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Cheescake slice on red plate with fork
A Tale Of Cheesecake

Cheesecake–the word conjures up images and tastes of sweet and creamy, and with good reason.

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

As promised (and way too late), here is my blog on cheesecake. Today’s post comes with two separate recipes from two different books, one of which was a gift from Callisto Press.

I don’t remember the first time I had cheesecake, but it was probably one of those frozen numbers. I remember being in a restaurant somewhere in New Orleans in the late 80’s and ordering blueberry cheesecake for dessert. I got the last slice they had. That didn’t go over well with my dining companions, but today I couldn’t tell you who they were.

Learning Cheesecake

I’ve bought many of them until I learned how to make them from Suzanne Somers’ cookbooks. From her first book, Eat Great, Lose Weight, I started making the Sugarless Cheesecake on page 186, but with Somersweet when it became available. The original recipe called for Nutrasweet, which I would never use. Later, she discovered that Nutrasweet wasn’t the best option and eliminated it from subsequent books.

From Get Skinny On Fabulous Food, I also like the Cappuccino Chocolate Chunk Cheesecake, which involves some sugar, so it’s “Level Two.” This means you’re incorporating some carbohydrates into your eating plan. I always made it with Somersweet. But with the wide availability of sugar-free chocolate and chocolate chips, I might revisit this recipe and try it again with erythritol (Swerve.)

In her Sexy Forever Recipe Bible, which is partly a “best of” compendium book but with other new recipes, there are three cheesecake recipes. On page 343, the New York Style Cheesecake is from one of her smaller books, Desserts. The next one is called Cappuccino Cheesecake on page 345, and is similar to the Cappuccino Chocolate Chunk Cheesecake. All of these recipes used Somersweet. I’ve never made it, but on page 344, there is also Peppermint Cheesecake With Chocolate Crust from another book.

There may have been one or two others here and there, but until recently, Suzanne Somers recipes have been the standards by which I make cheesecake.

Today I offer two more delicious offerings that are also healthier options.

Cheesecake #1: Keto In The Instant Pot

I’ve mentioned the multiple keto cookbooks I’ve been gifted, but there is one that I bought: Keto In An Instant by Jen Fisch.

Keto In An Instant Front Cover

Newest book by Jen Fisch.

Last year I reviewed her book Keto In 30 Minutes. I later got her first book, The Easy 5-Ingredient Ketogenic Diet Cookbook: Low-Carb, High-Fat Recipes for Busy People on the Keto Diet while on a Target run. She has one more book that I plan to get soon.

After her 30-Minute book, I subscribed to Jen’s emails and found out about the upcoming IP book, and later pre-ordered it. Jen promised, and this book delivers with some tasty food, some of which BF likes.

Keto Gumbo Recipe

This is one particular recipe he likes, minus the okra.

One particular delight, of course, is her Vanilla Bean Cheesecake on page 197.

Because it’s an Instant Pot, you’ll need a six-inch springform pan. Naturally, I happen to have one, bought about 1996 or 1997 to make a no-bake cheesecake for “company” from a Martha Stewart magazine dinner. (I was a newlywed at the time.) Used once, I’ve dusted it a few times, so I was glad to find a reason to use it.

The crust is made from almond flour, a tablespoon of erythritol, and two tablespoons of melted butter. Jen’s trick to ensure a nice crust is to encase the bottom in foil that’s lined with a paper towel. Press the crust down in the bottom of the pan, just as you would with graham cracker crumbs.

Keto nut crust in the bottom of the springform pan

A simple nut crust underneath

I don’t have any pictures of what comes next, so I’ll have to tell you: mix up 12 ounces of softened cream cheese, the insides of a vanilla bean (or a little more than a teaspoon of vanilla extract), 3 large eggs, a quarter-cup of heavy cream, a teaspoon of grated lemon zest, and two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice with your electric mixer (a hand mixer will work.) Then pour this over the crust.

Into And Out Of The Instant Pot

Ok, as with most pressure-cooker recipes, you’ll need to add a cup of water into the pot. Add the trivet with the lifting handles, then carefully put the pan on top of the trivet in the pan. Cover the top of the springform pan with foil.

Put the lid on and secure it, then set it to cook on high pressure for 45 minutes. When the 45 minutes is done, let it depressurize on its own for 15 minutes, then quick release to pop the pressure completely. Now you can remove the lid.

You’ll first remove the pan with the trivet from the pot–be careful, it’s hot–and remove the foil and paper towel from the bottom. Let it sit out for an hour to cool, on a wire rack. After an hour, cover the pan with foil and put it in the fridge for anywhere from 4 to 24 hours.

Cheesecake and the pan

Obviously I didn’t follow the directions exactly.

Yes, I know, sometimes I don’t do it exactly right or I don’t read the directions correctly. It happens. At this stage, it’s light and fluffy, but it hadn’t been refrigerated. Once it’s refrigerated, it’s a little flatter, more solid, and more like a cheesecake, as in this picture.

Cheescake slice on red plate with fork

Doesn’t that look delish?

There is never a bad time to have a delicious cheesecake, especially if it’s a healthier version:

Cheesecake with chaffles on a red plate

And what’s wrong with having cheesecake with breakfast, or egg & cheese chaffles for dinner?

If you’re just wild about the Instant Pot, as BF’s sister and sister-in-law are, this is a great dessert anytime. Remember, it’s only a six-inch diameter, and you’ll need that size of a springform pan if you don’t have one already. They’re not expensive, and that’s the perfect size for the Instant Pot. Plus you’ll have to plan ahead.

But that’s not the only way to do this.

Cheesecake #2: Even Easier

Ok, so now you know how to make a delicious, low-carb/keto/sugarless/gluten-free cheesecake in your Instant Pot.

What if you don’t have an Instant Pot, or don’t want to mess with yours? Ladies and gentlemen, I have yet another solution: The Everyday Vanilla Cheesecake from The 30-Minute Low-Carb Cookbook by Pamela Ellgen. It’s on page 126, and I’ve been making it since December 16th of 2019. How do I know? Because whenever I got the book, in October, I think. I flipped through it and kept thinking I needed to try this out. Finally, I did, loved it, dated the recipe, and I’ve been making it ever since.

Literally. When I make one, I seek out the ingredients for the next one. That is, I get more cream cheese, and check my supplies of almond flour, cream, lemon, and butter.

What’s so great about this cheesecake when you’ve got Jen Fisch’s deliciousness? Well, for the following reasons:

  • There is little baking/cooking–the crust is baked for a short time, but the filling isn’t
  • No eggs are involved, good for people like The E Man, who is allergic to eggs
  • You can eat a slice of cheesecake in an hour
  • It’s two inches bigger than Jen’s

 

Not that Jen’s cheesecake isn’t worth it, because it is. But even Jen may like this one, even though it’s not hers. (I don’t know, I haven’t asked. Just an opinion.)

Ingredients

The Setup

This version happens in two parts, essentially. Unlike the Jen’s Instant Pot cheesecake, you’ll make the crust first, bake it, then mix up the filling. But before we get started I need to tell you about the sweet part.

Swerve Or Erythritol?

Like most of the newer low-carb and keto dessert recipes, they tend to call for Swerve brand sweetener, which I wrote about a while back. It’s a great replacement for the extinct Somersweet, and it works just like they say it will, cup-for-cup.

However, erythritol is available in a number of forms, and from a number of places, including Whole Foods, Amazon and Vitacost, who has a 3-pound bag for $13.99. From what I’ve seen, that’s not bad. Vitacost also sells other brands, as well as Swerve for about the same price as other stores, including Walmart.

Should you decide to pass on Swerve and buy plain erythritol, you may find that it’s like regular granulated sugar. It doesn’t dissolve or “melt” like regular sugar would, so you have to grind it yourself. It doesn’t take much to do, just drop it in the food processor until you get the consistency you need.

