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Happy Cooking

Hello, Dear Readers:

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

First up: a cat being a cat.

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

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

Because. . .that’s a cat for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, YEAH! Who needs Haagen-Daz?

Oh, YEAH! Who needs Haagen-Dazs?

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

This can only be good. . . .

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

And of course, chocolate.

Is there any other kind?

Is there any other kind?

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

Switching gears. . . .

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

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

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

The Frankaroni Loaf

The Frankaroni Loaf! Isn’t it just yummy?

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

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

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

Yummy! (Not.)

Yummy! (Not.) Source: VintageRecipeCards.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

 

I scream, you scream. . .

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

I’ve got a few things to tell you about before the ice cream. . .but it’s worth the wait. I bought a different brand of melatonin, and it for whatever reason, I couldn’t sleep. For a week. I’m finally taking the correct brand, and I’ll sleep like a big kitty now. (Until I have to buy more.) That’s why I’m late writing this–I’ve been half-awake and half-asleep all week. Ugh.

Speaking of the feline species, how about a cat sandwich? I have a brother who likes to say:

“Cat–the *other* white meat.”

“Cat–it’s what’s for dinner.”

Don’t panic–Jezebel and all the other kitties are safe. I found this on Facebook, (HuffPo also has a short article) and it’s just too cute not to pass on.

Cat sandwich. Perfectly normal, right?

Cat sandwich. Perfectly normal, right?

Hope I didn’t scare anybody! I might try to make one of these one day, or at least buy one. I think it’s cute. They’re sold by Amazon Japan, but right now are out of stock. I only found one book on sewing cat beds on the American Amazon site, but it’s a Kindle book. I guess sewing cat beds aren’t the hot thing just yet. Jezebel’s bed needs a softer cover–she doesn’t like the heavy duck I used, so one day I’ll get a yard of something soft and furry to cover it with.

Ok, no more sewing news.

The HeatCageKitchen garden is doing great, despite the weeds, which is one of my to-do projects for the 3-day 4th of July weekend. In addition to weird little frankenberries in the hanging basket, there is a thicket of lettuce growing in one of the pots, and will soon be teamed with a couple of beautiful gifted tomatoes from the GER’s garden soon for a. . .salad. There is also one Anaheim chili pepper growing, and it seems to double in size overnight. There will be more coming later, but for now, it’s my first.

Anaheim chili pepper. You've seen these, right?

Anaheim chili pepper. You’ve seen these, right?

What do you DO with this? Well. . .you’ve probably seen them in your local grocery store, but the only recipe I have for them is a grapefruit salsa, which I’ve been making for 20 years. I love it. I’ll post that recipe when I make it, so you can see it. I make it when I take those grapefruit off my Buddhist altar, if I don’t just eat them outright or make something else with them.

No tomato flowers yet, but I hope to see them soon. That plant survived an unusually harsh and long winter, but it seems to be doing fine. No other tomato plant survived anything. But the basil is doing well and growing fast, so I should be able to start making some pesto soon. Maybe if the tomato plant does well, I can cobble up some caprese salad, too. I’ll keep you posted.

The infamous GER also called me on Monday telling me to come get some fish he’d caught. He went fishing had more than he could deal with, and I was afraid it would fill an ice chest. It was a good amount, but not too much. He says it’s “Red Drum,” but I have no idea what that is. No matter–he’d filleted it nicely, and I know it was fresh because I bit on a fish scale when I was eating some. No complaints.

When I saw the size of these fillets, the first thought that came to mind was “River Monsters.” But a little olive oil, salt and a sprinkle of my favorite Cajun Land Creole Seasoning with Green Onions, baked for about 15 minutes (if not less) and it’s delicious.

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No, the cat food has nothing to do with it.

Thanks again, GER.

Now onto the ice cream.

Remember the blueberries the GER brought last week? I made ice cream last Sunday!  (Yes, it’s gluten free, ha, ha, ha.) I still have some, since it only requires 1.5 cups of blueberries.  Instead of sugar, I used SomerSweet, and that’s my recommendation for sugar-free; the original recipe calls for sugar. Should you decide to make this recipe, what you use to sweeten it is entirely up to you.

I do recommend everything else the same as in the recipe, and not using, say, fat-free cream cheese or skim milk instead of the regular stuff. If you do, I cannot guarantee the outcome. (Read: you’re on your own.)

Ready?

The finished product. But it's a long journey to the end product. . .keep reading.

