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The slightly late catch-up post

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

Well, I’m sorry it’s been 11 days since my last dispatch. I’ve been busy, and not on foodie things. I’ve got three posts in the draft folder that are waiting for me to do research, one involves chatting with a friend of Neighbor E.  I’m getting there.

Friend of the blog AC came over again last night. She was having a bad day, and I pretended to be mad that she was “late.” I wasn’t really mad, and she wasn’t really late. I’d done so much tidying up yesterday, and she’d taken a wrong turn somewhere, hence her thinking that she was “late.” I actually finished everything, and I was ready to start ironing if she didn’t show up soon, just to keep the housekeeping momentum going for a while. I fixed a holder she has for her Windows phone, it’s sort of a frame that clips on to her belt. One of the corners broke, and I repaired it with the single girl’s new BFF: Gorilla Glue. I think the holder may out last the phone, but we’ll see.

Neighbor E gave me this item the other day, because it was sprouting. Care to guess what it is?

It's ALIVE!

It’s ALIVE!

No, it’s nothing bad–this isn’t Huffington Post, you know. I’ll give you a hint: it’s on my list stuff I hate and won’t eat.

Give up? It’s a big, red BEET. Yuck. Neither E nor I like them, but guess what? AC loves beets–so I will attempt to grow it for her.

Looking for the beet thing, I also found this article on 15 different veggies you can re-grow like I’ve done with celery, lettuce and green onions.  I still have a little lettuce that I will cut and eat soon, but the GER reminds me that lettuce is a winter crop, so I don’t know how long it will keep growing back. Cilantro, unfortunately, doesn’t grow well here in south Texas, and I’ve tried, because I love cilantro, too. Anyway. . . .

We had some chili I made in the Crock Pot (nothing to write home about) and Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Olive Oil cake, made with SomerSweet. Gluten free AND sugar free, and it came out just right.  The chili recipe called for  <cough> beans and a 12 ounce bottle of light beer. I really didn’t want a six-pack, and wondering where I could buy one 12 ounce light beer to add to the pot. And then it hit me:

Beer. Is. Made. From. Wheat.

That little item would really invalidate my otherwise gluten-free dinner. So I used chicken broth, and added a half-cup of wine and a couple shakes of Chipotle Tabasco. I’m thinking next time, add 12 ounces of red wine, and a shake or two of Chipotle Tabasco. Although that might change the low carb nature of the chili. . .or, maybe I’ll never make it again.

Well, anyway. . . .

Texas, and particularly Houston, has had some wonky weather lately, as you may have heard, but we’ve had no flooding in my neck of the woods. (The mosquitoes are readying their ambush.) I almost feel guilty when I escape a disaster like that, having been through it a few times, because I know that someone else took the brunt of it.

I haven’t forgotten the recent pictures of terrified horses being led through the deep flood waters to safety at the hands of helpful, concerned horsey-loving Texans. I’m a cat person down to the bone, but I would certainly be happy to help out a horse who needed a way out of the water.

The north side of Houston got hit again overnight, but down here in the Clear Lake area, there was some rain falling down in the HeatCageKitchen garden. I’ve only been out on the bike a couple of times recently, preferring to stay in and use the kettle bells, and binge-watching either Hot In Cleveland (all of them, again) or my newest discovery from PBS, an Australian production called Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. It stars a gorgeous actress named Essie Davis (I know, who?) and an ensemble cast that brilliantly brings the stories to life, much like they do in Sherlock. I don’t know why I’m interested in mystery-police-drama kinds of things, but I am. This one is about a “lady detective” in the 1920’s in Melbourne, Australia, complete with jazz music, fabulous fashion, a fancy motorcar and a very nice house with servants.

There is the final season of the BBC police drama New Tricks I haven’t seen yet, and the library has it, I just have to order it. While the Houston PBS station runs season 1 of this Aussie jewel, I am binge-watching season 2, thanks to the Harris County Library System. I even checked, and the Jefferson Parish Library System in Metairie, LA has the Aussie series, and I’ve informed two member friends there that they should request the DVDs and watch. A bit R-rated, so it’s not for kids, but if you like that sort of thing, find Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and try to watch them in order, if you can. (Don’t forget about inter-library loans–ask, and you shall, eventually, receive.)

