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

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

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Hi, Again, Dear Readers:

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

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

The Realization

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

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

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

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

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

Tarragon butter mixed in container

Tarragon compound butter.

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

Making Dinner

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

chicken breast on cutting board

That doesn’t look terribly exciting, does it?

Because it was damp, I dried it off:

Raw chicken breast in paper towel

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

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

Compound butter and chicken

It looks easy because it IS.

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

Sweet potato fries on baking sheet

Just the perfect amount

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

Chicken and sweet potatoes on baking sheet

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

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

Freezing The Remainder

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

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

Tarragon compound butter on waxed paper

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

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

Rolling the compound butter into a log

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

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

Rolled up butter in waxed paper

Twisting the edges keeps it in place for when it freezes

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

Tarragon compound butter roll in freezerbag

That’s all there is to it.

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

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

Dinner Smells Good

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

Cooked chicken tarragon with sweet potato fries

It was delicious!

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

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

Tarragon Gifting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which will be showing up sooner than you think.

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

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Cut garde lettuce with grape tomatoes
June Updates And Hatch Chiles

Finally some news, including Hatch chiles, sort of.

Hi, again, Dear Readers:

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Well, it’s summer again, and you know what happened. I’ve been writing, cooking, washing, and cleaning, and generally not blogging. For three weeks, the blog was actually broken. Finally, I created a service ticket for my hosting service, and they fixed it quickly.

After finishing the post on the John Walton Celebration of Life, a little catching up is in order.

Copywriting Updates

My new copywriting website is still not finished. It’s one of those big, hairy things I don’t want to deal with, but I have to, eventually.

The good news is that my Upwork Job Success Score (JSS) just went back up to 100%.

UpworkProfilePicAt1002020

I did it again.

I also finally finished two certifications from Digital Marketer: one for SEO (Search Market Mastery), the other for Content Marketing.  The SEO course is the one that I’d been fiddling with for over a year, and Content Marketing was the other one I wanted.

 

Content Marketing Badge

Search Marketing Specialist

These will be added to the new website. . .eventually.

Because Digital Marketer had a hard-stop ending on the free access on April 15th, I had to finish them ASAP. Nothing like a deadline to make you complete something, right? Well, I almost didn’t get the SEO finished because there was a bug on their website that gave me an error message when I went to take the test. Finally, it was fixed, and I was able to finish the certification. I did the content marketing course in two days, and I have notes and handouts and downloads to refer to.

World Gone Mad

I’ve got to be careful about how I phrase this next section. My hosting company sent out an email in March that included a comment on how they were removing *those* disease-related search terms from their domain search tool so that nobody could set up a website to take advantage of the situation, including alleged and likely fake  “cures.” So, here goes.

Last time I wrote a blog post that bug was just affecting some folks on a cruise ship overseas. Now it’s a worldwide thing that has seen all manner of disasters, including economic. While people are starting to emerge from their homes, many because they can’t stand it anymore, the powers that be are continuing to scramble to try and find the right answers.

Part of our preparations included some panic shopping at Walmart for “essentials.” However, what he considers “essential” and what I consider “essential” are frequently not the same. But we were able to get some foodstuffs to pack up under the counter. They’re packed in boxes along with some other foodstuffs that were given to us from BF’s Dad’s house when his sister cleared out some things in favor of “low-sodium” for their Dad to help lower his blood pressure.

Everyone needs cans of chili with beans, right? (Don’t forget the Gas-X!) I added some cans of salmon, which BF wouldn’t touch. For a while, we couldn’t get canned tuna or salmon at all. There were also nationwide shortages of things like yeast, flour, cleaning supplies, and those were evident here. BF was concerned about not being able to get bread, so I bought an extra bag of flour. . .but there was no yeast. I have some in the pantry that I brought from Houston, but that was it. Might be good, might not be, but I haven’t tried proofing it yet. When I found some, I bought it.

We’ve kept ahead of the game on the most coveted item, toilet paper.

Managing The Pandemic

Louisiana has been one of the states with higher rates of cases, but as of this writing, the fatality rate is about 6%, and the recovery rate is high. (I did the math, so be proud of me.) We are fortunate to be in one of the outlying parishes that’s close to the Mississippi border. Our parish has seen a total of 58 presumptive cases, and one fatality due to the bug.

Jefferson, Orleans, and St. Tammany have seen the greatest numbers of cases and deaths, with all 64 parishes now reporting infections. The New Orleans Advocate has a page that’s updated daily with the latest numbers, and the Houston Chronicle also has regular updates for Houston and for Texas.

The most awesome Dr. Sakina Davis at Woodlands Wellness recently had a Zoom call with some of us interested folks to talk about not only what it was, but how to defend yourself against *it* with supplements, healthy eating, and of course, getting some sun as well as supplementing with Vitamin D. I greatly appreciated that. I had to get some Vit C from them, and got a couple of bottles of their very posh-smelling hand sanitizer as well. (I have the most incredible hand sanitizer for miles around!) Another thing: turn off the TV and don’t have a steady diet of “news.”

And if that isn’t enough, it’s now hurricane season. Tropical Storm Cristobal was the first storm to come this way. We just had some rain, nothing serious.

