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Jar of Calabrian chili paste
Spicy Calabrian Shrimp

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.

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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.

Inflation

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.

Four ripe blackberries on a tablecloth

Aren’t they beautiful? More to come soon.

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.

Cat resting on cloth

There she is.

She likes sitting on the sewing machine table, but pretty much anywhere she likes. I was trying to work.

Cat on my arm

Do you think she likes me?

She didn’t take long to discover great places to nap:

Tiger Cat on futon

Where Catmandu and Kismet have gone before

Just make yourself at home, why don’t you?

Tiger Cat sleeping on bed

Awwww. . . .

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:

Tab E. Cat on dog cushion

He asserted his feline dominance, and left his “scent” behind on the dogs’ cushion, too.

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?

Jar of Calabrian chili paste

There it is, the magical stuff.

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

Amy
Giada de Laurentiis' version of shrimp cocktail, made spicy with Calabrian chili paste. From Giada's Italy, c.2018.
Course Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Quart freezer bag of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

A delicious cheese, but you don’t need much.

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.

Ingredients for Spicy Calabrian Shrimp

The Setup

Preheat your oven to 425F. Then, mix up the ingredients:

Mixing herb ingredients inbowl

Two teaspoons are plenty of chili paste, trust me.

Add in the shrimp, mixing well to coat:

Shrimp in herb cheese mixture

Just like that.

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:

Basil on cutting board

That’s all I had, but I didn’t need much of it, thankfully

Chopped basil

Then just set that aside with the lemon juice

Chopped basil in pinch bowl

Just like that.

When the shrimp are cooked, sprinkle the lemon juice and chopped fresh basil over them and serve warm.

Naturally, I don’t have pictures of the finished product, even though I thought I took some.

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.

Happy Dining!

 

Broccoli Cheddar Soup In A Bowl
Winter Cooking: The Soup Post

Soup. Even the word conjures up warm tasty food that’s perfect in winter. Today I’ve got two soups for you that are easy to make and enjoyable anytime. Neither involves pesto.

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Hi again, Dear Readers:

Is it cold where you are? Chances are that answer is “yes” no matter where you are throughout the United States. After all, it is winter for a bit longer. Even though it’s getting closer to spring, we’ve still got some “winter” to go.

In parts of Texas, exploding trees have been keeping people up at night. The trees “explode” when the sap freezes and the trees break from the weight. We may have heard that happen here as well. It’s just like putting something liquid in your freezer and it expands. If there isn’t enough room for the liquid, whatever vessel it’s contained in will crack open. That’s why you don’t put glass in the freezer as a rule, because the glass will break upon expansion.

We’ve been experiencing our own part of the cold snap, and yes, he is still complaining that he hates cold weather.  Then it warms up and mosquitoes return for a day or two. But I managed to make him happy recently with a soup recipe for which he gave me a thumbs-up to make again. And I also made a similar soup that he wouldn’t touch, but it’s equally tasty.

New Member Of The Family

I texted Ami Pope a few weeks ago and told her about the remaining Spencer story. She texted back that she had a clear vision of the possum opening up one eye, looking at BF, and saying, “Hey buddy, can you help me out?”

After two posts mentioning our beloved dog, Spencer, I can report that BF has brought in another dog to give the pit bull a new companion. He’s been kind of lonely since we lost Spencer, and he’s been acting like a little puppy dog ever since. The pit bull is now eight years old, and at 85 pounds, is hardly a “puppy.”

But on a recent Saturday, when we had something else going on (keep reading), BF came home from work with a little “surprise.” As I’ve said many times, I don’t like surprises, because they’re frequently not good. BF told me that I had to bring the pit bull inside, having let him out to greet BF. Immediately, I knew it was something to which the dog would object.

Well, he didn’t object, but it was a surprise for the pit bull. Not to mention ME.

Buddy face

Look at that FACE!!

This is Buddy, a cross between a chocolate Labrador and a Catahoula Leopard Hound, also called a “Catahoula Cur.” (A “cur” is actually a mixture of breeds within a breed; it’s a little weird.) This cute little furball has turned the pit bull from an eight-year-old “puppy” into a doting father. They’re not related, of course, but the pit bull instantly became the elder statesman in light of the puppy moving into the house. In these pictures, taken the day of his arrival, he is approximately eight weeks old.

Buddy sleeping on James's chair

Awww. . . .

BF came up with the name, although we could have gone with “Rufus”, too. Buddy goes between hyperactivity and near-comatose. He’s got Spencer’s metronome tail and occasionally vocalizes like Spencer, too. He’s learning to bark, but he does whine and also chirps. (Did we get a monkey?) But of course, he’s not Spencer, and he’s got ice-blue eyes like a full-blooded Catahoula whatever or a Siberian Husky. At this writing, it’s been a month, and he’s now 12 weeks old.

Tab E. Cat, the resident apex predator, is not happy. He has expressed his extreme displeasure multiple times with hissing and swatting at both dogs, primarily at Buddy. Of course, this cute little puppy will, within a year or so, be as big as, if not bigger than the pit bull, who would like to cancel his trial subscription to fatherhood. But it’s getting better, a little at a time.

Naturally, I have nothing *else* to do all day long but deal with an untrained puppy. I gave him a unique nickname: “Broccoli Stir-fry.” But that’s just when I get mad at him. Titan, the pit bull, is busy all day teaching him how to dog. But it’s obvious he needs a break from fatherhood.

New Appliances

Well, say goodbye to our 1970’s avocado green stove.

That’s right, BF bought us some new kitchen appliances. They were delivered hours before he came home from work with that rodent, I mean, Buddy the new puppy.

BF sold something out of his shop and decided it was finally time to upgrade the ancient but functional appliances.

No kidding, we had an avocado green stove, as you’ve seen in previous pictures.

Avocado green stove

It served us well.

The stove and the old fridge/freezer with the non-working water fountain and ice maker have been removed and carted away. In their place are sleek new stainless-steel exterior appliances that leave a little more room in the kitchen, are energy efficient, and work great.

New Stove

Isn’t it gorgeous?

We’ve been talking about doing this for some time, but it always seems to get put off. Well, this time, BF said “I’m doing this,” and he did.

Refrigerator with closed doors

Equally attractive. Notice the indignant cat at the far right in the background, waiting to be fed again.

Availability

I have seen posts on Facebook from people in other places that have had considerable trouble getting the appliances they want. In some cases, the appliances are on backorder, or simply not available anywhere. We just purchased what was in stock at Lowe’s, which may or may not have been the absolute newest models. Lowes had them, BF bought them, and they delivered them two days later.

Stove

A closer look at the entire thing.

It took some time to get everything swapped out and get the older appliances removed from the house. We cleaned the floor behind both appliances before the new ones were added, and they were expertly installed by none other than BF himself.

A Fancier Stove And Refrigerator

One thing I enjoy teasing BF about is his slightly Luddite nature. It’s just funny to watch him when he is presented with something new, and he doesn’t quite know what to do with it. It’s just nothing that’s ever crossed his path.

