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The Cool Post

It’s summer in Texas. Heck, it’s summer everywhere–people are frying steaks and eggs on sidewalks and car hoods. They’re not in Texas, either.

Never fret–I have some nice recipes to keep you cool and comfy.

I caught Valerie Bertinelli’s cooking show last Saturday, and her good friend Faith Ford came by for lunch. Apparently, it was hot in SouCal when they filmed this episode (or they were just pretending) because Valerie didn’t want to turn on the oven. However. . .she did turn on the stove. I mean, how else do you cook lobster tails? While I’m not suggesting anyone go out and buy fresh lobster (I know I’m not, crawfish are the same thing), if you want some, many stores will steam them for you. (I think HEB does.) Valerie’s Lemon Icebox Cake was pretty fast and looked nice and cool. (It does call for Vanilla Wafers.) The episode is called Too Hot To Cook, but cook she does, albeit on the stove top–but not for very long. Want some real fresh-brewed iced tea? They make some, there’s a honey-sweetened recipe in this episode too.

Naturally, I’m up to my summer coffee making:

This will be iced coffee once it cools down.

This will be iced coffee once it cools down.

Now, if you’re thinking about going iced on your coffee, as always, The Coffee Detective has articles to get you started. This one explains how to make iced coffee at home, and this article has specialty  cold coffee-based drinks. (Warning: Nick uses alcohol in some of these recipes.)  How long does it stay in the fridge? Until I finish it. Which is going on twice a week now.

If you are in an area where it’s that hot, do you now see the wisdom of the Crock Pot? Even my mechanic friend JK is thinking seriously about making nice, cool Overnight Oatmeal after I told him about it. (I forgot to ask The E Man if he’s tried it.) Don’t be embarrassed–get one or two if you don’t have a slow cooker, and if you have a family, consider a larger waffle maker, too, for making brownies, hash browns and all that kind of thing. There is no need to turn on that oven, unless it’s a toaster oven.

Still looking for recipes for your slow cooker? Sign up at All Free Slow Cooker Recipes and get them in your inbox every day. (In addition to my favorite, Pinterest.) A searchable recipe database means you can go find what you want on a dime. Don’t heat up your kitchen in the summer, please.

I’ve already made my first batch of basil pesto for the year, which I didn’t document, because, well, I’ve done it more than once. However, the rooted basil cuttings have now been planted, and I expect a large amount of basil, and subsequently, pesto, in the near future. Last year I was lucky enough to get extra from my visit last year to the Genoa Friendship Garden, so I kind of made out like a bandit with the pesto. I have five containers in the freezer, and since we didn’t have a really cold winter in Texas, I didn’t make as much Pea & Pesto Soup as I thought. However, at some point, I’ll need to get more of those square containers I use to freeze individual batches. Earlier this year, I also broke one, darnit.

Speaking of the garden, I got more tomatoes:

And that was it.

They were delicious. And that was it.

Four more are behind it, and I’m watching the newly planted basil cuttings too. No more strawberries, and the jalapenos are taking their time. The lettuce, is, of course, gone now.

Anyway. . . .

Last weekend, for whatever reason, I pulled a couple of old cookbooks off the shelf and started flipping through them. I wanted to make something different, and wondered if there was anything I could make that I had on hand, or with minimal shopping. Something I hadn’t made in a while, or never tried. Turns out there was. The first recipe, Cool Lentil Salad, is a good one. Why have I never made this before?

The first book in question is Martha Stewart’s Healthy Quick Cook. Published in 1997, this book features elegant but somewhat “lighter” menus, including desserts, that are low fat. (Not all the customer reviews are positive, but that’s OK.) “Casual but sophisticated,” it says on the inside cover. Well, we know what “low fat” usually means–higher in carbs, sugar, salt, and other additives to cut the fat but make it taste good. In these recipes, most everything is made from scratch, as Martha usually does, although I admit to making just a few recipes from the book. Maybe I need to go back and read it again. This salad is made from simple ingredients, quick to make and is a nice, cool addition to a summer dinner.

I can still hear my ex-husband say to me, “You expect me to eat that??” Ah, memories. . . .

Recipe 1: Lentil Salad

Unfortunately, you do cook the lentils on the stove, but only for 10 minutes. After that, it’s just tossing everything together.

The setup.

The setup.

The parsley and celery came from the garden, and I really, really needed to cut the parsley. I’m forever telling LK to water the parsley plant she has out front of her house, and. . .mine is watered, but it really needed cutting too. Finally, I cut it. The re-grown celery also needed to be cut, and I took half of that off. (I’ll use the rest in something else.) The lentils. . .well, they’re in a sealed jar, OK? Next trip to Phoenicia, and I’ll re-stock. I haven’t made any lentil dishes since I made Stewed Lentils & Tomatoes earlier this year.

