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Miss Alice’s Magic Beans

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

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

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

But first, some news.

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

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

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

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

Yes. Pancake Mix from Walmart.

Yes. Pancake Mix from Walmart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough of that.

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

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

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

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

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

The Fresh Market.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clean beans are best!

Clean beans are best!

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

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And add the diced onions and garlic:

Peeling garlic is so easy with one of these.

Peeling garlic is so easy with one of these.

 

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Any excuse to use the garlic doo-dad!

 

Success!

Success!

 

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

 

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Toss it all in.

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

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

Bacon!

Bacon!

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Chop and add that in.

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

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

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Getting there!

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

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Stir it up a little:

Just a little stir, nothing serious.

Just a little stir, nothing serious.

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

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

Miss Alice's Magic Beans!

Miss Alice’s Magic Beans!

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

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

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

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

Oh, well.

Oh, well.

But all was well at the new HeatCageKitchen.

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Sampling Saturday: The Hatch & Pesto Weekend

Happy Monday, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t judge me. We were floored.

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

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

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

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

The Chocolate Conspiracy Cake.

Oh, dear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Lei was serving up delicious Salmon Hatch burgers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Hatch chili breads.

Yes. Hatch chili breads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hatch empanadas. Oh, YEAH.

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

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

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

We also saw Hatch Chiles used to season chicken:

Hatch chicken!

Hatch chicken!

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

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

Hatch sausages and cheeses.

YUM.

And even cheese:

CHEESE!!!!!

CHEESE!!!!!

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

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

Packaged seasonings

Packaged seasonings

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

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

Just need a few things?

Just need a few things?

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

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

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

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

Perfect for Texans. BIG.

Perfect for Texans. BIG.

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

Looks like most peppers.

Looks like most peppers.

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

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Planting!!!

I cut them flat so that they would roast nicely.

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

See the skin turning white?

See the skin turning white?

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

Neat, huh?

Neat, huh?

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

The skins will start to separate n here

The skins will start to separate in here

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

Getting there.

Getting there.

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

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

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

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

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

I almost hated cutting this. Almost.

I almost felt guilty cutting this. Almost.

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

Hmmm. . .think that's enough basil?

Hmmm. . .think that’s enough basil?

I did pick the bad spots out of the leaves.

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

Delicious, magic, green pesto.

Delicious, magic, green pesto.

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

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

Happy Hatching!

Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry I didn’t post last week, I need to make a couple of phone calls and do a bit of updating on this site, but had other pressing matters to contend with. I’ve got a post in the can that I’m about halfway through, and it’s going to be good (I hope.) Nevertheless, I have a back-pocket recipe for you that would be good for a side dish or vegetarian dinner, as long as you have a toaster oven. (Or it’s cold enough for the big oven.)

Big paws-up to friend of the blog JK, whose mechanical intelligence solved a big problem rather quickly in the HeatCageKitchen sink. I did a lot of cooking the July 4th weekend, and unfortunately, while I was cooking, my stove-side shelf suddenly fell off the wall:

The condiment shelf, which has been by the stove for at least 8 years. Handy little item when you're cooking and don't want to stop to head for the pantry.

The condiment shelf, which has been by the stove for at least 8 years. Handy little item when you’re cooking and don’t want to stop to head for the pantry. (That’s kosher salt in the sugar shaker on the right.)

I bought it at IKEA, and it was fine for years, until last weekend, when it mysteriously fell. Between the shock of having it hit me, the crashing of the bottles, navigating a hot pot and moving it out of the way, one of the screws that holds it in place fell into the garbage disposal. Of course, I didn’t know it went into the garbage disposal until I turned it on. And then it stopped. The motor was on, but it wouldn’t move. A quick look with a flashlight confirmed it was stuck, and I didn’t have the right tools to remove it. Highly annoyed, I just kept cooking.

I mentioned it to JK this week, and because he’s a mechanic and he knows his stuff (like the GER, he’s a manly man.) He asked if I had a pair of needle-nosed pliers. I do, but they didn’t reach. He told me where to find 11″ long needle-nosed pliers. All this week, the sink has been backing up, and I’ve put my gloved hand into the off disposal to clear the little drain spot. Yesterday, in between cooking projects, I got fed up with it, went to the O’Reilly’s Auto Parts on Bay Area Boulevard and bought a pair of those infamous 11″ long needle-nosed pliers. I confirmed the screw’s location with the flashlight, reached in with the long pliers, and after a couple of misses, I pulled and heard the POP! And that was the end of that. The sink disposal is once again working properly, and I can clear out any little pieces that land down there.

WHEW!

Of course, I texted him and said Thank You.

Neighbor E and I went out to a fundraiser for our local library Friday night. Now, when I say we went out, well, let me explain–this wasn’t a nightclub or fancy country club. Our fabulous new HEB held a tasting event, and if the library could get 100 people to come in and sample food, get stickers for each stop, and turn them in, they would donate $1000 to the Freeman Library. I dragged him out (not literally) and a good time was had by all, plus some delicious food. I didn’t take any pictures, because it was kind of busy. But I went back on Saturday afternoon to get a few things and have lunch. I talked to one of the employees I see regularly; she told me that over 250 people showed up, so yes, the Freeman Library will get that donation. If you feed them, they will come. With delicious food they sample all the time, is it any wonder people showed up in droves?