I was perfectly happy with the coil-type burners. I would not have minded if he bought a new stove with the same type of cooktop. Surprisingly, this time, BF went in for something much more modern, complete with ceramic cooktops and a digital readout.

Stovetop on Maytag Stove

Every inch is fully utilized, and it includes a place to keep something warm. Neat!

This light reminds you that the stove is still hot, even if it’s turned off. Pay attention!

hot surface indicator

That “quick boil” burner really does heat up fast.

Red glowing coils under cooktop

Don’t touch it!! These burners can get up to 1300 degrees.

This is what happens when you turn one on under a pot.

The refrigerator is at once both simplicity and complexity in one place. In other words, it’s very modern, very sleek, very well designed, with a lot more interior real estate than the other one had.

Refrigerator with doors open

LOTS of room, even though it looks a little smaller

The door shelves in this new refrigerator are much bigger, hold much more, and can accommodate a gallon of milk. The freezer does not have an ice maker because there is no waterline in that spot. That’s OK, we have plenty of ice cube trays.

Get a load of the size of this butter garage:

Butter garage in new refrigerator holding butter dish and three sticks of butter

Plenty of room for whatever butter dish you have

I’m supposed to be making BF a Barefoot Contessa Apple Crostata soon because we were recently gifted some apples. Everything is ready for me to start baking. . .soon.

The one downside is that now that we have a refrigerator with clear shelves and drawers, BF can see everything. This includes the stuff that I put towards the back of the produce drawer where, hopefully, he’ll look past them. You know, the sun-dried tomatoes, Asian fish sauce, coconut aminos, and the anchovy fillets and paste. I’ve used anchovy paste a few times in stuff I’ve made for him. But for heaven’s sake, don’t tell him about it or he’ll lose his mind as he did with the Frozen Hot Chocolate.

Maybe I should try putting it in the drawer at the very bottom of the fridge. It’s impossible to see into it when you open the door.

Oh, well. Let’s make some soup!

Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup

It’s keto, It’s easy, and it tastes great. Even BF said so. If you’re a fan of broccoli cheese soup, this one’s for you. If you stop off at the grocery store on the way home, you can have a delicious hot soup for dinner in less than an hour. And if you care, it’s also vegetarian and gluten-free. Not that BF cares in the least.

This is one more recipe from Emilie Bailey’s Vegetarian Keto in 30 Minutes on page 66. It wasn’t included in the original post because I made it after I wrote and published that blog post. It’s easy and perfect for lunch or dinner on a cold day.

 

Ingredients for Broccoli Cheese Soup

The Setup (I grated the 3 cups of Colby Cheese ahead of time; the recipe calls for Colby Jack.)

You can use a pound of either fresh or frozen broccoli in this recipe, but since this was the first time making it, I used fresh. Prep out your ingredients:

Prep bowls of measured ingredients

So much easier to do this first.

So start out by melting the butter in a pot:

making soup by melting butter in pot

Like this–don’t brown or burn it.

Then add your celery and onion:

Adding celery and onion to soup pot

Just like that.

Saute until they get tender, then add garlic and paprika:

Adding paprika to soup

Drop it right in

Cook for just one more minute, then add in the broccoli:

Adding broccoli into soup

Cut broccoli came in handy here.

Then 3.5 cups of vegetable broth or stock:

Adding stock to soup pot

Easier when you measure ahead of time!

Of course, this is vegetable stock since it’s vegetarian, but if you wanted to use chicken stock (and you don’t care about vegetarian) I’m sure that would work too.

Here’s where this recipe is a bit different. Once the broccoli is cooked fork-tender, four to five minutes, remove half of the broccoli and set it aside.

Removing broccoli from soup post

There’s a good reason for this.

Next up, add into the pot 3/4 cup of heavy cream and four ounces of regular (full-fat) cream cheese at room temp. Leave the cream cheese out for a while before you plan to cook this, just like for cheesecake (but not two days like I do.) I normally buy the two-pack of 8-ounce bricks at Walmart, but some places sell smaller packages of four ounces.

Adding cream to soup pot

Cream

Adding cream cheese to soup pot

And cream cheese

It’s going to take a few minutes for the cream cheese to melt:

Cream cheese in soup pot

Whisk this around until it’s nice and melted

Finishing Touch

After a short while, the cream cheese becomes fully melted

Melted cream cheese in soup pot

Almost there, so keep stirring

Emilie recommends an immersion blender to better chop some of the broccoli and smooth out the consistency:

Immersion blender in soup pot

Do this carefully, of course.

I had to move the pot near an outlet for the blender, or use an extension cord across the kitchen.

You can do this in a standard blender, BUT–like Pea & Pesto Soup, you must be extremely careful. Remove the little inset in the top, cover with a heavy dish towel, and blend cautiously.

Ready for soup? Add the shredded cheese a handful at a time (3 cups of Colby, which I shredded by hand):

Adding cheese to soup pot

Stir in between handfuls to melt it

I prefer not to buy pre-shredded cheese because of the powdery ingredients added to keep it from clumping. It’s a bit of a pain, but the anti-clumping additives can also prevent the cheese from melting properly.

Once it’s incorporated (and melted), add the reserved broccoli back into the soup pot:

Adding reserved broccoli back into the soup pot

Almost there

If you prefer, you can blend all of the broccoli instead of just half of it. We liked it this way, but there’s nothing wrong with all-blended broccoli either.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup In A Bowl

An easy and delicious version of Broccoli Cheddar Soup.

Two thumbs up! BF really enjoyed it, so we have yet another “modern” dish to add to our dinner rotation. It’s tasty, cheesy, filling, and perfect for a cool or cold evening.

Creamed Cauliflower Soup

Similar to the broccoli cheese soup, I found this one in a book called Keto For Vegetarians by Lisa Danielson. It’s got a delicious-looking egg dish on the cover and a wide range of vegetarian food similar to Emilie’s. It was one of the many books I received as a gracious gift from Callisto Press while I was on their book reviewer list.

keto for vegetarians book

This is the book, if you’re interested.

I just happened to be flipping through this book one day, looking around and found this delicious soup on page 69. I told BF that I wanted to make some. Of course, the first thing he did was turn up his nose and make retching noises. I ignored him.

Similar to the prior recipe, it has butter, cream, and shredded cheese, so how could it be bad? It’s not like you can actually taste the cauliflower for what it is. But BF, being himself, just completely rejected it out of hand. So, the cauliflower soup is all mine whenever I decide to make some.

It’s a simple recipe, and you can make it either on the stovetop or in the Instant Pot. I tried the Instant Pot version first. The second time, when I took these pictures, I made it top of the stove and used frozen cauliflower. I’d opened a bag of florets by mistake.

The author also has a recipe for Slow Cooker Broccoli Cheese Soup on page 67 that also includes Greek yogurt cream cheese. Don’t ask me where I would find that around here.

