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Bread of the Clouds

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry I’m late finishing this post. I did *not* float away or become waterlogged this week; that was the north side of town, where they took a month’s worth of rain in an hour. You’ve probably seen the pictures of people rescuing terrified horses through several feet of water, a confused armadillo, some dogs, as well as people being pulled from their cars. I’m on the south side of this huge metropolis, where we had that kind of water last May. Twice.

Good thing that adorable baby tiger found wandering in Conroe, also north of Houston, wasn’t in my neighborhood. I might not give it up. . .until it reaches 100 pounds or so. (I love tigers.)

The garden has been enjoying all the rain, but I do need to get out and do some tidying up soon.

I also have been otherwise occupied this week, as well as not feeling up to any task. I didn’t attend last night’s gardening lecture at our local library, and missed seeing Miss Shirley again. If you’re reading this, Miss Shirley, my apologies–I just wasn’t up to going anywhere.

I’m sure all of you have heard by now that the musician Prince passed away yesterday at the age of 57. Like David Bowie a few months ago, fans are downloading his music from iTunes as fast as they can. I haven’t followed him in a long time, and the last new song I heard by him was called Black Sweat, in about 2006, I think. I got it from iTunes a few years ago, and it’s one of those wild, weird fun songs he was known for. I pulled out my copy of The Hits/The B-Sides that I haven’t listened to in a very long time, and will put some of them on my iPod to listen to.

So what’s going on in food?

Remember when I discovered Epic Bars a couple of years ago? I was in a shooting range in League City. No kidding. Guess what? You’ll be seeing more eateries in retail establishments starting this year, and it’s not just Epic bars. This article on SmartBlogs discusses retail eateries in the age of online shopping, and the revival of things like the old Woolworth’s lunch counters. Pasta consumption is down, and chefs are now doing the Spiralizer thing with veggies, something I haven’t tried yet.

It’s all in the Baum + Whiteman’s 2016 forecast. Increases in “clean” eating, dishes, and boasting about ingredient lists also figure in the paper. One buzzword this year is falafel–but you heard that word *last* year, right here, when I showed you how to make Waffled Falafel. Maybe 2017 will be the Year of the Waffle.

I’ve also read (elsewhere) that old-time soda fountains are making a comeback, but with a modern slant. Modern flavors like guava are added to what used to be a simple drink. Look for this to be the next “gourmet coffee,” where you order a custom-mixed non-alcoholic drink. I haven’t seen any of these in Houston, but if I find one (or more), you’ll read about it here.

Now, I’ve written frequently about gluten-free, sugar-free, and healthier versions of favorite foods. This one is apparently “sweeping the Internet,” so they say, and it’s all over Pinterest (but somehow escaped my detection.)  I’m a bit late to the game, but if you’ve never heard of Cloud Bread, I’m going to give you a primer, and show you how to make it yourself at home. And, let’s face it, anyone who loves bread is always wishing they could have it, right? So here we go.

I happened across this article in the Daily Mail recently, a London-based tabloid that has some pretty interesting articles from time to time (not to mention more real news than most US-based news organizations.) Of course, their writing can be pretty bad, which makes me think it’s outsourced, but that’s another matter.

Cloud Bread is made similar to a pancake recipe I used back in the 80’s in Sharon Claessens’ Lose Weight Naturally Cookbook. It was a pretty good book for the time. The pancakes I loved to make involved whipped egg whites, then mixing the yolks with cottage cheese (eek!) and a few other ingredients (I don’t remember if wheat flour was involved.)  They cook up like regular pancakes, but were described as “light little souffles.”

Darnit, now I wish I had my copy of it. Oh, well. . .I can buy it again one day. (Soon as I buy a house with a big enough study in it.) Many of these recipes had things like whole wheat flour in them, but it was the 80’s. Still, I remember them being mostly pretty good.

Finally, I made some. Verdict: not bad, good recipe to make all the time, if you can keep cream cheese around. I can’t, I keep nibbling on it. If I keep buying it, maybe I’ll get sick of it and just keep one or two in the fridge. I followed the basic recipe of 3 eggs, separated, 3 tablespoons of cream cheese, a quarter-teaspoon of cream of tartar (some suggest baking soda) and a packet of sweetener.

So, what do you do when you want to make this bread? You hit the grocery and buy eggs and cream cheese:

The setup

The setup

Separate the eggs, carefully:

Yolks and whites need to be completely separated.

Yolks and whites need to be completely separated.

Then add a packet of sweetener, if desired, to the yolks:

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Next up, three tablespoons of room-temperature, soft cream cheese are mixed into the egg yolks:

3 tablespoons of cream cheese

3 tablespoons of cream cheese

Right into the bowl:

Cream cheese. . .so delicious.

Cream cheese. . .so delicious.

Mix well:

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And set it aside. Next up, wash the beaters VERY clean and VERY dry. You’ll be whipping egg whites next. (You can also whip the egg whites first.) If your bowl and beaters are not absolutely clean, or have even a speck of yolk or fat, they will not whip at all. (I *was* paying attention to all those Martha Stewart shows.)

