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The Thanksgiving Post: Apples and Spaghetti Squash

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think I should just stay home and watch Britcoms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The setup

The setup

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

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

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

He called this "allspice."

He called this “allspice.”

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

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

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

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

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

The setup

The setup

 

Just blend them up!

Just blend them up!

 

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

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

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

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

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

Neat, huh? (Worked for me!)

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

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

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

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Added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract:

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

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

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

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

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

And then I added the respective sweeteners:

Agave in the black one

Agave in the black one on the left

 

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the right one

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

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

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Agave pot

 

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SomerSweet pot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really--just let it go.

Really–just let it cook itself.

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

It's cooked, it really is.

It’s cooked, it really is.

And out comes a perfectly cooked spaghetti squash:

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

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

Add some butter, salt and fresh herbs:

I only had rosemary handy.

I only had rosemary handy.

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

Yum.

Yum.

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

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

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

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More to come on this, hopefully soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

Get ready to WAFFLE!!!!

Hello, Dear Readers:

Today, it’s all about you and your waffle maker. It’s not just for breakfast anymore. But there is some breakfast to be discussed, as well as lunch, snacks and dinner. As I mentioned in my previous post, life has gotten in the way big time, but I have been using my waffle maker regularly and finding new things to cook in it. As well as things NOT to put in it. But really, there is more to a waffle maker than just breakfast.

This article discusses the cultural transformation of breakfast here in the US. It’s not just grabbing a bite on the way out. . .it’s a “breakfast occasion,” or an “experience,” I guess. To paraphrase the late Rodney Dangerfield, breakfast wasn’t getting respect. Now it is.

From the same website, an article about how food manufacturers are “riding the wave of gluten free.” Of course, if you actually HAVE problems with gluten, you’ll know it’s not a new thing in food, something pundits don’t seem to get. More and more observers think gluten-free is a “food fad,” like super-foods or juicing. If you are gluten-intolerant, let them know it isn’t.

And the company that helped sustain me during my years as a working student at Tulane, Taco Bell, now serves alcohol. I didn’t drive for a long time, so I could indulge a bit after class if I was taking the bus home. But that’s about 20 years too late. Last time I tried to get food at Taco Bell, I couldn’t tell one thing from another on the menu and ended up at a Starbucks asking for breakfast sandwiches. At about 5:00 pm on a Sunday.

OK, now onto the most hotly anticipated blog post I’ve written this year! (Maybe.)

Do you like waffles, but don’t make them very often? Do you have a waffle iron but just give in and buy Eggos? (If you do–shame on you!) Is your waffle maker in the back of the cabinet, covered in dust, because it’s just too much trouble for once in a while? Or are you stuck in a rut, maybe sick of “clean eating,” and want something new? Have I got a treat for you, and clean eating even can be part of it.

Waffling.

Recently I bought a new combination tabletop grill and waffle maker. (I know, I shouldn’t have.) The Cuisinart Griddler is something I’ve looked at for some time, but of course, I also wanted the waffle plates, which, when bought separately, are $40 extra. Then one day, I got one of those glossy fliers from Bed, Bath And Beyond (with a coupon attached.) The Griddler normally retails there for $99.99, and you have to order the plates separately–but now all of a sudden, the waffle plates are being offered as a “bonus” with the Griddler.

Woo hoo! (And now Amazon is selling the Griddler and waffle plates as a bundle.)

I know, I know. . .I REALLY shouldn’t have. I was feeling really blue, and when I found out about the bonus plates, I grabbed one of the coveted 20%-off coupons, drove down to my local BBB and my credit card bought me an early birthday present. So I got what I wanted, for about half the price I would have paid normally.

After explaining this to Neighbor K (who thought I’d done something really bad, but it wasn’t shopping), I showed it to her and offered her the old waffle iron, and she accepted.  I was thinking of giving it to the Salvation Army if she didn’t want it. It’s nice, and it works, but it only makes two at a time and is a pain to clean.

The old waffle maker, bought about 2010 or so from HEB.

The old waffle maker, bought about 2010 or so from HEB.

See? It only makes two waffles at a time.

See? It only makes two waffles at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I got married (in 1981) one of my bridal shower presents was an early model of this Black & Decker 3-in-1 waffle maker and indoor grill. In fact, that’s what I was thinking about one day when I started seeing these recipes, and actually looked at it again on Amazon. But I really wanted the Cuisinart Griddler with the waffle plates, which ended up being nearly the same price, and I was lucky enough to get it. Like the B&D, the grill/griddle plates pop out and are reversible (the Cuisinart waffle plates aren’t reversible.) Honest, I wasn’t much of a cook in 1981, but I tried, and utilized the counter top grill many times. It’s where I tried out the two waffle recipes from The 20 Minute Natural Foods Cookbook on my (first) husband. He’s still alive, so it couldn’t have been that bad.

If you’re looking for inexpensive, I did accidentally find this model on Gevalia’s website–yes, the mail-order coffee company–that’s in the clearance section. Never mind why I was on Gevalia’s website. No, I didn’t sign up, either–you can buy their coffee in SuperTarget now.

Admit it–you signed up back in the 80’s for the free coffee pot, didn’t you? Well, of COURSE I did! I killed a few coffee pots, too, back in the day. I had one of the first drip models that ground the coffee and brewed it. Now I use a French press, and I just have to keep the spare glass beakers around–easier, since Sur la Table will be opening soon in my neighborhood.

Back to waffling in current day America.

Some time ago, I started seeing posts on Facebook–both pictures and video–of different things to make with a waffle maker. First was an omelette. (If you go to YouTube or Pinterest and type in “waffle iron recipes,” you’ll get thousands of hits, so enjoy yourself.) Then I saw someone place frozen tater tots on a waffle maker, lower the top, and come up with. . .hash browns. (The only time I’ve ever *wanted* to buy frozen tater tots.) Another entry saw canned cinnamon rolls, popping them open, and placing them cut side down onto the waffle area and lowering the top. Cook them for a few minutes, drizzle some of the icing on it, and they’re ready. (The only time I very *nearly* bought a can of cinnamon rolls to try it.) Take a look:

Come on. . .you know you wanna. . . . (From Pinterest)

Come on. . .you know you wanna. . . . (From Pinterest)

You can find an article with 17 recipes for your waffle iron on BuzzFeed, including one from a blog I’ll talk about in a bit. But there are literally hundreds of recipes like these on Pinterest that float over to Facebook, and videos on YouTube galore. Just about using the waffle maker for something other than waffles. Like bacon or sausage and scrambled eggs on the waffle maker. Did you think about doing that? People have–and you can too. How about a low-carb, Paleo pizza?

