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Twinkies–end of an era

Wow.

I read with despair the passing of the iconic Hostess Brands. While I’ve been an occasional connoisseur of Twinkies, or better, the frosted chocolate Ding Dongs, they were never a regular part of my repetoire. Admittedly, I have not touched any of them in many years, preferring the kind of thing that showed up in this article. But no, the hard-balling by arrogant union leaders and employees finally took its toll, and the owners of the Irving, TX-based company shut the entire company down, being unable to handle an extended strike. Approximately 18,300 employees will be quickly laid off and on unemployment, just like me.

Smooth move, Ex-lax.

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. And not the way you wanted it.

So now, what happens to the millions of Americans who are lost without Twinkies, Hostess’ most popular item?

What REAL Americans have ALWAYS done: make it yourself.

You might be asking, how do I do that? Roll up your sleeves, get your apron on, get suited up, booted up and into your kitchen! YES!! Make your own Twinkies. Just like your grandparents would. Heck, other countries don’t know what it is to buy them at a convenience store, so they won’t know what they’re missing. You do, and it’s now within your control to have them yourself.

Granted, you won’t have the opportunity to pick them up at the store whenever you want them, and you will have to work for it, but what would you rather–no Twinkies at all?

One thing I credit Rachael Ray for is reminding viewers that when you make dinner at home, you can control the quality of the ingredients. For instance: if you find canned soup too salty, and the lower sodium version lacking in more than just salt, making your own soup solves that problem. Make sense?

OK, back to the Twinkies–I have not tried this myself, nor am I likely to try it. But for those who are suffering because of the lack of Twinkies, I have found you a recipe for the real thing, DIY Twinkies.

Here’s another way to do it, with a DIY Twinkie baking kit from Amazon.com. No, I’m not an affiliate member. (Yet.)

It is very likely that Hostess Brands will sell off the recipes and names to other bakeries. Probably a competitor like Little Debbie of Tennessee, or the multinational Bimbo, (pronounced “BEEM-bo”) since they seem to own every other bakery operation, including Mrs. Bairds, which *used* to be a Texas company. If Bimbo gets ahold of them (and they likely will, cheaply, since Hostess will likely go to Chapter 7, liquidation) then you could see the beloved Twinkies returned to store shelves soon. This is simply speculation on the part of HeatCageKitchen; I have no personal knowledge of such an acquisition.

If you are in a baking mood, may I also suggest picking up the books by BabycakesNYC, a well-loved vegan/allergy free bakery in New York with branches in Orlando and Los Angeles. Their stuff is good and a lot healthier, but so delicious you’d never realize it.

On page 88 of the first book, Babycakes, there is a recipe called “Healthy Hostess,” which is a vegan/allergy-free version of the Hostess Cupcake, complete with frosting.

On page 80 of the second book, Babycakes Covers the Classics, there is a recipe for Sno Balls. You could do worse.

Granted, when you start doing healthier versions, the ingredients can be more expensive–but, as author Erin McKenna points out, so are the heart attacks you get from the “standard” ingredients, like white sugar and white flour. If you already have someone in your household who is allergic, then you’re already buying them. Learn to use them.

It may be the end of one era, but you can still have your Twinkies and eat them too.

If I hear of anything good coming out of this, I’ll let you know. I hate to see sugar junkies in sudden withdrawal. But for now, at least, you can buy what’s left for a fortune on Ebay or bake your own for as long as you want them.

Happy Dining!

Turkey–The Big Chicken

Ok, Thanksgiving is next week.

Are you ready?

Are you having a big family dinner, or just a small gathering?  Are you cooking the whole traditional turkey-and-trimming meal, or are your guests bringing the sides and desserts? Or are you a guest somewhere else at Thanksgiving, looking for something to bring?

If you make reservations for Thanksgiving, or go to your local deli to get your holiday meals, this column is not for you. Ditto if you go to Wal-Mart and buy something from the freezer case called Thanksgiving in a Box. Ugh.

This post is for those who want to make a real, home-made turkey for Thanksgiving. It’s very possible, and easier than you think.