On Saturday, I was wearing a summer dress that I finally finished. It’s a McCall’s pattern (click here if you want to see it, version D, made in a similar colored cotton.) When I was checking out, there was a lady from the pharmacy area who, I guess, was there to tell people about HEB’s in-store pharmacy. She said it was her first day at that location, and she just loved it. Well, we all do! Then, she complimented me on the dress, and also my flat Crocs, which were very comfortable. I put the straw hat back on because I was getting ready to leave, (keeps the sun out of my eyes) and she said that I was definitely “on-trend.” Nobody ever told me that before! So my day was made. I told her that I’d just finished it–surprise!–and that it was a McCall’s pattern. She couldn’t believe I MADE it. She said, “I don’t even know what that means.”  I said, “well, I wouldn’t expect you to–you’re a pharmacist!” Not as many people sew these days, but I do hope it becomes a thing like grown-up coloring books.

Now, about this recipe.

Neighbor E gave me a butternut squash, mostly because he didn’t know what to do with it. (He’s also given me more potatoes!) I gave it some thought, and I knew just the thing: Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash.

So, if you clicked on the recipe link, you’re probably wondering why the heck I would make a Thanksgiving dish during the summer. No, I’m not yet getting ready for Thanksgiving, but I did tease my former Buddhist district leaders about it. When we used to have our own local dinner, now and then during the year, I would tell them, “It’s never to early to start planning Thanksgiving!” Of course, in July, that got me some funny looks–but, see, these folks were originally from Taiwan. I forget that sometimes, not everyone gets our absurd American humor.

Since I was given the squash, I just wanted to treat it right. But as you read this post, remember that not everything in the HeatCageKitchen is perfectly symmetrical. This isn’t The Food Network! But in between cooking for the week and using it up, I think I did pretty good.

First thing I did was make my weekly breakfast quiche in the slow cooker, and then turkey thighs and a small pork roast. I had the brilliant realization that although I was preparing them differently, they could both go into the toaster oven at the same time. The thighs had some sage compound butter on them, and the pork roast had olive oil and a salt rub.

The setup.

The setup.

They both went in at 400F for an hour and 15 minutes, and came out delicious:

Lunch!

Lunch!

And, of course, the chef”s privilege, the roast turkey skin:

There is, honestly, nothing better.

There is, honestly, nothing better.

Pull it off with two forks, and let it drain and cool for a bit on paper towels. Then, enjoy the crispiest, tastiest thing you will ever experience. This works for roast chicken too, and is best with olive oil and salt/pepper or other dry spices. I introduced AC to this a while back and she was instantly a fan. Caveat: you will have to do this when the turkey or chicken comes right out of the oven. Don’t let it sit too long, or put it in the fridge; the crispness will be forever lost.

Once I got the meats cut and packaged for the fridge, I got started this tasty superfood treat.

Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash is a good thing to have in case one of your holiday dinner guests brings a friend and says suddenly, “Oh, he/she’s vegetarian.” Oh, bleep, now what do you do? Well, if you have this already made, with a few other nice little side dishes, it won’t be a problem. But if the non-veg folks get wind of it, it might not last, so make plenty if you’re having a crowd. (It helps to ask in advance, but even then, you never know.)

The setup.

The setup.

Those paltry looking sage leaves are the last from the garden. I don’t know if it’s because I planted it with the oregano, or what–but the darn thing is almost gone. That is what I could salvage from what’s left; I was going to give Neighbor E a big bunch. It was thriving and over-producing not long ago. Maybe it was too much water, or the heat, but it looks like I’ll be either buying another plant or starting seeds soon. I like sage for poultry, though, despite the stinky-feet smell of the live plant.

Also, this recipe is supposed to be vegetarian, but I was just in a hurry and used chicken bullion cubes instead of vegetable stock. I’ll show you a cheat with it shortly. Note that there is real cheese in it. If you wanted to make it vegan, you’d have to use some of that god-awful fake-me-out vegan stuff, which is probably made with soy. YUCK. You ruin it, you eat it!

So let’s make it.

First, the sage–I rinsed it, pulled the stems off 18 of them, dried them and set them aside:

Normal sage leaves do not look this skimpy

Normal sage leaves do not look this skimpy.

Then the rest were rinsed and dried for the finely chopped stuff:

Still not sure what happened.

Still not sure what happened.

Oh, and here’s an Amy tip for you: rubber anti-slip rug backing, cut into small pieces, keeps your cutting board from sliding all over the kitchen while you chop:

 

I don't know why I never shared this one before. MUCH safer than having your cutting board slip around!

I don’t know why I never shared this one before. MUCH safer than having your cutting board slip around!

Chop off the ends, and it will sit upright on the cutting board while you peel it.

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I actually have the vertical vegetable peeler, but for odd things like this, I prefer the horizontal bladed model:
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And this is why I say nothing is symmetrical in the HeatCagekitchen. I was supposed to cut rings for the bottom of the plate, but instead, cut it sort of wrong. However, the inside is similar to spaghetti squash, and you just scrape out all the seeds and stringy parts:

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And then I manufactured the rings:

Oh, don't ask. . . .

Oh, don’t ask. . . .

Then you chop up the rest of it in little quarter-inch dice:

Tah-dah! Got there in the end.

Tah-dah! Got there in the end.

Top with a half-dozen sage leaves and a bit of oil, and roast. I roasted them in the toaster oven, and honestly, it all came out just fine:
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Once it’s finished, just set it aside to cool.  Switching gears, it’s time to get the rest of this recipe going–the quinoa part.

Now, I used chicken stock, because I don’t care if it’s vegetarian; I’m just messing around with it anyway. I don’t have any veg bullion cubes (and I don’t know if they exist) but I’ll show you a trick I learned from Nigella Lawson: just make the broth from the bullion. This recipe calls for 2 cups, so I crumbled two cubes into a measuring cup:

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Added some very hot water:

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Stirred it and let it melt the bullion:

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And you’re there.

