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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!

think! Chocolate Mousse Pie Keto Bar box
think! Keto Chocolate Mousse Pie Bars

Keto and chocolate do go together!

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Hello again, Dear Readers:

Spring is here, and I’ve got a sweet treat that you may like. It’s especially important if you like chocolate, you’re doing keto, or just want to avoid sugar for whatever reason.

It’s a short post today, with just one or two updates, but I’m working on a couple of longer pieces for upcoming blogs.

Misfits Market Update

Well, after last week’s post on the meat box from Misfits Market, I finally got BF to sit down with me right before the deadline and look at what was being offered. His eyes glazed over, and he said, “this is all for you. There’s nothing really here that I would want. Just order whatever you like.” I didn’t see anything we needed immediately, so I canceled the order, and put my account on hold for a month. Chances are, I’m going to cancel it, but we’ll see in a month. I tried.

Buddy Update

Buddy, AKA “Broccoli, Stir-Fry”, is growing quickly and he’s not getting any better. The weather has been good so I’ve had the windows open to blow out the “aroma.” He still continues to ignore his “puppy” training, so I guess I’ll be spending more time on YouTube.

Buddy the puppy

There he is, the little monster.

One solution that’s been offered I’ll be trying this week. There’s something called Angry Orange, a citrus concentrate that is designed to knockout pet odors quickly. Scented candles are just not working, and even the old reliable BioKleen Isn’t doing the job with this guy. Plus, he’s fast as lightning and doesn’t seem to be getting the hint.

A project manager with one of my agency clients told me about it, and I’ve ordered a bottle of the concentrate type, so that I can make it in a squirt bottle, rather than buying it ready to use. I’ll let you know what happens in a future blog post.

think! Bars

A few years ago, BFF’s sister and brother-in-law, who live in Atlanta, had some of these protein bars called think! (and yes, the spelling is correct.) That’s the company name and the brand name. You may have even seen them and not noticed them. The company make a series of protein bars, that are low in sugar, and are healthier than granola, candy bars, etc. I never noticed them before until I tried one on their weekend visits. The white chocolate berry flavor was also good, but they don’t seem to make it anymore.

think! High Protein Bar, Brownie Crunch packaging

I liked these, too, and I bought them myself for a while until I got a bad one. It was so bad that I never bought them again.

The company makes a variety of different types of protein bars. They also make healthy oatmeal, which I’ve never seen anywhere except on their website, where you can order it yourself.

Even after the hurricane was over, I still referred to them as “hurricane snacks.” Maybe it’s just my dislike for many things, but I just never touched them again after a bad one, and never contacted the company, either. I remember them being about six dollars a box at that time.

Keto Chocolate Mousse

During my last trip to Target, when I saw shortages of cat food, I was walking around in the back of the store where they keep these kinds of things. I wasn’t looking for think! Bars, but there they were. Then I saw something magical:

think! Chocolate Mousse Pie Keto Bar box

These are keto?

Keto. Chocolate. Mousse. What?

These were more expensive, at $6.79 a box. (The price has since increased, which I’ll explain in a minute.) But being the chocolate lover that I am, I bought a box.

I tried one. . .and it was delicious!!

Keto chocolate mousse pie bar from think! in wrapper

Not terribly big

Ruler measuring three inch Keto think! chocolate mousse pie bar

Three inches of tasty

There’s a lot of chocolate flavor in this little bar.

keto chocolate mousse pie bar cut open

Ok, so I didn’t cut it exactly right

The bar has a lightly crunchy texture that bridges the gap between. “diet” and regular candy bars. And it’s really well-made piece of confectionery, in this food blogger’s considered opinion.

What’s it for? A snack, a meal replacement, or something with your coffee, morning or afternoon. I call it a chocolate craving satisfied. It’s sweetened with erythritol, too:

think! keto chocolate mousse bar box list of ingredients

No sugar here.

Where have they been all this time? Apparently think! Keto Chocolate Mousse Bars have been around for quite a while, just not in Louisiana. Maybe because I haven’t bothered to look for them in a couple of years, I never really noticed them. But if you look at the Amazon reviews, you’ll see reviews going back to 2019. My guess is like everything else in Louisiana, it was very slow to get here.