So I started out by boiling the rinsed lentils and garlic in salted water:

I rinsed off the lentils first.

I rinsed off the lentils first.

And let them simmer for 10 minutes. Meantime, I started chopping celery:

This is re-grown celery from the garden.

This is re-grown celery from the garden. I actually don’t like the leaves.

You’ll need half a cup:

Made it!

Made it!

When the lentils are, as the book says, “crisp-tender”, that is, cooked but not mushy with a textured bite, drain them:

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Discard that garlic, then run the cold water over them:

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I’ll toss that garlic clove later.

And toss the lentils into a bowl (your serving bowl, if you like.) Finely chop that red onion (or as best as you can get it):

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And add it with the chopped parsley into the bowl.

Now, I have to tell you about my recent little benefit: I was at HEB on a Saturday, and when I was walking into have lunch, I mean, get my shopping, I noticed that someone dropped a big, beautiful red bell pepper. It was just sitting there! I figured someone would go back for it, but when I left HEB, someone carefully perched it on the short concrete pylons in front of the door. So. . .it came home with me. And I said, Thank You.

My benefit bell pepper

My benefit bell pepper

I put it on the Butusdan for a few days, but noticed it was getting a tad wrinkly. Into the fridge until I figured out what to do with it, and so I tossed it into the lentil salad. The bell pepper was an addition, not part of the recipe:

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Now for the dressing: It’s just 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of warm water. I whizzed that all together with the frother:

And sending it flying everywhere because the bowl was too small

And sending it flying everywhere because the bowl was too small.

Poured it over the salad in the bowl and mixed it together:

Cool Lentil Salad

Cool Lentil Salad

It’s pretty darn tasty, and will complement many summer dishes perfectly.

Recipe 2: White Bean & Olive Salad

This tasty throw-together salad only appeared in the Houston Chronicle via The New York Times many years ago. It was an Everyday Food recipe, and was never in a book or on their website–despite my request to add it. Fortunately, I kept the newspaper section in my personal notebook, and have enjoyed it for many years. It’s simple, and uses just a few simple ingredients for a cool, tasty side dish.

The setup.

The setup.

There’s a reason I put out three kinds of mustard–because, quite frankly, I think you should have a choice. The original recipe calls for Dijon mustard. However, the first time I made it, I only had Creole Mustard, and have been using it in this recipe ever since.

If you can find this mustard, its strong flavor may make you a convert.

If you can find this mustard, its stronger, unique flavor may make you a convert.

I think it’s a lot more flavorful than the Dijon, but that’s just me. You could certainly try the grainier variety of Dijon, too.

Why do I have two kinds of Dijon? Because at Trader Joe’s, it’s cheap.

So, you rinse two cans of cannellinni beans, and add them to a serving bowl:

YUM!

YUM!

Chop (or halve) a quarter cup of Kalamata olives:

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I just prefer them chopped, that’s all.

These are the olives, available in most markets:

Kalamata olives. Watch out for pits, some have them.

Kalamata olives, also from the olive bar in your grocery. Watch out for pits, some have them.

Add them to the bowl. Now thinly slice half a small red onion (in this case, left from the Cool Lentil Salad):

Red onions!

The red onion has a less acrid bite than standard white or yellow onions. But I don’t buy them often.

Time to mix the dressing–and I used my secret weapon again.

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Wash VERY carefully by hand, with hot soapy water when you’re done.

Into a small bowl, add 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, and one tablespoon of mustard. In my case, I like the Creole mustard in this dish, but the original recipe calls for Dijon:

Almost dressing

Almost dressing

And out comes the Aerolatte milk frothing tool to mix and emulsify the dressing.

Whiz!

Whiz!

Note that you MUST wash it carefully by hand to get it clean. Don’t want olive oil in your frothed-up latte, do you?

Then it’s just a matter of pouring it over the salad, and mixing it up:

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Voila! A tasty no-cook salad that’s quick and delicious anytime. It makes four servings, by the way:

Yum.

Yum.

This, too, will hold up in the fridge for a few days. If you can keep your paws out of it. It’s THAT good.

Recipe 3: Ginger Ice Milk

The third recipe, also from Martha Stewart’s Healthy Quick Cook, is Ginger Ice Milk, and takes a bit of prep work before it’s ready to eat. Remember that this book came out in the 90’s, when low-fat was still the prevailing mindset in “healthy.” It calls for 3.5 cups of  “low-fat” milk–which is mostly or all sugar, if you didn’t know that. (I’m guessing it’s either skim, 1% or 2%, but it’s still more sugar than fat; whole milk is both sugar and fat.) No way am I going to put a half-cup of sugar into a pitcher of sugar. So, much like lattes and iced coffee, I made it with whole milk, and sweetened it with SomerSweet. (Yes, I still have some.)

The setup

The setup.