First, add the cream of tartar to the egg whites:

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And whip like you would any meringue-like recipe:

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Whip all the way until you get the stiffest peaks you can get.

Once that’s done, you mix the yolk mixture into the beaten egg whites:

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Mix carefully so you don’t deflate the egg whites. It should look like this:

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Next, take a parchment-lined baking sheet, (or spray with non-stick spray) and use the batter to make rounds:

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They won’t spread out when baking like cookies will, so what you see is what you get with these babies.  Bake for whatever time your recipe says (mine was 300F for 30 minutes) and they come out like this:

Cloud Bread, a bit over-baked but still good.

Cloud Bread, a bit over-baked but still good.

They’re not “tasty” on their own, but they do taste good. I just spread soft cream cheese on the first few I ate. Will they make a sandwich? If you’re careful. I’ve also toasted them in the toaster oven, and they came out a bit crumbly, but I’ve not not tried a standup toaster (because I don’t have one, actually.) My thinking is if you’re going to take them for lunch, wrap everything separately, and make the sandwich when you are ready to eat it. On Momables, she gives instructions on how to use them for kids’ lunches.

This video shows you exactly how to make these rounds.

In this DM article, one of the paper’s writers actually tries the recipe–and bungles it. Here’s where the writer messed up: she added agave syrup to the mixture. It’s fine as is–introducing more liquid into whipped egg whites does what? Flatten them. It’s extra weight and extra moisture, since agave syrup is heavy like honey. Big DUH–the young blonde girl didn’t think. Adding anything that brings in extra weight or moisture will mess the whole thing up. Wait until they’re baked and make a sandwich with them.

One comment from the Daily Mail’s article: “it’s NOT a new invention. . .it’s a lift of a recipe from a diabetics cookbook from before they had insulin…” What your grandma told you is true: everything old is new again, isn’t it? 

This is the recipe from Momables:

Grain Free Cloud Bread Recipe

There’s also this article from Yahoo, and this one from Woman’s Day. Apparently Cloud Bread is “the next trend taking over Pinterest.” Yeah, well, I want to know why all the Pinterest folks haven’t yet figured out how to add grapes to the Crock Pot and have it turn into red wine, OK?

And here’s a different recipe on Food.com, which tells you to put the bread into a Ziploc bag overnight. THEN it becomes more soft like sandwich bread.

Checking out Pinterest, I’ve also seen pizza and breakfast sandwiches made with Cloud Bread, but I haven’t gotten as far as trying them all out. Mostly, it’s a case of Amy wanting to have her cake and eat it too. You can–go look on Pinterest!

Now I wonder–will it waffle? That was the other delay, I was going to make a breakfast sandwich with eggs and bacon and the like and see how it waffled. Well. . .I haven’t gotten around to it yet, OK? If I do, I’ll let you know.

But honestly, I thought they were pretty darn good, and even if you’re not doing low-carb, diabetic, grain free eating, these wouldn’t be a bad little addition to your cooking routine for a quick bread and something different. And all you need is some cream cheese on your grocery list to make it.

Enjoy!

Elena’s Cashew Bread

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Do you eat bananas? I used to, until I discovered they have a high starch/sugar content. Don’t get me wrong, bananas taste delicious, but. . .it’s like eating sugar out of the sugar bowl. Same with white potatoes–too starchy for me. But if you’re a banana fan, here’s an interesting article about how the banana became an American grocery staple in about 100 years.

My grandmother used to tell me to take the “seed” out of the bottom of the banana when I peeled it. I’m not sure that’s a seed, since the plants reproduce asexually–on their own, no pollination required. Every banana sold in the world is a clone, but I’d still take the bottom part off if I were eating them. Read it and give it some thought.

Soon I’ll be posting an update on the HeatCageKitchen garden. This year I’m trying for tomatoes–again–as well as strawberries, basil and hoping for more bell peppers. Heck, peppers of all kinds. Soon as I get the weeding done, which requires several dry days and my favorite cheap & easy DIY non-toxic weed killer. And a lot of time to move the buckets around so I can spray the whole plot.

I went out this morning, and I have two bell peppers that are getting bigger but also changing color. There are spots on each that look to be turning dark purple, and I’m not sure why. I hope it’s just a genetic anomaly and not some disgusting disease or an annoying creature that’s ruining them. Fingers crossed, and I’ll likely have to buy another bell pepper plant anyway. But the Anaheim chili plant is starting to develop more leaves and lots of flowers. That means peppers are coming. They will take a while to get big enough to pick, but when they do, it’s OrangeOnionSalsa (probably using grapefruits) for me.

The Meyer Lemon tree has seven viable buds on it, one of which has gotten a little bigger, and I’m hoping they all stay, and maybe more develop. The Key Lime tree has plenty of little buds, too. And the green onions, which are growing quite well, are developing buds on the tops of some of the blades. What the heck? I’ll take some pictures.

This week AC came for dinner again, and since I’ve been thinking about other things, I was caught a bit short. Last week, Neighbor R gave me an oregano plant with lots of leaves on it, and soon I’ll plant it in a bigger pot, maybe with the basil:

 

Fresh Oregano!

Fresh Oregano!

