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Ming and parsley pesto in freezer container
Mint & Parsley Pesto

Did you know that pesto isn’t always made from basil? Many fresh green herbs can be turned into a delicious addition to your meals. Come see what I made with what I had in the garden.

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Hi, Again, Dear Readers:

My apologies, I’ve been away. After the last post from Beverly, I’ve been busy with a new client who gives me a chunk of work every week. I’ve been concentrating so much there that I haven’t had much time to do everything else. The only sewing I’ve been able to do is minor repair work.

Before I forget: I updated last month’s Spicy Calabrian Shrimp. I found the missing pictures and they’re now in the blog post.

Current Events

Speaking of work: don’t get me started on Depp V. Heard. I’ve been paid to write two blog posts on the subject, and like a lot of people, I’m anxiously awaiting the verdict. That case has captured my attention but not for the reasons you might think. It’s extremely interesting, especially with my legal background. Livestreamed online, it’s real life, not a movie or TV show. I’m not a big “Depp fan,” but the case is intriguing. Then again, I do a lot of research and writing for the legal industry, so you understand why I’m so interested.

You probably don’t want to know about the insanely X-rated language, or the distinguished attorneys on both sides reading it all aloud in front of the judge and jury. Scriptwriters couldn’t write that kind of thing on purpose, but will probably try now. The court reporter–who has to record every filthy, nasty word of it–got a standing ovation from Depp, his legal team, and the people in the public gallery. I’ll say this for him–Depp is certainly a creative writer when he’s fired up.

Enough of that.

Downton Abbey

As for our wonderful friend Beverly, she is planning to write another guest post, this time on the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, which, she says has food you can actually cook. The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook series is more pictures and stories from the show, rather than recipes you’d want to make. Like me, Beverly reads cookbooks the way others read novels. So that’s coming up soon.

BF and I went to see a matinee of Downton Abbey: A New Era last week, and let me tell you—if you loved the series, you’ll love this movie. It ties a bow around the entire Crawley family saga, I think. Not sure if there will be any more from the DA saga or if this is the conclusion, I haven’t heard. I won’t give away any secrets that weren’t in the trailers, but there are a couple of things I didn’t see coming. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention. If you go—BRING TISSUES. Trust me.

On the way home, BF reminded me: “Never forget how much I love you.” In other words, if he didn’t, there would be no way he’d be going to see that film. Ever. Next up we’re planning to see Top Gun: Maverick. I hear it’s as good as the original, and I’ll need to re-watch the original because I haven’t seen it since 1986. Fortunately, BF has the DVD.

But today I’ve got a post on a discovery that you might be interested in trying even if you don’t like basil.

Berry Picking Season

The wild blackberries that grow here are ripening a few at a time, so I’ve started picking them around the property.

Berries growing on vines

Look!! Berries!!

I showed these pictures to Neighbor E this past weekend, too.

More berries on vines

These are ripening bit by bit

These, of course, are not yet ripe, but they ripen individually. There are occasions when I walk outside with this beast.

Buddy The Dog outside in grass

He’s always around, looking for food. He’s taller than the pit bull now.

And pick a handful or two for us. (BF doesn’t much care unless I bake the berries into something.) Broccoli Stirfry and I eat berries together, and he loves them. The pit bull doesn’t seem to get as excited about them anymore.

But when I go out to pick for the freezer, I’m wearing a pair of these gloves, a pair of knee-high Muck Boots, jeans, sunglasses, and a hat. I can reach more ripe berries that way unless I’ve been out with the silly dog and we’ve had the “low-hanging fruit.”

Even more berries growing on vines

I pick as many as I can reasonably reach.

But I still get scratches and mosquito bites.

So far, I’ve nearly filled a gallon freezer bag with this year’s pickings, and BF is asking me to make something for him with them. I moved last year’s crop into the kitchen freezer so I can do just that for him. I just received the new edition of The Pioneer Woman magazine today. There’s a blackberry cheesecake galette recipe that I’ll be trying soon. Unfortunately, it’s not on the website. (Blog post?) I’ll also be making my favorite keto blackberry cobbler again, too.

Making Pesto Out Of Anything

Last week on Facebook, Giada de Laurentiis’ Giadzy online magazine re-published an article from 2020 called How To Make Pesto Out Of Anything.

Anything? As in chocolate and raspberry anything? No, not that anything, but fresh herbs and greens that you may have on hand, like I do.

The point of the article is that, although it’s traditional in Genoa, pesto isn’t necessarily made from basil. Pesto is not an exact science, nor is it rocket science. “The true beauty of pesto,” the article states, “is that it’s greater than the sum of all of its parts.” In other words, the combination of all the ingredients is what makes it so delicious, not just one specific ingredient.

It’s a bit like a puzzle really—one piece is just that, but when you put together 10 pieces of the puzzle, then 100 pieces, then more, you get the entire picture.

Well, that’s how I think of it anyway. I hope that makes sense.