Cost

As I mentioned earlier, I paid $6.79 for a box of these in our Hammond Target. However, when I checked to see if our local Walmart had them, they did. But the cost was considerably more, at $8.06 a box—ouch! Quite a jump from Target. But checking Target’s website now, they have also gone up to $7.99 a box In the week since I’ve been there. Albertsons also carries them at $8.99 a box. I haven’t been to Rouses to check for them.

Yes, inflation.

Once the price of fuel went up, everything else followed because it costs more to ship.

Now I wish I’d bought an extra box at Target, but whatever.

They are always available for order, both from the company’s website, as well as from Amazon. However, because they are chocolate there is the risk of them melting on the trip. If you’re going to order some from either place, it’s probably a good idea to make sure you’ll be home when they’re delivered so that they aren’t left out in the sun for a long period of time.

In the Houston area, Kroger Has these chocolate mousse bars, at a cost of $9.99 a box. Randall’s has them for either $8.99, or $11.99, depending on whether you belong to their membership program. (I’m guessing that’s like. Winn-Dixie’s Rewards program; it’s been a while since I’ve been to Randall’s.) Texas’ favorite H-E-B carries the think! protein bars, but not the keto brand. But you can always make a request to your grocery store to carry them if they don’t already.

Amazon has an entire store of think! Products if you’re interested in researching them there, or buying a case.

Another Treat

Delicious as they are, think! Keto Chocolate Mouse Bars are a pricey treat. They’re probably not something you should add to your regular grocery list, just for an occasional splurge. Unless, of course, you’re trying to impress someone who’s doing keto.

Solution? Start making keto fat bombs and seek out good recipes for them. If you’re not already on Pinterest, you can do a search for fat bomb recipes, or get started here with 50 fat bomb recipes from The Keto Queens. Most are made from basic ingredients and can be customized to your individual taste. I should try making some chocolate raspberry fat bombs one of these days.

Geez, I hope my mention of these homemade treats doesn’t get me on a “watch list” somewhere!

More Healthier Alternatives

As consumers move to keto, they’re looking for more sugar-free and otherwise healthy items. Companies are stepping up to the plate and delivering. And now that barbecue season is here (it never really went away for most of us), you can have your BBQ, stay keto and eat it too.

For a long time, I made my own barbecue sauce from one of Suzanne Somers’s recipes, and it was just grand, but BF wouldn’t eat it. Much as I love BBQ, I had to ask him not to put sauce on mine because of what he used. But one day after I moved here, I discovered that you could buy sugar-free barbecue sauce already made. Then it became a staple at the Casa de Rurale:

G. Hughes Sugarfree Barbecue sauce for keto

Amazingly, I never saw this in Houston, or maybe I never looked.

BF used Sweet Baby Ray’s for many years in his barbecue. This particular concoction is extremely sweet. That’s because the first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, the extremely cheap and caloric version of refined sugar that hides in nearly everything Americans eat.

SBR's ingredient list

In fact, most people around here use this and nothing else. I always request that he keep SBRs far away from anything I’m planning to eat, and he does or uses the sugar-free stuff for mine. Eventually, he got used to G. Hughes.

We’ve been buying the G. Hughes Sugar-free Barbecue Sauce for a while, and BF actually likes it. In fact, one day when we were somewhere else having BBQ, the host used Sweet Baby Ray’s.

After having SBR’s for the first time in a while, BF declared that it was “way too sweet.” That was a surprise because he always fussed about using sugar-free barbecue sauce until he discovered it was pretty good. He’s now a convert, and the G. Hughes Smokehouse sugar-free version is our preferred barbecue sauce. We like the Hickory and Mesquite the best, but we’ll buy any of them. They don’t taste “sugar-free,” either. We try to keep at least one or two bottles in the pantry.

 

I discovered the other day in Walmart that the company also has other types of G. Hughes sugar-free condiments that are now available in our little neck of the woods.

sugar-free keto condiments

OOOhhh!!!!

I haven’t tried these but probably will soon.

more sugar-free condiments for keto

Oh, BOY!!

There is also an Amazon store for G. Hughes Sugar-Free products. If I suddenly found myself with a large Amazon gift card, chances are that’s one of the stores I’d visit.

Until Next Time

I know this is a shorter blog post and I normally write, but I’m still working on several ideas for future blog posts. One of them is a “spillover” from my regular client work, and you’ll see what that means when I publish it. Don’t worry, this one isn’t a heavy legal subject, and will be quite tasty as well as interesting (I hope.)

And now that you know that you can find a few more tasty sugar-free treats, your weekend barbecue just got a little bit better.