It’s Jumanjij Level 6! 

We’re starting to come out on the other side of the pandemic, and slowly, places are reopening around the US.  We’ve been to our local Tex-Mex place, La Carreta, once, and have bought curbside takeout from them twice. They’ve reopened with masks on servers. We’ve not been to any of the other local places, which have since reopened, including BF’s favorite Cracker Barrel in Hammond. Yet. But eventually, we all hope to get back to some kind of normalcy.

Trending Egg Bites: Starbucks Leads

Once again the Big Green Coffee Company of Seattle leads the way in trends. First, it was the much-lauded (and maligned) Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL, complete with 50 grams of sugar). Now, they’re leading with their famed egg bites.

I’ve done egg bites in the Instant Pot, but they’re a bit of trouble and I’ve not made them in a while. (I even bought two of those silicone egg molds to do make them in.)

Egg bites in red mold

Aren’t they cute? Right out of the pot.

Egg bites are quite popular for a lot of reasons, and it’s probably the one thing I buy the most when I visit Starbucks, other than coffee. 

Cooked egg bites in red dish

Ready for breakfast!

They’re now considered an “emerging food trend,” meaning that everyone is getting on the bandwagon after Starbucks started it. Finally, you’ll soon be able to get egg bites in your grocers’ freezer case. Organic Valley will begin shipping frozen egg bites to stores in late July with an MSRP of $3.99 a pack. Nestle and Valley Fine Foods will soon follow with their own brands.

NOTE: Starbucks has begun to re-open their stores, but our Hammond store has a drive-thru curbside service, Although the store is actually open, there is no seating. You can just go to the counter and pick up your order or hit the powder room (I think.) They aren’t allowing seating outside under the patio, either.

PJ’s Coffee

Understand that when I first got here, the center of my universe in Hammond was the Starbucks on St. Thomas. I was very surprised to see a PJ’s in our town, right by Winn-Dixie, and that was a small comfort. It still is, and both have free WiFi.

Admittedly, I only visit Starbucks sporadically, usually, when I’m going to Hammond anyway, or if I’m headed to New Orleans. If there are extra points to be had or some other kind of “special” reason to go, I might make a trip and hit Target at the same time. I’ve utilized the mobile app ordering, and it worked fine.

Mostly, though, I’ve been going to our local PJ’s Coffee on Fridays, ordering their $1-any-size hot coffees through the drive-through and adding a bigger tip or the folks working there.

The cafe just re-opened a couple of weeks ago. But I was doing what was asked, helping out by going through the drive-thru to keep them in business throughout the shutdowns. 

BF and I went through one day and I got him a delicious breakfast croissant. A couple of times, I bought BF a double-chocolate muffin, including one for his birthday. He was happy with that. We also bought a gift card to help keep our PJ’s in business, and I’ve just started using the money on it. Their drive-thru has been quite busy so I guess it worked.

Like a lot of fast-food places, PJ’s has been following the guidelines set out by the CDC and the State of Louisiana. They just re-opened the local cafe a couple of weeks ago, with limited indoor seating and the same abbreviated hours. There is also a bigger PJ’s in Hammond, but not near Starbucks, although I haven’t been to that one in a while. Situated next to military recruiting offices, they have a second-floor seating area, and also offer lunch items. They too have abbreviated hours, but chances are, the same as ours.

PJ’s also offers discounts to military personnel and veterans, at least here. That’s a plus for BF, except that he doesn’t drink coffee.

But guess what? PJ’s is, through expansion and franchising, moving into other states, including Texas! I couldn’t believe how many PJ’s there are now around the US. California? Maryland? Georgia? Arkansas? Alabama? I had no idea. There is one “coming soon” to Katy, TX, and I notified longtime Boeing brother RR to be on the lookout. There is also a location in Pearland, which is kind of near Miss Alice, but also might be somewhere in the path of the GER. I let him know about it, and that it is a great alternative to Starbucks (his least favorite place.)

Could PJ’s become the new go-to place for coffee and topple the reigning coffee empire? It’s possible. You could find a PJ’s in your neighborhood one day soon.

The HeatCageKitchen Garden, 2020

Partly in response to the worldwide crisis, BF decided we needed to step up our homesteading game at the Casa de Rurale. I just say it’s about time.

After gardening in buckets, small patches of land, and getting some “toilet-tank tomatoes” two summers ago, we now have a more formal garden. I’ve already made two batches of fresh pesto for the freezer, which he is, as always, unhappy about.

Basil plants

Basil is back, and there is more to come.

The plant on the right has already been cut for both pesto and for cloning. I’ve got to plant those rootlings soon and get them out of the window. I’ll fill the chest freezer with pesto for the winter, or I’ll end up giving some away. Now to figure out what to do with the burgeoning tarragon. I’ll start with a compound butter for chicken.

Tarragon with ruler measuring 12 inches high

What am I going to do with all that?