No Basil, But Lots Of Mint

So I recently planted the two little basil clippings that I rescued from last year’s crop. I kept them in the kitchen window for months, and I recently planted them outside along with a packet of basil seeds in the same pot. Those seeds have started to grow, and the rescued clippings are doing just fine.

Basil growing in pot

More pesto this year!

Additionally, I planted two packets of lettuce seeds in a different pot, and they’re coming along just nicely.

Lettuce in pot

The return of salad days

Not ready to cut yet, but I’m looking forward to having some with a tomato or two.

But the mint plant that I’ve had for quite some time became overgrown.

Giant mint plant in white bucket

That’s mint. Mojito, anyone?

I had plenty, but just didn’t know what to do with it. The stuff just grows, and I don’t want to make that many Corsican Omelets with goat cheese and Mojito cocktails. Keep it watered and you’ll have more than you know what to do with. Every time I went outside, I told myself to cut it and do something with it, but I didn’t know what. Thanks to Giada, I now have the answer.

Her standard pesto recipe that I’ve used for many years is

  • 2 cups of fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • ¼ cup of toasted pine nuts
  • 1½  teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
  • About 2/3 of a cup of extra virgin olive oil

Once you blend that all up, mix in a half-cup of grated parmesan cheese. Use it, refrigerate it for a week or so, or do what I do and freeze it as long as you want. Right now I think I have frozen pesto going back to 2018 or 2019. It’s still fantastic.

Using that as a guide, and then taking the information from the article, I went on to make pesto in a new form.

How It’s Made

So, it started out with walking outside and clipping what seems to be a mountain of mint growing. You always keep mint in a container. Otherwise, you’ll find out what happens, as Banana Rat did many years ago when he planted it in his backyard.

Mint takes over wherever you plant it. A few years ago, he posted it on Facebook one day with a question: “Can you say endless mojitos?” He literally had mint growing in about half of the yard. I don’t know if he still has mint growing everywhere, but it is pretty difficult to tame and remove. So, if you like mint, keep it in a container, or you better really, really love mint with all your heart.

Next, I gathered up all the ingredients I had.

Setup for pesto ingredients

The Setup.

I didn’t have any Parmesan cheese because I hadn’t been to the grocery yet. I also took Giada’s suggestion to use walnuts instead of pine nuts.

So I clipped and I clipped and I clipped, filling up the salad spinner inner basket.

Mint in basket

Yes, that’s all fresh mint.

Buddy doesn’t care for the mint

Buddy and mint

He tried it, though.

Then I washed the leaves well, spun them, and began picking the leaves from the stems.

Check out the water that comes out after you spin it. You don’t want this in your pesto.

Water in bowl

That’s a lot, but you know the leaves are clean.

All told, I had about three cups of mint once I finished de-stemming. Perfect.

Making Pesto

Then everything went into the blender just as you would with basil pesto.

Mint In Blender

Don’t forget the salt and pepper

I like walnuts, so I figured I’d try them this time. Yes, pine nuts are delicious, but they are also pricey. Just for once, I figured walnuts would be OK. And you know what? They worked quite well. Plus, I could snack on them and not feel guilty. Toast them first, don’t burn them:

Toasting walnuts in the pan

Watch them, they can burn, but they do take longer than pine nuts.

And put them in a cold bowl to stop the cooking and cool them off.

Walnuts cooled in bowl

Ready to go

Next, add them to the blender:

ADding walnuts into blender

Just like the pine nuts

And blend!

Blending mint into pesto

Just like that.

I tasted the finished product, and it was quite minty. The garlic and the olive oil sort of tame the extreme mint flavor, but you could still taste the inherent “mintiness.” I decided to put it in the freezer until I could figure out what else to do with it. I still needed to add Parmesan cheese, but I wanted to give some more thought to what else I would add.

The Next Step–Parsley

I needed to go to the grocery anyway, and we were indeed out of Parmesan cheese. So, after giving it some thought, I decided to add some Italian flat-leaf parsley.

Chopping parsley on chopping board

I think that was half a cup

Then I got on with it.

Blender with olive oil

Add a little at a time until you get the consistency you want.

First, I had to thaw the pesto because it froze quickly. I ended up having to microwave it for about 30 seconds just to soften it up. Even then, it was cold, and it was still kind of like a sludge.

Pesto in freezer container

Still frozen

Once I got it out of there I started with the parsley.

Adding parsley into pesto

It was a bit easier this time.

But I managed to get it into the blender just fine after adding the requisite Parmesan cheese.

I just sliced the parsley leaves clean from the bundle at an angle with the blade of the knife. I didn’t take the bundle apart. Pulled the stems out to make sure it was just leaves and I added it all in after washing and spinning.

Because it was much thicker now I had to add a little more olive oil a couple of times. I also added in a couple more cloves of garlic, too.

I blended, and I blended, and I blended, stopping the motor to move it around with the blender spatula to make it catch everything. Finally. I had a nice emulsion.

I removed it from the blender, very carefully, as much as I could get out of it, and then added a little more of the Parmesan cheese.