So this is what you need to make this recipe:

Soup the setup

The Setup

There is no cream cheese in this recipe. Instead of Colby-Jack, this one calls for sharp cheddar. I’m a fan of the mild cheddar, but I bought extra-sharp here. Know what? It’s pretty good, so I suggest going with what works.

The recipe starts out the same, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat:

Two tablespoons butter

The recipe calls for grass-fed butter, but this is just standard unsalted stuff.

Once melted, add the onion and garlic:

Adding onion and garlic to soup pot

Then saute for about three minutes or so:

Saute in soup pot

Just until they start to soften

Now add in the cauliflower:

Adding Cauliflower into pot

I let it thaw for a few before I started.

Saute for a few minutes:

Sauteing cauliflower in pot

Since it was frozen, not fresh, I cooked it a little longer

Add in the veggie broth and a bay leaf:

Adding broth and a bay leaf to the soup pot

See why measuring first helps?

Cover and cook for 20 minutes:

Covering soup pot

Won’t be long now!

After 20 minutes, remove it from the heat. Obviously, I forgot to turn off the heat. Add in the cream:

Adding cream

And stir well

Now the cheese:

Adding cheddar cheese into soup pot

This is only one cup, not three.

Don’t forget the salt and pepper:

Adding salt and pepper to soup pot

The finishing touch

Again, stir well. And serve!

Finished cauli soup

Ready for soup?

This recipe makes four servings, and I had it for a few days afterward:

Four bowls of cauli soup

Lunch! Or something to go with it.

Really easy, really tasty, and great to make when it’s cold.

Bowl of cauli soup

Delicious and keto

One thing I didn’t take a picture of is using a wooden tool to cut the cauliflower into smaller pieces after cooking because they were big out of the bag.

No, BF refused, even though it smelled delicious. That’s just how he rolls, even in an emergency. Fortunately, we’re not having one right now, just a difference of opinion.

This recipe also has instructions for using the Instant Pot, but it wasn’t really much faster than the stovetop. I think both could work well with the IP, which is something to consider if you have a power outage and need to use a generator. We’re experienced with camp stove cooking now, so we could certainly make both soups either way.

Addendum: New Pinch Bowls

I’ve mentioned mise en place more than once in this humble little blog. I’m a huge fan of prepping out the ingredients before you start cooking, which isn’t what I saw growing up. But the little pinch bowls I’ve had for many years have either been broken or disappeared. Seriously, the stainless steel ones from IKEA have gone into the Vortex, and the glass ones broke over time. I have one of each left, and I’ve not found them on IKEA’s website.

But I found some new ones! They’re unbreakable and resilient SILICONE.

Two sets of silicone pinch bowls

Aren’t they cute?

I went looking for more but didn’t check Amazon as I should have. I mentioned it to BF one day and was considering ordering them from Cost Plus World Market. Lo and behold, we had to head to Baton Rouge one day, which means a few shopping stops when we’re done at the machine shop.

BF gets reluctantly introduced into places he would not have visited if I weren’t around. Cost Plus is one of them, where we get his new favorite cookie, Jammie Dodgers. This particular day in December, there were none of his favorite cookies, but we did manage to stock up on some things we like.

On the way out, BF saw these in a display near the checkout counter. Four in a package for $3.99. I grabbed two. They work wonderfully, fit in the dishwasher cutlery tray (just squish them a bit), and are perfect for measuring out your ingredients before you start. I’ve found that once you start doing that, the cooking process goes quickly. It’s almost like what you see on cooking shows.

Two packages of these will keep you cooking forever. Online, they now sell for $4.99, and Amazon has a range of different types and brands at different price points.

Until Next Time

I’ve posted printable PDF copies of both these recipes here on the Recipes Page. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find them. One day, I’ll try to organize them a little more. Just click on the hyperlink and it will come up, ready to use or print. I’ve even added a new “logo” that I made on Canva recently.

Logo for HeatCageKitchen

You might see more of this in the coming months.

I might do a refresh of the WordPress theme, and this may figure into the redesign/rebrand. If I do it.

Even without snow and sub-freezing, t’s been very cold this winter. There’s no better time to make soup. Make it in your Instant Pot, CrockPot, some other appliance, or just on your stovetop. Spring is a few weeks away, so now’s the time to enjoy some soup before warmer weather arrives.

Happy Dining!

Fiesta Arroz Con Pollo
Fiesta’s Arroz con Pollo

Today’s post is not sponsored, but more of a love letter to Bolner’s Fiesta Spices Company. If you like a good chicken and rice, you’re reading the correct blog today.

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Hi, again, Dear Readers:

If you’re in Texas, you probably look at Fiesta Spices like you look at the shelves when you shop–it’s in every grocery store, everywhere. Of course, it is, because the company is in San Antonio, and their spices are widely available throughout Texas. But when you find it in the middle of Louisiana, where Hatch chiles are not embraced, that’s something to celebrate.

I can get a small selection of Fiesta spices and products at Albertson’s, which includes their River Road brand of Cajun-style spices. I had no idea that River Road was a Texas company until recently.

BF’s Seasonal Mantra

Yes, he’s saying it: “I hate cold weather!” Repeatedly, and more often if there is an implication and/or inference of snow in the forecast. Despite my sincerest hopes, snow has not made an appearance, and for this BF is happy. However, despite the incredible Arctic chill, we’ve fared well. And as BF is fond of saying, “it gets cold in the piney woods.” He’s not kidding, either–it was 17F when that cat showed up five years ago.

Still, the closest thing I get to a fireplace is streaming on my Roku through YouTube or another streaming channel. I look for the ones with music, but there are some with just the crackling sounds. PlutoTV’s fireplace channel is now just a loop of commercials until Christmas.

For many years I’ve asked BF for a space heater that looks like a fireplace. I’ve shown him multiple available models that look and feel like a fireplace but don’t carry as many risks as a real one. We could even build a nice little wooden mantel for it and put the “fire” inside. Nope–didn’t think it was a good idea.

But last week saw the purchase of exactly that–a space heater with a fireplace-like inset. We got the last one at Walmart. All the rest of the heaters were gone in anticipation of the sub-freezing weather. Obviously, last year’s big freeze is still on everyone’s mind, both here and in Texas. I use it in the back room where it gets really cold, and the pit bull pulls his little cushion in front of it to stay warm. Awwww. . . .

Powerless

Sure enough, last week we woke up to no power. The weather was fine, just really cold. BF got up, started the camp stove like he’s done many times before, and got cracking on bacon and eggs for us. After a short phone conversation with his brother, he went back to sleep. He had to go to work at noon. Meantime I started dusting because I don’t need power for that.

