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Gluten-Free Updates

Happy Friday, Dear Readers!

The weekend is here, and I have some updates to share with you on gluten free stuff. You may be interested even if you’re not doing gluten free and just eating healthier.

Of course, if you’re not eating healthy, well, reading is entirely up to you. But first, updates and articles of interest.

I’m still walking. And walking. And mostly wearing myself out. But I like walking, so I keep at it, although I may take a dip in the pool later this evening instead. I think I’m gaining weight, but Neighbor K says no. She’s nice that way.

Wanna see the HeatCageKitchen garden? The little pepper is bigger than two golf balls, there is no change in the chile pepper or Meyer lemons, and I’m getting little red franken-berries again in the basket.

My little baby!!

My little baby, and more growing behind it.

 

Not really a "Hatch" chile, since it wasn't grown in Hatch, NM. But close.

Not really a “Hatch” chile, since it wasn’t grown in Hatch, NM. But close.

 

Yes, they're strawberries, even if they don't look to spec.  And yes, I know what it looks like.

Yes, they’re strawberries, even if they don’t look to spec. And yes, I do know what that looks like.

 

Basil, Oh My Basil!!

Basil, Oh My Basil!!

By the way, that’s SEVEN stems of basil growing. Two didn’t make it after the last harvest, so I pulled them; but the rest that were cut down are now re-growing leaves. Another Pesto Saturday will be coming soon, at least one more, and my freezer will be storing it for a cold winter day. Maybe me and the GER will be enjoying a pot of Pea And Pesto Soup, and he will finally understand why I like it so much.

While this isn’t food related, I saw an interesting story today in the UK’s Daily Mail, an interesting mix of real news and the celebrity nonsense. Mixed among today’s numerous stories about the K family and the late Robin Williams was this story about a couple of sisters and their company, Sword And Plough, not only doing some great recycling, they’re making it in America and employing veterans. The kicker: one is active duty Army! If you’ve got a student going to college soon, they make some fantastic bags and things from, no kidding, military surplus fabric that would have otherwise been wasted.

Their messenger bags look fantastic, and if I were in the market for one, I’d be getting the Coast Guard Blue model. The messenger or tote bag would be a great gift for a graduate or someone just starting their first job, and the rucksack would be an awesome Christmas gift for someone who likes camping, hiking and outdoorsy stuff.

Think about it–recycling, classic well-made designs, creating jobs, helping American vets, all in one fell swoop!

Also in Today’s Daily Mail, an article about bloggers who create healthier versions of favorite treats that are supposed to do miracle things. Dunno about the miracle stuff, but they’re certainly healthier. While they do use “raw” ingredients, one I don’t know about is “Organic Greens Complex.” Never heard of it, but since I stand little chance of ever looking like Australian Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr, I’m not too worried about it. If I can find it, maybe I’ll try a couple of these recipes and let you know the results.

However–one thing I notice is the high starch content of the dates and bananas. Yes, bananas can create a great fake-me-out ice cream, but the sugar content may be higher than Blue Bell. If you’re diabetic and/or trying to lose weight, you have to pay attention.

Then again, one picture that gets passed around on Facebook has a picture similar to the one you see in the article, and it says, “What do you call vegan brownies that are raw, sugar free and gluten free? COMPOST.” I cringe when I read it, but I know that some alternative foods are not very tasty. (Skinny Cow comes to mind.)

Later I’ll give you a super-secret HeatCageKitchen healthy chocolate treat I’ve never told anyone about, not even Neighbor K. Sit tight–it has three ingredients and doesn’t take long at all.

I get a LOT of different emails, and some are health-related, while some I just don’t know how they showed up. One I get and actually read occasionally is Doug Kaufman’s Know The Cause. Kaufman and his staff of writers talk about different health topics, primarily the problem of fungus in humans and how it affects disease, including things like cancer. If you’ve read my posts on the Yeast Free Diet, you’ll be at least a bit familiar with it and the mycotoxins put into the system by Candida Albicans, you’ll understand.

This particular time, would you believe it, is a short article on Apple Cider Vinegar. No kidding, maybe I should have waited on that one. But you can click on the link and read it; not long at all. But if you’re interested in learning more about the fungus among us, Know The Cause is a great place to start.

Faithful reader Aunt Kathy passed along another gluten free comic she found this week, this one from Six Chix.

GlutenFreeComicSixChix

Remember, of course, that I also know the GER, who says, “Oh, I love gluten!” He also loves coffee and breakfast from a gas station. One of these days, right?

Larabars now has a new version of granola, and it too is gluten free:

Granola nibbles for the gluten-free set.

Granola nibbles for the gluten-free set. As you can see, I couldn’t resist trying one of them before I got home.

 

Out of all three, I think I like the Cocoa Coconut the best. But that’s just me, and they were all good, too. They were 10 for $10 at Kroger, but I only bought the three. Parents, this is something you can feel good about packing in your kid’s lunch bag, you know? They get a treat, and you don’t have to worry about what’s in it–particularly if s/he has allergies.

Now, if you’re health conscious, gluten conscious, or just careful about what you’re eating, you know you have to read labels, and not just once. Today’s “healthy” snack may have been changed to contain high-fructose corn syrup, and if you didn’t notice it, you’ll have a surprise if it makes you sick or you suddenly have a sugar rush you weren’t expecting.