Remember my little blender/food processor combo?

It’s perfect for this task, because then I empty out the powdered erythritol and blend up the crust. It works like this–first I grind up the sweetener:

Grindning erythrytol in small food processor

I drop all that I need for the entire recipe in and grind all at once.

I dump the whole thing into a pinch bowl:

Erythritol ground in a bowl

These little bowls are very handy for setting out ingredients anytime.

And then get on with the crust, starting with the half-stick of melted butter:

Melted butter in a bowl

Butter binds the almond flour to make a nice crust for your cheesecake.

I pour it into the food processor first:

Pouring melted butter into food processor

There is a bit of residue from the erythritol, that’s OK

Then add two cups of almond flour:

Almond flour in food processor

Right on top of the butter

A small bit of salt:

Pouring salt into food processor

Just a tiny bit for contrast, no need for salty/sweet

Then add the two tablespoons of sweetener:

Erythritol pouring into food processor

Goes right on top

Now blend it up:

Blender running

This little food processor function is great.

It takes a couple of minutes for the whole thing to mix up perfectly. It took longer if I put the butter in after the almond flour.

Blended crust for cheesecake

Looks like this.

Once it’s well blended, add it to your ungreased, unlined springform pan.

Pouring crust into cheesecake pan

Just like that. It’s the consistency of cookie dough.

You’ll need to press it into the pan. A trick I learned on The Food Network was to use the bottom of your measuring cup. It’s fast and easy as well as a lot more even. If you have arthritis, you’ll likely prefer that too.

It doesn’t take long, and once you get the hang of it, you’re done.

Pressing crust more

Works great, doesn’t it?

Now in the process, you’ll see some of the crust move up the sides. I like to take that off so that it doesn’t break off and make a mess when the cheesecake is done.

Trimming edges of cheesecake crust

A butter knife would work well, too.

When you’re done, it’s nice and neat.

Neat cheesecake crust in pan

see?

Bake it at 350F for about 8 minutes:

Temperature on oven

Perfect!

When it’s done, you’ll have a lovely crust.

Crust baking in the oven

Doesn’t take long at all.

When the time is up, put it in the freezer. In my case, I put a cork trivet underneath to keep it from melting the ice trays. Our kitchen fridge and freezer doesn’t have a lot of room.

Be careful not to grab the clamp–I did that once. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, even though the pan was very hot.

Now time to get on with your filling.

Making The Filling

I start this while the crust is baking, and in the middle, I have to stash the crust in the freezer.

Your sweetener is already measured, so now just squeeze out your lemons and measure out the heavy whipping cream:

Heavy whipping cream pouring into measuring cup

Just a half-cup.

Add your ingredients to the bowl, starting with your room-temp cream cheese:

Emptying cream cheese into bowl

They’re really soft, so they fall right out of the foil packets

Add in your previously ground sweetener, one-third cup:

Pouring sweetener into mixing bowl

It looks just like sugar!

Then the cream:

Pouring cream into mixing bowl

Then the lemon juice and vanilla:

Pouring vanilla into mixing bowl

I found my favorite Mexican Vanilla in Hammond, of all places. Must get more soon.

Now start mixing:

Mixer in action

It starts out like this, but gets very smooth in a few minutes.

You’ll know when it’s ready:

Well mixed cheesecake filling in bowl

Just like that.

Take a taste and see if you like it.

Secret Weapon: Liquid Stevia

Ok, if you feel like the filling isn’t quite sweet enough, here’s what you add to the filling, one drop at a time:

Liquid stevia

Any brand of stevia will do. Add drop by drop, it’s powerful!

I put about six drops in and blend it along with the erythritol. It doesn’t change the taste, and makes it a tad sweeter, but not overly sweet. If you want more, add a little more–but one drop at a time, or you’ll ruin the cheesecake.

And if you’re alone in your kitchen, you get a special treat at this point.

Beaters covered with filling

Yum!

At this point the crust may still be hot, so you might leave the filling off to the side and do a little cleanup, maybe fill up the dishwasher or set some things aside to soak. Doing so will give the crust a little more time to cool off.

Filling And Freezing

Ready? Carefully pour and/or scoop the filling into the not-so-hot-now crust:

Adding filling to crust

Really easy to do

Use a spatula or other tool to smooth out the top:

Cheesecake with smoothed top

It will freeze like that, so it’s important.

Back into the freezer:

Cheesecake in freezer

Almost ready

The book says 15 minutes in the freezer to “firm up,” or an hour in the fridge. Your choice. I usually leave it for more than an hour, but of course, it’s hard as a rock.

BF had to repair this hinge for me because one day I pulled out the rivets with a frozen cheesecake:

Rivets in cheesecake hinge

Yes, I broke it, and he fixed it.

But generally, it pops right out:

Releasing cheesecake from pan

It usually just separates when the pan expands.

This is what you end up with:

Cheesecake on pan

Isn’t it lovely? All nice and neat!

Because I consume this cheesecake a sliver at a time, I cut it in quarters first:

Cutting into the cheesecake

Mine is a bit frozen, so it’s a little difficult

 

Cheesecake cut in quarters

Makes it easier

And then with a smaller knife, I cut a slice out:

Slice of cheesecake on plate with fork

Ta-dah!!

It really is that easy and that good. You could eat the whole cheesecake if you wanted to (even I can’t do that) but it’s very rich and delicious, so you don’t need much.

BF said he had a small bit of it when I wasn’t looking, and he agrees that it’s quite delicious. I’ve served a bit to one of his car-guy friends who has been here for dinner several times (because he was here at the right time.) He was quite impressed because I did warn him it was gluten-free and sugar-free.

Other Cheesecake Notes

The first thing I should mention is that in order to make the cheesecake quickly and make sure the filling comes out smooth is to leave the cream cheese out for a good long while.

My suggestion is a minimum of four hours. But if you’re making a cheesecake after work, just take it out of the fridge and leave it on the stove in the morning and get to it when you’re ready. If you want to make it first thing in the morning and have it at dinner that night, take leave the cream cheese out all night.

Make sure that if you have critters, they can’t reach the cream cheese packets. Nevermind how I know that. You probably don’t need to leave it out for two days as I do sometimes. Unintentionally.

Use ONLY fresh lemon juice for this, or lime, as I’ve done a few times. If you use lemon extract, you will regret it. Immediately. Nevermind how I know this.

Conclusion: Cheesecake Is Delicious

I’ve added both of these to the Recipes page, as well as the recipe for El Chico’s Chorizo, which I intended to add at the time of the post and apparently forgot.

I also took the opportunity to do a bit of updating on the recipes page, and it’s a little easier to find things now.

If you really like cheesecake, there is no end to the recipes you can find online. Check Pinterest, AllRecipes, do a Google search, or any website you prefer, recipes are available with a few clicks. Whether you want gluten-free, low-carb, dairy-free, or you want the best cheesecake there is, go looking for it, you’ll find it. (I just can’t vouch for them all!)

Remember my slow cooker post a few years ago when I made a low-carb chocolate custard? Slow cooking expert Stephanie O’Dea has two recipes on her website for cheesecake, one standard type, and one for pumpkin cheesecake. Both can be made anytime–canned pumpkin is available year-round in the grocery store, likely on the bottom shelf.

Stephanie’s aren’t keto, but if keto isn’t your thing, that’s OK too. I’m thinking maybe a pumpkin cheesecake if we meet up with BF’s family at his Dad’s place up the road. I brought what he calls the waffled  “Awful Falafel” to Thanksgiving last year and loved watching him cringe when his sister, brother-in-law and sister-in-law enjoyed it. That’s what he gets for yakking to his friend in San Diego about my “horrible” cooking. I’m sure a pumpkin cheesecake might be a welcome addition this year, too.