Our neighbor across the street, Mr. JD, brought over his tractor and dug up some land for us in front of the shop, and we’ve been planting and planting again. Some things don’t work but we keep trying. We’ve planted a number of things, some of which are actually doing quite well. Right now we have actively growing:

  • Corn
  • Potatoes, including some from the grocery store we let bud
  • Green beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Watermelon
  • Zucchini
  • Radishes
  • Tarragon
  • Basil
  • Lettuce:
    • Gourmet
    • Iceberg
  • Tomatoes:
    • Yellow teardrop
    • Chocolate cherry, from seeds I saved in 2015 in Houston (no tomatoes yet)
  • Mexican Oregano
  • Peppers
    • Purple bell peppers
    • Shishito peppers (a small, sweet pepper from Japan)
    • Poblanos
    • “Coolapenos,” a variety of jalapenos without the heat
    • Anaheim chili peppers, aka, Hatch

 

Between the plants and the seeds, there have been some that were successful, and some disappointments. We just keep planting stuff and hope it works.

The agreement with Mr. JD was that we would share the harvest, and that’s fine. But when I picked the first of the bounty, three French breakfast radishes, he never stopped by for them. So I washed them and ate them:

Three French Breakfast Radishes

They are gorgeous, yes?

Note: eat radishes right after picking. I’ve planted more, and they’re coming up quickly. I’ve got both French Breakfast radishes and some older seeds of some other type, and both are growing.

The Anaheim, or Hatch, Chili Pepper Plant

Remember a couple of years ago I did some reading into Hatch chiles? Well, I am finally getting some from the garden, after three years of trying to grow the darn things from saved seeds from Hatch seasons past. They’re not exactly Hatch chiles, but they’re pretty much the same thing.

I’m convinced this was a mistake, but our local Tractor Supply had Anaheim “Hatch” chili pepper plants about two months ago, and I got the last one. I keep going back to see if they’ve received any more, but nothing yet.

Anaheim Hatch chili pepper plant with pepper

Looking forward to more of these

At the moment, there are four small peppers in various stages of growth, and I’ve got four in the fridge. I’m planning to roast them soon, and save the seeds. I used the first two peppers to try and plant more–get a load of these: 

Two Anaheim Hatch chili peppers on red cutting board with knife

The first two Hatch peppers that were used to try and regrow more peppers

Miss Raylina, who works at our local Tractor Supply and puts up with my harassment about “setting up the coffee bar,”  told me how to plant any pepper. It’s simple: cut it in half lengthwise and fill the cavity–seeds and all–with soil. Then bury the dirt-filled pepper in your garden. The seeds will germinate and feed off the flesh of the pepper while growing. Simple, right?

I really want more of these peppers this summer, so I’m willing to sacrifice the first two for the greater good of the garden (and give me more “Hatch” peppers, darn it.) But nothing yet. I’ll be saving the seeds out of these during the summer to try and grow Hatch chiles again next year.

But so far, nothing yet. At least we have New Mexico’s harvest in August, at which time I will be able to harvest more of the Hatch chile seeds for next year.

More Garden Pictures

Of course, Anaheim “Hatch” chili peppers aren’t the only thing we’ve got going on. BF insisted on growing corn and potatoes because that’s what his Dad always grew when they were kids. Mind you, BF just turned 50, has been married twice, owned a house once, but has never had a garden of his own. So far, the corn is doing well, with just one stalk knocked over a bit when Cristobal passed through:

Corn stalks growing

These are about six feet high

 

Up-close shot of corn on the stalk

Looks like we will be having plenty of corn on the cob soon, whether we want it or not.

How can we incorporate Hatch chiles in with corn? Well, for starters, do it when BF isn’t around.

Because the little yellow teardrop plant didn’t seem to be doing well, I went ahead and moved it. I figured if it was going to die anyway, I might as well try and give it a fighting chance. Not exactly a bumper crop, but it’s a start: 

Small tomato plant

There it is! One little tomato.

Earlier this year I found three bell pepper plants called Tequila. They turn purple when ripe, not red. I thought it was interesting so I bought a flat of three. Well, one plant didn’t make it, one is still in the shadow of the bigger one and needs moving, even though it’s got one pepper growing on it. But the big plant has three purple peppers, in various stages of ripeness.

Tequila bell peppers

You won’t find these at HEB, Rouse’s, Publix, or Walmart.

Interesting, yes? And then there are the Shishito peppers:

Shishito pepper

Ever heard of these? Me either until recently.

I only saw Ina Garten make these on her show recently, and apparently it’s also in her last book. (Giada de Laurentiis also has a recipe for them.) When I saw the plants at Tractor Supply, I bought two. One is doing better than the other, so I’ll be trying them out when they get bigger. Surprise! One of them is going to be HOT.

Have you ever heard of someone being overrun with zucchini? That hasn’t happened to us yet, we’ve only gotten two off this plant.

Zucchini plant

The leaves are as big as dinner plates.

And because the leaves are so big, I may have to move the oregano–again.

Zucchini growing

That’s the next one that I’ll harvest. They seem to double in size overnight.

BF doesn’t eat them, so of course, I’ll be happily feasting on them soon. Zucchini noodles, and preserved zucchini are right on my list.