No kidding–I once went to the grocery and asked Neighbor K if she needed anything; she asked if I would get her a bottle of honey. No problem, and she gave me a $10 or $20 to cover it. As I was picking a brand, I turned over one bottle to discover that the first ingredient was. . .HFCS. I’ve never been careless about reading labels again.

If you want to go gluten-free, I strongly suggest reading Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly books first. That will give you a good primer on the subject, and you’ll know what to look for. (Incidentally, Dr. Davis has another book coming out soon on total health. More if/when I get it.)

Of course, that’s a lot of work, and you have to know a little about what you’re doing, and educating yourself is key, whether you’re gluten-free or not. Now, the federal government is getting into the act, and if you’re going to call something gluten-free, you have to follow their rules.

Oh, yes, the government sticking their beaks in this one is going to help immensely, isn’t it?

Listen up: almonds are gluten free. Fruit is gluten free. Tomatoes, bell peppers, Hatch chile peppers, garbanzo and cannellini beans, coffee, Sweet ‘N Low and milk are. . .gluten free. Why? Because gluten doesn’t come anywhere near it. Ever. Do we really need rules for this? Learn what you’re doing and read the labels.

Now, many call this gluten-free thing a fad, and there are some who will call it “dangerous and unhealthy.” How can leaving something out of your diet that can cause harm be “dangerous?” If you’ve read Wheat Belly, you know exactly why–the modern GMO 42-chromosome wheat grain can cause havoc in even otherwise healthy people. Sugar is also well-documented as a harmful substance, and causes a host of health issues, including inflammation. All carbohydrates break down into sugar in the blood stream, including, but not limited to wheat, so you see why wheat can cause problems, along with a lot of other things that become, one way or another, sugar as an end product.

It’s probably not a “beer belly,” but a “wheat belly.”

Then again, like the GER, not everyone understands the whole gluten-free thing. Thanks to the esteemed Wall Street Journal, they keep on top of these kinds of things. It’s not a craze if you have that gluten allergy, trust me–I know people who have it, and they have to be careful. And I disagree–everyone can benefit from gluten-free, they just don’t know it yet. Again, starting with Wheat Belly is the way to go; Dr. Davis explains everything well.

OK, enough of that. Who wants a cupcake?

Looks tasty, doesn't it?

Looks tasty, doesn’t it?

I started getting Facebook feeds from Elena’s Pantry, and one day, this popped up. Made with coconut oil and flour, they’re also good for folks with a nut allergy (which, thankfully, I’ve escaped–I love just about all nuts.) With the holiday season coming soon, this may be a good recipe to have in your back pocket for parties, especially children’s parties, where allergies are more prevalent.

Elegant Elena Amsterdam has written three books: one on Paleo cooking, one book on gluten free with almond flour, and another book of  gluten free cupcakes made with almond and coconut flour. I do not yet have these books, but they ARE on my wish list, along with Bruce Fife’s book on coconut flour. I haven’t written about coconut flour yet, because I really don’t use it much, and it tends to be more expensive.  I have a small amount in the fridge now, because I don’t use it much; usually for the cupcakes or something else from Babycakes and Babycakes Covers the Classics.

And now, for the first time ever, a healthy chocolate treat that’s easy to make has three ingredients and tastes awesome. This has been a HeatCageKitchen secret for some time, discovered by accident, but I’m releasing it now, and may include it in the cookbook, if I ever get around to writing it.

Coconut chocolate

The setup:

IMG_0836[1]

The coconut oil is liquid because it’s on a top shelf on my pantry, which is warm in the daytime. That makes it easy to tell the weather. In the winter, it’s hard as a rock.

Incidentally, this is the kind that actually tastes like coconut oil, not the somewhat refined stuff that has the taste taken out. You want that coconut flavor in the chocolate; it’s wonderful.

So you pour out about 2.5 to 3 ounces of melted coconut oil into your container. This just happens to be a pinch bowl from Cost Plus World Market, and I just measured it with water. To the bottom rim is 3 ounces.

Melted coconut oil

Melted coconut oil

To this you add about two tablespoons of cocoa powder, and gently mix with a fork:

Mix the cocoa powder in one tablespoon at a time

Mix the cocoa powder in one tablespoon at a time

Now this is the subjective part–longtime readers know of my preference for SomerSweet, Suzanne Somers patented erythrytol based natural sweetener and rejection of the toxic types like Splenda and Equal/Nutrasweet. However, if you’ve got something else that works as well, like a stevia blend or something similar to SomerSweet, go for it. Two tablespoons, one at a time.

IMG_0839[1]

SomerSweet also tends to clump when you add it into something, so that’s when the fork comes in handy. (That’s about the worst thing I can say about it, really.)  After that, stash it in a safe place in the freezer for a little while and go answer your email, or walk a dog like I did. (Neighbor K’s lovable pug, of course.)

When you come back and open the freezer, this is what you get:

Ahhhh. . .chocolate.

Ahhhh. . .chocolate.

Break it up into pieces, very carefully, either with a spoon or the point of a wide-bladed knife, so you can eat it. I recommend a spoon, because if you eat it with your hands, the coconut oil will melt at body temperature. THAT, ladies and gentleman, will be a mess beyond compare. If you don’t believe me, try it. Don’t gripe to me when you have chocolate on your keyboard, your cell phone, your doorknob, your dog and your iPad,OK? You have been warned.

Ready for some chocolate???

Here we go!!

Here we go!!

Rich, satisfying, healthy, and oh-so-sweet.