I’m not sure whether to call this “ice milk” or “ice cream.” Whatever you call it, you’ll enjoy it in the summer heat.

Warning #1: fresh ginger has a real bite! And, you should observe sitting times and probably not leave it for 2+ hours while heading out for a bike ride. Just 45 minutes of infusion should have done it. (I forget these things.)

Warning #2: If you have an ice cream maker like mine, that requires the freezing of a component (in my case, the bowl) make sure you freeze it ahead of time as instructed. That’s in addition to making the base for the iced treat you’re freezing, and letting it chill completely. Mine from Cuisinart requires 24 hours for the bowl to freeze up properly, and I actually put it in the freezer on Wednesday. If you have one of the fancier ones with an internal compressor (that is, it’s plug-and-play like this one with no freezing beforehand, which cost more), then you don’t need to freeze ahead. One day. . .I’ll get a plug-and-play ice cream maker, or a bigger freezer so that I can keep *two* of the freezer bowls frozen at the ready and make my own ice cream a lot more often. At least I don’t have to make ice for days in advance like I did with the one I used to own.

Warning #3: Ginger can develop a mold on the surface if you leave it too long in the fridge. Like I did:

Yuck! Cut that off!

Yuck! Cut that off!

I only made this to use up the ginger. And, because I like making my own ice cream.

This recipe is dessert for a meal inspired by Japanese cuisine. The protein is <cough> tofu, and there is nori (flat dried seaweed) involved in a “Vegetable Handwrap.” Now, I’ve eaten burritos for quite a number of years, but even I know that it is not possible to chew through the nori wrap! (It’s like chewing aluminum foil lined with plastic wrap–it’s too stiff to make burritos.)  Obviously, the rest of that menu will never happen in my kitchen, but the dessert is a good one.

So, it’s pretty simple to make: heat up 3.5 cups of milk with a half-cup of sugar (I used SomerSweet), and stir, but don’t boil:

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Warm until the sugar or sweetener dissolves, and whisk occasionally to make sure it does.

While that’s happening, peel the ginger (recipe calls for a 3-inch piece, but good luck finding that to spec). I learned from Martha to scrape the peel off using a spoon. Then slice it like the red onion above:

Yes, like that.

Yes, like that.

When the sweetener has dissolved, add the fresh ginger, lower the heat and let it lightly simmer for 15 minutes. Then take it off the heat, add the grated ginger, and let it infuse for 45 minutes:

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We don’t say “steep” anymore, we say “infuse.”

It was at this point that headed out on the bike for 90 minutes. That’s where the powerful ginger taste came from. It’s almost hot, no kidding.

After 45 minutes, remove the ginger pieces (I had to strain out the tiny bits):

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Those tiny browner bits are the ground ginger. I used a small spatula to push them through the sieve and back into the milk mixture.

Then let it cool, then chill it thoroughly. (This is why you plan ahead.)

Once it’s cool (and you’ve frozen your bowl, if need be), it’s time to make this into a sweet treat.

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Now, there’s something I found unusual with this recipe. See where the milk level is? Well, start to finish took about 40 minutes (and thank heavens for earbuds, that machine is loud.) But as it churned, the mixture sort of expanded:

Second picture. See it?

Second picture. See it?

Now get a look at it right before I turned the machine off:

Close to the top.

Close to the top.

I’ve never seen that happen before. But it was time to shut it off, and I did.

Ginger Ice Milk!

Ginger Ice Milk!

Theoretically, the square glass container on the right should have been elegant sufficiency. However, I had to resort to putting the “overflow” in another container. Well, that’s OK–it’s sugar free, I’ll have it whenever I want some. (I also have some cantaloupe sorbet in a separate glass container, sitting underneath these two.

One thing I noticed is that when I put this dish in the freezer with a spoon, it didn’t freeze hard like ice cream does:

Ice cream with a BITE!!

Dessert with a BITE!!

Checking the containers in the freezer, they’re not frozen hard, either. So, you’ll have to eat this quickly before it melts.

Oh, and I also ate the “crumbs” I scraped off the inside of the freezer bowl:

Or maybe I should have let it churn longer?

Or maybe I should have let it churn longer?

Delicious–but let me repeat the warning that ginger can be quite spicy, and it gives a bite to this frozen dessert. I may have left it infuse too long. But it’s SOOOO good!

Recipe 4: Quinoa, Pea & Mint Salad

The last recipe is actually on page 17 of Martha Stewart’s Dinner At Home, a book similar to the ill-received Healthy Quick Cook, but without the “healthy” connotation. Like the first book and one or two before it, the menus are arranged by season to take advantage of what’s available. They don’t call this a “healthy” cookbook, but for the most part, it is–elegant made from scratch dishes using easy to find fresh ingredients. I made this from what I had already, plus mint from the garden, and I have to say, it’s quite good. So let’s make some!