The “Keto House”

On a related note, Jen Fisch’s first book was highly successful and allowed her to buy and renovate a house in Arizona. It’s now available to rent on AirBnB and Homeaway, a beautiful desert oasis that makes me want to plan a trip with BF sometime. It’s big, so we could go with several people, but maybe I just want to go with him, too.

That’s a ways off right now, but darnit, it’s a goal!

That’s all for now. More tasty food coming.

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

 

Cooked chicken tarragon with sweet potato fries
Last Night’s Dinner With Tarragon

What to do with that tarragon plant in the garden? I found something to start with.

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Hi, Again, Dear Readers:

After I published my June Updates post, it dawned on me that I could do something right then with some of the tarragon: a compound butter. Then it became digging out that lone chicken breast from the freezer and cooking it with the compound butter, and adding some cut sweet potato fries.

Hungry yet? Let me tell you how I did it.

The Realization

I was actually walking the dogs when I realized that I could do this. Compound butter!

If you’re not familiar with compound butter, it’s simply a stick of softened butter with some herbs, spices or other flavorings mixed in. They can be savory or sweet, depending on what you want to use it for. There’s a longer explanation here on The Pioneer Woman’s website with some recipes. You can always make a recipe on your own.

But I didn’t have a recipe, it was mostly for using some of the tarragon. And it was easy!

I let the butter soften up for a while, and just dropped it into a bowl. You don’t want to melt the butter, because then you have to chill it and let it get malleable again.

I simply cut two stalks of the tarragon, washed them, and began chopping it with a big, sharp knife, until it was very fine. Dumped it into the butter, mixed it up well, and, voila:

Tarragon butter mixed in container

Tarragon compound butter.

I added a small amount of salt for taste–like maybe 1/8 teaspoon of that salt. Just taste it to make sure it has enough, but not too much, to your taste. And mix it VERY well, of course.

Making Dinner

At the same time I took out the butter, I took out the bag with the lone chicken breast in it and let it thaw as well. It was just a plain, boring, flavorless chicken breast on its own.

chicken breast on cutting board

That doesn’t look terribly exciting, does it?

Because it was damp, I dried it off:

Raw chicken breast in paper towel

This gives a better surface for the butter to stick to.

Using two small spatulas, I dug some of the butter out and dropped it on to the chicken and rubbed it on each side:

Compound butter and chicken

It looks easy because it IS.

Then I added it to a baking sheet with some cut sweet potatoes coated in a bit of olive oil and salt:

Sweet potato fries on baking sheet

Just the perfect amount

Once I got the sweet potatoes in one layer, it was ready to bake:

Chicken and sweet potatoes on baking sheet

It was just enough for me, but you could always make more.

And because I wanted to eat soon, I heated the little oven to 425F. It was ready in about 25 minutes.

Freezing The Remainder

Now, this “recipe” didn’t use the entire stick of butter. If I were cooking for me and BF, or more people, I probably would have used the whole thing. But this time, it was just me, and I froze the rest. You could also do this if you were making several types in advance.

Get some waxed paper, parchment paper, or butchers paper, and plop it down on the paper:

Tarragon compound butter on waxed paper

Just like that, but it’s not ready to freeze yet.

Because it’s soft but not melted, you can turn it into a roll, just like on the Pioneer Woman’s website:

Rolling the compound butter into a log

It takes a small amount of fiddling and rolling, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it.

Now roll it all the way up and twist up the edges like a Christmas cracker:

Rolled up butter in waxed paper

Twisting the edges keeps it in place for when it freezes

I stashed mine in a freezer bag to hopefully prevent freezer burn.

Tarragon compound butter roll in freezerbag

That’s all there is to it.

If you wanted to store multiples, just use a felt-tip pen to write the type on the waxed paper. You don’t want to mix up tarragon compound butter with orange honey butter, right?

When you’re ready to use it, just slice off what you need to add delicious taste to anything you’re cooking.

Dinner Smells Good

About the time I finished this up, dinner was ready. I plated it and it was perfect:

Cooked chicken tarragon with sweet potato fries

It was delicious!

The chicken was perfectly cooked, tender and moist, and the butter also made it over to the sweet potatoes. Maybe I should have left off the small bit of olive oil, but it tasted fantastic.

Where was BF, you ask, when I was making this deliciousness? He was at work, and got a pizza for his “pit crew.” He came home with three slices left of it for lunch.

Tarragon Gifting?

Ok, not everyone is going to appreciate a couple of branches of the plant–that’s OK. But I did do some checking on Pinterest for some more ideas.

I also discovered that the tarragon I’m growing is called Texas/Mexican tarragon. (Being a naturalized Texan, I bought it.) It’s not the French tarragon we’re used to buying. I found the plant. . .somewhere, and stashed it in the ground when it was time to plant. No complaints.

Tarragon vinegar is a longtime favorite, and I may check into making some of that. I did that once, a long time ago, so maybe it’s time to do that again.

Tarragon oil may not be a good idea for long-term storage because of the possibility of bacteria. I learned that back in the 90’s when I made seasoned bottles of vinegar one year for Christmas. I had fun collecting wine bottles from one lady I used to know in New Orleans–she drank a lot of wine and kept me supplied with empty bottles for months.

I also saw a reference to adding tarragon into pesto, so next batch, I’ll be trying it out. I have plenty of basil to work with, trust me.

Maybe compound butter as gifts? It’s an idea, and it’s quick. Just have to make sure it stays frozen until use.

That was just a quick glance at Pinterest, I’ll do a more in-depth look soon. If I have to start making gifts now, it’s a great time to do so and have them ready for the holidays.

Which will be showing up sooner than you think.

Need a dinner idea tonight? Here you go–try some tarragon compound butter on your next chicken, turkey or other poultry dish for a delicious herb taste.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

keto baked fish and green beans
Cookbook Review: Keto In 30 Minutes

Keto: have you heard of it? Are you interested? Can you have delicious Italian food that’s Keto? Let’s discuss.

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Here’s the next in my series of cookbook reviews courtesy of the nice folks at Callisto Publishers. They’re not sponsoring my post, they just sent me great books for review.  I’ve received a number of interesting new books, and I continue to receive more in exchange for reviews. I like them all, I can’t say anything bad so far. There is a low-carb book, a fast and easy vegan cookbook, and a cook book for folks with Lyme disease, plus a couple more cookbooks coming. Additionally, there is a book on modern etiquette, plus a few other non-food topics.

But today it’s all about the keto.

The John Walton Celebration Of Life

So it finally happened on July 28th, and we picked up The E Man and went to Generations Hall. Everything was first class, well done, and we met so many other fans of The Walton & Johnson Show. Everyone had a great time, a fantastic band called Superchargers played classic rock music, there was all kinds of fancy food, an open bar (BF and I abstained), and just a great time to celebrate the life of a veteran radio broadcaster.

AmyWithKenAndSteve

The meet and greet! Ken Webster on the left, Steve Johnson on the right, with BF taking the picture.

Ken Webster is the show’s producer they hired seven years ago, and he stepped on the air fulltime when John Walton became ill. Well, Mr. Walton passed away suddenly on July 1, and now Producer Kenny is on the air in Mr.  Walton’s seat. He’s doing a great job carrying the torch, and they have decided *not* to change the name of the show, or much else.

John Walton always said that when he left this world, he wanted a big, New Orleans-style going-away complete with a brass band and a second line and all that. It was provided, and I hope that he was with us in spirit (since his ashes were actually in the facility.) I don’t *do* second line, but everyone else did. Steve Johnson said during the event that they made a few phone calls and everything was just done–they had everything they needed. They definitely called the right people!

I’ll post more of my pictures in another blog post, including the very stylish food that was created especially for this first-class event.

What is Keto?

The term is short for “ketogenic,” which is a condition that makes your body burn fat. This is different than “ketoacidosis,” which is a dangerous condition if you are diabetic.