Until 2004, I made an effort to spend Thanksgiving in New Orleans with my family. Things changed, and Katrina blew New Orleans around. That year, 2005, my religious group’s neighborhood district leaders announced that they would have a Thanksgiving Day activity for anyone who wanted to attend, and we could cook stuff at their house. The hosts, a husband and wife with 3 children, are from Taiwan, and wanted to host it for folks who weren’t going anywhere, or were too far away from their families to visit.

It’s also a great opportunity to have a little culinary cultural diversity. With members from Japan, China, Latin American and occasionally Europe or the Middle East, along with “regular American” folks, you never know what’s going to show up for dinner. And that’s part of the fun.

So I asked, “Who’s cooking the turkey?” The husband responded, “We don’t know how to cook turkey.” I stuck my foot in it and volunteered.

Then I got home and realized what I did. AAAAAAHH!!!

Being the owner of a *number* of cookbooks, I consulted the ones I had and did a little searching online. And I realized that a turkey isn’t a big deal. It just takes a while. And once I learned how it’s done now, it was simple.

Like a lot of things, I didn’t exactly learn this growing up.

My mother always cooked it at 200F for six to eight hours. You have to “kill all the bacteria.” I know this because one year I had this idea that I would bring dessert packed in an ice chest in components (pie crust, filling, etc.) and bake it at Mom’s It’s a 6-hour drive from my front door to theirs, plus preparation.

I *thought* we could finish it and bake the pie early in the morning, but NOOOOOO!!!  Why? Because Mom bakes the darn turkey all day. It’s kind of like turkey jerky, so you *have* to put gravy on it. I don’t like gravy (the one thing I left off my earlier post on Stuff I Hate.) The pie crust was hastily rolled out and baked immediately upon my arrival, and the pie left to cool overnight. (I can’t remember anyone touching it anyway, so why did I bother?)

Listen up–it’s not that difficult to roast a turkey. Nor is it that ridiculous. But over the years, people keep on doing things “the way it’s always been done,” never considering an alternative. Not only do you get a boring Thanksgiving (or other holiday meal), you’re inefficient as well. This is particularly true in New Orleans–sorry, but it’s the truth. That’s why I live in Texas.

Anyway. . . .

Let me (pardon the pun) boil this down for you. Roasting a turkey is really no different than roasting a chicken. If you roast a chicken at 350 for an hour or so, why would it be any different than roasting a turkey, except for longer?

Listen to me: your Thanksgiving turkey is simply a Big Chicken. Got that? It’s a BIG CHICKEN.

Are you afraid of a chicken?

Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing to be afraid of. If you are that afraid of a turkey, get one ready made. Just know that it will not be nearly as good as one you made yourself–I know this personally.

A couple of years after our first “Buddhist Thanksgiving,” the hostess unknowingly invited one of my coworkers, who had no idea I could cook. Two weeks later at the department holiday luncheon, this same coworker told anyone who would listen that she had some of my Thanksgiving turkey two weeks prior, and it was completely different from the Kroger turkey we were having. Not that the Kroger turkey was bad, mind you, but Amy’s homemade turkey was “so delicious” and she continually crowed about my turkey (pardon the pun) to anyone within earshot.

This, of course, made me a very happy cat. Complete with the Cheshire grin.

In recent years, the Thanksgiving open house has moved to someone else’s house. A single woman. Who is vegetarian. No kidding. But she doesn’t mind turkey in her house. Just not COOKED in her house, which is what I did last year. Brought my roaster over there, plugged it into the laundry room socket, and left to finish other stuff. I can do it all at my place this year, then transport it a few miles away, since I’m driving a small pickup and it has to rest for a bit anyway. And the turkey roaster, which is a cross between a toaster oven and a crock pot, makes it easy.

Now, punning again, let’s talk turkey.

These “big chickens” are generally sold between 12 and 14 pounds, but larger turkeys are available. You must thaw them either in cold water (for hours) or in the fridge, on a cookie sheet or big baking tray, at the bottom of the fridge for up to 5 days. This is not the time to leave it out on your counter. Seriously. You could have a bunch of really sick people on your hands, since it takes so long to thaw. Botulism/salmonella puts a big damper on a holiday dinner.