Last weekend was our monthly district meeting, and I asked LK if she’d like me to bring anything; she said, “if you want to.” So I baked up the Lemon-Poppyseed Tea Cake from the first Babycakes book, only to find out LK doesn’t like lemon as much. (Sorry about that.) Well, everyone else enjoyed it! However, something weird happened when I baked it this time, not sure how. What came out of the pan looked lovely:

Lemon Poppyseed Tea Cake from Babycakes

Lemon Poppyseed Tea Cake from Babycakes

Unfortunately, it overflowed the pan five or ten minutes after I put it into the oven, giving me a real hot mess:

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Fortunately, I put the baking sheet under it, since it looked a little full. I ate the stuff that baked onto the pan, which was about the top third.

Turns out there were only five of us in attendance, but that’s OK, LK had. . .watermelon. YUM. I had plenty of that, and LK gave me some to bring home, as well. It didn’t last long, as you might imagine. And the husband and wife who made it five attendees appreciated the gluten-free, agave-sweetened cake that wouldn’t knock his blood sugar.

OK, speaking of the garden. . .our monthly gardening lecture last week was cancelled due to some really bad weather that blew through. I was kind of glad, because I didn’t want to go out in it, but I missed the topic of Plants of the Bible. Oh, well. But the HeatCageKitchen garden benefits from all the rain, with a few tomatoes and strawberries so far. I’ve got tomato plants:

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Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Not pictured are the two SunGold plants that I got at HEB, also on sale. I’ve nibbled a few of those, since the plants were producing when I bought them. There are a couple of “racks” on both, so I’m anxiously awaiting more once I put them in a bigger pot.

The recent rains knocked off all the Key lime buds from my tree, but I found one tiny flower this morning:

ONE lime this year?

ONE lime this year?

I’ll end up with three Meyer lemons later this year:

My favorite, Meyer lemons.

My favorite, Meyer lemons.

I’ll soon harvest my garlic:

That really is garlic under there.

That really is garlic under there.

Last week, after the cancellation of the gardening lecture, I found myself on the phone to Territorial Seed Company talking to a “garlic expert” about when to harvest these babies. I’ve used up all the scapes (they were delicious) so now I just need to know when to harvest. First thing: stop watering them, so I moved the bucket to the area under the balcony so it wouldn’t rain on them anymore. She said two weeks after I stop watering (which will be next week) I should carefully dig them up with a spade, and set them somewhere to dry for a couple of weeks or so. Here’s a primer on Territorial Seed’s website; I just called so that I could get more specific information. Last time I tried to grow garlic, I got nothing, no idea why, and I don’t want to mess anything up. But soon, I’ll get some.

Next time, I’m planting more garlic. I might try it with grocery store garlic, but Territorial Seed sells many varieties of garlic, some organic, available for planting in the fall.

And by putting two strawberry plants in the hanging planter, I might actually get a few more. I’ve nibbled them one at a time so far:

Yes, those are strawberries.

Yes, those are strawberries.

The Anaheim chili pepper plant has finally passed on after one more pepper, but new bell pepper plant is growing and has flower buds, and plus there are more jalapenos popping up:

Can we call these "jalapeno poppers?"

Can we call these “jalapeno poppers?”

Check this out (no, not the Boston fern):

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That’s parsley on the left, which may be used in pesto soon.

And despite giving AC some big rosemary and sage cuttings last week, neither show any signs of slowing down:

Yes, I know I need to do some weeding. If it would ever stop RAINING for a few days.

Yes, I know I need to do some weeding. If it would ever stop RAINING for a few days.

And of course, basil, which has nearly doubled in size with all the rain:

Pesto coming!!

Pesto coming!! (Possibly with parsley added.) One of those plants is left from last year.

Longtime readers know my love of pesto, and growing basil for the sole purpose of making pesto. Well, I’ve found out how to go about growing increased amounts of the stuff. HEB has had a lot of plants marked down, and tomatoes weren’t the only thing on sale. So one more basil plant came home with me, and it even had a bit of purple basil in it.

What do I tell you about Pinterest?  You can solve many of your life’s problems with it. Pinterest can tell you how to do nearly everything, just do a search. After a lecture last year on propagating plants, I found out I could propagate basil. A quick check on Pinterest to make sure I was doing it right, (this article tells you how) and I went after it. Get a good-sized plant, cut them with a longish stem where you see little green leaves coming out, and put the clippings in water. Within a couple of weeks, roots start growing:

More!