But going keto is pretty much going low-carb, with some restrictions. That is, you eliminate rubbish food out of your diet, and increase your healthy fat intake. I say “healthy fat,” because hydrogenated vegetable/soybean/corn oil isn’t what that means. There’s a fat-to-protein ratio to follow, making it more complicated than regular low-carb, and different than Paleo.

The Book

Called Keto In 30 Minutes, it’s written by Jen Fisch, author of the blog Keto In The City. How have I never heard of this lady? Oh, well, I get her emails now.

Unlike the 5-Ingredient Italian book, there are few pictures. But the recipes are clear and well-written, and work easily. Each recipe tells you how long it takes, if it’s “gluten free,” “nut free,” etc. Prep and cook time are included, along with calories and all that. And the food looks pretty tasty.

There is even a dessert chapter–didn’t think Jen would leave that out, did you? For a sweetener, she uses Swerve, which I’ve talked about here before, but she also uses stevia in some recipes.

Trying Out The Recipes

Personally, I think the recipes I’ve read all look delicious. Unfortunately, I live with someone who doesn’t agree with that statement.

I made the delicious Saltimboca alla Romana on a Sunday, when our unexpected dinner guests showed up. The next night was a previously enjoyed Giada recipe for a turkey meatloaf–I can’t believe he likes the feta cheese when it’s baked in.

Tuesday was the ketogenic dinner.

Now, to be fair, sometimes we get a little short on funds, and so we’re not popping down to Walmart or Winn-Dixie for some chicken, pork chops, ground beef or something else. I buy meat occasionally when I find good sales and stash it for later. So this particular week, we’re digging through the big freezer (I still need to write a post on that) to see what’s there and what we can whip up for dinner.

Well, it was one of these periods that I decided to “freezer dive,” and I was right–there was some kind of frozen fish in there that someone gave us a long time ago. I let it thaw in the fridge, and just needed a few ingredients to make it happen, like lemon and capers. (I did another freezer dive this week and made this Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce with just a few ingredients from Walmart and the ground turkey in the freezer. He said it was OK.)

I selected two recipes for dinner. Baked Lemon-Butter Fish is on page 84 in the book, and Parmesan & Pork Rind Green Beans is on page 121. Pictures of the recipes are below.

Other Ingredients

Well, I needed capers. I used to have a big jar in my fridge that I bought from Phoenicia Foods, but I guess that was left behind in the move. Don’t have an unopened jar, and of course, Walmart has these *teeny tiny* jars for about two dollars or so. But you know me, I gotta make it according to the recipe the first time.

I also decided on green beans, since we really like them. I only needed a few ingredients from the store to make these dishes, including. . .pork rinds. No kidding.

His Fish Is Always Fried

I didn’t tell BF what I was doing, which always makes him stammer nervously, “I’ll try anything you make, Honey.” (Actually, that’s not completely true. And he’s still afraid of my cooking and my driving.) He asked if the fish was fried, and was very disappointed when I said it wasn’t. I wasn’t trying to break his heart, but I guess that’s what I did.

Let me put it this way: If I told him I would prefer Ford over Chevy, it would be along the same lines of disappointment, since he’s a Chevy devotee.

I used the countertop oven to make it (another thing I’m late telling you about) and baked the fish first, then the green beans. Dinner was ready in about 30 minutes.

Dinnertime!

These dishes took 15 minutes each to make, and the fish was still hot when we sat down to eat. And now I can’t find all the pictures of the prep.

But here it is:

keto baked fish and green beans

This was my dinner plate.

I thought both dishes were delicious. However, BF had other thoughts on the subject.

BF's Dinner plate

This is all BF would consider trying. I think he had one bite of fish and fed the rest to the dogs.

He thought the fish tasted “slimy.” That’s why he doesn’t like baked fish. Frying it takes away the “slimy” in his mind.

Then the green beans–a different taste, roasted, and they aren’t over-cooked. I asked BF what he thought of the green beans. He didn’t look at me when he said, “oh, they’re delicious.” I said, “really?” BF still didn’t look up at me, and replied that they were “magnificent.” I thought he was serious. Then he started giggling. Then I started giggling. He was trying not to tell me he didn’t care for this form of cooked green beans.

Finally, I asked him what he thought of the green beans, and he said he wasn’t crazy about them. Why not just tell me? He was trying to be nice, and said he’d have a bowl of cereal later if he got hungry (and he did.)

Later he reminded me of one of his local car guy friends who, before his “chicken fanger weddin'” last year (with catering by Chick-Fil-A, my sarcasm added), decided with his intended to lose some weight by going keto for a while. (I didn’t attend the “weddin’,” either.) The guy did successfully get his weight below 300 pounds for the first time since high school (but he’s well over six feet).

BF’s comment: “He lost a lot of weight on that keto diet. And now I know why.”

BF is also a smart aleck. Here are the recipes.

Fish recipe

FISH!

No, he didn’t like these either.

ParmPorkrind Green Bean Recipe

These are the green beans. Yes, with pork rinds.

Trying Again

I wasn’t deterred by BF’s reaction, and I kept reading the book. (I’ve since left a review on Amazon.)

I planned on making the Double Pork Frittata on page 58, until I couldn’t find the diced pancetta that I *thought* I had in the freezer. Since I can’t remember where I bought it, I tried to acquire some at the local Walmart’s deli department. Of course, when I asked for it, the clerk thought I said, “da cheddah,” and told me all the cheese was against the back wall, close to the milk. When I told her it was a bacon-y kind of thing, she said, “oh, we don’t got dat.” So maybe next trip to Hammond or New Orleans.

I would have to cut my brain stem to work for Walmart.

With that idea scotched, I chose the Mushroom Frittata on page 59. Frittatas have been adopted by low-carb dieters as the ideal throw-it-together food, and there are so many ways to make one. I like this one, because it hits all the right buttons.

At least I could get goat cheese at our local Walmart, as well as bacon, mushrooms and fresh spinach.

Keto mushroom frittata

The setup

NOTE: watch what you’re doing with spinach, especially in Walmart. I nearly bought spinach mixed with kale! I also realized later that I didn’t need the dill, that would have been for the other dish. But I’m not adept with photo editing, so it stays there.

Making The Frittata

I like measuring out everything before I actually start cooking.

Goat cheese crumbles

So I cooked the bacon in the little oven (saves a lot of mess), let it cool, and cut it up.

Bacon cooking for keto frittata

MMmmm. . . .bacon!

While that was going on, I began to make the rest of the dish.

Sauteeing mushrooms with spinach added in

First steps. (Photo courtesy BF)

Then you add in the chopped bacon. Start cracking the eggs into a bowl or big mixing cup:

Eggs

Whisk really well, too.

Pour the eggs into the pan to cook with the mushrooms and spinach. Lift the edges of the frittata with a spatula so the runny, uncooked eggs get underneath the surface. This takes a few minutes.

Frittata cooking

Lift like this, so that there are no uncooked and/or burned areas. (Photo courtesy BF)

Then sprinkle on the crumbled goat cheese:

Goat cheese sprinkled on

Get that goat cheese on top (Photo courtesy BF)

Then bake it for 16 minutes in a 350 degree oven. I’m skint on pictures here, but this is what comes next:

Keto Mushroom Frittata

Ta-dah!

Verdict: tasty, delicious, and great anytime.

I offered some to BF, explaining what was in it. He looked like he would accept a bite, then smiled and said: “Nope. It’s a trick!”

I can’t wait for him to head out of town for Drag Week.

Dessert Is Da (Keto) Bomb!

Undeterred, I tried one more recipe.

I considered making that subhead “The F-Bomb,” but I’m thinking about Aunt Ruth looking at her screen and thinking, “certainly she isn’t going to say that!” No, you’re right, but the F stands for “fat,” not the other f-word. After seeing so many copywriters and others swear like sailors in their marketing materials, I’m a firm believer in *not* using that kind of language in my blog, no matter what I shout at others while driving.

