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Happy Cooking

Hello, Dear Readers:

I’m back with another post, with information about new trends, delicious food and healthy things.

First up: a cat being a cat.

Longtime readers of this blog know I love all the kitties, from the tiniest neo-natal just-born kitties the size of a kiwi fruit to the mighty Siberian Tiger. I believe that a cat is a cat is a cat, no matter what the size, species or coloring. They’re all just cats on the hunt. I had cats for 21 years (the last one being Jezebel the Step-Kitty, co-parented with the GER), and they really are the same as a tiger, lion, bobcat or jaguar, just smaller (and they usually use a litterbox inside.) Most house cats can’t tear off a limb the way a tiger can, making the mighty tiger unsuitable for keeping as a pet. If you talk to the GER, he’ll have you believe that Catmandu could indeed take your arm off, or at least a finger. Catmandu has been dead for 4 years, and the GER is still afraid of him.

So I enjoyed the story of smart a Norwegian Forest cat named Clive who didn’t have to hunt much while he lived for two years in a pet food warehouse in Britain. He “went missing,” but he didn’t go far. He did what any cat would do–he found a verified food source and stayed. Why go home when they only feed you once or twice a day, when you can just camp in this place and eat whenever you want? Workers knew there was something stealing food, so they  borrowed a cat trap from a local rescue group and caught his furry butt. (The microchip told them how to find the owners.) Clive got pretty porky while he was there, but once he gets re-settled into the household and used to being around his housemates again, he’ll probably lose most of that extra weight. But he’ll probably be a bit grouchy having to wait for his food again.

Because. . .that’s a cat for you.

Speaking of creatures, I was watering the garden the other night, and I looked down and saw. . .two little beady black eyes looking back at me. AAAAHHHHH!!!! I jumped back, and I hope I didn’t yell too loud. I looked that little adolescent possum right in the eyes and told him to “shoo.” He turned around and lumbered away. . .but I don’t know where he went. They might be living under the Boston Fern I wish I’d never acquired. So now I have evidence that the possums think it’s their personal salad bar. There’s no way to keep them out, really, because they’re like cats–they climb fences, get through little holes and everything else. So it’s probably not the first time I’ll have a close encounter of the furry kind back there, especially if the tomatoes, peppers and strawberries do well.

OK, it’s a little late for the holidays, but I came across this post on putting a turkey on an outdoor grill.  Sometimes in the south, it may be too hot to roast the darn thing indoors (unless you have one of those turkey roaster ovens you can park outside or on a patio that’s separate.)  Sometimes Thanksgiving is 80 degrees around here, too, so it wouldn’t be a bad thing to keep in mind for November. Remember, it was 80 degrees on Christmas Day in Houston; the cold front missed the flight.

But if you’re getting ready for graduations, bridal or baby showers or other upcoming festive occasions, this article on Exposed Cakes from the Trader Joe’s monthly flier will give you some ideas. I’m not wild about less frosting, since that, to me, is one of the best parts of nearly any cake, but, well, you judge for yourself:

In The Garden Of Strawberry Cake, from the Trader Joe's website article.

In The Garden Of Strawberry Cake, from the Trader Joe’s website article.

I guess it’s because you don’t have to cut the cake open to see what’s underneath. But it’s a nice picture.  Would you make it?

If you want something to go with your frosting-challenged cake, there’s some new flavors from the Central Market brand that just showed up at our fabulous HEB:

Oh, YEAH! Who needs Haagen-Daz?

Oh, YEAH! Who needs Haagen-Dazs?

See any favorites you want to try? Here’s mine:

This can only be good. . . .

This can only be good. . .but not sure why it was manhandled.

And of course, chocolate.

Is there any other kind?

Is there any other kind?

No, I haven’t tried any of them yet. I have ice cream like other people have alcohol–to celebrate a special occasion, to deal with something stressful, or any time I need a sweet. When I broke up with a boyfriend–I had ice cream. When it was my birthday, I had ice cream. Usually, it’s Blue Bell, but next time, it will probably be this one. But this container is twice the cost of the Blue Bell or HEB Creamy Creations I usually get. So. . .no rush on trying them.