Entergy said the power would be back about 9:30 am, which came and went. About 11 am, I asked him to please get the generator set up so I could plug in a heater. He dragged it to the house, filled it, and started it up. I went inside to get an extension cord, only to see the ceiling fans start turning. Nevermind! I flipped the switch to turn it off and that was the end of it. BF was out in the shop snickering because he knew what happened. I plugged the heater in for the back room, the HVAC system kicked on, and he went off to work.

BF also purchased another indoor heater this week, one that runs on the same propane bottles as the camping stove. It will keep us from freezing if we have another outage, and no need to go into town for petrol if we don’t need it.

Mr. Heater propane heater

And it works well, too, because we tested it.

Since it is winter, though, we always need something warm and comforting for dinner. Luckily, I found something that’s easy and fast.

Finding Fiesta Spices

Living in Texas as long as I did, I got used to buying certain things. When I moved here, I had to find what I needed locally or order it online. Ask our mail ladies how many packages they handle from all over the US with my name on them.

A few years ago I found in Winn-Dixie one spice brand I used to buy, but not many of the Mexican variety. What am I supposed to do with a tiny bottle of cumin?

I always bought Fiesta because it was there, it’s good stuff, and readily available. I brought a fair amount of it with me when I moved. Leave Texas and the brands are all different–and you can’t always get those big containers of ground cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Then one day I stumbled on Fiesta Spices in Hammond. Oh, Happy DAY!!

It was kind of an accident–I went into the Albertsons to look for something Rouses didn’t have available. I walked down the spice aisle and there it was! A whole section of the shelf of JUST Fiesta Spices. And River Road, too!!

I was so happy, I didn’t know what to buy first. (I think I bought a big container of chile powder.) BF stayed in the truck while I went into the store since he’s not enamored with grocery shopping. Really. He’d rather not be bothered with grocery shopping, ever.

Foodies Of Instagram

In the quest to make a good dinner for both myself and BF, it’s frequently a hit-and-miss proposition. Really, the thing I think he’ll dislike is the thing he asks for again. And the thing I think he’ll enjoy is what he’ll turn up his nose at, loudly. (“She’s tryin’ ta kill me!”) But this time, things went well, and all because of an innocent Instagram post a couple of weeks ago.

I follow a myriad of people and companies on Instagram, including some food bloggers and culinary celebrities I’ve mentioned here. Jen Fisch of Keto In The City and Emilie Bailey, The Texas Granola Girl, are two of them. Others include Stephanie O’Dea, Ina Garten, (The Barefoot Contessa) her protege Lidey Hueck, Rachael Ray, Valerie Bertinelli, Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) plus her two daughters, and of course, the Goddess of the Home, Martha Stewart.

I originally joined Instagram to follow sewing maven MimiG, who occasionally posts foodie stuff, some of it in sponsored posts. I also follow her talented sewing/designing husband Norris Danta Ford, both of whom are very nice folks. Since then I’ve followed more like Emilie Bailey and Jen Fisch, both of whom are active on IG.  I even follow a couple of personal injury lawyers who produce interesting video content. Many will answer questions if you ask (the lawyers don’t give legal advice) and interaction seems to be easier on Instagram.

Of course, food companies are all over Instagram, including Caulipower, and a Texas favorite, Fiesta Spices. And that’s where it started.

Fiesta’s Instagram

So this particular day, the folks at Fiesta Spices posted a picture of Arroz Con Pollo, or Spanish chicken and rice. The post (and the recipe) featured Fiesta’s Spanish Rice Seasoning.

screenshot of Arroz Con Pollo on Instagram

Oh, don’t you want some?

That sure does look good. . .so I asked:

Screenshot of questions on Instagram

They answered.

Dinner is solved! The recipe is also on Fiesta’s website.

We had another reason to head to Hammond, and a quick trip to Albertson’s was added to that trip. There it was, the Spanish Rice Seasoning right on the shelf. Also got some chicken thighs on sale, broth, and promptly forgot the cilantro.

Bottle of Fiesta Spanish Rice SEasoning.

Found it!

Recipe on side of Spanish Rice Seasoning bottle

There it is!

Wait, hang on–you mean they have it in the big bottles? For $8.72? Yep, that’s good to know.

Making Arroz Con Pollo

This couldn’t be easier to make, and it’s faster than the jambalaya BF insists upon making occasionally. (I know, keto what?)

Ingredients for Arroz con Pollo

The setup

BF isn’t a fan of chicken thighs the way I am, but that’s been the least expensive option lately:

Two bags of chicken thighs for the freezer

Ready to freeze.

Ideally, boneless and skinless chicken thighs would be the best option, but I got what was on sale and just removed the skin myself.

Skinless chicken thights

Usually, the bones fall off anyway, but not this time.

Just get all your ingredients together, and get started.

Arroz con Pollo setup

The setup, part 2

I used my chili pot, and it worked perfectly. First, add the olive oil:

Adding oil to the pot

Not a whole lot

Then start frying the rice in the oil:

Toasting rice in oil

Just like this, until it starts turning brown

Then add in the tomato sauce:

Adding tomato sauce

Just like that, 7 ounces

Then the seasoning:

Adding Fiesta seasoning to pot

One tablespoon

The 2.5 cups of chicken broth:

Adding chicken broth to pot

Instead of just water.

Carefully add the chicken thighs:

Adding chicken thighs to pot

Just lay them on top

Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the chicken is cooked. I think.

Covering pot with Fiesta chicken

And don’t mess with it, either.

I actually don’t know how long I cooked it for, I just looked at it a couple of times. I cut open one of the chicken pieces, and it was done. Might have been 25 minutes, but of course, the chicken is the barometer. You can add a little more water or broth to the rice if needed.

When you open your pot, this is what you get:

Fiesta Arroz Con Pollo

Oh, YEAH!

The rice is deliciously cooked:

Fiesta cooked rice

Just like that.

And you’ve got a tasty one-pot meal that’s on the table in less than an hour.

Feeding Arroz Con Pollo to BF

Now comes the scary part: will he like it?

Two plates of Arroz Con Pollo

Arroz con Pollo a la Fiesta, or Spanish Chicken & Rice

I’m happy to report that it was a two-thumbs up! BF really enjoys this dish and will be happy for me to make it again. I better order a restaurant-sized bottle soon. He’ll keep me around for this one.

Arroz con Pollo could be a perfect dish for our Valentine’s Day “dinner and a movie” night.

Now that I think about it, I bet you could make this in the Instant Pot, too, although maybe not using the pressure cooking function. I’ll have to fiddle with it and see how it works. If the power goes out, I can plug the IP into the generator, saute the rice, add everything, and then cook it normally until done with the glass lid. Maybe pressure cook it for 15 minutes? I’m thinking ahead to the next winter power outage, and if we can do this on the generator.

What Happened Next?

Two days after this success, Fiesta posted a picture of a spatchcocked chicken seasoned with their Chicken Rub, featured by a different poster.

Spatchcocked chicken

Featuring their Chicken Rub

As you can see, I also mentioned the previous night’s dinner from their post. And when I went to Hammond the next morning to run errands, I picked up a bottle of their Chicken Rub for us.

