Happy New Year, Dear Readers! Have you seen the No Cow Bar?
We’re getting started on a new year with good and bad, and thawing out after a weekend of hard freezing.
Have you started your New Year’s diet and exercise plan yet? Good. I’ve got some things to tell you about before you do. But first. . . .
More 2016 celebrity sudden deaths.
By now you’ve heard the sad news that one of my favorite songwriting musicians, George Michael, passed away Christmas Day from heart failure at 53. The E-Man called me from his family’s place in Florida to tell me. George was working on new music and a documentary, and by some reports, also battling a heroin addiction.
Additionally, his 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice is being re-released soon. I’m glad, because I no longer have a copy. Cowboys and Angels is one of my favorite songs from that album, as well as from his entire body of work. Not many people have heard it, and I don’t know if it was released as a single. This link is to a symphonic version on YouTube; the original video has a scantily-clad female walking around surrounded by photographers. Here’s the original album version with only a picture of his face and without the potential for “not safe for work.” Wikipedia has this entry on the song.
Yes, it’s the same George Michael whose previous release contained some raunchier tunes, didn’t appear in videos for the videos from this album, and got this butt chewed by the one and only Frank Sinatra for complaining about his solo success. But he was also doing duets with Jody Watley, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, and others for a while, too.
The Force passes
Two days later, Carrie Fischer, best known as Star Wars’ Princess Leia, also passed away from a heart-related ailment. The next day, her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, passed away from what was reported to be a stroke. Some say it was a broken heart, and who could blame her? Ms. Reynold’s son Todd, Carrie’s sister, was tasked with burying both of them and handling their affairs, along with Carrie’s daughter. Very sad.
2016 was a culling for the entertainment world–David Bowie had cancer, Glenn Frey (The Eagles) had pneumonia, Prince had his issues with pain and prescriptions. . .what’s going on? I’m reading the possible answer, many celebrities are associated with prior drug use, or have continuing issues with them. Weak hearts, weakened immune systems, depressed hormone production–your system pays a price even after you quit. But it’s related to an upcoming blog topic.
And if you’re considering the January re-boot of your health, my next blog post will give you something to seriously consider. No, not just the latest diet fad, either.
Anyway. . .how was your Christmas?
Did you slow-cook anything? Break out the waffle maker for a quick dessert? Were you able to accomplish everything you wanted to for the big holiday dinner? Or were you happily alone without the nerve-wracking distractions a big-deal activity can hold?
Saturday brought me three visitors–one of which was Santa! Yes, the local fire department took out a truck and a guy with a beard and a heavy red suit for a ride around our area. He hopped out of the truck and brought me and a visiting friend of BF a paper sack with an orange, and apple, and two of those lovely powdery mints you sometimes find in restaurants when you pay your tab. We were outside chatting and up roars this fire engine from up the road. I asked Santa what kind of cookies he liked. He said, “Oh, I like all kinds of cookies.” I said, “remember, Rachael Ray doesn’t bake, but I do!”
What did we do?
Well. . .not much. BF had his son on Saturday, and Sunday was a trip down the road for dinner with his Dad and family. We did put a pork roast in the CrockPot, but other than that, nothing special. I didn’t do all the things I said I was going, to, though.
For the record, for the first time, I did not see the new Doctor Who Christmas Special. I’ll get to see it eventually. After getting BF to watch and enjoy last year’s Sherlock holiday special, The Abominable Bride, I’ll call that a success. He also watched part of the new installment of Sherlock this weekend. I won’t mention the spoilers, in case you have not seen it. But I’ll say that I didn’t see *that* coming in the first episode.
New Year’s Day Slow Cooking
I planned to head to New Orleans on New Year’s Day, but I wasn’t feeling well on Saturday night, and didn’t get up on time Sunday morning. You see, we had some seriously apocalyptic rain that weekend, and somehow I developed a headache, I believe, because of it. (We were again at BF’s father’s house, and his sister was in town bearing gifts for the little kids.) Or maybe it was this book I was reading–bought for a 2 year old child, but I decided to start reading it and couldn’t put it down. No kidding. (They were watching a football game.) I got 100 pages into it when BF said, “I’m ready to go home, are you?” Celtic Tales is now on my Amazon wish list. It’s *that* good.
To accommodate my absence and the need to eat, I decided to employ two of our slow-cooking machines and check with Stephanie O’Dea at A Year of Slow Cooking for advice. Well, Stephanie’s email last week had three recipes with black eyed peas, one of which was a chili with ground beef. BF liked that one, but called it a “Taco Soup.” Call it whatever you like, it was a pretty good idea. I also looked for cabbage, since BF asked, and found this nice one with cabbage and little potatoes. Both are pretty good, and highly recommended–but you’ll need a six-quart slow cooker for each of the recipes. I used a 4-quart for the cabbage, and ended up with more cabbage to shred for coleslaw. Thankfully, I’m the only one who likes coleslaw, so more for me.
But I still didn’t go to New Orleans, darnit.
The weather was pretty bad, too.
BF’s teenage son was again with us for the day, and his daughter came with her baby and fellah later in the day. BF was of the idea that they would come to eat–but they went to Cracker Barrel first. Oh, well–there’s chili in the freezer for another day. We finished off the frozen half of the 15-bean soup last week, with BF agreeing it was pretty darn good again.
OK, so what else is going on?
Well, because I didn’t make it to New Orleans on Sunday, I didn’t cover a couple of errands I needed, so I headed to Baton Rouge on Monday. In the rain. But it was OK.
The first place was Vitamin Shoppe, and after having some leftover homemade pecan pie and a few Chips Ahoy!–the most indulgent things I had this holiday season–I asked if there was something nice and chocolate that wouldn’t kill me. A number of things were available, but no chocolate-cherry Kind bars. But what do I find, but this:
The No Cow Bar in Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffle!
Longtime readers know my affinity for chocolate and raspberry in the same place. Although there were a number of flavors, including four chocolate, this is the one I got. What does it do for you? Well, it’s:
- Dairy Free
- Soy Free
- Gluten Free
- Extremely Low in Sugar
Made by a company called D’s Naturals, they offer “plant based perfection.” Now, y’all all know I’m not a vegan, but I do partake of the vegan stuff from time to time as a healthy alternative to junk food. I tried giving up meat–I thought I was going to starve to death, so no thanks. But this was kind of interesting.
The guy in Vitamin Shoppe said that the chocolate No Cow Bars were really good, but he hadn’t tried the Dark Raspberry Truffle himself. Well. . .I had to try it, I was getting hungry.
What’s in a No Cow Bar?
INGREDIENTS: PROTEIN BLEND (BROWN RICE PROTEIN, PEA PROTEIN), ISOMALTO-OLIGOSACCHARIDES* (PREBIOTIC FIBER), ROASTED COCOA NIBS, VEGETABLE GLYCERINE, ALMONDS, COCOA BUTTER, COCOA POWDER, NATURAL FLAVORS, WATER, SEA SALT, ERYTHRITOL, MONK FRUIT EXTRACT, STEVIA.
No, it’s not “all the same thing.”
Taste? No Cow Bar tastes pretty good–but don’t expect it to taste like a Hershey’s Dark Chocolate bar, OK? Sweet, with a chocolate raspberry flavor, but a softer texture than you’d expect. At $2.49 a bar, it’s more expensive than a candy bar. But there’s a lot more protein and less grams of sugar, too. (Vitamin Shoppe’s website has the nutritional breakdown here.) In the store, you can buy No Cow Bars individually or by the box, but online you’re stuck buying an entire box. So if No Cow Bars are something that you might be interested in trying in the New Year, find them at Vitamin Shoppe and try them one at a time first.