You hear me, marketing departments of America? Don’t do that. We close your page, delete your emails, trash your direct response long-form copy letters and ignore you completely. Knock it off! Anyway. . . .

Of course, the other concern I have is with the Secret Service, FBI and other law enforcement agencies getting my little SEO-optimized blog caught in their scanning systems looking for troublemakers. Yeah, I make trouble for BF, not the kind they’re looking for. Well, if they do find me, I hope at least one agent tries this recipe.

If the web is your cookbook, “fat bomb” recipes are literally available in every corner. They’re quick snacks to make sure you get enough fat in your keto/lowcarb/paleo diet, or just to have something sugar-free and tasty to keep you away from the stuff you want to leave alone. Let’s face it–there’s nothing like a chocolate bar. Find a way around it, and you’re doing good.

Making A Mess

I was making some Cashew Bread one morning and cleaning a huge mess from the night before.  (I finally found cashew butter locally at Target.) So what do you do? Make more of a mess! Enter these chocolate treats.

So this “f-bomb” is actually called “Spiced Chocolate Fat Bombs,” and it’s in the dessert section on page 138 of the book.

Recipe For chocolate fat bombs

It’s pretty simple.

I had everything handy except the liquid stevia. But did that ever stop me?

Ingredients for Spiced Chocolate Fat Bombs

The setup. The chili was the jar that came from Houston, and I refilled it recently with a small bottle from Rouse’s. Ditto for the HEB coconut oil.

Not that the jar on the right is CHILI powder, not cayenne powder. It isn’t hot. If you decide to make these and add the hot stuff, you’re on your own there.

The coconut oil was already melted, so I put it on the stove to make sure the almond butter melted into it:

Stirring

A quick whisk of everything

 

Muffin tins and papers

Since I didn’t have any mini muffin tins handy, I just used these with the papers. Again, when did that ever stop me?

Carefully spoon this mixture into the cups:

Fat bombs in muffin tins

I used a spoon, and did this carefully

I got most of it into the papers. Then you refrigerate (or freeze) them until they’re solid, which takes maybe 15 minutes or so, less in the freezer.

Fat bomb solid

Yummy!

Despite the powdered stevia, they were pretty good; I used three packets. The chili powder isn’t hot but adds a different nuance to an otherwise straight-chocolate thing. And now I have a stash.

Fat bombs

I’ll be making more of these

These are great, and I’m glad. Much as I love chocolate, I’m getting burned out on Yeast Free Brownies.

Recipes That Are Not For Everyone

I know if Neighbor E were here, he’d enjoy the green beans, at least, and probably the frittata and dessert. Dunno about the fish. Miss Alice would probably enjoy it too, she has a wide-ranging palette. Can’t answer for the GER, I never know what he’s going to like or dislike. BF just gets the shakes when I say the word “frittata.” Even his sister is perplexed, because it’s just baked eggs with other stuff in it.

But when you’re cooking for yourself, you’ll enjoy what you like, and others may or may not agree with your tastes. So if you’re cooking for someone who thinks rice goes with everything, well, you’ll have some alterations to do. That is, make yourself some Cauliflower Rice, and make regular rice for anyone who wants it. Add options like that, and everybody’s happy (you hope.)

I Like This Book

Honestly, I do like the kind of food that’s in this book, keto or not. I’ve long had the preference for low-carb foods, and this one checks all the points. The next recipe I want to try is the Double Pork Frittata on page 58; I’ll have to source more of the pancetta. The other thing is that these recipes are, for the most part, easy to make and don’t seem to require a lot of hard-to-find ingredients. If I can find pancetta and prosciutto here in Central Louisiana, they’re not that hard to find–especially in Houston.

The thing about Keto is that you follow a ratio to stay in ketosis, that is, the condition that burns off fat:

  • Carbs, 5%
  • Proteins, 20%
  • Fats, 75%

This is on page 4 of the intro, also called the 5/20/75 ratio. She says it’s up to you to find the balance that works for you.

I’m not an expert, and I get the theory behind it, I’m just not really good at math, especially in my head. You’d think that someone who has been sewing since age 11 would be better at fractions, decimals and percentages, but I’m not.

Whether or not you want to go keto, this is a book with good food in it–and that’s always my first criteria. If you decide to go keto, you’ll need to do more reading, of course, and understand what it’s all about. Once you do, you can turn whatever you want for dinner (including Italian food) into a keto-friendly feast.

I’m also going to look at Jen’s next book, because. . .I’m thinking seriously about getting an Instapot soon. More on that later.

Until Next Time

I’ll try to get the recipes posted soon (another thing I’m late doing.) Many thanks to Callisto Press for offering me the chance to receive publisher’s editions to review books–I definitely appreciate it, and am enjoying reading them and looking at “new foods.” Sure, it’s still food, but new recipes that are faster and easier (so far.) Nothing wrong with a new recipe to expand your repertoire, right?

I’ve got more of these great new books to review and blog about, so if these two books aren’t appealing, maybe the future books will.

Until then, enjoy!

Dinner
Cookbook Review: The 5-Ingredient Italian Cookbook

Italian food fan? I’ve got the book for you! Prefer easy, quick meals? I’ve got a new book for you, too!

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Remember the two free cookbooks I received last week? Well, I used the first one over the weekend. I also had two surprise dinner guests who didn’t know they would be taste-testers. I also heard from Neighbor E, who was visiting our HEB over the weekend and had. . .free ice cream! Oh, the things I miss here. Let’s get started!

National Ice Cream Day

Ok, somewhere, it became this holiday, and I heard about it on Facebook. HEB brought out a truck to the Clear Lake Marketplace to celebrate, and Neighbor E was kind enough to send some pictures.

HEB Ice Cream Truck

Next to Blue Bell, HEB ice cream is one of the best. Ask anyone in Texas!

I’m sure that in the heat of this summer, everyone was happy to see that when the arrived.

HEB Ice cream float

Look! An ice cream float! On wheels!

Is that not a happy sight?

HEB ice cream truck

There was ice cream all around.

Speaking of friendly faces:

Miss Lei in HEB

Look who it is!!

Hi, Miss Lei!! I was so happy to see your face when he sent me this pic. Hang on, what were you serving?

Speaking of friendly faces, Neighbor E enjoyed his ice cream and hammed it up with one someone from the local aerospace community:

Neighbor E with Astronaut pic

Looking good, Dude!

Loved this picture too.

Ahh, HEB ice cream. . .another thing to look forward to one of these days.

The 5-Ingredient Italian Cookbook by Francesca Montillo

As I mentioned last week, I was gifted two cookbooks by Callisto Press, and this book was one of them. I really like this book, even though it doesn’t have as many pictures as one by Giada de Laurentiis. It has good food and some pictures, as well as good info. That’s a good one in my book (pardon the pun.)

When I explained it to BF, I reminded him that “Italian food isn’t all about spaghetti.” We’ve been to Olive Garden a few times, and he responded, “If you’ll notice, I order the Alfredo.” As in Fettuccine Alfredo, and that’s still like spaghetti, and it’s PASTA. I giggled at him and explained the difference. He looked at me funny, as usual.

The introduction answers the question, “What Is Italian Cooking?” Ms. Montillo goes into the regions, and the different things you’ll find in each. “When it comes to Italian cooking,” she says, “the quality of ingredients far outweighs quantity.” I wholeheartedly agree. Italian food in Italy is cooked in this fashion, while Italian food cooked in American kitchens tends to have more ingredients because it can. Everything is clearly explained, with cooking time, designations like “kid friendly,” “family friendly” and “30-minutes or less.”

The Accidental Dinner Party

Let me say here that I always appreciated Neighbor E’s honest input when I tested recipes in Houston. And that I’m going to test his resolve now, but will post the recipe soon.