Bottle of Fiesta Chicken Rub

There it is!!

A few days later I took two chicken thighs out of the freezer and used this chicken rub:

Two chicken thighs coated with chicken rub

Ready to roast

I forget what else I made with it, but BF enjoyed this dinner and said I should make it again.

Two winners in a week! (Although BF may soon complain that he is “clucking” from all the chicken.)

Fiesta’s Tamale Kit

During the holidays, lots of companies have online contests for different things. In the case of Fiesta Spices, it was a bottle of this or a that. Not expensive things, but it was fun, so I entered and tagged people every day.

Then on December 19th, at 8:37 in the morning, I got a message on Instagram from Fiesta. I won their Tamale Kit!!

Fiesta Tamale Kit

Here it is, right from the factory in San Antonio!!

As requested, I sent them the address, and it arrived on December 28th. Woo hoo!! But checking their website, it’s out of stock right now. So I guess I got the last one.

Now for the bad news: making tamales is a long-term commitment. Seriously. Lots of labor and a little hand cramping. But done correctly, well-made tamales are delicious. At this point, I don’t know when I’m going to be making our own tamales. When I do, I will need to get a Food Saver to freeze five dozen of them. Meantime, Texas Tamales will have to take care of our cravings for real tamales.

Buying Fiesta Spices

If you’re in Texas, you already know where:  your local HEB, Kroger, Food Town, Randall’s, Fiesta Mart (the grocery store chain, I miss them too), and every other little place that sells Hispanic foods and goods. Toss a quarter in any direction in the state of Texas and you’ll likely find at least a few Fiesta Spices products.

Locally, there are two stores I’ve found that carry Fiesta Spices. The first is Albertson’s in Hammond. Chances are the other Albertsons carries them too, but I’ve only been in the Hammond store. Amazingly, the Walmart in Covington also carries a huge selection of Hispanic foods and spices, and I believe they had some as well.

I don’t remember seeing Fiesta products in Los Primos last year, but I may have also missed something. In my defense, I was just wide-eyed at all the wonderful things from Mexico they have. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, but I should make more Salsa Macha soon.

But if you’re in a place like, say, Idaho, chances are Fiesta Spices aren’t something in your regular grocery store. For that, you have the option of a) buying from their own website, or b) ordering from their Amazon store.

Prior Exposure

Now, this wasn’t the first time I’d ever had Arroz con Pollo, nor will it be the last (now that HE likes it.) My mother had a complete set of The Betty Crocker Recipe Collection, circa 1971. In it was a recipe she used, sort of, and made many times when we were growing up–Arroz Con Pollo.

Recipe card for Arroz Con Pollo

This was one of the few I remember her making from the hundreds of cards.

If I remember correctly, she didn’t use pimientos or olives:

Back side of recipe card for arroz con pollo

The 1970’s version of haute cuisine.

It was pretty easy, so that was the draw, plus everyone ate it. The recipe was scaled down for a family night dinner for six. But we didn’t know it was simply Spanish chicken with rice. This was New Orleans in the 1970’s, before Paul Prudhomme and Emeril and all that.

Recipe “collections” like these were sold as a small package bought monthly for a small price, and the storage box usually came with the first package. Over a year or two at that price you’d have the entire collection in your kitchen. Most people didn’t add up the total cost of these little “collections” that you bought for a small sum every month. My father bought the whole thing for my mother, and I only recall that recipe ever being used. Maybe one day I’ll go through all the cards and if there’s anything else that rings a bell.

Then one day, about 15 years ago (and probably more) my mother decided to get rid of her Betty Crocker Recipe Collection. I convinced her to give it to me instead of tossing it in the trash. As a fan of the always amusing and occasionally crass Vintage Recipe Cards website (also on Instagram), I might actually use one of these recipes one day. But nothing with aspic, gelatin, or other “gourmet” techniques of the day. Occasionally recipes from this collection show up in the postings.

Until Next Time

If you’re looking for something new and different for dinner, Fiesta’s got you covered. Their website has a huge library of recipes featuring their spices and products, both Mexican and Cajun. Let’s face it, a muffuletta has nothing on these Fishing Sandwiches.

Wait. . .did someone say Chorizo? Hang on, is that an Overnight Oatmeal recipe?

There are also keto recipes featured, and guess what? The links take you to The Texas Granola Girl’s website! These were two of the many recipes that feature Fiesta Spices (and of course, sponsored by the company.) Keto Deep Dish Pizza and Keto Shrimp Etouffe look like two dishes I need to try really soon, especially the second one. Oh, wait, there’s a Mexican Shredded Beef recipe for the Instant Pot.

Wonder if he’ll *almost* want to yell at me as he wanted to the first time I made the Wheat Belly Gumbo recipe.

Another warm and delicious vegetarian recipe is coming, along with a couple of cookbook reviews and another Spencer story. Right now, we all need warm comfort food, and I’m looking for more of those too. Don’t worry, spring is on its way, and soon we’ll be watching the Gulf of Mexico again. Meantime, make some delicious Arroz con Pollo and find something funny to watch.

Happy Dining!

 

 

Big Jar of Salsa Macha
Salsa Macha!

Salsa Macha–a most delicious thing to make any time. It’s perfect for your charcuterie boards, too.

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Apologies again for being later than I wanted, but I’ll explain myself shortly. It’s summer, and the living is easy (we hope.) As always, fall is coming, and certain people in the US population are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Pumpkin Spice Latte season. Heck, everything pumpkin spice–you know who you are.

If you just can’t wait, you can make that PSL at home with a recipe from Starbucks’ own website. Who would have thought it?

But remember–while y’all are sipping your hot PSLs, I’m still trying to enjoy my iced coffee and avoid heatstroke.

With all the rain we’ve had this year, I don’t think we’ve seen a day of 100F temps here. Houston, and most of Texas, has seen multiple 100F days.

This Year’s Gardening Attempts

We have not attempted to repeat last year’s gardening disaster.

I really haven’t mentioned the paint-bucket garden, but we’ve got basil and a few other things growing. I really need to plant the sprouted avocado seeds so they can grow into actual trees.

Avocado Trees in paint bucket

Just plant the seed into the dirt. . .and wait. No kidding, I’ve sprouted several but lost a couple.

Think of how many friends we’ll have when they find out we have avocados growing! Well, except for BF and his brother. Say “guacamole” and BF starts retching.

Two batches of pesto were the result of the last basil cut, and I’ll likely have that much when I cut this batch.

Basil in paint bucket

Think I have two cups here? (Yes, that’s an automotive jack behind it.)

I’ve also got two Anaheim chili pepper plants growing, and one has two medium-sized peppers on it.

Anaheim peppers growing in paint bucket

Darn bugs! I’ll get two if nothing else.

