staff. If you have a kitty cat that has ever turned on you while you were petting it or scratching it behind the ears. . .imagine the force behind a paw-swat from a 500-pound Siberian tiger. It can, as they say on FB, “escalate quickly.” ‘Nuff said. But this time, it turned out fine, and the short video is pretty amusing. Because. . .that’s a cat for you.

Now back to Valentine’s Day. Or as my brother called it yesterday, “women taking advantage of men” day. Oh, well.

If you’re looking for advice on romancing, proposing, or how to ask out someone you fancy, that’s someone else’s blog. This blog is for the day you decide to cook for that someone special, you already are going to cook for them, and you’re looking for something special for your date. You’re on your own on the romancing/proposing part, so search through WordPress for that kind of advice blog.

Do you have plans for Sunday? Are you going to hang out at home and watch a good DVD or two with your sweetie, or risk your life and head to a restaurant? I can hear it now: “Oh, Amy–what’s wrong with that?” Even Waffle House serves steaks and takes reservations on Valentine’s Day–and in some more rural areas, that’s the best and only–restaurant in town. (NOTE: I am not disrespecting Waffle House by any means.)

I’m not going to deny that it’s something special to go out for Valentine’s Day. But hear me out–when I was an administrative assistant, I was required to “go out with the bosses” for Administrative Professional’s Day. I really didn’t want to do this (particularly at an insurance company I worked for, where they took us to McCormick & Schmick in the Galleria and didn’t give us a choice) because it was a reminder that I was still in the steno pool. But at Boeing, that wasn’t always a bad thing. My Boeing supervisors were frequently busy, so we didn’t always go on that Wednesday–and that was a good thing. Why? Because you’re elbow-to-elbow with everyone *else* who’s doing the same thing; service is going to be slower, too. The last time, I had to request that Monday, because the next day, I was getting on a plane to go somewhere, and I wouldn’t be in town for AP Day. (I got to choose the restaurant that year.) Another time, we went two weeks later. Know what? We nearly had the whole place to ourselves! We could chat without yelling, and the service was better.

Want proof? This article from The Kitchn verifies what I just told you. Like retail stores on Black Friday, nobody *wants* to work that holiday, so you may get pinch-hitters who aren’t as experienced. And you’ll be elbow-to-elbow in a crowded restaurant on that one day a year when things could go wrong for you. Just something to consider if this is a really special date.

Once again, Starbucks is at it again with the #StarbucksDate. Create a special .GIF file (similar to an e-card, they’re all the rage now) to send to someone you’d like to meet up with (it could be your best friend, your elderly neighbor like Neighbor R, your brother/sister, or, heaven help you, the GER) and make a date to meet them at the Starbucks on your street for one of the new chocolate drinks they have this week, through Sunday. (They’d like you to put it on social media with #StarbucksDate, too.)

You know, I probably shouldn’t say “Starbucks on your street.” We have several in my neighborhood, including one two blocks from my front door. But I have a friend in semi-rural Louisiana who is about 20 miles from the closest Starbucks. I’m sure he’s not the only one.

This year’s offerings are three new seasonal chocolate-infused drinks:

And because I couldn’t wait, I personally sampled the Mocha Chocolate Latte this morning. Highly recommended. Unlike the famed Pumpkin Spice Latte, this was very good and not overly sweet. If your honey doesn’t drink coffee, there is the Molten Hot chocolate option as well as other dessert options. But remember, Starbucks has their “signature” hot chocolate all year long. Yes, they really do–it’s just that this particular variety is a “seasonal offering” for Valentine’s Day.

I am actually planning to take myself out for a #StarbucksDate. I’ve got a couple of books to read, (one by master copywriter Bob Bly, his newest book of great witticisms) and that might just be the place to do it. I’d like to have another Mocha Chocolate Latte, then get brewed decaf coffee (and free refills in my stainless steel travel mug) until I’m sick of coffee, or I finish the books. They’re not long books, but. . .there are less distractions in Starbucks than at home.