So, chopped onion:

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Deploy the garlic doo-dad and chop it:

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And finely chop the rest of the fresh sage:
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First into the pot is some oil, on medium heat, to cook the chopped onion and garlic.

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Rinse your quinoa well:

Always rinse to get rid of the powdery residue on it.

Always rinse to get rid of the powdery residue.

Then add the broth or stock to the pot, and the quinoa:

 

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If you’re not familiar with quinoa, this is the important part: keep an eye on it. It’ll take about 15 minutes to cook and absorb all the water. If you’re not careful, it will burn on the bottom of the pot. I know, I’ve done it. What you’re looking for is for it to be just a tiny bit liquid, but all of the water absorbed:

Like that. Not soupy, not dry.

Like that. Not soupy, not dry.

Take it off the heat (the recipe suggests putting it into a bowl, but why dirty another dish here?) Add in the chopped sage, the 3 tablespoons of Parm cheese, and the roasted diced squash into the quinoa, along with salt and pepper, and mix well.

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Now it just comes together. If you’ve ever made a Pineapple Upside-Down cake, this will make sense to you. Place the butternut squash rings at the bottom of a greased 9-inch pie plate, and put the prettier sage leaves inside them:

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There were actually supposed to be only five rings, but I made it six! I went to Tulane at night; I can’t count.

Now carefully add the quinoa mixture on top of the pie:
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And pack it down as firmly as you can. Remember, the only binder is a small amount of Parm cheese:

I should have used a different utensil to pack this down, like stainless steel, and wide.

I should have used a different utensil to pack this down, like stainless steel, and wide.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made this dish, but the last couple of times, it sort of fell apart on me. Even though I packed it down, it still came apart, although not like the last time. More pressure next time around.

Now it’s time to bake it–20 minutes at 375. If you’re like me, you turned off that darn oven for a while. The countertop oven re-heats quickly, so it wasn’t a problem. Let it cool for a bit, What comes out looks like this when you invert it:

Ain't that nice?

Ain’t that nice?

Unfortunately, the pie did not fall out of the plate like it should have. Since it’s not Thanksgiving, I don’t care. I just sliced it like any other pie and had me a slice. I also brought some to the HeatCageKitchen taste-testers, Neighbor E and Neighbor R.

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See? I didn’t pack it down enough, and it crumbles apart a little.

So, what did it taste like? Because I used the chicken bullion and there was Parm cheese, it was a bit saltier than I expected–my bad. Next time, veg broth or something else not as salty.

Neighbor E feels like it could be a stuffing/dressing, served as a side dish with turkey with Thanksgiving dinner. Never thought of that, but he’s right–it would go well with turkey as well as without. Maybe serving it in muffin form to make it easier, eliminating the squash rings for decor, and pressing sage leaves on top? It’s an idea.

Neighbor R also enjoyed it, and when I told her what E said, she smiled and said, “it does kind of taste like stuffing!” Plus, she hasn’t had squash in a while so it was a nice treat for her. (JK said he doesn’t like squash at all, but I could get him to try one bite of it, if he were here.)

However you make it, or whenever, Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash is a tasty dish for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Agreed, it’s a little more work than the things I usually make, but one taste will tell you it’s totally worth it. For a Sunday dinner, you could make it the night before and just re-heat it to serve it warm, or serve it at room temperature. And it’s a back-pocket recipe for the occasion where you need a tasty, filling vegetarian dish that won’t leave the veggies feel unloved. (I’ve uploaded the printable PDF to the Recipes Page if you’re thinking about dinner for next weekend.)

Enjoy!

The Weekend Adventure

Happy Monday, Dear Readers:

This weekend saw two trips to HEB–one was our fabulous new one, the other in Friendswood, where I haven’t been since the new one opened up. I was able to sample and enjoy a lot of things, and had the accompanying heartburn afterwards. Neighbor E and I used up the last of our Chipotle coupons for a free meal, (they expired Sunday) and we buzzed around for a while, before finally ending up at home. He wanted to walk around Baybrook Mall, and since it was his turn to drive, I wore my usual t-shirt and bike shorts along with a fanny pack. For some reason, I thought he meant “power walking,” but it turns out he just wanted to meander. No matter, I was slinging the kettlebells around later anyway. It was great, we saw everything, took pictures, and we had a blast.

Also in this post: an exclusive picture of Neighbor E!

I forgot to mention in my last post that this week’s breakfast quiche was also created with some of the 3-foot-high green onions and garlic scapes from the garden. I just went out and cut a bunch with the kitchen scissors, rinsed them, then chopped them on the cutting board. Very, very tasty, especially when I added a few shakes of green Jalapeno Tabasco sauce instead of my usual Chipotle Tabasco, my favorite. Both are very good, and not burning hot; I just found a bottle in the pantry that was never opened. Had no idea! With all the green stuff from the garden, it worked really well.

Breakfast quiche in the Crock Pot has a basic formula: 8 to 10 eggs, a cup of milk, a 8 ounces of grated cheese, and a pound of browned breakfast sausage, usually HEB’s sage flavor. Colby’s my favorite cheese for this, I’ve also used Colby Jack and mild cheddar–but if you like sharp cheddar, go for it. Brown and crumble the sausage (and onions or other veg, if using), and toss into the bottom of the Crock Pot (after you put the liner in it, of course.)  In a large bowl, add 1 cup of whole milk (half and half and/or cream will also work), the eggs, any seasonings (including Tabasco, if you like) and mix. The immersion blender is good for this. Then mix in the cheese with a spatula or spoon, and pour into the Crock Pot, stirring to combine. Cover it, plug it in, turn it on, and cook for 3 hours. This breakfast quiche is why I love the slow cooker liners–it’s a bear to clean it off the stoneware, even when you grease it well. But it’s also 6 days worth of breakfast I only have to microwave and eat.