If you’re one of those people who likes the idea of a breakfast SANDWICH, you have some options as well. Matt Robinson of RealFoodByDad also has a Frittata Waffle that’s an easy option for those who need breakfast on-the-go. I need to try that idea soon, too, and maybe look up more or fiddle about with this recipe, too.

Before I continue, let me point out that the Cuisinart Griddler, and many others like it, have a grease trap that you must remove, empty (if needed) and clean. The Black & Decker 3-in-1 doesn’t have a grease trap; you put a little bowl behind the corner if you’re going to cook something like bacon. Also, make sure it’s on a flat surface. Why?

I recently attempted to cook scrambled eggs on the flat griddle, because the waffle plates were in the dishwasher. It wasn’t flat on the stove surface. (I don’t have a lot of room here.) My perfectly scrambled eggs rolled directly into the grease trap. It was clean, thank heavens. No matter–using potholders, I removed the grill plates and replaced them with the waffle plates after I washed them by hand. When the waffle plates were hot enough, I went back to cooking eggs on the waffle plates. Like I tell you, I speak from experience.

Now back to waffling.

Intrigued by these simple but innovative ideas, I went looking for a gluten-free waffle idea, since I haven’t made any in some time. I’ve made the vegan ones from Erin McKenna’s second book many times, Babycakes Covers The Classics, but that’s been a while (although I made a batch one Sunday because I was out of eggs.) I looked in The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, and found a recipe on pages 135 and 136. Made with nut flours and beat in your stand mixer, they’re pretty good, especially with the sugar-free raspberry syrup I bought and never used (it’s gone and they don’t make it anymore.)

Waffles from The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking

Waffles from The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking

Wish I could find more of this!

Wish I could find more of this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a simple recipe, but I only had almond flour handy, so that’s what I used.

But what else is out there?

Pinterest yielded some delicious options, although my first attempt at gluten free waffle brownies didn’t work well. The second recipe, from the blog Edilble Perspectives, is pretty darn good, even if I messed around a little with the recipe to make it sugar free. I only had brown rice flour, not sweet rice flour, and of course, had to fiddle about with the chocolate and Somersweet to make it sweet with unsweetened chocolate.

Just mix it up like you would any standard brownie recipe and drop it on the hot plates:

Brownies on a waffle maker, no kidding.

Brownies on a waffle maker, no kidding.

A few minutes later:

Done in a flash!

Done in a flash!

 

Anyway, you end up with this:

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You know you want one. And it’s gluten free. And sugar free.

Top them with additional SomerSweet (or other sweetener), add ice cream, or however you like to top brownies, and enjoy the heck out of it.

If you want fast and easy, (and aren’t concerned about GF or anything) you can also get a boxed brownie mix, make it like you normally would, but instead of baking them in the oven (even the toaster oven), use the waffle maker. They’re almost instant brownies. You can do the same thing with cake mixes.

Are you seeing the value of this yet?

Doug Armstrong shows you how to turn leftover pizza into pizza pocket here, along with some other interesting kitchen hacks in a 4-minute video. His “waffle iron hacks” video is here, and Doug shows you paninis, the cinnamon roll trick and other desserts with your waffle maker in this 3 minute video. He’s British, and he’s pretty cool in the kitchen, too.

Has it hit you yet that the humble, unappreciated waffle maker is actually a modified, useful indoor grill? Pay attention, grill masters–you’re about to get your winter alternative lesson. A waffle maker can be especially useful if you don’t live in the Lone Star State, where we grill outdoors just about year-around. But what’s wrong with a little indoor grilling, as long as there’s an electrical outlet nearby?

When I was cooking up some chicken thighs one night, I decided to try out one on the waffle maker. Know what? They cooked much faster on the waffle maker, so I turned off the toaster oven and cooked the rest that way. The second time, I decided to use the meat mallet on a pack of chicken thighs, coat them with a salt/pepper/garlic powder mixture, and they came out even better.

There’s even a blog dedicated to such an activity. Will it Waffle? is dedicated to finding out exactly what you can do besides make waffles in your waffle iron. Even Neighbor K was impressed with the concept (especially since I gave her the old waffle maker.) No idea if she’s tried it yet, though. The blogger and cookbook author, Daniel Shumski, who’s been waffling nearly everything he can think of, put together a book and published it–Will It Waffle?

Just published in August, this timely book has some delicious recipes and is easy enough for even novices to use. You KNOW I had to have it. But even more importantly, I had to talk to the author. I got on his website, and sent him an email. He was very nice, and offered to answer questions about it. Instead of printing the questions and answer, I’ll just tell you what he wrote back:

Using my waffle iron for more than just waffles goes back about six years. The story behind it is this: I had this waffle iron and I loved making waffles, but I didn’t love the idea that I had an appliance that I only used for one thing. I figured it must be capable of more. So I gave it a shot. Before long, I was trying French toast in the waffle iron .. then cookies… then burgers. And, as with any experiment, if something works, it encourages you to keep going. So I was off!
At the same time I was trying things, I was doing a blog chronicling my waffling adventures. It was fun to get the feedback and — as with any successful experiment — the positive feedback keeps you motivated to try more things.
At some point, my current publisher and I connected and we decided there might be a place in the world for a waffling cookbook. I loved doing my waffling blog and I love reading blogs, but I’m also very fond of cookbooks, so I was excited about the possibility of bringing waffling to a potentially wider audience. 
It’s hard to pin down how much I waffle these days. More than most people, it’s fair to say. The key in my mind is to have the waffle iron accessible. For some people this means on the countertop. For others, it means in a cabinet that’s easy to reach. Too many people have their waffle iron in some neglected corner or forgotten in a box in the garage. When it’s accessible, you’re one step closer to waffling. 
My advice for people interested in waffling is to not be afraid to experiment. It’s part of the fun! 
Hope this helps!
Happy waffling. 
-Dan

 

Awfully nice of him. Thanks, Dan!

NOTE: If you’ve got a gift-giving occasion coming up–birthday, wedding, or the upcoming Christmas and Hannukah–this book and any kind of waffle maker will make a really great gift for someone who cooks, is learning to cook, or wants to stretch their culinary muscles. Even if the gift is to yourself.

You’re welcome.