I’ve personally roasted a few 20 pound turkeys, and it’s just a matter of leaving them in the oven longer. The only fear you should have is that of dropping a 20 pound frozen bird on your foot. THAT, my friend, is a justified concern, and a possible trip to an ER right before a holiday.

Of course, that’s still better than slicing your thumb wide open on a mandolin slicing onions the day BEFORE Thanksgiving (while on the phone with an older matron aunt) so you can brine the turkey. I did have help that day, who was nice enough to take care of all that while I held off the bleeding. No blood went anywhere else but into the first dishtowel I could put my hands on. And the second.

Ask Martha Stewart about holiday ER visits; she’s had a few battle-scarred holidays herself.

The general rule is at 325F or 350F, and you cook the turkey from 30 to 45 minutes per pound. Using an instant-read thermometer, the thigh meat must be 180F. However, before carving, the turkey must be removed from the oven, put in a safe spot, covered with foil and allowed to rest for 30 minutes; it will continue to cook while resting. Best to roast the bird until the thigh meat temp is 175, then remove it from the oven and cover it with foil for resting. (source: MarthaStewart.com) Therefore, a 14 pound turkey cooks in about 3 to 3.5 hours, and a 20 pound turkey, 3.5 to 4 hours (source: Butterball.com.)

Stuffing/dressing is a hotly debated topic (sorry, another pun.) The rule is this: stuffing is literally stuffed into the turkey’s cavity, increasing cooking time, possibly not completely cooking. Dressing is cooked completely and separately in a baking dish, and can go into the oven after the turkey is removed and resting (just don’t turn the oven off.) There are advantages to both, but I rather prefer the dressing route, just to be safe; it’s also easier.

A great suggestion from Rachael Ray a few years ago was to put stuffing into muffin tins and bake it that way. No kidding, she called it Stuffin’ Muffins. I did that a few years ago and it went over well. Perfect single servings, and everyone gets lots of the hot crunchy part. Perfect! Easy to do, too.

Another Rachael Ray suggestion for emergencies: if you don’t thaw the turkey on time, you can cook a turkey in 90 minutes. How? Halve it and cook it that way. No kidding. Spatchcocking, it’s called–cut it in half and roast it flat on a baking sheet. I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure it would work. I’d go to 350F, which is where I normally cook them anyway, and make sure the thigh meat is at least 175F, and let it rest for 30 minutes covered in foil in a safe place.

The “safe place” is anywhere it won’t get bothered, knocked to the floor, messed with, or pulled off the counter by little children. No fun here, please be safe, it’s easy to let safety slip by when you’re busy with a holiday dinner.

Additionally, in the new Barefoot Contessa book Foolproof, she has a recipe called “Accidental Turkey.” A friend of Ina’s put the oven on 425F and forgot to turn it down ten minutes later. The place filled with smoke, but the turkey was moist and delicious afterwards. The way it works is this: roast it for 45 minutes at 450, then lower it to 325F, and roast for another hour, until the thigh meat registers 180F. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. There’s a little more to it than that (seasonings, mostly) but you get the idea. Make sure your oven is VERY CLEAN if you do this one!

In my experience, a brined turkey is incredibly flavorful, and when roasted, will fall off the bone, no carving necessary. (This is good because I can never get those silly little slices done correctly, and I prefer thighs anyway.) Brining takes a little more time and work, but is TOTALLY worth the effort.

Repeat after me:  It’s a big chicken.  See? It’s gonna be OK.

Now what do you want with it? In my earlier post, I mentioned the most incredible cranberry sauce there is, which you can make a couple of days in advance. Make one batch and and see if you like it before Thanksgiving; if not, well, there are always alternatives. (Every time I make it I get requests/demands for the recipe.)

Do a search. Start with famous chefs, like Martha Stewart and Ina Garten, or try FoodNetwork.com, Cooking.com, RealSimple.com, AllRecipes.com, or any one of the myriad of cooking websites out there. It’s not like you’re getting advice off the street, OK? Well, maybe you are. . .sorta. . .just make sure your source is a good one.

To be safe, don’t go too far off the beaten path with lots of new or unusual recipes. If there is one really wild thing you want to try, just do ONE, say a new pie, and make the rest of your dishes familiar ones, even if you use a slightly new or somewhat different version of it.