But I wanted to trim it and use the excess, so I headed over to Pinterest and did some searching. One recipe kept coming up: chimichurri sauce. Generally used on steak, I grilled some chicken breasts and it was magnificent on top of them. So that’s going to be an upcoming post. Of course I didn’t take pictures, but I’ll do what I can.

In addition to salad, I also decided to make her a taste-tester and made something I found on Facebook by Elena Amsterdam. I frequently look at Elena’s recipes on Facebook, and save the link on the ones that look interesting. Well, when I looked at this one, it had five ingredients–and I had them all in the pantry. I bought cashew butter by mistake one day, and it’s been there for a while. This recipe is really easy, bakes up in 45 minutes, and comes out of the oven smooth and light. No sugar, flour or dairy, either.

Let me show you how simple this is to make.

The setup.

The setup.

First up: grease your loaf pan (I think mine is 9″ x 5″ like the recipe suggests)

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Set that aside, and start making the bread.

You need one cup of cashew butter, which is widely available in most grocery stores. I thought I was buying almond butter that day, DUH, but I’m glad I had it now. (I’d already measured it out before I realized I was supposed to take a picture. Another DUH.)  So you add that one cup of cashew butter and five eggs into the food processor and pulse it until it’s mixed well:
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Then you add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg):
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Then pulse it again. After the ACV, add in three-fourths of a teaspoon of baking soda:

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And a quarter teaspoon of Celtic sea salt:

I don't know why it has to be Celtic, but I have some, so I use it. I also have Maldon's sea salt flakes.

I don’t know why it has to be Celtic, but I have some, so I use it. I also have Maldon’s sea salt flakes.

Then just pour it into your greased loaf pan.

Pours really easy.

Pours really easy. Scrape all that batter out!

Put the pan in a 350F oven for 45 minutes:

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And this is what it looks like when it’s done:

Looks like regular bread, doesn't it?

Looks like regular bread, doesn’t it?

Let this cool for 2 hours before removing and slicing. Once you do, this is what you end up with:

Tah-Dah! Cashew Bread! (It even looks like Elena's.)

Tah-Dah! Cashew Bread! (It even looks like Elena’s.)

To store, wrap it in a paper towel, then seal it in a bag, and store it in the fridge for one week.

I didn’t know what to expect when I tried it, but I’m guessing anything Elena Amsterdam makes is going to be good, if you follow the directions like she tells you. This time, I did.

By now you’re asking yourself, “That’s nice, Amy, but what does it *taste* like?” Verdict: pretty good, quite delicious, with a light texture that toasts up well. Even AC said it tasted like bread. “Major thumbs up,” AC says. Not real salty, just enough to be enjoyable.  Honestly, it tastes like BREAD, although not *exactly* like wheat bread. It’s not sweet (obviously, since no sweetener is involved), but it’s light like white bread, and tastes like. . .bread. No kidding. I toasted it up and made a meatloaf sandwich with it, too. Oh, YEAH. More cashew butter on the grocery list.

Neighbor R said that it was good, “but I’ll never get used to this gluten free food!” Neighbor E said that it “the texture is good, but it tastes like bread if you took the sugar out.” I’ll agree with that assessment. Again, it doesn’t taste exactly like regular wheat bread will, but if you can’t have regular breads, maybe you’ll enjoy having Cashew Bread.  It tastes a lot better than some of the “gluten-free bread” you can buy in the grocery store.

In my local Kroger, cashew butter is found in the natural food section, and that jar ran about $6, if I remember correctly. I can’t find it on the app in my local HEB, but they may have a setup to grind cashews fresh like they do peanuts and almonds in their Healthy Living section. I haven’t checked that yet. However, I did see where Jif now has a cashew butter. . .much like peanut butter, always, always, read that label, especially if you or someone in your household might be allergic to something in it.

This recipe is also Paleo, which is kind of a second cousin to low-carb. I have a very basic understanding of Paleo, which is to eat food that would have been regularly eaten by Paleolithic Man. Yes, “cave man.” Since cave men didn’t have formal agriculture, and things like dairy products and grains, bread, cheese, and other modern conveniences–even low-carb or gluten-free–are out of the picture. Remember that breakfast casserole I made a couple of months ago, which included a shredded sweet potato? That’s a Paleo recipe (but not one of Elena’s.) I know, cave men didn’t have Crock Pots either, but it’s the principle of Paleo, even if it’s far removed from the practice of hunting and gathering. We just roll with it.

Unless I’m wrong, there’s not gluten in cashews or cashew butter, so it’s also going to be gluten free (read the label in case there are thickeners or additives.) The only persons who should avoid cashew bread are. . .people who either don’t like cashews or are allergic to them.

If cashews don’t agree with you, then, yes, you’ll have to leave this one alone. You have my sympathies. I love cashews.

Would almond butter work? I don’t know, but I’m guessing it would. I haven’t tried it yet, but I have some in the fridge, so I just might one day. For now, I’m enjoying the cashew bread. I have some cashew meal in the fridge I bought at Trader Joe’s a while back. I might try using the food processor to turn that into cashew butter later. Can’t hurt. I’ve done it with hazelnut flour before.