The book starts out with breakfast recipes, bacon and eggs, including a waffled sandwich, French toast with chocolate and whipped butter, sausage and hash browns. For lunch, sure you can waffle sandwiches–but did you think about quesadillas? How about a Waffled Croque Madame?  (Page 49.) Burgers, meatballs, pizza salmon, and filet mignon–yes, in a waffle maker, folks. A Waffled Tamale Pie that looks amazing.

I won’t be trying the waffled kale or the waffled eggplant. You KNOW how I feel about eggplant, right? But if kale and eggplant is your thing, Daniel’s got you covered there, too.

What did I do with this book? Oh, lemme tell ya. . . .

The first thing I tried was the “Fawaffle,” or “waffled falafel.” I already had everything on hand, so I tried it first. As you may know, I do love FiveMinuteHummus, and make my own frequently. But I’ve never had falafel in my life. Nobody ever took me to a Greek restaurant, either in NOLA or here in Houston, so I had no idea what it was. (Ironically, last weekend’s new Pioneer Woman show featured Ree Drummond making things she’s enjoyed out of town, but never made at home before–a more traditional version of falafel as well as chicken & waffles, which I’ll discuss later.)

Well, I made it. I waffled falafel in my own kitchen, and it’s a recipe I’ll make for the rest of my life. Delicious comfort food. Yes, it’s that good, with or without hummus. Just remember that you have to use dried chickpeas, soak them in the fridge overnight, and then mix everything together. I left out the 2 tablespoons of flour, and I was thankful that it wasn’t an essential–so mine are gluten-free, too!

Soak the beans first, then use the food processor to blend it all together:

Add the ingredients to the food processor and blitz!

Add the ingredients to the food processor and blitz!

 

This is what you end up with:

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And just load ’em up into the heated waffle maker:

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Admittedly, it’s a bit weird–but you know me. If it sounds good, I’ll try it at least once. So, tell me–good?

Fawaffles with Hummus

Fawaffles with Hummus

Oh, Holy Shish Kebab!

Also note that falafel is traditionally deep fried. But here, in the waffle maker, there’s just a little oil involved. And it’s fast, too.

I decided to enlist someone else’s taste buds, so I went to see Neighbor K with two freshly waffled Fawaffles and a little hummus. Asked her to try them and see what she thought. At first she said she’d try them later–fair enough, no rush, but she took one bite. Then another. And another, and proceeded to gobble them up right in front of me until she’d finished them both. I warned her that they had onion in them, so Daft Pug should not be sampling them.

I mentioned that I’ve never had falafel in my life, never been to a Greek restaurant either, so this was my first time making and eating it. I grew up in New Orleans, most of the food was local, Italian, and one or two Mexican. You had to go out of your way to find Greek, although I’m sure it’s not that way anymore. K’s comment: “You’ve never had falafel? You’re weird!”

And that’s the last time K was offered something to taste test, and the last time she will appear in the blog. Ditto for Daft Pug. Sorry, Little Buddy. (I have a new taste-tester lined up, the aforementioned Neighbor E.)

Meantime, I wanted to try something else I’d never used before–plantains. Friend of the blog RR is Puerto Rican by birth, and of course, his mother cooks a lot of Spanish-influenced dishes. (I’ve told him for years that if ever I find myself with a Hispanic boyfriend, she’s on the hook for some cooking lessons.)  I texted him, but he wasn’t available to chat, so I sent him this picture:

Frying the plantains. I had to keep remembering that they're not bananas!

Frying the plantains. I had to keep remembering that they’re not bananas!

RR texted back: “Look at you!” I’ve never had plantains, either. But I sure did like this one.

The first thing you do is make the dipping sauce, which is nothing more than cilantro, garlic and olive oil:

You have no idea how tasty this is.

You have no idea how tasty this is.

Let that sit while you’re making the rest of it, then remove and discard the garlic. Oh, yum! Now back to the other part.

Plantains don’t “peel” easily like a banana does, you have to chop off the ends, and then make slices in the tough, fibrous covering:

Slice the skin like so

Then slice like you would a banana:

If this picture looks dirty, I'm sorry

If this picture looks dirty, I’m sorry

 

Let me back up a bit. Waffled Tostones are plantains sliced up, fried quickly and then waffled. Plantains that have been sitting as long as these were became sweet, but the first time I tried doing this, they were ripe but not sweet. These ended up being soft like a ripe banana, so it didn’t work quite as well as the first time. Once I got the slices done, they went into the frying pan. (I used refined coconut oil.) They’re fried up pretty quickly, so you carefully take them out and put them on a paper-towel-lined plate. (Be especially careful if there are children about–hot oil is no fun in the wrong place.)

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The next step is to waffle them. Fit them onto your waffle maker like so, and then CAREFULLY smash down the top and hold it while your tostones toast:
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I didn’t take any more pictures of the waffled tostones, I was too busy eating them. Yes, they ARE worth the trouble.

Because the green onions became two feet high in the HeatCageKitchen garden, I decided to try Daniel’s Korean Scallion Pancake Waffle (aka “Pajeon.”)  I ended up doing this twice–once according to the book, and once with gluten-free flour. Know what? They’re both good. Plus, Daniel also points out something that I like to mention: cut the white, rooted bottoms off your scallions from the grocery store and grow them back. He suggests putting them in a glass of water–I’ve done that, and I’ve stuck them directly into soil, and both methods work. However–I highly suggest buying organic green onions if you’re going to grow them. First, they’re probably not genetically modified, and two, no other issues like pesticides or other stuff. I’ve grown both, and the organics shoot up to the sky.

My, what big onions you have!

Thanks, they’re organic.

But seriously, this recipe, while really easy to make, is, essentially, a flour ball–so keep that in mind if you’re trying to cut down on that sort of thing. A cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon and a half of sugar, and a cup of water. Mix it, and pour over your cut onions which you place in between the divots.

Korean Scallion Pancakes

Korean Scallion (Pajeon) Pancake Waffles

And the blogger learns a new word: divot, or the thing that makes the square in the waffle. (Honest, I didn’t know!)

Cover the whole thing:

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Close the lid, cook them til they brown nicely (this is true for both regular and gluten-free flour) and you end up with this:

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They don’t turn golden brown like breakfast waffles, so don’t overcook them.

Make up a bit of dipping sauce from the book (1 tsp toasted sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, and 2 tablespoons honey, then mix it or shake it up) and you’ve got a tasty little snack going on. I didn’t eat a whole gluten-heavy waffle, but I did nibble a bit that came off on the waffle plate. Tasty, just like the gluten-free version, and while it’s somewhat crispy on the outside, the inside texture is more like sticky rice. With no egg, yeast, or baking powder, it’s just kind of sticky. This is not a deterrent, however.

