Hawaii. The name conjures up pictures of beautiful beaches, surfing, snorkeling, pineapples, and coconut. It’s what most people believe is paradise. No, I’m not going to Hawaii anytime soon. But as I’ll explain, the Aloha State is important for agriculture and the food that’s brought to your table.
Hello again, Dear Readers:
Have you tried Mint & Parsley Pesto yet? It took a while to get that mess cleaned up, but it’s all done now. BF is still acting the way he does when I mention pesto. Aunt Ruth wrote back and said she likes mint in her tea, but never thought about making pesto with it. Sit tight, Aunt Ruth—a blog post on tea is planned and in the draft folder.
A Little Birthday Cake
BF’s birthday was Sunday, and I made him a delicious—and little—birthday cake from scratch.
His favorite is the boxed yellow cake mix with the prepared chocolate icing. I made it from scratch from the Easy Cake Cookbook by Miranda Couse, both the cake and the chocolate frosting. It’s a great book for making small, easy, everyday cakes.
Sure, books like the Death By Chocolate series have some amazing creations—even a chocolate raspberry wedding cake (who needs a groom?) So do many of Martha Stewart’s books. But for a quick bake that comes together quickly and doesn’t require a long ingredient list, the Easy Cake Cookbook is a great go-to cake book.
Amy’s Cake History
Now, most people buy a cake, and that’s fine. Aunt Ruth will probably remember this one.
Years ago while at Boeing, I somehow became the “IT Party Girl” for all department celebrations. I didn’t mind, it was kind of fun, although I was pretty tired when it was all over. When a cake was requested, I just went to HEB and bought one, or ordered it if I had enough time. I always ordered buttercream icing, and everyone loved it. They were consistently delicious and the most requested cakes.
Then one day, there was a celebration I wasn’t involved in when someone was transferring to Boeing’s DC location. After starting the yeast-free diet, complete with prescriptions, I wasn’t about to touch a piece of cake. (I’d also shrunk a couple of dress sizes.) But I sat down next to the lady from Facilities, and she leaned over and said in a low voice, “did you have anything to do with this?” I said, “no, why?” She said, “I can tell.” I asked, “how?” Her response: “the cake.” I just smiled.
It seems that while the cake was beautifully and expertly decorated, the taste did not match the appearance. Being the nosy person I am, I sauntered up to the table and asked one of the women responsible for the event, “nice cake—where did you get it?” The proud response: “Sam’s!”
I wasn’t about to give BF a birthday cake from Walmart or Winn-Dixie.
Happy Birthday, Honey.
Yes, I know—the verdict in Depp v. Heard came in the day after I published. The plaintiff is working—on a tour with Jeff Beck in the UK. He reportedly went to a Birmingham (UK) Indian restaurant this past weekend with Jeff Beck and 20 of their friends. He paid a dinner tab of about $62,000. The owners closed the restaurant for the private party and swore all employees to secrecy. Imagine their surprise—and there was Johnny Depp asking questions about not only the place but even their CCTV system. The owner said he had a nice chat with the man and was quite friendly.
In fact, JD enjoyed the dinner so much that he asked them to make him a takeout meal for him, based on what they served. No hotel room service that evening.
The defendant has disappeared for now.
Now that the trial is all over, we can all go back to our normal, everyday lives.
Celebration Across The Pond
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, celebrated 70 years as the reigning monarch in the UK this past weekend. There’s never been a Platinum Jubilee before. (I know, I know—but she’s the Queen.)
Incidentally, if you haven’t noticed, it’s been four years since the most famous royal wedding in recent history involving an American. Four years on, nobody seems to care about these two. At the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this past weekend, they were actually booed leaving a church service. They’re back in California now with the kids, after reportedly having a very short meetup with Her Majesty at their UK home, Frogmore Cottage.
On the flip side, have you seen Her Majesty’s short video having tea with Paddington Bear? It’s SO CUTE!! (Marmalade sandwiches!) Listen, I know she’s THE QUEEN, but at 96, I don’t see why she can’t have a little fun with Paddington Bear. Her sketch 10 years ago with Daniel Craig as 007 was great, but this was even better. Even her family didn’t know about the sketch. She kept it a secret from everyone, and the BBC spent half a day with Her Majesty. Prince William’s three grandchildren were thrilled, as were all the other children who love the adorable Paddington Bear. (If you’re not familiar with PB, here is a background bit on him.)
Hawaii, the 50th State
Let’s take a long plane ride to Hawaii, shall we?
Spring and summer bring thoughts of vacation time. People from all over the world travel to the Islands every year. Although it’s an individual state, it’s a collection of several islands that have a long history and culture. There is a total of eight islands, but a few of the smaller islands are uninhabited.
Hawaii is one of those places that many people say, “I’m going to go there one day.” Actually, some people say they’re going to go, and they do–and they never go home, as I’ve discovered. Howard Hughes was one of them. Sounds like Texas, but it’s different when they swarm in on The Lone Star State.
One of my agency clients has two non-legal clients on the island of Maui, the second-largest island in the state of Hawaii.
So, I do a lot of writing about The Valley Isle, as it’s called. The content is about different things that are either Hawaiian or Hawaiian but relative to Maui. I’ve learned a lot, and it’s interesting reading.
BF and I occasionally talk about where we want to go one day, and Hawaii is one of those places. I said no, I want specifically to go to Maui. We’ve never been there, not yet. I’m still trying to make a trip back to Houston to visit.
Where I Got The Idea
Recently one of my client project managers, who lives in Florida, found out about my little food blog. She said, “hey, why don’t you write a blog post for our client about traditional Hawaiian recipes?” Who am I to say no? So I did. And I thought I’d keep the idea in the draft folder for a later blog post here. Because Hawaii also has an interesting food scene, in addition to agriculture. (I’ve also suggested topics for their various clients occasionally, too.)
Everything has to be shipped at least 2,000 miles to the Islands, so it’s quite expensive to live there. Yet everybody keeps moving there and building. Like former President Obama, who is building a home on the island of Oahu. (Because he was born there, so he said.) Just last week one of my legal clients said he was headed to Oahu with his wife and kids–he met and married her there. Other well-known celebrities have homes in Hawaii, particularly on Maui, which isn’t as developed as The Big Island (the island that’s called Hawaii.)
The state participates in the Hawaiian Electric’s Clean Energy initiative, in which the state works toward all clean energy, including:
- Water, also called hydropower or “ocean energy”
- Waste To Energy
No, I’m not copying and pasting one of those articles here, but I am referencing some of the research. It would ruin the SEO for both my site and the client’s site. (I know better.)
Brief History of Hawaii
Prior to becoming a US state on August 21, 1959, the collection of islands was a territory, and before that, it was a sovereign kingdom. It had a monarchy between 1810 and 1893 but was overthrown in 1893 by European capitalists and landowners.
Hawaii offered considerable assistance to the United States during World War II and pushed for statehood. People living there did not wish to be subjects, but citizens, and voted to become a state rather than stay a territory.
Like Texas, Hawaii was an independent Republic until August 12th, 1898, when the US made it a territory. For 60 years after that, it became it remained a non-self-governing territory until becoming the 50th state. Since joining the United States, it has become an integral part of the US, even though it’s 2000 miles from the California coastline.
Note: don’t refer to people who live in Hawaii as “the natives,” it’s considered insulting. They’re called “locals,” because not everyone was born there, and therefore aren’t “natives.” Also, don’t say “back in the States,” because you are in the States. What you mean is The Mainland. There is also a language called Hawaiian Pidgin that’s spoken by people both born there and relocated there. Folks don’t normally speak it in front of tourists, but if they do, just smile.
Maui itself is both an island in the state of Hawaii and an entire county by itself. With 64 parishes in Louisiana, and 254 counties in Texas (Houston’s Harris County is the largest), it’s a bit different to wrap one’s head around one county, one island. But they do it, and Maui is only 728 square miles. Galveston Island, by contrast, is only 27 square miles, although Galveston County is larger.
So, what does that have to do with my silly little food blog? Well, for one thing, the State of Hawaii grows quite a few crops that are exported all over the US and the world. You’d expect things like pineapple, bananas, avocado, coconut, and macadamia nuts to be grown there. And, you may not realize that some of the food you buy could have been grown in Hawaii, or even on the Valley Isle.
