Happy Monday, Dear Readers:
Are you over the food coma yet, or are you wondering when you’ll ever be done eating turkey new and different ways? HA–you know me, I’ll eat turkey anytime, and frequently do. Still looking for fresh turkey thighs around here. . .haven’t found them yet, but I managed to procure four at the Mandeville Whole Foods this weekend. (Turkey is cheap right now!) I was so happy when the little guy offered to butcher a turkey to give them to me, I said, “if you can do that for me, I’ll kiss you.” He looked a bit nervous, and replied, “I don’t think we’re allowed to do that, Ma’am.” I smiled and said, “Yeah, it think my boyfreind would be a bit upset with me, too.” Guess he’d never had that before; he was about 17, I think. Well, I’m a Texan, and I’m a tough customer, but I appreciated the help.
My cashier, Monica, knew exactly what I was talking about when I complained about no place for your coffee in grocery baskets here. (More on that later–and WF actually does have them.) Turns out she lived in League City for a while, and Clear Lake–and she misses HEB as well! My new BFF there. I told her all about our FABULOUS Clear Lake HEB, and how I used to have lunch on Saturdays with Miss Sunie, Miss Lei and Miss Carolyn’s wonderful samplings. But as nice as she and Lisa were yesterday, it’s getting easier, even though I still miss my HEB.
We’re going to have to take a trip to Clear Lake and buy groceries soon.
BF had to go to work early Saturday morning, but I was up early, and managed “bright-eyed and busy tailed” without the addition of caffeine, much to his dismay. BF can’t handle perky that early. He was looking for duct tape in the truck as we drove to town. (One guess.) But I’m here at the library, telling you all about my Thanksgiving.
We’re no longer taking the bucolic Cow Road, because *that* main road is now repaired after the August flooding literally broke it in several places. I’m gonna miss Cow Road, but maybe not all that much. . .it was kind of spooky at night. Episodes of The X-Files start out on settings much like Cow Road. I warned BF to lock his door when we were going home, in case *something* came out of the woods, opened the door and pulled him out of the driver’s seat. This amused him to no end.
The other night, I was heading over to pick him up for 9:15 pm, and since it was cold, I took a cup of hot tea in a lidded travel mug. I told BF I was on my way, and halfway down Cow Road, he texted me that he was getting ready to leave. I stopped The White Knight and texted back that I was “bumping and grinding down Cow Road.” When I arrived at his place of business, I let him know that I was bumping and grinding and managing a cup of tea when he texted, and I had to stop to text back, slowing me down. He was quite amused.
I’ve also visited the local Ace Hardware Home & Garden Center. They have more than just home and garden stuff. They have stuff for animals. They also HAVE animals–baby chickens!
They carry Leghorn, Ameraucana and Bantam varieties. The Leghorns are brave, they’ll walk right up to you and say hi. The Bantams are indifferent. But the Ameraucanas are, well, chicken! When I got close enough to take a picture, they all ran to the back of the cage, like I was trying to hit them. Poor babies. When I told BF about these little darlings, he asked, “you didn’t bring any of them home, did you?” They were $3.49 each, and I actually had enough in my purse to bring three of them home to the Casa. But no, we have a 60-pound pit bull puppy who will eat nearly anything, including jumping crickets (I have personally witnessed this behavior), so I figured the little darlings were safer at the hardware store in the heat chamber. They’re just adorable, though:
I enjoyed seeing them so much. . .I went back the next day just to visit them again. (BF didn’t know what to make of that, but it’s just around the corner from the library.)
They also have warm, soft bunnies and doves. And, maybe one or two other farm critters. But although they had supplies, there were no cats. Darn good thing. BF promises that we will, at some point, acquire a feline for me, but I warn him not just yet. Here’s one more cute picture of baby chickens:
BF’s BFF tells me that the grew up with chickens, and they’re not that cute. Oh, well. Let’s talk about a bigger bird.