So, it was Saturday–Buddhist meeting at 11:00 am, and then a couple of stops on the way to HEB. Before the meeting, I returned two quarts of milk to Target. I’d purchased skim milk by mistake, since it was marked down (but with long freshness dates.) Well, I returned the unopened one and picked up whole milk–but darnit, they sure do look alike. Saturday morning, I returned both quarts. Why? They both taste like skim milk. If I’d wanted skim milk. . .well, anyway, for whatever reason, both milk types made my coffee taste like dirty water. Target, like most grocery stores, have a guarantee on their food. So I reluctantly returned the milk before the meeting.

On the way from the meeting, I stopped at JoAnn’s for some reconnaissance for a potential scrap fabric project (found what I needed, but I didn’t buy anything for it.) I also got a look at our now-closed The Fresh Market building. Sad, it is. I was so happy when they put one down here, but it’s not just ours, as I mentioned in my last post–it’s 3 states, and all of their Texas stores.

Neighbor E texted me on Friday and said they were closing at 5:00 pm for good, days ahead of the originally scheduled May 18th closure. They must have sold everything down to the walls, including the baskets. There’s something about the words “50% off” that makes people pay attention, although the store was always busy when I went in there. The security guard is still there, sitting in her vehicle, but the windows are all papered up.

And then it was gone. . . .

And then it was gone. . . .

I’m guessing the employees were still inside, packing up whatever was left, sweeping, mopping, and dismantling the fixtures for shipment back to their headquarters in North Carolina. Soon those folks will be looking for work, unless they move to a different store out of state.

After I left that sad little spot, headed to the big HEB, since I still needed milk. I had a few items on my list, not many, but you know what I say–I’m heading to HEB for lunch!

I was treated to all kinds of tasty samples–fish, chicken, barbecue–and some other new things HEB is starting to carry.  I wondered if they carried my favorite cheese, Manchego. All I had to do is ask:

Manchego!

Manchego!

Of course they do! If you’re not familiar with this Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, well, it’s wonderful. If you’re in a grocery or gourmet store that has a “cheese department,” ask if they would let you try a sample. (HEB will–I already asked.)  It’s a pricier cheese, so obviously, it’s not on my regular grocery list right now. But if you have the opportunity, try a little sample, you might like it too. Trader Joe’s is the cheapest I’ve seen, and the import grocer Phoenicia is also less expensive than the rest.

Why is it my favorite? Years ago I saw Rachael Ray make this really delicious Chili Sweet Potato Hash recipe, and I wanted to try it. So interesting and unusual. . .but didn’t know what Manchego was. I printed out the recipe, and bought everything I needed. I made it one time, with Manchego, and was immediately in love with the whole thing. I had that for breakfast every day for more than a year, making it on Sundays. I stopped eating Manchego when I had to go on the yeast-free diet for a while. I haven’t made it in a long time, although I do have a couple of chunks of Manchego in the freezer that I’m avoiding touching. It’s the “good stuff,” so you know I’m “saving it.” But when things get better for me and my bud Neighbor E, I think I’m going to have to make it for him one day, and the GER too. It really is that good, and is, to date, my all-time favorite Rachael Ray recipe.

And if you’re wondering why I never made it for you, GER, it’s because I’d already moved out of your house and into Clear Lake when I saw it. The recipe was first shown in late 2004 or 2005, and came out in the book shortly thereafter.  But I’m happy to make it for you anytime, because it’s absolutely delicious with HEB’s sage breakfast sausage. Note: the recipe is available on The Food Network’s website here, but if you have her book Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats, it’s on page 255.

Nevermind how many of those hot, fresh tortilla samples I had by the bakery department. . .just, never mind.

This was the weekend that HEB featured their Healthy Living department, with interesting samples and a 20% discount on all “sports nutrition items” and energy bars. This included things like protein powders, energy drinks–all that stuff the gym rats gobble down. You know, those big jars with stylish graphic labels of some kind of “whey powder” and “pure protein.” I’m not knocking anyone for their choices, of course, but to the rest of us, it’s a bit mysterious, so we keep a respectable distance.

Also handed out was a pack of coupons for these “healthy items.” Included are coupons for. . .Lean Cuisine and Stouffer’s Fit Kitchen. (Yes, frozen dinners.) At least Lean Cuisine has gluten-free options, but. . .sorry, I’ll pass those coupons onto Neighbor E if he wants them or Neighbor R if he doesn’t.

Now look–if healthy food gives you heartburn, you’re not healthy! You need to get on the Yeast Free Diet, get the prescriptions from your doctor or something OTC (you might need more than one jar of Yeast Control) and get RID of that yeast overgrowth in your gut. If you’re not sure if it’s yeast, try treating yeast first and see what happens. It can’t hurt.

Remember what I tell you about anything–read them labels, because I’ve made that mistake before. Some of those “energy bars” are loaded with sugar, or other rubbish you wouldn’t normally eat if you know what it is. There’s frequently soy protein in stuff like that, so if you don’t want soy–even if it’s touted as “non-GMO”–don’t buy it until you at least do a cursory read. Just saying.