No, I don’t think I’m going to try making waffles with this. . .or will I? Let me think on that one. For now, a loaf of bread in the toaster oven makes me pretty happy.

This recipe can be found here on Elena’s blog, and a printable copy is on the Recipes page (scroll all the way down.)  There are a number of comments, and a lot of good information in them. Do read them if you’re interested in baking this bread for yourself.

One of these days I’m going to get Elena’s cookbooks and start using them. Especially the cupcake book. Yum.

If you’re missing bread, this might be your ticket It’s easy, delicious, no letting the yeast rise or lots of ingredients. You put them in the food processor and pulse, pour it and bake. Doesn’t get any easier than that.

Enjoy!

 

 

Valentine’s Day–again???

Good afternoon, Dear Readers from everywhere:

I just realized that Valentine’s Day is this weekend, and that I should drop in and talk about it just a bit. But first. . . .

There are some changes coming to this humble blog, and a big thanks to friend of the blog AK and another one of our writer friends, whom we know on Facebook, but I haven’t met in person. I don’t know if JM reads this blog regularly, but I know she has once, for sure. I’ve got a Facebook page set up just for HeatCageKitchen, as well as other social media accounts. I’ll tell more once I get it all done. The blog is growing up.

Last week was the open house for the Drs. Davis at Woodlands Wellness and Cosmetic Center. Much as I enjoyed it last year, this year I didn’t go. BUT–they posted pictures on Facebook, and once again had an appropriate show-stopper of a cake:

PeacockCAke

A good time was had by all, and I’m glad, even if I didn’t go. But I’m sure I’ll be visiting again one of these days for blood testing.

In other news. . . .

This isn’t really food related, but it might have been. When I say a cat is a cat is a cat, I’m not kidding. This wily cheetah decided that the back of a Jeep was a great place to hang with the humans recently. Honestly, it’s no different than when Catmandu and Kismet used to hop up on the back of my futon and park it there for a while. Cheetahs, as I understand from comments on the Daily Mail site and Facebook, are much friendlier to humans than other species of big cats. But as Big Cat Rescue will tell you, approaching big cats is never a good idea–and anyone caught petting one at their Tampa, FL facility is escorted out immediately, including staff. If you have a kitty cat that has ever turned on you while you were petting it or scratching it behind the ears. . .imagine the force behind a paw-swat from a 500-pound Siberian tiger. It can, as they say on FB, “escalate quickly.” ‘Nuff said. But this time, it turned out fine, and the short video is pretty amusing. Because. . .that’s a cat for you.

Now back to Valentine’s Day. Or as my brother called it yesterday, “women taking advantage of men” day. Oh, well.

If you’re looking for advice on romancing, proposing, or how to ask out someone you fancy, that’s someone else’s blog. This blog is for the day you decide to cook for that someone special, you already are going to cook for them, and you’re looking for something special for your date. You’re on your own on the romancing/proposing part, so search through WordPress for that kind of advice blog.

Do you have plans for Sunday? Are you going to hang out at home and watch a good DVD or two with your sweetie, or risk your life and head to a restaurant? I can hear it now: “Oh, Amy–what’s wrong with that?” Even Waffle House serves steaks and takes reservations on Valentine’s Day–and in some more rural areas, that’s the best and only–restaurant in town. (NOTE: I am not disrespecting Waffle House by any means.)

I’m not going to deny that it’s something special to go out for Valentine’s Day. But hear me out–when I was an administrative assistant, I was required to “go out with the bosses” for Administrative Professional’s Day. I really didn’t want to do this (particularly at an insurance company I worked for, where they took us to McCormick & Schmick in the Galleria and didn’t give us a choice) because it was a reminder that I was still in the steno pool. But at Boeing, that wasn’t always a bad thing. My Boeing supervisors were frequently busy, so we didn’t always go on that Wednesday–and that was a good thing. Why? Because you’re elbow-to-elbow with everyone *else* who’s doing the same thing; service is going to be slower, too. The last time, I had to request that Monday, because the next day, I was getting on a plane to go somewhere, and I wouldn’t be in town for AP Day. (I got to choose the restaurant that year.) Another time, we went two weeks later. Know what? We nearly had the whole place to ourselves! We could chat without yelling, and the service was better.

Want proof? This article from The Kitchn verifies what I just told you. Like retail stores on Black Friday, nobody *wants* to work that holiday, so you may get pinch-hitters who aren’t as experienced. And you’ll be elbow-to-elbow in a crowded restaurant on that one day a year when things could go wrong for you. Just something to consider if this is a really special date.

Once again, Starbucks is at it again with the #StarbucksDate. Create a special .GIF file (similar to an e-card, they’re all the rage now) to send to someone you’d like to meet up with (it could be your best friend, your elderly neighbor like Neighbor R, your brother/sister, or, heaven help you, the GER) and make a date to meet them at the Starbucks on your street for one of the new chocolate drinks they have this week, through Sunday. (They’d like you to put it on social media with #StarbucksDate, too.)

You know, I probably shouldn’t say “Starbucks on your street.” We have several in my neighborhood, including one two blocks from my front door. But I have a friend in semi-rural Louisiana who is about 20 miles from the closest Starbucks. I’m sure he’s not the only one.