The setup

The setup

I bought that chicken stock for something else a long time ago, and I finally used it. Peas I try to keep around for Pea and Pesto Soup, so that’s only a cup. I have quinoa as well, and that’s a cup. The mint, of course, came from the garden. So, let’s make this one.

First, put the chicken stock (or broth) in the pot, then rinse the quinoa:

One cup of quinoa, rinsed.

One cup of quinoa, rinsed.

 

I know, not the prettiest picture. Keep reading.

I know, not the prettiest picture. Keep reading.

Heat it to boiling, cover and simmer for 10 minutes:

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After 10 minutes, add the peas, fresh or frozen:

Quinoa isn't quite cooked yet.

Quinoa isn’t quite cooked yet–see the little holes where the bubbles are?

Cover and let this simmer for another 5 minutes.

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After 5 minutes, remove it from the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and then 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil:

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Mix well, and then add into a serving dish (which is probably cool):

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Let this sit for five minutes or so to cool a bit, uncovered. Then stir in the mint. I just added the leaves whole, since they weren’t big. If you have big leaves, tear them a little or even chop a little:

Mint!

Mint!

Mix it up well, and serve either warm or room temperature. If you’re doing the weekly cooking thing, this will sit in the fridge all week and hold up just fine. Best to cook after the sun goes down, or if you’re the hardy type, before the sun comes up. (I used to do that.)

Now, if you’ve got grilling on your mind, the July/August issue of Hobby Farms magazine has a quick recipe for Grilled Bell Pepper and Tomato Kabobs with Herbs and Olive Oil. I haven’t tried this one, but it looks tasty and is simple. It would go well with an outdoor grilled dinner.

More farm-type recipes are available on their website. This month’s issue also includes a Letter to the Editor about foot rot in sheep. EWWWW, poor babies! If you see a sheep kneeling to graze, that means it’s in pain and needs immediate medical attention. But if you do have sheep, you’ll likely smell it, too.

What will you have that will keep your house from feeling like a HeatCageKitchen? (Go to the Recipes page for PDF files for all these tasty dishes.)

Happy Dining!

 

Cupcakes and the Honey Bunny

Good evening, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry it’s been a week since I wrote. I haven’t forgotten you or Graze.com. I sent them a link to the last blog post, and the email I got back was that they’ve passed the link around so everyone could see it. Woo hoo!

I’ve been at it, and sent out a proposal for copywriting work, but it didn’t go anywhere. Another potential client I wrote a sample article for had to say no, they’d lost a big client the day before, but check back in December.

But in foodie news, it’s been a week of good stuff.

First, if you’ve ever broken the glass plate in your microwave, take heart. I did that about five years ago, and just figure that one day, I’d buy a new microwave. Not yet. When the plate broke, I had no idea where to go to get another one for a 2003 Sunbeam microwave. Well, I bought a Corelle dinner plate at Wal-Mart and that worked fine until a couple of months ago when one of the little wheels came off the rotating ring assembly that turns the plate. This was probably caused by the imbalance of weight on the dinner plate, and two weeks ago, I did something about it.

Darn, it took moving the microwave out, snapping a picture of the model number on the back, and going online to do a search. Guess what? Appliance Factory Parts had exactly what I needed. The plate was back-ordered, so I called to ask if it was just temporary, or discontinued. The nice man said it was just back-ordered and should be in next week. They shipped it FedEx, and I even got updates as it made its way to my door. I met the FedEx guy out on the sidewalk. Fifteen minutes later my little microwave bought used in 2004 for $10 was good as new.

I also found a new replacement top thingy for a Braun coffee grinder on eBay. The coffee grinder is at least 4 years old, works perfectly and has been discontinued by Braun. The button on the original top is cracked, but without a replacement part, a new one was in order. But no, I got an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) part on eBay. Instead of tossing a perfectly good coffee grinder and buying a new one, my Braun looks new and works fine.

Repair parts: It’s a Good Thing.

Yesterday I had to trek up to The Woodlands, a place I like to go up to occasionally. One of these days I’m going to spend a weekend up there. But no, this time it was for yearly medical testing with the fine folks at Woodlands Wellness & Cosmetic Center, Dr. Sakina Davis and her terrific staff. And of course, I had to make a few stops while I was up there.

I should point out that I drove through some very heavy rains for over an hour to get there. You never know this kind of thing will happen when you make plans. (Ask anyone who’s planned an outdoor party or wedding.)  We had a big front come through, and dropped the temperature about 15 degrees. Mind you, this being Houston, I had sweat trickling down my back when I hopped in my ride to go on the freeway, and then after I got out of Sweet Tomatoes, I saw people in The Woodlands Mall by Barnes & Noble wearing long sleeves. It had not only dried out but the temperature dropped just a little. It actually got cool when I got home last night.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. . . .