While Maui has a considerable amount of coastline, it’s not all beaches. The Valley Isle also has several different ecosystems, called “microclimates.” This means that you can go from a coastline to a desert area in a car ride, and then pass through a tropical rainforest on the east side of the island. You can also go straight up a mountain and find yourself shivering at a higher elevation. It also means that different crops grow in different spots. It’s Terroir, as the French call it in relation to winemaking.
But Maui also grows and exports other crops that you may not realize, such as:
- Cacao (chocolate)
- Coffee, particularly Kona Coffee
- Jackfruit (hard pass for me)
- Lettuces and other green leafy vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
- Taro, a locally grown starchy root like a potato that’s used in a range of traditional dishes
Maui and Hawaii’s crops are consumed around the world.
Maui’s Agriculture Today
Until 2016, sugarcane was a prominent crop and industry. The former sugarcane land in north-central Maui is now owned by a California-based company. They have plans to turn that area into sustainable farming with non-GMO crops, bring more jobs to the area, and increase the amount of locally grown crops for Maui and possibly for export.
Ironically, Maui imports about 90% of its food from the Mainland US. Everything is flown in from elsewhere, hence the higher cost of living. This includes food, medicine, fuels, and pretty much every consumer good you want to buy. Don’t forget the postage.
Should Hawaii’s supply chain become seriously disrupted due to a hurricane, tsunami, or another disaster, Hawaii would have no more than three to ten days of food available. People who live there want to make sure that the entire state of Hawaii can develop a more self-sufficient food supply that isn’t dependent on 2,000-mile trips from the Mainland. Remember, it also takes fuel to get the food and supplies to the Islands.
If you go, what can you expect to eat? Seafood, according to one of my former Boeing coworkers who just went to Maui. But, surrounded by ocean, what do you expect? No complaints out of me, that’s for sure.
But if you go, Maui as well as the entire state has some fine dining using locally produced ingredients. There are organic family farms on the Valley Isle and plenty of local coffee shops and other places to eat. Don’t expect Texas-style anything, that’s for sure, but you’ll find a range of delicious local options.
There are some unique foods you’ll see that will catch your attention. Some will likely turn BF into a dieter whenever we get to Maui.
Poke’ and Poke’ Bowls
Poke’ bowls (pronounced “POH-keh”) began with Hawaiian fishermen who would simply cut some freshly caught fish and vegetables, season them a little, and eat their lunch. That’s it. The word means “slice or cut” in native Hawaiian, and of course, is one of those things you get everywhere on the Islands.
If you remember my post on Spam last year, you’ll recall that this canned meat is quite popular in Hawaii. The company has a recipe for poke’ using Spam.
In the Mainland, poke’ is new and trendy, and there is even a poke’ place in Hammond. We haven’t been in it yet, I guess I’ll do that on my own one day—no way BF will touch that, he already told me. A couple of weeks ago, we had to run an errand in the Baton Rouge area and saw one near Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. I couldn’t get BF to go in with me, but we needed to get home anyway. Next time.
I’m going to admit that I prefer “bowl food” because it’s just easier, and poke’ sounds like a winner in that category. Here’s a primer on how to make a poke’ bowl at home, if you are so inclined. This poke’ primer is from the infamous People magazine, but it’s also basic.
If you go looking for cookbooks on poke’, be prepared to see books on “poke cakes.”
The USS Nemo Restaurant in Naples, Florida offers a primer on how to eat a poke’ bowl, too. Hint: it’s not like spaghetti and meat sauce.
The basics are:
- Cooked rice
- Fresh salmon or tuna, sushi-grade, or a non-raw protein like cooked chicken or shrimp, canned crab or tofu
- Sesame oil (just a little—it’s very strong)
- Toppings such as soy sauce
- Anything else you want to add, like veggies, sunflower seeds, etc.
Of course, if you’re making poke’ at home, you can use whatever you like—quinoa instead of rice, for instance. I’m not interested in chopsticks, although I do know how to use them. Have at it.
Believe it or not, banana bread is a really big thing in Maui. No kidding. You see, the entire state grows lots of bananas. They grow everywhere, especially in Maui.
One reason that Maui banana bread tastes the way it does is because of the apple banana grown there. Many bakers also use organic sugar that’s harvested on the Valley Isle. And, well, there’s also a little Aloha baked into every loaf, making Maui banana bread unique.
That’s not to say your own banana recipe isn’t any more special. It’s just that Maui’s is special, too, for a few reasons. Bananas thrive in Maui, and the locals take their banana bread very seriously. If you go, make sure you try some and don’t forget to say “Mahalo.”
The Rise Of Hawaiian Banana Bread
Why is banana bread a thing in Hawaii? During the Great Depression, growers found themselves overloaded with more-than-ripe bananas. Hawaiians simply started baking banana bread to keep them from going to waste.
When baking powder became available, it was easier than using yeast. So, home bakers could make the bread easier and faster with all those brown bananas. Since then, banana bread is a beloved tradition in Maui that’s loved by locals and tourists alike.
Incidentally, banana bread is one of the most popular recipe searches online. Check out Pinterest, Martha Stewart’s website, and The Food Network, or just do a simple Google search for “banana bread.” You’ll find millions of recipes and never run out. Your biggest problem will be picking one.
BF’s favorite is in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. It includes shredded coconut and walnuts, but I use local pecans instead. This bread freezes well. I need to bake more soon; we gave away the last loaf in the freezer.
If you can’t go to Hawaii this year, enjoy some homemade banana bread at home while planning next year’s trip. Make sure to try the banana bread while you’re there.
You’ve probably heard of this but might not know what it is. Sure, it’s a feast, but it’s way more than that. It’s a celebration of Hawaiian culture, food, and an ancient way of life that’s been preserved through the ages.
Modern luaus are big parties held at the beach. Traditionally, they are for celebrating things like marriages, births, and other milestones. But now they’re available for visitors, just find one, make your reservations, pay in advance, and go.
They are traditionally held at sunset, and of course, you’ll be given a lei upon arrival. Etiquette note: do not remove this lei, it’s considered an insult. Pregnant women are given an open-ended lei since it’s considered bad luck for her to have the closed one.
Guests sit on ground mats by low tables, although tables and chairs are available upon request at some luaus. Dress casually and comfortably, of course. Luaus now run for about three hours and include food, some drinks (or may have a cash bar), and traditional Island entertainment. Fire dancers, hula dancers, or traditional dance that tells the story of Hawaii are the most common. You’ll learn more when you make your reservations.
Food At The Luau
What kind of food is served? You’ll dine on traditional slow-roasted pork, roasted all day in an underground pit with hot rocks, no kidding. Sweet potatoes are also included in the pit. Other traditional foods include:
- Chicken long rice
- Fish dishes, naturally, including Lomi salmon and Poke’
- Coconut custard, called “haupia”
- Kulolo, another pudding made with steamed and grated kalo and coconut milk
- Poi, a traditional Polynesian dish made from the native taro root
- Salads from locally grown produce
- Rice (which is probably all BF will eat anyway)
- Desserts made from locally grown tropical fruit, i.e., mango, pineapple, papaya
Cocktails include Mai Tais and other tropical drinks along with non-alcoholic drinks for children and those of us who prefer not to drink.
Always at least try some of the native dishes, as it is a sign of respect. Native Hawaiians and longtime locals are big on respecting traditions, the culture, and the land, and that includes beaches.
Hula dancing is traditional and also taken seriously. If you’re of a mind to do so, get up and hula dance with everyone else. Just don’t make fun of the other dancers, it’s considered rude.
Recipe Redux: Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clusters
Macadamia nuts are synonymous with Hawaii. So if you’re having a hankering for some, I’ll help you out here.
Remember a while back when I reviewed Emilie Bailey’s vegetarian keto cookbook? I made those lovely-looking chocolate macadamia nut clusters. Unfortunately, we weren’t crazy about them. Well, I figured out why.
Normally, when I buy nuts for cooking or baking, I get them from the baking aisle. But that’s not what I should have done with this recipe. What I should have done, and I did the second time, was to get the roasted and salted nuts from the snack food aisle. That’s why the first batch of chocolate nut clusters just didn’t taste all that great–the nuts were raw.
But roasted and salted macadamia nuts made all the difference, and the result was so much better.
They were quite delicious on their own, too.