This year’s offerings are three new seasonal chocolate-infused drinks:

And because I couldn’t wait, I personally sampled the Mocha Chocolate Latte this morning. Highly recommended. Unlike the famed Pumpkin Spice Latte, this was very good and not overly sweet. If your honey doesn’t drink coffee, there is the Molten Hot chocolate option as well as other dessert options. But remember, Starbucks has their “signature” hot chocolate all year long. Yes, they really do–it’s just that this particular variety is a “seasonal offering” for Valentine’s Day.

I am actually planning to take myself out for a #StarbucksDate. I’ve got a couple of books to read, (one by master copywriter Bob Bly, his newest book of great witticisms) and that might just be the place to do it. I’d like to have another Mocha Chocolate Latte, then get brewed decaf coffee (and free refills in my stainless steel travel mug) until I’m sick of coffee, or I finish the books. They’re not long books, but. . .there are less distractions in Starbucks than at home.

What if you’re going to camp in with your honey?

I’ve got some recipes posted on the Recipe Page, and there are others scattered throughout the blog; a search will help you find them. (The Sweet Potato Supper is a good one, and quite simple.) Then again, websites like The Food Network, MarthaStewart.com, AllRecipes.com, and TheKitchn are great places to start if you don’t find anything listed here. Really–the culinary world is at your fingertips, and a quick search will show you that.

Looking for a special treat? Found on The Pioneer Woman’s Facebook feed this week, these Chocolate Sugar Cookie Hearts are an easy treat, especially if you have kids.

chocolate-sugar-cookie-hearts-09

Source: The Pioneer Woman website (note: NOT gluten free!)

These are really easy, because there’s no rolling out the dough–you bake it as a sheet cake, then cut them from the baked cake. Frost them, put some sprinkles on top, and you’re ready for your honey. NOTE: keep this recipe in your back pocket for other occasions, cut them in squares, rounds or other shapes, and you can frost them like cupcakes and use other appropriate colors and designs for, say, a birthday, graduation, or something else like St. Patrick’s Day (which happens in about a month.) Heck, your dog’s birthday, just don’t feed them to the dog. But for now, they’re for your Valentine.

Now, if these cookies aren’t your thing, there are a couple of things in the HeatCageKitchen archives that are delicious and gluten-free, including my all-time favorite, YeastFreeBrownies (I just uploaded it.) The recipe is no longer available on Dr. Hotze’s site, but I’ve got the PDF file for you on the Recipes Page.

Another good choice is last year’s Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes. First, I re-blogged a post from GF and Me last year, and then I made it myself. Of course, mine didn’t come out as pretty as Brenda’s, but they sure were good–even the fussy GER said so. The trick is finding hazelnut flour, or buying the hazelnuts, roasting and skinning them yourself, then grinding them up really good in the food processor–but not so far that you get a paste.

Click around on Brenda’s GF and Me site and you’ll find lots more delicious food and desserts for Valentine’s Day.

If you have more time to prep, I highly recommend the sugarless, Crock-Pot made Chocolate Fudge Custard I talked about last summer. You have to make it a day or two in advance, but it’s quite tasty and easy to make.

You didn’t forget your waffle iron already, did you? If Santa brought you a waffle maker (or the Cuisinart Griddler with the waffle maker plates, like mine) consider waffle brownies. If you haven’t read that previous post I linked to, please do, and you’ll learn more about waffling. You’ll also find this recipe in the post that I made and reviewed. However, if gluten-free isn’t your thing, brownies from a box–yes, like Duncan Hines or Jiffy brand–can be made in the waffle maker, fast and easy. You can also use boxed chocolate cake mix. If you’re thinking about a waffle maker,  Bed, Bath and Beyond also (still) has the Cuisinart Griddler bundle package, and if you have a coveted 20% off coupon, use it.

Still another optioin–a bit healthier than most–comes from none other than Graze.com, this dual-layered Chocolate Strawberry Smoothie might be just the ticket. It has a few steps, so make sure you read the recipe before proceeding.

What to make for dinner for the two of you? There’s a myriad of options available, just pick one–but don’t overthink this or make it too complicated. Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll probably *want* to try something really fancy, complicated, and extremely gourmet. Foodies are like that. But if you’re a fan of the easy, make dessert early, maybe the day before (especially the custard) and consider Nigella Lawson’s Flash Fried Steak with White Bean Mash. I’ve written about this delicious white bean mash before, it’s one of my absolute favorites, and I even made it Monday for AC with mild Italian sausages from HEB. (I called it “Bangers & Mash,” which is actually sausage and mashed potatoes in the UK.) She loved it too, and will probably start looking for cannellini beans next grocery trip. Add a tasty salad like we did, and you’ll be all set. Wine? Your choice, but make it a good one, if you do.

One thing I started doing with the white bean mash is grating the lemon zest first, then grate in the garlic with your Microplane Zester. The garlic is more evenly distributed, spreading the flavor throughout the mash.

And you can say that you’re inviting him/her over for a steak dinner–it’s just not filet mignon, that’s all. (No, I’ve never cooked that one, for myself or anyone else.) And why not? If you’re cooking steak, say so! (Unless he or she is vegetarian. . .then you’ve got some extra work to do.)