I have three 3-day passes to 24-Hour Fitness, and I will need to start using them soon, they expire on the 31st. Neighbor E doesn’t want one, and Neighbor R doesn’t even like to drive! (She’s elderly.) So I’ll be heading to the gym this week, and using them all up. Since it’s supposed to rain really good this week, I won’t be on the bike, so that will be a good thing. Hook up my phone and listen to music for a while, or a good podcast.

I was also introduced to a brand of sports nutrition called FitAid. I was given samples of FocusAid and TravelAid, soft-drink style canned drinks with a little bit of fizzy and sweet, lots of nutrition and good things. There are several varieties of these drinks, and all sweetened with agave syrup, not sugar. I just don’t drink soft drinks anymore, not since 1998, so I was a bit reluctant to try one. But I was quite pleasantly surprised, and they pass my “taste test.” It won’t taste like a cola, it’s more like a lightly sweet 7-Up or ginger ale. The folks who were sampling it were also very nice. I don’t know how much they cost, but were my situation different, I might put one in my lunch bag occasionally.

What I will be doing if I find myself on long drives for work is getting some of this interesting Chike High Protein Iced Coffee for the moment I get hungry later in the am:

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More than just a coffee drink.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of this stuff? Me either, so join the club. It was my favorite thing to sample, and I’m glad I tried it. The lady who was sampling this with the spicy tilapia and herbed salmon offered me a sip (or two) of the Chike original flavor. It’s quite tasty, but I thought it was the Mocha. No, original, and it was very delicious (which is how I talked her into a second sample.)

A closer look at the label.

A closer look at the label.

It too, was on sale, but even 20% off HEB’s price of $26.99, I passed. . .but I did get a single-serve packet for Sunday, of the Mocha flavor. (That was cheaper, and better, than buying two of my favorite chocolate/cherry/cashew Kind Bars, which are usually 4 for $5 or 2 for $3 at HEB.)  I was also handed a coupon for $5 off the big bag, which is 17.56 ounces, and I think she said it was 14 servings. But that would be for a mid-morning thing when I’m hungry and it’s way too early for lunch.

So what’s in it? It says soy, and it says caffeine, but I have my doubts:

The label, which, I promise, I read more than once.

The label, which, I promise, I read more than once.

I couldn’t find any soy in it, but it says soy, and I had no reactions from it. So. . .I can’t say it’s bad for me. But it’s made right here in Texas, so you know it’s good, right?

Sunday morning, I got out my little whiz blender and made some with almond milk:

The setup

The setup

I can’t believe I was coherent enough on Sunday to do this, but I was. The label says to use “6 to 10 ounces of milk or water,” so I just went with the requisite 8 ounces.

Blend it right in

Blend it right in!

Hit that button:

BLITZ!

BLITZ!

I could have put ice in the blender, but I didn’t think about it. I just poured it over ice, good enough for me.

Yum!

Yum!

Now let me say that although it claims to have the caffeine of 2 shots of espresso, I don’t believe it does (or the effects of caffeine have been neutralized.)  Had I consumed 2 shots of real, regular espresso (not decaf like I normally would) I would have been picking my claws out of the ceiling and calling around for bail money. I would  have been sweating like a sauna and begging Neighbor E to take me home for a cold shower. None of that happened to me. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but if you’re looking for a shot or two of full-leaded espresso, head to Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dunn Brothers, or any coffee shop in your area that serves it. You will not get that from this iced coffee. That’s not a bad thing, though–Americans consume way too much caffeine, and it’s not a good thing. I know, because I did it.

Now onto Sunday.

As I mentioned, we had those coupons to use up on Sunday, and E wanted to buzz around Baybrook Mall first, and of course, I was happy to go with him. I was in Baybrook a couple of weeks ago when I had the brakes repaired (remember that RING??), but he hasn’t been there in quite a long time. He hasn’t seen the new additions, and our new Sur la Table store. (Being a guy, he just wasn’t interested in Charming Charlie.) We walked around, he took some pictures, particularly around the restaurants, where a 2011 Jaguar was parked, and later, a Corvette and a BMW. (He’s a car guy.)

There are a number of other places planned for that outside area, one of which is called Gloria’s Latin Cuisine. The planned entries are represented by very intricate murals in the intended spots. E found one he really liked, so here is the exclusive picture of one of my taste-testers:

Neighbor E, who can't wait to walk into this place for real one day.

Neighbor E, who can’t wait to walk into this place for real one day.

Doesn’t it look like he’s going into a bakery? Honest, that’s a mural on a stone wall, and he thought it would be funny to take a picture in front of it. But it’s a good one, taken on his iPhone. (E also has a sweet tooth, so you understand why he wants that bakery to open.)

Finally, I introduced E to my favorite place, Sur la Table. We had a small bite of their Lemon Buttermilk Quick Bread, made in a sheet pan rather than a loaf pan and cut into dice-sized pieces. A very nice lady offered to make me a cappuccino, and I happily accepted.

E was accustomed to going into Williams-Sonoma when we had one, but that spot is now yet another dress shop. Sur la Table was a new experience for him, but I’ve been shopping at them for several years–well, he’s read about it here for a while. E went back into the huge chef’s kitchen, where they conduct cooking classes and whip up things like that cake for you to try. His eyes bugged out. I knew he’d enjoy it.

Another thing we sampled was this Iced Tea Lemonade. Now, I wouldn’t normally buy this kind of thing (and I didn’t), but I really, REALLY like it. It tastes like the iced tea my mother used to make when me and my first brother were little (it ended after the other two came along, I think.) She’d boil water and add three or four tea bags, then turn it off and cover the pot. While that was happening, a lemon or two were squeezed. A big glass pitcher was filled with ice, sugar and lemon added, and a great big metal spoon wedged down the side to absorb some of the heat. Then the bags were removed, and the resulting tea was poured in and mixed with the metal spoon.