Next post I’m planning on writing about chia seeds. . .mostly because I have a batch in the pantry to use up, so I’m going to try a recipe or two I found and report on them. If you have any questions before then, you can now email me at heatcagekitchen@gmail.com, and I’ll try to answer them in the blog post.

It’s Friday, and the weekend is here.

Enjoy!!

Hatching Time!

Hello, Dear Readers:

I got a couple of new followers from my last post on vinegar, and a great comment from blog friend Aunt Kathy. Welcome to my humble little foodie blog!

I should give you an update on the HeatCageKitchen garden: it’s growing stuff. Not much, but growing stuff. I’m going to be getting some bell peppers this year!

It's a pepper! With more on the way!

It’s a pepper! With more on the way!

No tomatoes or limes, but there are four, count ’em, FOUR, Meyer lemons growing out there. They’re green right now, and getting bigger all the time. I was hoping for more, but four is better than nothing, right?

Two of the four anxiously awaited Meyer lemons. Pictures when they're ripe.

Two of the four anxiously awaited Meyer lemons. More pictures when they’re ripe.

My recent garden weeding did some good, but the weeds are getting back into the green onions. Long as you know which plant is which, you’re good; make sure you don’t get some weird stuff in your pesto, you know? I need to get back out there and pull more weeds out again. Darnit.

I’m tellin’ ya, green onions are so easy to grow–cut the white, rooted bottoms off the ones you get in the grocery store and stick them in some soil. They grow–just cut off what you need, don’t pull them up. The ones I’m growing have been in that same pot for 4 years. They were the big ones, but they grew back skinny. I don’t care, either. Sure, green onions (aka “scallions”) are relatively inexpensive, but when you want to make your favorite recipe that calls for them, isn’t just easier to go out to the garden and cut them for free?

Scallions. . .along with the green, green grass of home.

Scallions. . .along with the green, green grass of home. And one of my clodhopper slippers.

And one more garden picture, the surprise Anaheim chili pepper I didn’t know about until a few days ago. Woo hoo! I just went out there to water and noticed it growing. Well, it’s all green, you see. . . .

Surprise! More of these babies coming, too.

Surprise! More of these babies coming, too.

Chile peppers of all kinds are prevalent in the southwest, from the popular Jalapeno to the Serrano to the Scotch Bonnet. We love chili peppers in this part of the country. (But I do not like burning hot food, ever.) In fact, I saw some “Jalapeno Poppers” in the meat case at HEB just the other night. They’re stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon. No, I’ve never had them, not interested.

If you’re not in the Southwest, you might not know what I mean when I say “Hatch Chiles.” Well, let me tell you all about it. . .March of 2012, I was on a week-long trip to Albuquerque, NM, when a man my colleague was talking with on the plane told us about the “chili sauce” that they put on everything in New Mexico. He said, “You have to watch out, because they’ll put it on ice cream if you let them!” We said goodbye to him, as he was going to get a rental car to drive to Durango, CO, which he said was easier than flying to Denver. We heeded the warning and were aware of it whenever we went to eat somewhere. And he was right, we were asked, “red or green?” in several eateries.

I’d first heard of the Hatch chile when Central Market came to Houston in 2001, when they do their annual “Hatch Chile Festival.” In other words, when the chiles are ready and come from New Mexico. Even though I’d lived in California for a couple of years, I wasn’t in LA and just never heard of them. At that point, HEB and Central Market have nearly EVERYTHING with Hatch chiles in it. Salsa, mayonnaise, bacon, tortilla chips, cheese, salad dressing, bread, burgers (beef and salmon), kabobs, and heaven only knows what else they can find a place to use them. They may have had some Hatch in the Jalapeno Poppers, too. Don’t believe me? Take a look:

IMG_0778[2]

No kidding, they sell this at both HEB and Central Market.

No kidding, they sell this at both HEB and Central Market.

Like cherries, Hatch chiles are not available for very long, so that’s why they make a big deal about it. And unless you have actually been to New Mexico, love this kind of stuff or otherwise jumped on the Tex-Mex bandwagon, you likely will say, “Meh.” You can read more on Central Market’s blog post on Hatch Chile Peppers.

Now, if I were of a mind to do so (and not on the yeast-free diet right now), I’d so make these:

Don't these look DELICIOUS?? I'll make them, one day. . .but I'll post the recipe just for you.

This is Primo Picks, a little magalog that goes out separate from the HEB sales flier, with recipes and introducing new products. Don’t these stuffed Hatch peppers look DELICIOUS?? I’ll make them, one day.

This type of chili can grow to be a good six to eight inches long, and ranges from green to red and warm to medium-hot, depending on how long it’s been on the tree or in the grocery’s produce section. This is what they looked like the other night in HEB.

The magical mystery fruit, Hatch chile peppers

The magical mystery fruit, Hatch chile peppers.

However. . .

Doing a little research, just a little, told me something I didn’t know before. I think I’ve mentioned meeting cookbook author Robb Walsh a couple of years ago at the Houston Metro Food & Entertaining Show. I bought his book, The Tex-Mex Cookbook, at the show, and asked him to autograph it. Well, of course he did!

Me with Robb Walsh, the author of The Tex-Mex Cookbook, September 2011.  (I wasn't blonde; I was using a different kind of hair color that washed out quickly.)

Me with Robb Walsh, the author of The Tex-Mex Cookbook, September 2011. (I wasn’t blonde; I was using a different kind of hair color that washed out quickly.)