Here’s the thing about Valentine’s Day: if you and your partner get along fabulously and enjoy each other’s company all year around, going all-out on Valentine’s Day is probably not needed–a nice dinner at home with a nice bottle of wine, a small, inexpensive gift, whatever you like. But if one or the other isn’t such a great partner all year long, but spends a lot of money on flowers, candy, jewelry, dinner out, etc., on Valentine’s Day. . .it’s money wasted. Be kind to each other, and, I hate to say it, but if things are just not working out well, you’re discovering you’re mis-matched, or you just don’t get along after the “honeymoon phase” is past, it might be time to reconsider the relationship. (Or, in my case, file a restraining order, ha, ha. Yes, I’ve had that kind of luck.)  It takes two to tango, and usually, neither is totally innocent, but if you’re wondering why you’re in this relationship, maybe Valentine’s Day will be awkward. Better to be alone on V-D than stuck with someone you don’t want to be with–ask me, I know. (No, not the GER.) “Better off as friends” is not a bad thing, if that’s the case.

I’m not telling you to break up with your significant other on Valentine’s Day, (that happens occasionally) but if that’s where it’s headed, or things have significantly changed. . .take some time to think and consider. Next year things could be completely different–you could be single and unattached, you could be with someone better, or you and your Significant Other will have a better relationship by then.

I know, Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, is merchandised to death in the US, but it doesn’t have to bully you (or your partner) into spending too much money.

Again, I’m not a relationship author–but I speak from experience on being in bad relationships. I’d rather be by myself on Valentine’s Day than stuck with someone who let their “good face” down and I discover that I can’t stand. The longest relationship I ever had with a male was. . .Catmandu, the Russian Blue. (RIP.)

And if you’re single and alone on Valentine’s Day–remember, you too could be stuck with someone you wish would just go away forever. If that’s the case, and you can, take some time and take yourself out for a #Starbucksdate. Better yet, use the .GIF creator and send it to one of your *real* friends for a #StarbucksDate and get something chocolate on Sunday. It’s OK to be single and unattached on Valentine’s Day, I promise.

You might be making these cookies or something else for someone next year, so be ready.

Enjoy!

 

 

Short post–Cranberry Bliss Bars

Happy Sunday, Dear Readers:

I know, I said I wasn’t going to publish again until after January 1, but you know how these things go. This is a shorter post than usual. I am, as always, anxiously awaiting this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Husbands of River Song. When I found out what the title was, all I could think of was, “she’s had more husbands than me? I thought she was just married to The Doctor.” Well, at least she gets to travel in time and space. I get to drive around Houston occasionally. Mostly in my little knothole.

I also have an idea for another post that I may publish next week about a New Orleans foodie-related mystery that’s been going on for more than 3 years. Heck, my humble blog may get it moving again. More on that later.

Now to answer why I’m posting on a Sunday. This is an EMERGENCY blog post–I have to tell you what Nicole over at Gluten Free on A ShoeString has done.

I’ve written about Nicole before (see this re-blog on Gluten Free Donuts), and I get emails when she publishes. Of course, she’s always baking up delicious things for us gluten-averse folks. If you’re interested in more gluten-free baking, hop on over and follow her blog, for she has lots of tricks up her sleeve to keep your baked goods dreams fulfilled.

Today, she reached the pinnacle of gluten-free re-makes.

Nicole has created a gluten-free version of my personal favorite, Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar. Why is this significant? Because. . .Cranberry Bliss Bars are a seasonal treat at Starbucks that are something to LIVE FOR. Seriously. (Unlike the heavy-sugared Pumpkin Spice Latte.) Take a look:

From the Starbucks website.

A Cranberry Bliss Bar, picture from the Starbucks website.

This is, of course, not a big treat, but it is big on flavor. One taste and you are a goner.

I first tasted this treat when I was sick, and coming home from the only doctor’s office I knew about near Hobby Airport. (This was a no-questions-asked walk-in clinic that would take non-insurance patients, long before I was going to see Dr. Davis at Woodlands Wellness.) They had an on-site pharmacia for patients, but it was closed that day. Driving my sick self home down I-45, I thought, “now where the heck am I going to get my prescription filled?” And then it dawned on me.

TARGET.

The Baybrook Super Target has a pharmacy AND a Starbucks! So. . .while I waited for my prescription, I got a nice, hot coffee. I was really sick, you see, with yet another painful swollen-gland throat infection (including fever) and I figured I deserved a little something sweet that day. It was that time of the year, and I just pointed to the red and white thing. It was carefully packed in a bag and handed to me as I paid my tab.

I sat in the corner, like the sick cat that I was, slowly sipped my coffee and took a little bite of this heavenly and festive triangle. I had never tasted such a combination, and immediately fell in love with it. I sought out at least one every holiday season (for they are not cheap and the price has nearly doubled this year) but ran into an issue in 2013 when. . .I went gluten free.

I passed on them in 2013, but I did manage one of them last year. Only one. And I may do it this year too, whilst they’re available. But now, I don’t have to worry–because Nicole has figured out how to make them gluten free. (Note: we get them down here in Texas at Starbucks, so I’m sorry they aren’t available everywhere, from what Nicole says.)