What if you’re going to camp in with your honey?

I’ve got some recipes posted on the Recipe Page, and there are others scattered throughout the blog; a search will help you find them. (The Sweet Potato Supper is a good one, and quite simple.) Then again, websites like The Food Network, MarthaStewart.com, AllRecipes.com, and TheKitchn are great places to start if you don’t find anything listed here. Really–the culinary world is at your fingertips, and a quick search will show you that.

Looking for a special treat? Found on The Pioneer Woman’s Facebook feed this week, these Chocolate Sugar Cookie Hearts are an easy treat, especially if you have kids.

chocolate-sugar-cookie-hearts-09

Source: The Pioneer Woman website (note: NOT gluten free!)

These are really easy, because there’s no rolling out the dough–you bake it as a sheet cake, then cut them from the baked cake. Frost them, put some sprinkles on top, and you’re ready for your honey. NOTE: keep this recipe in your back pocket for other occasions, cut them in squares, rounds or other shapes, and you can frost them like cupcakes and use other appropriate colors and designs for, say, a birthday, graduation, or something else like St. Patrick’s Day (which happens in about a month.) Heck, your dog’s birthday, just don’t feed them to the dog. But for now, they’re for your Valentine.

Now, if these cookies aren’t your thing, there are a couple of things in the HeatCageKitchen archives that are delicious and gluten-free, including my all-time favorite, YeastFreeBrownies (I just uploaded it.) The recipe is no longer available on Dr. Hotze’s site, but I’ve got the PDF file for you on the Recipes Page.

Another good choice is last year’s Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes. First, I re-blogged a post from GF and Me last year, and then I made it myself. Of course, mine didn’t come out as pretty as Brenda’s, but they sure were good–even the fussy GER said so. The trick is finding hazelnut flour, or buying the hazelnuts, roasting and skinning them yourself, then grinding them up really good in the food processor–but not so far that you get a paste.

Click around on Brenda’s GF and Me site and you’ll find lots more delicious food and desserts for Valentine’s Day.

If you have more time to prep, I highly recommend the sugarless, Crock-Pot made Chocolate Fudge Custard I talked about last summer. You have to make it a day or two in advance, but it’s quite tasty and easy to make.

You didn’t forget your waffle iron already, did you? If Santa brought you a waffle maker (or the Cuisinart Griddler with the waffle maker plates, like mine) consider waffle brownies. If you haven’t read that previous post I linked to, please do, and you’ll learn more about waffling. You’ll also find this recipe in the post that I made and reviewed. However, if gluten-free isn’t your thing, brownies from a box–yes, like Duncan Hines or Jiffy brand–can be made in the waffle maker, fast and easy. You can also use boxed chocolate cake mix. If you’re thinking about a waffle maker,  Bed, Bath and Beyond also (still) has the Cuisinart Griddler bundle package, and if you have a coveted 20% off coupon, use it.

Still another optioin–a bit healthier than most–comes from none other than Graze.com, this dual-layered Chocolate Strawberry Smoothie might be just the ticket. It has a few steps, so make sure you read the recipe before proceeding.

What to make for dinner for the two of you? There’s a myriad of options available, just pick one–but don’t overthink this or make it too complicated. Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll probably *want* to try something really fancy, complicated, and extremely gourmet. Foodies are like that. But if you’re a fan of the easy, make dessert early, maybe the day before (especially the custard) and consider Nigella Lawson’s Flash Fried Steak with White Bean Mash. I’ve written about this delicious white bean mash before, it’s one of my absolute favorites, and I even made it Monday for AC with mild Italian sausages from HEB. (I called it “Bangers & Mash,” which is actually sausage and mashed potatoes in the UK.) She loved it too, and will probably start looking for cannellini beans next grocery trip. Add a tasty salad like we did, and you’ll be all set. Wine? Your choice, but make it a good one, if you do.

One thing I started doing with the white bean mash is grating the lemon zest first, then grate in the garlic with your Microplane Zester. The garlic is more evenly distributed, spreading the flavor throughout the mash.