I took a peek at the index, and whatddaya know, on page 7 it talks about Anaheim chile peppers. The name comes from the cannery opened in Anaheim by a farmer named Emilio Ortega who brought the pepper seeds back to his native California from New Mexico, where they thrived.

REALLY??

You’ve heard of Ortega Mexican Food, right? No kidding, the same company that produces the tortilla shells, taco sauce and canned green chiles is the company that named them “Anaheim chile peppers.” The chiles were usually preserved in glass bottles, but they were cumbersome. Emilio Ortega figured out how to use cans, and you can still buy those same canned chiles today (although the Ortega Family doesn’t own it anymore.)

How about them apples?

Now, take a look at the Hatch chile peppers again:

The magical mystery fruit, Hatch chile peppers

And get a look about 50 feet away in HEB at the Anaheim chile peppers in HEB, same night:

Look familiar?

Look familiar? Right there above the tomatillos. . . .

Yes, Dear Readers, they are the same thing. One batch is now on sale for 78 cents a pound until August 12th, the other $1.98 a pound, available year-round. (I don’t normally buy a pound at a time.) And I’ve got one growing in the HeatCageKitchen garden, too, and I hope more to come.

Well. . .it’s not exactly Watergate, but there’s something you didn’t know before. Still, it’s an industry New Mexico is proud of, and rightly so.

Now when we were in Albuquerque, one restaurant we visited called Roma’s had these on the tables:

At Roma's in downtown Albuquerque.

A reminder to buy American!

Despite suffering from altitude sickness most of the time I was there and a couple of other things that got under my skin, I can honestly say Aunt Ruth and I really enjoyed it–the conference, the people we met, and of course, the FOOD!  I would love to go back to New Mexico one day and visit for the whole week, but that’s going to be a while. I also hope to go back to Arizona one day, where I went exactly one month after returning from Albuquerque.

Now, seeing as it’s summer, I’m going to tell you WHY I like these Anaheim/Hatch peppers. Salsa. Not just any salsa, either.

Back in 1991, a couple of years after leaving California but just before I started at Tulane University, I saw a book called The Well-Filled Tortilla by Victoria Wise and Susanna Hoffman. Such a cool cookbook, and very California, right? Well, I borrowed it from someone who moved away and we both forgot about it. I’m sure he didn’t miss it, and I’ve still got it.

My favorite recipe from this book is Orange-Onion Salsa on page 49. I made it once and have loved it ever since. The recipe also says you can use grapefruit in place of the oranges, so I’ve made it frequently to use up the grapefruit on my Butsudan. Just a few ingredients, and you can be dipping away in no time. Heck, I just eat it with a spoon!

Orange-Onion Salsa (makes 2 generous cups)

  • 2 large navel or 3 to 4 blood or Valencia oranges OR 2 large grapefruit OR 4 small grapefruit
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1.5 tablespoons chopped Anaheim chile pepper
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (comino)
  1. Peel the oranges (or grapefruit) and cut into 1/4-inch dice, removing any seeds as you go.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the oranges (or grapefruit), onion, chopped chile pepper, cilantro and cumin. Serve right away, or cover and refrigerate; use within one day.

That’s all for now, but next up I have some updates on gluten-free, including <cough> government regulations on gluten free anything. But most of it is good.

Happy Dining!

 

 

The Virtues of Vinegar

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

Are you enjoying summer? Are you trying? Or is the lure of the watermelon margarita too hard to resist? (You can make them without alcohol, too.)

Here’s something to really whet your whistle if you happen to be in Philadelphia: the Donut Cheesesteak Burger.

As if 1400 calories were the only thing we needed to worry about.

Yes, I know, capitalism. I’m not knocking capitalism, of course. . .but it’s just. . .couldn’t you use that intellect for something else? I mean, we now have two Ebola patients in the US–could you help out with that a little, maybe?

Anyway. . . .

I’m well into the second week of the infamous Yeast-Free Diet, to try and get rid of the heartburn and other gastro ills I’ve developed. No alcohol, no vinegar (except apple cider vinegar), no fruit, no dairy. . .well, you know the drill if you’ve read about it or done it. It’s a 90-day cleanse diet, and once you get over no cheese on your scrambled eggs for a while, it’s all good, and you’ll get the bug out of your gut.

I’m using the Yeast Control powder from Green Willow Tree again this time, too. Funny, it really doesn’t taste all that bad to me this time. That’s OK, and ice in the water helps with that.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be grumpy for a while. But I’m getting back into walking and exercise, so maybe that will take the edge off. A little. If I don’t hurt myself.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that what’s called “common knowledge,” also known as “common sense,” seems to be disappearing in this country. What I mean by that is that things people just used to know and passed along were little things, like a dozen equals 12. People don’t KNOW stuff like that anymore, and they certainly don’t pass it around if they do. While I don’t try to go around giving advice to people who didn’t ask for it, I do try to help out where needed. Sometimes.

Take vinegar, for instance. Yes, that bottle of strong, clear liquid in your pantry that comes in handy for the occasional recipe, and the stuff I can’t use for a while. (Distilled White Vinegar, that is.) Did you know you can use it for more than just salad dressing and stuff, right? Well, keep reading.

Twenty years ago, when I became a devotee of Martha Stewart, I found in either her Christmas issue or one of her Christmas books an idea for making flavored olive oils. I did some research too, since the web was becoming an information portal. Problem: fresh herbs have bacteria that may flourish in oil, but vinegar would kill anything like that. I just put the same herbs into vinegar, got some sealing wax, corked the bottles and gave quite a few folks some flavored vinegar for Christmas. I did that more than once, too.