I also chopped the nuts this time.
We really enjoyed them the second time, so that’s another back-pocket recipe we have for Valentine’s Day and other date nights at home. What can I tell you? They were so much better with the roasted nuts and extra salt inside and on top:
Here’s the recipe if you want to print a copy for later. (So glad I found WP Recipe Maker!)
Dark Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clusters
- 1½ cups sugar-free chocolate chips I used Hershey's but there are several brands, including Lily's
- 1½ cups roasted and salted macadamia nuts From the snack aisle
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- ½ tsp vanilla extract look for no sugar brands
- Flaked sea salt
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- Place the chocolate chips and coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high. Stir every 20 seconds for about 1 minute 30 seconds, or until completely melted.
- Once melted, stir the vanilla extract into the chocolate mixture.
- Pour the macadamia nuts into the chocolate mixture, and stir until coated.
- Use a tablespoon to drop mounds of the chocolate-macadamia nut mixture onto the parchment paper. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of sea salt, and chill for 15 to 20 minutes, until firm. Store in an airtight container or zip-top bag in the refrigerator.
It isn’t Maui, but it’ll do for now.
Until Next Time
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s culinary visit to Maui. Right now it’s the closest many of us will get to the Valley Isle, but that’s OK. I bought a nice pineapple today for my Buddhist altar.
As I mentioned, I’m planning a blog post on tea soon, because, well, I like tea, too. But I’m picky. It’s got to be British tea, which comes with a lot more history than American tea. Well, except for the Boston Tea Party, of course. At this point, I think we’re on better terms with Britain, with long-term mutual respect in place. At least if Harry and the American Duchess would please mind their own Spotify- and Netflix-sponsored business.
And if you like iced tea—time to make some, yes?
Did you know that pesto isn’t always made from basil? Many fresh green herbs can be turned into a delicious addition to your meals. Come see what I made with what I had in the garden.
Hi, Again, Dear Readers:
My apologies, I’ve been away. After the last post from Beverly, I’ve been busy with a new client who gives me a chunk of work every week. I’ve been concentrating so much there that I haven’t had much time to do everything else. The only sewing I’ve been able to do is minor repair work.
Before I forget: I updated last month’s Spicy Calabrian Shrimp. I found the missing pictures and they’re now in the blog post.
Speaking of work: don’t get me started on Depp V. Heard. I’ve been paid to write two blog posts on the subject, and like a lot of people, I’m anxiously awaiting the verdict. That case has captured my attention but not for the reasons you might think. It’s extremely interesting, especially with my legal background. Livestreamed online, it’s real life, not a movie or TV show. I’m not a big “Depp fan,” but the case is intriguing. Then again, I do a lot of research and writing for the legal industry, so you understand why I’m so interested.
You probably don’t want to know about the insanely X-rated language, or the distinguished attorneys on both sides reading it all aloud in front of the judge and jury. Scriptwriters couldn’t write that kind of thing on purpose, but will probably try now. The court reporter–who has to record every filthy, nasty word of it–got a standing ovation from Depp, his legal team, and the people in the public gallery. I’ll say this for him–Depp is certainly a creative writer when he’s fired up.
Enough of that.
As for our wonderful friend Beverly, she is planning to write another guest post, this time on the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, which, she says has food you can actually cook. The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook series is more pictures and stories from the show, rather than recipes you’d want to make. Like me, Beverly reads cookbooks the way others read novels. So that’s coming up soon.
BF and I went to see a matinee of Downton Abbey: A New Era last week, and let me tell you—if you loved the series, you’ll love this movie. It ties a bow around the entire Crawley family saga, I think. Not sure if there will be any more from the DA saga or if this is the conclusion, I haven’t heard. I won’t give away any secrets that weren’t in the trailers, but there are a couple of things I didn’t see coming. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention. If you go—BRING TISSUES. Trust me.
On the way home, BF reminded me: “Never forget how much I love you.” In other words, if he didn’t, there would be no way he’d be going to see that film. Ever. Next up we’re planning to see Top Gun: Maverick. I hear it’s as good as the original, and I’ll need to re-watch the original because I haven’t seen it since 1986. Fortunately, BF has the DVD.
But today I’ve got a post on a discovery that you might be interested in trying even if you don’t like basil.
Berry Picking Season
The wild blackberries that grow here are ripening a few at a time, so I’ve started picking them around the property.
I showed these pictures to Neighbor E this past weekend, too.
These, of course, are not yet ripe, but they ripen individually. There are occasions when I walk outside with this beast.
And pick a handful or two for us. (BF doesn’t much care unless I bake the berries into something.) Broccoli Stirfry and I eat berries together, and he loves them. The pit bull doesn’t seem to get as excited about them anymore.
But when I go out to pick for the freezer, I’m wearing a pair of these gloves, a pair of knee-high Muck Boots, jeans, sunglasses, and a hat. I can reach more ripe berries that way unless I’ve been out with the silly dog and we’ve had the “low-hanging fruit.”
But I still get scratches and mosquito bites.
So far, I’ve nearly filled a gallon freezer bag with this year’s pickings, and BF is asking me to make something for him with them. I moved last year’s crop into the kitchen freezer so I can do just that for him. I just received the new edition of The Pioneer Woman magazine today. There’s a blackberry cheesecake galette recipe that I’ll be trying soon. Unfortunately, it’s not on the website. (Blog post?) I’ll also be making my favorite keto blackberry cobbler again, too.
Making Pesto Out Of Anything
Last week on Facebook, Giada de Laurentiis’ Giadzy online magazine re-published an article from 2020 called How To Make Pesto Out Of Anything.
Anything? As in chocolate and raspberry anything? No, not that anything, but fresh herbs and greens that you may have on hand, like I do.
The point of the article is that, although it’s traditional in Genoa, pesto isn’t necessarily made from basil. Pesto is not an exact science, nor is it rocket science. “The true beauty of pesto,” the article states, “is that it’s greater than the sum of all of its parts.” In other words, the combination of all the ingredients is what makes it so delicious, not just one specific ingredient.
It’s a bit like a puzzle really—one piece is just that, but when you put together 10 pieces of the puzzle, then 100 pieces, then more, you get the entire picture.
Well, that’s how I think of it anyway. I hope that makes sense.
No Basil, But Lots Of Mint
So I recently planted the two little basil clippings that I rescued from last year’s crop. I kept them in the kitchen window for months, and I recently planted them outside along with a packet of basil seeds in the same pot. Those seeds have started to grow, and the rescued clippings are doing just fine.
Additionally, I planted two packets of lettuce seeds in a different pot, and they’re coming along just nicely.
Not ready to cut yet, but I’m looking forward to having some with a tomato or two.
But the mint plant that I’ve had for quite some time became overgrown.
I had plenty, but just didn’t know what to do with it. The stuff just grows, and I don’t want to make that many Corsican Omelets with goat cheese and Mojito cocktails. Keep it watered and you’ll have more than you know what to do with. Every time I went outside, I told myself to cut it and do something with it, but I didn’t know what. Thanks to Giada, I now have the answer.
Her standard pesto recipe that I’ve used for many years is
- 2 cups of fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
- 1 clove of garlic
- ¼ cup of toasted pine nuts
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
- About 2/3 of a cup of extra virgin olive oil
Once you blend that all up, mix in a half-cup of grated parmesan cheese. Use it, refrigerate it for a week or so, or do what I do and freeze it as long as you want. Right now I think I have frozen pesto going back to 2018 or 2019. It’s still fantastic.
Using that as a guide, and then taking the information from the article, I went on to make pesto in a new form.
How It’s Made
So, it started out with walking outside and clipping what seems to be a mountain of mint growing. You always keep mint in a container. Otherwise, you’ll find out what happens, as Banana Rat did many years ago when he planted it in his backyard.
Mint takes over wherever you plant it. A few years ago, he posted it on Facebook one day with a question: “Can you say endless mojitos?” He literally had mint growing in about half of the yard. I don’t know if he still has mint growing everywhere, but it is pretty difficult to tame and remove. So, if you like mint, keep it in a container, or you better really, really love mint with all your heart.
Next, I gathered up all the ingredients I had.
I didn’t have any Parmesan cheese because I hadn’t been to the grocery yet. I also took Giada’s suggestion to use walnuts instead of pine nuts.