For instance–holidays in my family are always Waldorf Salad. Know what? I like Waldorf Salad anytime, and I can make it and eat it anytime I want. Keep your Waldorf Salad, or add/have a pasta salad this year–and use tortellini if you’re feeling adventurous. If you *must* have rice pilaf, keep it and add this delicious (and vegetarian) quinoa/butternut squash pie as another side dish. (Made that one last year for the veggie hostess, went over well, and again for the department luncheon. Then again just for myself.)

What about a different version of your favorite dessert, or perhaps an alternate? If you always have pumpkin pie, why not have a fruit cobbler or crostata too?

Here’s a quick and tasty dessert I want to try soon. Sur la Table featured it on the front cover of one of their recent catalogs to advertise their professional-grade cake pans.

Really–enjoy your Thanksgiving meal, but don’t bore everyone with the same predictable menu year after year. Try a little something different, just one. Classic side dishes are great, but there’s nothing wrong with shaking them up a little and turning up the volume, too.

And remember–TURKEY IS A BIG CHICKEN.

Let me know if you have any questions, but hurry up–Thanksgiving is next week!

The Barefoot Contessa In Houston!

More than ten years after being introduced to the simple but elegant food style of Ina Garten, a/k/a The Barefoot Contessa, I got to meet her today at the Sur la Table in Rice Village. It’s the same place I got to meet Giada de Laurentiis twice before (including in April of this year), and they know what they’re doing when a celebrity chef comes to visit.

It was a pretty homogeneous crowd, about 2/3 women, 1/3 men. When you’re in line to do something like that, you’re among friends. Mostly. I thought I was going to finish reading my first John Grisham novel, The Partner, but not until later. (It’s an awesome book, BTW; someone gave it to me on Saturday.)

I mentioned to Susan, the lady in front of me, that I went to a book signing with Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, on 11/2. My goodness, the look I got! Susan turned up her nose and let me know that she does NOT like Ree or her show, or her cookbooks. So I was exactly right, at least in this case, when I told Ree’s driver that Ree isn’t a River Oaks/Galleria kind of celebrity. Conservative type cooking shows aren’t popular in the fancier part of Houston. A cooking show about a adorable happily married couple, with their own four children, live on a ranch, home school their kids and produce cattle that eventually become their Tartare and Steak au Poivre. But in the ‘burbs, like the Pearland Sam’s Club, Ree gets more appreciation. Nevermind that she was an LA gal for many years.

Ok, back to Ina Garten. She looks just like she does on TV. Very nice lady, pretty, too, and she does have freckles.

As usual, the Sur La Table staff was serving up bites made from recipes in the new book, and I managed to get five bite sized nibbles of the Chocolate Chunk Blondies (page 205) Also tried the Couscous with Peas & Mint, which surprises you with the mint. Being a recently converted fan to hummus (not so much lemon that it screams at you), I enjoyed the sample of the Tuscan Mashed Chickpeas (page 42), which may show up on Thanksgiving, too. It’s really good, but it’s not *exactly* like hummus.

I should have left home earlier, but I got as much chance as anyone to meet Ina, and they were moving us pretty fast. Maybe it’s the East Hampton time thing, but Ina arrived an hour early and Sur la Table started immediately. No questions, just “Hi, I’m Amy,” she signed her new book Foolproof, and you moved on. There were a LOT of people there! I did manage to tell her that I can roast a turkey because of her books and advice. (More in my turkey post, coming soon.)

I have all of Ina’s books, but only brought one other to be autographed, the first one. (More would have been freight hauling!) However, one of Ina’s assistants had signed bookplates and handed me a few for the others, because she was only had time to sign Foolproof. I thanked her and moved on so the gentlemen behind me could have their chance.

The pictures of me (hint: red hair) were actually taken by a Sur la Table employee, who was nicely doing them for everyone. Admittedly, I look bad in one or two of them, mostly because of the bag I was carrying–it pushed the shirt forward and made me look. . .oh, nevermind.

I got to meet The Barefoot Contessa!!!

