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The Thanksgiving Post: Apples and Spaghetti Squash

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think I should just stay home and watch Britcoms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The setup

The setup

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

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

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

He called this "allspice."

He called this “allspice.”

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

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

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

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

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

The setup

The setup

 

Just blend them up!

Just blend them up!

 

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

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

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

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

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

Neat, huh? (Worked for me!)

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

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

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

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Added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract:

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

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

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

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

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

And then I added the respective sweeteners:

Agave in the black one

Agave in the black one on the left

 

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the right one

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

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

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Agave pot

 

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SomerSweet pot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really--just let it go.

Really–just let it cook itself.

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

It's cooked, it really is.

It’s cooked, it really is.

And out comes a perfectly cooked spaghetti squash:

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

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

Add some butter, salt and fresh herbs:

I only had rosemary handy.

I only had rosemary handy.

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

Yum.

Yum.

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

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

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

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More to come on this, hopefully soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

Amy’s Sunday Drive

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Bet you weren’t expecting *that* ending, were you? Nope, me either–and that was before I wrote it. But all’s well that ends well in the HeatCageKitchen. He still likes me.

I think I’ve lost about 10 pounds since moving. I got my scale out after we visited Neighbor E a couple of weeks ago to get my stuff, and have been using it almost daily. It’s the sleep, and not eating a lot of carbs or eating too late at night. The housework is helping, too. Eventually I’ll be using the kettlebells again, doing some yoga, and utilizing the EZ Gym, which I plan to put up on a wall. Might be bikini-ready next summer, but we’ve got some time. Meantime, my set of 3-Way Ponchos are pressed, washed, and ready to wear. (Glad I bought them when I did–the purple one is no longer available, but I have a Simplicity pattern to make more of them later.)

We have not yet replaced the toaster oven, and while we have plans to, it’s a matter of. . .money. It’s OK–I’m not doing a lot of specialty baking right now, but BF promises that there will be a replacement soon. Maybe not a $200 Cuisinart (but I have coupons from Bed, Bath & Beyond if we do go), but he will get me another one–he told me he will, and he doesn’t break promises. I knew it was going to need replacement months ago, I just put it off, hoping things would improve and I could buy one myself. Well. . .BF knows to put a bug in Santa’s ear, if nothing else. And I’ll make him those boxed brownies again, too, if he asks.

I would have published this post two weeks ago, but, well, the pictures weren’t coming out straight. Then I had to leave the library and pick up BF from work. Then I couldn’t make it back to the library. Then, last Monday morning. . .I pulled a back muscle, and couldn’t move much. I was crab-walking for nearly a week! Finally. . .my back is better, albeit still a little bit sore. Crab-walking over, I’m back at the library. I’ll be working on more new subjects to write about to bring to you. I just don’t find out about new “things” like I used to. Guess I need to go read more.

The back room is finally cleared out, and we hope to do some painting before setting up my studio–sewing room, exercise area, media room and “corner office.” We have a few of my things in there, plus some of my clothes, but. . .we’ll try to get some painting done first. Then, over time, more book shelves, a china cabinet (maybe from IKEA), another big rack for kitchen stuff (I’ll make that cover, finally), some shelves above the doorways, and some other things to turn the former “man cave” (and I do mean“cave”) into a house for a man and a woman to happily live together in. My IKEA Fusion dinette will sit by the front door and become a breakfast nook (soon as we get the car parts outside and replace the damaged miniblinds.) One thing at a time, right? Once we get a lot of my things in the back to furnish the studio, the rest of the house will be neat, tidy and company-ready.

That silly 60-pound pit bull knocked the Meyer lemons off the tree, one at a time! They are now in the kitchen window, hopefully ripening, and I’ll take any seeds and propagate them into more trees. (Meyer lemons are $4 a pound at Fresh Market, so why not?) Last night the Hounds of Baskerville also knocked over the cut celery stubs I cultivated into re-growing. I hope that they weren’t too far gone and that I can save them, but celery is cheap. I told him I would “whip that dog into shape.” Yeah. One look in those eyes and you know I won’t be whipping anything. (We don’t really hit the dogs, of course, but we know someone did once.) But I’m giving them occasional treats so they’ll get used to me, and listen when we start doing doggie boot camp training. (BF gets some treats, too.)

The basil plant I bought from HEB to cut and propagate is now in the kitchen window, and I hope to have more plants growing soon. (PESTO!!!!) I haven’t talked BF into building me a cold frame yet, but that Plexiglas out in the shop isn’t scrap (darnit.) I really, REALLY need to plant the green onions and start more of them, but I haven’t gotten to that yet. The Hatch chili plants are now all outside; soon I hope to start planting stuff, I just keep saying “tomorrow.” But it’ll happen, and BF will stare at it with buggy eyes wondering what the heck is going on, just like the pantry.

I read BF the last blog post, and he said that I was wrong on one thing: he does not drink more than a cow produces in a day. Seems that when he was a kid, he worked milking cows. A cow produces 25 pounds a day, he says, and a gallon weighs 8 pounds. (BF was in the Navy, you know.) Well, a quick check at DairyMoos.com shows that his math is a bit off, BUT–BF drinks about half a gallon a day, I think. Seriously, he really does, and <nails on chalkboard> Coca-Cola at work during lunch. I told him we should get our own milk cow. (I’ll be the one taking it for walks and cleaning the litterbox.)