We’ve also had blackberries growing wild, but BF has never told me how to cultivate them. (Mr. JD said they were “dewberries,” but whatever–they’re delicious.) I gathered berries every day during the brief season, and I have about two quarts in the freezer. That’s the berries left from when I go out berry-picking with the now 80-pound pit bull. We eat berries together. He loves them, right off the vine. I also drop them into his huge, muscular mouth for him to enjoy.

Salad Greens And Other Ingredients

I love salads, and I have long wished to be able to walk outside, pick my salad, walk back inside, wash everything, cut and toss everything into a bowl. I’ve sort of done that twice so far, but there were no cucumbers yet, and I bought some grape tomatoes at Winn-Dixie:

Cut garden lettuce with grape tomatoes

This was so delicious with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing and a touch of salt.

I think I may have dipped into the remaining stash I have of Meyer Lemon EVOO and Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar from Oil & Vinegar in The Woodlands. Just this once, it was a special occasion. But this salad didn’t need much. Those bottles have been at the top corner of the pantry behind everything. BF has strict orders to never touch it, but he probably won’t anyway.

I miss that place. I wonder if they ship.

I tried to grow Romaine lettuce in Houston but was always unsuccessful. The GER told me once that lettuce is a “winter crop,” which put me right off trying again.  One day I had a nice big leaf growing, and an hour later, a slug took it out.

Then I moved. Here, we’ve grown some “gourmet” lettuce as well as what doesn’t really look much like iceberg lettuce, but is quite tasty.

Green and red lettuce growing

I was quite surprised that this grew as well as it did. Then I cut it for salad.

The seed for the iceberg lettuce moved when it rained or I watered, so it’s in an odd place. I might try to move it again soon, or move both lettuces away from the outer part of the garden plot so they’ll grow better. There’s a reason for that.

Iceberg lettuce growing

It’s re-growing after being clipped. Again.

See, I did sprout some Romaine and some celery in the kitchen recently, but they disappeared after I planted them outside. Not died–disappeared. BF said it looked like either deer, possums, raccoons or some other nocturnal creatures came to feast and dug them out of the ground. Without one of those outdoor cams, we have no way of knowing. I’m not 100% sure I want to know what’s going on outside with Mother Nature, anyway.

We also planted cucumbers, which, along with watermelon, are threatening to take over the lawn.

Cucumber and watermelon growing

They’re everywhere!

You’ve got to check those cucumbers regularly–if they turn yellow, they’re awful. I know this because the GER grew cucumbers once, and we missed one. He found the yellow “ripe” one, and of course, I had to try it. NOPE! So I’m on them daily for the ones that are ready to pick. If I see some yellow, they get harvested.

No watermelons yet, but we’ll be enjoying those hopefully later in the summer.

I do keep watering and pulling ever-present indigenous weeds out of the plot. There’s some over-grown grass to be removed as well, and I take out some every morning when I water. At some point, I hope to do a mass removal of everything and get some of that black fabric to put over the ground to keep the weeds from getting sun. Fingers crossed.

Books, Books, And More Books

Callisto Press has blessed me with oodles of books since last July. The variety of topics include:

  • Weight lifting
  • Wine, spirits, and cocktails
  • Professional poker
  • Aromatherapy (three books, but I’m not allowed to do that in the house)
  • Spells for new witches (I kid you not, it was interesting)
  • The Law Of Attraction
  • CBD 
  • Weight training/fitness
  • Cannabis edibles (not legal here)
  • Successful aging and retirement
  • Fung shui
  • Essential oils
  • Visualization
  • Multiple cookbooks, including:
    • Italian cooking
    • French cooking and baking
    • Scandanavian baking
    • Baking, including cakes and donuts
    • Sauces
    • Barbecue and grilling, including sauces
    • “Five-Ingredient” cookbooks
    • “For two” cookbooks
    • Quick-cooking, 30 minutes or less, including “healthy”
    • Desserts
    • Instant Pot cooking
    • Air Fryer cooking
    • Slow cooking
  • Gardening (including urban gardening)
  • Convection oven cooking
  • Dehydrator recipes
  • Cooking for your dog (absolute truth, including recipes for “doggie date nights” for you and the pup)
  • Psychology in different forms, including three “couples” books and one on “willpower”
  • Sleeping (and how much sleep have I lost reading them? None.)
  • Cookbooks for pecific diets, including:
    • Vegetarian/Vegan
    • Keto (including vegetarian)
    • Pescatarian
    • Dairy-Free
    • Gluten-Free
    • Sugar-free
    • Thyroid disorders
    • Intermittent fasting
    • Lowfat
    • Mediterranean (I have three, including one for Keto)

And that’s just the ones I’ve been able to put my hands on just now.

Amazingly, we’ve found a few new “winners” for me to make again, with two thumbs up from BF. This includes one called Roasted Calabrian Chicken, which I made last week. It was really just chicken and diced potatoes with some dried oregano, fresh rosemary, and (don’t tell him!) a squeeze of lemon juice, on a sheet pan in the countertop oven. Needed to cook the potatoes longer, though. Next one is an air fryer recipe with. . .chicken and diced potatoes. The potatoes go into the bottom, and the chicken goes on top on a little rack. Maybe next week.