As I mentioned last time, at nearly the last minute, I found myself making a full-on Thanksgiving dinner for four and a half people: me, BF, his daughter, her better half and their nearly 3-year-old son. My head was buzzing with all the details and reverse-engineering the process: when to make the brining liquid and when to add the turkey to it. When to start on the make-ahead sides, what I needed to make on Turkey Day. BF, to his credit, stepped back and let me do what I needed to, and just said with a smile, “this is your show.” In return, I promised him the best turkey he’d ever had, and I believe I delivered, based on what I heard from everyone. (Well, the wee one didn’t say much about it.) BF was also ultra-helpful in doing some tidying up, removing a lot of stuff from the dining area, including several large clear-plastic storage containers filled with my sewing patterns and a myriad of automotive things that, for the most part, belong in the garage. He went back and swept, mopped and put everything right so we could all enjoy a pretty nice meal.
We certainly did, except for one detail: BF’s daughter promised to bring mac & cheese and a pecan pie, BF’s favorite. Unfortunately, she only showed up with mac & cheese. BF was VERY disappointed to miss the pecan pie, but he did manage to find apple pie in the evening at his Dad’s house. She promises to deliver a pecan pie at a later date.
What did I do? What didn’t I do? My back still hurts from standing up for two days! But I had a blast, and all the dishes are finally washed. Let me take you through all this. Warning: I didn’t get pictures of everything. That’s how crazy-busy I was for 2 days.
BF was off work Monday and Tuesday, and we did some stuff in the house. He went back to work on Wednesday, working until 9:00 pm, and I stayed home to get everything started. I got up early, whereas BF slept later. But I got right on it, getting the turkey into the drink (brining fluid, that is.) Since I had half a jar, and we had an 8-pound turkey breast, not a whole turkey, it was plenty enough to brine the whole thing. That went into the fridge early, then I started on other things. I pulled supplies I knew I would need:
And why are those potatoes there? Mashed potatoes were requested. I also made sure these two were full and ready to rock:
Oh, and another special request:
I bought three boxes of this drek, I mean, holiday dinner staple, just to make sure we had enough, and I have one box left. You know what I did with it, right? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I decided to make two loaves of cornbread: one was an old Martha Stewart recipe from her big green compendium book, and one was from Babycakes, the vegan/gluten free variety.
Why both? Well, the MS recipe was for dinner at the Casa, and the vegan loaf was to take to his father’s place later. Turns out BF’s dad is a diabetic, and I brought it so that he could enjoy some with coconut oil and agave syrup. Well. . .he already had some, but I told him if he didn’t like it, I’d take it home, because I like it! No word yet on if he liked it or not. But first was the *real* cornbread, then the vegan version:
The “regular” cornbread recipe, which I may post eventually, is pretty simple but uses a fair amount of butter, which is why it’s so darn GOOD! (A stick and half, to be exact.) Sure enough, everyone loved it, as they always do. We still have some in the fridge, but I may freeze it if BF is sick of cornbread.
Once I got all that done and the washing up finished, I went onto. . .you know. One of my favorite Thanksgiving staples.
Yes, that’s the infamous Cranberry Ginger Relish (it’s no longer on Martha Stewart’s website, but a printable is available on the Recipes page.) I’ve made it many times, and it’s always a hit. Until now. Everyone said it was “OK.” Even BF. I was really disappointed–I made it with regular sugar, not SomerSweet. It always disappears, even with real sugar, but not this time.
I made a double batch, some for us, and some to take with us to BF’s Dad’s place later in the evening. It’s easy and you can make it a couple of days in advance. No word on if he liked it, or if the rest of that group liked it, but our little group said “it’s OK.” Oh, well. . .I finished what was left over time and burned it off washing up and moving stuff around in the studio. More for me!
Also done in advance: from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, delicious Green Beans Gremolata. I did enjoy BF’s face when he asked, “what’s gremolata?” Another “pesto moment” with a cute quizzical look on his face! I explained it, of course, as a fresh seasoning blend, which it really is. Blanched the green beans, then put them into ice water, and then made the gremolata. When I finished that, I packed it up, then drained and packed up the green beans and stashed them in the fridge. And then I started the washing up.