Happy Dining!

 

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. 

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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!

 

 

Shishito growing on vine
Have You Tried Shishito Peppers?

Shishito peppers really are a thing, and I’m not swearing. They’re delicious, and generally not hot. 

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Hi, again, Dear Readers:

Just popped in for another blog post, this time on something new I can’t believe I discovered. Thank heavens for streaming and Philo TV.  Shishito peppers are a new item in the US produce market, and of course, I’m one of the last people to know.

Let me tell you what’s been happening.

A Zucchini Recipe

If you’re seeing lots of zucchini, I have a simple recipe for you. The inspiration is out of the book from which my favorite cheesecake comes, The 30-Minute Low-Carb Cookbook by Pamela Ellgen.

I had some leftover roast chicken and zucchini. I flip open this book and there is this recipe using pesto, chicken, and zucchini.

You have my attention. 

So I read it and realize that I have the ingredients, including the basil and other ingredients for pesto. I probably have 25 containers of pesto in the freezer dating back to 2018 (or maybe 2017.) Why should I make more? (I will, because I need to cut the basil soon.)

The recipe calls for spiralized zucchini, but I don’t have a spiralizer. What I do have is a Norpro Apple Master, which does much the same thing.  Sort of. I’ll get a spiralizer one day, OK? For now this is what I have to work with.

Two cups of cooked chicken are called for, and so I managed to pick and chop exactly two cups from the chicken carcass in the fridge. I used some of the recently made tarragon butter. BF really enjoyed the chicken, and it was really tasty, but he didn’t want to know what was in it.

Once I finished with the zucchini (cutting the cores into matchsticks and cleaning the machine), I sauteed it in a tablespoon or so of olive oil for two minutes. Then, I added in the chopped chicken, sauteed for another couple of minutes. Then I added in an entire container of my home-made pesto from 2019, which was I presume to be a cup, but I think was more. It was the first one I grabbed when I opened the freezer. It was probably too much. Next time I’ll just use measure out one cup.

Well, when I finished it, this is what I ended up with:

Pesto Chicken And Zucchini

It’s so GREEEN!!!

The recipe also suggests serving it with additional Parmesean cheese (because you would have put some in the pesto) but I forgot to add some.  It was delicious as-is, and if you’re a fan of zucchini and pesto, this is highly recommended for a quick dinner.

If you don’t have chicken already cooked, you could also pick up a rotisserie chicken (or chicken parts, if HEB still sells them that way) or cook a couple of thighs in the toaster/convection oven, air fryer, or heck, even poach it if you’re really in a hurry.

It’s low-carb, gluten-free, and without cheese, it can be dairy-free, too.

BF’s reaction to this delicious dish was to exhibit another of his retching noises.

Speaking Of Him

We’ve had another flora and fauna fiasco.

It seems that although BF remembers his Dad having a garden and a bounty of fresh produce every year, he doesn’t remember everything. I should have seen this early on and paid closer attention to what he was doing.

BF wanted some green beans, and he planted them. These beans grow on vines, and so at some point, he asked for a stake to let them grow up onto. The corn, watermelon, beans, and potatoes were pretty much BF’s domain, so I didn’t ask questions.

Last week after our garden massacre, I was out there looking for the cucumbers, zucchini, and any peppers ready to pick. Pulling up more dead cornstalks, I thought to myself, “we should have been picking those beans by now.” I look over at one stake, where I saw one bean before, and realize that it’s about dead. Not only are there no beans, but there are also no leaves.

On the other stake, there were plenty of leaves and little purple flowers. No beans, just flowers, and leaves. That’s when I realized it.

He Staked Weeds

The next day I brought him outside to ask him about it, and said, “Show me the beans.” He turned around and walked inside without a word!

I pulled out as much of the weed as I could find, and there was a considerable amount. Even off the stake, there was so much that it was like pulling a heavy quilt off a bed.

When I got inside, he said, “you don’t have to be so judgmental.” I wasn’t trying to be, but if it was indeed, planted beans, I want to harvest some.

I’m not mad at him–it’s actually funny. So now I ask him, “where’s the beans?” It’s along the same lines as asking, “didn’t you pay the light bill?” when we have a power outage like we did this past weekend. (Yes, we paid it early and everyone else was out of power, too.)

Well, anyway, we’re nursing some tomato plants. The Chocolate Cherry plants have flowers and are looking good so far.