I had another trip to Baton Rouge a couple of weeks ago, but BF and I also had an errand there one night as well. I begged, PLLEEEEEEEEZZZEE???? and he took me to Trader Joe’s for a stock-up run afterwards. He didn’t know what that was, and I promised him it would be faaaaaaabulous.  (I’m guilty of over-using that word.) He saw the Petco two doors down, and we buzzed in there first. THEN we grabbed a beautiful red basket and headed into TJ’s. Got more olive oil, a packet of uncured bacon ends, some chocolate for my birthday cake, (the one from Suzanne Somers) and a few other small things. On the way out, I saw something in the freezer case–frozen quiche. This one is about the size of a pot pie, except the crust is on the bottom. So he would finally understand, I showed it to BF. “You are NOT going to get me to eat that!” he exclaimed. I wasn’t asking him to, I just wanted to show him what it looked like, so he can have a frame of reference, and understand frittata. Yeah, that worked.

I brought my own cloth shopping bags, including the cold bag I made a couple of years ago, and we were right at home with them. I explained to the (male) cashier that this was BF’s first time in TJ’s. BF protested: “I was ambushed.” It’s not the mall, for heaven’s sake–TJ’s is the size of a large convenience store. But I won’t drag him into one ever again, he’ll only go if he wants to (or he wants to keep an eye on me.)  BF’s verdict: “It’s just a grocery store.” Oh, well–he eats good. Like this chocolate delight from our last trip to my HEB in Clear Lake:

Yeah.

Yeah. All chocolate, all the way through.

As I mentioned in the last post, I visited the Mandeville Fresh Market a couple of Sundays ago, and boy did I bring home some goodies. BF was impressed with dinner–and I didn’t have to work too hard, either. Much like my years of living in Clear Lake and shopping after an in-town SGI activity, I went to a study meeting at the lovely home of PB and NM and went shopping afterwards, since I was in the vicinity. (They are the nice folks who came over and home visited me a week or so after my abrupt, unfortunate departure from Texas.) This time, I was on their turf. It was a small meeting, just seven of us, in the middle of an idyllic wooded setting.

I asked PB about getting to Whole Foods, and once again, I ended up at The Fresh Market, but that’s OK. (I got there a couple of weekends later after the district meeting.) See, once you get off the freeway, you go left for Whole Foods and right for The Fresh Market. . .and I got those directions mixed up. Oh, well.

I went primarily to get something for Sunday dinner, and *maybe* to mooch a little more free coffee, too. Well, I had some, but this time I could have coffee. Well, I bought some–a half-pound of decaf Hazelnut Creme. Yum. BF, as always, was not impressed. But it smells so good!

Yum.

I didn’t waste any time.

I walked around and examined the glass meat case and thought about different things I could make for dinner. I also picked up a few favorites:

Cannellini!!

Cannellini!!

I’ve since discovered that the local Winn-Dixie stocks Bush’s brand cannellini beans. Woo hoo! (No shelf-stable unsweetened chocolate almond milk yet, but I’ll keep looking around.)

I haven’t yet made any hummus, but when the time comes, I am ready to rock and roll:

Great to have on hand for a quick batch of hummus.

Great to have on hand for a quick batch of hummus.

Originally, I was going to cook up Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatora, but I would need to buy more than I’d planned on, plus I wouldn’t know where the white wine was. Looked a little more, and prowled more, and by the meat case, I saw the jars of Frontera “chili starters.” Different types of base sauces where you brown meat, add the jar, cook it a little more, and it’s done. Well. . .BF has an issue with tomatoes and heartburn after a certain hour of the night, so I passed on the first one. Then I saw the jar called “white chili.”

Never saw these in Houston, or maybe I just didn’t go to the right places. Chef Rick Bayless has a line of Frontera  food products, which includes three types of chili starters, and the “white” chili has. . .Hatch Chiles!

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See? Good stuff here.

 

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Very simple instructions for a tasty dinner.

I asked at the meat case, and was assured that it was not a hot kind of chili. So, those two items were loaded into my little hand basket along with the cans and the coffee.

I was so proud of myself–a healthy, delicious dinner inside of 20 minutes! I hoped BF would agree that it was tasty and fast. I kept him in suspense, and let him know dinner was, um, “in the bag.” Now to convince him it would be good.

On the way home, I thought it would be a good day to finally make our “special cake.” You know, the one with the Hatch Apple Pie Filling. I already had the cake mix and the butter, so why not? (There goes the “healthy” part.)

This beautiful jar contains some delicious apple pie filling that’s accented with the flavor of Hatch chilis. You didn’t think you could do that? HEB carries lots of Hatch products that are sweet–the cookies come to mind as well.

The secret to a very special cake!

The secret to a very special cake! (Yes, his “antique” house has a stove that’s avocado green–but it works, so who cares?)

Here’s what’s on the rest of the jar:

img_3413 img_3412 img_3411 img_3410

I used the whole jar, of course, because that’s what the recipe calls for:

The recipe!

The recipe!

Yes, it’s worth it, for an occasional splurge. RARE occasions.

BF was at work until 4:00 pm, but one of his car guys was coming over. I asked BF if the man would be joining us for dinner, and he said “yes.” When I got home, the man was outside napping in his truck, waiting for BF to return to the homestead. I went inside to get started.

I got started on the cake first, since that would take 45 minutes to bake. Here we go:

The setup.

The setup.

This is what’s called a “dump cake,” in which you dump everything together and bake it. The recipe was provided by the HEB Cooking Connection folks in the Clear Lake City Blvd. location, and it’s the same one Neighbor E and I were privileged to try before Hatch weekend. (E has since made his own at home to enjoy.) First, I cut the butter into bits buy cutting lengthwise, turning the stick and then cutting it lengthwise again, to make these little squares:

img_3420img_3421

Two lengthwise cuts and you get little squares!

Next, I put the little squares into a bowl and stashed them in the freezer to keep them cold.

Now,  preheat the oven to 350F, and butter a 7″x 11″ pan. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I needed that specific size, so I used the 9″ x 13″, which was too big. I made do, though:

This dish is, unfortunately, too big.

This dish is, unfortunately, too big.

img_3425

I used the spatula to keep the filling to one side of the baking pan. It worked.