Of course, when I asked the now-ex-husband to write down “sealing wax” on our shopping list, he didn’t understand what it was, or what it was for. When we got to Wal-Mart, I looked on his list and it said, “ceiling wax.” Um, what? You gonna get up there and wax it?

Anyway. . .

When I grocery shop, I buy two or three gallons of the plain white kind, because, well, I do not use it for salad dressing; that’s either apple cider vinegar or maybe raspberry vinegar. . I also don’t use table salt for cooking, but we’ll get to that later.

Vinegar does all kinds of non-foodie things, which is why I keep it around. Do you have a stainless steel kettle for boiling water to make tea or coffee in a French press? Leave it too long and it will develop a slime. YUCK! You can also become ill from it–read the linked post, and you’ll see I did that already, hence a previous round of the Yeast-Free Diet.  When I clean mine, I fill it halfway with vinegar, half with water, turn it on to boil and let it finish. Once I hear that “click” of the switch, I know it’s done–the mineral spots on the bottom are gone, too. Drain, rinse a couple of times until the vinegar smell is gone, and it’s good to go. If you use it regularly, doing the vinegar boil twice a week should keep it clean.

Vinegar can also get the scaling out of electric drip coffee makers–just fill it with straight vinegar and turn it on; then run two or three brew cycles after you dump the vinegar, or until you don’t smell it anymore.

I bet you didn’t know you could clear drains with it, did you? Neighbor K found this out on Saturday–I’d mentioned it to her a few days ago, and she texted me Saturday asking about it. So I texted back what she needed and how to do it. A little while later K texted this message back: “WOW it works!”

Would I lie about a thing like that? (See what I mean when I said we keep each other out of trouble?)

Mission accomplished. She told me later that the regular drain cleaner you buy at the grocery didn’t do anything, but this did. Woo hoo! It also works on a slow-running drain, which means you’ve got something developing down in the pipes. You can also do it monthly to keep the drain from backing up, which I consistently forget to do.  (I’ve since run that formula down my own kitchen sink this morning, mostly as a preventative measure.)

That non-toxic drain cleaner came out of one of two old books I bought in the 1980’s from Rodale. The Natural Formula Book for Home & Yard (1982) is 300+ pages of the kind of info that people used to just “know.”  Another vinegar-based thing is what’s called “Blue Window Cleaner” on page 17. Mine isn’t blue, however, because I discovered that to get blue food coloring, you have to buy the box of 4 colors. I don’t need it that bad, so my “window cleaner” is clear in a spray bottle from Home Depot. You could also re-use a spray bottle from Windex, or get one at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or even IKEA.

Cleaning/clearing your sink pipes toxin-free is very simple. Down your drain pour one cup table salt, one cup baking soda, and one cup plain white vinegar. It will fizz and bubble, but that’s all of it. Meantime, put that kettle on and boil some water. Once the water boils (which will take at least 15 minutes, the more the merrier), carefully pour it into the drain behind the mixture. Put that pot down and let the hot water do what it does–melt and disperse the gunk and take it out of your pipes, and out of your hair. Follow that up by running the hot tap water for at least 5 minutes, and you’re good to go.

Oh, and this will work in your bathroom drains, too. Just be careful if you haul big pots of boiling water, OK?  Burns are NO FUN.

I also saw on Facebook recently where you can clean your microwave oven by adding a cup of water and a cup of vinegar to a 2-cup measure or other microwave safe container, running it until it boils, and then wiping it completely clean. (Dump that down the drain while hot, carefully, for a little drain maintenance, too.)

I haven’t bought commercial window cleaner in 20 years; I just use this stuff and it works perfectly. Make it as I need it, one or two batches at a time.

Blue Window Cleaner

  • 3 tablespoons household ammonia (make sure you get clear, non-sudsy ammonia, or you’ll have a mess on windows and mirrors)
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1-2 drops blue (or other color) food coloring (optional)

Measure ammonia and vinegar into a clean spray bottle, and add the water. Add food coloring, if desired, and shake well.

Easy, right? And cheap.

If you’re interested in that kind of natural, old-fashioned cleaning and housekeeping, the other book I still have through all that life has thrown at me is Rodale’s Hints, Tips & Everyday Wisdom. That book was published in 1985, although an updated version was published in 1994 that I just found out about. While I’m always interested in that sort of thing. . .my ex-husbands were not. That should tell you everything you need to know, right?

Another great use for vinegar is weed killing; I just found it recently, courtesy of Capper’s Farmer, with just a little searching on their site. (I get their emails and Facebook feeds, too.)  A non-toxic weed killer that does a pretty good job, and pretty quickly. Lucky me, I happened to have one of those pump-action spray containers like the exterminators have (don’t ask) so it didn’t take long. While it didn’t kill every single weed, it did a good job with the ones I sprayed. In the back, I dumped some out directly on a patch of weeds and they were just gone. I’ve gone out and sprayed the rest, and just haven’t gotten around to pulling them up. But they’re dead, that’s for sure. Except for that tree that keeps wanting to grow back. That’s a tough one to get rid of.

I also keep lots of baking soda and table salt around. Why? Together they are quite useful.