Daniel also suggests using other veg, such as zucchini or carrots, in place of the scallions; just cut them down to matchstick size to fit the grooves.

Another week, I wanted to try out two more recipes, but I sorta did them my way. Grilled Pineapple and Grilled Halloumi are two separate recipes from the book (there is watermelon involved with the Halloumi), and I had them just because I wanted to have something different.

Admittedly, not the most common dinner combo.

Admittedly, not the most common dinner combo.

I had some Halloumi left from a previous trip to Trader Joe’s; it’s quite expensive elsewhere, so I get it when I go and freeze it. (Unfortunately, at Trader Joe’s, it’s a “seasonal” item for grilling.)  If you’ve never had Halloumi, it’s like feta, but not quite as acidic. Halloumi also doesn’t melt away like feta, holds its shape and stays in the fridge a long, long time.  I started by slicing up the cheese and cooking it half and half:

Both stand up to waffle grilling

Both stand up to waffle grilling

 

After the pineapple was finished, I finished up the cheese:

If I'd only realized it was already sliced. . .next time.

If I’d only realized it was already sliced. . .next time.

 

Oh, yes. . . .

Oh, yes. . . .

 

I cooked it all up, and sat down to watch Season 11 of New Tricks, which had just arrived from my local library. I’m also binge-watching Sherlock.

Now, before you go getting worried and thinking, “Amy’s eating pineapple and cheese for dinner?” Well, these are items I already had on hand, and it was easy, so I did. It’s not Velveeta, either. I don’t buy Halloumi very often, either–only when I head to Trader Joe’s. (No sign of them coming to my part of Houston yet.) Unfortunately, because it’s a “grilling cheese,” Trader Joe’s considers it a “seasonal item,” darnit! So if I want more, it’s back to Kroger or HEB for some that’s at least double the price. Wish I’d known–one day I’ll have a cheese freezer where I can buy it on sale and keep it for whenever.

Most of the recipes in this book involve. . .flour. So, there’s a good chance I won’t be making all of them. But there are plenty of recipes that don’t involve flour or might be worth experimenting with gluten free flours to try these interesting recipes. I sure would like to figure out how to make that pizza crust with GF flour and waffle it. Maybe next weekend I’ll try it.

Oh, and one thing on the famous “Chicken & Waffles”–it’s NOT, as many people believe, a “Southern dish.” I grew up in the South, and never heard of Chicken & Waffles until the last couple of years. (Friend of the blog CN likes a place in Houston called The Breakfast Klub, a Midtown Houston place that serves, among other things, Chicken & Waffles; I’ve not been there myself.) Some clicking around revealed that no, it really isn’t Southern at all–and NPR has a whole story about it. If you start talking about C&W being “Southern,” be prepared to have your face slapped. It began in Harlem, of all places, and is now served as a “soul food” dish nationwide. I wanted to yell at Ree Drummond last weekend for calling it a “Southern tradition,” because, it really isn’t. Now that you have been educated on the subject, please do not say that again. Thank you.

But you can certainly MAKE Chicken & Waffles all in the waffle maker, of course.

Admittedly, not everything will waffle. Smoothies, soup, salad greens–no. But to go with that Pea & Pesto Soup, a nice Gridded Grilled Cheese sandwich (page 37) or a nice Fawaffle might just fit the bill, right?

Remember, Thanksgiving is coming up quick. Wouldn’t some waffled brownies, cakes, or other desserts have a place? (Waffled Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, page 163, Red Velvet Waffle Ice Cream Sandwiches, page 169, or a Wapple Pie, page 175.) How about some Stuffing Waffles on page 156? Consider Waffled Macaroni & Cheese on page 67, where Daniel supplies his own recipe for a baked M&C and waffling it. Sure, it’s more work than a box–but it is Thanksgiving, right? Make extra, because it’s going to go fast. And anything you can do ahead of time is always going to help.

At the moment, I don’t have any waffling recipes posted on the recipe page, but I hope to get them up soon, along with some Thanksgiving recipes (if I can find them again.) But really. . .they’re everywhere, just go look for them on Pinterest for starters.

Give it some thought as you plan your upcoming holiday meals, or even next weekend. A waffle maker can make things easier, especially if you get some extra help. Remember, it’s 110v, so you can plug it in anywhere–and that will come in handy in a crowded kitchen, any time of year.

Happy Waffling!

 

Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Remember when I said the next post would be about waffles, unless I had something better to write about? I do–and I’m not reneging on waffles, either. In fact, after I finish writing this, I’m going to try out a gluten-free waffle recipe just for you! (Well, and me, too.)  I’m anticipating three or four different waffles on the recipe page, and one may even involve using. . .wheat. We’ll see when I get there.

Are you a Trader Joe’s fan? Well, I finally had a flash of inspiration, and decided to do something about the lack of a TJ’s down here south of Houston. I put a link on NextDoor.com, and suggested everyone in my area write TJ’s and tell their friends to do the same. So far, several people have, including Neighbor K, who became a fan after hearing me bang on about it, and made her first trip.  If you’re one of my local readers, do this now and tell EVERYONE YOU KNOW. If we get enough people writing, we might actually get one closer than the Montrose store. I suggested Friendswood or League City, but anywhere closer than Montrose or Memorial would be wonderful. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have TJ’s at all, and you miss them terribly, you can go to this link as well and ask about getting a TJ’s in your area. Do the same thing–tell your friends. Go to this link and send them a short email about where and why. Save the text on a Word document in case the site goes bonkers, like it did for me. It worked the second time.

A couple of weeks ago, I was strolling through Target and found this with a clearance sticker on it:

IMG_2350[1]

Hershey’s? Ice Cream Maker?

End of the summer, an ice cream maker. However, it’s one that requires this:

It's GOURMET.

It’s GOURMET.

Now that we have Blue Bell back, we don’t need this. And of course, in fine print at the bottom, it says, “artificially flavored.” No thanks. I like my Cuisinart model and the recipes I have in cookbooks.

So anyway. . .guess who has more pesto in her freezer? Yes! ME! (You can envy me now.) As of last night, I now have SIX containers of pesto! No, I haven’t poured steroid fertilizers out back. I went on a little day trip on Monday. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve written about the monthly gardening lectures I attend at my local library, third Thursday of the month, 6:30 pm. Nice people, and sometimes, there’s munchies. (No, I passed on the cake last week.)  The lady who coordinates the lectures and attends every month is a nice person named Shirley Jackson. She’s always there, picks up the surveys, gives announcements and sometimes, she’s the friendliest face I see all day.