And you can say that you’re inviting him/her over for a steak dinner–it’s just not filet mignon, that’s all. (No, I’ve never cooked that one, for myself or anyone else.) And why not? If you’re cooking steak, say so! (Unless he or she is vegetarian. . .then you’ve got some extra work to do.)

Here’s the thing about Valentine’s Day: if you and your partner get along fabulously and enjoy each other’s company all year around, going all-out on Valentine’s Day is probably not needed–a nice dinner at home with a nice bottle of wine, a small, inexpensive gift, whatever you like. But if one or the other isn’t such a great partner all year long, but spends a lot of money on flowers, candy, jewelry, dinner out, etc., on Valentine’s Day. . .it’s money wasted. Be kind to each other, and, I hate to say it, but if things are just not working out well, you’re discovering you’re mis-matched, or you just don’t get along after the “honeymoon phase” is past, it might be time to reconsider the relationship. (Or, in my case, file a restraining order, ha, ha. Yes, I’ve had that kind of luck.)  It takes two to tango, and usually, neither is totally innocent, but if you’re wondering why you’re in this relationship, maybe Valentine’s Day will be awkward. Better to be alone on V-D than stuck with someone you don’t want to be with–ask me, I know. (No, not the GER.) “Better off as friends” is not a bad thing, if that’s the case.

I’m not telling you to break up with your significant other on Valentine’s Day, (that happens occasionally) but if that’s where it’s headed, or things have significantly changed. . .take some time to think and consider. Next year things could be completely different–you could be single and unattached, you could be with someone better, or you and your Significant Other will have a better relationship by then.

I know, Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, is merchandised to death in the US, but it doesn’t have to bully you (or your partner) into spending too much money.

Again, I’m not a relationship author–but I speak from experience on being in bad relationships. I’d rather be by myself on Valentine’s Day than stuck with someone who let their “good face” down and I discover that I can’t stand. The longest relationship I ever had with a male was. . .Catmandu, the Russian Blue. (RIP.)

And if you’re single and alone on Valentine’s Day–remember, you too could be stuck with someone you wish would just go away forever. If that’s the case, and you can, take some time and take yourself out for a #Starbucksdate. Better yet, use the .GIF creator and send it to one of your *real* friends for a #StarbucksDate and get something chocolate on Sunday. It’s OK to be single and unattached on Valentine’s Day, I promise.

You might be making these cookies or something else for someone next year, so be ready.

Enjoy!

 

 

Short post–Cranberry Bliss Bars

Happy Sunday, Dear Readers:

I know, I said I wasn’t going to publish again until after January 1, but you know how these things go. This is a shorter post than usual. I am, as always, anxiously awaiting this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Husbands of River Song. When I found out what the title was, all I could think of was, “she’s had more husbands than me? I thought she was just married to The Doctor.” Well, at least she gets to travel in time and space. I get to drive around Houston occasionally. Mostly in my little knothole.

I also have an idea for another post that I may publish next week about a New Orleans foodie-related mystery that’s been going on for more than 3 years. Heck, my humble blog may get it moving again. More on that later.

Now to answer why I’m posting on a Sunday. This is an EMERGENCY blog post–I have to tell you what Nicole over at Gluten Free on A ShoeString has done.

I’ve written about Nicole before (see this re-blog on Gluten Free Donuts), and I get emails when she publishes. Of course, she’s always baking up delicious things for us gluten-averse folks. If you’re interested in more gluten-free baking, hop on over and follow her blog, for she has lots of tricks up her sleeve to keep your baked goods dreams fulfilled.

Today, she reached the pinnacle of gluten-free re-makes.

Nicole has created a gluten-free version of my personal favorite, Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar. Why is this significant? Because. . .Cranberry Bliss Bars are a seasonal treat at Starbucks that are something to LIVE FOR. Seriously. (Unlike the heavy-sugared Pumpkin Spice Latte.) Take a look:

From the Starbucks website.