You know how I love to use the little toaster oven for everything, and turn on the big oven maybe 4 times a calendar year? Well, the little oven is getting a cleaning. You know how when you cook fish you remember it long after you ate it? Yeah, it’s like that–and opening the windows doesn’t help, either. I don’t toast bread very often, only when I make the gluten-free stuff, mostly it’s cooking and roasting stuff, like meat, chicken and turkey.

I’ve mentioned this before, I love turkey and get turkey parts (primarily thighs) frequently. Put them (or any part of chicken) on that broiler pan and roast them at 400F for about an hour, and you get perfectly cooked meat with a skin crispier than any potato chip you’ve ever eaten. HEAVENLY, I tell you. But when I cooked two more Friday night. . .I smelled them in my sleep. So the oven needs to be cleaned. Seriously.

I’ve discovered another foodie blog, The Kitchn, and so I get the Facebook feeds now. Good stuff, and what I found for non-toxic oven cleaning was here, using baking soda, water (or as someone in the comments suggested, hydrogen peroxide) and. . .vinegar. Of course, I unplugged the toaster oven first, then went to work. I cleaned the broiler pan, rack and drip tray best I could, and then went to work on the inside of this beast.

First, remove the oven racks, or anything else you might store inside the oven.  Since this is a toaster oven, remove the drip tray, since that’s funky too; we deal with that separately.

Next, you make a nice paste with water and baking soda, although one comment about hydrogen peroxide made me experiment with that. A half cup of baking soda, then 3 tablespoons of water or peroxide; more as needed, a little at a time. Coat the inside of the oven with this paste; not too thick, not too thin:

Yes, it's icky. But that's OK.

Yes, it’s icky. But that’s OK.

Let it sit overnight, then go back and wipe that grunge off as best you can. Scrub a little, scrape a little, but it starts to come off pretty well.  Use a plastic scraper thingy if you need to on some burned-on crud. Once you get as much of it off as you can, spray some vinegar in there and let it fizzy up. Wipe some more. Yes, more. Eventually, you will remove all you can remove.

Better!

Better! (Sort of.)

That weird liquid at the bottom of the page is caught between the glass and the metal band that holds it on. Eventually it drained off and I cleaned it away.

I scraped, scrubbed and wiped some more after this picture, but this is about as good as it gets. Remember, this toaster oven is about 4 or 5 years old. While I’ve cleaned it before, it doesn’t all come off, since it’s not ceramic on the inside like a standard oven is.

Now, the drip tray I treated a bit differently. I put it in a bucket of water and a half-cup of ammonia, which will also work on the oven racks (but I didn’t think about that when I was soaking it.) Some of the comments at The Kitchn suggested filling the bathtub with water, but I thought that was a bit unnecessary since it was small. After I took a shower for the night, then filled up the bucket with water, added about a half-cup of ammonia, closing the bathroom door so me and the cat didn’t have to smell lemony-scented soapy ammonia all night. Next day most of the baked-on stuff came off, but not all. I scraped with a plastic scraper, but not all of it was loose. Maybe next time.

It’s about as clean as it’s going to get now. I turned it on to burn off anything else, and it had a slight smell for a bit and that was the end of it.

CLEAN!!

CLEAN!! (Mostly)

And then I started cooking in it again.

I’m sure I’ll get a few more years out of this one. Maybe this one will croak and I’ll buy me a brand-new one. Again. That’s what happened to the last one–the electronic bits went out and that was the end of it after 6 years of heavy use.

Now, under no circumstances should you use a fancy gourmet vinegar for any of this stuff. My stash of Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar from Oil & Vinegar is tucked away in the back of the still-organized pantry (with the Meyer Lemon Olive Oil) and only comes out occasionally (especially now.)

While I do have some, I’m not using apple cider vinegar for cleaning, either. However, Bragg’s ACV is the best I’ve found, and has the live “mother” in it. While Bragg’s is widely available now in grocery stores (at least, it is here in Houston) Bragg’s website can show you all the products they sell. If there’s something you want but can’t find, you can order it there or on Amazon.com. They have a collection of books as well on not only using their ACV but other health topics as well.

Maybe I should do a blog post on Bragg–whaddaya think?

I heard Patricia Bragg on Dr. Hotze’s radio show one day and have been buying it ever since. She mentioned something about the vinegar for cats, but I missed it, and never got around to finding out what it was.  At one point I was putting a tablespoon of ACV in my water, but I kind of got out of the habit.

If you’re interested in more uses for vinegar, you can find lots more info at Capper’s Farmer’s website, Grit.com, and this article on Backwoods Home’s website too (although a website search will give you all the articles, including recipes.) Of course, there’s always the Google search, too. Up to you.

This book on vinegar by Christine Halvorson also has some good tips, like clearing your clogged shower head by soaking it in vinegar. I’ve done that before, too, and it works very well.

Speaking of those magazines, and Mary Jane’s Farm, I’ve got some gluten-free updates coming soon.

Now that I’ve covered the subject of that little kitchen condiment, I’ll close here and let you go find out what it can do for you. Sure, it stinks, but the smell goes away quickly, and it cleans as well as anything you can buy in Home Depot.

So what are you waiting for? Go get some vinegar!!

 

 

 

 

Pesto and the gift of tomatoes

Hola, Amigos:

My apologies for being late again. I’ve been busy and just haven’t felt like writing. Period. But WordPress nags you if you don’t, I’d better do something.

Neighbor K introduced me to HEB’s new line of gluten free pasta, and for a while, I couldn’t get enough:

IMG_0658[1]No, the cat food doesn’t figure into it.