One of the announcements has been since the beginning the “open garden” day at the Genoa Friendship Garden in nearby Pasadena. That’s not someplace I normally hang out, and despite writing it down, I never seem to remember. Except for one day I dropped a pitcher of iced coffee on the floor, and. . .oh, never mind. Finally, Monday, I paid them a visit.

Sponsored by the Harris County Master Gardeners and Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension, it’s a little spot where all kinds of plants are grown, and they have plant sales–cheap. I spent a whopping $3.50 yesterday, for two tomato plants and a sweet pepper plant that I’ll put into a big pot this weekend.

Take a look:

IMG_2784

This was a cute little display:

A diorama!

A diorama!

Here’s a closeup:

IMG_2782

If you like eggplant, they’ve got a garden variety that, it is claimed, actually tastes good.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

Here’s another look at that eggplant:

IMG_2803

There are peppers of many kinds:

Sweet peppers

Sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

For the okra-loving folks.

Okra--the GER's favorite

Okra–the GER’s favorite

They grow green onions, just like I do, only more of them. I also got answers to questions about the garlic that never seems to grow well in my garden. One nice lady said it was probably critters. I’ll try again soon.

IMG_2795

A few shots from around the garden area:

IMG_2797IMG_2796IMG_2794IMG_2793

There’s an orchard, complete with berry bushes:

Blackberries!

Blackberries!

I think these are grapes, but I couldn’t find a label for it:

IMG_2800

And they didn’t forget the kitties, either! (I bet there’s a huge feral cat colony living there, somewhere, that comes out to party in the Garden at night.)

IMG_2798

I was quite surprised to see an area of desert plants, separated from the rest of the garden:

That's the biggest Prickly Pear cactus I've seen since the last time I was in the desert.

That’s the biggest Prickly Pear cactus I’ve seen since I left California. In 1988.

Prickly pear cactus produces fruit–did you know that?

Cactus pears, also called "Indian Fruit."

Cactus pears, also called “Indian Fruit.”

Yellow flowers develop on top of the little fruit buds, that’s why there is an indentation. Then the flower dries up and falls off (just like zucchini or peppers) and the fruit buds start growing. When they turn dark purple, you can pick them and peel them, because they’re sweet. I’ve seen “Indian Candy” at truck stops in California and Arizona. (But not in a long, long time.)There were other desert plants, as well, like this, I believe is called an Ocotillo:

IMG_2791

Yes, those needles are indeed SHARP.

NOW–remember what I said about more pesto? Get a look at this:

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I mentioned to one of my “tour guides” that I grow basil for the sole purpose of making pesto and freezing it for the winter. I told him about Pea & Pesto Soup, and told him that if he made that for his wife, she would be very happy with him. He reached down and cut me a couple of huge branches, big as a wedding bouquet. (Don’t read anything into that.) I stopped on the way home at Randall’s because I knew I didn’t have enough pine nuts to make two or three batches. I might start using walnuts one day–I like walnuts too, and they’re less expensive than pine nuts.

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!!

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!! (Tomato plants in the foreground.)

Another one of my tour guides (listening to my discussion of said soup) asked me, “how do you have time to do all that cooking?” I smiled and said, “I’m single.” He was delighted to hear about Pea & Pesto Soup, but insisted that I make some and bring it to him to try. I’d guess he was in his mid-70’s, and he was not about to go online to find the recipe. (Most of the people working there were women.)

There are several varieties of basil growing, like this one:

It's basil, but. . . .

It’s basil, but. . . .

As I’ve done so many times, I picked a leaf and tasted it. Suddenly behind me, I heard a woman’s voice say, “That’s not culinary basil.

AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!

It wasn’t poisonous, but I did indeed spit it out quickly and ask about it. She said, “I’ve never had anyone pop a leaf in their mouth like that.”

I got to ask lots of questions, and I found out a lot of things I didn’t get from the lectures. First, I’m under-watering my plants. DUH! Second, there isn’t enough room for all the water to drain properly, so I have to get a bigger drill bit soon and drill bigger holes in the bottom of the paint buckets. If I have time next month, I might go take a ride, now that I know where it is and how easy it is to get to from here.

I went into the greenhouse to get some plants, and there were some free seeds, limit 5. That was all I needed.

French breakfast radishes!!

Sage and French breakfast radishes!!

Lettuce will be happening again, soon, too, thanks to the seeds and the cooler weather that’s coming.

It’s not a big greenhouse, but there were plenty of plants for sale. I missed the kale, though. Sorry, K.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Now, to give you some perspective on why gardening can be a good thing, consider the Meyer lemons that I’m hoping will get bigger. I’ve got seeds from last year’s lemons, and I may need to prune the tree a bit. But on a recent trip to The Fresh Market, I found some Meyer lemons:

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I hope to grow more and more.

I sent that picture to Neighbor K. She was quite surprised to see how much they were. NOW do you see why I want to grow them? I do hope mine grow full size before they completely ripen.

You can find out more about the Genoa Friendship Garden at this link. The Garden is open to the public on the third Monday of the month from 8:30 to 11:00 am, and they sell plants cheap. If you’re looking for something to do in Houston, there are two gardens; this one is on my side of town.

Time for fall gardening, and I’ll be hoping that radishes finally grow back there. They grow quickly, and best in the cold winter. Fingers crossed, and I’ll tell you all about it. . .if it works.

Enjoy!

Report: The Fresh Market

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Well, I’ve had a little good blogging news this week–I have a number of new followers on WordPress! Welcome to my humble little blog, which I do little to promote at the moment, and consists of opinions, observations, recipes, and a whole lot of what I think of as wisdom. You, however, may call it something else–but please, keep it clean. This is a family blog. Swearing is reserved for driving around Houston, particularly during our long, hot summers.

So today our Fresh Market opened up, and finally, we get a little more gourmet in the Houston area known as Clear Lake. We’re near the NASA facility, and up until recently, was a thriving space community. The space program is, for the most part, winding down, and the population is doing the same thing. While space program people are mostly moving away to jobs in other parts of the city, for some reason there is some serious building going on. Fresh Market is part of that. Although we have Kroger, Randall’s and some very nice HEB stores, we have a hard time finding some gourmet items in this part of Houston–despite our diverse population.