Unfortunately, the little peppers that began forming when the flowers dropped off became slug food, and so I may only have those two. We’ll see, since “cold weather” probably won’t start until at least October. And then there’s lettuce:

Lettuce growing in paint bucket

I need to turn this into a salad real soon

I’ve also bought some plants:

  • “Coolapeno” peppers, the heat-free jalapenos
  • Green onions, as always, but I need to add more to the pot
  • Orange bell peppers
  • Yellow tomatoes
  • Strawberries (the slugs have really decimated this one)
  • Mint (a plant that is overgrown in the bucket and we recently buzz-sawed with a hedge trimmer)
  • Parsley

And as always, sage:

Sage in paint bucket

I try to keep it around for fall dishes

Unfortunately, I didn’t plant them all right away, leading to more of BF’s smarty-pants comments about “science experiments.” I remind him that none of his previous female companions ever brought urban agriculture or other improvements into his house and his life.

Home Visit Nibbles

So a few weeks ago, our district leader OR decided she wanted to make the drive to do a home visit. It’s an SGI tradition of visiting members at home, particularly those who have recently begun practicing Buddhism and offering support. The leaders chant with the members and they discuss. . .whatever. In this case, it was the upcoming district meeting. And, I suppose OR wanted to get outta the house for a while.

Now, because of where I live, nearly everyone is an hour away. The closest members are J&B, who live in Albany, near Hammond. Basically, I’m practicing by myself out here, although most are a phone or Zoom call away. Since I’ve been practicing since 1986, though, I think I’ve got the hang of it. I don’t understand why they want to drive an hour–each way–to do a home visit, but I gave up protesting.

While we were chanting, BF showed up. But he quickly bugged off to the shop and left us alone to talk. He doesn’t mind the home visits, of course, but he does enjoy acting up when people are visiting me.

When someone does drive out here, I try to make sure I have some food and coffee to offer. I’ve baked some delicious treats from the first Babycakes book. I also have the second book but haven’t looked at it in a while. Maybe next time they come by I’ll make that Pineapple Upside-Down Cake on page 116 again.

On this particular day, since it was just OR, I told her I’d make a couple of those little keto chocolate cakes in the Instant Pot for her, and of course, coffee. OR is from Los Angeles, and is Hispanic herself–her parents came from Mexico years and years ago, and she has been in Mandeville since about 2006.  Knowing that I’m a fan of Mexican and Tex-Mex food, she decided to bring something special. Naturally, I didn’t think to take pictures.

Salsa Macha

So OR made a stop at The Fresh Market for a few things, including a box of little gluten-free nut crackers, a small tub of chicken salad, and a couple of slices of Swiss cheese. Why Swiss, I don’t know, I like it fine, and I just said “thank you.”

Along with these nibbles, she brought this:

Bottle of Salsa Macha

It was full when she brought it

Then she asked for a very small spoon, which I happened to have:

Cocktail spoon and regular spoon for Salsa Macha

The spoon on the left is a cocktail spoon, and the one on the right is a regular teaspoon from our flatware

Puzzled by her request, I went to the only one I knew I could put my hands on, in a box of Maldon Salt Flakes in the pantry. I have more of these tiny spoons, but I don’t know where they are.

We sit at the table and she explains:

  • Take a cracker
  • Fold a slice of cheese to make smaller pieces
  • Add a bit of cheese onto the cracker
  • Add a bit of chicken salad to the cracker on top of the cheese
  • Drip a bit of this incredible stuff on top of the cracker stack
  • Eat and enjoy

What the heck is this amazing thing you’ve brought here? OR responds, “It’s called Salsa Macha.

I have eaten it and become enlightened.

The Recipe

OR is a fan of Pati Jinich, host of Pati’s Mexican Table on PBS. I like to watch her when I can, her food looks delicious. Pati is actually from Mexico and is married to an American. They have three sons and live in Maryland. They have, however, lived in Texas.

Pati has three books, which will be going on my “wish list” soon. Her newest will be released in November, called Treasures of the Mexican Table: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets. Her most recent book graces OR’s kitchen, and all three will eventually grace mine.

This recipe is from a longer TV show segment on Cali-Baja Fish Tacos. You can see the whole segment here, and she starts making the Salsa Macha at about the 3:55 mark.

While the tacos look absolutely delicious, they are not gluten-free–she uses regular flour to batter the fish, and makes flour tortillas as well. Just thought I’d warn you.

OR said that since she made the salsa the first time, she carries around a jar of it and puts it on EVERYTHING. No wonder she has that glow of enlightenment.

I’m also writing about this recipe to piggyback on my last post on charcuterie boards. Because you can easily put this on any charcuterie board–just add a warning that it’s a bit spicy as well as contains peanuts. You don’t want an allergic person unknowingly ingesting it and having to go to the hospital.

If you do put this on your charcuterie board, I highly recommend putting the little cocktail spoons out for Salsa Macha. Because if you put a regular teaspoon out, someone will grab a large amount not realizing it should be consumed in small amounts. It does have enough of a bite from both the garlic and the chile peppers that a big tablespoon will overwhelm even the most tolerant of spice-lovers.

Making The Salsa Macha

Let me say at the outset that I am by no means an expert on Mexican and Tex-Mex food. I make no secret of the fact that it’s just one of my favorites. Living in Texas for 18 years, it’s all around, in the same way that red beans & rice, jambalaya, and gumbo are here. You know what I’d rather have, starting with the chips.

When most people hear the word “salsa,” it’s usually accompanied by the word “chips.” It’s either a freshly made tomato garnish, or it’s the kind out of a jar. Either one is good, especially if the chips are hot, fresh, and salty. However, this salsa is different.

Salsa Macha is cooked, and has no tomatoes. In fact, it has. . .peanuts. No kidding.

Ingredients for salsa macha

The Setup (part 1)

Of course, getting all the ingredients together was a challenge (I’ll tell you about that in a minute.) When I mentioned to OR that I was making some, she said she used a whole cup of peanuts, so I cracked open more before I made them.

Prep work involved a few other things, including peeling garlic and deseeding and deveining the dried chile peppers. That took a while:

Cut open dried chipotle pepper

Since it’s dried, they pretty much fall out.

By the time you get them all done and get to this point:

Cut chipotles in bowl

Ready to add

You’ve had a snootful of the pepper dust and have sneezed multiple times. Just cut the tops off, cut in half, or cut down one side, and the seeds are easy to remove.

The packet I got is actually 2.5 ounces, and the recipe calls for 2 ounces. Well. . .by the time you remove all those seeds, I’d say you got exactly 2 ounces.

I also measured out the sesame seeds, white vinegar, brown sugar (just for the first round, I think a sugar replacement like Swerve would work too), and salt for later.

Cooking

First: add 1.5 cups of olive oil to a pan:

Olive oil, 1.5 cups

It’s gonna be good!