Adding Parm Cheese To Pesto

This was the second addition of cheese, about a third of a cup I think.

Then mixed it well, and tasted it. I think I’ve got four cups of this stuff, which is great, I’ll have it for a while.

Mixing parm cheese into pesto

Take your time or you’ll make a big mess

And then you have this, in a larger container than the usual one-cup or two-cup containers I use:

Finished pesto

Done!

Verdict: incredibly delicious, and the parsley tames the mint flavor.

Where has this been all my life?

The Recipe

OK, so I can’t say I was trying to create a new recipe. But guided by the article and my previous experience making standard pesto from basil, here is my recipe for mint and parsley pesto.

Ming and parsley pesto in freezer container

Mint & Parsley Pesto

Amy
A fresh take on the Italian favorite with herbs that aren't basil
Prep Time 30 mins
Course Condiment
Cuisine Italian

Equipment

  • Blender Essential when you're making pesto
  • Salad spinner This takes much of the water off the herbs after washing

Ingredients
  

  • 3 cups Fresh mint
  • 1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 to 3 cloves Garlic
  • 1 cup Extra virgin olive oil
  • ° Salt & Pepper to taste
  • ¾ cup Walnuts (increase or decrease as you like)
  • ¾ cup Parmesan Cheese (increase or decrease as you like)

Instructions
 

  • Toast the walnuts (or other nuts) until they are warm and fragrant. Do not burn. Add to a cold bowl and set aside.
  • Remove mint leaves from the stems. Wash and spin in the salad spinner to remove excess water.
  • Chop parsley leaves off the bunch, then repeat in the salad spinner to remove excess water.
  • Add the herbs to the blender, along with the garlic, toasted nuts, and a little kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the lid to the blender with the center part removed.
  • Measure out 3/4 cup of the extra virgin olive oil. Slowly pour into the running blender through the open top until the cup is empty. If the contents don't seem to be chopping and mixing, turn OFF the mixer and use a spatula to move things around in the bottom. Remove the spatula, replace the lid, and try again. Add more olive oil a little at a time until the blender moves and you get the right consistency.
  • Pour the pesto into a bowl, and add the Parmesan cheese. Stir until completely blended. Add to a storage container and either refrigerate for a week or freeze for later.
    Makes about 3 to 4 cups of pesto.
Keyword Pesto

It’s as simple as making standard pesto, and the flavor is outstanding. I’ve got the finished product in the freezer, marked for identification. Of course, I did, so that there’s no question about what’s in it. I recommend using square or rectangular glass containers to freeze the pesto because they’ll fit better in your freezer and there’s no loss of flavor. I speak from experience on this one.

OXO makes some good ones, as does Target. I think I found a few at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet in Denham Springs, too. But I do miss the Pro Glass squares I used to get at Bed, Bath And Beyond, they don’t seem to have them anymore.

Uses

What am I going to do with this new version of fresh pesto? Well, my first thought is to add a small amount on top of a grilled or a roasted chicken breast, chicken thigh, grilled shrimp, or baked fish. One could also add it to some freshly cooked pasta (gluten-free for me.) Granted, BF insists on frying all fish in the house, so I would have to do this when he wasn’t around.

I also think it would be good in or as a dip. So if I was in the mood for some cut vegetables, a little bit of this pesto would be good for dipping. Maybe I could mix some in homemade mayonnaise, or some sour cream, or something else that would work as a base. Or I could turn it into salad dressing—I’ll think about that one too.

Note that it tastes like a pesto, not specifically like mint and parsley, so you could probably use it as you would basil pesto if you wanted.

Cause And Effect

I was quite happy to tell BF about this discovery. However, he was not as happy about hearing about the new recipe, as usual.

I described to him the process of cutting down all that mint, then blending it together. In between sentences, he gave me his requisite verbal retching sounds. This is the same guy who is very particular about his toothpaste and the type of minty-fresh Listerine mouthwash he buys.

While he was at work, I told him via text that I’d finished making it.

Text messaes between Amy and BF

Thanks, Honey.

Well, more for me, I guess. I marked it so there’s no question about what’s frozen in the container. Of course, BF won’t touch it, because he’s been around my pesto-making for more than five years and declares it an abomination or something.

Still, I’m glad I made it, and I can’t wait to try it in or on something. It’s not the strong basil flavor, but it sure is tasty.

If you’ve got a good amount of herbs growing, a combination of the herbs would also work, given the garlic or other aromatic Giada recommended in the article. You could use any type of oil, but extra-virgin olive oil is the best for this. Walnuts—well, they’re tasty roasted in the pan, that’s all I’m saying. But you could use almonds, or leave the nuts out entirely.

Until Next Time

It’s pretty much summer here, so wherever you are, enjoy summer while you can. Of course, in the south, we enjoy it six to nine months out of the year. (Winter hung on a little longer this year.) It’s a great time for grilling and enjoying the outdoors. Don’t forget the berries.

Enjoy!

 

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.

Shrimp going into the oven

This doesn’t take long

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.