More!

This morning I cut a few off the potted basil plant and put them in fresh water:

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Do change the water every other day.

I did not know this before. Now I do, and will continue to do this instead of fooling around with seeds and buying one plant and hoping for a miracle. Grow more basil for world peace! (I’ll let you know how it goes.)

You can propagate other plants in the same fashion. Note to the GER: are you paying attention for the Funk House/Junk House garden this year?

I also found some recent interesting things while out and about. On my last trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond a few weeks ago (I went for Neighbor R), I buzzed by the slow cookers and found Crock Pot’s new technology:

i-Stir?

i-Stir?

Seriously? It’s called iStir? Okay.  . . ever since the iPod, iPhone, iPad, new stuff has to have an “i.” At least it doesn’t hook your dinner up to your WiFi. And more from the microwave popcorn arena:

Seriously?

Seriously?

I suppose if you want one, use your coupon. . .but I’m perfectly happy with a mixing bowl and a plate on top.

I discovered a few photos on my phone that I forgot to share last time, taken during my adventure with Neighbor E. We wandered through a store called Arhaus, and, well, I’d never heard of it. (Not that it means much.) High-end home furnishings, and not the sort you’d find in IKEA, that’s for sure. Lots of chandeliers around, and lots of somewhat odd things to decorate your home. My favorite was this chandelier, called the Anabella, priced at $499 in the store and $549 online:

Yes, a very modern chandelier.

Yes, a very modern chandelier.

Now, E liked this particular setting too, but he said, “come over this way and see how the light sets everything else off.” So I did, and, well, take a look:

Yes, those are aluminum deer heads.

Yes, those are aluminum deer heads.

I like the way it looks, and I like the way the cord is covered in a nice sheer fabric. But I’m just a fan of the Magnus deer heads, that’s all.

Lastly, I will leave you with this amusing little thing, which, I believe was in my local Kroger, but I’m not 100% sure. I don’t think it was in HEB, and it’s too late for The Fresh Market (they took the sign down from outside the building last week.) But I saw it. . .somewhere. And it was too cute not to share:

Music and cheese!

Music and cheese!

Admit it, you read that with the song in your head, didn’t you?

I hope to have my regular researched posts done soon, but in the meantime, if there’s a topic you want covered, you can always email me at heatcagekitchen@gmail.com or leave a note in the comments.

It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the US, and it’s not all about cookouts, beer, and sales on mattresses and plasma TVs. If you are outside of the US, or simply unfamiliar with its origins, here’s a short primer on it. Memorial Day is a somber occasion observed to respect our war dead from all wars and conflicts. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the beginning of summer and doing the BBQ/cookout party thing, but at 3:00 pm local time, pause to remember (and maybe say a prayer, if you are so inclined) those who fought and died for the United States.

And if you are going to do a cookout, picnic, or other activity with various types of food involved, you can find food safety fact sheets here. We all like to have fun, but do factor safety into it–trips to the ER or urgent care clinic with food poisoning are NOT fun. You’ll be there with the rest of the injured people. . .for quite a while.

I hope to bring some new stuff to you next week. . .I really do. Let’s see how my week goes.

Meantime, have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend, and have some enjoyable food, too.

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

Green stuff that isn’t pesto

Hi, again, Dear Readers:

Well, spring is definitely here in south Texas, even though many folks north of the Mason-Dixon line are still holding onto their hot coffee with both hands. It’s that time of year for opening the windows or patio doors to let the fresh air in, and having dinner outside, if you have the space.

Neighbor E and I took a ride to our lovely new HEB this morning and got a few supplies we both needed. It was slim pickings in the nibbles department, so we were a bit disappointed. I mean, it’s Friday! We only had a little of the guacamole and corn chips, and at the Kitchen Connection, some cabbage, crusted fish and sauced chicken. Not bad, but not the usual stuff we find in that HEB.

After he put away his groceries and took his adorable but slightly neurotic Chihuahua Speedy for a walk, we headed over to Chipotle for some lunch. Why Chipotle? We each had a coupon for a free meal! He got tacos, I had a steak bowl, and I’m telling you. . .delicious. Wish he hadn’t offered me some of the chips. Oh, I could go back for a few bags of those–salt and vinegar–but I won’t. A couple of blocks away is one of our local post offices, where I shipped out a bag of HEB Breakfast Blend (decaf, and I ground the beans in the store) to my sainted aunt, who moved into a senior apartment building last week.