The kids (I can say that now) were slated to arrive at 11:00 am. Of course, they didn’t make it until about 1:30, which threw me off, but gave me lots of extra time to make sure everything was DONE. Thursday I got up about 7:00 am or so, and went to work. First up: drain, rinse and pat dry the turkey:
I used my roasting laurel, which holds the turkey UP in the roasting pan. It also garnered another funny look from BF–“what’s that green thing for?” I explained that, too, as politely as I could. It’s not my intent to confuse him, only to explain. But I don’t want to sound like I’m talking down to him either, because that’s not my intent, either. But I do enjoy the funny looks!
Next up: butter it up!
This gives the turkey a nice crispy skin and keeps it moist and tasty. Since it sat in the drink all night, it didn’t need any additional seasonings like salt or pepper. It was 8 pounds, so at 350, it baked for 2.5 hours. Once that was in the oven, I did more washing up and got started on the mashed potatoes.
Low-carb folks don’t normally have potatoes, but of course, I was asked, so I did. (I also made some waffled hash browns for breakfast last week, I think on Wednesday–BF enjoyed those, too.) Using another Ina Garten recipe, I peeled and boiled some potatoes. While those were boiling, I warmed a stick of butter and some half-and-half in a small saucepan. When the potatoes were done, I put them into the stand mixer (BF also lifted that heavy thing up for me), turned it on low, added the melted butter and half-and-half, salt, pepper, and a half cup of sour cream.
What Ina tells you in the book is that you can set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, and they stay hot and tasty for 30 minutes or more, but you might need more liquid. I didn’t–and this worked very well for me. Best mashed potatoes ever, and they stayed perfect more than 2 hours after they were cooked, just like this.
But get this: since sour cream only comes in a whole cup, I took some out for the waffled hash browns and dipped mine. I offered BF some, and he declined–seems he doesn’t like sour cream on baked potatoes. Thankfully, I didn’t tell him that was the “secret ingredient” in the mashed potatoes–he would have been mad at me for doing that.
Next up was a subject of much contention: sweet potatoes. Longtime readers know I can’t stand the ridiculous treatment given to these nutritional gems around the holidays, which includes marshmallows, maraschino cherries, pineapple, corn syrup and other unnecessary additions. I made my favorites, but. . .they stayed in the oven too long, darnit, and were a bit over-done.
GRRRR. . .I’ll eat them. Just can’t seem to recapture the magic the first time I made these in 2002 for me and the GER. We couldn’t stop stuffing our faces with them that day, but this time. . .darnit.
Next up: stuffing. But not just any stuffing. I begged BF to let me make STUFFLES!! Yes! Two boxes of stuffles, and put them in the little oven to keep them warm. I couldn’t resist:
Those went over very well. The next day, I offered to make BF a sandwich with the stuffles, and turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy in between. He declined my inventive idea. (They make sandwiches like that at Starbucks, you know.)
Because I was being daring, I decided to try my hand at Ina’s Perfect Homemade Gravy. You know what? They LOVED IT!! I kid you not–I even used pan drippings from the turkey. It was pretty easy–start out by caramelizing the onions:
I had to explain what that meant, but to his credit, BF gave me the space to do everything, and he was not disappointed. In fact, they were all expecting gravy from a packet. Oh, NO. I kept cooking the onions, despite BF’s skepticism:
See how much browner they are? By this time the turkey was done, and I took it out to sit for 20 minutes under a foil tent. I removed some of the pan drippings and added them in. Then, as instructed by Ina, I started sprinkling in. . .flour:
Cook that a little:
And then add two cups of hot chicken (or turkey) broth. Ina specifies that she prefers homemade, but. . .well, this came from Trader Joe’s:
Next up was a tablespoon of Cointreau, or other good brandy. Well. . .I opened up a couple of those boxes marked “Amy Liquor” and pulled this out:
I added one tablespoon when BF wasn’t looking, and when it was all stirred up and cooked in:
I added in a tablespoon of cream, which was optional, and stirred it well.
See that Cranberry Grab-It dish on the burner above the saute pan? That burner is also the “air vent” for the oven. When you use the oven, that burner gets very hot from the air vent, even though the burner is turned off. I put that dish there to warm it up so that the gravy wouldn’t go into a cold dish. Worked like a charm, too.