How Many Books?

Honest, I have no idea. I haven’t counted or organized them yet. They’ve been coming hot and heavy since last July, and until they started limiting people to four books, I got as many as seven at once. I have given a couple of them away as Christmas gifts, and some may be donated to the library eventually.

I need a new bookshelf now, and I’ll have to organize them accordingly. That means BF will be moving some of his boxes of ju. . .I mean, things, for me to put the bookshelf up. I plan to put a nice china cabinet up next to the bookshelf one day, preferably from IKEA, but that’s going to be a while yet.

I wondered if I would need more bookcases. And then one day, it became e-books. I’m guessing it’s because of the expense, but the reason Callisto gave was because of the delivery times. So now it’s about reviewing e-books, and they offer a very short time window for it, too.

I’ve sent one or two of these e-books to Miss Alice in Houston since she’s now vegetarian, a gift from Hurricane Harvey.

I do appreciate all the physical books they’ve sent me (and now, some of my writer friends) to read and review, and will keep them in their own bookcase. LOTS of delicious food in these books as well as really good info, which I hope to digest before my 90th birthday.

I missed two books out of the last batch of physical books that I really wanted, so I’ve got them on my Amazon wish list. I’ll try to fit them in my next Amazon order (whenever that is.) One was a 3-ingredient cocktail book, the other another “for two” kind of thing.  Oh, well–they’re not expensive.

What’s Next?

I’m a good six months late on this, but I think the next post will be about the cheesecakes. KJ is impatiently waiting for me to write it up, and I need to blog a little more regularly anyway. Plus I’ve got to tell you about the air fryer and the Instant Pot that’s taking up way too much room on the countertop. At least when I use it I can “let R2D2 handle dinner.”

Please take care of yourself, wash your hands, take necessary precautions, and stay far and away from trouble. It’s everywhere, lurking around corners. I’ll be back soon with more delicious recipes to share.

Enjoy!

 

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

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

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

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

But today it’s all about the keto.

The John Walton Celebration Of Life

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

AmyWithKenAndSteve

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

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

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

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

What is Keto?

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

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

The Book

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

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

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

Trying Out The Recipes

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

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

Tuesday was the ketogenic dinner.

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

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

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

Other Ingredients

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

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

His Fish Is Always Fried

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

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

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

Dinnertime!

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

But here it is:

keto baked fish and green beans

This was my dinner plate.

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

BF's Dinner plate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fish recipe

FISH!

No, he didn’t like these either.

ParmPorkrind Green Bean Recipe

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

Trying Again

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

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

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

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

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

Keto mushroom frittata

The setup

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

Making The Frittata

I like measuring out everything before I actually start cooking.

Goat cheese crumbles

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

Bacon cooking for keto frittata

MMmmm. . . .bacon!

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

Sauteeing mushrooms with spinach added in

First steps. (Photo courtesy BF)

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

Eggs

Whisk really well, too.

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

Frittata cooking

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

Then sprinkle on the crumbled goat cheese:

Goat cheese sprinkled on

Get that goat cheese on top (Photo courtesy BF)

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

Keto Mushroom Frittata

Ta-dah!

Verdict: tasty, delicious, and great anytime.

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

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

Dessert Is Da (Keto) Bomb!

Undeterred, I tried one more recipe.

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

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

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

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

Making A Mess

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

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

Recipe For chocolate fat bombs

It’s pretty simple.

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

Ingredients for Spiced Chocolate Fat Bombs

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

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

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

Stirring

A quick whisk of everything

 

Muffin tins and papers

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

Carefully spoon this mixture into the cups:

Fat bombs in muffin tins

I used a spoon, and did this carefully

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

Fat bomb solid

Yummy!

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

Fat bombs

I’ll be making more of these

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

Recipes That Are Not For Everyone

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

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

I Like This Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Next Time

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

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

Until then, enjoy!

Dinner
Cookbook Review: The 5-Ingredient Italian Cookbook

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

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

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

National Ice Cream Day

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

HEB Ice Cream Truck

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

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

HEB Ice cream float

Look! An ice cream float! On wheels!

Is that not a happy sight?

HEB ice cream truck

There was ice cream all around.

Speaking of friendly faces:

Miss Lei in HEB

Look who it is!!

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

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

Neighbor E with Astronaut pic

Looking good, Dude!

Loved this picture too.

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

The 5-Ingredient Italian Cookbook by Francesca Montillo

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

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

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

The Accidental Dinner Party

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

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

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

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

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

Saltimbocca alla Romana

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

Broccoli stir fry

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

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

Ingredients

The Setup. Prosciutto was already in the freezer

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

Slicing chicken breasts in half

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

And pound them a little:

Pounding Chicken flat

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

And then slice it in half:

Breast half slices

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

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

Chicken and sage

Fresh sage from the HeatCageKitchen garden!

Then top each with that paper-thin prosciutto:

Chicken topped with ham

Handle the prosciutto with care, it tears easily

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

Coconut flour

Just a half-cup

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

Flouring chicken

Just a little coating, not a full breading.

Cooking The Chicken

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

Butter and olive oil heating in the pan

A good start to any chicken dish!