Coffee!

Coffee!

My brother bought her a new couch and a new coffee pot; her sister bought a two-chair bistro set, and someone else bought her a new mattress and box spring. I can’t do much right now, but today I sent her delicious some coffee to enjoy in her new coffee pot.

I’ve got some pictures from the garden, which didn’t go dormant much this past year, since our “winter” was pretty mild. It really was 80F on Christmas Day, pretty much the same as Melbourne, Australia–go figure. I was cooking it up in shorts and a t-shirt two days before our next cool front. But spring brings all kinds of new things, and the HeatCageKitchen garden is full of them.

Remember last year when I had an overload of Anaheim chile peppers? That could happen again this year–the tree is coming back with new growth:

That's the top, and the biggest pepper on the tree so far.

That’s the top, and the biggest pepper on the tree so far.

Speaking of peppers, these bell peppers may be as big as they’re going to get. “Baby bells?” Who knows, but they look like they’ll be ready to pick soon:

I hope they get bigger.

I hope they get bigger.

That plant may be ready to pull, but we’ll see. I went looking for another bell pepper plant this morning in HEB, and I found one. Pinot Noir Peppers!

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I don’t expect them to taste like wine, but I wouldn’t mind if they did. (No alcohol, of course.) Fingers crossed for a bumper crop of these.

The jalapeno plant is blooming again, too, but I didn’t get a picture of that. Now, I’m really hoping to have some fresh garden garlic this year, and it looks like I probably will–the garlic scapes never dried up:

Garlic!

Garlic!

Regular readers of this humble blog have long known about my love for about re-growing cuttings from grocery store produce, particularly onions. I don’t know where I got the last batch, but they’ve been real over-producers:

Green onions to your heart's content.

Green onions to your heart’s content.

Now what’s with the bulbs on the top? Flowers! No kidding.

The top of a green onion. First time that's ever happened to me.

The top of a green onion. First time that’s ever happened to me.

As many times as I’ve done this, I’ve never had them flower. Hopefully they’ll drop seeds in the soil and I’ll have onions forever.

I’ve actually eaten a couple of strawberries from the new plants, and I really need to get out there and put them in a bigger pot so I can pick them all summer:

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Ditto for the basil, which I discovered can be re-propagated by cutting parts and putting them in water, just like celery and lettuce. Oh, and look what I just found!

My first tomato!

My first tomato!

Here’s hoping these two plants are also prolific producers once I get them in a bigger growing facility.

Remember the gifted oregano plant from Neighbor R?

Fresh Oregano!

Fresh Oregano!

It’s doing pretty well since I cut it:

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Mint’s doing great too, all I need to do is make that Mojito, darnit.

Remember The Lettuce Experiment? Well. . .the stubs didn’t last long, but something strange happened. Maybe one of those heads wasn’t romaine after all, because it’s growing back differently:

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Lettuce! (Mint at the upper right.)

I haven’t tried it yet, but maybe when the sole tomato ripens. In any case, the GER reminds me that lettuce is a winter crop, so I hope it lasts.

Just above the mutant lettuce is the celery that I recently cut and used in a salmon salad.

Celery, redux

Celery, redux

Let me point out that this was was made like tuna salad, with canned salmon, boiled eggs and the like. I didn’t think to take a picture of it before I cut it, but I can tell you that the other two celery stubs that were growing well were hidden by this one, and they didn’t make it. So I have to wait until this one grows back, or maybe move it where it will get more sun. Soon as I get back in the garden and pot all the plants that are still in the tiny containers. And spray DIY weed killer.

The citrus trees are doing well. The flowers have fallen off, and the fruit buds are starting to appear. I am hoping for a bumper crop this year, and I’m diligently watering them to prevent the remaining buds from falling off. This is the biggest bud on the Meyer lemon tree:

Meyer Lemon bud

Meyer Lemon bud

I only got two of these fantastic lemons last year, so fingers crossed. This tree had 7 buds at last count, but the Key Lime tree gives me more hope:

Key limes

Key limes

Key lime buds

Key lime bud closeup (there are more buds elsewhere.)