And now, we have Fresh Market. Woo hoo! I hope they stick around.

There are a couple more of these stores in Houston, namely the one in the Post Oak area that I have forgotten to stop into when I have been in town. It’s not exactly near the Montrose Trader Joe’s, but I could have gone once or twice. Now that ours is open, I’m glad I stopped in. I went at 8:00 pm, because I figured all the free samples would be gone and I wouldn’t be tempted. I was right. I am trying to avoid sugar all week, in fact, completely. I had some coffee and a small cup of orange juice (which I normally only drink on airplanes.)

Let me iterate that I didn’t spend a lot of money this evening. I have gone to Half Price Books this week three times to sell some books, so I had some cash on me. It wasn’t a fortune, but then again, I didn’t spend too much, either–even though I could have easily spent $100 more. (Ask Neighbor K, she knows!)  When I start working again, I might buzz over and drop $100. But I’m not in need of that much of anything right now.

First up: you can get a cup of coffee for $1, all day, any day. (This is great, since the GER won’t go into Starbucks, and he can stop there if he wants some good coffee, not the rotgut from his local petrol station.) I had a sample of their decaf Kona, which was wonderful, but before that, a sample cup of hazelnut–which, unfortunately, was not decaf. Oops! Good thing I didn’t drink a whole 8 ounce cup. So it’s a nice place to stop for a coffee if you’re not near Starbucks or don’t want to go in with the crowd. Fresh Market also sells their own brand of bulk coffee for $11.99 a pound, every day. The hazelnut was wonderful, and so was the Kona. They also have almond amaretto, which I think I saw in decaf. I’ve got plenty of coffee for now, and I hardly drink it, mostly I drink tea these days. But a half pound of decaf hazelnut might be on my first big trip over there.

Oh, but this is one I’m not sure I’d be trying even if I was on the regular:

And look--it's on sale!

And look–it’s on sale!

My favorite flavored coffee is, not surprisingly, chocolate raspberry. Non-flavored, Kenya AA and Sumatra coffees. Caramel Pear? Oh, I don’t know about that. But hey, what I think smells like Raid is going to smell like heaven to the lady standing next to me.

Speaking of tea–you’ve probably seen PG Tips tea in your local grocery store, but have you ever seen PG Tips in decaf in your grocery store? Me either, until now.

PG Tips in Decaf

Um, no, I don’t belong to the Cuppa Club.

Fresh Market has 40-bag boxes of PG Tips Decaf tea in their regular tea section, along with most other teas you can find most places. YES!! I’ve been ordering it for 3 years now from Amazon.com. It’s so good. I grew up with Lipton tea, and after a British lady introduced me to it, I bought a box from HEB. Delicious tea, #1 in Britain, but the regular has so much caffeine. The decaf has all the flavor and none of the caffeine, thank heavens. And now I can get it in Clear Lake.

Another thing I got is another box of Maldon Salt, the flaky stuff from the UK that’s also enjoyed by many chefs and foodies. The box I bought three or four years ago is nearly empty, but if you go to Williams Sonoma to buy it, it’s expensive. Right now on their website, it’s $10.95 a box, but I think it’s like $12 or $13 in the store. In Fresh Market, it’s $3.99. Of course I bought some! I’ll use more of it too.

Saltandfrozenveg

Ordinary frozen veg, but good enough for today. And nice wooden floors, too.

Limes are 2 for $1 there, but they’re high everywhere; I’ll try HEB or Food Town soon. I did get a couple of super-sized lemons and two nice grapefruit, as well as a small container of their store-brand half and half for coffee and tea. Their milk products are not treated with rBGH, but not all organic; HEB does the same thing. There is a fair amount of USDA certified organic product, but there are also containers of Cool Whip in the freezer next to the organic frozen fruit.

I know, they have to appeal to a wide range of folks, but anybody who puts Cool Whip on organic fruit of any kind just needs to head over to Wal-Mart and stay there. (That was my snarky opinion coming out.)

Oh, and speaking of dairy, they also have their own store brand of refrigerated almond milk! I’ll try that another day.

You know I was looking for this, and sure enough, they do gluten-free.

A good selection of gluten-free products, not only here, but in the freezer case as well.

A good selection of gluten-free products, not only here, but in the freezer case as well.

They’ve even got their own house brand of gluten-free products, and as you can see, they’re marked as such so it’s easy to find, and there are many products located in different parts of the store. However, as Dr. William Davis warns in Wheat Belly, much of it is made from corn flour, rice flour, tapioca flour, and other ingredients that have a high carb content and can give you an insulin spike. So, that’s something to take into consideration; you must read the labels.

If you like chutney and fancier versions of peanut butter and jelly, you’re in luck, they’ve got lots of it:

Whatever your heart desires here.

Whatever your heart desires here.

And then inspiration struck (or maybe it was the coffee.) There’s a recipe called Rapid Ragu in Nigella Express that I put off making until recently because I couldn’t find something called onion confit. I did find it a few months ago, in Central Market, but at $10 a jar, this imported French stuff that doesn’t last in the fridge too long isn’t practical to keep around (and it’s more on Amazon!)  However, while I didn’t buy it this time, I wonder if this will do the trick, and I can get it at Fresh Market for a lot less:

A possible replacement for hard-to-find Onion Confit?

A possible replacement for hard-to-find Onion Confit?

I’ll get it when I start working and I can drop the occasional $100 at the grocery store again. Not today–the recipe also calls for ground lamb, which is, shall we say, more than ground beef. I can wait for it, as well as another gluten-free cupcake from Frost Bake Shoppe.

And for the “I don’t have time to cook” crowd, a little shortcut:

Wash the jars and get rid of the labels and no one will ever know. . . .

Wash the jars and get rid of the labels and no one will ever know. . . .

In addition to many familiar products, they also have a fair amount of stuff you might not see in your regular grocery store, unless your regular grocery store is Korean:

I have never had a Korean mother-in-law.

I have never had a Korean mother-in-law.

Again, as wide of a range as you can get. I think I’ve had it once, and like sushi, was quite enough. I’m not slamming anyone’s cuisine–but I’ll pass on this kind of thing, OK? I grew up in New Orleans, lived in California in the 80’s and acquired a taste for Mexican food, and have been in Texas for 15 years, love the barbeque. Kimchi just isn’t for me, that’s all, and I’m just reporting.

Don’t judge me, I only took a picture and didn’t purchase any:

I have no idea what they will do, and I don't wanna flunk a drug test!!

I have no idea what they will do, and I don’t wanna flunk a drug test.