And heat over medium heat:

Olive oil heating in pan

Once it’s heated, but not boiling, add the peanuts and the four cloves of garlic:

Garlic cloves and peanuts in hot olive oil

Like this; there are actually four cloves in the pan

Now, don’t walk away from it–you’re actually frying these ingredients:

Closeup of frying peanuts and garlic

Don’t let them cook too long

Pati says that peanuts are cooked long before you notice them, so that’s why it’s important to stay at the stove for this one.

Next, add the seeded and deveined dried chile peppers:

Adding chipotles into the pot

Right in there

Along with the sesame seeds:

Adding sesame seeds to the pot

Right in there

Cook a little longer until the chiles are toasted and done, about another 30 to 60 seconds, then take off the heat. (I just moved it to an unused burner.)

Pot and food processor work bowl

A safety tip is coming.

Grinding And Processing

Here’s where you should pull out that big food processor, you’ll need it.

Let me iterate here that this is HOT oil, and you’ll need to exercise great caution at this point. Hot oil burns badly, and nobody wants to check into the burn unit, ever. If you have small children or animals, shoo them out of the kitchen and away from the stove for their own safety.

Because I was using a cast-iron pot, I brought the food processor bowl to the stove and scooped it in a little at a time. Better safe than sorry, and I don’t want to get injured.

Scooping out of the pot

Just like this

I used a couple of tools to clear the pan:

Clearing out the pan

I got all of it out!

And dumped the last little bit into the work bowl.

After putting the bowl on the motor unit, I added the last ingredients:

Adding brown sugar to the food processor

Brown sugar

White vinegar:

Adding white vinegar to the workbowl

Right in, 3 tablespoons

And of course, kosher salt:

Adding kosher salt to the food processor

Just a teaspoon, but you can add more if you like.

Then hit the ignition:

Running food processor

Grind it up to a nice paste

What you get is this lovely and delicious thing that you won’t want to live without:

Salsa Macha finished

Delicious!

It makes a good bit, and so I filled one big jar and two small ones:

Jars of salsa macha

Into the fridge! (Store it in the fridge if you’re not using it immediately.)

When I clear out that jar on the right, I’m going to wash it well and return it to OR. BTW, those little Ball jars do come in handy for lots of things. Walmart, Amazon, and sometimes Tractor Supply has them.

Finding Ingredients

Raw peanuts are called “green boiling peanuts” here. Why? People boil them in salt and eat them like that. I can’t say they’re bad, but I never had them before I moved to this area.

Now you may be thinking, “Amy, how did you get that kind of thing in rural Louisiana?” Good question–I almost didn’t. That’s why this post is a bit later than I intended. I stayed up a little late last night to make it, too.

OR has access to not only a “Hispanic foods section” in the Mandeville Walmart, but there is also at least one “Mexican grocery store” in the area, too. I’ve been in that Walmart and seen it myself, bought masa harina and corn husks there for our chicken tamales I made once. But Mandeville is nearly an hour one way. Not a good option.

I went to our local Winn-Dixie and Walmart looking for the dried chiles, to no avail. I was on the phone doing a FaceTime call with OR looking for them, but they really don’t have that kind of thing here.

Then I remembered that there IS a Mexican grocery store nearby–in Hammond. So after being up since 6:00 am, and driving an hour from Franklinton to get home from work, BF took me to the little Mexican grocery in Hammond and then brought me home. Once back at the Casa de Rurale, BF went into hibernation for a while.

If you’re in an area where you can’t find these chiles, you can get them online at Fiesta Spices’ website. They have a whole section of their website just for dried chile peppers. Now that I think about it, Albertson’s in Hammond carries some of Fiesta’s spices, so maybe I’ll drop by there next time and see if they have the chiles, too. If not, everything is available online, thank heavens.

Will BF Eat It?

That’s always the question. I didn’t really make it for him, anyway. But he alternates between “I’ll try anything you make” to “I don’t think I’m gonna like it, I’d rather not try it.” Whatever. I’ll let you know.

If you eat this, you, too, will be come enlightened. I’m being silly when I say that, but that’s how good it is.

For my next blog post, I’ll tell you all about Hammond’s Tienda de comestibles, or little Mexican grocery store. We’ve recently seen folks speaking Spanish here, no English. Aside from the other considerations, it could mean more Hispanic foods may become available locally if the migration trend continues. Maybe it’s time for me to finally learn Spanish, even if I have to use DuoLingo. But for now, I can get some of these wonderful Mexican ingredients, along with ready-made chorizo, on the same trip as visiting Hobby Lobby, Rouse’s, and Target.

Until next time–Disfrutar! (Enjoy!)

Charc board from Unlikely Hostess
Charcuterie. Char-cuta-what?

Charcuterie boards are showing up everywhere. It’s not a new idea, it’s just another way of serving appetizers, hors d’oeuvres. They’re a delicious new art form, coming to a party near you. 

Follow me on Bloglovin’

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with a web page project that has left me burning the midnight oil for quite a few nights. I just turned in the last page on mass torts last night, so I’ve got other stuff to catch up on, including this blog. 

Our regular rainy days have given way to days of the long, hot summer with occasional cloudbursts, some torrential. I told you we’d be talking about the big freeze when summer came. Twice this week Mother Nature brought a very heavy monsoon of a rain shower, and the power went out for a few hours. Those Rotera tealight lanterns were deployed, with a reminder that I need to order more. BF’s sister may do an IKEA run for us one of these days. 

Some Sewing

I’ve been trying to get some sewing done on Saturdays as I used to in Houston, but there’s the matter of housecleaning. One bit at a time. I’ve still not returned to using the circa-1996 White sewing machine Big Joel sent me since it’s been back from the repair guy in Denham Springs. It works perfectly, I’m just afraid to use it. But I need to, because the one I use now isn’t great on buttonholes.

This year’s heavy rainy season lets me know that I need to make a more utilitarian raincoat than fabulous fashion raincoats I made in Houston. One is a poncho-like Donna Karan model from 2003, and the other a regular double-breasted, both from ripstop nylon. (The GER laughed at me when I made that Donna Karan raincoat.) They aren’t really suitable for life at the Casa de Rurale.

I bought some heavier raincoat fabric for this MimiG pattern, but I still haven’t cut it yet. Need some strong buttons and a couple of separating zippers, as well as a few other supplies that aren’t locally available. It means the mail ladies will be dropping off more packages. 

Now, if you’re lucky enough to attend a gathering this summer, hosting one, or planning for the holidays, I’ve got something you’ll need to know about: the Charcuterie Board. 

Charcuterie Intro

Has anyone used the word “charcuterie” in front of you? It’s certainly showed up in several of my Instagram feeds, so I knew I had to take a look for myself.

Simple Charcuterie Board - Crunchy Creamy Sweet

Source: crunchycreamysweet.com

Charcuterie is a French word that has to do with preserved meats–bacon, ham, sausages, etc. It’s the practice of preserving meat used long before refrigeration was available. The practice may have originated with the Romans, but has been used in France for hundreds of years. The types of preserved meats varied by region. 