So I clipped and I clipped and I clipped, filling up the salad spinner inner basket.
Buddy doesn’t care for the mint
Then I washed the leaves well, spun them, and began picking the leaves from the stems.
Check out the water that comes out after you spin it. You don’t want this in your pesto.
All told, I had about three cups of mint once I finished de-stemming. Perfect.
Then everything went into the blender just as you would with basil pesto.
I like walnuts, so I figured I’d try them this time. Yes, pine nuts are delicious, but they are also pricey. Just for once, I figured walnuts would be OK. And you know what? They worked quite well. Plus, I could snack on them and not feel guilty. Toast them first, don’t burn them:
And put them in a cold bowl to stop the cooking and cool them off.
Next, add them to the blender:
I tasted the finished product, and it was quite minty. The garlic and the olive oil sort of tame the extreme mint flavor, but you could still taste the inherent “mintiness.” I decided to put it in the freezer until I could figure out what else to do with it. I still needed to add Parmesan cheese, but I wanted to give some more thought to what else I would add.
The Next Step–Parsley
I needed to go to the grocery anyway, and we were indeed out of Parmesan cheese. So, after giving it some thought, I decided to add some Italian flat-leaf parsley.
Then I got on with it.
First, I had to thaw the pesto because it froze quickly. I ended up having to microwave it for about 30 seconds just to soften it up. Even then, it was cold, and it was still kind of like a sludge.
Once I got it out of there I started with the parsley.
But I managed to get it into the blender just fine after adding the requisite Parmesan cheese.
I just sliced the parsley leaves clean from the bundle at an angle with the blade of the knife. I didn’t take the bundle apart. Pulled the stems out to make sure it was just leaves and I added it all in after washing and spinning.
Because it was much thicker now I had to add a little more olive oil a couple of times. I also added in a couple more cloves of garlic, too.
I blended, and I blended, and I blended, stopping the motor to move it around with the blender spatula to make it catch everything. Finally. I had a nice emulsion.
I removed it from the blender, very carefully, as much as I could get out of it, and then added a little more of the Parmesan cheese.
Then mixed it well, and tasted it. I think I’ve got four cups of this stuff, which is great, I’ll have it for a while.
And then you have this, in a larger container than the usual one-cup or two-cup containers I use:
Verdict: incredibly delicious, and the parsley tames the mint flavor.
Where has this been all my life?
OK, so I can’t say I was trying to create a new recipe. But guided by the article and my previous experience making standard pesto from basil, here is my recipe for mint and parsley pesto.
Mint & Parsley Pesto
- Blender Essential when you're making pesto
- Salad spinner This takes much of the water off the herbs after washing
- 3 cups Fresh mint
- 1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
- 2 to 3 cloves Garlic
- 1 cup Extra virgin olive oil
- ° Salt & Pepper to taste
- ¾ cup Walnuts (increase or decrease as you like)
- ¾ cup Parmesan Cheese (increase or decrease as you like)
- Toast the walnuts (or other nuts) until they are warm and fragrant. Do not burn. Add to a cold bowl and set aside.
- Remove mint leaves from the stems. Wash and spin in the salad spinner to remove excess water.
- Chop parsley leaves off the bunch, then repeat in the salad spinner to remove excess water.
- Add the herbs to the blender, along with the garlic, toasted nuts, and a little kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the lid to the blender with the center part removed.
- Measure out 3/4 cup of the extra virgin olive oil. Slowly pour into the running blender through the open top until the cup is empty. If the contents don't seem to be chopping and mixing, turn OFF the mixer and use a spatula to move things around in the bottom. Remove the spatula, replace the lid, and try again. Add more olive oil a little at a time until the blender moves and you get the right consistency.
- Pour the pesto into a bowl, and add the Parmesan cheese. Stir until completely blended. Add to a storage container and either refrigerate for a week or freeze for later. Makes about 3 to 4 cups of pesto.
It’s as simple as making standard pesto, and the flavor is outstanding. I’ve got the finished product in the freezer, marked for identification. Of course, I did, so that there’s no question about what’s in it. I recommend using square or rectangular glass containers to freeze the pesto because they’ll fit better in your freezer and there’s no loss of flavor. I speak from experience on this one.
OXO makes some good ones, as does Target. I think I found a few at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet in Denham Springs, too. But I do miss the Pro Glass squares I used to get at Bed, Bath And Beyond, they don’t seem to have them anymore.
What am I going to do with this new version of fresh pesto? Well, my first thought is to add a small amount on top of a grilled or a roasted chicken breast, chicken thigh, grilled shrimp, or baked fish. One could also add it to some freshly cooked pasta (gluten-free for me.) Granted, BF insists on frying all fish in the house, so I would have to do this when he wasn’t around.
I also think it would be good in or as a dip. So if I was in the mood for some cut vegetables, a little bit of this pesto would be good for dipping. Maybe I could mix some in homemade mayonnaise, or some sour cream, or something else that would work as a base. Or I could turn it into salad dressing—I’ll think about that one too.
Note that it tastes like a pesto, not specifically like mint and parsley, so you could probably use it as you would basil pesto if you wanted.
Cause And Effect
I was quite happy to tell BF about this discovery. However, he was not as happy about hearing about the new recipe, as usual.
I described to him the process of cutting down all that mint, then blending it together. In between sentences, he gave me his requisite verbal retching sounds. This is the same guy who is very particular about his toothpaste and the type of minty-fresh Listerine mouthwash he buys.
While he was at work, I told him via text that I’d finished making it.
Well, more for me, I guess. I marked it so there’s no question about what’s frozen in the container. Of course, BF won’t touch it, because he’s been around my pesto-making for more than five years and declares it an abomination or something.
Still, I’m glad I made it, and I can’t wait to try it in or on something. It’s not the strong basil flavor, but it sure is tasty.
If you’ve got a good amount of herbs growing, a combination of the herbs would also work, given the garlic or other aromatic Giada recommended in the article. You could use any type of oil, but extra-virgin olive oil is the best for this. Walnuts—well, they’re tasty roasted in the pan, that’s all I’m saying. But you could use almonds, or leave the nuts out entirely.
Until Next Time
It’s pretty much summer here, so wherever you are, enjoy summer while you can. Of course, in the south, we enjoy it six to nine months out of the year. (Winter hung on a little longer this year.) It’s a great time for grilling and enjoying the outdoors. Don’t forget the berries.
Outlander is a popular historical drama on the Starz network. Like Downton Abbey, it has a legion of fans and a huge accompaniment of books, specials, merchandise, and heaven only knows what else. Today, it’s the subject of a guest post on the food of this popular show.
Hello, again, Dear Readers:
Today’s blog post is the first guest post to appear here, written by a writer, colleague, and friend Beverly Matoney who lives in the great state of Georgia. Like me, Beverly and her husband live rural. Unlike us, they are also raising chickens.
Beverly is a copywriter for the homeschool market. She homeschooled her own two children who are now grown and in their own careers. Beverly graciously offered to write a guest post when I was, one day, stumped for new ideas. (Well, I did order from Misfits Market, twice.) We chat weekly on a Zoom call with other writer friends, one of whom is in another country, eight or nine hours ahead of us.
I’ve made no secret of my love for Downton Abbey after it was recommended by friends in Houston and elsewhere. I watched it through the end of the series when Lady Edith finally got married to Bertie Pelham (spoilers?) I really enjoyed the kitchen scenes, like when Mrs. Patmore tried an electric stand mixer for the first time. No microwave ovens, air fryers, slow cookers, pressure cookers, or even a countertop oven at the House of Crawley.
Then, I got BF to take me to the movie a couple of years ago. There’s another Downton Abbey film coming out in a couple of weeks. I can’t wait, but he’s not entirely thrilled.
Wait until I decide to get the official cookbooks of Downton Abbey and start using them to cook dinner for BF.
Downton Abbey isn’t the only historical series that has a devoted legion of fans. The series Outlander also has a fiercely loyal fan base. But since it’s on Starz, I haven’t seen it. It’s available on Amazon Prime Video as well, but. . .I haven’t bought one of those streaming subscriptions. I’m too busy with Britbox right now (where you can also see Downton Abbey.) It’s longer than I want to admit since I watched anything on The Food Network.