E and I saw the citrus plants for sale today at HEB, and there were lots of buds on the Meyer Lemon plants. He doesn’t have room for one, and I’ve already got one. If I were able to buy one for a gift, the GER might have gotten one for the Funk House/Junk House back garden. (Not this time, sorry.)

Now, the Italian flat-leaf parsley has been a prolific producer, and I just cut what I want and let it grow back. It happens pretty quickly:

Italian flat-leaf parsley

Italian flat-leaf parsley

Good for all kinds of things, including pesto, either as a base herb or as an additive to the pesto if you don’t have enough basil. However, I found another use for parsley when I went looking for something to use fresh oregano for. It’s green, it requires a blender, but it is NOT pesto. Not Italian, either. But it sure is tasty.

Chimichurri Sauce.

If you’ve never heard of it, that’s OK, not everyone has. It’s green, but it’s not pesto.

Since I’m not remotely familiar with Argentinian cuisine, I’ve never had the occasion to have it. However, when I went to Pinterest to research fresh oregano recipes, that’s what kept coming up. So I made some for dinner with AC last week, drizzling the sauce of roasted chicken breasts. She said it was good, but I haven’t heard from her since. Neighbor E enjoyed it too. I like it, although admittedly, the recipe I used makes a lot of it, so I’ve put it on more stuff. Chimichurri is traditionally drizzled on steak. But it’s so good, who cares what you put it on?

This is the recipe I used, and if you’re interested, there is also a list of 20 additional ways to use it. Like pesto, it’s a raw sauce that’s versatile and adds a great flavor to whatever you put it on. If you’re one of those people who likes dipping bread in pesto or olive oil, chimichurri is a different flavor to savor.

I had regular oregano, not the spicier variety, but didn’t bother with the pepper flakes. I thought it was good enough on its own, and didn’t need it. Want to try it? I didn’t take enough pictures, but here goes.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup hot & spicy fresh oregano leaves (or regular with a large pinch of red pepper flakes)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
  • freshly ground black pepper

 

Directions:

Place all ingredients into a high-powered blender and blend until very smooth. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Use as desired.

Since I didn’t have enough parsley growing out back, I headed to my fancy HEB for a few ingredients, only to be told, “we don’t have any parsley today.” HUH? No parsley? No kidding. So after I finished my shopping, I still had to stop at Kroger to get parsley. All Kroger had was organic parsley, at $2 a bunch. I wasn’t taking any chances at a third grocery on my street, so I just got two. And I washed it really good and sliced it off the stems:

Don't chop too much, the blender will take care of most of it.

Don’t chop too much, the blender will take care of most of it. Just make sure your parsley is rinsed CLEAN.

Toss it all in the blender, no kidding, and it’s DONE:

Tah-dah!

Tah-dah!

We had chicken breasts and a nice salad with it, as well as the Cashew Bread. The next day, I used the rest of the lettuce and made a chicken salad. Just chopped up the remaining chicken breast:

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Tossed it over the salad green:

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And added more of the Chimichurri sauce.

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Whether your dinner is hot or cold, this stuff is GOOD.

Also discovered that it was time for a new gasket on the ol’ blender. It leaked despite a new cutting assembly and neck collar. The gasket was the only part I haven’t replaced yet. Well, I have now, it arrived yesterday. More karma of spare parts. I really hope that’s the last of it–I made some Pea & Pesto Soup last night, and it worked just fine, no leaking. Lesson learned: the gasket should be the *first* thing replaced if your blender is leaking, or, bought along with any additional spare parts ordered.

If I didn’t make it home safely from HEB or Trader Joe’s one day, at least all my appliances will be in good working order, right? That’s important, as the GER will tell you, when you’re having an estate sale.

If you’re considering what to have for dinner, especially if you’re cooking for more than one, consider whipping up some chimichurri sauce this evening, or this weekend for a quick flavoring for something next week. It’s fast, easy, tasty, and will give a fresh flavor to whatever you add it to or drizzle it on.

Enjoy!

Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Good evening, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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Hershey’s? Ice Cream Maker?

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

It's GOURMET.

It’s GOURMET.

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

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

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

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

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

Take a look:

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This was a cute little display:

A diorama!

A diorama!