So, Sunday BF was home, and asked his cousin from Mississippi to come for a visit and help him work on a car. He did, and I figured I’d cook for him. At some point, I went outside and asked BF in an officious voice, “has this man been notified that he will be used as a taste-tester?” He was, but right before I began cooking, he was called home. The man lives about 30 minutes away, just north of the LA/MS border on the “L” part of the state, so it wasn’t like going back to Houston. But he had to leave, and then it was just me and BF.

I worked until 7 pm, and then got started right as he left. When it was ready, he said, “Oh, JE is here!” Say what? Yes, JE and his wife J dropped by to drop off a motor for BF to evaluate. They drove up from Baton Rouge, about an hour away. Now, he gets those calls frequently: “I’ll drop by after while,” and they never show up. But not this time!

I was getting hungry, annoyed, and it was getting late, so I sat down by myself and had some of this delicious chicken. When I was finished, BF walked in and said, “I’ve got two more taste testers for you!” Again–say what? He invited this husband and wife to dinner!

Let me say at the outset that they are very nice people, and I certainly didn’t mind them coming to dinner. As a rule, I’m not really happy to get surprises. But this one was good, and they enjoyed themselves. They didn’t even know what I cooked up, unless he told them “chicken.”

Saltimbocca alla Romana

Dinner was from page 103, Saltimboca alla Romana, or “Jump-In-Your-Mouth Chicken.” That, Ms. Montillo says, is what “saltimboca” means. I also made the stir-fry broccoli from one of Suzanne Somers’ cookbooks to go with it.

Broccoli stir fry

A quick stir-fry with olive oil, toasted sesame oil, frozen broccoli, garlic, red pepper flakes and a quarter-cup of soy sauce

But the chicken is the focus here, so I won’t bore you with the broccoli stir fry.

Ingredients

The Setup. Prosciutto was already in the freezer

The recipe calls for 4 thin breast cutlets that are pounded out to a 1/8″ thickness. Of course, this was the day Walmart didn’t have any, so I asked BF to get whole boneless/skinless breast pieces. I cut them flat:

Slicing chicken breasts in half

Sometimes you have to make do with what you can source when you don’t live near HEB (Photo courtesy BF)

And pound them a little:

Pounding Chicken flat

Hit it, but not too hard (Photo courtesy BF)

And then slice it in half:

Breast half slices

Just like this. It doesn’t come out perfect like the cutlets (Photo courtesy BF)

Next up is a light salting (kosher salt is fine) and adding the next step:

Chicken and sage

Fresh sage from the HeatCageKitchen garden!

Then top each with that paper-thin prosciutto:

Chicken topped with ham

Handle the prosciutto with care, it tears easily

Then dredge it in flour, and carefully shake off the excess. In this case, I used coconut flour, same stuff I used in Gumbo La Casa. I could have also used oat flour too, but this was I put my hands on first:

Coconut flour

Just a half-cup

Grabbing the first dish I could find, I started coating the chicken, which is difficult when you’re trying to hold the prosciutto and sage in one place.

Flouring chicken

Just a little coating, not a full breading.

Cooking The Chicken

Once you’ve done all that, it’s time to fry them in a pan with two tablespoons of butter and three tablespoons olive oil:

Butter and olive oil heating in the pan

A good start to any chicken dish!

Although the pan was big, I had to cook them two at a time:

Chicken cooking

Cook prosciutto side down first

At this point, BF started talking to me, and I forgot to take additional pictures. But what you end up with is this when they’re finished cooking:

Cooked chicken

This is what it looks like out of the pan

Then you add to the pan the other two tablespoons of butter and the quarter cup of broth and let it boil. Put the chicken back in the pan for a couple of minutes in the sauce, and it’s ready.

Another thing I did differently was to put a cover on the pot so the chicken would cook faster. They were cooked and done, but didn’t have a “crust” on them like they would if the pan was uncovered. Didn’t affect the taste at all, and BF said it was just fine.

The Reaction–Dinner Is Served

So, this is what we all had for dinner:

Dinner

A delicious dinner is served

Understand that these two drove an hour from Baton Rouge, and, as I was told later, were actually talking about where they were going to get some dinner when BF invited them in. They had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

They take two bites of the broccoli, and tell me that it’s really good. The husband takes a bite of the chicken, looks up and asks, “are you married?” We respond: “no.” Husband: “She cooks like this and you ain’t married? You better marry this one!” We were laughing at that one, but normally, it’s one of those topics not for discussion. We didn’t mind, but I think he’s going to take BF ring shopping one day.

Dinner was three thumbs up, plus I liked it too. BF and I knew what the broccoli tasted like, but nobody knew what the chicken would be like.

Dessert

I didn’t make a dessert, but BF bought one of those frozen “chocolate silk” pies when he thought his cousin would be having dinner with us.

Well, I asked them to try a bit of my favorite Yeast Free Brownies. Once they did I explained that they were made with oat flour, coconut oil and erythrytol, but no sugar. Two thumbs up, and the husband said that you’d never know it didn’t have any sugar in it.

Then BF cut the pie and brought each of them a piece, which they didn’t refuse. Needless to say, J&J left very happy.

Success!

I’m sure J&J will be back for dinner again one day, so I’d better make sure I have a menu ready and in my pocket for them. Many thanks to them for sticking around for dinner, giving me another opinion, and great conversation that lasted a little later than we should have been up.

I’ve got another book to review and try, this one on Keto, so that will be in an upcoming blog post.

Meantime, if you’re interested in delicious Italian food you can make on a weeknight, quickly without a lot of ingredients, check out The 5-Ingredient Italian Cookbook by Francesca Montillo, priced at under $20 (last time I checked.) You’ll be pleasantly surprised by a fast, delicious dinner that’s as good or better than any takeout you can find.

Buon Appetito!

 

 

The Thanksgiving Post: Apples and Spaghetti Squash

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I hope you’re feeling better by now. The election, and all the associated nastiness, is over for a while. Now it’s time for transition, and hopefully, getting back to whatever passes for “normal.” It was a nail-biter, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop eating BF’s ice cream. (I didn’t eat all of it, just a little.) We stayed up until 3:00 am or so watching the results, and back-checking CBS News on our phones against what was showing up on Facebook in our feeds. Bizarre–I’ve never done that before, but we finally hit the sack once it was all over. Good thing we didn’t have anything planned for the next day, and he was off work. No more sugar-laden ice cream, and the weight is going back down again, thank heavens.

Time for some comfort food, OK? Keep reading, there’s a recipe for you shortly.

We’ve been doing some renovation type of cleaning in the Casa, which includes having one of his, um, ex-girlfriends finally come get her stuff out of his house. She’s got some of it, but some still resides for a few more days. (What are we, Public Storage?) His daughter took the things she wanted and I helped her clear out stuff she didn’t want. All that’s left is his friend from the Navy. Well, with moving stuff around and out, painting the back room for my soon-to-be studio office, and clearing car parts out of the house, we’ve set up a little breakfast area by the kitchen:

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino for Amy!

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino!

This is my IKEA Tarno patio set that we just put there and put a tablecloth over, and BF decided to add my tiny lamp (Lampan, also from IKEA.) I repaired the miniblinds which had been damaged by a passed-on pooch, and cleaned the window really well. Know what? It’s kind of nice to have breakfast right there, or dinner. When we get things better situated, we’ll put my regular dinette there, and I’ll repair more of the miniblinds, now that I know how. (Looked it up on eHow and learned on the fly.) The blinds are closed so you don’t see that the Casa “beautification project” has not yet carried over to the patio out front.