Beverly is a fan of Outlander as well as of the cooking. Like me, Beverly enjoys cooking and embraces trying new and interesting things. Fortunately, her husband isn’t the “don’t mess with my Hamburger Helper” sort like BF.
There are actually two cookbooks, and this review is about the first one.
So starting with this first subheading, and very little editing (mostly for format), is Beverly’s review of The Outlander Cookbook by Theresa Carle-Sanders. It’s offered with great appreciation and thanks to Beverly for writing and sending it along. (The links are my live affiliate Amazon links, pictures gathered from Amazon, Google, and other attributed sources.)
If you’ve been introduced to Jamie Fraser and his time-traveling wife Claire, congratulations. You’re already immersed in 18th-century Scotland and America.
And, if like me, you’ve devoured the novels, you’ve probably drooled over Diana Gabaldon’s descriptions of the settings, the action, and yes…the food.
Not to worry if you’ve not read the books. The television series offers plenty of images of historical fare that will make you hungry.
You may even have visions of going back in time yourself to try your hand at knocking about in an 18th-century kitchen, whipping up some bannocks, or a nice fruit tart.
Outlander, The Books
I was introduced to Outlander in the summer of 2004 during a trip to Seattle, Washington. My friend was clearing off her bookshelves and handed me the first book in the series.
The story was so captivating that I raced through the book, then went on a spree to buy the next four in the series. By the time I finished The Fiery Cross, the sixth book was at the publisher’s and A Breath of Snow and Ashes came out in 2005.
Not wanting to miss anything in the story, I re-read all five books before my new hardcover arrived, then melted into the tale, finishing with a long sigh.
What I didn’t know at the time was how long I’d have to wait for the next novel, and the next, and the next. Sometimes the gap was 3 or 4 or even 7 years!
Just before each new book was released, I started at the beginning and read them all.
Which means I’ve read Outlander five times.
And I’ll begin at the beginning when the tenth and final novel comes out…whenever that is.
And I’ve read all the side novellas.
And I’ve seen all of the episodes of the television series.
You could say I’m a little obsessed.
Enter Theresa Carle-Sanders
Her story offers insights into how she decided to create a cookbook around Diana Gabaldon’s amazing novels.
One line of her bio that struck me was “As with so many of Diana’s fans before and since, Outlander became the catalyst for the changes – some planned, many unforeseen – that have altered the course of our lives.”
I can relate.
While Theresa focused on the cooking of Outlander, I dove into herbalism. I’ve spent nearly 20 years learning to identify medicinal plants and how to use them, inspired by Claire Randall Fraser and her adventures across the centuries.
When I discovered Theresa and her Outlander Kitchen, I don’t believe more than three heartbeats passed before I had clicked “Buy Now”.
The subtitle of the book is “The Official Outlander Companion Cookbook”.
With blessings and a foreword by the gracious and generous Diana Gabaldon herself, the cookbook begins with the paraphrased first line from the first novel.
Then Theresa follows with her personal introduction outlining her decision to embark on a “life reboot”. Much like me, Outlander mysteriously appeared in her life, and so her culinary story begins.
As Theresa points out, the cookbook isn’t historical. Since the novels cover 20+ years within a 200-year span, so do the recipes she’s written.
But, inside, you will find historical recipes that are still common today, such as Cock-a-Leekie Soup and Veal Patties in Wine Sauce. As she says, they’ve stood the test of time.
My original reason for purchasing the book was to make bannocks. These oatmeal flatbreads feature often in the novels, and each time I read of the characters munching on the warm breads, I wanted to make my own.
The delicious recipe is on page 238 and delivers everything you’d expect of an unleavened oatcake…even instant transport back to a Scottish kitchen from 1740-something.
Along with each recipe, Theresa has included the passage from the book that inspired the dish.
Each brief excerpt plays an instant reminiscence from the tale. Not only can I picture the setting, but now, I can taste the food they were eating at the time.
Imagine sipping on the same hot broth Claire had when she arrived at Castle Leoch (Outlander).
Or trying potatoes for the first time as roasted tatties at Lallybroch from Dragonfly in Amber.
Or having a pungent bowl of peppery oyster stew to take you to the pub with Jamie and Claire in Voyager.
Maybe some of Fiona’s ginger-nut biscuits with Roger at the manse from Drums of Autumn.
Or a batch of Mrs. Bug’s buttermilk drop biscuits dripping with butter and honey the way they ate them in the Fraser’s Ridge kitchen in The Fiery Cross.
Perhaps you’d enjoy a glass of cherry bounce described in A Breath of Snow and Ashes.
Diana even contributed to the book by sharing a treasured family recipe for cheese enchiladas.
The Recipes Of Outlander
The recipe section of the book is laid out with beautiful color photographs, some of the process, some of the completed dish, all of them gorgeous.
Theresa has kept the recipes uniform by offering an Ingredient section, a Method section, and a Notes section.
I found the notes section to be most informative, including not only recipe hints, but also historical references.
Of course, Theresa has transformed the historical recipes into their modern versions, offering easy-to-find ingredients in place of some of the more exotic bits from days gone by.
She’s included a wonderful recipe index for those seeking ideas to use ingredients on hand or to plan and prepare a delicious feast.
Honestly, I read (good) cookbooks like novels. I enjoy the recipe intro, the exposition, and the list of ingredients, and I follow along with the method in my mind whether it calls for chopping, mixing, kneading, or drizzling with butter.
Each of these recipes inspires me to add to my grocery list and then make a note on my calendar, “Outlander dish tonight”.
And if you are a fan, you’ll know what I mean.
For Foodies Everywhere
Even if you’ve never heard of Outlander, you won’t be disappointed with Theresa’s cookbook. Every page is filled with interesting culinary tidbits you can apply in your own kitchen.
There’s something for everyone in the Outlander Kitchen. Modern, historical, romantic, delicious, soups, meat dishes, vegetarian dishes, breads, desserts…this book has it all.
You may even find yourself daydreaming about time travel to the 18th century yourself.
Have you brought Calabrian chili paste into your kitchen? If you like Sriracha, Tabasco, or other spicy additives, you really should try this condiment. I recently made a delicious shrimp recipe with it after trying to find it for quite a while.
Hello, again, Dear Readers:
After last week’s book review, I’ll show you the dish I cut my kitchen basil to make. It’s a delicious Italian recipe to add to your repertoire that’s anything but boring. Plus a couple of updates.
From The Last Blog
Since last week’s edition, I had a couple of email exchanges with Christopher Crompton of Pelargonium Press regarding Apartment Kitchen Gardening. He enjoyed my blog and loved the paint buckets, too. I sent him a few pictures, including the little plants that are now on the windowsill and will be planted soon. I have several tomatoes growing, and two strawberries, one of which will be ripe shortly. He suggested trying to plant the chickpeas, even after all this time. I’ll be doing that soon, too.
Christopher was surprised to find out that in the US, SNAP recipients can buy seeds and plants to grow their own food. Inspired by this info, he wrote a letter to the UK’s environment minister to suggest doing something similar there to help reduce the strong reliance on food banks. I don’t know if they have a program like SNAP there, but that would certainly help UK folks, too, especially if they could learn to grow in apartments. If it happens, I’m glad I could help, just a little.
In a subsequent email, Christopher said that the “food front” in the UK also has a long road ahead. There is an effort to increase the standing of cooking classes in schools, as well as encourage people to grow their own food. He said that in time, there could be a shift in the UK’s culture. They are also experiencing a crisis with the higher cost of living now that will require a solution with multiple factors.
The man isn’t kidding. BF and I talk about this often. Inflation is getting worse with no end in sight, and it happened quickly. Public discourse can bring about needed changes, such as more people growing their own gardens. In example: on Sunday, I bought a box of 5 dozen eggs at Walmart that have gone up to $15. The price normally goes between $6 and $9, maybe $10. But after paying $13.33 for the last box just one week prior, it’s now over $15. I need to start looking for local chicken folks who sell their eggs, even if they’re the same price. I bought more white rice—yes, plain white rice, which I only restarted eating when I moved here. We’ll be getting more of that sort of thing in the coming months.
On a nicer note, I showed Christopher the blackberries that are growing here now, and I even picked four yesterday morning.
He said he has some type of cultivated berries growing, but after a few jars of jam and giving away many little baskets, he’s done with them. Our berry season is short, so I pick as many as I can until they’re gone. Maybe I should learn to make jam too.