The next shopping holiday awaits
After Vitamin Shoppe, I had to head to the Mall of Louisiana, where I ended up doing half an hour of walking. I didn’t intend to, but that’s what happened. I didn’t mind–I met some nice people, and got a new battery for my 27-year-old watch. Found the Williams-Sonoma store, and couldn’t resist going in. Twice the size of the one we had at Baybrook Mall (now a “boutique” with ugly clothes), and lots more stuff. The holiday candies are on sale, but they’re still quite pricey, so I passed. (BF was glad for that, since I would have bought it for him.)
But hey–for a healthy treat, there’s always No Cow Bars!
You need this.
But now the Valentine’s Day promotions are starting, as well as Mardi Gras here in Louisiana. (Honestly, I couldn’t care less about Mardi Gras, ever.) While prowling, I found this gorgeous item:
It was the only one in the store, and nobody could figure out how much it was. That took a while, this cute little pot is. . .$150. No joke. This is a 1-quart Dutch oven in a heart shape. BUT–Le Cruset is made in France, so yes, it’s pricey. (Heavy enough to bake in *and* knock out your ex who shows up unexpectedly!) Just what you need for Valentine’s Day, right? We’ll pass.
What are we doing for V-D?
Probably not much. I think I still have the heart-shaped silicone cake pan packed in a box. I’ll make us a chocolate-raspberry something-or-other this year. V-D is on a Tuesday this year, so BF will probably be working anyway.
Have you made your 2017 resolutions yet?
If “losing weight” is one of your New Year’s Resolutions, I have a book for you to read. I know, you’ve heard the axiom “it’s calorie in, calorie out,” but nothing could be further from the truth. By that logic, you can eat candy bars all day long and “get healthy.” Having been on that seesaw since 1995, I can tell you that a) low-fat and fat-free diets are anything but healthy, b), in most cases, losing weight is not all about food, but food plays a big part of it, and c) there is a lot more to it than what you’ll hear at Weight Watchers. In my next post, I’ll introduce you to a book that will open your eyes if you haven’t read it yet. I’m reading it for the second time, and will soon post about it. Don’t miss it.
Meantime, have some healthy food, whatever you like to eat, and enjoy some calm now that the busy-ness of the holidays are over.
Hi, again, Dear Readers–let’s Swerve!
I’m sorry to be late again, *life* has happened, and there are dogs involved. We’re getting that sorted out, and I’m always looking for new things to bring you.
As I alluded to in a recent post, there is something available for folks who miss SomerSweet, and anyone who’s looking for a sweet alternative to sugar that isn’t toxic or make you feel ill after eating it. An alternative sweetener that allows you to sweeten foods naturally without wondering what will happen in an hour. And one that’s somewhat accessible without ordering it from somewhere else. I found it: and it’s called Swerve.
I still miss my HEB.
Now, y’all keep hearing me say this. I really do, and here’s one of the main reasons:
That’s right, I’m really ticked off about this. HEB, Kroger, Randall’s, and other stores in Houston (and around the country) have cup holders for your coffee. Many stores, like Kroger, Randall’s and Target, have Starbucks locations in the store. (The Walmart on I-45 has a McDonald’s in the front of the store as well.) I mean, coffee is a thing now, right? People shop with their coffee, especially during the cold winter months, so why not?
When I went to Winn-Dixie a couple of days before Thanksgiving, I stopped in at the PJ’s in front of the store for a coffee. Once I grabbed my basket, I realized–no place for coffee! I had to be very careful balancing a coffee in one hand, or balancing it in the “seat” part of the basket. It’s 2016—child seating areas have been in grocery store baskets since I was a kid—so why don’t they have coffee cup holders in the rest of the US?
Neighbor E graciously took these pictures for me last Saturday, and included a pic of of our friends there, Miss Lei:
She made a different version of the hatch apple cake, and E got me the recipe for you:
And check out the display that’s right in front of the bakery, inside the store.
NOW do you see why I miss my HEB? (And many thanks to Neighbor E for the great pictures, too!) Well, I’m getting there. And, BF makes it easier. He’s been to our HEB, so he understands why.
Turkey thighs found!
I did find more turkey thighs at the Rouse’s on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, and I bought both packs—they were under $2! Next trip to NOLA, I’ll go look again. The newest Trader Joe’s is across the street; I just went there for a couple of bottles of water for the trip home (and I know they’re 17 cents each.) But it’s nice, just like the one in Baton Rouge, and the one in The Woodlands. If you haven’t been to a Trader Joe’s, and there’s one in your area, might be worth a visit. I very nearly brought home a packet of their Pork and Beef Tamales. They actually are a product of Mexico. They’re real tamales, and very tasty too.
Anyway. . . .
Do *you* have a coffee while you shop?
I did notice that my Whole Foods in Mandeville has coffee cup holders in their baskets—the little “urban” baskets, as I call the smaller ones with two compartments, have them in the handle like HEB does. The bigger baskets, the ones with the child seats in them, have these plastic holders, which also hold things like flowers:
I know, I know. . .these are “first world problems.” But DARNIT! When there’s a PJ’s right in front of the store, why can’t Winn-Dixie shoppers have holders for coffee too?
What’s this foolishness?
Speaking of Whole Foods, I saw this little gem last time:
No kidding, “Not Beef.” OK, riddle me this, Batman—if you’re truly a vegan and/or vegetarian, and you do not partake of a product that comes from “anything with a face,” why are you in need of a product that tastes of simulated beef? Is this to go with your “plant-based burger meat?” Not a joke, and it’s $3 a box!
No, OK? And that recipe for “Not Beef Noodle Soup” starring cut bits of tofu? Yeah. . .not happening in the Casa. Even if I weren’t allergic to soy, I wouldn’t try it. What’s the point? Besides, BF would run me up the street for bringing tofu into his house.
I know, I know–Whole Foods is giving customers what they want, or what they think they want. This is America, the land of invention, so. . .spend your money where you like, but I still think it’s silly.
Resistance is futile
Oh, and, despite my refusal to do so, I now have a Winn Dixie Customer Reward Card, similar to the ones I have for Kroger, Randall’s, Vitamin Shoppe, Petsmart, Petco, IKEA, and a myriad of other stores in Houston and elsewhere. I added the app to my phone, too. Lucky me, they have “fuel points” that we can use to save a few rubles when we fill up The White Knight. So I hope to be able to use the points soon. I spoke to Winn-Dixie today to resolve an issue with duplicate cards.
While I on the phone with the nice lady, I expressed my discontent with having no place to put my coffee cup while shopping. (The PJ’s is right there, for heaven’s sake!) She didn’t know why that was, but she promised to pass along the suggestion to management. So maybe during the next upgrade of baskets, Winn-Dixie will get with the 21st Century and have a place for customers to put their coffee cups while shopping there.
Enough of that—this is the post you’ve been waiting for.
Let’s do the Swerve!
If you’re one of those folks who is missing SomerSweet, isn’t happy with stevia, or would like to move away from the Splenda, Equal or other chemical sweeteners you’ve become accustomed to using, Swerve might be what you’re looking for.