I’ve already decided that I will be making Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes, from Barefoot  Contessa At Home, (page 144) partly because of the vegetarians that will be in attendance, but mostly because it’s REALLY good. I’m also considering the “Accidental Turkey” recipe from Foolproof, because it looks really easy. And maybe, just maybe. . .I’ll show up with two more Apple Crostatas from Barefoot Contessa Parties! I brought those to a birthday party once at the request of the honoree, and one guest told me, “Don’t tell my wife–I ate five pieces!” It’s that good.

Now that it’s a bit chilly, I may make a big pot of BC Chicken Chili from Parties,, which is delicious but isn’t the same as the “chili” you’re used to, and more of the lentil stuff for me. I MUST try that new Chicken with Wild Mushrooms recipe from Foolproof, and maybe roast sausages with grapes, too.  I MUST make the new Chocolate Cassis Cake for Christmas, and some of the new Chocolate Chunk Blondies for any special activity I can find. (READ: excuse.)

Many thanks to Sur la Table in River Oaks for having yet another great celebrity chef come to Houston and visit with the peeps. It’s greatly appreciated, and we await the next personality we can’t wait to meet. (Pictures are here.)

Happy Dining!

Stuff I hate (and won't eat)

I’ve told you about things I LIKE to eat, but I think it’s time to talk about what I DON’T like. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’m sure someone will bring the thing I don’t like, but on a day to day basis, I eat what I like and eschew everything else.

“Eschew” means to reject. No pun intended. But seriously folks. . . .

Yes, though it seems I will eat anything, there are some things I won’t–or will do so just to be polite but never enjoying it. (Exception: soy, because I’m allergic, more later.)  I admit to being a bit heavy on the salt sometimes, but at the table after I’ve tried a bite. Lately I think most anything needs a bit more salt, but that’s probably just me.

Make no mistake, there are some things in this world that I do not like to eat, so here we go.

Candied Sweet Potatoes. At Thanksgiving, one thing I won’t eat is anything that combines sweet potatoes and brown sugar, marshmallow and/or pineapple. “Candied,” they call it. I call it something else less polite. Yes, it’s a “southern tradition,” but you know what?  I, too, grew up in the south, and we never had that abomination. Absolutely disgusting. You can have mine.

You want good sweet potatoes? Roast them like you would white ones until they’re soft, cut them open while hot, put real butter and salt in the flesh and mix. Want something fancier? Here you go. And use regular or smoked paprika, if you don’t want it hot (and I don’t.)

  • Canned sweet potatoes. Equally dreadful stuff. Save it for the fallout shelter.

Liver. What can I say? It tastes awful no matter what you do to it. Know what a liver is for? The defense rests.

Kidney. See Liver, above.

Eggplant. My mother used to do all kinds of things to eggplant to make them taste like food. They don’t. I once made an eggplant lasagna. What a waste of cheese. Eggplant Parmesan is slightly passable, because there is enough other stuff on it to kill the taste of the eggplant. Keep that slimy, fish-gut-like Baba Ganoush on YOUR side of the table please; I’ll have the hummus.

Chayote squash/mirlitons. In Texas and the west, they’re called chayote squash or Mexican pears. (Like Mexico has its own pear as France does, right?)  In New Orleans, you will find them called “mirlitons” (locals pronounce it “melitons”) growing in backyards. Nobody knows how they got there, they just grow on the fence. My parents were the recipients of endless paper grocery bags of those hard green things “because they had four kids.” (In other words, nobody else wanted them either.)  I always thought they would eventually ripen and turn another color, like say, tomatoes. Nope. They are also tasteless and useless, unless you’re trying to break a window. Try as one might, one cannot make them taste like manna from heaven. No, I never tried to, because I hate them.

My grandmother once made stuffed mirlitons, cutting them in halves like avocados and making a meat/rice stuffing that used the flesh taken out of the shells. I ate them because the meat/rice part of the stuffing was really good. Otherwise, it was that waste-of-space green thing that grows in the backyards of relatives. We were required to eat them no matter what. But I bet my parents haven’t seen one in years. . . .

Beets. My parents LOVED these icky, red-bleeding root vegetables out of a can. YUCK. About ten years ago I made a chopped salad for a Thanksgiving week get-together and it involved roasting red beets. This was from Martha Stewart Living, no less, so I did everything to spec. Everybody told me how delicious the salad was. Then I took a bite of it. First words out of my mouth were, “Oh, God, this is awful!” Boy did I get some funny looks that day. But it’s because I really don’t like beets, and I never will.