Two plates of spicy calabrian shrimp

Dinner! Spaghetti for him, Cauli-rice for me.

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!

 

Cover of Apartment Kitchen Gardening book
Book Review: Apartment Kitchen Gardening

Think you can’t garden because you live in an apartment or other small space? Well, think again—I’ve got just the book for you.

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Hi, again, Dear Readers:

My apologies for being tardy again, it’s been a busy couple of weeks.  I just wanted to make this blog look good.

But the good news is that suddenly I have several topics to blog about. This includes a couple of recipes that will use the new Recipe Maker plugin for WordPress. Those will be coming soon.

First, I have two disclosures:

  • The publisher kindly offered me a complimentary copy of this book to review and to request my opinion; yes, I’ve read it
  • As with many of my blog posts, there are multiple Amazon links to the book and other supplies here that, if used, earn me few commissions (aka “coffee money”)

Just thought I should mention it.

Amy’s Gardening Experiences

Longtime readers have been amused by my various gardening adventures since the inception of HeatCageKitchen in 2012.

Right now, I’ve got a bunch of purchased plants in the kitchen window, along with two basil sprouts in a pot that were salvaged from last year’s crop. I’m waiting for the nighttime temps to stay above the 50-degree mark so I can start planting them. Need to start some seeds as well.

Plants in window for gardening

Tomato, basil, cilantro, and a strawberry plant

We don’t yet have a place for an outside garden. There are flowers and green berries on those blackberry vines that are all over the place, so I’m anxiously awaiting their ripening and a bumper crop for the freezer.

Blackberry vines with flowers

Berries are coming soon

Some are already forming:

Green berries on vines

The first ones of a great wild berry season.

I’m hoping we can get out there and dig up a gardening spot soon, but I think it’s still a bit too chilly.

In my urban garden in Houston. I attempted to grow as much as I could in a 5’ x 8’ plot of land that had plenty of sun most of the year. Some plants did well, like basil and the Anaheim chili peppers, while I struggled with tomatoes and other plants.

Anaheim chili pepper on a vine

Not really a “Hatch” chile, since it wasn’t grown in Hatch, NM. But close.

I relocated to rural Louisiana in 2016, and gardening here has also been a mixed bag.

Current And Future State

While BF contends that “we suck at gardening,” that’s not really the case. I did well in Houston, but that was also part experimentation and part paint bucket gardening because I knew that I would be moving out at some point. Most of my plants are currently in big white paint buckets, but we’re soon going to use a tractor to dig a garden.

Giant mint plant in white bucket

That’s mint. Mojito, anyone? (I live with a mechanic)

 

More plants in paint buckets with flowering onions

See the flowers on the onions? that one was over two feet high.

The 10-year-old Meyer Lemon tree that came with me from Houston with me froze over this winter. But—surprise! It’s now flowering and coming back to life. We finally planted it in a nice spot this past Saturday.

Neighbor E still does some patio gardening, although his condo has only one patio, and not a large amount of sun. His patio is mostly or all concrete slabs. He doesn’t have any vegetables like tomatoes since Houston’s heat makes it somewhat inhospitable for them. There’s always Anaheim (aka “Hatch”) chili peppers, which grew like gangbusters my last two summers in Houston. I keep saving the seeds every year and keep trying to have a bumper crop here. Only BF and another SGI member in nearby Albany know what Hatch chiles are.

From Across The Pond

So, a few weeks ago I noticed an email from someone I’d never talked to before, Christopher Crompton of Pelargonium Press. I didn’t realize at first that he is in the UK, not the US. Somehow, he found me and my humble blog, and asked if I would review their new book, Apartment Kitchen Gardening by James Jacques.

Cover of Apartment Kitchen Gardening book

The cover (may be different than the one on Amazon)

And why not? Of course, I said yes. Spoiler alert: it’s a pretty good book.

Christopher was even kind enough to send me a physical copy of the book as well as the digital. It’s not a long book, but it’s quite informative and, I have to say, interesting.

The book is geared to a UK audience, but most of it is relevant to US readers as well. Plenty of folks live in apartments, like the one I lived in for 7.5 years before I moved to Houston in 1998. It was a whopping 400 square feet, making the Houston place look like a small house. Somehow, I lived there with two cats, finished five years at Tulane University and graduated twice, cooked, sewed, and got married, all while working 40 hours a week. Then we moved all that to a larger Houston apartment. The best I ever did in Metairie was a few herbs in the windows, and unfortunately, killed an aloe vera with insufficient sunlight. This book would have been a great help.

I did give Christopher the business about the “incorrect spellings,” such as “colour.” But I’m used to those after 25+ years of watching British TV on PBS (now Britbox too) and reading overseas news.

Apartment Kitchen Gardening

This book packs a lot of information into the 133 pages of this 5” x 8” paperback. If reading more than 100 pages seems intimidating, it shouldn’t be—some pages have very nice hand-drawn illustrations, and not all the pages are full of text. The book is specific to people who live in apartments, not houses with nice-sized plots. But any gardener can benefit from the book. Author James Jacques gets straight to the point.