THAT is what it tasted like. If you want some real good Southern-style tea quickly, Iced Tea Lemonade from Sur la Table is what you want. It’s expensive, or you could make your own like my mother used to. But it’s THAT GOOD.

After we left Sur la Table, we prowled around a little more, going through clothing stores, furniture stores, and buzzed through Macy’s too.

And the lady in Macy’s let me try on THAT RING again yesterday. The sale price seemed to be lower than the first time, but. . .it’s still in the case, I promise. I only dragged E into Sur la Table, not Victoria’s Secret or anyplace else we females go into.

After the mall, we made our sad journey across the street to visit the now-shuttered Fresh Market. E keeps an electronic journal, and he has a picture of himself outside of Fresh Market the day it opened. He wanted one last picture before it gets rebuilt, whenever that is. The security guard came out and told us that it was closed. . .she thought we were trying to go in it.

E calls it a journal. I call it “evidence that can, and will, be used against you in court.” But that’s what happens when you study law for five years.

Finally, he was ready for lunch, and we headed across the freeway to Chipotle. E had his favorite tacos, and I had the Steak Bowl I like. He also bought a bag of their delicious chips and kindly shared them–they’re delicious and addictive! The weather wasn’t bad, either, so we had our late lunch outside before any rain showed up (we’re getting rain all week, but not a monsoon.) No rush, and we enjoyed the leisurely pace for a while longer.

When it was time to head home, we passed by a place E is absolutely in love with: a place called Torchy’s Tacos. I’ve heard of them, and they do have locations in town, but I’ve never been there. Torchy’s has a cult following, apparently, because on our local NextDoor.com area, people are going bonkers for it.

They’re adding a location in our little neck of the woods, ironically, across the street from Vitamin Shoppe. That spot housed, until sometime last year, a place called Berryhill Baja Grill. I’ve never set foot in that one, either, because I just didn’t know what it was. But folks are getting VERY excited about Torchy’s Tacos coming here. You can see the location here, but they don’t list an opening date yet. That’s OK–it’s a big place with a big buildout, and you just can’t rush these things. The sign is up, and it looks to be about halfway built on the inside:

It's almost here!

It’s almost here!

E can’t contain his excitement. He went with his sister D to Tyler, TX (up near Dallas) a couple of months ago to visit family, and they stopped at the Torchy’s there. E says that this Torchy’s is being built like the one in Tyler, so he’s doubly excited about it.

If you’re wondering how a grown man can get so excited over a chain taco restaurant. . .well, you’ve never been to Texas, have you? We take this kind of thing VERY seriously. And even thinking about dissing someone for this kind of enthusiasm will get you in a lot of trouble very fast. We don’t mess around in Texas!

Once the workers inside the place realized we weren’t going to walk in or storm the place (I mean, really) they were OK with us peering in through the plate glass windows. We were just curious, nothing more.

Will they send out free try-us coupons when they open? We certainly hope so!

With that, we headed home, and he dropped me off by my building. It was a fun time for two friends with coupons for free lunch and a little extra time on their hands.

But wait–there’s more!

I needed to head out again, and back over by Target for something else. (E was driving, I didn’t want to drag him all over the place on my account.) Once I got what I needed, I headed to the HEB in Friendswood for. . .a can of coffee. See, in all the fun on Saturday, I completely forgot to get more coffee to make my regular iced stuff on the weekends. Because I didn’t realize that HEB’s Healthy Living promotion was a weekend thing, I ran into two blokes handing out samples of. . .Chike High Protein Coffee! They made it with HEB’s refrigerated almond milk, and they were sampling the Mocha blend! So I sat through their spiel while I had another sample cup, and bought. . .one more envelope, on sale, which I had this morning. No, I’m not buying them anymore, honest, unless I have a job that requires long drives. THEN I’ll be buying the big bags, carrying some milk with me and shaking it up mid-morning.

Last time I bought coffee for iced, I decided to try HEB’s “Classic Decaf.” not the fancy stuff in a bag, like the stuff I sent my Aunt recently.

Coffee!

Coffee!

I sent her the good stuff. But I realized that I was buying higher grade coffee than I might have needed. So I tried this kind. First I bought the 13 ounce can, just to try it, since it was $2.68. Made it hot, tasted good, so the next batch was made for iced, and it was also really good. Yesterday, I bought the bigger can, which cost $7.98 for 2 pounds, 7 ounces. That will last me for a while.

It’s in a CAN. No kidding.

Why have I never noticed this before??? It’s good coffee!!

I got the idea because a neighbor I am no longer affiliated with buys Kroger’s French Roast in the can. That, too, is really good coffee–and it’s really obvious when you drink it next to stale-tasting Folger’s. It’s always been there, but since 1998, when I moved to Houston, I never noticed. So I’ll have iced coffee all summer, brewing it on Sunday in the French Press and refrigerating it all week.

BTW, if you decide to try any of HEB’s coffees, it looks like they sell it online, too, but they can’t ship it to California. You can buy the Breakfast Blend I sent to my Aunt last month here, if you’re interested. It’s not a strong coffee, either–but if you want regular, just do a search on HEB.com for “Breakfast Blend Coffee.” I think they even have K-cups now.

So, that was my exciting weekend! We really did have fun, and had some really tasty food. Since I managed to get all my laundry and cooking done last week, I just did some vacuuming, dusting,  scrubbed the bathtub, took out trash (and Neighbor R’s too), watched some TV and sewed some more.