A Cranberry Bliss Bar, picture from the Starbucks website.

This is, of course, not a big treat, but it is big on flavor. One taste and you are a goner.

I first tasted this treat when I was sick, and coming home from the only doctor’s office I knew about near Hobby Airport. (This was a no-questions-asked walk-in clinic that would take non-insurance patients, long before I was going to see Dr. Davis at Woodlands Wellness.) They had an on-site pharmacia for patients, but it was closed that day. Driving my sick self home down I-45, I thought, “now where the heck am I going to get my prescription filled?” And then it dawned on me.

TARGET.

The Baybrook Super Target has a pharmacy AND a Starbucks! So. . .while I waited for my prescription, I got a nice, hot coffee. I was really sick, you see, with yet another painful swollen-gland throat infection (including fever) and I figured I deserved a little something sweet that day. It was that time of the year, and I just pointed to the red and white thing. It was carefully packed in a bag and handed to me as I paid my tab.

I sat in the corner, like the sick cat that I was, slowly sipped my coffee and took a little bite of this heavenly and festive triangle. I had never tasted such a combination, and immediately fell in love with it. I sought out at least one every holiday season (for they are not cheap and the price has nearly doubled this year) but ran into an issue in 2013 when. . .I went gluten free.

I passed on them in 2013, but I did manage one of them last year. Only one. And I may do it this year too, whilst they’re available. But now, I don’t have to worry–because Nicole has figured out how to make them gluten free. (Note: we get them down here in Texas at Starbucks, so I’m sorry they aren’t available everywhere, from what Nicole says.)

Nicole uses something called Better Batter, which I admit I’ve not heard of before (she uses a lot of different and cool stuff that I don’t know about.)  However, what I can put my paws on quickly is Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Baking Flour, which has similar ingredients and does include Xanathan gum. (If your local grocer doesn’t carry it, you can also buy it from Amazon.)  It’s the flour I used for one of the recent pizza waffle recipes. One caveat Nicole points out is that if your GF flour doesn’t have Xanathan, you’ll need to add half a teaspoon (included in the recipe.)

I think there’s a bag of this flour in my grocery list this week, along with dried cranberries, cream cheese, and white chocolate. Holy Shish Kebab!!

If I make some, there will be some taste-tester deliveries. I doubt that the GER would be interested in something like this–he tends to prefer gas-station dining for some reason. (No, it’s not my cooking. It’s just his idea of convenience cooking.) But if I do manage to make them, I’ll be crowing about it here. Because now that we have a gluten-free work-around, Cranberry Bliss Bars are not just for the holidays anymore.

If you’re one of those people who loves the Cranberry Bliss Bars, now you can make them yourself, and even in gluten-free.

Merry Christmas!!

Hummus and the HeatCageKitchen Thanksgiving

Hello, Dear Readers:

How was your Thanksgiving? Did you get everything done on time? Did everyone enjoy themselves? Anyone grumble? Most importantly: did you waffle something?

Yesterday a cool front blew through, and we had rain all day, some of it pretty heavy. But in the late afternoon, when it was finally over, we were treated to this:

Never seen a pink-tinged rainbow before. I posted it on Facebook yesterday, and someone said it “indicates protection.” I hope so. (That was nice of him.)

New friend of the blog AC came by last week to chant, and I treated her to some Pizza Waffles and yeast-free microwave chocolate cake. The recipe no longer resides on Dr. Hotze’s website, but I’ve posted it on the Recipes page if anyone wants to make it. AC is going through some similar karma, and I figured she’d enjoy something different. She was planning to come Tuesday but had to postpone until Wednesday, which ended up being better for me. I made the waffle batter on Tuesday, stashed it in the fridge, and just needed to add a splash of milk and stir it again before making them. Once I got the waffle maker heated up, I went to work–I was in the zone! Poured batter in for the first one, then started on the cakes. When the first waffle went into the toaster oven, the second one was poured. Then back to the cakes. Cakes were made one at a time, plated, and brought to the table to cool. Then the pizza was ready, cakes cooled, and we had a delish dinner. I sent her home with not only the two remaining pieces of pizza, but also with some grapefruit salsa I’d made, clothes I was going to donate, a number of plastic containers of various sizes, a small green lunch bag, and some old computer speakers. I carried the big black bag to her car, and it turned out she was given a couple of lamps that day, too! Made out like a bandit, she did, and there’s a little less stuff in here. So it was pretty good for a Wednesday.