As I mention in my last post, I found Swerve in the Mandeville Whole Foods on my first trip. Swerve is erythritol, a natural sweetener that doesn’t have any nasty side effects like chemical sweeteners, and no, um, gastro issues. This is great news for diabetics and anyone who wants to cut down or eliminate sugar from their diet. You can have some sweet stuff and not be tempted by something you know you shouldn’t be eating. It’s especially useful this time of year, when you know how all the well-laid plans go pear-shaped when someone shows up with anything called “Black Forest,” “Chocolate Cherry,” “Peppermint,” or the thing that makes me knock a big guy out of the way, something with chocolate and raspberry in the same place. (BF knows to move if I spot that combo, but I haven’t been in the company of the esteemed Shaquille O’Neal; I’m sure he’d move out of the way just as fast.)
Here’s a closeup:
How does it compare to the now-defunct SomerSweet?
Here’s a peek in the bag:
The day I bought it, I paid $7.99 for this bag:
No, it’s not cheap–but it’s useful if you’re looking for healthy ingredients.
Not everybody cares.
Please note that in my own experience with healthier foods, not everyone cares that it’s sugar free, gluten free, carb free, or yeast free. This was especially true at Thanksgiving, when my favorite Cranberry Ginger Relish wasn’t well received, and the vegan cornbread made for BF’s Dad wasn’t well received. I’m not doing that again, I’ll make all that stuff for myself. BF “kind of” liked the vegan cornbread, but the “regular” cornbread wasn’t all eaten, either—about half went to Hound Training.
Another example: A few years ago, I brought former Neighbor R a pan of yeast-free brownies at her request (she’d given me a big favor.) She thought that little pan was “too much,” and she gave half to another neighbor. That other neighbor, I was told later, brought them to her booth at a flea market, where “everybody loved them!” No kidding—that neighbor didn’t know they were more expensive, sugar free and all that, because she was accustomed to making brownies from a box. I’ve said this before: alternative ingredients are pricier than the usual white-flour/white-sugar stuff. So unless you know someone who would appreciate yeast free brownies, gluten-free cornbread, or other non-standard healthier recipes, it’s probably better to keep them to yourself, or at least in your family’s kitchen.
It’s all good.
Granular Erythritol is available in a number of places, including Amazon and Dr. Hotze’s in-house vitamin store (called Sweet-N-Natural.) This 2-pound can is $50; SomerSweet was considerably less expensive. But if you don’t have the inclination to pop for that much Sweet-N-Natural, Swerve is a great option to try erythritol. A 12-ounce bag was $7.99 at Whole Foods, and you may find it on sale occasionally for less.
So what do you do with it? Use it like sugar. Between the Swerve website and their Facebook page, you’ll find lots of ideas for using Swerve to satisfy your sweet tooth. They don’t yet have a downloadable PDF file of recipes; you just go there, or to their Facebook page, and pick out what you’d like. I’ve seen some tasty desserts on their site, but I haven’t tried them yet. This one, for Pecan Pie Biscotti, looks pretty tasty. (Access all their recipes here.)
I had a chat with the very nice Natalia at Swerve, and she says that although they’ve been around since 2001, they’ve only stepped up their marketing since 2012. Swerve is available nationwide as well as in Canada, and is also available at places like Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost if your local market doesn’t carry it. (They currently don’t have an e-commerce function on their own website.) You can also use their handy online store locator to find it in your neck of the woods. I had no idea that it was available in Clear Lake, but it is!
Swerve comes in 12 ounce packages, in granular and powdered.
What makes Swerve special?
The cup-for-cup measure is a distinct difference between Swerve and other similar products. Swerve is the only product of its kind that comes in not only granular, like you would put in your coffee, but also powdered for confectionery creations (i.e., truffles.) No one else has a “confectioner’s sugar” version. It’s also gluten-free and non GMO (two big sell factors for me.) Erythritol doesn’t promote tooth decay the way sugar does, and of course, it TASTES LIKE SUGAR! No metallic aftertaste like stevia—I’m sorry, but stevia kind of tastes funny to me. So, I’m liking Swerve a lot.
Unlike xylitol, erythritol is also safe for the dogs who might get under your feet and nibble a bit of crumbs you didn’t know you dropped. Xylitol is very toxic for animals, so if you have some or might use it, do keep an eye out around the critters. Last thing you want is an emergency vet bill for a poisoned animal.
So what does Swerve taste like?
It tastes like sugar! No, really, it tastes like sugar. No aftertaste at all.
I tried Swerve myself recently when I made some coconut oil chocolate to nibble on. With It worked perfectly, and there was no difference between the one I made with SomerSweet and the one I made with Swerve. They were equally tasty, and melted all over my hands as coconut oil is wont to do.
Some cocoa powder:
Two tablespoons of cocoa powder, then mix well with a fork:
Now add Swerve, just stir it in:
I think I added two of those tablespoons, just like SomerSweet. And because the coconut oil was unflavored, a little almond extract does wonders:
Please note that almond extract is VERY potent, and you only need a tiny drop for this.
Freeze until hard, and carefully break it into chunks to eat like candy. Well, it pretty much is, isn’t it?
I’m thinking it might be time for another crack at the YeastFreeBrownies, sweetening them with Swerve. I haven’t made them in a while. Maybe BF might even like them, just a little.
So, now you have an alternative, and if you’re like me, a replacement for the beloved SomerSweet. (Or if you’re looking to permanently ditch the toxic chemical ones.) I’ll use the rest of the SomerSweet over time, and will pick up my sugarless cooking and baking with Swerve. BF will probably not like me buying many bags of it at a time, but you know I hate to run out of anything.
Be sweet and enjoy!
Hello, again, Dear Readers:
I hope you’re feeling better by now. The election, and all the associated nastiness, is over for a while. Now it’s time for transition, and hopefully, getting back to whatever passes for “normal.” It was a nail-biter, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop eating BF’s ice cream. (I didn’t eat all of it, just a little.) We stayed up until 3:00 am or so watching the results, and back-checking CBS News on our phones against what was showing up on Facebook in our feeds. Bizarre–I’ve never done that before, but we finally hit the sack once it was all over. Good thing we didn’t have anything planned for the next day, and he was off work. No more sugar-laden ice cream, and the weight is going back down again, thank heavens.
Time for some comfort food, OK? Keep reading, there’s a recipe for you shortly.
We’ve been doing some renovation type of cleaning in the Casa, which includes having one of his, um, ex-girlfriends finally come get her stuff out of his house. She’s got some of it, but some still resides for a few more days. (What are we, Public Storage?) His daughter took the things she wanted and I helped her clear out stuff she didn’t want. All that’s left is his friend from the Navy. Well, with moving stuff around and out, painting the back room for my soon-to-be studio office, and clearing car parts out of the house, we’ve set up a little breakfast area by the kitchen:
This is my IKEA Tarno patio set that we just put there and put a tablecloth over, and BF decided to add my tiny lamp (Lampan, also from IKEA.) I repaired the miniblinds which had been damaged by a passed-on pooch, and cleaned the window really well. Know what? It’s kind of nice to have breakfast right there, or dinner. When we get things better situated, we’ll put my regular dinette there, and I’ll repair more of the miniblinds, now that I know how. (Looked it up on eHow and learned on the fly.) The blinds are closed so you don’t see that the Casa “beautification project” has not yet carried over to the patio out front.