  • I recently went to a very nice dinner buffet, and the salad was gorgeous. I picked up what I thought was mango. Nope–yellow beets. AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!

Soy. Let me say up front that I discovered in recent years that I am allergic to soy. But when I moved to Houston, I found stuff in the regular grocery store that you could only find in far-flung tiny health food stores in New Orleans (back when the Internet was just getting started as a shopping medium.)  I found soy milk and dried soy beans with recipes right on the package! I started having soy milk daily and vegan soybean chili for lunch.

Any Texan will tell you that you do NOT put beans in chili under any circumstances.

I have tried soy-derived fake dairy and tofu-based meat-alike products as well, in order to eat “low calorie” and “healthy.” Know what? I kept eating that stuff thinking it was good for me. It wasn’t.  And the veggie crowd keeps telling me it so healthy!  NOT.

Beans, beans, good for your heart. . . and I’ll leave it at that. You do NOT want to be standing behind me in line, OK? It’s that bad. That’s how I eventually realized that I’m allergic to soy (which is why you shouldn’t stand too close if I’ve eaten it) and it’s what made me increasingly hypothyroid as well. Don’t insist that I eat soy, because I will not. Ditto for soy milk; almond milk is so much better.

Potted Meat. The salty stuff with the pate-like consistency does not hide the fact that this is a product similar to Spam. Unless there is an emergency, such as a tornado, hurricane, or other disaster, I’m leaving this stuff alone.

Spam. See Potted Meat, above.

Tuna. Having been a cat parent for nearly 20 years, I have inhaled my share of cat food aromas. I grew up eating tuna fish salad, but  at some point as an adult, I became intolerant of tuna. I have bought it on occasion for my elderly cat to try to get him to eat; he has since passed on, but even he wouldn’t eat it.

I believe all tuna sold in the United States should be clearly marked as CAT FOOD. Sorry, but that’s what it tastes like, no matter how much mayonnaise and other stuff you glop into it.  Segway into. . . .

Sushi and other Japanese foods. I’ve been around Japanese people for 26 years, and I love ’em. But I did *not* take to the cuisine the way others have. I once met a friend in New Orleans for lunch on a visit, and we ended up at a Japanese restaurant. She told me what to order, and I kept sticking it with the chopsticks to make sure it was dead. I believe any raw  fish bait should be on a hook at the end of a fishing line, not decorated with rice and called an “entree.”

  • Green Tea. Go mow the lawn and brew the grass clippings in hot water. Same thing.

Cabernet Sauvignon. I like wine, but I don’t drink it too often. I just don’t. I have a wine bar that’s loaded. But much as I’ve tried, I don’t like this stuff. For red, I like Merlot or Shiraz or Red Truck’s red table wine. In white, I’ll take a Reisling, Chardonnay, maybe a white Zinfadel (which is actually pink, for some reason.) But Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like Balsamic vinegar drunk straight from the bottle. Would you do that? Me either.

Pinot Grigio. Tastes like the grape juice went bad. Mold optional.

Persimmons. Thankfully, these beautifully deceptive fruits are not available all the time; not that I’ve seen, anyway. I’ve had them just once, at a Buddhist activity where they were served after the meeting was over on New Year’s Day. UGH. I had to be nice to the Japanese ladies, I didn’t want to be rude. But no more of these things for me. It was so bad it seared away the memory.

Cream of Mushroom/Chicken/whatever soup. Don’t get me wrong, I like soup. Especially a good home-made soup. Canned soup isn’t bad under certain circumstances, like you’re way too sick to cook. But at some point in the mid-20th Century, it became a commonplace thing to add a can of cream of something to a dish to make it do something else. I am not one of those people who believes a can of cream of something will improve a dish. And I do NOT want it in my pantry.  Which leads me to. . . .

Casseroles. My mother used to boil some shell pasta, put some gravy in it, throw some cheese on top, bake it for an hour and call it a “casserole.” I was never sure exactly what that word meant, especially when I left home to marry and cook on my own.  However, other interpretations include the aforementioned tuna (a/k/a “cat food”), beef, chicken, liver, and a thousand other various ingredients.