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

Chicken cooking

Cook prosciutto side down first

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

Cooked chicken

This is what it looks like out of the pan

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

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

The Reaction–Dinner Is Served

So, this is what we all had for dinner:

Dinner

A delicious dinner is served

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

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

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

Dessert

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

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

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

Success!

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

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

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

Buon Appetito!

 

 

Muslin bag of Texas Tamale company
Texas Tamales At La Casa

If you’ve left Texas, or even if you haven’t, you know how important tamales are. But they can be laborious and time-consuming to create at home. The solution? Texas Tamales!

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Hello again, Dear Readers:

Spring is finally here, at least, according to the calendar. And that means all kinds of wonderful things, like asparagus, bike riding, and Daylight Savings Time. If you’re not in a part of the US that’s snowed under right now.

It’s still kind of cool-ish here, too cool for planting tomatoes and things, so I guess I’ll be the lazy gardener again and be late. We probably won’t have any tomatoes in odd spots this year, but ironically, the ones that grew best were around the septic tank. We got a number of little “racks” of tomatoes there, and I’ve got the seeds to try and plant more. Since avocados have been relatively cheap for a while at Winn-Dixie, I’ve been eating them and saving the seeds. Those golf-ball sized pits have taken over the kitchen window, and BF is asking, “is this your latest science experiment?”

Lots to tell, let’s get started.

Finally, Allergy Relief

Ok, so, last year I did what has long been told to me, I got what I thought was “local raw honey” to help with allergies. Honey from your area works similar to an allergy shot–it de-sensitizes your immunoglobulins to the pollen and allergens in the area. (An allergy shot actually tamps down on the histamine response, but doesn’t de-sensitize.) Well, I went back to the same place I went last year, and bought some more of the same honey, which didn’t work. (The place is subject to an upcoming blog post.) Well, I was explaining to the clerk (around sniffling and sneezing) that I needed it for allergies.

It didn’t work last year, but everyone told me it would! Well, I was going through two or three kinds of OTC allergy meds last weekend, and it made me downright grouchy (and swearing at BF again.) I explained this to the clerk, a nice older lady, who said, “where do you live?” I told her. She asked, “then why are you buying honey from Ponchatoula?” Cause it’s local! Well, it’s not local enough, she said, and the honey right next to it came from–surprise–my neck of the woods, and it was a dollar less. (It was also a smaller bottle.) Honey and money was exchanged, and now I have truly “local” honey.

Elderberry Syrup

She also told me about some locally made elderberry syrup that people were buying for not only allergies, but flu. Three local schools have been closed because of flu outbreaks, and people are buying this elderberry syrup along with the honey.

Bottle of Andi Lynn's Elderberry Syrup, 16 ounce bottle.

This magic concoction is thick and really sweet.

I bought a bottle of that as well, at $21.99 for a 16-ounce size. It’s tasty, too. I’ve never heard of Andi Lynn’s, but they’re in the Baton Rouge neighborhood of Walker. I’m glad to know about it, and they also have some homeopathic allergy drops, which may or may not be in the place I bought the syrup. Next time.

On top of that, one of my Buddhist friends gave me an essential oil mixture to try, and I’ve been rolling that on at night.

Educating BF

He loves me. But sometimes he doesn’t understand. I explain.

BF asked, “what’s the deal with the local raw honey?” (He doesn’t have this problem, because this is his “native area.” Not mine.) It’s like this: the bees from your area are sucking on the flowers that are around you. When you ingest their honey, you ingest some of that pollen to de-sensitize yourself from those allergens. But if you’re using local raw honey from Ponchatoula–or Texas–you get the stuff from those bees, and they’re sucking on the flowers over there. That’s not going to help you if you’re not in Ponchatoula, or Texas. (I still have a half-bottle I bought from a vendor at the Nassau Bay Farmer’s Market.) By getting the honey and pollen from the bees sucking on local flowers from the area in which you live, you get the local “neighborhood” pollen to help alleviate your allergies to the same pollen. Make sense?

I can’t say what’s exactly working, but I’m a LOT better! Still a bit of sniffling and sneezing, but not like it was. Finally, I got the right stuff.

Coffee To Go

Nick Usborne at Coffee Detective has found a new way to make your coffee when you’re walking out the door: The Barista Cup. No kidding, the darn thing makes your coffee start to finish in a specially designed cup. Just chuck everything–grounds, sugar, milk, etc., into the cup, then pour hot water into it, and off you go. At $25, they’d better be worth it!

I don’t have one myself, yet, but of course, because Nick says it “works as advertised,” I’m extremely interested in getting one. After all, Nick’s the one who originally taught me to make iced coffee.  (Note: these aren’t available on Amazon, only on the company’s website.) And Nick considers himself a coffee expert, and writes about it as a side thing to his web copywriting business.

The Barista Cup company has an office in the UK and in Winter Springs, FL, so they’re multinational, and working on saving the planet, one cup at a time.

Princess Coffee Maker

Here’s a coffee maker for young girls who want to be like Mom and Dad:

Pink Prnincess Coffee Maker toy for girls

Don’t you just WANT one?