After my trip to New Orleans on Sunday, where I bought some lovely pork chops, chicken sausage and chicken thighs for us, BF decided Monday to get. . .one of those “kits” to make tacos for lunch on Tuesday. I kid you not. At least he had the sense to get the crunchy taco kit, which has corn tortillas. No word about “gluten free,” but there was no wheat or its derivatives in any of the ingredients that I saw, so I was glad about that and reluctantly took part. (It does say that it was partly produced with GMO ingredients; my guess is the corn, which I rarely eat.) He asked me to brown the ground beef to get started, and of course, twenty minutes later, we had tacos–because he went into the living room to watch more TV. GRRR. . .but I got the job done.
Dinner was Mustard Pork Chops in the Crock Pot, which I may post soon. It was pretty good, and worthy of doing again. Because he really wanted. . .tacos. . .the chicken shifted to lunch on Wednesday, where I made him, for the first time, Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatora, or “The Hunter’s Stew,” which, in Nigella’s case, is “lazy hunter’s stew.” (It only takes 30 minutes.) Although it’s long been a comfort food favorite for me, this was his first taste of it. Thumbs up–he likes it, and I can make it again for him. (Thanks.) The next day for dinner at work, he took some with a cup of rice, since he thought it “needed” some. No problem, I cooked up a small batch of white rice for him and added it to the container. Along with a slice of made-from-scratch pound cake from his friend’s birthday, he was all set for work.
Now, if you’re interested in making this “hunter’s stew,” I want to point something out that’s not immediately obvious: although the printed recipe calls for a half-cup of pancetta cubes–which is perfectly acceptable, albeit expensive and hard to find here–you can also slice up 3 or 4 slices of bacon in place of it. That’s the way I’ve always made it since I saw the original show. The show may be on YouTube; you’d just have to look for it.
It really is a nice comfort food. Even if it does come from across the pond. You’re welcome.
I’ve been in the larger Winn-Dixie in Hammond, and indeed they do have more organic produce. Surprise–they even have fresh sushi. I still hate sushi, but–they have it! I did some recon in the morning, and then did some shopping later in the day, mostly meat, eggs, butter, cheese, etc. I almost–ALMOST–thought I was in Kroger. And I kept saying “I live down in La Marque. . .” which, of course, is in Texas. Well, it’s probably because I felt like I was in Kroger. I sure do miss my HEB, though–the pork loin roasts I used to get on sale for $3 in HEB are something like $12 here. What’s up with that? I did find a nine-pound pork loin that was about 3 feet long, but we don’t have any place to store that monster. Another time.
Rouse’s has purchased a rival grocery store chain, so there will soon be a Rouse’s in Hammond for me to visit, right near that Winn-Dixie. That’ll be good, too.
A quick look at the calendar tells me that Thanksgiving is coming. It’s next week! I really have lost my sense of date and time. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I won’t be cooking turkey. That’s OK, I cook turkey all year long (I just wish I could get turkey thighs here; maybe Albertson’s has them.) I asked BF the other night what our plans were for Thanksgiving; he said his brother usually does a big spread, and we would attend. (Just have to figure out what I’m going to wear.) Well, if I’m allowed, I’ll bring some of that fantastic Cranberry-Ginger Relish and maybe one or two other small things, but I warned BF that I would likely eat before I went. Longtime readers know that things like sweet potato pie, sweet potatoes with other abominable things added to it and all things bread, pie and gravy are not coming my way. I’ll be happy to have some turkey–maybe a little mashed potatoes, too–but no gravy, please! Gravy, to me, kills the taste of everything under it. So this will be interesting, and maybe I’ll pull the Nordic Track out in the morning before we go.
Think I should just stay home and watch Britcoms?
So, what do you do when you’re hosting such an occasion and have health concerns to consider? (Besides panic, that is.) Or, surprise, his new girlfriend is a vegetarian, and he’s going vegan soon too? Knowing this in advance helps, of course, but sometimes you don’t, so having some extra vegetable dishes helps (just don’t use chicken stock!) I’ve written about these kinds of things before, and you can also get some help on Martha Stewart’s website, under “All Things Thanksgiving.” Sur la Table has also published its annual Thanksgiving Guide, and it’s available online or as a free download to print. BF and I caught a bit of the Rachael Ray Show the other day, and someone named Clinton Kelly was making dishes you could make in advance: Turkey Meatballs, a Roasted Vegetable Soup (which looked pretty good, actually), which you could make in advance and freeze, then serve from the Crock Pot and some popover kinds of things with smoked salmon. The Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash is really good, too. Of course, if you’re looking for something specific, please check out the worlds’s biggest idea database, Pinterest.
One thing I can’t emphasize enough is getting started on your Thanksgiving planning early. Get that turkey NOW, if you haven’t already. Get your brine mix, or make it, NOW, because the turkey has to thaw first, AND you have to make the brine ahead of time. Buy your ingredients early, especially the unusual stuff, like puff pastry or something else that everyone will be looking for like fresh or dried sage. Doing potluck? Ask and assign people a specific dish–dressing, veg, cornbread, whatever–so you avoid the problem of everyone stopping at the grocery and picking up a cake or cupcakes at the last minute. All dessert and little turkey does *not* make happy dinner guests, you know? A broad variety of different vegetable dishes, and maybe including maybe a pilaf or risotto (using vegetable stock) can keep everyone happy and well-fed while including the vegetarians and not calling them out for it.
Brining a turkey? Here’s one from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman (warning: it has brown sugar) and one from Martha Stewart’s website. If you want to brine a turkey–and I highly recommend it–get going. Now. Juniper berries might be hard to find soon.
It’s also a great time to dust off the slow cookers and the waffle makers if you’re not using them regularly. Make sure all your appliances work before the big day, too. And isn’t there something you can slow-cook or waffle ahead of time? (Cranberry Ginger Relish can be made a few days in advance, thank heavens.)
Yes, it’s time to get your thinking cap on. Quick. Whether you’re hosting or just attending, it’s time to take inventory so your Thanksgiving will go well and everyone, including yourself, will enjoy themselves. (Here’s some advice I wrote about last year that may help.)
Here’s another tip: READ your recipes and understand them before you shop and get started. Case in point: last night I decided to make something new for me and BF. Seems he’s never had eggs with tomatoes in his life, despite his claim of “I’ve been all around the world!” So, I found this recipe for Skillet Eggs and Tomato Sauce in one of the Everyday Food cookbooks last night, and asked him if he’d like to try it. He said he would try it, with a bit of reluctance in his voice. (Next question I asked: “Do we have any anchovies?” Oh, the look on his face was priceless.) In the book, this recipe makes two servings, not the four that’s on the website. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the book called for a HALF can, 28 ounces, of tomatoes. Skimming over the ingredients, I just figured I could use two cans of tomatoes, 14.5 ounces. That’s pretty much the same, all right? WRONG–it was, indeed, way too much tomato, and that was his first comment. (I ate them, though.) I noticed the difference when I put the book away–and then made a note of it. He said he’d like to have it again, with half as much tomatoes. Done. (And maybe an anchovy, too, but don’t tell BF–I hide that kind of stuff in a drawer of the fridge.)
The point: please READ carefully and understand before you do something dumb like I do sometimes. Especially for Thanksgiving. OK? Don’t forget the hot mess I made when I invited The GER over a few years ago. It can happen to you. READ. Please.
Now, would I leave you without help for Thanksgiving? Of course not.