You’ll notice the end of most everything “pumpkin,” and the advent of everything “mint,” “peppermint,” or “Christmas flavored.” Seriously, you did notice all the pumpkin stuff now on sale, right? (I was in Cost Plus World Market on Saturday for a bite of chocolate and saw lots of it for 70% off.) Just remember that you can get canned pumpkin in the grocery all year around, if you’re a huge fan of it. Once Christmas is over, if not before, heart-shaped red things will be showing up. . .but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Starbucks still has them, far as I can tell, until the end of the year. But if you’re still wanting a “pumpkin spice latte,” check out this alternate version I’ve added to the Recipes page. (I haven’t tried it myself, but it looks a lot better than the original.) It came to me in a recent Graze box (because I had a few discounts to use up) and I intended to add it earlier but forgot. Really, this one you can have in May if you like–and no chemical ingredients, so go for it. Here’s an alternate yeast-free PSL version from Dr. Hotze’s Vitamin Shop website, if you’re really into the PSL. (I told you what happened when I tried the real thing at Starbucks, because I had a coupon for it.)

If you haven’t tried Graze yet, use the promo code AMYO2RN78. You get your first and fifth Graze box free, and you’ll get your own promo code to pass along to your friends–which leads to discounts and more free boxes later.

You can also send a Graze box as a last-minute Christmas gift, too–but hurry.

Do you like Crisco? Do you know the history of it? Fellow copywriter Steve Maurer wrote this column a while back for his own website, but I’m finally remembering to reference it here. The article is actually about content marketing (intended for companies interested in using him to write for them) but he adds in some very interesting historical information about. . .Crisco. Yes Crisco vegetable shortening, the bastion of Southern biscuits and church suppers all over America. Bet you didn’t know the story started out with candles, did you? It’s not a long read, but if you’re a fan of the stuff, you might find it interesting–and he ties in the content marketing part very well.

How was MY Thanksgiving? Well. . . .

It was kind of quiet here–the GER sort of “missed” a number of emails on the subject. I called him the night before, and he said, “Oh, I guess I forgot. I’m going to eat with Kyle and his mama.” Needless to say, I didn’t bother baking that pecan pie with the chocolate crust. I returned the pecans and one or two other unneeded supplies to HEB and that was the end of it. . .and the end of his holiday dinner invitations, darnit.

Fortunately, I had a sympathetic friend who was all kinds of nice about it. However, that friend is in Louisiana, so an hours-long drive wasn’t an option, particularly since this friend had to go to work on Black Friday. Early.

I did, however, bake plenty of the gluten free (and vegan) cornbread that’s on the Recipes page (page 53 of Babycakes). I only made one loaf at a time, and enjoyed the heck out of it. (Not all at once, of course.) I actually considered waffling some of the batter, but never got around to it. I have plenty of corn flour, so it won’t be a problem to make more. I was planning to bake the Babycakes cornbread and the Martha Stewart recipe that nobody ever turns down. Well, the GER turned me down, so I never made any. All that vegan, gluten-free deliciousness was MINE.

One thing I did do was brine and roast turkey thighs. The new Sur la Table in Baybrook Mall had a grand opening, where I asked them to sharpen my big, heavy and dangerous kitchen knife. While I was there, I picked up some turkey brine, which was on sale for Thanksgiving. I also found the Prepara Roasting Laurel on sale, and got one intending to cook several thighs.