Switching gears. . . .

Do you have any old cookbooks? I mean, REALLY old cookbooks? How about those ubiquitous (and expensive) recipe cards collections? I actually have my mother’s–the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, circa 1971. She was going to toss it, and I asked for it. She only used one or two recipes from the whole thing that I can recall, so it’s basically intact, including the index. (Maybe I’ll make it the subject of an upcoming blog post.) I also have another recipe card collection my mother started in the 80’s, as well as one I started in the late 1980’s. I have a couple of old books, but not *that* old. One from the 80’s, and most of the rest are after 1990 or so, starting with Martha Stewart’s books.  Oh, wait–the GER has given me three old books from The Galloping Gourmet, circa late 1960’s, and one or two others.  I’ve found a couple of my mother’s titles from the late 50’s and early 60’s on Etsy, and have them on my “watch” list. (I need a big enough house for all this.)

I also have a recipe book from Entergy, who sent it to their customers for free in the 90’s with hundreds of old recipes from Louisiana Power & Light, the utility company they bought. (It just showed up in the mail one day.)  Those recipes came from back in the day when “home economist” was an actual job. Nobody in the 90’s tested any of them, so there was no guarantee on how well they would turn out with modern appliances. But flipping through it, there is a recipe called Tomato Soup Cake. I kid you not. Starts out with a boxed mix, you add eggs and a few other things, and a can of condensed tomato soup. UGH. No, I wouldn’t try that on people I hated. Oh, wait a minute. . . .

One of my intrepid Facebook friends from Canada posted something from a website called Vintage Recipe Cards. It’s a website dedicated to showcasing the kind of foods that you used to find in magazines, cookbooks and those infamous card collections: Take a look at this gourmet abomination from the 1950’s:

The Frankaroni Loaf

The Frankaroni Loaf! Isn’t it just yummy?

Aren’t you just anxious to make this recipe for your next dinner party? You can–and here’s the recipe for it. If you make this culinary atrocity, do post in the comments and let us know how it turned out.

And after Thanksgiving, or anytime you want the tastes of Turkey Day, here’s a Sweet Potato-Turkey Pie that will fit the bill. . .and make you forget all about Thanksgiving for another six months. (It includes a can of the disgusting cream of mushroom soup, if you’re interested.)

EEEEEEWWWWWW. . .and there are lots more of these delectable detestables where those came from, just get to the website.  The comments alone are hilarious, but a number of people have actually tried these edible train wrecks and love them. Like this classic, um, well. . . .

Yummy! (Not.)

Yummy! (Not.) Source: VintageRecipeCards.com

One commenter on the Ham And Bananas Hollandaise page says that he made his own Hollandaise instead of the packaged stuff, and it’s delicious. Takes some guts to make this retro cookery, but like I’ve been told on a number of occasions, don’t knock it until you try it.

No, I’m not trying that one. Nor anything in a Jell-O mold or anything called “Aspic.” You try it and tell us all about it.

I showed you that not only to amuse (or nauseate), but also to show how far we’ve come as a nation and a people in regards to cooking, cookbooks, and everyday life. I’m sure every good housewife in the Mad Men era made Frankaroni Loaf and Jell-o molds of all kinds. (I had to eat that stuff only on occasion; thankfully, my mom wasn’t into this kind of, um, “artistry.”)  But today, we have cookbooks from a myriad of sources, as well as an incredible array of new appliances, tools and gadgets that make cooking better, easier, healthier, and in many cases, faster.

We don’t have to suffer through these artistic disasters anymore.

Several new cookbooks by famous folks have come out recently, (with saner recipes) and a few months ago, I decided to pop for Giada de Laurentiis’ Happy Cooking: Make Every Meal Count. . .Without Stressing Out. Marked down 30% at Target, I figured it was a good time to get it. (It’s not autographed like my previous Giada books.) It’s all about good, tasty and healthy food, and “practical solutions” for daily life.