I have a rule: I do not cook, bake or create anything called “casserole.” I don’t care how good it looks, I don’t *do* casserole.

  • Green bean casserole. A big deal at the holidays, I have yet to find a good recipe for this that is not similar in texture to sherbet mixed into punch. I’m not in a hurry, either.

Jello. Ah, the edible rubber of youth. Included in every church social and holiday dinner I can remember. (Now the bane of hospital and nursing home food as well.) Shaped in Bundt pans and things called “Jello molds,” with canned fruit cocktail thrown in the bottom, its ubiquitous texture and potent artificial color now nauseates me. You can have it, and those desserts made with Cool Whip mixed with Jello. I’ll make my own fresh gelatine desserts from scratch. (Here’s a real tasty one.)

Cool Whip/Reddiwip. OK, these are two entirely different products, but they are intended as dessert toppings. Why does dessert HAVE to have a topping? If it does, why must it be loaded with petrochemicals? Cool Whip is “non-dairy,” but it’s not “healthy” by any means. If you’re going to have some delicious ripe strawberries, why not just put some whipped motor oil on top? It’s nearly the same thing–hydrogenated vegetable oil.

You pay $3.50 for some beautiful ripe Texas-grown strawberries, or worse, gorgeous, red raspberries, and you put *that* stuff on top? Shame on you.

Reddiwip is cream in a can, but. . .how natural is it? It does have real cream, as well as sugar and corn syrup, “natural and artificial flavors,” plus a propellant to “whip” it and get it out of there. Is it that much trouble to whip your own REAL cream fresh, whenever you want some? They sell it in little bitty containers, folks. Get out your hand mixer or whisk and get moving.

Margarine. For the same reasons as I don’t want Cool Whip and Reddiwip, I don’t mess with margarine. I grew up on Parkay Margarine, and later, we had Diet Parkay. When I married, I bought the same thing. Then one day I was introduced to real butter and never looked back. Always unsalted butter, since salt can ruin your cake frosting.

Jello-style canned cranberry sauce. Having made the most incredible cranberry sauce ever for a few years now, I do not see any justification for buying this. It’s sold all year around, but. . .why? Here’s a quick, easy cranberry sauce that will knock your socks off, using minimal tools and time. First time I made it, folks were licking the hot pan clean. For a crowd, better make at least a double batch. It’s sweet, then it whacks you upside your head.  It’s THAT good.

Sherbet in punch. A few years ago I found a really good punch recipe that everyone at work liked, and was simple to do at the office. Eventually, I became known for this punch and where I ordered the cakes for retirement and other parties. One day a very nice lady said to me, “For a baby shower, you could put a quart of sherbet in it.”

YUCK.

Much as I admire this lady, that was one awful suggestion! I’ve had that before–thick, viscous and cloyingly sweet. If you’re going to have punch, have punch. If you’re going to have sherbet, have it. Don’t mix the two, that’s disgusting.

Boiled cabbage. Stinks up you and the house. DAYS before either smell goes away. Fresh raw coleslaw is better. Make your own.

French’s fried onions in a can. Eeeeewwww!!! Don’t even want to KNOW what’s in those. Perfect for the top of the green bean casserole that I won’t mess with.

Yogurt. I gave up most dairy a few years ago. I confess, I used to eat the little fruity yogurt cups. When I started looking at the calorie counts, sugar grams, and additives, I decided ice cream was a better option–especially when I found that some ice creams have HALF the sugar of the allegedly “healthy” yogurt. Besides, wouldn’t YOU rather eat ice cream?

If the yogurt goes bad, how will we know? Fruit, lots of sugar and other additives are there to kill the taste of the yogurt. Eat ice cream, for Pete’s sake!

Well, that’s enough for tonight. More as I think of it, but this is a pretty good start. Actually, I think it’s most of the stuff I don’t like. There’s a lot of stuff I do like, it’s just that this is a good list of stuff I don’t.

Next post will be all about roasting your Thanksgiving turkey so that you will be giving thanks to ME for telling you how to do it. If you are intimidated by the idea of the turkey, I will help you get over that and happily await any opportunity to have a turkey.