Another section nearby this one has olive oils left and right. But I just know everyone is waiting on pins and needles to find this.

Just in case you really, really, need to know about this stuff.

Just in case you really, really, need to know about this stuff.

No, I didn’t buy any of this, either. Heck, I didn’t even pick it up to see if it was imported from Italy, France, Greece or Croatia. Maybe if I invite a sophisticated gentleman for dinner.

The GER couldn’t care less if it was this stuff or Wesson. He’s nice like that.

Now, folks who know me know about my grocery bag collection–I’ve got several from East Coast chain Publix, HEB, Central Market, import store Phoenicia, Safeway, Trader Joe’s,and a bunch of other places in between. Fresh Market has some insulated tote bags like the one I got from Trader Joe’s a while back, but not as big. I passed on theirs as well as these, but I almost gave in.

Aren't these cute?

Aren’t these cute?

This is, obviously, for buying bulk goods so you don’t need the plastic bags. Again, I passed on them, but there will be a day where I get a few. Not only are they reusable for shopping, there’s probably a few things I can use them for at home..

Even Jezebel the step-kitty got a little something:

OK, she didn't mess with the salt.

OK, she didn’t get any of the salt.

I’ve never bought Newman’s Own cat food, in fact, I didn’t know they had it, and I’ve never t ever seen it. That one, as you can see on the far left of the picture, is USDA certified organic. The one on the right isn’t, not that I saw, but since it was rabbit, I bought it as a treat for Jezebel. I put out half a can, and she went after it. I’ll give her the other half tomorrow, and save the Newman’s Own for another day. Both, as you can see, are also grain free, which I try to buy much as I can. I’ve also given her some cat food from Trader Joe’s that she likes, but this stuff is grain free. (Normally, it’s Fancy Feast; the vet’s office feeds that to their boarded cats.)

Wish I could have given some of this to Catmandu, but he did get Blue Buffalo duck a few times. On the other hand, as fussy as he was, he might not have eaten the rabbit. Jezebel appreciates the good food, but she’s now enjoyed samples of my cooking as well to the point where I can’t make a cup of tea without her demanding to be given some. She nearly climbed in my lap the other day when I was eating some chicken. My bad.

Now, this is an interesting site at the checkout lane:

What a good idea for impulse buys!

What a good idea for at-the-checkout items!

Although Fresh Market has a collection of natural toiletries like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods does, this is a great idea on the way out. Well priced and convenient, I like this the best out of all the stores I’ve been in. I have plenty of lip balm and hand sanitizer at the moment, so I didn’t get any. But when I run low, I know where to go, because I try to keep hand cream and hand sanitizer in all my bags, including my purse, just in case. And the lip balm is less than Burt’s Bees–good, since summer isn’t waiting for anyone (except way up north, where some of my friends report a wind chill factor this week.)

Oh, I forgot to to mention the deli, bakery, meat department and the dining area at the front of the store! DUH–and I didn’t take any pictures of those, either. Sorry about that–I should have at least glanced at their takeout. (I did see sushi.) You can get some lunch or coffee and have it at a table and chairs, much like Central Market in Houston. It’s a smaller area than Central Market’s but quite nice.

The only bad thing I can say about Fresh Market is they don’t carry those Mynts that I love from Trader Joe’s, but I think I can live with that. I’m stocked up for a while, and I’m sure I’ll be at Trader Joe’s again one day. Plus, I can order them from Amazon if I really need some.

Verdict: a pretty good gourmet place to shop!

Their store is about the size of Trader Joe’s, not real big like Central Market or Publix. While they have a fair amount of store-brand product, they also carry a fair amount of national brands, too, along with some imported things. I can see myself spending some money in there and saving money on petrol in the future, or at least in for some takeout or a forgotten item one day.

If you’re lucky enough to get one of these in your neighborhood, go during their grand opening if you want to sample all kinds of stuff. If not, do what I did and wait until 8:00 pm (they close at 9:00 pm.)

Note: even The Woodlands doesn’t have one of these, although they have Trader Joe’s. But even the New Orleans area has four of them, one on St. Charles Avenue; traffic must be a bear.

Ours is next to the Lifeway Christian Store across from Baybrook mall, just behind Zoe’s Kitchen–another new addition to our area, which I should write a review for soon. I’ve enjoyed food from Zoe’s a few times, although not in a while. Neighbor K likes them too; she visited the one in San Antonio when they opened a couple of years ago. Heck, if you’ve got a Zoe’s in your neighborhood, you’re lucky on that one as well.

Happy Dining!!

Saturday Night Steak (and other updates)

Good evening Dear Readers:

I haven’t written since March 10, and for that I apologize. Even WordPress started nagging me about it! I’m still not working, but working ON it. I have some more gluten-free stuff to share, and I may have a big decision to make soon. But more on that as it happens, since I haven’t been offered anything in the top hiring state in the nation in the 8 months I have been actively looking for a job. Nuffin’.

Enough of that.

Remember the blog post I did on lunch bags a while back? Updates: I’ve got more sewing done, and the last of the lunch bags is complete. I have decided to retire the book Lunch Bags, at least for a while, until I have more inspiration or someone asks for one. This interesting lunch bag is the reason I bought that darn book in the first place. I even found the same fabric used in the book, but kept getting vexed by the directions. Finally, I finished it, more or less just like the book, even though I’m not carrying a lunch bag around anymore.

A triumph over. . .oh, heck, it's finished.

A triumph over. . .oh, heck, it’s finished.

There ended up being three of these Zipper-top Lunch Bags on page 71, two of which looked like this:

One of three lunch bags

One of three lunch bags

I gave one to my SGI-USA District Leader, and this last one went to faithful reader Aunt Kathy. Surprisingly, I had enough materials left to make a third, although I kept thinking this was a fourth. (I went to Tulane at night, so I can’t count.) I hate wasting fabric and supplies, so Neighbor K got this version:

A wilder version of the Zippered Lunch Bag

A wilder version of the Zippered Lunch Bag

If you’re wondering why I call it that, it’s because I used black on the bottom and for whatever reason, I’d previously cut more Insul-Fleece with this fabric to line it with:

And the screaming red liner for lunch bag 3. Told you it was wilder

And the screaming red liner for lunch bag 3. Told you it was wilder.

I forgot to take a picture before I gave it to her, so yes, if you’re reading this, K, these pictures were taken in your kitchen when I brought the pug back in. (K also was the recipient of the first bicycle lunch bag.)