Remember last time, when NM handed me a bunch of apples to take home? Well. . .I did put them in the Crock Pot, and darnit, they were pretty tasty! I made them at the same time as the pork chops, but not because I had pork chops. BF wasn’t wild about them cooked, he’d rather have fresh. But, it’s fall, and it feels like fall, so I wanted to try something different.
I actually made two batches, in two different slow cookers, to see what would happen with two different sweeteners–SomerSweet and Agave Syrup. I think this would make a great lower-carb/gluten-free alternative to the traditional apple pie. Either for everyone, or just for guests like me who would rather keep the calorie count down.
If you’re planning to have an apple dessert, or more than one, for Thanksgiving, this is an easy one to toss in and forget for a while. I actually made it a second time with bigger, fresh red apples so I could take pictures and show you how it’s made.
When I cruised through Pinterest to find apples in the Crock Pot, I didn’t find much in the way of healthy versions–mostly, they were loaded with sugar. GRRRR. . .but of course, we have alternatives in our world, don’t we?
Yes, that’s the same sherry vinegar I have around to make Cranberry Ginger Relish, but since I don’t use it often, and it only takes a small amount, I decided to try it in this apple dish. You could use red wine vinegar, or just leave it out if you wanted. But I found that the sherry vinegar added a nice depth of flavor that’s not often in apple dishes.
I started out by washing all the apples, of course:
The first time I made this, I used just cinnamon. I decided to use apple pie spice for this incarnation, because I’m glad I did. I made some using this recipe, but because not everything is unpacked, I couldn’t find any allspice. So, it was back to Winn-Dixie for more after I picked up BF from work Sunday afternoon. He wanted some hot chocolate because the weather had turned cold. While he was prowling around looking for that, I went to the spices. Hmmm. . .should I get the stuff called “natural,” which is a rather nebulous word on food products, or get the brand I frequently bought in Houston?
I picked up that bottle that was $1.64 and put it in the little hand basket. Then BF returned to the spice aisle and was of the impression that I’m not getting what I wanted. He then said to me, “Look! Here’s all the ‘allspice’ you could ever want, right here!”
Oh, he was so funny, gesticulating towards all those spice blends. Giggling, I took the little bottle out of the hand basket and showed it to him:
BF was in the Navy, you know. Fortunately, he was *not* on KP in the galley (kitchen), or he would have been keel-hauled for making that mistake. He only had to put up with me laughing at him all the way home.
This apple pie spice mix recipe from Life Made Sweeter is quick and easy, and I made a double batch to make sure I had enough:
And use it like you would the store-bought stuff. No sugar or other additives to worry about. (Of course, yesterday, I found another carefully packed box marked “Amy Pantry,” which had not one, but two bottles of allspice. GRRR.)
Back to it–I started by putting a bit of olive oil in the bottom of the crocks:
Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering if there’s a deliberate reason for a black and white crock. Well, yes, and I used it–the black one was mine, a replacement during a Karma of Spare Parts incident, last year, I think, when I sent the 4-quart crashing to the floor on a Sunday. They no longer had white, so black it was. The white crock belongs to BF. The difference came in handy: the black one had apples cooked with Agave Syrup, and the white one had apples cooking in SomerSweet.
Neat, huh? (Worked for me!)
Then started cutting the apples and adding them to the crock, and rolling them around in the oil:
Then I added in the apple pie spice mix to both crocks:
Added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract:
Then added in a tablespoon of the sherry vinegar to each one:
And then I added the respective sweeteners:
Mix it all up again to coat the apples with the rest of it:
And cooked it on low for about 4 hours. What happened? Well. . .it was interesting, and BF gave me his honest opinion (I only had to needle him a little bit.)
Hmmm. . .looks like Miss Food Blogger forgot to take a picture of the results. Oh, well. I had three things going on at once. . .and we just ate them!
While BF would prefer eating apples raw, he said that the apples cooked with SomerSweet were a little less sweet, and still somewhat crisp, although they weren’t hard like a fresh apple. The agave syrup crock apples were softer and sweeter than the others, and that’s the one he preferred.
If I had cooked them longer they would have probably been a lot softer, and maybe even soft enough for applesauce. But peeling all them apples? No thanks. It was just something to use them up the first time.
Agave syrup works for a lot of different things, including a replacement for honey, with less of an insulin spike than honey would give. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, I just read about these things.) SomerSweet’s primary ingredient, erythrytol, is a sugar alcohol that’s also quite sweet and works like regular sugar, also without the insulin spike.
For you and your guests who don’t want pie or other heavily-sugared dessert, baking apples in your Crock Pot may be a good alternative to have around, and in the Crock Pot, couldn’t be easier. But why wait for Thanksgiving? Apples are in season now, and available all year around–make some this week or this weekend, and see how you like it. Tweak it to make it yours, and offer it with pride on Thanksgiving Day. It’s one of those things you can set and forget. You may be asked to make it again next year, or even before then–and what would be wrong with that?
Now for another side dish that’s also low-carb. Spaghetti Squash. Have you tried it? I have. They’re hard as a rock and can be somewhat dangerous to cut, especially the larger ones. Easiest method I knew of, until now, was to cut it in half, scrape out all the seeds and strings, coat the inside with a touch of olive oil, and roast at 350F cut side down for an hour. I used to use the toaster oven to roast even the larger ones, but now I don’t have a toaster oven. What to do? Well. . . .
I also follow a blog called Half Baked Harvest. I found a recipe there a while back, and I may have posted it here, but I can’t find it now. HOWEVER–a few weeks ago, this recipe for Crockpot Spaghetti Squash with Lasagne Bolognese showed up and got my attention. I haven’t made the Bolognese sauce yet, but I might one day.
But cooking a spaghetti squash in the Crock Pot? Why haven’t I tried this before?
Tieghan makes up her sauce, adds it into the Crock Pot, then puts the whole, untouched spaghetti squash right on top the sauce. No kidding. So I pulled out the big one and put the (little) squash in it, because the ovals were needed for the apples.
I just pulled off the sticker, washed it off, dropped it in, turned it to low and left it alone for a good 8 or 9 hours.
You put the food in, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on, and leave it alone:
I did this early on Monday, and about suppertime, this is what came out:
And out comes a perfectly cooked spaghetti squash:
Either use a good potholder or wait til it cools, then cut it in half to remove the seeds. Once you’ve got the “guts” out of it, scrape out the “spaghetti” with a fork into your serving bowl:
Add some butter, salt and fresh herbs:
Mix it up well, and if needed, re-heat in the microwave or on top the stove, or leave in the oven to keep it warm:
And you’ve got delicious and perfectly cooked spaghetti squash for your vegetarian guests. (You could also use olive oil if you don’t want to use butter.) But don’t be surprised if the non-veg folks dig into it–spaghetti squash is delicious when cooked well and seasoned right. (If only I could get BF to try a bite of it; he hates squash across the board.)
So, did I give you some new ideas for a great Thanksgiving meal? Alternatives for your guests, maybe? Or just something different and deliciousi for dinner this weekend? (November also has 29 *other* dinners to prepare besides Thanksgiving, you know.) I hope this helps, and I hope everyone has a tasty and happy Thanksgiving next week.
Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Amy, there you go again, banging on about SomerSweet again. You have the last three cans of it in existence!” Well, here you go. I hope to finish the post on a new replacement for SomerSweet for you, but I want to reach out to the company and find out more from them. I will tell you that I found it in Whole Foods in Mandeville, it’s called Swerve, and the company is located in New Orleans!