And as always, you’re welcome to comment, just be nice, please. What don’t you like to eat?
Happy dining!

Oh, grow a pear!

Many years ago, I was up to my ears in it–work, college, and an impending wedding. I had a lot going on. The groom was away a lot, and it was my birthday in the middle of the week. I didn’t get around to a birthday cake, but I did have something special: a big, ripe, green avocado, sprinkled with sea salt. That’s all it needed.

I waited a couple of days to eat it, to make sure it was ready. It was. At my little dining table, all by myself, with my felines wondering what I was doing and what that smell was.

It was SOOOOOO good. Soft. Creamy. Tasty. Full of fresh, green flavor. With salt.

I only looked up the calorie count a couple of days later. I would have consumed less calories with a slice of cake, but that’s OK. Worked for me!

I had a similar, albeit lower-calorie, experience this week.

Pears are a nice, lesser-loved second cousin to apples. Some folks like them, some don’t. Pears are available in pear brandy and pear balsamic vinegar.  But apples and oranges are more popular. But if you ask most folks what their favorite fruit is, you likely won’t hear “pear” out of too many of them.

Pears deserve respect.

On Sunday, while stocking up on some economy-size supplies at Central Market, I prowled through the produce section last, because I knew what I wanted and I got it first. Now, sometimes they have non-standard things, like truffle mushrooms (at about $250 a pound, no kidding), Italian cipollini onions and Meyer lemons. Central Market is a Texas haven for unusual and hard-to-find ingredients. But of course they have those right next to the regular onions, sweet potatoes, lemons, limes and grapefruit.

This is nirvana for a foodie like me.

Pears are in season, and while you can get them all year long (fresh or in cans), when pear- based desserts show up, it’s usually fall and the holidays. I like pears, but I don’t buy them often, I guess because I don’t want them to go to waste. They’re a bit like strawberries, you can’t keep them fresh or in the fridge too long.

But this particular beautiful Sunday, after an encouraging religious activity, I found this baby in Central Market:

First view of big pear

Look how beautiful. . .a burnished red and twice the size you normally see.

Is that not the most beautiful pear ever? Check out its closeup:

A closer shot of the big pear

Perfection on a stem.

I couldn’t get a good shot of the ruler, but off the stem, it’s about 6″ long. I took my tape measure and also got the girth, which was 11.5″. That’s right, it was just under one foot around the middle and just under 6″ in length.

That’s a big, honkin’ Texas-sized pear. Nearly twice the size of your standard grocery store pears. (Grown in the USA, of course.)

Never having seen one that big before, I got one. JUST one. They were $1.99 a pound, and, well, it was just over $2. A little splurge.

I put it out to ripen a little, and, well, yesterday I couldn’t wait. I got a big knife and diced it all up in large chunks after cutting out the central seed and stem. I ate this beautiful creation as is, raw, with nothing on it–no sugar, sweetener, or spices. I consumed it as Mother Nature intended.

I should have waited a couple more days.

Not quite softened, and not as sweet as it could have been, but it was still pretty darn tasty.

Now, if pears are your thing, and you want a nice little dessert for pears, here’s one called Chocolate Pear Pudding that’s easy to make and uses canned pears and other pantry ingredients. I’ve made it a few times and folks love it; it always disappears.

Yes, at Bootcamp I had amazing, beautiful, and delicious postage-stamp sized desserts–tiramisu, passionfruit creme brulee, apple walnut tarts and chocolate ganache tarts, all the size of a tablespoon. And then the artfully decorated cupcakes at the end of the conference. I’ve had cheesecakes of many kinds, a myriad of birthday and wedding cakes, bad fruitcake, good fruitcake (my mother used to make enviously delectable ones, so I never understood the bad fruitcake jokes) and the occasional Hubig’s pies (though not in many years.) Nevermind the cookies, the biscottis I’ve baked, or bought and dunked in coffee at Starbucks, tea cakes, and of course, muffins that someone brought to the office with blueberries from the farm (yes, you, Aunt Ruth.)

But sometimes, all it takes is something simple like a small container of sweet berries, a fresh pineapple, a crisp, striped apple, or a big, ripe pear to really hit the spot.

Happy Dining!

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