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Amy’s Instant Pot Adventure

The Instant Pot–the newest obsession in cooking. Is it worth the hype? It depends on who you ask. Get ready for a long post.

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Once again, I got behind in blogging. As we said in Boeing, I was “OBE,” or Overcome By Events. How many times has that happened? It’s been a month.

So, what’s going on? Well. . . .

Air Fryer Update

Have you decided on an air fryer, or decided against it? Neighbor E in Houston figured he’d pass on it after reading my report. I’m glad I could help.

Neighbor E also tells me that after the fanfare we experienced over the expansion of Baybrook Mall a few years ago, many of the stores have closed up and there is considerable empty real estate there. This includes my favorite Sur la Table. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which is a reorganization, not a complete shutdown with liquidation. The company was hit hard by the pandemic closures, and they’ve closed half of their stores, including the new one in Baybrook that I was so happy to have (albeit briefly.) The stores in River Oaks, the City Centre on the west side, and The Woodlands are still open, as are a few others in Texas.

The Baton Rouge store in the Perkins Rowe area was also closed in the reorg. It was the only store in Louisiana, and I don’t know if many people ever visited it. But Sur la Table still has online shopping, which is my preferred method anyway. They introduced virtual cooking classes last year for $29, but the remaining stores are also offering in-person classes again. You can even learn from Martha Stewart!

The IKEA Order

It took two weeks, but my order from IKEA did arrive, two days later than the originally predicted delivery date.

Box from IKEA

It’s here!!

I got everything I ordered, and we have used the tealight lanterns a few times.

Rotera tealight lamps from Ikea in Galvanized

Aren’t they gorgeous?

I’ve loved the Rotera since I bought the first one, and thankfully, they’re the same as I remember.

Rotera with tag

Just like you’d buy it in an IKEA store!

Because I was very annoyed with the candles I bought locally, I made sure to get some of IKEA’s as well.

Two packs of Glimma tealight candles

Their own brand of candles.

Of course, I had to test them out for the next time we needed them. We actually have had one power outage since February, during a hard rainstorm two weeks ago.

Tealight burning in Rotera lantern

Heavenl

Yes, they work great, and they keep the candles enclosed and safe. The Glimmas work exactly as they did last time I had some, too.

I’ve also finally begun to replace some of my incredibly worn-out dishtowels. It’s a start.

Colorful dishtowels from IKEA rolled up

These were inexpensive and have a nice retro design

I tossed out the ones with big holes in them. I really liked the waffle type from IKEA, but they don’t make them anymore. So over time I’ll be looking for more, and tossing out the incredibly old stuff. I’ll be ordering more lanterns, candles and dishtowels, as well as some other small stuff we need. Hurricane season is coming soon.

Now onto the main feature.

Introducing The Instant Pot

Many years ago friend of the blog AK asked me what I thought about this thing. I had no idea, I didn’t pay attention to it. At the time, I was looking for a job in Houston. I just didn’t want to think about something new I had to learn that wasn’t related to an occupation. But over time, these electric multicookers started showing up in more and more places, and so did the recipes.

If you don’t know what they are, they are electric pressure cookers that also have multiple cooking functions built into the unit, including slow cooking. You can start a dish on saute, and then finish it with slow cooking or pressure cooking.

They’re also called “multicookers,” depending on the type of unit you buy. Some do the pressure cooking, some do not. And the funny thing is that they nearly all look just about the same as the Instant Pot brand. I once bought what I thought was a small IP, but it turned out to be a small Hamilton Beach rice cooker that was on clearance at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $12. I returned it.

Let me say that although the name indicates “instant,” it really isn’t always as fast as that. But that’s part of the learning process.

Amy, Why Did You Buy One?

Because my 15-year old CrockPot was deteriorating. I bought it when I lived with the GER. Here’s what I mean by that:

 

Crockpot Face

It became battle-weary from frequent use.