A note about Insul-Fleece–it won’t keep lunch icy cold for a long period of time, you’ll have to stash the bag in the fridge at work, or at least carry something that won’t spoil easily.

I’m not sewing that much, mostly on the weekend. I’ve got a couple of things to stitch up this weekend and I hope I get them all finished on time.

OK, now through the bedroom to the HeatCageKitchen garden on the back patio. NOTE: I am NOT making escargot from the snails I keep finding. Yuck. I just toss them over the fence and tell them to go find a new life.

So the gardening is, well, it’s going, and if you remember the little tomato survivor, it finally turned red and became part of a garden salad.

The one, lonely winter-surviving tomato.

The one, lonely winter-surviving tomato.

Incidentally, that plant is starting to come back, as you can see from the greenery at the bottom. Need to trim off the brown parts so the green can thrive. I think I waited a bit too long to use the tomato, because it became a bit, oh, you know, odd, like it was over-ripened, but not too far. Hate to toss that hardy plant after the multiple freezes it went through.

I also had my computer in the shop for a few days, and before I picked it up yesterday I ducked into Garden Ridge a couple of doors down. I saw lots of hanging planters for both tomatoes and strawberries, including one that you plant bell peppers on one end and tomatoes on the other. A hanging salsa grower? I’m game.

So I gathered up a few ingredients including mint, lettuce, Italian flat-leaf parsley, two garlic shoots, and one hardy tomato and made a gourmet salad. Ready? Here it is.

Le Salade a la Amy Garden

Le Salade a la Amy Garden. You would pay top dollar for this in a snooty restaurant.

Those dark colored leaves are lettuce from the “city mix” I planted several months ago. For whatever reason, that was pretty much everything I harvested, and a little has grown back. Oh, boy.

Sure, I put a bit of salt and fresh-mixed dressing on it–who wouldn’t? Of course it was tasty, but I put too many mint leaves in it. Not earth-shattering, just a little potent.

Speaking of salads, I have gone back to doing the lettuce-in-a-jar thing after a few months of not doing it, mostly because of the very cold weather. While we didn’t get any snow this time around, not many folks are interested in cool, crisp lettuce when the heater is on and the fireplace is lit. You want warm. . .much as I love salads, this winter, I gave it up for a while.

So you probably know my penchant for seeking out stuff on sale, particularly meat on sale, and at SuperTarget, I can definitely get lucky.

The steak to start with

The steak to start with. No, Fancy Feast was not part of the deal.

This particular steak was a good flank steak, and the kind that’s organic grass fed and all that. But what to do with it?

When I had a “regular” job (that is, one I knew I was going to every day) my favorite single-girl payday meal was a steak salad I created with the usual lettuce/tomato/cucumber, and added either sugar snap peas, avocado, or some other veggie that looked real good that day. My preferred steak was the Flat Iron Steak, which I’d never heard of before but eagerly tried and loved.

The dressing is one of my favorites from Suzanne Somers’ Get Skinny On Fabulous Food, (page 149) with six tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, two tablespoons lemon juice, two cloves of garlic, and salt with freshly ground black pepper. Whiz that together with your hand blender or mini blender, and set that aside.

I discovered flat iron steaks while prowling in Kroger’s meat department one day. They were, at the time, relatively inexpensive, although the price has gone up considerably in the last couple of years. I would get a big one, use my little meat tenderizer tool thingy and get it cooking. Of course I wouldn’t eat the ENTIRE steak at one time; they are usually as long as my forearm. Depending on the size of the steak, I would have one third to one fourth on the salad, and then cut up the rest for more delicious salad later. Sliced thinly and against the grain, the steak and the accompanying salad veggies are wonderful together with that simple vinaigrette.

Yum. I need to make that dressing again soon. Shaking oil & vinegar in a jar is easy, but that one is fantastic.

My method for cooking just about any kind of steak is simple: stash it under the broiler in the toaster oven. Oh, wait, you want to do it on top the stove? OK, here you go: cast iron pan, a little olive oil, heat on high while you prep your steak (salt/pepper, whatever.) Once you know it’s screaming hot, toss that steak in and IMMEDIATELY turn down the heat to medium. DO NOT go check Facebook because you will ruin a good steak. Do not do that, either.

After a few minutes, when you can easily pick up the steak with tongs, a fork or other implement, flip it. Don’t pull or scrape the steak from the pan–if it’s stuck, leave it until it’s not stuck anymore, which shouldn’t be more than a few minutes, like 5 to 7. (You did put oil in the pan, right?) Cook on the second side until it’s done to your liking–red, pink, completely cooked through, whatever. I prefer some red/pink in the middle, because I will microwave the leftovers later and I don’t want to overcook them.

Really, you should leave a steak to rest for five minutes before you cut into it. Some of us are impatient, but I do it most of the time.

This particular steak I cooked on top of the stove, but because I have more time on my hands than most, I decided to marinate it before hand.

Ahh, there's the rub!

Ahh, there’s the rub! Lemon zest, garlic shoots and finely chopped rosemary from the garden.

I’ve said this before, I love the garlic shoots, and if you’ve never tried growing garlic, it’s not difficult. I haven’t yet harvested any, because I don’t think it’s time, but I’ll keep you posted.

To the chopped stuff, I tossed in some olive oil–I didn’t measure, but I’d say it was between a quarter cup and an eighth of a cup. Mixed it all together, along with some salt and pepper, dropped the steak in and coated both sides, put some plastic wrap on top and stashed it in the fridge.

After the overnight bath

After the overnight bath

The next day I just used my steak-cooking method and it came out wonderful:

That's what a steak is supposed to look like!

That’s what a steak is supposed to look like!

After the requisite rest period, it looks like this when you slice it:

Oh, yeah. . . .

Oh, yeah. . . .

Yes, it was a really good steak. Twice. The lemon, mild garlic and rosemary infused the meat with a mild but distinct flavor that was tasty, but not overpowering like some marinades and flavorings can do. I don’t mind a stronger flavor, but this was certainly worth the time and effort. I’ll do this again sometime, maybe with garlic cloves rather than the shoots (which I probably won’t have much longer anyway once I harvest.)

It’s gluten free! (By virtue of having no bread/wheat around, of course.)

You could always do this on a grill, too. . .I just didn’t. Feel free to grill and let me know how it turns out, please.

It was a good night, and I even had a glass of wine after dinner. With more sewing done and projects given away, it was a pretty good weekend.

More to come in upcoming blog posts.

Enjoy!