I’ve got a couple of posts in the can that I’m working on, and I hope to get them finished for you soon.

Meantime, have some good food and have a good week.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Crock Pot Day: Citrus Spice Chicken

Happy Monday, Dear Readers!

Sorry I’ve been away, it’s been a bit crazy. Last Wednesday, I busied myself with laundry, cooking, and switching my electric company to one that is nicer, less expensive, and with a US-based call center. With the lovely weather we had after the drowning rains, I’ve also been out on the bike again, every night except Tuesday, when I hit HEB for a stock-up run.

I planned on going for a ride when I got home. That didn’t happen. When I realized how much I’d been walking around that place, I realized I already had some exercise–and that wore me out! Thank heavens for the two folks handing out samples of fish, chicken, and a tasty cucumber salad I hope to make again one day.

Speaking of HEB, apparently it’s been discovered. Snappy Gourmet shared this Business Insider article on Facebook the other day about why HEB is the #1 grocery store in America. What the heck? All they had to do was ask me. I mean, they have stuff like this:

No, I didn't buy them. This time.

No, I didn’t buy them. This time.

And this was under the indoor pink tent next to the bakery section for Mother’s Day:

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Those are chocolate covered strawberries in the perimeter around the cake.

I also picked up two more tomato plants for twenty-five cents each. They were on their last legs, but they are planted, and one even has a tomato growing. Fingers crossed for lots of grape tomatoes this summer.

Does your grocery store do Date Night? Mine does:

And why not take your date to HEB?

And why not take your date to dinner at HEB?

Not all HEBs have a coffee shop in the store. Ours doesn’t, but the store in The Woodlands does, and it’s smaller than our new store.  Ditto for Cafe on the Run–we don’t have one, but the League City store does as well as The Woodlands.

If all these newly relocated people fall in love with HEB, we’ll never get rid of them. Texas will be doomed.

Speaking of food shopping, Neighbor E told me last week that all The Fresh Market stores in Texas are being closed, along with two other states. They’ve only been here in our ‘hood for two years.  There are now hired security guards at the front entrance, and they’ve reduced the operating hours to 9am to 6pm, until they close on May 18th. That’s how tightly competitive the grocery market is here in Texas–and Whole Foods isn’t doing too good, either. The Fresh Market is selling everything at 50% off, all sales final, so if you’re in the area of one of these departing stores, it’s time to stock up.

Between Hancock Fabrics, Sports Authority and now The Fresh Market, that’s a lot of folks in retail losing their jobs in Clear Lake real soon.

Hmmm. . .maybe Trader Joe’s will finally open up in our little nook of Houston? THAT would make life very tolerable! (For a while.)

Well, anyway. . .I wanted to make some food in the Crock Pots, so I bought some chicken, some pork chops, and other ingredients to make something called Citrus Spice Chicken. See, it’s getting on that time of the year, and if you haven’t been using your slow cooking Crock Pots, it’s time to get them out and start using them again (and your waffle maker, too.) Daily, if need be–you don’t need to be heating up your kitchen all day long until October or November when we get a puff of cool air. (We barely had a “winter,” and now it’s spring.)

We went right from winter to nearly summer, but once I decided to put my winter boots back in the closet, we had a front come through bringing cooler, drier air. It’s not really cool enough for boots now, but last Monday morning, I could have gotten away with them.

So, last year about this time, I wrote a longer piece on the slow cooker, a kitchen standby that, with a little forethought and planning, can make your regular cooking easier while keeping the kitchen from heating up during the summer, or allow you to cook more at the same time, anytime of year. Just in the last week or two, Ree Drummond made this Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken Soup on her show. I’ve seen Ree use it a couple of times before, and in my last post, I told you about Giada de Laurentiis getting into slow cooking as well.

I didn’t mention this in my post last year, but I should have. Giving credit where it’s due, the GER is the reason I got into slow cooking, and I even taught the last boyfriend (“Voldemort”) how to use his. The GER would use it occasionally, but I bought a cookbook so I could use it more often. I’d never had one, and when I was getting ready to move, I bought two. Last year, of course, I also bought replacement parts for them. . .but I told you about that, too.

I hate to use the trade name Crock Pot, even thought that’s what I have. Turns out a number of other companies make different varieties slow cookers. My mechanic friend has a Hamilton Beach and I’m trying to coax him to use it more often. But Crock Pot is the original, and it’s a registered company name. So I’ll use them interchangeably. If you have one by Cuisinart. . .well, you know what I’m talking about.

One thing I didn’t mention was the use of the plastic liners available for slow cookers. I hate to buy more new stuff, but I have to say, these liners are awesome.  They’re not available in every store, but you might be able to ask your grocer to carry them. They come in a box of four, and I try to buy two boxes at a time. After scrubbing the heck out of my stoneware crocks for years, I don’t ever want to be without them again. With the breakfast quiche I make on Sunday, once it cools, I just lift it right out of the cooker, turn it upside down on a cutting board, pull the liner off and toss it. Cut the quiche, package it up for the week, and I’m good. Just a quick rinse of the stoneware and it’s all done. It really is that good, and worth the money to buy them and extra minute to set them into the stoneware crock.  You can read more about Reynold’s wonderful invention here.

How come I never think of inventing stuff like this?

Dana Carpender isn’t a well-known cookbook author like some of the other folks I have on my shelf. I have two of her low-carb books, and this recipe comes from her 200 Low Carb Slow Cooker Recipes book. It’s one of those “dump-and-go” recipes where you literally put the food in and all that. Pretty tasty, but one of the ingredients is another recipe in the book for ketchup. No kidding, but it’s worth it.