First place I stopped when I got there was The Container Store for a couple of small things. I didn’t have time to do Sweet Tomatoes yet, but I hit the Starbucks across the street from Woodlands Wellness for a quick bite, because I was really hungry. I grabbed a Greek Yogurt Raspberry Lemon Parfait and ate it while I walked back across the street.

Turns out I should NOT have been eatin’ anything. I was supposed to be taking the starving blood tests, but I’ll be going back tomorrow after fasting all night to do the blood draw. I’ll take my laptop with me and head to Starbucks for some food and free WiFi so I can wait for the morning traffic to lighten up.

For a late lunch, I made it to Sweet Tomatoes, where I discovered some delicious gluten-free offerings and a new quinoa salad. After the late lunch, I went over to the mall to visit Karla & Anton Kharoufeh at Oil & Vinegar, but both were on the phone. However, Miss Kathy was free, and I talked to her for a few minutes. I really just wanted to say Hi, but I only got to talk to Kathy. Oh. . .bottles and jars of delicious things in there, so if you’re in The Woodlands, please go stop in and get something special and delicious. The Lemon EV Olive Oil mixed with the Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar is absolute heaven when you whiz it in the blender to emulsify it and pour it on a salad. Doesn’t take much, either.

When I left The Woodlands Mall, I headed out to Trader Joe’s, and shopped til I dropped. Neighbor R, who just turned 80, gave me $10 and asked me to get some of the $3 a bottle TJ’s wine, which she’s fond of. She likes the Chardonnay, but also asked about the Pinot Grigio. I brought back two of the Chardonnay and one Pinot Grigio, and she was very happy with that. I asked the very nice cashier to ring the wine up separately, because this was for a “little old lady in Clear Lake,” and she bagged up the receipt and change (about 27 cents, I think.)

I’m always extra-careful handling other people’s money, even if it’s 27 cents.

I bought extra of some things like toothpaste, cannellini beans, cocoa powder and olive oil. Never mind how much I spent on groceries–I’m stocked up on some non-perishables for a while.

Last stop: Frost Bake Shoppe. I actually got to talk to the owner, Terese Yates, and told her why I was buying so many gluten free. You KNOW that’s what I went for. This time, though, I brought some home to share.

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Deliciousness comes from this box.

Since the temperature dropped, and I had some refrigerated goods from Trader Joe’s in a bag with two frozen water bottles, I got four of the Blueberry Cheesecake cupcakes in gluten free, and carefully put the box in that zippered insulated bag on top. They made it all the way without a problem.

Yes, this really is gluten-free:

Blueberry Cheesecake Cupcake

Is this not the most one of the most beautiful cupcakes you’ve ever seen?

Oh, YEAH.

You can read more about Ms. Yates and Frost at this link.

At this point, the drive home begins. However, the weather was beautiful by this time, so it was only the traffic to deal with. And although it was very slow in a couple of spots, for the most part it wasn’t bad. Neighbor K generously fed Jezebel the step-kitty so I could go see the GER first. I didn’t tell her about the cupcakes until I brought her one.

First stop on was down to Galveston County to see the GER at the infamous, aptly named Funk House/Junk House. I called him on the way to make sure he was home, and I said, “I have something for you.” He said, “I have something for you, too! Some fresh fish and some home-grown grapefruits.” He’d been out fishing, as he usually does on Monday (and today, too.) Suddenly I felt bad–all I had was one cupcake for him! Well, I went. . .and I talked to him for a little while and explained that it was, indeed. gluten free, and he would thoroughly enjoy it. He did–and ate it in three bites. (I talked to him today and asked; he loved it!)

Then back to the homestead, and brought Neighbor K one of these delicious things. She said she would eat it in the morning after our early-morning walk. Unfortunately, I was so tired, there WAS no early morning walk. Just talked to Neighbor K, and she didn’t walk either, but did thoroughly enjoy that cupcake. At 5:30 this morning.

Last stop–Neighbor R, to bring her wine and the last of the cupcakes. (I’d already eaten mine, I couldn’t wait.)

So now, they know how delicious gluten-free cupcakes from Frost can be. That fish from the GER was broiled up last night and came out great.

The fish and produce were not the first foodie gifts I received since my last post, either.

Last week, I got a personal visit from the GER. No kidding. He emailed me last Monday, informing me that he’d received actual mail–and it looked legit–for me. Say what? He said it looked like real mail from a friend. Although it was a greeting card sent from Alaska, it had a piece of junk mail in it. I couldn’t seem to catch up to him to drop by the Funk House/Junk House to pick it up, so he ended up shipping it, and stopping by on Thursday. He also wanted to go to Vitamin Shoppe, which happens to be a mile away from me. It was much easier to let him drive us over there so he could see it, and I needed something anyway, so that’s what happened.

Shortly before the card arrived, he’d found himself with a beehive with lots of BEES. Yes, the kind that produce honey. He had to call professionals to come in and remove said beehive, and they gave him the honeycombs they removed from the shed he plans to eventually dismantle and replace.