He also picks wild sloes to make sloe gin for the winter. Sounds like Amy’s basil pesto obsession, doesn’t it?
Christopher was also surprised that I prefer the British brands of tea, and I’ll be talking about that in an upcoming blog post. I may have omitted the fact that I generally drink them from a cup with the Texas flag. Separately, I’ll be chatting with him again soon one day about the next book they’re planning.
The New Addition
This weekend, BF got a text message from one of his car-guy friends. The man and his wife were out somewhere and came across a scrawny little kitten. Unfortunately, the man is horribly allergic to cats, to the point where he has been hospitalized twice. So, knowing I love the cats (or at least, I did), he texted BF, who brought it up to me. He showed me the pictures of the fluffy orange and white cat.
Remembering our experience with the Christmas kittens five years ago, I was not thrilled with the idea of another cat in here. This kitten is a little bigger than the previous rescues, and of course, BF couldn’t say no. Well, I couldn’t either. I tried.
Dirty, scrawny, starving, and scared, they put her in a little carrier and brought her over. After some food and water, she didn’t waste any time making herself comfortable in the Casa de Rurale, either.
She likes sitting on the sewing machine table, but pretty much anywhere she likes. I was trying to work.
She didn’t take long to discover great places to nap:
Just make yourself at home, why don’t you?
We did give her a bath, which went about as well as you think it did. BF has a few scratches on his back despite the claw clipping prior to the washing.
Unfortunately, Tab E. Cat isn’t as thrilled with the new addition and let us know about it:
Just as Broccoli Stirfry is starting to learn how to dog, Tab E. Cat restarted his antics. Thank heavens for Angry Orange, that’s all I’m saying.
The pit bull tried his favorite “get to know you” move, chasing her into a corner of the bathroom, and requiring me to pull him off by his collar. Earlier in the day, he and the now-30-pound puppy took off running after two people minding their own business on horseback. An 85-pound pit bull decided he was going to defend the homestead against horses. I’m sure the horses were laughing to themselves. It could have ended badly, but thankfully another neighbor saw it and stopped his Ford F150. The incident was mostly annoying and embarrassing.
I’m thinking of starting a GoFundMe page for the beasts.
Giada’s Italy: My Recipes For La Dolce Vita
This is Giada’s cookbook released in 2018, prior to her newest book, Eat Better, Feel Better. I bought a “signed copy” of Giada’s Italy at the Barnes & Noble in Mandeville one evening in April of 2018.
Ok, it was an “unauthorized purchase,” just something I wanted and there it was. It’s not something I do often (especially now), but I’m still a fan of Giada’s, so I bought one. However, I didn’t stand in line as I had before with a couple of her previous books—it was already signed, but likely not by Giada herself. That’s OK.
When I had the time, I read through the book and the recipes. It’s a marked departure from the previous formats of her books. After filming a couple of seasons of Giada in Italy in Positano and Florence instead of the usual California settings, there are plenty of pictures from both cities. One thing hasn’t changed: pictures of Giada, her daughter Jade, locals, and a few other family members enjoying the Italian seaside.
The Shrimp Recipe
Spicy Calabrian Shrimp is a recipe on page 41 of the book. Giada’s description says:
My version of a shrimp cocktail has a lot more kick than the steakhouse standard, thanks to the Calabrian chili paste. I use this spicy condiment in many of my recipes; it’s kind of like the Italian version of sriracha. If you can get your hands on fresh Thai basil, which has a slight licorice flavor, it’s really nice here, but if not, regular basil is just fine.
When BF saw the picture on page 40 of the shrimp, he said, “Oh, make that for me!” Sure, honey!
There was just one problem: Calabrian chili paste.
Remember, I now live in Central Louisiana, 300 miles away from Houston. Here, people get upset when you put salsa on cooked eggs as if you’ve committed a felony. Remember BF’s reaction years ago when I told him I needed allspice to make apple pie spice. Pointing at a huge rack of different local spice blends in Winn-Dixie, he said, “here’s all the allspice you need!” He didn’t know what I was talking about, and if he’d made that mistake in the Navy, he would have been thrown in the brig.
Nobody Had Any
Now, that link above will take you to Amazon’s entry for the condiment, but that wasn’t always the case—when they carried it, the site was always out. I literally couldn’t find the stuff.
A search turned up one brand on Nonna Box, a website that offers Italian ingredients shipped straight to your door, including the Calabrian chili paste. It’s currently out of stock, as it was before, but to buy it on this website would have been about $25 with taxes, shipping, and handling. OUCH.
I called the local outlets I thought should have such a thing, but nobody knew what I was talking about. (This was pre-pandemic.) Surprisingly, Rouse’s didn’t have it, considering their focus on Italian foods. I both visited Martin Wine & Spirits (formerly Martin Wine Cellar) in Metairie on one of my monthly jaunts and called the Mandeville store to no avail. I also called Red Stick Spice Company in Baton Rouge, they didn’t know what it was either.
My last resort: Phoenicia Foods in Houston. I sent an email, thinking, surely, they would have it, right?
Nope. And they still don’t, but they do offer to ship to addresses outside of Houston. Maybe I should take another look at their website. I so miss being able to shop in that huge place on Westheimer on the west side of town. They have the most interesting things imported from nearly everywhere.
Calabrian Chili Paste-Finally!
BF has not forgotten this recipe, and occasionally asked when I would make it for him. I reminded him that I still couldn’t get the chili paste. The look on his face made me think I think he didn’t get that part. He says I was just telling him a story to get out of making it, but that’s not the case.
One irony was that Ree Drummond used this hot stuff on her own TV show one day. In Pawhuska, Oklahoma, famous for its “middle of nowhere” vibe. And then she makes a comment about how easy it is to find now. Sorry, what?
Y’all, I’m in the middle of Louisiana. When you talk about shrimp, they are either fried or boiled and only grilled if you ask for it specifically. Most people don’t know what cumin and coriander are used for, much less something like chorizo. Calabrian chili paste is just not something anyone knows here, and that became obvious quickly, even with many alleged “gourmet cooks.” (Yes, I’m still writing legal copy.)
A few weeks ago, The Giadzy, Giada’s online magazine and brand, published this article on her love of Calabrian chili paste. I saw it on Facebook. They even sell it on their website. Hmmm. . .OK, should I look again on Amazon?
BINGO! It was the same brand Giada uses, and it was finally in stock.
I needed something else from Amazon, so I ordered the paste along with the other item to get free shipping. (And why not?) The order arrived a few days later. We bought a bag of frozen shrimp at Winn-Dixie and made our dinner plans.
When I was getting ready to cook, BF said, “so we’ll have this with pasta, right?” Say what? No!! I read him what Giada instructs to cook with it, but. . .well, let me get to the making of this dish.
Shrimp For Dinner
Here’s the recipe to print.
Spicy Calabrian Shrimp
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 tbsp olive oil extra-virgin
- 2 tsp Calabrian chili paste
- 1 tsp grated lemon zest from one-half lemon
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined tails intact
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp freshly chopped basil or Thai basil
- Preheat the oven to 425F
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, chile paste, lemon zest, oregano, and salt. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Allow the shrimp to marinate for 10 minutes at room temperature.
- Spread the shrimp evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and opaque all the way through. Sprinkle the lemon juice and basil over the shrimp. Serve warm.
BF was quite happy that I was finally going to make it for him, four years after he first saw the recipe.
It’s simple to make, and Giada even tells you what to serve with it: Veal Saltimboca Milanese-Style on page 198 and Asparagus with Grilled Melon Salad on page 216. A teaspoon of Calabrian chili paste also goes in the salad along with cherry tomatoes, sliced cantaloupe, lime juice, Ricotta Salata cheese, and a few other ingredients. These ingredients are not the stuff of salads in this part of the US, save for cherry tomatoes, even in a restaurant that purports to be “Italian.”
One look at those recipes and I knew a) I would have more trouble finding ingredients, especially a 12-ounce veal chop and Ricotta Salata cheese, and b), he wouldn’t eat either of those anyway.
We’re not talking about the refined palates you see in Houston. No, we’re talking about a guy who spent three tours overseas: one with the US Army and two with the Navy Seabees, eating in chow halls. BF grew up not realizing that mac & cheese didn’t have to come from a box. He’ll eat ravioli from a can, but that little container of cheese tortellini from Trader Joe’s is still in the freezer because he’s not sure what it is or if he’s going to like it.