Since the pan was big, this is what I ended up with:

img_3426

Carefully pour the cake mix on top, but don’t mix them:

No. . .this not gluten free, wheat free, or in any way healthy.

No. . .this not gluten free, wheat free, or in any way healthy.

Carefully pour the cake mix on top of the pie filling--but don't mix it.

Carefully pour the cake mix on top of the pie filling.

 

img_3431

Done!

 

img_3430

The spatula made it easy to spread evenly.

Now retrieve your butter squares from the freezer, and start laying them on top the cake powder:

Butter!

Butter!

 

Until it looks like this.

Until it looks like this.

Drop this baby into your preheated oven, set the timer, and about 45 minutes later, this is what you end up with:

Aaaahhhh. . . .

Aaaahhhh. . . .

It’s hot, so you might want to let it cool a little–or completely–before eating. The top is sweet and crispy, while the bottom is soupy and sweet with the flavor of Hatch chilis (but no pepper heat.) Serve it with whipped cream, ice cream (BF’s preference) or just plain. However you serve it, you’ll be popular. It’s that good.

While that was baking, I got busy with the rest of dinner:

The setup

The setup.

 

img_3438

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

 

img_3439

Just one pound was all that I needed.

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

img_3440

And brown that ground turkey up:

img_3441

And you end up with this.

Once the meat is browned well, add in the starter and a cup of water:

Here we go!

Here we go! (Don’t get this jar mixed up with the Hatch Apple Filling, or your results will be very, very different.)

Yes, you need water or it's way too thick.

Yes, you need that cup of water or it’s way too thick.

Cook it for 20 minutes, and this is what happens:

White bean chili!

White bean chili!

By now, the Hatch Apple Dump Cake has come out of the oven, and has cooled.

Yum.

Yum. (No, I didn’t eat it out of the baking pan.)

The “cake” actually forms a bit of a crust, since it’s baked on top with the butter. More like a pie crust than a cake–but don’t kid yourself, this is REALLY worth the splurge, folks.

Now, with these two manly men on the patio working on a car and making lots of noise, I brought dinner out to them, fresh and hot, and we had dinner together:

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Unfortunately, they didn’t get this point, and walked into the kitchen. . .I yelled, I mean, called, at them to come outside to the patio. Both were a bit surprised that I would bring dinner out *to* them, particularly the friend, who, apparently had not been briefed on my mannerisms and habits. I try to be polite and helpful, you see, and I thought it would be better to bring it out to them so they wouldn’t have to stop for too long. When car guys get together, they don’t like interruptions. They just want to do CAR STUFF. So I did what I could to make that happen and make clean up easy (hence the paper bowls.)

BF knew all about the Hatch chili thing because, well, I told him. More than once. However, his “car guy” friend got the lecture, and I joked with BF that he was going to go home and tell his missus all about it. Know what? He did–we got a call from him on the way back from Houston the next week, and I answered since BF was driving. I asked him if he’d told the missus, and he said, “Oh, yeah! I told her all about them, and how good it was.” See? Education is a great thing, and one more person in the world knows about the wonderful Hatch chiles.

Now, despite my love for Pinterest and new trends, I have apparently missed the phenomenon known as a “Dump Cake.” Well, I’m not baking cakes terribly often, unless it’s sugar-free and gluten-free, and they’re usually for me or a specific group of people (like the recent vegan stuff I made to bring to LK’s place in Clear Lake for district meetings.) But checking Pinterest just now, there are hundreds of “Dump Cake” recipes, in which you assemble a few ingredients–dump them into a pan–and bake them. There are even Dump Cake recipes that go into. . .a Crock Pot. No kidding. Wonder if there are any Paleo versions? I’ll be checking that for sure.

This article from Buzzfeed lists 15 “super-lazy” dump cakes that require nothing more than a bowl to mix them in and an oven or slow cooker to bake them. Two highlights are this Black Forest Dump Cake that makes me want some (but I know better, I gained a pound and a half!) and a gluten-free Blueberry Dump Cake from Nicole at Gluten Free on a Shoestring. And then there’s this very sweet one from Moms With CrockPots.

Diabetics–start your insulin!

Once again, the holidays are coming up quick, and it will soon be time to be firing up your slow cookers and waffle makers to keep it all going. Office parties, family get-togethers and all manner of other social events will show up quick. So, a “Dump Cake” can be one more arrow in your arsenal of recipes for the holidays or anytime you need something quick.

See? You learned something today. Well, I did, anyway.

Happy Eating!

 

The “Use It Up” Frittata

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?

Not exactly.

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?

Now we know why.

Now we know what happened.

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.

The setup

The setup.

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:

I didn't use all the green onions, but don't worry, they'll grow back soon.

I didn’t use all of them but don’t worry, they’ll grow back soon.

Chopped them up really well, then moved onto the pepper:

Hatch!

Hatch!

And you know I saved those seeds, too:

Always, always. I'm determined to grow Hatch chiles in rural Louisiana.

Always, always. I’m determined to grow Hatch chiles in rural Louisiana.

Chopped them up really fine, too:

Always, ALWAYS wear gloves!

Always, ALWAYS wear gloves!

Then I chopped up the two pork chops:

These really are delicious!

Delicious.

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:

A little butter, a little olive oil

A little butter, a little olive oil, a little heat

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.

I think this was a bit too high of a temp.

Pretty soon, the veg will be cooked:

This is good.

This is good.

At this point, I added in the chopped pork chops to heat them:

See why you chop it small?

See why you chop it small?

And let them heat while you deal with the eggs:

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

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:

img_3463

The eggs and milk work well together, especially here.

And because, DUH, I had this handy, I shook in about a quarter cup or so:

Yes, the infamous green bottle.

Yes, the infamous green bottle.