So, I got him some gloves and set up a bowl with a strainer so we could filter out solid biological matter. (If you’ve never done this, well, don’t think too much about it, OK?)  While he was wringing out the honeycombs with some clean hair color gloves I gave him, we were chatting about different stuff. And, of course, I forgot to take pictures, darnit! But I can show you what we ended up with.

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I later filtered it out again, and then gave Neighbor K a jar and kept one for myself.

Incidentally, if you like those labels, you can find the template here on Martha Stewart’s website. However, they don’t stick well in the freezer. I just used one on this jar because I’d printed some once and they were just handy.

Now, a while back I kept a couple of pictures from Facebook of a couple of pictures of “cleanse” drinks. Then I had to clear out some of the photos (which is why I don’t have a pic of the bowl of honey before I bottled it, darnit.) I discovered that one, now that I have raw, organic honey, I can try.

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The honey is raw and organic because the GER didn’t know that hive was out there. It’s not certified organic, of course, just. . .he never did anything with it or to it.

Now, these things get passed around Facebook all the time; in fact, friend of the blog AK recently asked me for the Cranberry Cleanse, but that’s got a pear, an apple, a piece of celery and some other stuff I don’t have around on a daily basis.

But this one I decided to try. No, I haven’t lost any weight with it yet, but I have been mixing it up with very warm water to help the honey melt, then adding two packets of sweetener to cut the tartness. Then pour it over ice, because I’m sweaty and no way do I want something hot. I can’t say it’s harmful, but I’m drinking it after I get back in from the AM walks with Neighbor K.

Remember one of Amy’s cardinal rules: two packets of Sweet ‘N Low can kill the taste of anything. That’s helpful when you’re ingesting something awful that’s also medicinal. Been there, done that, tell you in another blog post later, maybe during flu season.

So, despite everything else, I’m still here, and still at it. We’ll be back on the walking trail first thing in the morning (yes, 4 am) and I’m off to The Woodlands soon as I get cleaned up and dressed. No eatin’ until they stick me, and I make appropriate comments about the peacocks in the office looking like poultry.

Happy Dining!

Mmmmm, mmmm, GOOD!!

Good evening, Dear Readers:

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

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

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

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

Anyway. . . .

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

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

Holy Shish Kebab.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Dining!

Saturday Night Steak (and other updates)

Good evening Dear Readers:

I haven’t written since March 10, and for that I apologize. Even WordPress started nagging me about it! I’m still not working, but working ON it. I have some more gluten-free stuff to share, and I may have a big decision to make soon. But more on that as it happens, since I haven’t been offered anything in the top hiring state in the nation in the 8 months I have been actively looking for a job. Nuffin’.

Enough of that.

Remember the blog post I did on lunch bags a while back? Updates: I’ve got more sewing done, and the last of the lunch bags is complete. I have decided to retire the book Lunch Bags, at least for a while, until I have more inspiration or someone asks for one. This interesting lunch bag is the reason I bought that darn book in the first place. I even found the same fabric used in the book, but kept getting vexed by the directions. Finally, I finished it, more or less just like the book, even though I’m not carrying a lunch bag around anymore.

A triumph over. . .oh, heck, it's finished.

A triumph over. . .oh, heck, it’s finished.

There ended up being three of these Zipper-top Lunch Bags on page 71, two of which looked like this:

One of three lunch bags

One of three lunch bags

I gave one to my SGI-USA District Leader, and this last one went to faithful reader Aunt Kathy. Surprisingly, I had enough materials left to make a third, although I kept thinking this was a fourth. (I went to Tulane at night, so I can’t count.) I hate wasting fabric and supplies, so Neighbor K got this version:

A wilder version of the Zippered Lunch Bag

A wilder version of the Zippered Lunch Bag

If you’re wondering why I call it that, it’s because I used black on the bottom and for whatever reason, I’d previously cut more Insul-Fleece with this fabric to line it with:

And the screaming red liner for lunch bag 3. Told you it was wilder

And the screaming red liner for lunch bag 3. Told you it was wilder.

I forgot to take a picture before I gave it to her, so yes, if you’re reading this, K, these pictures were taken in your kitchen when I brought the pug back in. (K also was the recipient of the first bicycle lunch bag.)

A note about Insul-Fleece–it won’t keep lunch icy cold for a long period of time, you’ll have to stash the bag in the fridge at work, or at least carry something that won’t spoil easily.

I’m not sewing that much, mostly on the weekend. I’ve got a couple of things to stitch up this weekend and I hope I get them all finished on time.

OK, now through the bedroom to the HeatCageKitchen garden on the back patio. NOTE: I am NOT making escargot from the snails I keep finding. Yuck. I just toss them over the fence and tell them to go find a new life.