The book is divided into five chapters:

  • Growing in an apartment
  • Choosing your plants
  • Growing places
  • Taking things further
  • Conclusion

In these chapters, Jacques describes everything you need for a successful indoor garden. And no, you don’t need to spend lots of money doing it, because he offers suggestions for repurposing household items for low-cost equipment, such as empty yogurt containers. Clear clamshell containers used for lettuces and berries are also good for starting seeds.

Gardening In Your Apartment

Yes, it is possible. But it takes some thinking on your part to figure out how you’re going to go about creating and growing your indoor garden.

Consider what you have available. Is it just a single windowsill, can you use a window box, or do you have a small patio/balcony available? Even a small balcony can grow quite a bit.

The most important factor is sunlight. The Metairie apartment had four windows because I was in the corner of a small apartment building. There were two windows in the bedroom that got good sunlight, and two in the living area, but only one with sunlight. In my first place in Houston, I had two large windows but none in the kitchen. When I moved to an El Dorado Trace condo in 2004, there were two large glass patio doors on either side of the unit to the fenced-in patios, plus the front door.

The back patio in El Dorado Trace had the sunlight that was good for growing, so that’s what I used. I was only able to grow a few houseplants on the front patio, and those were gifted houseplants on an old washer and dryer covered in a tarp. I tried growing tomatoes and rosemary out there, but nothing happened.

Here’s one suggestion I never would have considered—growing in the bathroom. And why not? It’s usually warmer and more humid than the rest of the house, right? Pineapples, vanilla orchid, figs, and mint love this kind of environment, Jacques says. So, take advantage of it if you have a sun-lit window in yours.

What You Can Grow

Ask yourself what you want to grow and go from there. Do you love fresh pesto (like me) and want to make it yourself? Obviously, sweet basil is on your list—buy one nice plant, cut it, and start rooting them in water so you’ll have plenty. Alternately, start growing your basil from seeds.

Depending on how much room you have and the incoming sunlight, you can grow a nice variety of plants inside. Jacques explains the need for sunlight, how much, and what you’ll need for different types of plants. And if your place doesn’t have enough light, there’s always the option of grow lights.

Salad Days

If you like salad the way I do, Jacques suggests what he calls “cut and come again” lettuce. I’ve only heard that term once before, from cookbook author Nigella Lawson, who used it to describe a cake in one of her earlier books. You bake the cake and keep it for company, then put it away until the next company visit. Jacques uses this description for lettuces that grow quickly and need to be cut frequently. Otherwise, you have the mess I’ve created in a paint bucket:

Assortment of plants in white buckets

That is, or was, a Romaine lettuce plant

I didn’t cut it before because it attracted honeybees and gave them something to eat. One of BF’s car-guy friends has a bee box at the back of the property. When the plant flowers, we see the bees. I don’t think he’s getting the “bee action” he thought he would get. The flowers are gone, the plant dried up, and I pulled all the roots out a few days ago.

Recently, I bought a few more seed packets of different lettuces to plant. Hopefully I’ll I hope to have more “cut and come again” lettuce soon, even if it is in a paint bucket.

Hydroponic Gardening Systems

If you’ve ever seen grocery store produce called “hydroponic,” it means simply that it was grown in water. No kidding. Some plants can be grown only in water with added nutrients. I haven’t done hydroponics myself, although the author does discuss it at length for the indoor gardener. It’s ideal for the “cut and come again” lettuce.

You’re probably familiar with the hydroponic gardening setups by AeroGarden and the like.

Photo of countertop growing system

You’ve probably seen these, but no, I don’t have one.

There are many brands of them now, and they’re also expensive. The cheapest model is under $100 but doesn’t grow as much. One of the top models sells for nearly $900. If you have the means and the room, and really want one, go for it. I considered buying one when I lived in Houston.

Jacques points out the differences between all the different types of kits, and that they may be a bit overwhelming at first. Some kits are basics that you can build upon, and others have more bells and whistles. Mostly, it’s dictated by budget. Like most endeavors, don’t spend more than you can afford.

Caveat

Understand that even when you buy one of these units, you’ll also have to buy the seed pods to replant. You can’t just drop by Walmart, Tractor Supply, or your local gardening spot and buy seeds. It’s a bit like the Keurig or Nespresso coffee makers—you must buy the pods to make more coffee because it’s not like making coffee in a French press. If this works for you—and I know folks with these kinds of coffee makers—go for it. I’m not criticizing anyone for buying either, just pointing out that the pod thing is a consideration if you’re thinking about buying one.

The author addresses these setups, but in the last chapter. Guess what? These systems aren’t necessary for you to garden in your apartment. From recycled milk and yogurt containers to fancy pots with grow lights, there is a way for nearly anyone to garden indoors.

Why Garden?

You’re probably thinking, “Amy, gardening books aren’t really interesting.” If you’re not into gardening and don’t think it’s worthwhile, chances are NO gardening book is going to catch your interest no matter how well it’s written.