If you saw my recent very long popcorn post, you saw one of the recipes from this book, for Warm & Spicy Popcorn. It’s good, and with the fresh parsley from the back patio, it’s just delicious. But popcorn isn’t the only good recipe in this book. There are actually four popcorn recipes, one of which, I kid you not, is Pumpkin Spice Latte Popcorn. After you pop the popcorn, you mix together  3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon of light brown sugar, a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, and a teaspoon of instant espresso powder, then drizzle it on the popcorn. Is it good? Of course it is, it’s got sugar in it. . .maybe I’ll try it in the fall.

Much like her prior book, Giada’s Feel Good Food, this book includes a lot of healthy recipes of all kinds, as well as advice. Many of the recipes came from her weekly digital magazine Giada Weekly, but others are some that, I suppose, Giada started making out of necessity. (She’s now a single mother and a restaurateur, as well as a cooking show star.) There are 10 chapters, including one on “clean eating,” but making sure it’s tasty, too. Of course, there’s also a chapter on pasta–what did you expect, it’s Giada! But she also acknowledges that while pasta can be part of a healthy diet, there are a lot of folks who need alternatives to pasta, like Trader Joe’s Brown Rice & Quinoa fusilli pasta, which is fantastic and $2.99 for a one-pound bag. (If you can get to a Trader Joe’s.)

Giada mentions too that in Italy, they cook just a small amount of pasta, rather than the whole box as Americans tend to do. It doesn’t mean the gluten-intolerant can still have it, but it does mean that cutting down on the amount of pasta in a dish might be better, even if it’s gluten free pasta. And what to do with the “ends” of several boxes or bags (page 116)? Boil then all together and make soup, toss it with some leftovers, or just toss in some pesto and have it like that. I’ve told you what my favorite is, that I have when I get some of that GF fusilli pasta from Trader Joe’s–about a cup of pasta, boiled in salted water, drained, and tossed with some real butter and a shake or two of Parmesan cheese. Yes, from the green bottle. Don’t need nothing else on it. But that’s not too often.

Giada’s book also has indicators for gluten free, vegetarian and vegan, so you can see at a glance if it’s a good recipe for you to try.

The #breakfast chapter (yes, it’s hash-tagged in the book) starts out with smoothies, something called “Nutella Milk” made in a blender, (I seriously must try that one day), a granola recipe that is *not* gluten free, and a recipe for one thing that actually *is* popular in the culinary arena, “Overnight Oats.” (I haven’t tried that yet either, from this book or from Pinterest.) With chia seeds, almond milk, and just a tablespoon of real maple syrup, it looks pretty good.

Remember when I mentioned that “bowls” are a thing now? Giada steps up to the, um, bowl, with something called American Breakfast Rice Bowl. It starts out with 3/4 cup of cooked rice, and has a lot more ingredients before you get to eat it. This is obviously a weekend breakfast–for one person–like my favorite 4-ingredient Corsican Omelette from Nigella Lawson.  Much as I’d like to try it one day (probably with quinoa instead of brown rice), it’s not something for a hurried weekday breakfast. There are also some “toasts” (also a thing now), a couple of frittatas and strata using eggs, a tofu scramble (no thanks) and a selection of waffles/pancakes/muffins for the die-hard baker. (Polenta waffles for brunch, but not GF.)

There is a chapter dedicated to Snacks & Small Plates, which is where that delicious popcorn recipe is, as well as something called Mediterranean Chile Chicken Wings. I haven’t tried this yet, but I might one of these days. (Maybe in the slow cooker, or maybe the toaster oven.) It does contain harissa, which I learned how to make when I dove into the Martha Stewart book Clean Slate last year. It’s one of three chicken wing recipes, which, if you’re familiar, you know can be addictive. I made some for New Year’s Eve many years ago when I lived in the GER’s place from one of Suzanne Somers’ books. Well, nobody complained, and they’re all still alive. . . .

There are other appetizers (“apps”), such as meatballs, arancini, shrimp, crostini (little tiny “toasts,” really), as well as bean dip, Pico de Gallo, and other party standards.