The finished product. Yes, it’s even better than it looks.

There is a story as to how I got to this point. Hop in and I’ll tell you all about it on the way. . . .

First, of course, you prep your ice cream maker. In my case, it involves freezing the big bowl thingy for 24 hours. Once that’s done, you assemble everything else.

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Homemade creme fraiche and homemade vanilla extract

You mix up the creme fraiche, cream cheese and 3/4 cup of the sugar/sweetener:

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The add the eggs and vanilla:

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Time to heat the milk and cream–carefully, or you’ll have a huge, stinky, difficult-to-clean mess on your hands.

Don't let this mixture boil--you only want it to warm up and steam, about three minutes.

Don’t let this mixture boil–you only want it to warm up and steam, about three minutes.

When it’s warm, you add part of it to the cream cheese mixture, then put the whole business back on the stove and cook it until it’s thick. Again, do not let it boil. When that’s done, turn off the heat and set up your bowl in the ice bath, then use the strainer. (Obviously I’ve done some prep work, and got the ice bath ready before I started.)

Straining the mixture, giving it a finer texture.

Straining the mixture, giving it a smoother texture.

As you can see, a little bit of lumpiness remains, but not a lot. You could skip this step, but. . well, that’s up to you. When done, let it cool in the ice bath for a bit–but don’t drop water in it on the way out.

Delicious, but not yet. Gotta wait.

Delicious, but not yet. Gotta wait.

While this cools, get on with the berries. Toss 1.5 cups in a pan with 2 tablespoons sugar/sweetener:

Blueberries and SomerSweet. Delicious on their own, but stay with me.

Blueberries and SomerSweet. Delicious on their own, but stay with me.

Cook them up, and mash half of them up while they cook, and until the blue stuff becomes thick and syrupy.

Cooking the blueberries

Cooking the blueberries

Here’s where I differ a little from the recipe–when the ice cream mixture is cooled down, and you’re ready to add it to the ice cream maker, remove the bowl from the ice water bath, dry off the bottom of the bowl, add it to the ice cream maker and turn it on. Turn your attention to the blueberries–add them into a separate bowl, put the bowl into the ice water bath, balancing it so that water doesn’t seep in, and let it cool.

Chill the blueberries now, while the ice cream is freezing.

Chill the blueberries now, while the ice cream is freezing.

At this point, you’ve got the ice cream in the ice cream maker, it’s plugged in, turned on, and doing what it does best.

Ice cream in the ice cream maker, getting frozen. YUM.

Ice cream in the ice cream maker, getting frozen. YUM.

It’s coming together now. Are you with me? Yes, it’s very much worth the trouble.

Once the ice cream is a nice, stiff, frozen consistency,

Ice cream!!

Ice cream!!

Take out half, and add it to your low-sided container, then add half the cooked blueberries on top:

The bottom half, or part 1

The bottom half, or part 1

Repeat with the second half of the ice cream, and the remaining cooked blueberries.

Done!

Done! (Yes, I know, it looks like a big mess. It’s not.)

At this point you cover it and freeze it until. . .it’s hard. I put a layer of plastic wrap on top, and put the container’s top on it, then froze it.

And that, Dear Readers, is how you get to this point.

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A lot of trouble, yes, but this ice cream is really, really, really good, and worth the trouble.

I actually haven’t eaten any yet, because, well, I’m waiting for the GER to come by and have some. Unfortunately, he had a ROOT CANAL this week, so he’s not been up to doing much, poor thing. But it’s frozen, so I can wait a while, or maybe make more later.

What happened after that?

I made too much creme fraiche, so the remainder became chocolate creme fraiche:

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So did the remaining cream cheese. But it looks the same as the creme fraiche, so I’m not going to bother you with a picture of that one. Just toss a few things together and whip up with your hand mixer.

I don’t even know how many times I ran the dishwasher last weekend. I just re-washed the ice cream maker’s insert and moved on to the next one. This is what some of us call FUN.

I’ve also made, since then, Cinnamon Ice Cream and Coffee Ice Cream from my favorite book, and to use up the egg whites from the Cinnamon Ice Cream, I’ll make some grapefruit sorbet soon.

It’s that time of the year–make some ice cream!! This one is a bit more troublesome, but very delicious. Recipes abound online and in books and magazines, so find one that looks good to you and go for it. And if you have an ice cream maker–what are you waiting for?

Enjoy!

 

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