Here’s a closeup:

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

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

Here’s another look at that eggplant:

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There are peppers of many kinds:

Sweet peppers

Sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

For the okra-loving folks.

Okra--the GER's favorite

Okra–the GER’s favorite

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

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A few shots from around the garden area:

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There’s an orchard, complete with berry bushes:

Blackberries!

Blackberries!

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

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

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

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

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

Prickly pear cactus produces fruit–did you know that?

Cactus pears, also called "Indian Fruit."

Cactus pears, also called “Indian Fruit.”

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

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Yes, those needles are indeed SHARP.

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

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

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!!

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

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

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

It's basil, but. . . .

It’s basil, but. . . .

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

AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!

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

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

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

French breakfast radishes!!

Sage and French breakfast radishes!!

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

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

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

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

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I hope to grow more and more.

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Hatch Chile Time!

Happy Sunday, Dear Readers:

Are you ready for this new week? Summer’s almost over, at least, for the upper states. Here in Texas, summer lasts until at least October. I could actually have a pool party if the weather held out that long. We’ll see. Last year I got strep throat. . .I don’t want that again.

The rains have returned to Houston this week, and while it’s not really “cool,” it is a little “less hot.” In 30 days the temperatures will go down about 10 degrees, and my plants will be happy about that.

Have you been watching Giada de Laurentiis’ new show, Giada in Italy? Giada took her daughter Jade on vacation in Positano, Italy, and they made a new series out of it. Or something like that. She’s cooking Italian food IN Italy, many with an American or California twist. Today’s show was cooking at a friend’s restaurant in the area, and there was a lot of Italian spoken while they worked. They cooked one of his signature dishes, and one of hers from her Las Vegas restaurant, plus her Sin City Cookies, also served in Vegas. Conveniently, Giada’s mother, stepfather, daughter and a couple of other close friends were there during filming, so they got a thumbs-up from everyone. Yes, Giada is waiting tables in this little place, too.

One thing Giada pointed out while she was making the cookies: chocolate chip cookies are an American creation. I knew that, of course, but she was serving them to Italians in a small town on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. There was no reaction from any of the local folks who had the cookies, but if Giada served them with her 10,000 megawatt smile, they didn’t pay much attention.

Speaking of the cookies. . .Giada used a stand mixer to make the cookie dough. . .and you know, it sure looked familiar. So I did a little clicking around, and guess what I found? Giada’s set list–and in it, no kidding, was SMEG! The stand mixer was a SMEG, but did not have the name stenciled across the side. Either they don’t sell it that way in Italy, it was specially made for Giada, or the props department removed the lettering and painted over it. But it was, indeed, a SMEG.

It’s what happens when you pay attention. Anyway. . . .

The garden’s doing OK–I’ve picked a number of Anaheim/Hatch chiles, and darnit, I found one more today while I was taking pictures. Maybe some of the grapefruit salsa will be in my future this week.

I was SO happy to be finally getting a nice looking red bell pepper, and the really hot summer got to it:

The red bell pepper that almost was.

The red bell pepper that almost was.

The big white, wrinkled spot on the right is where the sun scorched it. I did, of course, water it, but heat indexes of 121 were just too much for it. I’ve never seen that happen. So, I’ll let it ripen a bit more and see what happens next. Might be just that side–and if the rest of it is OK to use, it’ll go into a pot of chili. There are flowers on the plant, so I could see more peppers, but like anything else in a garden, you wait for it.

In addition to the peppers and the sprouting orbs of tomatoes:

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That’s actually a little red tomato, but for some reason, it looks like a double. Go figure. It’s one of the four organics I bought in the spring. There are several little green orbs, but this one. . .well, if it matures properly, I’ll happily eat it. The Sungold has about a dozen orbs, and plenty of flowers behind them. Sungold is a prolific-producing hybrid, and it’s been the one I’ve picked most often this summer. The Cherokee Purple and Chocolate Cherry haven’t done anything but sprout more leaves, so I guess it’s done–but I’ll wait and see on them, too.

Both basil plants are growing back nicely:

Basil, celery and. . .weeds.

Even if the new organic shoots are taking their sweet old time:
IMG_2271[1]

If it nets me one or two more pots of pesto, it’s worth the wait. Fingers crossed.