Then it was cleaning that pan, adding oil on high heat, then the green beans and heating them up. (I put my red universal pot lid on top to heat them faster.) A few minutes later, I took them out and put them in another serving dish, topped them with the gremolata, tossed them and covered them.
Then we heard the car door shut and the dogs making noise.
When BF’s very nice daughter brought in the hot mac & cheese, we immediately went to putting food out and having some. We had a great time. His daughter raved about the gravy, and all of them just loved it. I took a taste, and agreed that, for the first time, I like it. So, maybe one day I’ll try this again gluten free. A Facebook commentor on Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly offered the suggestion of thickening gravy with arrowroot in place of the flour, so I may try that at some point. (Shhh! Don’t tell BF.)
I went through at least a pound and a half of butter for Thanksgiving. BF was shocked when I told him we had no more butter, but it’s the truth–even the butter dish was empty. So when I hit Whole Foods on Sunday, I bought a pound.
Incidentally, did you know there’s a difference in the way butter is packaged on the east coast and west coast? I’ve noticed that when I’ve bought butter at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, they come in short, fat sticks, rather than the longer slimmer ones we get down here in the South. Turns out there is a reason for that–the ones we get here are known as “East Coast Elgins,” and the ones west of the Rockies are called “Western Stubbies.” Since Trader Joe’s is a California-based company, well, you get it. Whole Foods is based in Austin, but they also sell Western Stubbies, but I’m guessing it’s because they were primarily a west-coast store for so many years. (The first one in New Orleans was in the French Quarter, and was the size of a Circle K, until they built a bigger one in Metairie.) I found this out when I was looking at OXO’s website. You can read a little more about that on The Kitchn’s website.
We went to visit BF’s father, sister, and brother-in-law later in the evening. BF’s brother and sister-in-law brought a big spread that people were in various stages of enjoying; that’s where he found the apple pie. It was very rushed and busy, but we had a nice time with them as well.
So. . .next up is Christmas, and I have no idea what we’re doing or where. I hope to be able to do more slow cooking and maybe a bit of waffling, too. Maybe brownies, maybe cake, maybe sweet rolls–whatever they ask for, I’m up for. But I’m getting back on my regular low-carb/gluten-free/somewhat Paleo eating style, best I can.
Give some thought now to any upcoming holiday gatherings, office parties, and Christmas lunch/dinner celebrations that you’ll be attending, and what you might need to bring. Feel free to search the archives here, or start looking for some inspiration online. Start with Martha Stewart’s website, The Pioneer Woman’s website (she has a recipe section just for Christmas), The Kitchn, or jump in with both feet and get on Pinterest. Other celebrity chefs have websites and recipes, and they’re too many to list here (just pick one!) Create your “Holiday 2016 Recipes” board and start pinning. The Food Network also has a huge database of recipes (well, DUH.) But if you want more, well, ask yourself a question.
What’s your favorite grocery store? HEB’s website has a whole section for holiday things–products, recipes, etc., and you can order HEB things from the website from all over the US (except coffee to California.) Go here to find lots and lots of HEB’s recipes–just pick one. (Wait–Chocolate Pecan Pie? That could put BF on his knees!) Kroger has a general listing of recipes, while Randall’s also has a page for Christmas recipes. East-coast readers familiar with Publix will also enjoy their recipes and meal planning page. Louisiana-based Rouse’s has a recipe page as well–so if you’re looking for some Louisiana food for your Christmas dinner, take a look there. (Winn Dixie doesn’t have anything, I checked.) Trader Joe’s has a very nice recipe site, primarily using their own products, and so does Whole Foods.
No, I will NOT be making those “mirlitons.” Longtime readers know I hate them, whether you call them that, “Mexican pears” or “chayote squash.” They’re good for one thing: breaking windows. Wait a minute. . .Hatch chili bread? In Louisiana? Hmmm. . . .
OK, folks. . .I think I’ve bored you enough with getting started on Christmas early. Just think about what you’ll be doing, OK? Whether it’s a church function, going to someone’s house, or just doing Christmas dinner alone the way I did for many years, you’ve got time right now. Try out a recipe or two, gather any unusual ingredients that might be harder to find on December 20th, make room in your pantry, fridge and freezer for them, and plan your menus,but GET STARTED. If you find yourself with a last-minute invitation, check your Pinterest board for something you can make quickly or looks good.