The chapter on salad offers The Only Vinaigrette You’ll Ever Need, which does require fresh thyme leaves, agave syrup, and a shallot, among other things. I should have made some of this yesterday for the lettuce I harvested out of the garden. Well, if it continues to grow, I’ll have some (if the snails and possums let me have some, that is.)

Finally, Giada gets it, and she’s learned to use and enjoy the slow cooker. On page 104, she talks about the benefits of using one, and includes several recipes in the book. (Think she was reading my blogs?) Really, I can’t say enough good about the slow cookers, and I had both of mine going all weekend. Hazelnut Beef With Noodles (page 200) looks interesting, but I can do without the panko bread crumbs.

The chapter on eating clean contains recipes like a detox soup (Giada says she tolerates it better than cold, raw juices) and a bone broth. The new trend of “spiraled veg” gets a note on page 151, where Giada makes spaghetti out of zucchini and a tomato sauce. There are some baked fish and chicken recipes, some vegetarian fare and one treat I want to try one day: the Superfood Fudge Torte on page 160. It’s made with some surprising ingredients and sweetened with agave syrup. No black beans or avocado, but pretty good stuff, and it’s chocolate. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

In the chapter called Weeknight Warriors, where the Hazelnut Beef With Noodles is located, Giada talks about lentils, and offers Lentil Salade Nicoise. Recently I gave you the recipe for Stewed Lentils & Tomatoes, a Barefoot Contessa dish that’s cooked for about an hour. But Giada contends that lentils just can’t get any respect, and in the US, they’re primarily used in recipes like that one. In this vinaigrette-dressed salad, lentils are joined by hard-boiled eggs, baby potatoes, grape tomatoes, black olives and cucumber to make a rich and tasty fare that’s good any time of year. As easy to cook as white rice or quinoa, they can be added to pastas, salads, mixed with grilled veg for a sandwich or pureed into a dip. How come we don’t do that?

Rounding out the everyday chapters is one on vegetables and sides, with all manner of dishes you’ve probably never seen before. If you think you don’t like cauliflower, roasting it gets rid of the chalky taste. On page 209 is a recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Almonds. That sounds good, doesn’t it? On the next page is a recipe for Salt Raosted Sweet Potatoes, which sees them topped with a seasoned yogurt sauce. (I still like my sweet potato fries, though.) Lemon Roasted Fennel, page 212, looks pretty tasty, but if you’ve bought fennel, you know that’s for a special occasion–it’s a bit pricey.

Giada’s chapter on Weekends & Holidays is the longer-cooking kinds of recipes, like pot roast, chicken, meatloaf, and, for Thanksgiving, turkey! (There’s even a recipe for a Monte Cristo Sandwich using up Thanksgiving leftovers.)  On page 254 is a beef tenderloin recipe using a compound butter made with dry red wine, a fresh rosemary sprig, salt and a stick of butter. This one is a bit more complicated than mine–the wine and rosemary are heated, then boiled until the wine reduces way down. When it cools, you discard the rosemary, then mix the butter and salt in the food processor. Once that’s mixed a bit, you pour in the wine and process until smooth.

The last chapter is, of course, sweet stuff, something Giada wouldn’t be without. From Key Lime Panna Cotta and Limoncello Parfaits to Chocolate Cake Tiramisu with Chocolate Zabaglione, plus a section on treats to make for gifts, the sweet tooth will certainly be happy with whatever you try. Chocolate Dessert Salami? Don’t go starting your new diet until you’re done with this one. How does Eton Mess Semifreddo sound? Giada hasn’t forgotten about folks with furbabies–Peanut Butter Dog Bone Treats will let your doggie friends know you care, just find a bone cookie cutter before you start making them. (Just wish it didn’t call for whole wheat flour, but that’s just me.)

While there’s no one authority on whatever we call “healthy eating,” this book, like Giada’s Feel Good Food and Clean Slate before it, is a good place to start. Healthy, natural food should taste good, and Giada knows just how to do that, with some “happy” food thrown in.

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:

IMG_2275[1]

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:

IMG_2265[1]

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!