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:
And this was under the indoor pink tent next to the bakery section for Mother’s Day: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:
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.
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.
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?
Now let’s make this chicken.
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:
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:
Pour the mixture over the top:
Stir a little to coat the chicken well:
Cover, cook for six hours, and, tah-dah!
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:
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:
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!
Good evening, Dear Readers:
Wow, has it been ten days since I posted? Sorry about that, I’ve been busy. And sleeping. I try to get up early EVERY morning, but sometimes I have long days, and I end up taking a nap. Despite my best efforts, I gotta sleep–and that messes up everything. It’s what happens when you have no set routine, or let go of one. If I won the lottery and were self-funded for life, I wouldn’t worry about it.
Anyway. . .
The HeatCageKitchen garden is in need of a good weeding, but I don’t feel like going out there right now. It’s best to do that kind of thing after the sun goes down, or first thing in the morning (as if!) so that it’s not burning hot. The three Meyer lemons are still there and growing bit by bit, but I can’t find the little lime buds anymore–I’m guessing snails or possums, which roam the property and go pretty much wherever they like. I think they really like my place, but I can’t seem to catch them to let them know they’re not welcome.
The eggshells have helped but are not infallible for deflecting slugs, so I put a border brick under the pot holding the basil. Looks like the basil is getting big enough to where it’s too hard for them to <burp> feast on the pungent leaves. I have more eggshells to crush up and drop outside, I just haven’t done it yet. But I’ve been watering, much as I can, and everything is doing fine.
Yesterday I picked my first two strawberries! Yes! And they were delicious! Check it out:
Granted, they are the size of the top digit of my little finger, but they were delicious. The plant has more buds, flowers and berries in various stages of development. They look weird, but they’re really strawberries. Maybe the additional sunlight will make them grow in normal.
So, last week I was making some food in the HeatCageKitchen and realized that I am running low on a particular salt/spice blend that I used to, ah, “import” from Louisiana. In other words, when I went to visit, I’d buy three or four of them and bring them back to use. Time to order more. However, over time, like a lot of things called “Cajun” will do, this particular item has started to appear in Houston, and I thought I’d seen it one day, but couldn’t remember where.
Guess what? It’s available at my HEB, along with the crab boil!
The Cajun Seasoning with the green lid is the one I like. I’ve been buying it for years, but the last time I imported some was. . .2008, while i was there after evacuating for Hurricane Ike. So it was time to buy more, although I’m not completely out yet.
What I thought I’d be doing is ordering it online, which you can, if you can’t get this in your local grocery store. HEB will order something unusual for you if you fill out a form, but they will also ask, “will you buy a case of it?” However, it’s also easy to order online (There are also recipes using their products on the site.) You can see all of their products at their website, as well as the parent company’s website, Deep South Blenders. I’ve bought products from Deep South Blenders as well, but it’s been a while. It’s a local brand, so it’s in every grocery store in the Metropolitan New Orleans area.
As you can see, Cajun Land Cajun Seasoning is NOT grossly expensive, either. That’s a 15 ounce bottle.
NOTE: How much you use is up to you, but don’t dump a lot into your food until you know how much of it you’d like at one time. It’s got a bite, but it’s not too spicy. But too much of anything with heat can burn you. Unless you grew up in Texas eating jalepenos and Scotch bonnet peppers for breakfast. . .go slowly until you find how how much you like.
My favorite way to use it is on frozen veggies right before I put them in the microwave. A sprinkle of Cajun Land, a touch of salt, some butter, olive oil or unflavored coconut oil on top and it’s perfect. I add salt, because I don’t want to add too much of the Cajun Land to get the salt taste. And I started doing the unflavored coconut oil when I had to do the yeast-free diet many years ago, and I just keep doing the same thing, because it’s so good.
Note: Zatarain’s WAS a local New Orleans brand, but is now owned by McCormick’s. If you don’t believe me, go do a search for it.
So I decided to ring the company, which, I didn’t realize, is 1.4 miles away from where I used to live in Metairie. No kidding! They’ve been there for a long time, and I walked in that neighborhood for 7 years and didn’t even realize they were there. DUH.
So what is this magic mix? It’s a salt-based spice blend, with dehydrated onion, garlic and green onion (you know, what everyone else calls “scallions”) paprika and red pepper, as well as what they call “spices.” It’s salty, it’s spicy, but not burning hot like hot salsa is. A nice rounded flavor with a little bit of bite.
Now, one ingredient is called “spices.” You know what that means–it could be anything, right? So I rang the company and asked about it.
Any guess what the first question was?
Craig Barron, a family member of this 40-year-old family-owned company, said, “Let me go talk to my wife. She’s the food scientist.”
Dear Readers, that’s REAL NEW ORLEANS. No kidding. And Craig is a really nice man, answered all my questions and he didn’t mind me asking, either.
Craig came back to the phone and told me that although the proprietary spice blend is indeed gluten free, they do have some wheat in the facility, and the possibility of cross-contamination does exist, however small the amount. So, if you are highly sensitive to gluten, use at your own risk. But as anyone who looks for gluten additives will tell you (and Dr. Davis, the Wheat Belly guy) it’s always better to ask. Many prepared food products, including spice blends, use gluten or gluten components for filler, thickener, or some other chemical purpose. Anyone who has ever had a reaction from “just a little bit” knows what that means.
Craig spoke proudly of their 40-year history, and the work they do to have Cajun Land products in places like Houston, and they are working on having the products available in more stores, like Kroger and Food Town.
While their website is functional, they are also working on a complete update, so that’s it’s a little more modern. It’s functional, but, a bit, well, 1990’s (by Craig’s own admission!) The day I called they were doing some work on the network, so I tried not to tax him too much.
Turns out his brother Kevin Barron is also a food blogger in South Carolina and also has a company called Muffuletta Media. I hope Craig wasn’t too offended when I laughed at the name–I just thought it was cute, nothing more. If you’re not familiar with the New Orleans classic meal, well, it’s a great big sandwich. No, the muffuletta is NOT gluten free, either. I can’t tell you the last time I sunk my teeth into one, and thank heavens I don’t live there anymore. Writing about it there would send me to the French Quarter to get one.
I can just see folks in South Carolina trying to pronounce that. In New Orleans, most (including me) say “muff-ah-LAH-tah,” but there are a few other pronunciations around, too.
So if you’re looking for a little something new to add to your spice rack armory, consider Cajun Land Cajun Seasoning with Green Onions. Inexpensive and easily available, it might just be your next big thing.