I have some Manchego in the freezer, but guess who doesn’t like that, either? So this is what went in:

Into the pool with it:

Into the pool with it:

Plugged in the immersion blender:

This is why the 8-cup bowl is best for this kind of thing.

This is why the 8-cup bowl is best for this kind of thing.

And hit the button:

Blitz! The egg mixture doesn't go flying all over the place. And it pours easily.

Blitz! The egg mixture doesn’t go flying all over the place. And it pours easily.

Now you’re ready to pour the egg mixture into the pan. Carefully, please:

NOW it's happening!

NOW it’s happening!

Your frittata is almost ready:

img_3476

Don’t forget to use the spatula to get every last bit of egg, milk and cheese out of the bowl and into the pot!

I put the universal pot lid on it so that it might cook a bit faster on top:

I'm sure BF looks at this and thinks to himself, "of course, she bought the red one."

I’m sure BF looks at this and thinks to himself, “of course, she bought the red one.”

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:

Done!

Done!

With cries of “I’m hungry” from BF, and apologies for the the delay, I served this to him:

Use-It-Up Frittata

Use-It-Up Frittata!

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.

Enjoy!

 

 

Miss Alice’s Magic Beans

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Welcome to another edition of What’s She Up To This Time? A lot, as it turns out.

I’m back with another dispatch from the wilds of rural Louisiana. (OK, OK, we do have “city water.”)  Yes, I’m still missing Houston terribly, but I’m getting better. A little. Maybe. OK, not so much. (BF helps a lot.) We finally went back to get the rest of my stuff from Neighbor E’s place in Houston last Wednesday, who graciously stored it in every nook and cranny of his place since I moved. Many thanks, and we finally got it all out and into the new HeatCageKitchen location. But I’m glad to finally bring you this incredibly delicious recipe courtesy of friend of the blog AC, complete with a printed PDF for you on the Recipes page.

But first, some news.

Once we loaded everything on the trailer and in the truck, which took about 2 hours, I made BF take me back to our fabulous HEB in Clear Lake for one last trip. (It was on our way to SH 146, which took us to I-10 anyway.)  In addition to some good HEB milk, applewood smoked bacon and 3 dozen extra large eggs from Texas chickens, I got 2 more jars of Mom’s Hatch Apple Pie Filling for our special cake (he loved it), so I can make it again for him one day. Also picked up a turkey breast (they were out of thighs, darnit) some chicken leg quarters, pork chops and a few other things I can’t get here. Had just enough room in the ice chest for the meat, milk and a bag of ice; the eggs and the new basil plant sat in the truck with us–and not one broken egg, either. I was only able to bring four plants with me, and you know I want more basil for pesto, so I bought the basil since the one at E’s didn’t make it.

I was planning to publish this a week ago, after a trip to nearby Hammond for a job interview. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, we went to Houston the next day, and we’ve been quite busy ever since. I’m nearly finished clearing out the back room, and setting up my new “studio” back there. I’m hoping to paint it soon, too, soon as I figure out what color scheme would be good for a cool, sophisticated office look back there.

In a part of the US that doesn’t even have recycling.

BF had a special request for me the other morning. “Would you make me some breakfast before I head to work?”  Of course! Immediately, I saw myself putting on an apron and sweeping through the kitchen to make a full English breakfast for him, sending him off to work happy he asked. However, this is what he requested:

Yes. Pancake Mix from Walmart.

Yes. Pancake Mix from Walmart.

Oh, yes, she did. Didn’t take long. (You can see my coffee brewing, right?) Appropriately, he put this on top of it:

img_3375

You don’t want to know what makes it “taste like butter.” It’s primarily soybean oil, GMO and hydrogenated and all that. He did get an earful, don’t worry. It’s a crock, that’s for sure—but he likes it, so I fixed him up, and he was happy with it. I’m working on it.

Anyway. . .I’m sleeping a little better these days. That’s a gift that doesn’t come wrapped in a box.

I still haven’t replaced the drip tray on the Griddler, but I have used it (carefully.) It’s a $10 part, and probably another $5 or $10 for shipping, but right now, it’s gotta wait. Last night I made Stuffles, or stuffing waffles, from that book, (his fault, he asked for stuffing with the pork chops, and I couldn’t resist) with “stuffing mix” from a box, and waffled a ham & cheese sandwich the other night after he came home from work.

Long story, but it’s looking like the mighty Cuisinart counter top oven may need to be replaced. It survived the trip, but it is at least 6 years old, and traveling in the back of the White Knight may have done it in. More on this story later.

I just wish I could have landed in The Woodlands, but, oh, well. It’s a hideout from the world here, that’s for sure. Cow Road is always a nice little drive, complete with numerous judgmental bovines that look at you like you really don’t belong on their turf. BF likes to call it “Cow Patty Road,” and he’s got some other funny names for things.

Oh, and BF prays a lot more now. Usually when I get behind the wheel of the White Knight.

Friend of the blog AK made a suggestion while I was writing the last post (I was at the library, and we were chatting on Skype.) AK said, “make this detour part of your blog. People are so tired of fake Barbie-style women bloggers. ‘I’m a busy mom four boys and married to my high school sweetheart! I’m obsessed with making everything from scratch, from meals to home décor. I do it all!’” I do hope that I’ve done that, particularly with The Dislocated Texan, and I’ll continue to write it as I see it. After I finished that post, and after chatting with AK, I realized, as I always say, “I’m not FoodBabe.”

HeatCageKitchen is the real thing. It’s about the good, the bad, and the absolutely disgusting. I’ve written about all three. I’m a Texan, now and forever, and I don’t mess around. (I hung up that sign in the kitchen, BTW.) Maybe I should learn to make real Texas kolaches for BF one of these days. We didn’t stop for kolaches while we were there, but maybe next time.

Enough of that.