We really need to get an earlier start next year.

On another note, the wife of one of his car-guy friends posted a picture of something they cooked out of their garden. BF mentioned that this friend keeps his garden free of Mother Nature’s creatures with the use of an electric fence. I like it.

The Shishito Discovery

As always, I’m watching Ina Garten while sewing, and it’s a show I’ve never seen before.

She starts talking about this tasty appetizer and these little peppers that you just saute up and eat, seeds and all (skip the stems.) They’re not big, about the size of a lipstick. Picked green, they’re sweet, but if left to turn red, they’re hotter.

Ina also says that there is always an occasional hot one, and she seems to get that one.

So I did a little reading on the subject. Although Ina says they are from Japan, they’re actually grown all over Asia. They’re small, with thin walls, and cook quickly.

Of course, nobody has them here, but I remembered them when I saw the plants at Tractor Supply. 

Growing Shishito

If you’re in Houston, you may be lucky enough to see these small, spark-plug sized peppers in Central Market, select HEB stores, Rice Epicurean Market, Whole Foods and maybe Trader Joe’s. This being Louisiana, I can’t imagine where you’d find any unless you were in a bigger Rouse’s, or maybe Whole Foods, since they sell Hatch chiles in late summer. And of course, they would be in Baton Rouge or New Orleans–IF you found them at all.

But in our case, the local Tractor Supply store had some, and I grabbed two of the plants. I was on my fruitless search for more Anaheim chile plants, but I really wanted to try these.

Oh, am I glad I did!

They took a while to start producing. But once they did:

Shishito pepper with bell

To the left are some Anaheims and one little bell pepper called Tequila.

I just let them grow for a while, but one Friday night, I realized I had to pick them. The larger of the two plants had so many peppers that it was tipping over. I picked them and came inside to find the recipe.

Turns out the recipe is in Ina’s last book, Cook Like A Pro. I’ve used this book for several recipes, but this recipe passed me by. It’s my first introduction to these delicious peppers.

Fast And Easy Saute

Of course, I didn’t take pictures, but it’s a quick one. You can find the recipe here on The Food Network’s website.

But it really was simple, you saute them on a fairly high heat with olive oil. While they cook, add salt and pepper. Remove them from the heat, squeeze over some lime juice, sprinkle on some flaked sea salt, then toss. (Yes, I have Maldon’s Sea Salt as well as a few other types.)

I had to do them in two batches because I didn’t have a really big skillet. No matter.

One of BF’s car-guy friends was over, and we were also having some Texas Tamales. BF offered him some tamales, and I asked him to try one of the peppers. He had one of each, and loved both.

No, BF didn’t want any, but I did:

Tamales and shishito pappers on red plate

A truly diverse, multicultural dinner!

My little surprise was that there were no hot peppers in the bunch. I ate some of them that Friday night, and the rest I ate with dinner a couple nights later. NO HOT ONES. Woo hoo!

Ina’s Next Book

The next Barefoot Contessa cookbook comes out in early October, titled Modern Comfort Food. She announced it on social media a few months ago, and Clarkson Potter moved up the publication date by a couple of weeks because of the current events. We all need comfort food, yes? 

Has the fair Ms. Garten discovered alternate waffle maker recipes? It seems so–in the description, it says:

In Modern Comfort Food, Ina Garten shares 85 new recipes that will feed your deepest cravings. Many of these dishes are inspired by childhood favorites–but with the volume turned way up, such as Cheddar and Chutney Grilled Cheese sandwiches (the perfect match for Ina’s Creamy Tomato Bisque), Smashed Hamburgers with Caramelized Onions, and the crispiest hash browns that are actually made in a waffle iron!

It’s gonna be great. All of Ina Garten’s books have delicious food with great directions, so this will also be a good one.

If You See Some, Get Some

When I went looking, I noticed that Giada de Laurentiis also has a recipe for these, but she makes a “baked salt” with olives to go with it. I haven’t tried that one yet. Like Ree Drummond, Giada is doing her show at home. I’m catching up with all my favorite shows as I can, hence Philo TV.

A Google search will turn up more results for you, like this blog from Paleo Scaleo. Jessica is in South Carolina, and also grows them herself. I will be saving more of the seeds before the season is over so I can grow them again next year.

Don’t forget that if you buy them, you can save the seeds in a Ziploc bag and start them next year. Ditto for Hatch chiles. That’s always my plan.