The person who makes these things is called a charcutier, and their repertoire may also include pate’, as well as what’s called “head cheese,” or in Louisiana, “hogshead cheese,” as it was called when I was growing up.

It just so happens that Central Market in Texas is celebrating “Charc Week,” celebrating all the things you’ll need to make a charcuterie board at home. In a week or so, they’ll be celebrating their yearly Hatch Festival, with all things hatch chilis. I’ve got a few Anaheim chili peppers growing in a paint bucket now but will be heading to Hammond to partake of more Hatch chilis for us. Ok, for me. 

Building The Board

First thing you’ll need: a board. No kidding, but not just any old cutting board that you’ve had since your first apartment. Unless, of course, you’re making it strictly for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that, either–why wait for a party? But for entertaining, you’ll want something nicer. (Warning: affiliate links ahead.)

In the HeatCageKitchen, I could make do with a large, seldom-used cutting board I bought back in the 1990’s from Macy’s in downtown New Orleans. (On my lunch hour, of course.) But now that charcuterie boards are a thing, you can choose from more upscale models like this one from Smirly:

Charcuterie board 1

Source: Amazon.com

They also make an expandable version for a little more:

Larger charcuterie board

Source: Amazon.com

The Spruce also has a list of their best board choices for 2021.

Just do a search on Amazon and you’ll find about 3,000 results for them, with similar results from other places like Wayfair (also called “cheeseboards.”) You’ll find one that suits your tastes and fits your budget. And no, there’s no need to spend a fortune on one of these, either–find some suitable and less expensive cutting boards at both Cost Plus World Market as well as IKEA.

The Meats, Cheeses, And More

So, there are about a million ways to make one, and chances are there isn’t a “wrong” way to make them (not that I’ve found, anyway.) AllRecipes explains it simply here, and this article from WebRestaurantStore.com explains it in more detail.

Charcuterie board picture from Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

The basic premise is that it’s small bites, with flavors and textures that go well together. Choose one or more types of meats, such as:

  • Salami and other hard sausages
  • Prosciutto or ham
  • Spanish Chorizo (this is a fully cooked sausage like salami and not raw like Mexican chorizo)
  • Mousse or pate’

And pair it with cheeses (I like Manchego), as well as:

  • Spreads, like home-made hummus, mustard and chutney
  • Pickles (those tiny cornichons are cute and tasty)
  • Bite-sized fruit (think grapes, dried apricots, pineapple chunks)
  • Olives
  • Veggies (grape tomatoes, small sweet peppers, cut carrots and cucumbers, etc.)
  • Crackers
  • Cut bread, the size of Melba toast
  • Other tasty bite-sized things you may like.

Remember that everything needs to be bite-sized and easy to pick up, since it’s self-served on small plates.

How To Make It

Of course, there is a myriad of recipes for these on Pinterest, AllRecipes, YouTube, and The Food Network, to name a few. And if you want a book for your collection, there’s this one, Beautiful Boards. I don’t have this one myself, and I never saw charcuterie referenced when I was a reviewer for Callisto. I guess that explains why I never saw it before now, either.

Once you have your ingredients, It’s simply a matter of assembling everything so that it’s attractive and easy to get to (preferaby with forks, right?) You can follow a picture or detail it the way you like it.

Don’t have time to make them? Check your area, you may be able to pick them up already made, like in Central Market. In Baton Rouge, there is a place called Bites & Boards, and in Houston, there are GrazeHTX and Charcuterie Houston. Do a Google search, because they’re ready to make one for your next get-together if you’re too busy or just want someone else to handle it.

Check your local grocer for “party trays,” because many will have something similar. HEB also has recipes for them, like this Texas Sized Charcuterie Board. Where do I get that board?? (Yes, I still miss Texas, but that’s another story entirely.) I haven’t checked Rouses, but they probably either have them or will make one to order.

British Charcuterie: The Ploughman’s Lunch

Let me point out that I have not been to Europe, and only know what I read, research, and see on Britbox, The Food Network, and other sites about any manner of European, Australian, and other non-US cuisines. 

I found it interesting when Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, visited a British pub in London and shared a Ploughman’s Lunch with her husband, Jeffrey. She’s a big fan of visiting Paris and they even own an apartment there, so I guess London was a day trip.  The recipe on the Food Network’s website is more for a party, rather than for one person. Note: It’s not in any of her cookbooks that I found. 

But a ploughman’s lunch is a cold and generally portable meal that’s intended to eat out in the fields, literally, when the ploughman gets a break. It consists of bread, cheese, onions, cold meat, pickles, and other items not needing refrigeration for a long period.

And what does it look like? In many cases, a lot like a charcuterie board. Really. With much the same things.

It’s been a thing for hundreds of years. But since the 1950’s, after WWII rationing ended, the “ploughman’s lunch” became a thing in pubs to sell more cheese. In recent years, gastro-pubs, which emphasize food rather than just beer, have elevated this humble meal to something more gourmet. So if you’re in a British pub (which could be anywhere, including The Blue Anchor in Delray Beach, FL), you may find it called “ploughman’s lunch” or something similar. 

A Little Charcuterie Humor

You know people can’t leave things alone on social media, right? I won’t mention the memes made after the recent commercial space flights, complete with well-known public figures.

This article on Mashed talks about why charcuterie boards are now so popular. The pandemic lockdowns in 2020 saw a lot of people looking for new things to do. Making the boards became a pasttime, showing up on everyone’s Instagram feeds but mine. Apparently the “craze” began with author Marissa Mullen’s Instagram account, and it became the next big DIY craft project–and it’s edible.

Of course, there are multiple versions of charcuterie boards, such as these targeted to. . .um, individuals less gourmet inclined than myself:

Charc for rednecks with beef jerky and Velveeta on plate

Source: reddit

And you know that’s Velveeta, right? BF can totally get behind this one.

In my Tuesday night Zoom call with my wonderful writer friends, I mentioned that the next topic for this humble blog would be charcuterie boards. And Bev in Georgia was very nice to find this amusing pic:

Charc humor on a cutting board

I don’t know where it’s from, but it’s funny.

See? Social media isn’t all bad.

I know, I know, “boomer humor” and all that. I found it quite amusing, and so do a number of other folks. Better than some of the nastier stuff I see online.

For Next Time

I have a recipe I want to try and take pictures of to post. Because it’s something that will work well on a charcuterie board as well as a number of other things. Call it a “condiment.” But I’ll say this–when I tried it, courtesy of one of my Buddhist friends, I believe I became enlightened. I’ll explain when I can make it for you, complete with pictures and the story of how the stuff made it here. You will not be sorry.

Stay cool, stay hydrated, and be ready for anything if you’re on the Gulf Coast. You know what time of year it is, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a few extra things for your pantry and home.

Meantime, have fun this summer as much as you can. Because you know in a few months we’re going to be embracing hot chocolate, pots of chilis and stews, and nearly everything Pumpkin Spice.

Enjoy!

 

 

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