After my trip to New Orleans on Sunday, where I bought some lovely pork chops, chicken sausage  and chicken thighs for us, BF decided Monday to get. . .one of those “kits” to make tacos for lunch on Tuesday. I kid you not. At least he had the sense to get the crunchy taco kit, which has corn tortillas. No word about “gluten free,” but there was no wheat or its derivatives in any of the ingredients that I saw, so I was glad about that and reluctantly took part. (It does say that it was partly produced with GMO ingredients; my guess is the corn, which I rarely eat.) He asked me to brown the ground beef to get started, and of course, twenty minutes later, we had tacos–because he went into the living room to watch more TV. GRRR. . .but I got the job done.

Dinner was Mustard Pork Chops in the Crock Pot, which I may post soon. It was pretty good, and worthy of doing again. Because he really wanted. . .tacos. . .the chicken shifted to lunch on Wednesday, where I made him, for the first time, Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatora, or “The Hunter’s Stew,” which, in Nigella’s case, is “lazy hunter’s stew.” (It only takes 30 minutes.) Although it’s long been a comfort food favorite for me, this was his first taste of it. Thumbs up–he likes it, and I can make it again for him. (Thanks.) The next day for dinner at work, he took some with a cup of rice, since he thought it “needed” some. No problem, I cooked up a small batch of white rice for him and added it to the container. Along with a slice of made-from-scratch pound cake from his friend’s birthday, he was all set for work.

Now, if you’re interested in making this “hunter’s stew,” I want to point something out that’s not immediately obvious: although the printed recipe calls for a half-cup of pancetta cubes–which is perfectly acceptable, albeit expensive and hard to find here–you can also slice up 3 or 4 slices of bacon in place of it. That’s the way I’ve always made it since I saw the original show.  The show may be on YouTube; you’d just have to look for it.

It really is a nice comfort food. Even if it does come from across the pond. You’re welcome.

I’ve been in the larger Winn-Dixie in Hammond, and indeed they do have more organic produce. Surprise–they even have fresh sushi. I still hate sushi, but–they have it! I did some recon in the morning, and then did some shopping later in the day, mostly meat, eggs, butter, cheese, etc. I almost–ALMOST–thought I was in Kroger. And I kept saying “I live down in La Marque. . .” which, of course, is in Texas. Well, it’s probably because I felt like I was in Kroger. I sure do miss my HEB, though–the pork loin roasts I used to get on sale for $3 in HEB are something like $12 here. What’s up with that? I did find a nine-pound pork loin that was about 3 feet long, but we don’t have any place to store that monster. Another time.

Rouse’s has purchased a rival grocery store chain, so there will soon be a Rouse’s in Hammond for me to visit, right near that Winn-Dixie. That’ll be good, too.

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Thanksgiving is coming. It’s next week! I really have lost my sense of date and time. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I won’t be cooking turkey. That’s OK, I cook turkey all year long (I just wish I could get turkey thighs here; maybe Albertson’s has them.) I asked BF the other night what our plans were for Thanksgiving; he said his brother usually does a big spread, and we would attend. (Just have to figure out what I’m going to wear.) Well, if I’m allowed, I’ll bring some of that fantastic Cranberry-Ginger Relish and maybe one or two other small things, but I warned BF that I would likely eat before I went. Longtime readers know that things like sweet potato pie, sweet potatoes with other abominable things added to it and all things bread, pie and gravy are not coming my way. I’ll be happy to have some turkey–maybe a little mashed potatoes, too–but no gravy, please! Gravy, to me, kills the taste of everything under it. So this will be interesting, and maybe I’ll pull the Nordic Track out in the morning before we go.

Think I should just stay home and watch Britcoms?

So, what do you do when you’re hosting such an occasion and have health concerns to consider? (Besides panic, that is.) Or, surprise, his new girlfriend is a vegetarian, and he’s going vegan soon too? Knowing this in advance helps, of course, but sometimes you don’t, so having some extra vegetable dishes helps (just don’t use chicken stock!) I’ve written about these kinds of things before, and you can also get some help on Martha Stewart’s website, under “All Things Thanksgiving.” Sur la Table has also published its annual Thanksgiving Guide, and it’s available online or as a free download to print. BF and I caught a bit of the Rachael Ray Show the other day, and someone named Clinton Kelly was making dishes you could make in advance: Turkey Meatballs, a Roasted Vegetable Soup (which looked pretty good, actually), which you could make in advance and freeze, then serve from the Crock Pot and some popover kinds of things with smoked salmon.  The Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash is really good, too. Of course, if you’re looking for something specific, please check out the worlds’s biggest idea database, Pinterest.

One thing I can’t emphasize enough is getting started on your Thanksgiving planning early. Get that turkey NOW, if you haven’t already. Get your brine mix, or make it, NOW, because the turkey has to thaw first, AND you have to make the brine ahead of time. Buy your ingredients early, especially the unusual stuff, like puff pastry or something else that everyone will be looking for like fresh or dried sage. Doing potluck? Ask and assign people a specific dish–dressing, veg, cornbread, whatever–so you avoid the problem of everyone stopping at the grocery and picking up a cake or cupcakes at the last minute. All dessert and little turkey does *not* make happy dinner guests, you know? A broad variety of different vegetable dishes, and maybe including maybe a pilaf or risotto (using vegetable stock) can keep everyone happy and well-fed while including the vegetarians and not calling them out for it.

Brining a turkey? Here’s one from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman (warning: it has brown sugar) and one from Martha Stewart’s website. If you want to brine a turkey–and I highly recommend it–get going. Now. Juniper berries might be hard to find soon.

It’s also a great time to dust off the slow cookers and the waffle makers if you’re not using them regularly. Make sure all your appliances work before the big day, too. And isn’t there something you can slow-cook or waffle ahead of time? (Cranberry Ginger Relish can be made a few days in advance, thank heavens.)

Yes, it’s time to get your thinking cap on. Quick. Whether you’re hosting or just attending, it’s time to take inventory so your Thanksgiving will go well and everyone, including yourself, will enjoy themselves. (Here’s some advice I wrote about last year that may help.)

Here’s another tip: READ your recipes and understand them before you shop and get started. Case in point: last night I decided to make something new for me and BF. Seems he’s never had eggs with tomatoes in his life, despite his claim of “I’ve been all around the world!” So, I found this recipe for Skillet Eggs and Tomato Sauce in one of the Everyday Food cookbooks last night, and asked him if he’d like to try it. He said he would try it, with a bit of reluctance in his voice. (Next question I asked: “Do we have any anchovies?” Oh, the look on his face was priceless.) In the book, this recipe makes two servings, not the four that’s on the website. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the book called for a HALF can, 28 ounces, of tomatoes. Skimming over the ingredients, I just figured I could use two cans of tomatoes, 14.5 ounces. That’s pretty much the same, all right? WRONG–it was, indeed, way too much tomato, and that was his first comment. (I ate them, though.) I noticed the difference when I put the book away–and then made a note of it. He said he’d like to have it again, with half as much tomatoes. Done. (And maybe an anchovy, too, but don’t tell BF–I hide that kind of stuff in a drawer of the fridge.)

The point: please READ carefully and understand before you do something dumb like I do sometimes. Especially for Thanksgiving. OK? Don’t forget the hot mess I made when I invited The GER over a few years ago. It can happen to you. READ. Please.

Now, would I leave you without help for Thanksgiving? Of course not.

Remember last time, when NM handed me a bunch of apples to take home? Well. . .I did put them in the Crock Pot, and darnit, they were pretty tasty! I made them at the same time as the pork chops, but not because I had pork chops. BF wasn’t wild about them cooked, he’d rather have fresh. But, it’s fall, and it feels like fall, so I wanted to try something different.

I actually made two batches, in two different slow cookers, to see what would happen with two different sweeteners–SomerSweet and Agave Syrup. I think this would make a great lower-carb/gluten-free alternative to the traditional apple pie. Either for everyone, or just for guests like me who would rather keep the calorie count down.