The citrus trees are doing well; the Key Lime tree has several orbs that should be ready for picking at some point in the next month or two; there were even some new flowers on it this week. But the Meyer Lemons are still a complete mystery:

IMG_2277[1]

They just sit there, not growing, just sitting there.

I have no idea.

Now, if you’re a longtime reader, you know it’s Hatch Chile time in Houston. Well, in New Mexico, too. The plant I have which grows these magical chiles is in a pot, not in the ground, and it has been a prolific producer this year. If it were in the ground, I’m sure the chiles would be as big as the ones I saw in Kroger this afternoon:

Hatch Chile, up close

Hatch Chile, up close

This one was about nine inches long–much bigger than the ones I get, which are about as big as my index finger. I also don’t leave them on the plant too long, or they’ll get red–and hot.

Kroger gets into the Hatch act.

Kroger gets into the Hatch act.

Central Market posted some pictures on Facebook this weekend of the farm land in Hatch, NM. Friend of the blog BL, who I used to work with at Boeing, lives in Las Cruces, NM, and when I posted the pictures on my wall, he said that he lives about 20 miles away; it’s just farm land. But hey–they grow these beautiful peppers there, so why not post them?

I didn’t buy any, although I thought about it. I mean, they grow in my back garden. . .maybe next week.

There are 100 recipes in Central Market’s database, and I went looking for a recipe to use the ones that have been in my fridge for a while, waiting on me to finish thinking about what to do with them. I also had two jalapeno peppers, also grown in the back garden, about the size of the top digit of my thumb. Here’s a primer for “first time Hatchers,” if you’re interested, too. But with the second harvest coming soon for these peppers, I decided to take the pepper by the horns and do something.

Breakfast.

I roasted them up under the broiler–and that’s a smell you can’t bottle or fake, it’s wonderful:

Roasted peppers. . .yum.

Roasted peppers. . .yum.

I’ve done this before, but not in many years. You roast them until the skin burns and bubbles like this, then put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, or a cover like I did:

They're cooling, and the dampness helps the peel come off.

They’re cooling, and the dampness helps the peel come off.

If you don’t, you end up with a hard-to-chew outer layer–like the shipping plastic on your smartphone screen, or the keypad on that new microwave oven. It’s easy to remove once they’re cool enough to handle.

This is one I peeled.

This is one I peeled.

When I was finished, this is what I ended up with:

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The remains of the day (and the good stuff in the bowl.)

Now, to give you some perspective on how much I ended up with, two cans of the same types of roasted chili–one from Target, a 7-ounce can, and a 4-ounce can of Hatch brand chiles (grown and processed in New Mexico), and the chiles I roasted and peeled.

Good thing you can buy them canned, right?

Good thing you can buy them canned, right?

I think I bought the Hatch brand chiles at HEB. I’m so glad they’re gluten-free! (Yes, they usually are, even without the labeling.)

Yes, I know–“what took you so long, Amy?” Well. . .I just had to think about it. I’ve got lots on my mind, you know, and only two paws for workin’ it and taking pictures. (The paws still burn a little from the capsaicin.)

Oh, and I’ll repeat my warning that I posted months ago: when you are handling chiles, do wear gloves. You can get a box of 100 for about $8 at Sally Beauty Supply, don’t worry about what color they are. Seriously–you do not want to be fumbling around trying to put milk in the eyedropper while your eye is burning. Dairy milk, that’s the only cure I could find on an iPhone during Christmas when I forgot to do it earlier. At least I didn’t rub my eyes this time. The heat is concentrated in the seeds and ribs, but you can still end up burning your eyes if you do something wrong. I speak from experience. Only bell peppers won’t burn you alive, OK? WEAR GLOVES WHEN HANDLING PEPPERS.

Breakfast went into the Crock Pot–2 cups of milk, 10 eggs, the chiles, and some Italian sausage, browned beforehand:

Just plain old Italian sausage.

Just plain old Italian sausage.

And don’t forget the Colby cheese:

Colby's good, like a milder Cheddar; but Cheddar's good, too.

Colby’s good, like a milder Cheddar; but Cheddar’s good, too.

Then the whole business was mixed with a hand-blender (aka “boat motor”) and the cheese mixed in:

Into the Crock Pot it goes!

Into the Crock Pot it goes!

And cooked for four hours.

I’ll eat it all week, soon as I pack it up into containers so I can soak the Crock Pot stoneware thingy.