But understand that people have an interest in gardening for different reasons:

  • Supplement their grocery shopping and cooking with fresh produce
  • Include more organic foods in their diet
  • Get outdoors more and get some exercise
  • Become more self-sufficient and secure their own food supply
  • Learn a new hobby
  • Increase their own food security in an insecure time (like right now)
  • They grew up gardening and want to continue for the enjoyment and the harvest

My interests are a little of all these reasons. I started my little urban garden in 2008 or 2009. The GER offered advice, and he still gardens in his backyard next to the fence. The man I was dating at the time also had some gardening experience and helped when he visited.

You’ve seen the unusual gardening results BF and I had in the blog—like the septic tank tomatoes. We didn’t plan those. But I’m hoping we can dig up a garden plot in the next few weeks.

Re-Growing Veg

Jacques also discusses re-growing vegetables, which I’ve also done and blogged about. Right now, I’ve got several green onions re-growing outside, and three have flowered. I cut the flowers off and added them to the soil, so I hope they’ll grow more onions. I recently planted a sprouted celery base. There are two basil sprouts from last year’s plants that are also re-growing in the kitchen window. However, I had to cut that for dinner last week for a recipe that I’ll show in an upcoming blog.

Celery growing illustration

One of the nice illustrations from the book

On page 25, Jacques talks about growing pea shoots from “cheap, dried supermarket peas.” I haven’t tried that yet, but darn it, now I want to! (When I do, the next comment I hear from BF will be, “is this another one of your science experiments?”)

Jacques also talks about the science of soil, including mixing your own. There’s even a chapter on compositing and even a wormery! In an apartment? Well. . .I don’t know if I’d go that far. Depends on how into gardening you are.

Gardening can also yield a few flops, like when BF staked the weeds instead of the green bean vines. But it can also be a great activity that leads to a delicious meal, too.

Stretching The Limited Food Budget

With inflation getting worse, chances are you’ll see more people gardening again as they did during the last economic downturn. Who can blame them? They’ll also see the benefits in freshly grown produce that’s readily available. But the people who need it the most may not realize that they have the ability, and just need some guidance.

If you know someone who is on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government assistance program formerly known as “food stamps”) let them know that they can also buy seeds and plants to grow foodstuffs with their benefits. I bet you didn’t know that, but it’s true.

Anything that grows and produces food can be purchased with SNAP benefits. Planting seeds and plants along with re-growing purchased produce like green onions, celery, and potatoes, and saving seeds from peppers, tomatoes, and other fresh vegetables can help a limited food budget go further.

Gardening is also a great project to do with children and will teach them where food comes from at the same time.

Further Reading

Apartment Kitchen Gardening is not only a great little book but also an easy read, too. Not everyone is up for 1,100 pages of War And Peace anymore, including me.

While Jacques touches on re-growing vegetables from purchased produce, several years ago I found a book called Don’t Throw It—Grow It! by Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam. The authors describe 68 different types of grocery-store bought food plants that can be re-grown on a windowsill and eventually grown in pots or even turned into a full-fledged crop.

Successes & Failures

I’ve tried to grow avocados three ways—with the toothpicks in water, with the sphagnum moss they suggest, and then just planting the seeds. I’ve had little luck here because it’s just not warm enough and does get cold in the winter. The seeds eventually sprout when you bury them in the soil. But once it gets cold, that’s the end of it. Avocados are also good for houseplants—if you can keep pets from destroying them.

I have some organic dried chickpeas I bought so many years ago to plant, and they’re still in the pantry. They might be viable, but I’ll have to plant them to find out.

Because I love pomegranates, I have some from last fall still in the fridge. Time to harvest those seeds and plant them, along with garlic, bulb onions, and other frequently used things. I also saved the top of a purchased pineapple, too. The last one I grew in a paint bucket got to be quite large:

Pineapplel plant in orange paint bucket

The monster pineapple plant.

Let’s see if I have better luck this time, and maybe get to have some fresh pineapple, eventually. Jacques says it will take about two years before you’ll be able to “harvest” the fresh pineapple.

Until Next Time

I’m always looking for new topics for blog posts. I do have a few in the queue, including a couple of recipe updates and one recipe that I finally made for BF. Amazingly, he was quite happy with it, despite not understanding what was in it beforehand.

Coming soon is also a guest post! A fellow copywriter and a friend of the blog asked about doing a guest post, and I accepted her offer. We’ll be talking about it in the next week or so, and I’m sure it will be fantastic. She understands the blog’s tone but has a different idea on a blog post, so that’s in the works. Plus, she gave me another topic idea.

Springtime is here, so don’t procrastinate. Plants are in the stores now, so grab them while you can. Whether you’re an avid gardener or just thinking about a garden, get started so you can enjoy fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs from your apartment.

Enjoy!

Meat box from Misfits Market
Misfits Market: The Meat Box

The Meat Box from Misfits Market arrived. Come see what I got!