I’m all about getting ahead of problems. You can ignore it, but it won’t go away. And if you are going to be alone, do what I did for all those years–make a delicious dinner and enjoy yourself. I recommend some good old-fashioned British comedy DVDs, too–and if you have cable, the Doctor Who Christmas special, which is always well-done and spectacular. No cable? See what your local library can get for you, by interlibrary loan, if need be. But as always, START REQUESTING THEM NOW. See if your PBS station runs Doctor Who or other British TV. Or you’ll be watching stuff on YouTube on your phone.
Library’s closing. I gotta go, but I’ll be back again real soon with more foodie things.
Happy Saturday, Dear Readers!
If you’re here in the Houston area, I hope you are dry. . .if you’re not, well, Thursday (8/20) we had some serious rain going on, complete with thunder and lightning. The HeatCageKitchen garden was happy with the extra water, but the green onions, which have been supplemented recently with two bunches of organics I bought, are nearly a foot high after 2 weeks. Not bad!
Today was our monthly district meeting, and a pretty good one, too. Our fearless district leader and hostess, LK, has finally seen her dream of her sister and family practicing Buddhism after something like 27 years of practice. Today was the day that all four officially became Buddhists, and it was also her sister, JH’s, birthday. (I also became a Buddhist on my 24th birthday in 1986, so it’s always extra special.) LK’s brother-in-law, JH’s husband, was not able to make it due to work commitments but received an official certificate along with JH and the kids. They lived in California until a year ago, and bought a house not far from LK, making LK one of the happiest people around.
To celebrate, LK drove down to Galveston this morning–during the period when we had sunshine before the rain came back again–and bought a beautiful cake to celebrate the whole thing:
Indeed, it was NOT gluten-free, and I told her I would just have one of the roses. (I didn’t, really.) Actually, I did bring home a slice of this beautiful creation for Neighbor R, my elderly neighbor, and I nibbled on the veg and some grapes that were there. Here’s a view of the inside after it was cut:
Neighbor K has been to PattyCakes many times since she works down there, and if I remember correctly, she brought me a couple of their delicious samplings a while back. They’re across the street from the well-known Mosquito Cafe, and are operated by the same people.
Since we have a couple of diabetics in addition to me, who avoid this kind of thing, LK kindly had cut veggies and Tzatzaki, which was very tasty. Might have to make that myself some time. I’ve got the recipe, but I’ve never made it; however, I don’t know what recipe LK used for today’s delicious dip.
If you’re a fan of Starbucks, The Safe Haven With Food, and you’ve been enamored with their recent food offerings, I discovered a bit of a hack. By accident, of course. A couple of months ago, I met with a potential copywriting client at a Starbucks in nearby Pasadena (that’s where the business was located) and I got there early. While my computer was booting up and connecting to the WiFi, I found myself hungry for some reason. I looked in the case and found their little yogurt cups with fruit. I picked up the one with cherries, and thoroughly enjoyed it before she arrived.
A couple of nights ago I was hungry, and I started prowling in the fridge (as we single folks are wont to do) and saw the container of Fage yogurt in there, and suddenly the light lit up in my brain! Five frozen cherries, in a little dish, microwaved for about 20 seconds on 50% power to get the chill off them; chop them, put them back in the bowl, then spoon some of that Greek yogurt in the bowl. Mix well–carefully, or in a bigger bowl–and sweeten to taste. Use whatever you like–stevia, saccharin, Somersweet, whatever. Because remember, the one in Starbucks has sugar in it–you don’t have to do that. I don’t miss the crunchy part, although I do eat it when I have one in Starbucks (it’s wheat free.) Which has been exactly. . .twice. I never forgot it, but at $3.95, it’s not a habit, only a handy option I’ve had twice.