More to come on this, hopefully soon.
Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers:
I’m quite happy to receive two very nice comments on my last blog post, one from Miss Alice herself. I hope you try Miss Alice’s Magic Beans soon and enjoy them. I’m looking forward to the next time I can make some, but BF says “I’m all beaned out for a while.” But I made something fast last night that I thought I should tell you about.
I also mentioned that my beloved Cuisinart toaster oven is now. . .toast. Oh, it still works, but. . .not well. Let me explain further.
The model I have, I think, I bought about 2009 or 2010. It’s a well-built workhorse, and it’s done a great job for me since I bought it. The one I had before was a Christmas gift from the GER, and I used that heavily until the electrics went. Well, the front panel on this one, which contains the circuit board, come loose a while back. It was fine, I guess, until it got a little jostled in the move. We moved it to Neighbor E’s place, and it sat for a month until we moved it last week to my new location, and it was moved around a bit more, in the back of the pickup. I plugged it in, and the readout acted a little wacky, but after a couple of unplugs and re-plugs, it seemed to be working fine.
I’ve been cleaning out the back room that will soon be my “studio”, and going in and out of the main part of the house. Not suspecting there was any reason to be concerned, I put a lovely pork loin roast into the beloved toaster oven and went about my business. I checked on it periodically, and the Herbes de Provence-coated roast was cooking along just fine.
Until it wasn’t. I had an emergency. And BF was at work.
I went back into the main part of the house and saw thick, heavy smoke. (Thank heavens the dogs are outside.) I went into the kitchen, and just saw more smoke–no flames, thank heavens, but SMOKE. Now, I’m accustomed to a little of it, particularly roasting things like turkey and chicken at 400F–my eyes burn a little, and I had to open up the patio doors to let that all out. Took a few minutes with the air conditioner cranked down to about 65F. Then the odor and smoke is gone, and I can go back to what I was doing. But this was the thick white smoke that comes from something burning.
I rang BF at work for help, and he told me what I needed to know. He has a big floor-stand fan that’s missing the front (I’ll get that cleaned and back together soon), and I had that plugged in and blowing fresh air in as well as one from my place by the front door. Opened all the windows and sat on the patio with the curious pit bull who kept licking my face to let me know it was OK while BF texted me and said, “Relax.”
The pork roast was charred, but tasty once you cut past the burned bits (which the dogs happily munched.)
The next day I did some forensics–cleaned the whole thing up, but didn’t take any pictures. It was that bad! The drip tray was full of grease, and grease was baked onto the glass door. The square ceramic IKEA baking dish (similar to this one) was burned and broken into about six pieces from the center out, much like a large cookie–not shattered in a lot of little pieces. It was old, so I wondered if maybe it just had micro-fractures I didn’t notice and the heat did it in. Everything gets jostled around in a move, and we did have a few minor casualties, including broken glass. The breaking apart allowed the rendered-off fat to drip to the heating elements, then fill the drip tray and smoke up the house. Right?
This where all my root-cause analysis and detective skills come in. See why I like to watch shows like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and Burn Notice?
After I’d cleaned up that disaster and made it look shiny, I turned it on and set the temperature at 400F, which is what I use frequently (although the pork loin roast was set to 350F.) I left I it alone, and watched it while I washed dishes. I noticed that the convection fan was running, and it was getting pretty hot–but at no time did the readout indicate “temp ready,” which is what it’s supposed to do.
So I got to thinking–maybe it wasn’t the dish? After I left the library on Monday, we stopped at Walmart for milk (as we do every couple of days, because he drinks more milk than a cow produces in a day), and I went to the kitchen stuff section to get a little inexpensive oven thermometer. I just sat it in the baking pan and repeated the test. Guess what?
The temperature regulator is toast. The oven “works,” but it doesn’t stop at 350F or 400F, it just keeps getting hotter. That’s what fractured the baking dish into six pieces and allowed the grease to drip onto the heating element, smoking out the house. Had I used a stainless steel or aluminum pan, the roast probably would have still been charred, and it may have indeed smoked, but the metal wouldn’t have fractured like that.
So. . .we’re debating on spending money on a new, and for now, less expensive toaster oven from <gulp> Walmart or Target. Or should we send this nearly $200 model to the Cuisinart repair place in Arizona, and spend a currently unknown amount of money to have it repaired? The circuit board will have to be replaced, and likely the entire front panel, since it’s not exactly attached anymore and hangs by two wires. Is it worth it to have this one repaired, or would it be better to buy new? If we do, it will likely be an Oster, Black & Decker, or Hamilton Beach; I would just take measurements on this one to make sure I get one that’s relatively the same size. Meantime, I’m using the big oven for everything, or the little one on the left. That oven thermometer will be used to check the temps on those ovens as well.
This is what happens when life unravels. And sometimes, it’s highly annoying. Oh, well. . .so let me tell you about last night’s dinner.
I may have mentioned this, but we don’t have cable TV in our rural hideaway. (No Internet yet, either, until I can pay for it. I’m working on that.) We have two, and occasionally three, sets of PBS stations at our disposal–New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and the one from Mississippi comes in occasionally (along with a radio station.) The other night, I turned on one of the stations to see cookbook author and chef Lidia Bastianich cooking with eggs. (It was a rare night when something called NCIS something-or-other wasn’t on.) PBS now has multiple stations, and one of them is called @Create. It’s where they run lots of cooking shows, including Martha Stewart’s, most of the day. (There area also other craft shows, as well as shows like this interesting one called Urban Conversion.)
I haven’t made a frittata in a long time, and I figured, now is a good time to start making them again. Especially since there’s a hungry man in my environment. He was out in the workshop for a while, elbow-deep in some kind of car grease, and came in halfway through the show. Lidia was taking the frittata out of the oven, and turned it upside down onto a plate, much like you would a pineapple-upside-down cake. She’d sliced up some large tomatoes and put them on the bottom of the pan, added a couple of other things, and then poured the eggs over the whole thing. When it comes out, and you flip it, it has a lovely top. BF didn’t know what that was, and I told him–a frittata. He said he could do without the tomatoes.
Lidia also answered a viewer’s question about using leftovers to create frittatas. Lidia said that was a great idea, because leftover meat and veg are perfect for creating one-of-a-kind frittatas whenever you want. That’s when I realized–I could make them too! Why haven’t I done this in a long time?
If you’re like BF and have no earthly idea what that word means, well. . .let me ask you, do you know what a quiche is? (He doesn’t know what that is, either.) If you do, it’s basically a quiche without a crust under it. That’s the biggest difference, and they are prepared differently. Quiche is French while Frittata is Italian. Paleo, gluten-free and low-carb folks have adopted frittatas as one of their own, because they’re low-carb and fit right in. Purists may prefer the quiche, and the crust that comes with it (and it can be gluten-free with the right crust, but have a lot of carbs.)
If you really don’t know what either one is, think “egg pie.” Vegetables, meat, or a combination of the two, in a baked egg/milk or cream/cheese base that’s cooked on top the stove first, then put in the oven to finish it. It’s great for breakfast and brunch, of course, but also good for a quick lunch or dinner. The trick is to get started on it soon. . .and don’t wait until late like I did last night.