Spaghetti for him, and cauliflower rice for me.
I also realized I would need some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and might have to head to Rouses to get some. Nope—I already had a quart-sized bag in the big freezer, bought some time ago, and grated for whenever I need some.
Now you’re cooking with gas.
Making The Recipe
So, once you’ve got your ingredients together—including the hard-to-find chili paste—it all comes together quickly.
Preheat your oven to 425F. Then, mix up the ingredients:
Add in the shrimp, mixing well to coat:
Let them marinate for 10 minutes at room temperature. Then spread the shrimp out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake them for 10 minutes, until they’re pink and cooked.
While that’s cooking, chop the basil:
When the shrimp are cooked, sprinkle the lemon juice and chopped fresh basil over them and serve warm.
Guess what? He liked it! So now I can make it for him whenever we want, long as I have shrimp, the cheese, and the other ingredients.
Other Recipes In Giada’s Italy
The book has more delicious recipes, and I’ve tried a few:
- Avocado white bean dip, page 25—“smooth & creamy,” as I noted in the book on 4/11/2018
- Apricot Mostarda, page 38—delicious and sweet with a charge of spice. It’s intended for the antipasto platter, a sweet/hot bit among the meats, cheeses, and olives—much like a charcuterie board, really. It just really looked good to me, and I made some, but only once. BF wouldn’t touch it, so more for me.
- Zucchini Sottolio, page 226—someone gave us a couple of very large zucchini from their garden, and I wanted to do something different with them. Giada did not disappoint. Made on 6/18/2018, I noted “bold flavors with vinegar tang.” BF doesn’t like anything tangy or a vinegar taste, nor any type of squash, so again, it was just for me. The zucchini is sliced and quickly cooked in water and apple cider vinegar, drained, then added to a mixture of herbs. Put zucchini in a jar and cover with extra-virgin olive oil Add a tight-fitting lid before stashing in the fridge. This helps the zucchini last about three weeks in the fridge. Serve at room temperature as a side dish or other accompaniment.
- Roasted Parmigiano-Reggiano potatoes, page 219—BF liked this one too, and it was simple. I like the fresh rosemary, but I can’t seem to keep the plants growing here for some odd reason. I haven’t made it in a while but I should make it again, especially if we grow some potatoes.
Mind you, when I read this section aloud to him during proofreading, BF began his retching noises.
There are several recipes here I’d still like to try, like the Hazelnut Chicken on page 202. It’s a weekend meal for sure, but again, getting ingredients like Cerignola olives, Frangelico, and skinless hazelnuts requires some searching before I can make the plans. And of course, the question of if BF will eat it—but that’s why we keep cans of ravioli and Wolf Brand Chili around, too.
Until Next Time
I’ve been gifted a wonderful collection of things from across the pond, but not by Mr. Crompton. Pictures and explanations will come later in a blog post, including an explanation of some British biscuits (cookies) called Chocolate Hobnobs. Oh, yes, BF loved those, too.
I also have a couple of updates on some recently made recipes, and will again use the recipe plugin to create them so you can print them for yourself. A guest blog is also coming, as I mentioned last week.
Spring is here, so enjoy all the asparagus, fresh berries, and other delicious things that are becoming available.
Think you can’t garden because you live in an apartment or other small space? Well, think again—I’ve got just the book for you.
Hi, again, Dear Readers:
My apologies for being tardy again, it’s been a busy couple of weeks. I just wanted to make this blog look good.
But the good news is that suddenly I have several topics to blog about. This includes a couple of recipes that will use the new Recipe Maker plugin for WordPress. Those will be coming soon.
First, I have two disclosures:
- The publisher kindly offered me a complimentary copy of this book to review and to request my opinion; yes, I’ve read it
- As with many of my blog posts, there are multiple Amazon links to the book and other supplies here that, if used, earn me few commissions (aka “coffee money”)
Just thought I should mention it.
Amy’s Gardening Experiences
Longtime readers have been amused by my various gardening adventures since the inception of HeatCageKitchen in 2012.
Right now, I’ve got a bunch of purchased plants in the kitchen window, along with two basil sprouts in a pot that were salvaged from last year’s crop. I’m waiting for the nighttime temps to stay above the 50-degree mark so I can start planting them. Need to start some seeds as well.
We don’t yet have a place for an outside garden. There are flowers and green berries on those blackberry vines that are all over the place, so I’m anxiously awaiting their ripening and a bumper crop for the freezer.
Some are already forming:
I’m hoping we can get out there and dig up a gardening spot soon, but I think it’s still a bit too chilly.
In my urban garden in Houston. I attempted to grow as much as I could in a 5’ x 8’ plot of land that had plenty of sun most of the year. Some plants did well, like basil and the Anaheim chili peppers, while I struggled with tomatoes and other plants.
I relocated to rural Louisiana in 2016, and gardening here has also been a mixed bag.
Current And Future State
While BF contends that “we suck at gardening,” that’s not really the case. I did well in Houston, but that was also part experimentation and part paint bucket gardening because I knew that I would be moving out at some point. Most of my plants are currently in big white paint buckets, but we’re soon going to use a tractor to dig a garden.
The 10-year-old Meyer Lemon tree that came with me from Houston with me froze over this winter. But—surprise! It’s now flowering and coming back to life. We finally planted it in a nice spot this past Saturday.
Neighbor E still does some patio gardening, although his condo has only one patio, and not a large amount of sun. His patio is mostly or all concrete slabs. He doesn’t have any vegetables like tomatoes since Houston’s heat makes it somewhat inhospitable for them. There’s always Anaheim (aka “Hatch”) chili peppers, which grew like gangbusters my last two summers in Houston. I keep saving the seeds every year and keep trying to have a bumper crop here. Only BF and another SGI member in nearby Albany know what Hatch chiles are.
From Across The Pond
So, a few weeks ago I noticed an email from someone I’d never talked to before, Christopher Crompton of Pelargonium Press. I didn’t realize at first that he is in the UK, not the US. Somehow, he found me and my humble blog, and asked if I would review their new book, Apartment Kitchen Gardening by James Jacques.
And why not? Of course, I said yes. Spoiler alert: it’s a pretty good book.
Christopher was even kind enough to send me a physical copy of the book as well as the digital. It’s not a long book, but it’s quite informative and, I have to say, interesting.
The book is geared to a UK audience, but most of it is relevant to US readers as well. Plenty of folks live in apartments, like the one I lived in for 7.5 years before I moved to Houston in 1998. It was a whopping 400 square feet, making the Houston place look like a small house. Somehow, I lived there with two cats, finished five years at Tulane University and graduated twice, cooked, sewed, and got married, all while working 40 hours a week. Then we moved all that to a larger Houston apartment. The best I ever did in Metairie was a few herbs in the windows, and unfortunately, killed an aloe vera with insufficient sunlight. This book would have been a great help.
I did give Christopher the business about the “incorrect spellings,” such as “colour.” But I’m used to those after 25+ years of watching British TV on PBS (now Britbox too) and reading overseas news.
Apartment Kitchen Gardening
This book packs a lot of information into the 133 pages of this 5” x 8” paperback. If reading more than 100 pages seems intimidating, it shouldn’t be—some pages have very nice hand-drawn illustrations, and not all the pages are full of text. The book is specific to people who live in apartments, not houses with nice-sized plots. But any gardener can benefit from the book. Author James Jacques gets straight to the point.
The book is divided into five chapters:
- Growing in an apartment
- Choosing your plants
- Growing places
- Taking things further
In these chapters, Jacques describes everything you need for a successful indoor garden. And no, you don’t need to spend lots of money doing it, because he offers suggestions for repurposing household items for low-cost equipment, such as empty yogurt containers. Clear clamshell containers used for lettuces and berries are also good for starting seeds.
Gardening In Your Apartment
Yes, it is possible. But it takes some thinking on your part to figure out how you’re going to go about creating and growing your indoor garden.
Consider what you have available. Is it just a single windowsill, can you use a window box, or do you have a small patio/balcony available? Even a small balcony can grow quite a bit.