However, it’s corn and rice flour that makes this pasta, so it’s high on the carb scale. I think I bought it three times, but I had to quit. It’s not the $1.99 price tag, though–I kept eating it!

Let me give you a bit of background: back in the day (about 1991-1994) I used to walk six miles a day. After the walk, I would eat one of two things: frozen veg with some butter and salt, or boiled pasta with (ugh) Diet Parkay margarine and a small amount of Parmesan cheese. Because, after all, pasta is “healthy,” right? It’s no healthier now than it was, but nobody knew that yet. I would get one of two reactions: with the veg, I had a great evening, but with the pasta, I would fall asleep. It took forever to figure out it was the pasta putting me to sleep for 15 hours, so I cut way back on it.

With the gluten-free pasta, I cooked one cup, added real butter and about the same amount of cheese. I got the same delicious taste without the sudden drowsiness. However. . .I couldn’t stop eating it! So I stopped buying it. Maybe in a few months or so, but not for a while.

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Yesterday was Pesto Saturday!  The basil got to close to three feet high, so it was definitely time for harvesting and pesto making.

IMG_2185

After I picked them (and picked through them) I rinsed them and put them through the salad spinner. You don’t want WATER in your pesto, do you?

IMG_2189

One of the best parts of pesto: pine nuts. NOTE: do not eat any of the toasted pine nuts, or you will not be able to stop eating them. Trust me on this.

Pine Nuts. Legally addicting.

Legally addicting pignoli.

These burn VERY easily, so let me tell you how I keep that from happening–I put them in the toaster oven at 400 degrees for five minutes, and keep an eye on them. When they start turning brown, turn the oven off, then carefully pour them into a COLD container, like this bowl. You know, one you just took out of the cabinet, not necessarily refrigerated. Why? If you leave them in the baking pan, the cooking process continues and they’ll burn. By dumping them into a cold bowl, you stop the cooking process and they’re perfectly toasted.

Make sure you keep the rest of them sealed in the FREEZER, or else they’ll go bad–quickly.

Once I had all the components ready, I just put the parts together.

Blend it!!

Blend it!!

When it’s done, this is what you get.

Pesto!

Pesto!

You can find a good pesto recipe here at Food Network’s site, and it’s virtually the same as the one I got out of one of Giada de Laurentiis’ books. I add Parmesan cheese to mine, although that recipe says Pecorino. Really, with either one, you can’t go wrong.

If the plants will grow back and produce that much again in a few months, I could have at least one more batch of pesto to freeze for the winter. And that will be a good thing.

That, and finding SQUARE containers to freeze them in. The round containers I’ve been using take up too much room.

And why make so much pesto? You already know why–and I made some this week, too.

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Now here comes the part where I write about the infamous ex-boyfriend known as the GER. He loves it when I write about him.

You know the old saying, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth?”

Last time, I told you about the gifted tomatoes the GER gave me. He said he didn’t get a whole lot this year, but he did give me two nice ones. Take a look:

GER tomatoes

Now, because I know a bit about this, I left them on the stove for a week, so they could ripen a bit more. Ripen they did. When I cut them open, this is what they looked like:

IMG_0653[1]

Not especially large, mind you, but, if you’ve ever been given the gift of tomatoes, you know why they are markedly different from the ones you buy at the grocery. Size really doesn’t matter once you taste one.  If you just slice them and eat them, all you need is a light sprinkling of fine sea salt. Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing would be a crime.

I also clipped what was growing in the lettuce pot. You know what they call “bitter greens?” That, unfortunately, was the only part of the “greens mix” that actually grew, plus some kind of parsley look-alike. Darnit. In order to actually consume this without gagging, I stopped at HEB and got a head of good old iceberg lettuce and made my own “greens mix,” which also included a few chopped up mint leaves and some of the flat-leaf Italian parsley that grows back there. That was quite a harvest, and what was it became was pretty darn good:

IMG_0652[1]

The closest thing I could call a recipe would be one head of iceberg lettuce, a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley, some chopped bitter greens, and a few–like, 5–chopped mint leaves. Don’t add more mint or that’s all you’ll taste. Much as I like mint, I know it’s not THAT enjoyable.

With two judiciously sliced fresh garden tomatoes from the GER, it became. . .salad.

Salad!

A little olive oil and salt was all that was needed. I emphasize LITTLE.

And it was SO GOOD.

Summer’s here, please stay cool and enjoy what there is to enjoy.

Happy dining!

Cajun Spice Girl

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Wow, has it been ten days since I posted? Sorry about that, I’ve been busy. And sleeping. I try to get up early EVERY morning, but sometimes I have long days, and I end up taking a nap. Despite my best efforts, I gotta sleep–and that messes up everything. It’s what happens when you have no set routine, or let go of one. If I won the lottery and were self-funded for life, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Anyway. . .

The HeatCageKitchen garden is in need of a good weeding, but I don’t feel like going out there right now. It’s best to do that kind of thing after the sun goes down, or first thing in the morning (as if!) so that it’s not burning hot. The three Meyer lemons are still there and growing bit by bit, but I can’t find the little lime buds anymore–I’m guessing snails or possums, which roam the property and go pretty much wherever they like. I think they really like my place, but I can’t seem to catch them to let them know they’re not welcome.