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Hi again, Dear Readers:

I said I was going to do it, and I did–I ordered a box of mostly meat from Misfits Market. BF was rather pleased, and we’ve got a little more stashed in the freezer. In this post, I’ll open the box and show you what I received.

Blast from the Past

The other night, BF went somewhere, and I was flipping channels on the big TV. We actually have access to two, and sometimes three, sets of PBS stations locally. Generally, they have much the same thing. This evening, I happened to catch an old episode of Baking with Julia. Guess who was the guest? None other than Martha Stewart.

Martha Stewart With Julia Child On TV

Seriously! Martha with the iconic Julia Child.

Let me point out that this is Martha Stewart from back in the day, like the late 1980s. It’s not the current Martha Stewart that hangs out with Snoop Dogg.

Julia Child herself passed away in 2004. When this was filmed, Julia was all over public television, and Martha Stewart was best known as a caterer in Westport, CT, a few years after her first book, Entertaining.This show was likely filmed around the time of her original Weddings book.

In the show, Martha Bakes a beautiful three-layer wedding cake with apricot filling and a crisp dacquoise center. The wedding cake episode is in two parts because the cake takes quite some time to bake and construct. Martha baked the cake in the first show, along with the dacquoise, and made the buttercream icing. That’s what they’re doing in the picture above. The finishing and decorating with marzipan fruits are completed in the second show. I came in about halfway through the first episode.

I don’t know where to find the recipe she made, but you can see the second half of the show in this video on YouTube. Although there is no wedding cake in my future, it certainly was interesting to watch from an artistic standpoint.

Pets Update

Buddy, the weird little dog, is growing quite quickly. If you don’t believe me, look at this picture from his first day here:

Buddy sleeping on James's chair

Awww. . . .

Now, look at the size of his paw. This picture was taken just a couple of days ago.

Buddy's paw

They’ve doubled in size, like his legs.

He’s learning to bark and frequently has barking fits for no reason. The cat has let Buddy know he’s not the favorite. The pit bull frequently needs more breaks from being around this hyperactive puppy, even though he’s a little bigger than Spencer now. And if we’re not careful, Buddy likes to use the pit bull as a chew toy. Poor thing has teeth marks in a few spots.

And the cat doesn’t care about anything else but himself.

Tab E. Cat sitting in window during the day

Our little Apex Predator.

Speaking Of The Cat

Over the weekend I went shopping in Hammond. I know, it’s just Hammond, but it’s what we’ve got here. I made it to Hobby Lobby first, then to the Target for some provisions I normally buy there.

One thing I prefer to buy at Target is the Fancy Feast cat food for Tab E. Cat, because they have a wider range of flavors for our resident apex predator. The big-name brands aren’t particularly healthy, I’ve found, and even vet’s offices use FF. Except for this past weekend, there wasn’t any:

Nearly empty shelves with little cat food

No Fancy Feast to be found!

And that wasn’t the only food they were out of this time:

Empty cat food shelves in Target

Where is all the cat food?

So, I had to get something else in cans, and Tab E. Cat isn’t liking it much.

Tractor Supply is also experiencing similar shortages, as well as our local Winn-Dixie. I’ve bought some of Tractor Supply’s brand of canned cat food, but even that’s kind of scarce, too. I’ve seen comments on Facebook about shortages of cat food all over the US, and it’s particularly concerning for shelters. Fingers crossed that this will soon resolve and it doesn’t spread too far.

The Meat Box

So this past Saturday, my second order from Misfits Market arrived:

Box from Misfit Market With Meat

It’s here!!

I was a little concerned because the box did not appear to be completely taped shut.

Top of box from Misfits Market

Is it open?

Thankfully, it wasn’t a big deal. I was also concerned because the box didn’t feel cold. This is particularly worrying because I ordered meat in a “cold pack.” But that also was not a big deal. Let me show you why.

Opening it carefully, I saw much the same thing I saw in the previous box:

Open box from Misfits Market with meat in cold pack

Looks like the last box

But that’s not the only cold pack.

Insulation in box

Insulated just like the last one, too

Once I lifted off the cardboard, I saw why it wasn’t a big deal. Inside the box was a Thermal lined foil pouch:

Foil wrapped cold pack

See?

That’s where all the meat was. Much like a mailing envelope, it was sealed shut with a sticky flap:

Sticky flap on envelope

Just like a mailer

Inside were more cold packs keeping the meat cold:

Ice packs surrounding meat

More ice packs!

Two go into this envelope:

Two ice packs inside a thermal cold pack for meat

Like that.

And some of it was still frozen! Once I removed the meat and ice packs, I could see that the package was also insulated:

Cold Pack For Meat

Everything fits nicely

Now we have more ice packs, which we will keep in the big freezer for the occasional power outages. But you can recycle them:

Icepack for meat

You can recycle these, sort of, but they might be worth keeping.

Everything arrived in good shape.

The Other Stuff

Of course, I ordered another bag of sugar snap peas.

Sugar snap peas

They’re SO good!