You may remember that earlier this year, AC was coming to dinner nearly every week, and I was trying out new things on her as an new official taste-tester. AC enjoyed everything, then things changed and she just stopped coming by. I though I’d insulted her, but it was just that her schedule changed. She’s happily working now in a new job, at the same place as her new BF. They just moved into a house so they can be closer to work. AC will be in a district with many SGI members I used to know when I first moved to Houston in 1998, as well as be within a few miles of Central Market, IKEA, two locations of Trader Joe’s, The Container Store, and a number of other great places that I no longer have short-drive access to. Well, there’s always the websites, and Baton Rouge.

I went to the SGI Community Center in New Orleans a couple of weekends ago, and since me and BF have been a bit skint (that is, “kind of broke”) I couldn’t just stop somewhere for a coffee—I didn’t have coffee money! (I’m used to stopping for a coffee occasionally, so this was a bit of a shock, but we know it’s temporary.)  On the way there, I facetiously thought to myself, “now, where can I mooch a free coffee today?” I wasn’t going anywhere to ask, of course, it was just a stray thought, being silly. I was OK, I had some at home, and I was fine. Soon as I find my little green vacuum bottle, I’ll be taking Pea & Pesto soup with me on longer trips like that. Especially since BF does *not* like Pea & Pesto Soup.

Once I got to the Center and backed The White Knight in the last spot available, I sat down in the back corner of the main room, hoping nobody would recognize me. I really didn’t want to explain that my life has completely unraveled, I left behind everything I knew for 18 years, a wonderful man drove to Houston to move me to his house, and I’m embarrassed to be anywhere near New Orleans. (I’m still getting those “no thanks” emails from places in Houston that I’ve applied to.) That didn’t work, and I left after the first hour. I just didn’t feel like I belonged there. I was recognized by a couple of the members I used to hang out with years ago, and figured it was time to leave. I didn’t get to talk to NM, who was there, and texted her that I fled.

Friend of the blog E Man knew I was there, and he was sitting up front while I sat on the back row, in the corner. Guess it was too soon for me to go. Driving on I-10 West, E Man called, and asked me to stop by and see him before I returned to my new rural hideaway. I was at the Bonnabel exit, and he told me how to get to his place from where I was, just a few exits away. Eight years is a long time to remember the directions to someone’s place, but E Man is better than Google Maps, and I arrived just before he did. I got to play with his cats, met one of his friends, and fiddled with his computer and printer so he could print again. After downloading the updated print drivers, it still didn’t work, but the printer might be too old for a Windows 10 laptop.  Since this was now beyond my skills and expertise, I suggested he talk to his brother who is a bit more tech-savvy than I am. Despite the headache I developed, at least I felt a bit useful before I took the 60+ minute drive north. (I-10 West is also how you get to Houston.)

One of the things I needed to do was get a bottle of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos for this recipe. I forgot when I was in Baton Rouge two weeks ago, darnit, and I’m sure Whole Foods would have had it. (I didn’t get that job, either.) They had nearly everything else I needed, but of course, I plum forgot after the ridiculous ride through traffic-clogged Baton Rouge to get there. (Almost like driving on I-610 West near the Galleria in Houston.) After I walked out of the Buddhist Center on Sunday, I relied on Apple Maps to get me to Whole Foods Uptown, and it was a straight drive up Prytania Street. Well, everything was fine until I got to Louisiana Avenue. Since there’s construction going on, you can’t take a left at Louisiana, you can only turn right onto it. The app doesn’t mention that little detail, either. This means you now have to drive down Louisiana Avenue to find a way to make a U-turn elsewhere so you can drive in the other direction to Whole Foods. Well.  . .I didn’t make it that far, I only got to the corner of St. Charles and Louisiana and stopped. What’s at that corner?

The Fresh Market.

See, they didn’t close the stores in Louisiana, only Texas and three other states. (Baton Rouge and Mandeville also have one.) But it didn’t dawn on me to try The Fresh Market, only Whole Foods.

I walked in and felt a little more at home. There, in a smaller space than the one we had in Clear Lake, was everything I remembered. (The wine section is upstairs, but I didn’t need to go up there; the Clear Lake store had everything on one floor.) I prowled a bit and saw. . .the coffee. Oh, but darnit! No money for coffee, only for the Bragg’s! Except. . .there are also sample cups. So, I picked up a sample cup, added a packet of pink and a little half-and-half and sampled some delicious, welcome hot Chocolate Cherry coffee. Walked around for a minute and found the Bragg’s, then circled back to refill that sample cup, Bragg’s in my hand.

I did that four or five times while I looked at the fully stocked shelves of goods not available at Winn-Dixie. So I actually *did* get hot, fresh, free coffee, and Chocolate Cherry flavor, too! It just wasn’t all at once. There weren’t many people in the store on Sunday morning at 11:15 am, and they looked rather sullen when they saw me. (Red-haired Texans get that look a lot.) My nice male cashier had a “man bun,” too, which greatly amused my military buzz-cut BF when I told him.  Otherwise, nobody said anything.  However, this particular trip, I just said “thank you” to the Universe for giving me some free coffee, in Chocolate Cherry flavor. It was greatly appreciated on a day where I was not feeling up to it.

BF was at work all day Sunday, and since I got home about 2:30 or so, I decided to take a nap before he returned. I didn’t hear him arrive, and he didn’t wake me or tell me he was home, he just got busy with it in the kitchen and cooked some delicious dinner for us. I smelled the cooking, but thought it was part of the weird dream I was having. What a sweetie. I did all the dishes for us.

Finally, I got all the ingredients together, since that was the last bit of the puzzle.  I can show you how to make this amazing, delicious and easy bean dish that I’ve been talking about for weeks, and we can have for years to come. (Well, I will, anyway.)

The setup (minus the Balsamic vinegar, I forgot.)

The setup (minus the Balsamic vinegar, I forgot.)