IMG_3006

I know, it’s weird–but normal doesn’t make the world go round!

First, you make Dana’s No-Sugar Ketchup, which is just a few ingredients in the blender and blitzed. I made it the night before and refrigerated it. Came out like gelatin–but really, it’s an ingredient and good. This recipe appears in all of her cookbooks. Store-bought ketchup is usually loaded with sugar, so this is a good alternative if you can’t find something sugarless or something like low carb.

Into a blender, add:

  • 6 ounces (one small can) tomato paste
  • 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup Splenda (I used SomerSweet, but you could also use your favorite)
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion (I used a shallot, and it was just enough)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

 

Run the blender until the onion disappears. Scrape all of it into a container, then store in the fridge (or freezer for longer storage.

Ketchup!

Ketchup!

At 7½ calories a tablespoon, you can enjoy the heck out of this on fries or anything you like. But that’s not what it’s for today, is it?

IMG_3008

Really, it’s good. Here we start mixing.

Now let’s make this chicken.

The setup

The setup

To the mixing cup, add 1/3 cup lemon juice, the sweetener, a half-teaspoon of orange extract, a half-cup of the ketchup, 2 tablespoons of low-sugar orange marmalade, a half-teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and allspice, an eighth teaspoon of ground cloves, and (if you’re brave) a quarter teaspoon of cayenne. I backed off and added an eighth teaspoon of cayenne and it was good, but I call that “optional,” and I think you could leave it out altogether if you wanted. Mix that all up:

The cooking marinade

The cooking marinade

Once that’s mixed (you could do this the night before and just put the bowl in the fridge until you’re ready to make it in the morning), add 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs to your slow cooker:

IMG_3011

My favorite part of the chicken, or the turkey.

Pour the mixture over the top:

IMG_3012

Stir a little to coat the chicken well:

Yum.

Yum.

Cover, cook for six hours, and, tah-dah!

Dinner!

Dinner!

A little sweet, a tiny bit spicy with a really, really good flavor to it.

The book says to serve it with something else called “Cauli-Rice,” a recipe on page 239, but I haven’t tried that one yet. “Cauli-Rice” is simply chopping up a half head of cauliflower by running it through the food processor with the shredding blade and chopping it up small. My local HEB also sells chopped cauliflower ready to saute, which is what would probably be a good way to cook your “Cauli-Rice.” Microwaving it with a little water or steaming are suggested, but I like saute in butter or olive oil until it’s done. But really, any good, healthy side dish would be great alongside this chicken, or (I know I shouldn’t say this) on top of some gluten-free pasta, which is generally. . .not always low-carb.

In fact, it would be perfect for spiralized veggies, if you do that sort of thing.

Do you have one of them spiralizer thingies? Or have you bought the spiralizing attachment for your KitchenAid Stand Mixer? Um, no. . .and the reason I haven’t delved into it is because I don’t have a spiralizer thingy. Or at least, so I thought. I was out prowling around in the mall the other day, and realize that I actually already have something for spiralizing veggies, and didn’t know it.

How did this happen? Well. . . .

I was asked to make an apple pie or something for a party many years ago, and I was telling one of the guys in IT Engineering about it. He offered me the use of his apple peeling/coring contraption, and I happily accepted. It worked great! I got them all peeled. . .and then I broke it. I don’t know how, but I broke the darn thing. He was on vacation for two weeks, so I had time to scare up a new one. At the same time, I ordered the red one for myself, and I have used it a few times since then, but not in a while. I was in the mall while the brakes were being worked on, and I saw it in either Macy’s, Sears, or somewhere else that kitchen stuff was being sold when the epiphany happened.

I also saw a 3-quart Crock Pot for $12.97 in Sears, in red, but no, I didn’t purchase it. And speaking of red, a very nice lady in Macy’s Fine Jewelry Department allowed me to try on my ultimate dream ring:

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, The Duchess of El Dorado

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome The Duchess of El Dorado.

That ring’s MSRP was much as the car I bought in 1998 when I moved to Houston. (I’ve always believed that the royal engagement ring would look better with a red stone, and I was right.)

There is a smaller, but no less fabulous, version at Macy’s, for considerably less:

Ladies and gentlemen, The Countess of Clear Lake

This ring would make me “The Countess of Clear Lake.”  Still my dream ring, but not as big and bold.

Did I forget to mention that they were 45% off that day? No, I didn’t buy any rings. Just a double-chocolate brownie at Starbucks. I needed that more.

Oh, yeah, I was talking about food, wasn’t I?

So, one day, when I think about it, I will start spiralizing veggies for myself, and see how I like it. Heck, I might actually spiralize something and put it on the waffle iron like hash browns–let’s see what I come up with. For now, though, my attention is elsewhere, including keeping up with this humble foodie blog, and keeping my faithful readers healthy, happy and fed.

But really, a good hot meal is within your reach with a slow cooker. You don’t need anything with electronic controls, connected to your WiFi, or anything else confusing (unless you like it that way.) Get one that turns on and turns off, and you’ll have a great dinner without heating up the kitchen. (And you can serve it with spiralized veg if you want.)

I’ve got some research to do on my next post, but I hope to have a full report on. . .well, I’ll tell you about it when the time comes. Next week is our monthly garden lecture, and the topic this month is Plants of the Bible. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “why would you go to a lecture on plants from the Bible?” Well, because it’s plants, and because it’s interesting. (I’ll be mentioning key topics if I remember to write them down.)

For now, go get your slow cooker out so you can make dinner tomorrow the easy way.

Happy (Slow) Cooking!