It’s a toy, and it doesn’t actually make real coffee, but it does make the gurgling sounds of a certain type of coffee maker. I halfway considered buying it to annoy BF.

Winn-Dixie Listens

Speaking of coffee, our local Winn-Dixie finally has some new baskets with coffee holders on them:

Winn Dixie Grocery Baskets With Coffee Holders

FINALLY!!

Yes, more than two years after I asked, PLEASE, our little corner of the world got baskets with coffee holders. Just one, because after all, you only need one, right?

HEB baskets have two as well, but some of the smaller baskets at Winn-Dixie only have one. Even with BF, I’m the only one drinking coffee anyway.

View of multiple grocery baskets with coffee holders

Another view of the basket type

They still have the full-size baskets without them, and everyone uses those. These are smaller, kind of like the ones we saw back in the 70’s with a shallow basket area. So now when I visit Winn-Dixie, I can get my coffee at the nearby PJ’s first and head on in to grocery shop. Our store doesn’t have as many of these, and it seems like I’m the only one who knows what they’re for, so there’s always one available for me. Thanks, Winn-Dixie!

The Magic Tamales

You know how one day, you just want something? Over the holidays, it was tamales. And I didn’t take pictures.

Now, for those of you not of Hispanic or Texas descent, you might not know that tamales are a bit of work. So much so that many Hispanic families make the tamales only at Christmas time. Other times, they rely on buying them, or finding a good “tamale lady” or abuela (grandma) who makes them for sale all year long. Because, let’s face it, when done correctly, tamales are delicious.

In Robb Walsh’s The Tex Mex Cookbook, there is a picture of President Gerald Ford on the campaign trail in Texas eating a tamale. He was at The Alamo in 1976.  Unfortunately, none of his aides (or any locals) told him that you take them out of the corn husks first. They’re steamed in the corn husks, which are like a really tough paper, and you take them out to eat them.

The most awesome Stephanie O’Dea sent out an email one day with her recipes for tamales in the CrockPot. With a name like O’Dea, she’s probably about as Hispanic as the Irishman from El Paso. Intrigued, I informed BF that we would be having tamales for Christmas dinner, (it was just us two) and that was it. Well, and whatever else we wanted.

Finding Masa Harina

I set out to find the ingredients that were staples in every grocery store I ever went into in Houston. After paying $6 in Whole Foods for a bag of masa harina that I discovered in the local WD for $3 or so, my district leader OR told me that Walmart has an entire section of Hispanic goods. Well, what do you know, they had everything, and I grabbed the corn husks before anyone else did.

I also had a nice conversation with two young men who were driving from Mandeville to Brownsville, TX. I told them next time they went into HEB, to think about me.

Obviously, I wasn’t about to use hydrogenated anything, but I did have an unopened jar of Epic Pork Fat in the pantry. It came with me from Houston, when I went to the closing of the Webster Fresh Market. Fortunately, it’s readily available at Whole Foods. I think Rouse’s has it, too, and I have since bought a fresh jar that’s in the pantry.

Chicken Christmas Tamales

I had a few pieces of chicken that I roasted and cut up small, and followed Stephanie’s directions to the letter, otherwise. Well, I pulled out my stand mixer, and mixed the masa until I was sick of hearing the motor run. Little bits were flying out of the mixer if I ran it too high (next time, maybe half?) Guess I need a pouring shield for it. Balls of masa never floated, and I finally gave up and used it as is.

I made the components in the days before Christmas, and BF sat down and helped me put them together. It didn’t take too long, and we only had about two dozen, but that was OK.

I forget what else I made with it, but BF and I were perfectly happy with what came out:

Chicken Tamales steaming in a 6-quart Crockpot

Just like Stephanie’s, the tamales steamed nicely in the Crockpot

Verdict: they tamales were good, but a bit bland, and Stephanie admits that. It was the first time I made them. We had some of the filling and masa left, which went directly into freezer bags and into the big freezer. I have permission to jazz them up if I ever make them again. Chorizo, maybe?

Christmas Chocolate Raspberry Dessert

Oh, wait, that’s right–we also enjoyed a delicious raspberry chocolate cheesecake from one of the Wheat Belly books for dessert:

Raspberry chocolate cheesecake from Wheat Belly

Doesn’t it look wonderful?

I subbed out the stevia extract with erythrytol, but next time I’m going to get me some stevia extract and start using it. BF liked it–it’s quite rich–but it wasn’t quite sweet enough. Low carb, much dairy, no wheat/gluten/flour. I’m done with yeast free for a while.

Tamales In Target

My regular Buddhist activities are at least an hour’s drive away. I commonly go to the Mandeville area, which is still on this side of Lake Ponchartrain, and 90 minutes from New Orleans. That’s OK, and I get to go to Whole Foods, Bed Bath & Beyond, or wherever else I want to go that we don’t have nearby. Additionally, if I shop right after the meeting, I’m not too tired like I am when I make it to Hammond. So I frequent the Target in Covington, since it’s on the way home, and there’s a Cost Plus World Market next door and a Starbucks in that Target.