I washed them, dried them, drizzled on a tiny amount of sesame oil,and sprinkled in a tiny bit of salt. Tossed them around and enjoyed them immensely, because that’s the most delicious way to eat them. If you have black sesame seeds, toss in a few with the oil and salt.

I also ordered a bag of those tiny bell peppers, which are sweet and great for snacking.

Bag of small snacking sweet peppers

They’re delicious!

BF, of course, likes neither of these things.

From the Pantry section, I ordered another bag of Xanthan Gum, which was nearly 50% off:

Bag of Bob's Red Mill Xanthan Gum

If you’ve baked nonstandard things, you know what this is.

And no, it’s not past its sell-by date, either.

Date on Back of Xanthan Gum bag

See?

Good to know. I use this in some of my alternative baking projects like the ones in the Babycakes books.

The Meats

OK, so, to have a good round of protein, I got some of BF’s favorites—pork chops:

Pack of two pork chops from meat box

Just two, and boneless, too.

Bacon ends, cost, $4.99:

Bacon ends in meat box

These are great to use in recipes, and sometimes when you run out of regular sliced bacon.

Our next stirfry is in the freezer (no, not the dog, that’s sarcasm):

One pound of grass-fed ste beef

A nice bag of frozen veg, and you’ve got dinner.

This is where the meat comes from:

Back of meat package

The company that sells this brand of meat.

Two pounds of grass-fed ground beef, destined for the freezer, but I don’t have a picture of, along with a couple of sirloin steaks:

Grass fed sirloin steak from meat box

Not too big.

Read the next section for more on these. This is the entire contents of the box:

The entire meat box

This was everything I ordered and received.

This was $67. . .I don’t know if it was a bargain or not, but the website said I saved $27.

The Little Steaks

Now, when we get steaks on occasion, they usually look something like this:

Pack of two sirloin steaks

Taken at Target in Hammond on Saturday, March 19, 2022.

But these little grass-fed models are smaller than that:

Two grass-fed sirloin steaks on stovetop

They’re about the size of cupcakes.

These two steaks were $9.99, which I thought was pretty nice. (They’ve since sold out.) Not exactly Texas-sized, are they? But don’t be fooled.

Originally, I intended to make them for dinner on Saturday evening when the package arrived. However, BF’s sister came to town, so there was no cooking that night. I mentioned them to BF last night. After a couple of jokes, he said, “Why don’t you have the little snack-sized steaks for lunch tomorrow?” Really, the packages aren’t that big, so the steaks can’t be terribly large, right?

Until I cut the packages open, unfurled them, and discovered that six ounces of grass-fed sirloin is a good six-ounce steak:

Two six-ounce grass fed sirloin steaks on a pan and OXO rack

Not what you thought, eh?

So, I texted that picture to BF and asked if he’d like to have steak and mashed potatoes for dinner. He was quite happy to see that, and said “yes.”  I stashed them in a food storage dish and put them back into the fridge.

BF was impressed with the meat we got this time. The rest, not so much, but that’s OK. There’s probably going to be another order soon if I can pin him down in front of the laptop to look and see what’s available.

Order As Much As You Want

I should point out that I ordered two sirloin steaks because that’s what I wanted. Remember, this was the first time ordering meat from Misfits Market. In a future shipment, I can order six, if I want that many (assuming they have some.) Stash four in the freezer and keep two in the fridge for dinner. The pork chops are a package of two, so that’s a dinner for us as well, and I can re-order those if I want.

But I could just as easily order more—or less—than that if I wanted. If BF decided he wanted me to stock the freezer a little more, we could order more of the steak, bacon, pork chops, or any of Misfit Market’s chicken selections. Of course, the same rule applies to the $30 minimum for the cold pack, and a $30 minimum overall for the order. This last order was about $67, and I didn’t have any promo codes.

The shipment is totally customizable for the single person all the way to families. For instance, Neighbor E or The GER might order just enough meat and things for a week, whereas someone with a family of four (or more) would probably order a larger amount for a week of meals. It’s what you want, how much of it you want, and paying for it, just like your local grocery store. But with Misfits Market, you’re buying food in a more direct fashion than grocery shopping while helping the supply chain and cutting down on wasted and discarded food.

I’m guessing they’ve done well during the last couple of years.

We’re talking about another box, and we’ll decide on Tuesday if we want to order again, or skip until next week.

Coming Soon To HeatCageKitchen

Well, actually, I don’t know what’s coming up just yet. But I’m working on these things. I have a couple of topics in the pipeline. But of course, I’m always open to researching and discussing anything you’re interested in, too.

If you’re considering ordering from Misfits Market, you can use my promo code: COOKWME-GK3IAXCZOGR for a discount on your first shipment. Just remember that it’s an auto-ship subscription, and you must manually cancel weekly if you don’t want a box.

Meantime, it’s officially spring, and time for me to quit making and wearing sweaters all the time. But Walmart keeps bringing in these incredible cut bundles that are just the right yardage for sweaters. . .I’ll try.

Enjoy!

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!

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