Shishito peppers are a delicious thing to have, whether you’re snacking on them in front of the TV, or serving them at your next cookout or dinner party (whenever that is, right?) They’re healthy, gluten-free, low-carb and keto, so why wouldn’t you? Just make sure you have some dairy milk around, even skim, for the possibility of a hot one.

Don’t worry about BF. He’ll either come around one day, or he’ll keep eating ravioli from the can. He likes that stuff.

Enjoy!

The Hubic Pie Packet picture
Hubig’s Pies Return Next Year!!

Hubig’s Pies are coming back next year!

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Hola, Amigos!

Only an hour after I published my July update post yesterday, I go into the living room and there’s a blip on the news about the return of the old New Orleans favorite, Hubig’s Pies. There is rejoicing in the land tonight.

I wrote about these iconic treats a few years ago, when I was still living in Houston. I think I was looking for something else to blog about. When I stopped traveling around Houston and trying different places, I struggled for new blog topics that were interesting. And, quite frankly, there were times when I just didn’t feel like writing anything.

But I couldn’t believe my luck–I knew I should have waited before I published, but I just wanted to get a quick update out.

The Announcement

Since 2012, people in Louisiana have patiently waited for the return of a beloved hand pie that was available about anywhere for 90 years. Their patience has finally paid off.

In a joint press release, Governor John Bel Edwards and Hubig’s owner Andrew Ramsey announced today that the company would resume producing the famed pies in a new facility in Jefferson Parish, not Orleans parish where the company lived for 90 years.

The State of Louisiana and the Parish of Jefferson offered multiple business incentives, that, apparently, Orleans Parish wouldn’t. But whatever–people are overjoyed, and who cares if they’re made in Jefferson Parish? They plan to use the same recipes, and not change anything, so that should ensure consistency and happiness again.

Not So Fast

However, they note that they don’t have a place yet, but they are working to get one, and get started. Mr. Ramsey was quoted as saying,

“I don’t have a facility yet. I don’t have a place where I can press a button and start making pies,” he said in an interview.

“This (loan guarantee) is a part of the puzzle to get the business back again,” he said. “Everything has been coming together; we’ve had a tremendous amount of support. But I don’t have a timeline yet.”

But after seven years of nothing, this is definitely good news.

The manufacturing equipment they need is going to be highly specialized, so that’s probably going to be their biggest hurdle. The factory will bring something like 30 jobs to the suburban parish, likely in Metairie or Kenner.

Side note: the Govna is from the area where I live. I’ve met a couple of his relatives because I happened to be in town, and BF introduced me. BF actually shook hands with him at a funeral a year or so ago, and went to school with a few of his relatives. The Gov lives here and commutes to Baton Rouge every day, something I thought I’d be doing when I interviewed at LSU in 2016.

There’s more information here in this news story.

What’s The Big Deal About Hubig’s?

In a state that doesn’t always value health and wellness, local food is one of those things that people hold onto and take very seriously.

An Apple Hubig's Pie

An apple Hubig’s pie in all it’s deliciousness.

The Hubig’s Pie affair is bigger than the Twinkies affair, because Hostess pretty much already had a buyer waiting going into bankruptcy court.  But I’m sure Mr. Ramsey has been able to learn from the Twinkies re-set and will be working with new, more agile, manufacturing practices.

Things like king cakes and other regional favorites have become wide spread. As I mentioned originally (and probably a few other times), king cakes are available in bakeries in Texas, and New Orleans bakers ship the cakes nationally. Check your grocery store for “Louisiana” or “New Orleans” foodstuffs, and you’ll find things like Tabasco, Zatarain’s, and maybe even Tony Chachere’s spices. I bought a wide range of things at HEB in Houston, so I know they’re available elsewhere, and online if you know where to look.

But Hubig’s Pies didn’t really make it out of Louisiana. It’s just one of those regional favorites, like kolaches in Texas. They were just always available, in every grocery store, convenience store, truck stop, gas station, and everywhere snacks were sold in the region. When they went away, as I mentioned in the last post, people missed them terribly, and have been asking for them to come back ever since.

The Devotion To Hubig’s Pies

Ladies and Gentlemen, your patience will be rewarded next year. Hubig’s Pies will make Louisiana great again! (I’m sure that’s what they’ll say, anyway.) You’ll be able to buy them online, too. How about that?