If you’re planning to have an apple dessert, or more than one, for Thanksgiving, this is an easy one to toss in and forget for a while. I actually made it a second time with bigger, fresh red apples so I could take pictures and show you how it’s made.

When I cruised through Pinterest to find apples in the Crock Pot, I didn’t find much in the way of healthy versions–mostly, they were loaded with sugar. GRRRR. . .but of course, we have alternatives in our world, don’t we?

The setup

The setup

Yes, that’s the same sherry vinegar I have around to make Cranberry Ginger Relish, but since I don’t use it often, and it only takes a small amount, I decided to try it in this apple dish. You could use red wine vinegar, or just leave it out if you wanted. But I found that the sherry vinegar added a nice depth of flavor that’s not often in apple dishes.

I started out by washing all the apples, of course:

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

The first time I made this, I used just cinnamon. I decided to use apple pie spice for this incarnation, because I’m glad I did. I made some using this recipe, but because not everything is unpacked, I couldn’t find any allspice. So, it was back to Winn-Dixie for more after I picked up BF from work Sunday afternoon. He wanted some hot chocolate because the weather had turned cold. While he was prowling around looking for that, I went to the spices. Hmmm. . .should I get the stuff called “natural,” which is a rather nebulous word on food products, or get the brand I frequently bought in Houston?

It's "natural," whatever that means." No, it's not organic, I checked.

It’s “natural,” whatever that means.” No, it’s not organic, I checked.

 

That's more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

That’s more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

I picked up that bottle that was $1.64 and put it in the little hand basket. Then BF returned to the spice aisle and was of the impression that I’m not getting what I wanted. He then said to me, “Look! Here’s all the ‘allspice’ you could ever want, right here!”

He called this "allspice."

He called this “allspice.”

Oh, he was so funny, gesticulating towards all those spice blends. Giggling, I took the little bottle out of the hand basket and showed it to him:

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

BF was in the Navy, you know. Fortunately, he was *not* on KP in the galley (kitchen), or he would have been keel-hauled for making that mistake. He only had to put up with me laughing at him all the way home.

This apple pie spice mix recipe from Life Made Sweeter is quick and easy, and I made a double batch to make sure I had enough:

The setup

The setup

 

Just blend them up!

Just blend them up!

 

Bottled, but I couldn't find my label maker in time.

Bottled, but I couldn’t find my label maker in time.

And use it like you would the store-bought stuff. No sugar or other additives to worry about. (Of course, yesterday, I found another carefully packed box marked “Amy Pantry,” which had not one, but two bottles of allspice. GRRR.)

Back to it–I started by putting a bit of olive oil in the bottom of the crocks:

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Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering if there’s a deliberate reason for a black and white crock. Well, yes, and I used it–the black one was mine, a replacement during a Karma of Spare Parts incident, last year, I think, when I sent the 4-quart crashing to the floor on a Sunday. They no longer had white, so black it was. The white crock belongs to BF. The difference came in handy: the black one had apples cooked with Agave Syrup, and the white one had apples cooking in SomerSweet.

Neat, huh? (Worked for me!)

Then started cutting the apples and adding them to the crock, and rolling them around in the oil:

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Yes, I was drinking coffee whilst I made this. It was early, and cold that morning.

Then I added in the apple pie spice mix to both crocks:

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Added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract:

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

Then added in a tablespoon of the sherry vinegar to each one:

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

And then I added the respective sweeteners:

Agave in the black one

Agave in the black one on the left

 

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the right one

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the white one on the right.

Mix it all up again to coat the apples with the rest of it:

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Agave pot

 

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SomerSweet pot

And cooked it on low for about 4 hours.  What happened? Well. . .it was interesting, and BF gave me his honest opinion (I only had to needle him a little bit.)

Hmmm. . .looks like Miss Food Blogger forgot to take a picture of the results. Oh, well. I had three things going on at once. . .and we just ate them!

While BF would prefer eating apples raw, he said that the apples cooked with SomerSweet were a little less sweet, and still somewhat crisp, although they weren’t hard like a fresh apple. The agave syrup crock apples were softer and sweeter than the others, and that’s the one he preferred.

If I had cooked them longer they would have probably been a lot softer, and maybe even soft enough for applesauce. But peeling all them apples? No thanks. It was just something to use them up the first time.

Agave syrup works for a lot of different things, including a replacement for honey, with less of an insulin spike than honey would give. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, I just read about these things.)  SomerSweet’s primary ingredient, erythrytol, is a sugar alcohol that’s also quite sweet and works like regular sugar, also without the insulin spike.

For you and your guests who don’t want pie or other heavily-sugared dessert, baking apples in your Crock Pot may be a good alternative to have around, and in the Crock Pot, couldn’t be easier. But why wait for Thanksgiving? Apples are in season now, and available all year around–make some this week or this weekend, and see how you like it. Tweak it to make it yours, and offer it with pride on Thanksgiving Day. It’s one of those things you can set and forget.  You may be asked to make it again next year, or even before then–and what would be wrong with that?

Now for another side dish that’s also low-carb. Spaghetti Squash. Have you tried it? I have. They’re hard as a rock and can be somewhat dangerous to cut, especially the larger ones. Easiest method I knew of, until now, was to cut it in half, scrape out all the seeds and strings, coat the inside with a touch of olive oil, and roast at 350F cut side down for an hour.  I used to use the toaster oven to roast even the larger ones, but now I don’t have a toaster oven. What to do? Well. . . .

I also follow a blog called Half Baked Harvest. I found a recipe there a while back, and I may have posted it here, but I can’t find it now. HOWEVER–a few weeks ago, this recipe for Crockpot Spaghetti Squash with Lasagne Bolognese showed up and got my attention. I haven’t made the Bolognese sauce yet, but I might one day.

But cooking a spaghetti squash in the Crock Pot? Why haven’t I tried this before?

Tieghan makes up her sauce, adds it into the Crock Pot, then puts the whole, untouched spaghetti squash right on top the sauce. No kidding. So I pulled out the big one and put the (little) squash in it, because the ovals were needed for the apples.

I just pulled off the sticker, washed it off, dropped it in, turned it to low and left it alone for a good 8 or 9 hours.

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You put the food in, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on, and leave it alone:

Really--just let it go.

Really–just let it cook itself.

I did this early on Monday, and about suppertime, this is what came out:

It's cooked, it really is.

It’s cooked, it really is.

And out comes a perfectly cooked spaghetti squash:

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Either use a good potholder or wait til it cools, then cut it in half to remove the seeds. Once you’ve got the “guts” out of it, scrape out the “spaghetti” with a fork into your serving bowl:

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Photo credit: BF, because I can’t do this and snap the picture.

Add some butter, salt and fresh herbs:

I only had rosemary handy.

I only had rosemary handy.

Mix it up well, and if needed, re-heat in the microwave or on top the stove, or leave in the oven to keep it warm:

Yum.

Yum.

And you’ve got delicious and perfectly cooked spaghetti squash for your vegetarian guests. (You could also use olive oil if you don’t want to use butter.) But don’t be surprised if the non-veg folks dig into it–spaghetti squash is delicious when cooked well and seasoned right. (If only I could get BF to try a bite of it; he hates squash across the board.)

So, did I give you some new ideas for a great Thanksgiving meal? Alternatives for your guests, maybe? Or just something different and deliciousi for dinner this weekend? (November also has 29 *other* dinners to prepare besides Thanksgiving, you know.) I hope this helps, and I hope everyone has a tasty and happy Thanksgiving next week.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Amy, there you go again, banging on about SomerSweet again. You have the last three cans of it in existence!” Well, here you go. I hope to finish the post on a new replacement for SomerSweet for you, but I want to reach out to the company and find out more from them. I will tell you that I found it in Whole Foods in Mandeville, it’s called Swerve, and the company is located in New Orleans!

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More to come on this, hopefully soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

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