Yes, this is a lot of stuff for a pot of beans. But it’s worth it. (And of course, I forgot to include the Balsamic vinegar in this picture.)

Neighbor E, who is still a good friend but is no longer a “neighbor,” has been volunteering at the Clear Lake Food Pantry for some time, and has occasionally given me things that he either doesn’t want, has too much of, or wouldn’t ordinarily use. This wasn’t all the time, just on occasion (and I loved all the coleslaw, too.) Pinto beans are a staple in Texas, but I haven’t tried to buy them in Louisiana just yet. These are the last of them that he gave me before I moved to BF’s place,  so he gets credit here, too.

There are a few steps, but it’s really simple. Start by rinsing the beans, of course.

Clean beans are best!

Clean beans are best!

And add them into the slow cooker thingy, then fill it ¾ with water:

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And add the diced onions and garlic:

Peeling garlic is so easy with one of these.

Peeling garlic is so easy with one of these.

 

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Any excuse to use the garlic doo-dad!

 

Success!

Success!

 

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This was a small onion, but I think it was too much.

 

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Toss it all in.

I put a whole small onion in this batch, but I think it should be less than that, maybe no more than a third or a scant half cup of chopped onion. Also, I’d chop it a little finer, maybe use the food processor next time. Next batch may include green onions, since I’ve already started growing some in the kitchen window. This batch, I put too much onion in it, I think.

Cook up the half-cup salt pork or bacon (this was Trader Joe’s bacon pieces from my Houston kitchen.)

Bacon!

Bacon!

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Chop and add that in.

The paper bowl helps with the drainage. And, it just happened to be really handy.

The paper bowl helps with the drainage. And, it just happened to be really handy.

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Getting there!

Then shake in the salt, pepper, Balsamic Vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Liquid Aminos, and chicken stock:

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Stir it up a little:

Just a little stir, nothing serious.

Just a little stir, nothing serious.

And follow Amy’s directions for any slow-cooker recipe: Put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on and leave it alone. For at least eight hours, but of course, longer won’t hurt them. (Just don’t forget, OK?)

Hours later, you’ll smell them first, then have this:

Miss Alice's Magic Beans!

Miss Alice’s Magic Beans!

Of course, *before* I got to cooking them, BF took me into town for some errands. . .which should have happened after I put the beans in the slow cooker. They really do take at least 8 hours to cook. He cooked a pot of rice, but the beans were still kind of hard later in the evening. Next time, prep in the morning. But on the taste factor, it was two thumbs up.  Finally, I made something else he liked!

When you smell these beans, you’ll understand why I make a big deal about them.  They really are the best beans I’ve ever had. You’ll say the same thing when you make them. They really are that good.

Sunday family dinner? Make a double batch. You’ll need it.

Of course, I didn’t wash dishes beforehand, so this is what was waiting off-camera:

Oh, well.

Oh, well.

But all was well at the new HeatCageKitchen.

Another Sunday brought me to a Buddhist meeting on this side of the world, and found. . .The Fresh Market in Mandeville! So there’s a new adventure to tell you about in the quick dinner department. Of course, my Texas readers will be green with envy. . .plus, there’s Hatch chilies involved!

As always, the printable PDF is available on the Recipes page. I hope to bring you more tasty recipes and ideas again soon.

Many thanks to AC for not only letting my try these wonderful beans, but giving me the recipe so I could share it with everyone.

Enjoy!

Sampling Saturday: The Hatch & Pesto Weekend

Happy Monday, Dear Readers:

My apologies for being so late in posting again. . .it gets away from me sometimes.

If you’re in Louisiana and reading this, please stay safe and dry–the situation is dangerous in many areas, and I have friends who have been impacted. Mechanic friend JK’s house is fine, but his vehicle isn’t. JK is in touch with many of his friends who were impacted, one person he knows has been evacuated, and his brother’s place of business took on a foot or so of water on Saturday. Heck, even the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge took on an inch of water! This is some of the worst flooding Louisiana has ever seen, and it wasn’t even due to a hurricane. Most of the flooding is north of Lake Ponchartrain and in the Baton Rouge area, rather than New Orleans, where it normally occurs.

Mercy Chefs is heading to Baton Rouge to help serve food to affected people and first responders. If you’re interested in making a donation to help, Mercy Chefs is a good place to start. They have professional-grade mobile kitchens and drive to disaster areas and COOK FOOD. I have not personally had dinner with these folks, I don’t know them, but I have donated to them a few times. I do know they prepare hot, fresh gourmet food for people who can’t cook for themselves and can’t get home to eat.

I haven’t forgotten floods that I’ve been through in Louisiana previously, including one that kept me and my now-ex-husband upstairs in our apartment for three days. We didn’t have cable TV, or Internet, or a computer, we only had each other and the cats. And then we ran out of coffee. . . .

While we here in Houston are now getting some rain after a hot dry spell, it’s not Louisiana’s excess rain. Neighbor E and I have had a couple of adventures last week, and it involved two trips to our local and fabulous HEB. We both had errands to run on Tuesday, and decided to go together. We also visited the Lego Americana Roadshow, which happened to stop in our own Baybrook Mall last week. One of E’s friends liked a post on Facebook, and E saw it. Otherwise, neither of us would have known! It was quite interesting–ten American icons are built in. . .Legos.  No kidding. The Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, The Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson Memorials, and other historic structures are all made of Legos, most of them white. It really was something to see, it was FREE, and I’m glad we got to go.  (You can check out our pictures here.)  If you want Americans to see something, you put it in the mall.