The most important factor is sunlight. The Metairie apartment had four windows because I was in the corner of a small apartment building. There were two windows in the bedroom that got good sunlight, and two in the living area, but only one with sunlight. In my first place in Houston, I had two large windows but none in the kitchen. When I moved to an El Dorado Trace condo in 2004, there were two large glass patio doors on either side of the unit to the fenced-in patios, plus the front door.
The back patio in El Dorado Trace had the sunlight that was good for growing, so that’s what I used. I was only able to grow a few houseplants on the front patio, and those were gifted houseplants on an old washer and dryer covered in a tarp. I tried growing tomatoes and rosemary out there, but nothing happened.
Here’s one suggestion I never would have considered—growing in the bathroom. And why not? It’s usually warmer and more humid than the rest of the house, right? Pineapples, vanilla orchid, figs, and mint love this kind of environment, Jacques says. So, take advantage of it if you have a sun-lit window in yours.
What You Can Grow
Ask yourself what you want to grow and go from there. Do you love fresh pesto (like me) and want to make it yourself? Obviously, sweet basil is on your list—buy one nice plant, cut it, and start rooting them in water so you’ll have plenty. Alternately, start growing your basil from seeds.
Depending on how much room you have and the incoming sunlight, you can grow a nice variety of plants inside. Jacques explains the need for sunlight, how much, and what you’ll need for different types of plants. And if your place doesn’t have enough light, there’s always the option of grow lights.
If you like salad the way I do, Jacques suggests what he calls “cut and come again” lettuce. I’ve only heard that term once before, from cookbook author Nigella Lawson, who used it to describe a cake in one of her earlier books. You bake the cake and keep it for company, then put it away until the next company visit. Jacques uses this description for lettuces that grow quickly and need to be cut frequently. Otherwise, you have the mess I’ve created in a paint bucket:
I didn’t cut it before because it attracted honeybees and gave them something to eat. One of BF’s car-guy friends has a bee box at the back of the property. When the plant flowers, we see the bees. I don’t think he’s getting the “bee action” he thought he would get. The flowers are gone, the plant dried up, and I pulled all the roots out a few days ago.
Recently, I bought a few more seed packets of different lettuces to plant. Hopefully I’ll I hope to have more “cut and come again” lettuce soon, even if it is in a paint bucket.
Hydroponic Gardening Systems
If you’ve ever seen grocery store produce called “hydroponic,” it means simply that it was grown in water. No kidding. Some plants can be grown only in water with added nutrients. I haven’t done hydroponics myself, although the author does discuss it at length for the indoor gardener. It’s ideal for the “cut and come again” lettuce.
You’re probably familiar with the hydroponic gardening setups by AeroGarden and the like.
There are many brands of them now, and they’re also expensive. The cheapest model is under $100 but doesn’t grow as much. One of the top models sells for nearly $900. If you have the means and the room, and really want one, go for it. I considered buying one when I lived in Houston.
Jacques points out the differences between all the different types of kits, and that they may be a bit overwhelming at first. Some kits are basics that you can build upon, and others have more bells and whistles. Mostly, it’s dictated by budget. Like most endeavors, don’t spend more than you can afford.
Understand that even when you buy one of these units, you’ll also have to buy the seed pods to replant. You can’t just drop by Walmart, Tractor Supply, or your local gardening spot and buy seeds. It’s a bit like the Keurig or Nespresso coffee makers—you must buy the pods to make more coffee because it’s not like making coffee in a French press. If this works for you—and I know folks with these kinds of coffee makers—go for it. I’m not criticizing anyone for buying either, just pointing out that the pod thing is a consideration if you’re thinking about buying one.
The author addresses these setups, but in the last chapter. Guess what? These systems aren’t necessary for you to garden in your apartment. From recycled milk and yogurt containers to fancy pots with grow lights, there is a way for nearly anyone to garden indoors.
You’re probably thinking, “Amy, gardening books aren’t really interesting.” If you’re not into gardening and don’t think it’s worthwhile, chances are NO gardening book is going to catch your interest no matter how well it’s written.
But understand that people have an interest in gardening for different reasons:
- Supplement their grocery shopping and cooking with fresh produce
- Include more organic foods in their diet
- Get outdoors more and get some exercise
- Become more self-sufficient and secure their own food supply
- Learn a new hobby
- Increase their own food security in an insecure time (like right now)
- They grew up gardening and want to continue for the enjoyment and the harvest
My interests are a little of all these reasons. I started my little urban garden in 2008 or 2009. The GER offered advice, and he still gardens in his backyard next to the fence. The man I was dating at the time also had some gardening experience and helped when he visited.
You’ve seen the unusual gardening results BF and I had in the blog—like the septic tank tomatoes. We didn’t plan those. But I’m hoping we can dig up a garden plot in the next few weeks.
Jacques also discusses re-growing vegetables, which I’ve also done and blogged about. Right now, I’ve got several green onions re-growing outside, and three have flowered. I cut the flowers off and added them to the soil, so I hope they’ll grow more onions. I recently planted a sprouted celery base. There are two basil sprouts from last year’s plants that are also re-growing in the kitchen window. However, I had to cut that for dinner last week for a recipe that I’ll show in an upcoming blog.
On page 25, Jacques talks about growing pea shoots from “cheap, dried supermarket peas.” I haven’t tried that yet, but darn it, now I want to! (When I do, the next comment I hear from BF will be, “is this another one of your science experiments?”)
Jacques also talks about the science of soil, including mixing your own. There’s even a chapter on compositing and even a wormery! In an apartment? Well. . .I don’t know if I’d go that far. Depends on how into gardening you are.
Gardening can also yield a few flops, like when BF staked the weeds instead of the green bean vines. But it can also be a great activity that leads to a delicious meal, too.
Stretching The Limited Food Budget
With inflation getting worse, chances are you’ll see more people gardening again as they did during the last economic downturn. Who can blame them? They’ll also see the benefits in freshly grown produce that’s readily available. But the people who need it the most may not realize that they have the ability, and just need some guidance.
If you know someone who is on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government assistance program formerly known as “food stamps”) let them know that they can also buy seeds and plants to grow foodstuffs with their benefits. I bet you didn’t know that, but it’s true.
Anything that grows and produces food can be purchased with SNAP benefits. Planting seeds and plants along with re-growing purchased produce like green onions, celery, and potatoes, and saving seeds from peppers, tomatoes, and other fresh vegetables can help a limited food budget go further.
Gardening is also a great project to do with children and will teach them where food comes from at the same time.
While Jacques touches on re-growing vegetables from purchased produce, several years ago I found a book called Don’t Throw It—Grow It! by Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam. The authors describe 68 different types of grocery-store bought food plants that can be re-grown on a windowsill and eventually grown in pots or even turned into a full-fledged crop.
Successes & Failures
I’ve tried to grow avocados three ways—with the toothpicks in water, with the sphagnum moss they suggest, and then just planting the seeds. I’ve had little luck here because it’s just not warm enough and does get cold in the winter. The seeds eventually sprout when you bury them in the soil. But once it gets cold, that’s the end of it. Avocados are also good for houseplants—if you can keep pets from destroying them.
I have some organic dried chickpeas I bought so many years ago to plant, and they’re still in the pantry. They might be viable, but I’ll have to plant them to find out.
Because I love pomegranates, I have some from last fall still in the fridge. Time to harvest those seeds and plant them, along with garlic, bulb onions, and other frequently used things. I also saved the top of a purchased pineapple, too. The last one I grew in a paint bucket got to be quite large:
Let’s see if I have better luck this time, and maybe get to have some fresh pineapple, eventually. Jacques says it will take about two years before you’ll be able to “harvest” the fresh pineapple.
Until Next Time
I’m always looking for new topics for blog posts. I do have a few in the queue, including a couple of recipe updates and one recipe that I finally made for BF. Amazingly, he was quite happy with it, despite not understanding what was in it beforehand.
Coming soon is also a guest post! A fellow copywriter and a friend of the blog asked about doing a guest post, and I accepted her offer. We’ll be talking about it in the next week or so, and I’m sure it will be fantastic. She understands the blog’s tone but has a different idea on a blog post, so that’s in the works. Plus, she gave me another topic idea.
Springtime is here, so don’t procrastinate. Plants are in the stores now, so grab them while you can. Whether you’re an avid gardener or just thinking about a garden, get started so you can enjoy fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs from your apartment.