Nicole uses something called Better Batter, which I admit I’ve not heard of before (she uses a lot of different and cool stuff that I don’t know about.)  However, what I can put my paws on quickly is Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Baking Flour, which has similar ingredients and does include Xanathan gum. (If your local grocer doesn’t carry it, you can also buy it from Amazon.)  It’s the flour I used for one of the recent pizza waffle recipes. One caveat Nicole points out is that if your GF flour doesn’t have Xanathan, you’ll need to add half a teaspoon (included in the recipe.)

I think there’s a bag of this flour in my grocery list this week, along with dried cranberries, cream cheese, and white chocolate. Holy Shish Kebab!!

If I make some, there will be some taste-tester deliveries. I doubt that the GER would be interested in something like this–he tends to prefer gas-station dining for some reason. (No, it’s not my cooking. It’s just his idea of convenience cooking.) But if I do manage to make them, I’ll be crowing about it here. Because now that we have a gluten-free work-around, Cranberry Bliss Bars are not just for the holidays anymore.

If you’re one of those people who loves the Cranberry Bliss Bars, now you can make them yourself, and even in gluten-free.

Merry Christmas!!

HeatCageKitchen Garden and The Return of Blue Bell Ice Cream

Happy Friday, Dear Readers!

My sincerest apologies for the lateness in posts. I’ve been busy on the copywriting side, so writing here has been postponed. But I’ve got some things to tell you about, including the return of Texas’ favorite ice cream. I’ve got a new cookbook, which I’ll tell you about in a future post, as well as a new piece of kitchen equipment.

I’ve finally decided to start watching the Harry Potter films. I’ve read all the books more than once–the most addictive books ever–but I’ve never seen the movies. I ordered them from the library, and shortly I’ll be watching “Year 6” (Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince.) After that, the two halves of Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows should arrive, hopefully next week. I tried watching Mad Men. UGH. Five episodes of season 1 was all I could stomach. Like a lot of folks, I’m waiting for Downton Abbey’‘s final season to start. We are all distressed by this, of course, and hope Mr. & Mrs. Bates catch a break and the wedding of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes goes off without a hitch. (I think Lady Mary gets married, because in the trailer, I thought I saw a wedding ring on her left hand.) After so much Harry Potter at once, I’m now wondering where I can use the incantations “Stupefy!” and “Expecto Patronus!” in daily life.

Have you noticed the plethora of pumpkin-flavored everything yet? Starbucks has brought back their (in)famous Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL), now with real pumpkin! Honest, I’ve never had one. Maybe when I win the lottery. However, after discovering a meme creator for my phone, I made another one of these, that we see every year:

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No kidding. Last weekend’s trip through The Fresh Market yielded this:
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Neither the Pumpkin nor the Chocolate Cherry come in decaf. Darnit. I didn’t check Pecan Pie, because HEB has a Texas Pecan flavor in decaf.

And because I couldn’t resist poking fun at the GER again, this one went on Facebook:

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That actually IS the GER’s  profile picture in my iPhone. Because I know he wouldn’t let me take one of him. If I did, he would break the phone. So the piggy pic from Fresh Market has to do. Yes, he knows. In fact, it was his birthday this week–he wasn’t interested in a cake, either. Oh, well.

So let me give you an update on the HeatCageKitchen garden.

As I mentioned last time, the recently planted organic spring onions have taken off:

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I’m not kidding when I tell you they’re easy to grow–just cut the white rooted part and stick it in water, or better, dirt. They’ll keep growing a while, until of course, you attempt to transplant them. Hopefully this container will last at least as long as the last one did, and I don’t have to buy more for five years.

More rain off and on, so no weeding yet. But soon.

Look! Basil!

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Both plants had lots of leaves, although the slugs have had a munchfest on the bottom leaves and on the little sprouts which are slowly getting bigger. I hope they get bigger before Christmas. . .MAN this is the longest I’ve seen seedlings grow past the first two leaves. Never fear. . .I also had plenty of parsley, and you know what that means!

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I measured everything and discovered I had enough for TWO batches of pesto! Some of it is parsley, but I don’t mind. Longtime readers know of my affinity for pesto, and for Pea and Pesto Soup. Hopefully the two big plants will grow back, and the seedlings will be nice and big so I can make even more for the winter. This, of course, means a trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, for more of those little containers, but who cares? It’s PESTO!! (Can you tell I never had it growing up in New Orleans?)

In addition to the citrus trees doing whatever (the Meyer lemons are still the same, no change), the tomato plants are. . .well, I don’t know what’s going on with them. Let me fill you in:

  • The Sungold plant has given me some tiny tomatoes for seeds, and flowers indicating more to come
  • The Chocolate Cherry and Cherokee Purple have done nothing since the initial harvest of a few
  • I’ve trimmed the dead stuff off all the tomato plants, two of which exceed six feet
  • The Chocolate Cherry and Cherokee Purple have new growth from the bottom of the plants
  • The Tumbling TomTomato has given me four more full-sized yellow orbs
  • The Tiny Tom (red) has given me these alien-looking things that I hope contain seeds I can save for next year:

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The first ones I got were nice, round tomatoes. What do you call this nonsense? Seriously, have you ever seen anything so WEIRD? Take a closer look after I picked them and brought them in:

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I’ve gotten three or four like that, the size of the top digit of my pinky finger, and the ones that are coming behind it are round (you can see it bottom right, under the leaves.) What the heck do you call that?