I’m walking around with my list on my phone, and I pass by the frozen foods section. Normally I don’t pay any mind to what’s in there, unless I’m looking for frozen veg or fruit. But this particular evening, I happened to look to my right and saw this in the freezer case:

Muslin bag of Texas Tamale company

This little muslin bag holds some of the most delicious food available.

AAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

Texas Tamale Bag Bag with ingredients and company contact information

OMG!! THEY’RE MADE IN HOUSTON!!!

Not knowing what to expect, I bought a bag of the Beef Tamales. There are also pork, chicken and black bean available at Target.

How did I miss these all this time?

Text To BF

After examining these closely, I sent a text to BF telling him that dinner the next night was covered, and it was a surprise. He doesn’t like when I tell him that, but he’s patient and will try something once, so he says.

I brought them home and told him ALL about the tamales. He gave me the usual, “sure, Honey, I’ll try anything you make” comment with a pensive (read: slightly scared) look on his face.

For $6.99, you get a pack of one dozen perfectly rolled tamales packed in corn husks, which is traditional. They’re sealed in a square food-grade plastic package and then bagged in the little muslin bag. (I’m keeping those because I know they’ll be useful somewhere!) The instructions say to steam them in a steamer, preferably standing with the cut edges up. Well, I have this old pot with a strainer insert, and it works pretty well:

Steaming tamales in a strainer pot

Just like this, and they cook perfectly

If we decide the night before that tomorrow is “tamale night,” then I’ll take them out of the freezer and leave them in the fridge for the next day where they thaw a bit. You can also cook them right out of the freezer.

The directions say it takes 20 minutes, but if I cook them from frozen, I’ll give it 25 minutes. They’re a bit tricky to remove from the pot, because now they’re soft, and the only thing holding them together is the corn husks. I personally don’t care if they come out imperfect, because I’m going to be loading them onto a plate for eating. But BF isn’t used to real tamales, so I try to make sure his look “perfect.”

Tamales

Dinner. Done.

Verdict: absolutely delicious, the way a tamale should be.

I didn’t take many pictures because we were too busy stuffing our faces with them. Yes, we found a winner for me AND for BF.

They’re Around, Just Look

Since then, I’ve discovered that Rouse’s sells them for about $8.50 a pack, and another place sells them for $10 a pack. So when I know I’m going to Covington, and I have enough money, I buy a few packs for the freezer since they’re priced better at Target. However, I’m glad to know that I can get them in Hammond if I can’t get to Covington. Our big freezer has a stock of them now, and a tasty tamale dinner is just 20 minutes away.

The chicken, we found, was a bit too spicy for us, but the beef and pork are spicy enough without being overbearing. We haven’t tried the black bean type, because BF doesn’t want to. I eat six, he eats four and saves the other two for later. Or we eat four and split the other two later. Or he leaves the rest for me, because I bought them and I’m in love with them. They’re that good.

Texas Tamale Company

Look, when you live in Texas, tamales are everywhere, right? Just like kolaches, chips & salsa, and big bags of masa harina and corn husks. Hatch chiles in nearly anything. It’s like the furniture, Texas flags and the Texas star decor–it’s always there.

Move out of Texas, and you suddenly miss everything. Longtime readers know that I’ve missed everything Texas since the day I got here, and we *still* haven’t made a trip back to visit for a handful of reasons (mostly time and money, we always  have one but not the other.) I still want to go, of course, and visit, (not to mention shop) but I can at least have real Texas tamales whenever I want them.

The Texas Tamale Company is on the west side of Houston, and has been in business for many years making “gourmet” tamales. Well, after 30 years, they’ve become quite the company, and you can find these magic morsels nationwide. They even have Hatch Chile Tamales, although they’re not available here, yet. (That’s my next “ask for” project.) You can read their story here.

HEB has its own brand of tamales with some interesting flavors, including Asiago cheese. I’ll try to get some of their interesting flavors whenever I get to shop there again.

Understand that I have no problem driving to the Clear Lake Blvd HEB and buying my regular groceries, even if it’s a ten hour round trip. Easier said than done, of course. BF would probably not like me to do that, either, but I can be tempted.

If you can’t find them locally, you can order them online. I haven’t tried ordering them yet, but I’m probably going to do that one of these days if I can’t get Rouse’s to carry the Hatch chile type.

Local Tamales

You know how if you think of a certain type of car, suddenly you see them anywhere? (Concentrate on a red Land Rover, or a blue Hyundai Sonata, and you’ll see what I mean.) Well, someone in Louisiana came up with the idea of. . .crawfish tamales:

Pack of Crawfish tamales

Crawfish tamales? Heresy!

Personally, I think it’s wrong, but they could be pretty good. They’re also twice the cost of Texas Tamales (at Target), but we might try them one day. I know, shop local and all that. Subject of an upcoming blog post, honest.

Since then, when we decide break open a pack of these Lone Star State wonders for dinner, I walk around singing, “Ta-MA-LES!” to the tune of Dean Martin’s Volare. I haven’t re-written the words, I just sing that part of it.

So are you ready for some delicious Tex-Mex in your life in 20 minutes?  Whichever tamales you choose, just remember to unwrap them from the corn husks first.

Enjoy!

 

 

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