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I saw it in the catalog and thought it was pretty neat. It’s just silicone, and you can shape it to hold stuff up, or in place, like stuffed bell peppers. It works in anything, up to 500F. I bought it not only for Thanksgiving and possibly Christmas, but also to put under whole roasts and things in the Crock Pot. Neat, huh? I got it on sale, and it went right into the dishwasher and came out clean. Highly recommended if you do that kind of thing, and even at the full price of $20, it’s still a well-priced item. I just might finally try roasting a chicken in the Crock Pot to make it come out like a rotisserie chicken from HEB.

But since I only cooked four turkey thighs, I used it anyway, and they came out perfectly roasted and tasty.

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Roasted them at 350F for an hour, and it was just what I wanted. In addition to cornbread, I made some Cranberry Ginger Relish and of course, roasted sweet potato french fries. I was considering making this interesting dish with acorn squash (it’s also in Clean Slate) but I knew what kind of look I would get from you-know-who, so I never bought the ingredients. I didn’t even make dessert, because I just didn’t feel like messing with anything else. Christmas will likely be a Lemon Chicken, one of my favorite Martha Stewart recipes from years ago. The first time I made it my parents were coming to Houston to see me and my then-spouse. My mother’s comment was that it was quite salty; but I like it, so I marinate it the full two days. In the magazine there were other accompanying recipes, like lemon-roasted potatoes, as well. Since I only got two Meyer lemons off my tree this year, I’ll stick with the chicken.

Now. . .look out!! Christmas is coming!! And that means. . .parties. Office parties, church parties, friend parties, cocktail parties. . .and you’re likely to be on the hook for bringing something, right? OK, I’ve got you covered.

Make hummus. Seriously. Quick, easy, and tasty.

Now, hummus is one of those things that not many people knew about or made, but it’s kind of always been around, and gaining popularity for a few years. Me, I’ve only started eating it in the last few years, after I found this hummus recipe in Real Simple magazine. (A PDF copy is also available on the Recipes page.) I make it quite often, and also made the same recipe when I made Waffled Falafel (instead of the hummus recipe that came with it.)

I can’t find the article from the Wall Street Journal that discussed turning tobacco farmers into chickpea farmers, but with hummus growing in popularity, more chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) need to be grown. One older gentleman who farmed tobacco his whole life had no idea what chickpeas were, much less what they tasted like or why he should switch. Once offered some hummus and other items with chickpeas, he was convinced.

Now back to hummus. What is it, actually?

Hummus is a nice thick dip made with chickpeas, olive oil, a bit of garlic, salt, and something called tahini. If you’ve never tried it, tahini is simply ground sesame seeds, turned into a paste, much like peanuts turned into peanut butter. (You want the kind that is nothing but ground sesame seeds; Trader Joe’s has one that has wheat flour in it as a thickener.)

There are many brands of tahini, both domestic and imported. Kroger’s Simple Truth has some that’s actually made in Israel, no kidding. But this is a different brand I found, also made in the US, with just sesame seeds:

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This is what you look for, no matter which brand you buy:

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Despite the font on the bottle, this hummus is actually made in Texas:

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Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the additives until I got home. This also came from Kroger, but from the international section, where you may have to look to find it in your town.

20150228_124209.jpgAdmittedly, it was a bit odd, but I’m remembering to read labels, too.

Tahini tends to be on the expensive side, but you will only use a small amount when you make hummus. Any more than a tablespoon or two, and it will be too strong.

The easiest and quickest way to go is to use canned chickpeas. At the HEB in Friendswood, I think these run about 72¢ a can.

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Goya, the national brand, might run $1 or so per can. Your choice.

However, if you’re like LK’s sister, and you want no canned foods, you can always get some dried chickpeas and cook them overnight in the crock pot.

Dried garbanzo beans. Do you pass these up in the grocery? Now you don't have to.

Dried chickpeans. Do you pass these up in the grocery? Now you don’t have to.