I found a very basic recipe for frittata on The Food Network’s website, as well as more recipes and an explanation of the difference at Chowhound. Here’s a primer on them from The Kitchn, which I will probably bookmark on my phone so I can refer to it again one day. Lidia also has a YouTube channel, and you can search it for a number of frittata recipes, too–I just can’t find *the* one I saw last week. If you search Food Network’s website for “frittata,” you also will find a myriad of recipes. But I’ll show you what I did with ours so you can see how easy and varied they can be when you’re wondering what you can make that’s new, or you have leftovers to use up.
I call it The Use-It-Up Frittata. Because that’s what I did–and I didn’t want to mess with a Red Baron Pizza.
We had two pork chops left from the weekend, (recipe is here, but I used almond flour) and I figured BF didn’t want any more of them, so I used them elsewhere. Of course, for this, I wanted those HEB eggs from Texas chickens, green onions that are growing on the kitchen windowsill, and a hatch chile pepper that came from my garden in Houston. (It’s the only one that isn’t bright red, but I’ll use the rest for myself later.)
I started by grabbing a handful of green onions:
Chopped them up really well, then moved onto the pepper:
And you know I saved those seeds, too:
Chopped them up really fine, too:
Then I chopped up the two pork chops:
You want to chop meat small like this because bigger pieces will make it harder to eat once you cut the frittata. Next up, I added the onions and Hatch into a cast-iron frying pant to cook for a bit:
Turn the oven on when you’re starting to cook on top the stove. You don’t want to wait for the oven to heat up. I recommend 350F, I think 375F was too high.
Pretty soon, the veg will be cooked:
At this point, I added in the chopped pork chops to heat them:
And let them heat while you deal with the eggs:
I think I used 8 of these babies, from Texas chickens (yes, it’s a prejudice.) I also used my huge 8-cup Pyrex mixer so I’d have plenty of room. (You’re going to wash something anyway, right?) I cracked them right in and added a bit of milk:
And because, DUH, I had this handy, I shook in about a quarter cup or so:
I have some Manchego in the freezer, but guess who doesn’t like that, either? So this is what went in:
Plugged in the immersion blender:
And hit the button:
Now you’re ready to pour the egg mixture into the pan. Carefully, please:
Your frittata is almost ready:
I put the universal pot lid on it so that it might cook a bit faster on top:
Then I put it directly into the preheated oven to finish cooking (minus the lid) slicing through it to make sure it was completely baked:
With cries of “I’m hungry” from BF, and apologies for the the delay, I served this to him:
I love it. It’s quick, easy, and because the pork chops were already cooked and seasoned, I didn’t have to do much of that. But what did the man of the house think?
“I don’t really like it. Can I have a grilled cheese sandwich instead?”
Yes, he really said that. And I did make him one, in the same skillet. I’ll be eating frittata for breakfast this week while he has some cereal and milk. That’s what he likes.
I asked him why he didn’t like it, and he said that it was “just too many flavors going on at one time.” So if I ever attempt a frittata again, I’ll have to tone down the flavor combinations and follow a recipe. (Not like there aren’t many around.) I felt bad that it didn’t live up to expectations, and it wasn’t as special as I thought it was. He appreciated the effort, but just didn’t like the finished product.
And now the word “frittata” will be, in his mind, synonymous with something awful.
He did mention something about stuffing the other night, the kind out of a box. I consulted Will It Waffle? and made him. . .Stuffles. When I mentioned that I *could* waffle the stuffing, he got this smile on his face and asked, “Are you serious?” I nodded, and he said, “OK, go ahead.” And, you know, that was a pretty darn good thing to do. You just add some melted butter and water to a packet of the stuffing mix in a bowl, mix it up well, then heat up the waffle maker. Add a half-cup to each section, close the top for a few minutes (watch it, of course) and you’ve got hot, salty, greasy, crunchy, tasty Stuffles. If anyone wants the recipe, send me a note and I’ll write a post on it. (No, it’s *not* gluten free.)
Meantime, we’re doing what we need to around the homestead. BF has taken vacation time next week (the “use it or lose it” type) and it also happens to be. . .my birthday! Gifts don’t always come wrapped in a box. No Denny’s around, but I’ll be getting my yearly free salad (or something) from Starbucks, and maybe one or two other “birthday free things” I can find. Well, I knew I would miss some things when I moved here.
Y’all, frittatas are a great way to make a quick egg dinner for yourself, your family, as well as breakfast, brunch or lunch. Heck, really, anytime you’re hungry and have a few minutes.
Except for The E Man. Unfortunately, he’s allergic to eggs. My sincerest apologies to you, my friend.
So will you try it this week? If you’re in an area where it’s already cold, frittatas can really fit the bill any time. Here in the south, it’s not a long oven time, either.
Happy Monday, Dear Readers!
Sorry I’ve been away, it’s been a bit crazy. Last Wednesday, I busied myself with laundry, cooking, and switching my electric company to one that is nicer, less expensive, and with a US-based call center. With the lovely weather we had after the drowning rains, I’ve also been out on the bike again, every night except Tuesday, when I hit HEB for a stock-up run.
I planned on going for a ride when I got home. That didn’t happen. When I realized how much I’d been walking around that place, I realized I already had some exercise–and that wore me out! Thank heavens for the two folks handing out samples of fish, chicken, and a tasty cucumber salad I hope to make again one day.
Speaking of HEB, apparently it’s been discovered. Snappy Gourmet shared this Business Insider article on Facebook the other day about why HEB is the #1 grocery store in America. What the heck? All they had to do was ask me. I mean, they have stuff like this:
And this was under the indoor pink tent next to the bakery section for Mother’s Day:I also picked up two more tomato plants for twenty-five cents each. They were on their last legs, but they are planted, and one even has a tomato growing. Fingers crossed for lots of grape tomatoes this summer.
Does your grocery store do Date Night? Mine does:
Not all HEBs have a coffee shop in the store. Ours doesn’t, but the store in The Woodlands does, and it’s smaller than our new store. Ditto for Cafe on the Run–we don’t have one, but the League City store does as well as The Woodlands.
If all these newly relocated people fall in love with HEB, we’ll never get rid of them. Texas will be doomed.
Speaking of food shopping, Neighbor E told me last week that all The Fresh Market stores in Texas are being closed, along with two other states. They’ve only been here in our ‘hood for two years. There are now hired security guards at the front entrance, and they’ve reduced the operating hours to 9am to 6pm, until they close on May 18th. That’s how tightly competitive the grocery market is here in Texas–and Whole Foods isn’t doing too good, either. The Fresh Market is selling everything at 50% off, all sales final, so if you’re in the area of one of these departing stores, it’s time to stock up.
Between Hancock Fabrics, Sports Authority and now The Fresh Market, that’s a lot of folks in retail losing their jobs in Clear Lake real soon.
Hmmm. . .maybe Trader Joe’s will finally open up in our little nook of Houston? THAT would make life very tolerable! (For a while.)
Well, anyway. . .I wanted to make some food in the Crock Pots, so I bought some chicken, some pork chops, and other ingredients to make something called Citrus Spice Chicken. See, it’s getting on that time of the year, and if you haven’t been using your slow cooking Crock Pots, it’s time to get them out and start using them again (and your waffle maker, too.) Daily, if need be–you don’t need to be heating up your kitchen all day long until October or November when we get a puff of cool air. (We barely had a “winter,” and now it’s spring.)