So the gardening is, well, it’s going, and if you remember the little tomato survivor, it finally turned red and became part of a garden salad.

The one, lonely winter-surviving tomato.

The one, lonely winter-surviving tomato.

Incidentally, that plant is starting to come back, as you can see from the greenery at the bottom. Need to trim off the brown parts so the green can thrive. I think I waited a bit too long to use the tomato, because it became a bit, oh, you know, odd, like it was over-ripened, but not too far. Hate to toss that hardy plant after the multiple freezes it went through.

I also had my computer in the shop for a few days, and before I picked it up yesterday I ducked into Garden Ridge a couple of doors down. I saw lots of hanging planters for both tomatoes and strawberries, including one that you plant bell peppers on one end and tomatoes on the other. A hanging salsa grower? I’m game.

So I gathered up a few ingredients including mint, lettuce, Italian flat-leaf parsley, two garlic shoots, and one hardy tomato and made a gourmet salad. Ready? Here it is.

Le Salade a la Amy Garden

Le Salade a la Amy Garden. You would pay top dollar for this in a snooty restaurant.

Those dark colored leaves are lettuce from the “city mix” I planted several months ago. For whatever reason, that was pretty much everything I harvested, and a little has grown back. Oh, boy.

Sure, I put a bit of salt and fresh-mixed dressing on it–who wouldn’t? Of course it was tasty, but I put too many mint leaves in it. Not earth-shattering, just a little potent.

Speaking of salads, I have gone back to doing the lettuce-in-a-jar thing after a few months of not doing it, mostly because of the very cold weather. While we didn’t get any snow this time around, not many folks are interested in cool, crisp lettuce when the heater is on and the fireplace is lit. You want warm. . .much as I love salads, this winter, I gave it up for a while.

So you probably know my penchant for seeking out stuff on sale, particularly meat on sale, and at SuperTarget, I can definitely get lucky.

The steak to start with

The steak to start with. No, Fancy Feast was not part of the deal.

This particular steak was a good flank steak, and the kind that’s organic grass fed and all that. But what to do with it?

When I had a “regular” job (that is, one I knew I was going to every day) my favorite single-girl payday meal was a steak salad I created with the usual lettuce/tomato/cucumber, and added either sugar snap peas, avocado, or some other veggie that looked real good that day. My preferred steak was the Flat Iron Steak, which I’d never heard of before but eagerly tried and loved.

The dressing is one of my favorites from Suzanne Somers’ Get Skinny On Fabulous Food, (page 149) with six tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, two tablespoons lemon juice, two cloves of garlic, and salt with freshly ground black pepper. Whiz that together with your hand blender or mini blender, and set that aside.

I discovered flat iron steaks while prowling in Kroger’s meat department one day. They were, at the time, relatively inexpensive, although the price has gone up considerably in the last couple of years. I would get a big one, use my little meat tenderizer tool thingy and get it cooking. Of course I wouldn’t eat the ENTIRE steak at one time; they are usually as long as my forearm. Depending on the size of the steak, I would have one third to one fourth on the salad, and then cut up the rest for more delicious salad later. Sliced thinly and against the grain, the steak and the accompanying salad veggies are wonderful together with that simple vinaigrette.

Yum. I need to make that dressing again soon. Shaking oil & vinegar in a jar is easy, but that one is fantastic.

My method for cooking just about any kind of steak is simple: stash it under the broiler in the toaster oven. Oh, wait, you want to do it on top the stove? OK, here you go: cast iron pan, a little olive oil, heat on high while you prep your steak (salt/pepper, whatever.) Once you know it’s screaming hot, toss that steak in and IMMEDIATELY turn down the heat to medium. DO NOT go check Facebook because you will ruin a good steak. Do not do that, either.

After a few minutes, when you can easily pick up the steak with tongs, a fork or other implement, flip it. Don’t pull or scrape the steak from the pan–if it’s stuck, leave it until it’s not stuck anymore, which shouldn’t be more than a few minutes, like 5 to 7. (You did put oil in the pan, right?) Cook on the second side until it’s done to your liking–red, pink, completely cooked through, whatever. I prefer some red/pink in the middle, because I will microwave the leftovers later and I don’t want to overcook them.

Really, you should leave a steak to rest for five minutes before you cut into it. Some of us are impatient, but I do it most of the time.

This particular steak I cooked on top of the stove, but because I have more time on my hands than most, I decided to marinate it before hand.

Ahh, there's the rub!

Ahh, there’s the rub! Lemon zest, garlic shoots and finely chopped rosemary from the garden.

I’ve said this before, I love the garlic shoots, and if you’ve never tried growing garlic, it’s not difficult. I haven’t yet harvested any, because I don’t think it’s time, but I’ll keep you posted.