The Starbucks Evenings menu hasn’t yet appeared here in Clear Lake, to my knowledge, but it has in New York. You can see the actual menu here, but from what Lindsay Putnam of the NY Post says. . .do not bother. Remember that those breakfast sandwiches are frozen and heated in an oven before the barista hands them to you, so naturally, so is the Evenings menu–no real cooking goes on in Starbucks. If you do eat one, you think about how delicious it tastes. . .and not much else, OK? Yes, I have had the sandwiches a few times, less since I read Wheat Belly, but the last time I had one of those big croissant bun sandwiches was out of necessity a few months ago. So the Evenings menu, tempting as it may look, may, in fact, disappoint. I’ll let you know if I get to try it.
Then again, New Yorkers seem to judge everything harshly, and it was brand new, so maybe she was just there on a bad day. Use your own judgment, as always.
Now, another story about the GER. He loves it when I write about him.
The GER goes fishing usually on Mondays with a friend who has a boat, and while this week’s haul. . .was not, last week they caught more river monsters. I gave him a ride somewhere last Tuesday, and he told me to bring something to keep it cold. He told me to share it with Neighbor K, but K didn’t wanna mess with no fish that night, so I offered some to Neighbor R after I cooked it.
This was a big fish. Flounder, if I remember correctly. Not like catfish, frying catfish is easy. So I treated this big fishy with the respect it deserved and broiled it. I’m not kidding when I tell you it was a big one:
It was about 15 inches long, I think, but I forgot to measure it. I thought about stuffing it, but that wasn’t an option:
Sometimes he’ll give me filets, but sometimes not, like this one. The only option was to roast it whole and pull the flesh off the skeleton, since there was no easy way to stuff it. I set out to the garden and gathered up a few things:
Green onions (from the ones I planted in the garden), mint, parsley, some rosemary and basil, plus some lime zest. Using that mezzaluna knife, chopped it as best I could, and added some kosher salt:
Then it’s just used as a rub on both sides of the fish:
I put it in the toaster oven on “broil” until I thought it was done, and it came out pretty darn good:
It needed salt, in my opinion, and I gave the easily-removed, skinless chunks to Neighbor R, and made sure there were no bones in it. I had three meals out of that fish along with some baked sweet potato sticks. YUM.
In the last couple of posts, I spoke about Red Dwarf, the crazy-wild British comedy that combines science fiction with slapstick comedy. Here’s a short clip of the song I was singing while I was dealing with said fish in an episode from many years ago. The character, Cat, just LOVES fish! That comes back to haunt him in Season 9 when a despair squid is found in the water tank. . .oh, nevermind. If you’re not a fan, it won’t make a lot of sense. It’s kind of like explaining something from Doctor Who to someone who has never seen it or understands it. Like the GER!
Tomorrow is Sunday, and I’ve got to plan out the week’s eating. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I think there’s going to be some chicken in the Crock Pot. . .again. But since I found two big packets of chicken thighs on sale at Target Friday night, it’s a good thing.
School’s opening real soon, so if you’ve got students at home, you’ll be gearing up now to make those mornings easier. I’m looking at waffle iron hacks and cheats on Pinterest now, and I’ve started a board to keep them in one place. People have figured out how to cook all kinds of things with waffle irons, and YouTube has a collection of them as well. Just go to YouTube and type in the search box, “waffle iron hacks” and/or “waffle iron recipes” and you’ll see ingenious ways people have used a waffle iron for anything *but* waffles.
One of my writer friends, a Christian copywriter here in Texas, posted on Facebook instructions to take those cinnamon rolls in a can and cook them on a waffle iron, then pour that sugary frosting on top. Looks a lot more appetizing than the ones made the *normal* way. It made me want to head to Kroger for a can and make them myself! But I didn’t, and I’m researching new ways to use the waffle iron daily instead of just occasionally, when you make waffles.
One interesting idea I saw on Pinterest was to spray the waffle iron, heat it, then put frozen tater tots on the bottom, covering the grid. Close the lid, and a few minutes later, crispy hash browns! Admittedly, that’s not something I would make for myself, (at least not with frozen tater tots) but I might do that for the GER or someone else who really liked hash browns. I’ve eaten hash browns occasionally, usually at Denny’s on my birthday with my Grand Slam; but as a rule, potatoes are not in my fridge.
Remember: 110v vs. 220v. And don’t forget your college student headed for the dorms this fall.
Have a great week, and whatever you do cook and eat–Enjoy!