We also made a quick run to HEB for a few things, where we were introduced to a few things in the upcoming Hatch Chili weekend. Oh, BOY. At the Cooking Connection area, where chefs are constantly preparing tasty things for sampling, we were among the first to try a “Dump Cake” made with a Hatch Apple Pie Filling. No kidding. Three ingredients: the filling, which I’ll show you later, a box of Duncan Hines Yellow Cake Mix, and a stick of unsalted butter, chopped and laid on top. You pour the pie filling into a 9×13 baking pan, then the cake mix on top of that, then the butter pieces atop that. You’re just layering here, not mixing anything, and make sure they’re evenly spread, including the butter. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. Of course, that Hatch Apple Pie Filling is only around for a limited time. I got a jar and the recipe in the pantry for a special occasion, which hasn’t happened yet.

Don’t judge me. We were floored.

I think that was the day we were also treated to ice cream samples with mini-M&Ms and some of this delicious elixir:

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It says “Peach Bellini,” but there’s no alcohol in this. (I pass on the wine samples anyway.)

Miss Kathryn, who is usually in the Cooking Connection area daily, told us that Saturday was the big Hatch promotion, and there would be everything with Hatch chilis all over the place. She was actually working on the Hatch Apple Dump Cake while we were there, and asked us to try it to see what we thought–and of course, gave her two thumbs up. We were among the first to try it! So E and I made plans to return on Saturday and have lunch. Because, quite frankly, that’s what you do in HEB on a Saturday.

I had to head into town on Thursday, and well, I needed some chocolate. Since I was in town anyway, I made a quick stop at IKEA for some catalogs; Neighbor E is happily looking at his, and JK, The E Man and PK will all be receiving theirs later this week. I went up to the Second Floor Cafe, and got a look in the fridge case.

The Chocolate Conspiracy Cake.

Oh, dear.

Yes, I fell off the wagon. It’s called–the Chocolate Conspiracy Cake. I have no idea why, and maybe it was the dry, gentle Swedish humor, but it sure was good. Again, don’t judge me, I had a bad day. Chocolate helps. And I rode for 16 miles that night.

Saturday I headed to LK’s for our monthly Buddhist study meeting, and texted Neighbor E when I was leaving. I dropped by the complex, E hopped in my ride and off we went. My pictures are only iPhone shots, because, DUH, I forgot to bring my regular camera, darnit. But they came out pretty good. Come on with us on Sampling Saturday, Hatch Edition, and enjoy the sights. (Sorry I can’t help you taste the food.)

When you turn into the parking lot off El Dorado, the tendency is to park there, but that’s at the “back end” of the store, where the pharmacy is. No, it’s better to park on the other end, by the Clear Lake City Blvd. entrance, so you go in through the door by the floral and produce areas. Bring your bags, and don’t forget your “cold bag,” the one that keeps your milk and other perishables cold. (I also made this Butterick grocery bag that keeps things hot *or* cold.) Of course, that’s where they also keep the “grab-and-go” meals, where a very nice lady is frequently sampling them:

Miss Sunie is always a friendly face, and always has the best samples.

Miss Sunie is always a friendly face, and always has the best samples.

This weekend Miss Sunie was sampling delicious Hatch Meatball Stuffed Mushrooms (that’s what she’s scooping up in the picture) and chicken breasts stuffed with green beans and, what else, Hatch Chilis. Two thumbs up from both me and E. YUM. Next up is Miss Lei, who was serving a most incredible Salmon Hatch Burgers on a toasted bun:

Miss Lei was serving up delicious Salmon Hatch burgers.

Miss Lei, doing what she does best, and she’s always nice to meet too.

If I had to pick a favorite, which would be difficult, I would probably have to pick this sandwich. But since E is “not a fish guy,” he passed on it. Darn shame, but I’m not twisting his arm for anything.

These Hatch Salmon Burgers start with, what else, the Hatch Salmon Patties at HEB, and are served on their delicious Onion Rolls, which are buttered and grilled. While those are going on, you mix a cup of sour cream with a box of Boursin Garlic & Herb Cheese, and when the buns are toasted, spread some on the bottom. Add the cooked Hatch Salmon Patty, place some Dill Dip on top the patty, and put the top bun on it.

And you have just become enlightened, folks. It’s that good.

Now, while we were waiting for the burgers to finish cooking (they only had a couple of minutes to go), we got to talking about the Hatch chile. Longtime readers may remember my last post on the Hatch Chili last year, (and a previous post from 2014), and I gave you some insight and history into these little green babies. Miss Lei went online and did some more research into them and found out a number of neat facts–like one Hatch has three times the Vitamin C of an orange. (I should have taken a pic of that flier she had posted, darnit.) That when you visit New Mexico, as I did with friend of the blog Aunt Ruth in 2012, they ask, “red or green?” Meaning, red or green sauce–and they really do put it on everything. And that only those peppers grown in Hatch, NM can be called “Hatch.”

Also available is one of their “Entree Simple” lines, Hatch Chile Stuffed Salmon. They weren’t sampling that, but it’s available in the oven-ready section by Miss Sunie. (That’s where the countertop oven comes in handy.)

Next up was Miss Carolyn, who was sampling delicious breads. (What I eat in HEB stays in HEB!)

Miss Carolyn had hatch cornbread and sliced bread you'd have to taste to believe.

She wasn’t wild about me taking her picture, but I did explain it was for the blog.

Miss Carolyn not only had store-baked French bread, she had Hatch Corn Bread and some Hatch Sliced bread too, which you must taste to believe:

Yes. Hatch chili breads.

Yes. Hatch chili breads.

Don’t tell my doctor. It’s like going to a birthday party or a wedding. You know you’re going to eat some cake, right? Same thing.

With the French bread, she buttered it, but not the sliced or corn bread. Good thing–butter would be wasted on them. Don’t cover the flavor of the delicious Hatch breads. Ever.

Next up was over to the Cooking Connection demo area, where another one of the store chefs was cooking up more delicious things:

One of two in-store chefs that are always cooking up good stuff. (And there's the Mom's Hatch Apple Pie Filling.)