If you’re thinking about Hatch chiles, you’d better hurry up–pay 77 cents a pound now for US-grown chiles, or $1.98 a pound later for Mexico-grown chiles (which are available year-round.)  Hatch chiles don’t last long, so get a move on. There are recipes on Central Market’s website, or you can create your own.

Next post, I’ll tell you about the big fish that the GER brought me last week. For now, I’ve got to get to bed.

Enjoy!

Mmmmm, mmmm, GOOD!!

Good evening, Dear Readers:

You know, sometimes we get ideas that seem like they’ll work, until we try them. Sometimes those ideas stay in our heads for years before we finally get around to trying them.

Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. But you never know until you try, right?

Take my favorite coffee flavor, Chocolate Raspberry. I had the idea to make cappuccino and flavor it with chocolate and raspberry. It was gonna be great!

Well, I tried it this morning. . .it was OK. Nothing special. The espresso overpowers the flavors, at least, these two. It works out well with the hazelnut flavoring, though. Maybe I’ll give it some more thought.

Anyway. . . .

Well, I had to do it. Tonight I made some of that delicious Fall Broccoli Salad I told you about, via The Texas Pioneer Woman.

Since I live in a Houston suburb and not on a working farm (yet), I went to Target to get the ingredients. That’s OK, they had everything I didn’t.

Holy Shish Kebab.

Oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes!

Oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes!

Now, I hope Janette (aka The Texas Pioneer Woman) doesn’t mind, but I made it just slightly different. Partly because I forgot to put a little onion in it. But I’m getting tired, so I forgot. I was going to “do it later,” but you know how that goes.

The other thing I changed was the dressing. I did use the vegan egg-free mayo I wrote about last week, primarily because it tastes like the real thing. (I taste-tested it first with the end of a spoon, of course.) I just didn’t feel like making my own mayo, so I used the Just Mayo. Of course, it’s an 8 ounce bottle, and the dressing takes half a cup. I won’t use the rest of it quite so fast.

I also used Bragg’s apple cider vinegar instead of the white vinegar, (not quite as sharp) and instead of white sugar, you know I used. . .Somersweet.

Now I did have to cook up some bacon, so I did the easy way–in the toaster oven. On a cooling rack in a baking sheet, 400 degrees, and watch it, because it can burn pretty quickly and then you have to start over. I had to cook the bacon in two batches, though.

A side note: if you’re thinking about getting a countertop (aka toaster) oven, let me put this bug in your ear: 110v vs 220v. If you’re going to do what I do with it, make sure you get one that’s big enough to roast a chicken in and has a nice sized broiler pan. Don’t get one that doesn’t do more than toast bread and Pop-Tarts.

Anyway.

After I chopped all the broccoli and washed it, I left the colander in the sink to drain a bit more. I mixed up the sliced almonds and raisins in the big mixing bowl, then mixed the dressing. Once the bacon started crisping, I took it out, let it cool, then crumbled it all up in to the almonds and raisins. When the bacon was all done and crumbled in, I dumped that into the dressing bowl and mixed it up with a spatula. Then I shook out the broccoli one more time to get out as much water as I could, added it to the big bowl, then dumped the dressing mixture into the broccoli,, and started mixing some more.

I’ll try it once with the onion, maybe some green onions from the back patio, but I’m tellin’ ya, this was WAY TOO GOOD!!

I texted Neighbor K to see if she’d like some for lunch tomorrow, but she didn’t answer, so I’m guessing she’s already hit the sack. I packed it up in containers and stuck it in the fridge. When she reads this she will secretly be mad that she missed out on a healthy salad with bacon in it. But this weekend, Neighbor K will have the recipe to make it for that big, tall boyfriend of hers, and maybe even give a little to Daft Pug.

This weekend would be a good one to make this salad for family and friends, or if you’re like me, just yourself. But go try it, because it’s pretty easy and the flavor is well worth the bacon cooking.

I wonder if the Gomez Family Farm hosts vacationers and wanna-be cowboys. If I ever have the chance, I’m going to go on a vacation somewhere that I can do that. But don’t look for me to attend rodeos, OK? I’d rather go see Def Leppard or find myself at a jazz concert.

Make some of this salad this weekend for you and yours. It’s delish, whatever you sweeten it with.

Happy Dining!

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