We went right from winter to nearly summer, but once I decided to put my winter boots back in the closet, we had a front come through bringing cooler, drier air. It’s not really cool enough for boots now, but last Monday morning, I could have gotten away with them.
So, last year about this time, I wrote a longer piece on the slow cooker, a kitchen standby that, with a little forethought and planning, can make your regular cooking easier while keeping the kitchen from heating up during the summer, or allow you to cook more at the same time, anytime of year. Just in the last week or two, Ree Drummond made this Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken Soup on her show. I’ve seen Ree use it a couple of times before, and in my last post, I told you about Giada de Laurentiis getting into slow cooking as well.
I didn’t mention this in my post last year, but I should have. Giving credit where it’s due, the GER is the reason I got into slow cooking, and I even taught the last boyfriend (“Voldemort”) how to use his. The GER would use it occasionally, but I bought a cookbook so I could use it more often. I’d never had one, and when I was getting ready to move, I bought two. Last year, of course, I also bought replacement parts for them. . .but I told you about that, too.
I hate to use the trade name Crock Pot, even thought that’s what I have. Turns out a number of other companies make different varieties slow cookers. My mechanic friend has a Hamilton Beach and I’m trying to coax him to use it more often. But Crock Pot is the original, and it’s a registered company name. So I’ll use them interchangeably. If you have one by Cuisinart. . .well, you know what I’m talking about.
One thing I didn’t mention was the use of the plastic liners available for slow cookers. I hate to buy more new stuff, but I have to say, these liners are awesome. They’re not available in every store, but you might be able to ask your grocer to carry them. They come in a box of four, and I try to buy two boxes at a time. After scrubbing the heck out of my stoneware crocks for years, I don’t ever want to be without them again. With the breakfast quiche I make on Sunday, once it cools, I just lift it right out of the cooker, turn it upside down on a cutting board, pull the liner off and toss it. Cut the quiche, package it up for the week, and I’m good. Just a quick rinse of the stoneware and it’s all done. It really is that good, and worth the money to buy them and extra minute to set them into the stoneware crock. You can read more about Reynold’s wonderful invention here.
How come I never think of inventing stuff like this?
Dana Carpender isn’t a well-known cookbook author like some of the other folks I have on my shelf. I have two of her low-carb books, and this recipe comes from her 200 Low Carb Slow Cooker Recipes book. It’s one of those “dump-and-go” recipes where you literally put the food in and all that. Pretty tasty, but one of the ingredients is another recipe in the book for ketchup. No kidding, but it’s worth it.
First, you make Dana’s No-Sugar Ketchup, which is just a few ingredients in the blender and blitzed. I made it the night before and refrigerated it. Came out like gelatin–but really, it’s an ingredient and good. This recipe appears in all of her cookbooks. Store-bought ketchup is usually loaded with sugar, so this is a good alternative if you can’t find something sugarless or something like low carb.
Into a blender, add:
- 6 ounces (one small can) tomato paste
- 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/3 cup Splenda (I used SomerSweet, but you could also use your favorite)
- 2 tablespoons minced onion (I used a shallot, and it was just enough)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
Run the blender until the onion disappears. Scrape all of it into a container, then store in the fridge (or freezer for longer storage.
At 7½ calories a tablespoon, you can enjoy the heck out of this on fries or anything you like. But that’s not what it’s for today, is it?
Now let’s make this chicken.
To the mixing cup, add 1/3 cup lemon juice, the sweetener, a half-teaspoon of orange extract, a half-cup of the ketchup, 2 tablespoons of low-sugar orange marmalade, a half-teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and allspice, an eighth teaspoon of ground cloves, and (if you’re brave) a quarter teaspoon of cayenne. I backed off and added an eighth teaspoon of cayenne and it was good, but I call that “optional,” and I think you could leave it out altogether if you wanted. Mix that all up:
Once that’s mixed (you could do this the night before and just put the bowl in the fridge until you’re ready to make it in the morning), add 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs to your slow cooker:
Pour the mixture over the top:
Stir a little to coat the chicken well:
Cover, cook for six hours, and, tah-dah!
A little sweet, a tiny bit spicy with a really, really good flavor to it.
The book says to serve it with something else called “Cauli-Rice,” a recipe on page 239, but I haven’t tried that one yet. “Cauli-Rice” is simply chopping up a half head of cauliflower by running it through the food processor with the shredding blade and chopping it up small. My local HEB also sells chopped cauliflower ready to saute, which is what would probably be a good way to cook your “Cauli-Rice.” Microwaving it with a little water or steaming are suggested, but I like saute in butter or olive oil until it’s done. But really, any good, healthy side dish would be great alongside this chicken, or (I know I shouldn’t say this) on top of some gluten-free pasta, which is generally. . .not always low-carb.
In fact, it would be perfect for spiralized veggies, if you do that sort of thing.
Do you have one of them spiralizer thingies? Or have you bought the spiralizing attachment for your KitchenAid Stand Mixer? Um, no. . .and the reason I haven’t delved into it is because I don’t have a spiralizer thingy. Or at least, so I thought. I was out prowling around in the mall the other day, and realize that I actually already have something for spiralizing veggies, and didn’t know it.
How did this happen? Well. . . .
I was asked to make an apple pie or something for a party many years ago, and I was telling one of the guys in IT Engineering about it. He offered me the use of his apple peeling/coring contraption, and I happily accepted. It worked great! I got them all peeled. . .and then I broke it. I don’t know how, but I broke the darn thing. He was on vacation for two weeks, so I had time to scare up a new one. At the same time, I ordered the red one for myself, and I have used it a few times since then, but not in a while. I was in the mall while the brakes were being worked on, and I saw it in either Macy’s, Sears, or somewhere else that kitchen stuff was being sold when the epiphany happened.
I also saw a 3-quart Crock Pot for $12.97 in Sears, in red, but no, I didn’t purchase it. And speaking of red, a very nice lady in Macy’s Fine Jewelry Department allowed me to try on my ultimate dream ring:
That ring’s MSRP was much as the car I bought in 1998 when I moved to Houston. (I’ve always believed that the royal engagement ring would look better with a red stone, and I was right.)
There is a smaller, but no less fabulous, version at Macy’s, for considerably less:
Did I forget to mention that they were 45% off that day? No, I didn’t buy any rings. Just a double-chocolate brownie at Starbucks. I needed that more.
Oh, yeah, I was talking about food, wasn’t I?
So, one day, when I think about it, I will start spiralizing veggies for myself, and see how I like it. Heck, I might actually spiralize something and put it on the waffle iron like hash browns–let’s see what I come up with. For now, though, my attention is elsewhere, including keeping up with this humble foodie blog, and keeping my faithful readers healthy, happy and fed.
But really, a good hot meal is within your reach with a slow cooker. You don’t need anything with electronic controls, connected to your WiFi, or anything else confusing (unless you like it that way.) Get one that turns on and turns off, and you’ll have a great dinner without heating up the kitchen. (And you can serve it with spiralized veg if you want.)
I’ve got some research to do on my next post, but I hope to have a full report on. . .well, I’ll tell you about it when the time comes. Next week is our monthly garden lecture, and the topic this month is Plants of the Bible. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “why would you go to a lecture on plants from the Bible?” Well, because it’s plants, and because it’s interesting. (I’ll be mentioning key topics if I remember to write them down.)
For now, go get your slow cooker out so you can make dinner tomorrow the easy way.
Happy (Slow) Cooking!