The eggshells have helped but are not infallible for deflecting slugs, so I put a border brick under the pot holding the basil. Looks like the basil is getting big enough to where it’s too hard for them to <burp> feast on the pungent leaves. I have more eggshells to crush up and drop outside, I just haven’t done it yet. But I’ve been watering, much as I can, and everything is doing fine.

Yesterday I picked my first two strawberries! Yes! And they were delicious! Check it out:

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

Granted, they are the size of the top digit of my little finger, but they were delicious. The plant has more buds, flowers and berries in various stages of development. They look weird, but they’re really strawberries. Maybe the additional sunlight will make them grow in normal.

So, last week I was making some food in the HeatCageKitchen and realized that I am running low on a particular salt/spice blend that I used to, ah, “import” from Louisiana. In other words, when I went to visit, I’d buy three or four of them and bring them back to use. Time to order more. However, over time, like a lot of things called “Cajun” will do, this particular item has started to appear in Houston, and I thought I’d seen it one day, but couldn’t remember where.

Guess what? It’s available at my HEB, along with the crab boil!

Straight from Metairie, Louisiana, Cajun Land Cajun Seasoning with Green Onions

Straight from Metairie, Louisiana, Cajun Land Cajun Seasoning with Green Onions

The Cajun Seasoning with the green lid is the one I like. I’ve been buying it for years, but the last time I imported some was. . .2008, while i was there after evacuating for Hurricane Ike. So it was time to buy more, although I’m not completely out yet.

What I thought I’d be doing is ordering it online, which you can, if you can’t get this in your local grocery store. HEB will order something unusual for you if you fill out a form, but they will also ask, “will you buy a case of it?” However, it’s also easy to order online (There are also recipes using their products on the site.) You can see all of their products at their website, as well as the parent company’s website, Deep South Blenders. I’ve bought products from Deep South Blenders as well, but it’s been a while. It’s a local brand, so it’s in every grocery store in the Metropolitan New Orleans area.

As you can see, Cajun Land Cajun Seasoning is NOT grossly expensive, either. That’s a 15 ounce bottle.

NOTE: How much you use is up to you, but don’t dump a lot into your food until you know how much of it you’d like at one time. It’s got a bite, but it’s not too spicy. But too much of anything with heat can burn you. Unless you grew up in Texas eating jalepenos and Scotch bonnet peppers for breakfast. . .go slowly until you find how how much you like.

My favorite way to use it is on frozen veggies right before I put them in the microwave. A sprinkle of Cajun Land, a touch of salt, some butter, olive oil or unflavored coconut oil on top and it’s perfect. I add salt, because I don’t want to add too much of the Cajun Land to get the salt taste. And I started doing the unflavored coconut oil when I had to do the yeast-free diet many years ago, and I just keep doing the same thing, because it’s so good.

Note: Zatarain’s WAS a local New Orleans brand, but is now owned by McCormick’s. If you don’t believe me, go do a search for it.

So I decided to ring the company, which, I didn’t realize, is 1.4 miles away from where I used to live in Metairie. No kidding! They’ve been there for a long time, and I walked in that neighborhood for 7 years and didn’t even realize they were there. DUH.

So what is this magic mix? It’s a salt-based spice blend, with dehydrated onion, garlic and green onion (you know, what everyone else calls “scallions”) paprika and red pepper, as well as what they call “spices.” It’s salty, it’s spicy, but not burning hot like hot salsa is. A nice rounded flavor with a little bit of bite.

Now, one ingredient is called “spices.” You know what that means–it could be anything, right? So I rang the company and asked about it.

Any guess what the first question was?

Craig Barron, a family member of this 40-year-old family-owned company, said, “Let me go talk to my wife. She’s the food scientist.”

Dear Readers, that’s REAL NEW ORLEANS. No kidding. And Craig is a really nice man, answered all my questions and he didn’t mind me asking, either.

Craig came back to the phone and told me that although the proprietary spice blend is indeed gluten free, they do have some wheat in the facility, and the possibility of cross-contamination does exist, however small the amount. So, if you are highly sensitive to gluten, use at your own risk. But as anyone who looks for gluten additives will tell you (and Dr. Davis, the Wheat Belly guy) it’s always better to ask. Many prepared food products, including spice blends, use gluten or gluten components for filler, thickener, or some other chemical purpose. Anyone who has ever had a reaction from “just a little bit” knows what that means.

Craig spoke proudly of their 40-year history, and the work they do to have Cajun Land products in places like Houston, and they are working on having the products available in more stores, like Kroger and Food Town.

While their website is functional, they are also working on a complete update, so that’s it’s a little more modern. It’s functional, but, a bit, well, 1990’s (by Craig’s own admission!) The day I called they were doing some work on the network, so I tried not to tax him too much.

Turns out his brother Kevin Barron is also a food blogger in South Carolina and also has a company called Muffuletta Media. I hope Craig wasn’t too offended when I laughed at the name–I just thought it was cute, nothing more. If you’re not familiar with the New Orleans classic meal, well, it’s a great big sandwich.  No, the muffuletta is NOT gluten free, either. I can’t tell you the last time I sunk my teeth into one, and thank heavens I don’t live there anymore. Writing about it there would send me to the French Quarter to get one.

I can just see folks in South Carolina trying to pronounce that. In New Orleans, most (including me) say “muff-ah-LAH-tah,” but there are a few other pronunciations around, too.

So if you’re looking for a little something new to add to your spice rack armory, consider Cajun Land Cajun Seasoning with Green Onions. Inexpensive and easily available, it might just be your next big thing.

Happy Dining!