Dried chickpeas are usually with the rest of the dried beans, although I’ve never seen them in bulk bins like pinto beans are here in Texas. But bagged up like this, a pound will usually run anywhere from about 88¢ to maybe $1.25 (but that’s here in Houston, too.) But the organic chickpeas from Arrowhead Mills on the right were about $5.15 in Erma’s Nutrition Center, but that’s because they’re organic and all that. I didn’t buy them to make hummus with, though–I bought them to sprout and plant in the HeatCageKitchen Garden, which I haven’t done just yet.

Chickpeas are pretty darn good on their own (like in Waffled Falafel) but they’re also great mixed in salads, or other cooked dishes. My favorite frozen veg blend from HEB has, among other things, cooked chickpeas. It’s just frozen veg, no sauce or seasonings.

If you go the dried bean route, you just put them in your Crock Pot, cover them with water to an inch or so over the top, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on low, and leave it alone. Overnight worked for me, but of course, daytime cooking works as well. (Note that with the Waffled Falafel, you soak them in water to cover in the refrigerator overnight, and they’re cooked in the waffle maker.)

Now for the hummus part. Recipes abound for it, but I became a fan several years ago when I found that recipe in Real Simple. For a few years now, I make a double batch on the weekend and keep it in the fridge to nibble on sometimes. I stopped doing it earlier this year, but I shouldn’t have. I made some this weekend and realized how much I missed it.

You’ll need a food processor, of course. For one recipe, just drain and rinse one 15-ounce can of chickpeas (or about a cup and a half or so of some you’ve cooked yourself) and dump that into the bowl. Add one clove of fresh garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the aforementioned tahini, a teaspoon of ground cumin, and a quarter-teaspoon of paprika. Whiz that up like this:

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Add a little hot water until it becomes a nice smooth consistency, and it comes out like this:

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Perfect hummus.

Now, I’d like to point out that although the original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. . .I only use 1 tablespoon per batch. Commercial hummus has too much lemon in it for me, and you can’t taste anything over the acidic bite. Half the lemon juice gives it a subtle flavor and makes it just perfect.

So what do you do with it? I eat it just like that with a spoon. . .but as a dip, it’s wonderful. Chips, celery or other veg, or whatever you like to dip. Up to you.

NOW do you see why I posted it? Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I just gave you something to take with you to a holiday party, and it’s really easy and simple to make. I make a double batch that usually lasts me the weekend, but two double batches should be enough for a party. And nothing in it is perishable, so it won’t go bad if it sits out on the table for a while. (Leave it in the fridge until you leave for the party, though.)

Now let’s kick it up a notch.

Remember when I went to the Woodlands Wellness Lunch in February? Chef Michael’s hummus was delicious–but his second batch, with sun dried tomatoes, was an unexpected surprise. (Served with sweet potato chips, you become enlightened.) Want to make new friends? Make an extra double batch of this hummus, and add six sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, and blitz it. The hummus will turn a slightly different color and have a wonderful taste to it. I did it with six, but start with two and work your way up to see how you like it. THAT will get you noticed!

Wherever you go this holiday season, keep hummus in mind as a quick, easy go-to thing for a potluck. Heck, even if you’re already making something else, hummus wouldn’t be a bad idea to add to the potluck. (My experience with potlucks is that everyone loves to bring desserts, but I’m sure that’s just me.)

Soon you’ll be seeing commercials on TV for exercise equipment, diet programs, Weight Watchers and other “New Years’s resolutions.” Wait for it. . .it’s coming. You’ll see them while sipping egg nog and nibbling the gingerbread house. A little moderation during the holidays might help, but if you’re like me, you might not be able to leave the cranberry pecan biscotti alone. Eating healthy most of the time can help offset the one-off (or two-off) party where the food is just too good to leave alone. (I speak from experience.)

Not sure if I’ll be posting again until after the holidays; if I find something important, I’ll be sure to post it here.
Whatever you do, here’s wishing everyone a great holiday season and a joyous, prosperous New Year. (Including me.)

Merry Christmas!