To the chopped stuff, I tossed in some olive oil–I didn’t measure, but I’d say it was between a quarter cup and an eighth of a cup. Mixed it all together, along with some salt and pepper, dropped the steak in and coated both sides, put some plastic wrap on top and stashed it in the fridge.

After the overnight bath

After the overnight bath

The next day I just used my steak-cooking method and it came out wonderful:

That's what a steak is supposed to look like!

That’s what a steak is supposed to look like!

After the requisite rest period, it looks like this when you slice it:

Oh, yeah. . . .

Oh, yeah. . . .

Yes, it was a really good steak. Twice. The lemon, mild garlic and rosemary infused the meat with a mild but distinct flavor that was tasty, but not overpowering like some marinades and flavorings can do. I don’t mind a stronger flavor, but this was certainly worth the time and effort. I’ll do this again sometime, maybe with garlic cloves rather than the shoots (which I probably won’t have much longer anyway once I harvest.)

It’s gluten free! (By virtue of having no bread/wheat around, of course.)

You could always do this on a grill, too. . .I just didn’t. Feel free to grill and let me know how it turns out, please.

It was a good night, and I even had a glass of wine after dinner. With more sewing done and projects given away, it was a pretty good weekend.

More to come in upcoming blog posts.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Downtown, revisited

Evening, Dear Readers:

Yesterday was my first trip back downtown since my last job ended on January 31. Because of one of our recent  “freeze days,” (for which I had to drive to work and spend $13 to park)  I had $9 left on my Metro Q-Card, so bus fare was covered. I have $2.50 left on it, so if I find myself going back, I’ve got to load more money on it. But not much.

I came home and eventually took a 4-hour nap, a task I repeated today after a fruitless trip into town to meet with an “agency.”  I was that tired after going downtown and walking that much through the Tunnel again.

When I walked out of that office for the last time, the only thought crossing my mind was “Never Again.” OK, so another huge company called me and wanted me to go see them (and I’ve since had another call from a very large oil company, too.) I found my way through the Tunnel–a lot farther than my former office–and I made it early. I did plenty of walking, and found some new stuff, too, including another (smaller) Seattle’s Best and, finally, the Houston Shoe Hospital that I could have gone to instead of procrastinating and going to the one on NASA Road 1.

When I was working, I put plenty of money on the Starbucks card, primarily so that I could, when the time came, stop for a coffee or a bite to eat and not mess with the “house money.” Just $10 on occasion, and I think the last amount was $15. Yesterday was such an occasion. (Today I stopped nowhere, and came straight home.) Remember that you also get points, discounts and freebies when you have that registered card. If you have the Starbucks app on your phone, it’s even easier to keep track of everything and get the messages about free things and discounts.

There was no Starbucks around this building that I could find, but there was a nice little deli in the last part of the tunnel. In fact, the HR chick I was talking with said she’d seen people with the Starbucks cups but had no idea where they were getting them.

About 30 minutes before the interview, I was down there with a bottle of water and this neat little snack:

20140220-184657.jpg

This was pretty good, although I had to wash it down with a good amount of water and nibble quite a few mints before I went in my interview so I didn’t have bad breath. (I love mints.)  When it was full, it was raisins, almonds, cashews, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. No salt, unfortunately, so I guess that’s part of the “diet” thing, but overall pretty tasty. (I didn’t think to take a picture of it full; it did have only peanut oil, thank heavens.) There were many different varieties of these snack cups, but this was the healthiest I found in my quick scan of the shelf.

When the interview was over, I had some time before the next bus showed up (about an hour) so I headed back through the Tunnel to the JP Morgan Chase Building.  I knew that Starbucks was a bit out of the way and likely less crowded. I ordered a decaf, but didn’t realize they had some good lunch! I was thinking that I’d get some of that yogurt/fruit stuff, but not with the granola on top.

Look what I found:

20140220-185443.jpg

Here’s a better look at what’s in there:

20140220-185538.jpg

You know what? It was a pretty good salad. No croutons or other “bready” things in it like many salads have. At that point I didn’t want coffee anymore, but they’d already poured it so I paid for and drank it on the walk out of the tunnel and up to the bus stop.

While it wasn’t advertised as such, it is. . .gluten free. Woo hoo! Companies are getting the messages about what consumers want, and they are responding in kind. For all the insults levied at Starbucks, I have to say they do get what their customers are asking for. No gluten-free baked goods yet, but last I heard, they were working on it.

That’s capitalism, folks. That’s America.

You can see full information on this item on Starbucks’ website. A teeny bit of soy here and there, but not enough to bother me, thank heavens.

I may be going back downtown in the next couple of weeks to meet with that oil company, and I’ll let you know what I find there. Might make another trip to Phoenicia downtown on the free Greenlink bus line if the weather’s good–complete with a full report.

Wherever I go, if there is a Starbucks with that salad in their case, I know I can have something healthy and gluten free.

Happy Dining!