One of the perfect Hubig's Pies

This article on NOLA.com (full of garbled code written by a monkey, I presume) details all the ways people have kept the flame burning for Hubig’s Pies. One lady kept a blueberry Hubig’s in her freezer all these years as a souvenir. Another has one sealed up in a plastic freezer bag in her closet. (EEEWWW!!) And as you saw in the last blog post, Mardi Gras costumes abound for people who are waiting for their Hubig’s Pies to return.

There’s even a comment by the Governor himself, speaking at a campaign stop, about his love for the missing pies. I’m guessing he’ll be using that in his re-election platform. Well, let’s face it, wouldn’t you?

Let me reiterate, as stated the first time I wrote about Hubig’s Pies, that there is nothing healthy, sugar-free, or gluten-free about these things. They are, like a lot of Louisiana foods, primarily white flour, sugar, starches, and likely unhealthy oils. Enjoy at your own risk. . .because everyone else here will take that risk once they are being sold again.

I’ll have a small bite of BF’s, just to satisfy my curiosity.

The Divided Dinnertime

Last night was one of those nights where we ate from our “pre-relationship menus.” BF calls things like Hamburger Helper “the pre-Amy menu,” and I referred to the roast chicken leg quarter as one of my “favorite single-girl payday meals.” Because it is, like the perfectly cooked flat iron steak that’s sliced against the grain and laid on top of a crisp salad with lettuce, tomatoes (grape, please), sugar snap peas, maybe some avocado, and a quickly whisked dressing of EVOO and a raspberry vinegar. Oh, and a bit of Celtic of pink Himalayan sea salt to finish it.

I asked why he would make such a thing, and his response was, “Well, you’re always telling me how great Pea & Pesto Soup is, so you can have that tonight.” I found the chicken leg in the freezer next to the ground beef and claimed it as my own.

We’ve been doing that sometimes, when he feels that Hamburger Helper, or a frozen Swanson dinner is just the thing. I’m sticking to the healthiest things I can eat here, which occasionally involves something like rice, which I don’t normally consume. But if it makes him happy, oh, well.

Drag Week

BF and his twin brother are planning to make the pilgrimage this year to Hot Rod Magazine’s annual Drag Week. BF went last year with another of his “car guy” friends, but they were only gone a couple of days. This time, the twin mechanics are planning the entire week of smelling like the exotic scents of car exhaust, motor oil and transmission fluid, as well as eating at various local greasy spoons. For this red-haired foodie, it means:

  • I will be alone and free to be myself for an entire week
  • I can cook and eat whatever I want all week long without criticism, critiquing or fake retching
    • This includes the absence of comments such as, “She’s tryin’ ta kill me!”
  • I can watch my own TV and sew as much as I want
  • I can invite over whomever I want, including, but not limited to
    • BF’s brother’s wife and 5-year-old daughter
    • “Car guy” girl JJ, and possibly her daughter if she’s interested
    • Friends J&A who live a couple of miles away; A is one of BF’s collegues, and J is her boyfriend
    • BF’s father who lives up the road (although he won’t come unless there’s an emergency)
    • Anyone else who appreciates gourmet cooking and lives close enough or wants to drive up here
    • Or nobody at all

I’m not planning a dinner party, although I probably could. But as I’ve told BF several times, I’m making plans for my “Drag Week Menu.” I’ll be cooking all manner of delicious, healthy food to enjoy while he’s across the country. The recipes may come from the new cookbooks I’ve bought, too. So what if he can’t say “Braciole?”

Networking

Remember when we went to Mr. Earl’s Barbecue? BF knows Mr. Earl from Drag Week, since he works on these kinds of cars at his shop outside of Baton Rouge. That New Year’s Eve gumbo fest and barbecue event is a yearly thing he does for all his “car guy” friends. (We missed it last year, maybe this year.)

Honestly, Drag Week is a networking event for petrolheads. BF knows so many people from Drag Week, I can’t tell them apart. But they have a great time, make new friends, meet up with old ones (supplemented by Facebook) and have fun while they’re there.

On a basic level, it’s like AWAI’s yearly copywriting Bootcamp. I streamed it live again this year, and I loved it all. But I do wish I could go in person next year. You never know, you might meet an automotive copywriter there!

Until Next Time

I plan on blogging again before too long, honest. Meantime, thanks to everyone who keeps reading my foodie-related rantings with SEO optimization.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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