One of two in-store chefs that are always cooking up good stuff, and handing some food to Neighbor E.  (And there’s the Mom’s Hatch Apple Pie Filling.)

I can’t find the recipes for what we sampled, but yes, we had more of that Hatch Apple Dump Cake! Cooking Connection also features recipes using new and interesting ingredients like the Hatch Apple Pie filling, and that mustard sitting right next to it. Oh, and a delicious Hatch Chile Jalapeno Jam topping some softened cream cheese. Oh, I can’t stop eating whatever they put with cream cheese–it’s always addictive, and is perfect on top samples of tortillas from the bakery, right across the aisle.

Mom’s Hatch Apple Pie Filling is, as they explained repeatedly, “only here for a limited time.” It’s also made in Fredricksburg, Texas–so you know it’s good! Both E and I bought some, and as I said, mine’s in the pantry with the recipe taped to the lid. It’s so “limited edition” that it’s not even on the company website!

Past the Cooking Connection and into the Meat Department was a nice guy offering Hatch Empanadas:

Hatch empanadas. Oh, YEAH.

Hatch empanadas. Oh, YEAH. And a bit of Hatch cheese on top, too.

Delicious, and they’re available in the meat case right behind him:

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Heat & Eat Empanadas! (They’re not pepper-hot.)

We also saw Hatch Chiles used to season chicken:

Hatch chicken!

Hatch chicken!

You can also get Hatch Rotisserie Chicken if you don’t want to be bothered cooking it yourself.

Delicious sausages that we also sampled (but I forget where):

Hatch sausages and cheeses.

YUM.

And even cheese:

CHEESE!!!!!

CHEESE!!!!!

Yeah, they put Hatch chilis in everything at HEB, and some of their Hatch chili products are available year-round.

We also did a spot of shopping, and while we don’t buy the same kinds of things, I got a look at this section:

Packaged seasonings

Packaged seasonings

Since I was getting some un-seasoned chicken leg quarters, it was quite tempting to get a packet of slow cooker seasoning mix. Really, it was. Then I looked at the ingredients on the packet. . .and put it back.

But outside of the sampling, the most fun we had was seeing this little abandoned item. E had some fun and put his shopping in it:

Just need a few things?

Just need a few things?

I should have taken a picture of the warning label on the front–but the sign facing the corn flakes box says something about the basket being “reserved only for future HEB shoppers.” Cute, isn’t it? Of course, it’s for the wee ones, so they can shop right along with Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa.

No, we didn’t have that when I was a wee one shopping with Maw Maw O’Donnell at Schweggmann’s. I wish.

I forgot to get a picture of it, but HEB is also selling various pepper plants, including Hatch Chile peppers, for $9.98 a pot. The Hatch plants were about 2 feet high and had peppers growing on them. I didn’t buy any, but if I can get those seeds to sprout, I’ll have my own. And if they drop the price down, well, I might get one anyway.

Next: I went to town on Serve-It-Up-Sunday, where I cooked for the week. I bought three of those huge Hatch chilis:

Perfect for Texans. BIG.

Perfect for Texans. BIG.

I could have just seeded and chopped them to throw into the breakfast quiche, but I decided to roast them again. First up: cut them open and remove the seeds and ribs:

Looks like most peppers.

Looks like most peppers.

Check out how many seeds I saved from those three Hatch peppers:

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Planting!!!

I cut them flat so that they would roast nicely.

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Stuck them in the toaster oven under the broiler for a little while, until the skin starts coming off. You can also roast them over an open flame, using the burner on a gas stove or even on an enclosed barbecue grill, if you like. After a few minutes under the heat, this is what you should see:

See the skin turning white?

See the skin turning white?

The skin is starting to dry out, and that’s what you want. I don’t know how long it took, but of course, don’t walk away and forget them. This is what came out:

Neat, huh?

Neat, huh?

Let them cool completely in an enclosed dish, or plastic bag (I put my paws on this first.)

The skins will start to separate n here

The skins will start to separate in here

Once they cool off and the skin starts to sweat, they look like this:

Getting there.

Getting there.

Then you just slip the cooled flesh from the skin by hand.

The stuff on the left gets chopped and goes into the egg/milk/cheese mixture and into the slow cooker for a week of breakfast. The right side is. . .tossed, until I figure out a good use for it elsewhere.

The stuff on the left gets chopped and goes into the egg/milk/cheese mixture and into the slow cooker for a week of breakfast. The right side is. . .tossed into the trash, until I figure out a use for it.

Delicious, not hot. And about the same amount as I would get from a small can. OK, I admit, it’s the long way round. But it’s worth it.

After I roasted up the chicken leg quarters (nothing exciting) I decided it was Pesto Time again. The basil just became plentiful, particularly with the elephant-ear leaves, so I started the harvest:

I almost hated cutting this. Almost.

I almost felt guilty cutting this. Almost.

As instructed in the Green Thumb gardening lectures, I left five leaves on each one of those plants. This is what I had to work with:

Hmmm. . .think that's enough basil?

Hmmm. . .think that’s enough basil?

I did pick the bad spots out of the leaves.

I actually had enough to make a full one-cup batch, then a half-cup batch. Both went directly into the freezer.

Delicious, magic, green pesto.

Delicious, magic, green pesto.

Yeah, I’m good. Didn’t think about adding a Hatch chili though; maybe next year. Maybe I’ll get one more batch of pesto before the plants all go to sleep for the winter. Just need to head to Bed, Bath and Beyond for more of those little square glass containers I like. I used up the rest of the sage butter on two turkey thighs, so I had one free for this pesto batch. But I always hope for more. . . .

Hatch chilis aren’t around for too long, so if you’re a Hatch fan, or you’ve never tried them, get them while they’re, um, hot. Available. Around.

Happy Hatching!

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