In all seriousness, the very dry, hot summer has taken a toll on all the plants, and even though they were watered regularly, I’m guessing that wasn’t enough. Remember, my beautiful red bell pepper scorched, and I had to toss it. Can’t even put that in the compost bin (which I plan to re-start soon.)  However, there are more on their way. I hope:

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Already got one being worked:

Bottom of the baby bell pepper

Bottom of the baby bell pepper

Oh, and I think my sage plant is toast. Just shriveling up on me. Oh, well, I can find another one, I’m sure.

On the other hand, the Anaheim/Hatch chile peppers are coming back like gangbusters:

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One of many, MANY peppers that are coming in the next few weeks.

The thing about these is that they are the same color as the leaves, so I actually have to go out and poke around and feel through the leaves, otherwise I’ll miss one. It’ll stay too long and get red-hot. Not something I want in my breakfast casserole. There are little flowers all over this plant–I’ve never had that happen before with an Anaheim. If this keeps up, I might not have to buy the cans for a while.

Now we switch gears for something important.

If you’re in Texas, you know we’re celebrating the return of Blue Bell Ice Cream. Not everyone is celebrating, however–it’s in limited distribution and not all the flavors are available. lt’s only available in Houston and parts of Alabama, and only four flavors: Homemade Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate, Butter Pecan, Cookies and Cream, and The Great Divide (half chocolate, half vanilla.)  My favorites, Sugar Free Vanilla and MOO-llennium Crunch, are not currently available, but remember, they’re coming back from a complete suspension of operations. You can find out more with this locator can show you where it’s available now.

Neighbor K gifted me a pint last week, since I wasn’t feeling well all week:

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She wasn’t sure if I’d prefer chocolate or vanilla–chocolate would be my first choice, but since it was a gift, I was not going to be picky, and said “thank you.” It was wonderful!

I did get more a couple of days later:

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I posted these pictures on Facebook, to the consternation of many folks, one of whom attempted to get some in Lumberton, TX, and was told, “go to Houston.” He was rather unhappy about that.

Another individual posted a rather bad picture of someone (possibly himself) with a half-gallon on the table, lid off, a belt around his upper arm,and a cigarette lighter under a tablespoon of ice cream. Yes, I agree, bad taste, although you do get a fair amount of dark humor on Facebook. But that’s how deprived we’ve been.

When I went back for another pint a couple of nights ago–eaten in three parts over 3 days–I intended to get more chocolate. While standing in line, I happened to look down and saw that one of the ingredients was. . .WHEAT!!

SAY WHAT????

Flour? In ice cream? OK, I’ll give on the Cookies & Cream–you expect that. But plain old chocolate? Oh, NO!!!

Today I called Blue Bell to ask about that very thing. Cheryl Ignasiak in Customer Relations asked around her office, and was told that flour is not actually added to Dutch Chocolate ice cream. But because the possibility of cross-contamination exists with the Dutch Chocolate, they have to list it on the label as an “ingredient.” Cheryl was very nice, and of course, I wasn’t out to do a “hit piece” on Blue Bell (I leave that for people in areas where they’ve never had it), I just wanted to know the score on this for folks who read this blog that do have problems with wheat, so they can know if they’re exposed.

Cheryl did tell me that Homemade Vanilla and my other favorite, MOO-llennium Crunch, are both gluten free. So that was good news. (But better news would be that they MAKE MOO-llennium Crunch again.)

Again, Blue Bell is not at full production yet, and they are working towards that goal. Eventually, everyone will be able to get some, and all the flavors will be available again. Cheryl was nice enough to email me a list of their products that are suitable for folks avoiding gluten, and you can read the PDF file here:

Nutrition Notes GLUTEN Ice Cream.

That’s quite a few flavors for folks with gluten issues. Good news, indeed.

I know, I know. . .the Great Ice Cream Lysteria Hysteria of 2015 is almost over. (Blue Bell wasn’t the only brand that was hit.) I did try to get by with other, lesser brands of ice cream. Admittedly, HEB’s Creamy Creation is not bad, but I didn’t think about it. I did make ice cream a couple of times, and on one occasion bought Target’s Market Pantry ice cream. Know what? I discovered that not only is a lot of air whipped in, making the container feel half-empty, one I almost got had. . .wheat flour. I put that stuff back and got something else. Blue Bell, when frozen, doesn’t feel “squishy.” It gets HARD, like ice cream should be.

If you are in the areas that get Blue Bell, rejoice and go buy some. If you are not, you have two choices: drive to an area that has some, bring your ice chest, and get some. Then, be patient–the house-elves are working as fast as they can to get everything up and running for full production.

Oh, wait–Blue Bell has employees, not house-elves, don’t they?

Nevermind–I’m going watch that Harry Potter movie before bed.

Happy Friday!