Long before I began communicating with BF, I used the heck out of this.  When I got here, I put all kinds of food into each one of them. A couple of years ago, I even bought a pair of two-quart ones later, nicknamed “The Twins.” (One red, one black, from Target.) I replaced the lid and the dial on this one, but some parts weren’t available:

Left side broken handle

This one is ready to go.

Missling right side handle

And this one is just gone.

But the biggest concern, which I noticed right before I bought the Instant Pot, was this:

Split electrical cord insulation

This is the main reason I chucked it.

When I showed it to BF, he said, “that’s a fire.” The GER, bless him, would have said the same thing. I didn’t realize it was that serious until I was getting ready to buy the Instant Pot. The trash men took it, so it’s gone. The four-quart cookers seem to be fine for now, but eventually, those will probably be replaced. One is mine, and in a similar condition, the other is BF’s, which he only rarely used. Both work fine.

How Many Instant Pots Are There?

Two words: MUCHO GRANDE.

When you start looking at these things, you realize that there are half a million appliances under the name “Instant Pot.” There are even more brands of “electric pressure cookers” and “multicookers,” so you have to know what you’re buying or you’ll come home with the new egg-boiling rice cooker that you didn’t actually want.

Many of these pots are branded, like The Pioneer Woman’s line at Walmart and the Star Wars line that Williams Sonoma had. I think BF would have died happy if I bought the one that was made to look like R2D2, but I didn’t. I’ll tell you why.

An Instant Pot is an expensive purchase, and I’m probably only going to buy it once. Although I did buy the newest model with coupons at BBB, I also did a little investigating before I decided on it. If you’re going to spend the money anyway, it makes sense to know what you’re getting. And, if I’m going to buy it, I might as well get the newest and the best model available with all the functions. That’s the kicker–those Pioneer Woman and Star Wars models have limited functions on them, but you might not know this until you go and use R2D2 or BB-8 to cook something.

Sure, I could have just bought another 6-quart CrockPot. But again, if you’re going to spend the money, get a good one, and get the best one available and/or the best one you can afford. So I did.

How It Works

Just like the pressure cookers from years gone by, the principle is simple: water heats up at a higher temperature under pressure and cooks food faster. Some food, not all. Things like roasts take less time than they would normally.

The old type like this one has been around forever. Nobody I knew ever used one, and of course, there was always the fear of damage.

Modern pressure cookers are electronic appliances with a range of features built-in. You’ll still have a pressure gauge, but the lid locks on and prevents you from opening it too early. They also require a sealing ring inside the lid to prevent leaks.

The key is the float valve, which lets you know that there is still pressure inside, or that it’s all gone.

What It Can Do

Dried beans cook in an hour. However, I haven’t had such good luck with cannellini beans. Either they’re hard or they’re mushy–nothing in between. I’ll keep trying since beans are cheap. Even the cannellini, which is locally produced.

Frozen chicken breasts or roasts cook in an hour or so. Not what you’d call “instant,” but infinitely faster when you don’t have all day for it.

Put the food in, click the lid on, seal the lid (if you have a different model than mine), and start your engines. If you’re slow cooking with it, just leave it alone until dinnertime. Note that if you’re using the slow cooker function, there won’t be any pressure buildup. That’s only for pressure cooking.

Understand that even after seeing these things for years and hearing folks bleat on about how incredible they are, I don’t have any experience with them. This is my first.

Slow cooking blogger Stephanie O’Dea emphasizes that she does not have an IP and doesn’t want one. Well, maybe one day she will.

The Duo Evo Plus

What I finally purchased was the six-quart Duo Evo Plus, a ten-in-one cooker that’s the latest and greatest but does not connect to the WiFi. This model automatically seals when you click the lid in place, which is a first. It has a wide range of functions, most of which I haven’t used yet. The included instruction book is simply an overview and isn’t terribly detailed. I found out later that there is a larger “full” manual that you download and print yourself. I have it but need to have a hard copy in the kitchen where I use it.

The lid on this model comes completely off with a circular motion. Previous models have a lid that flips up but sits on the base.

There are sealing rings and a small cup that clips on the back to collect condensation. Looks like it’s standard on all the models.

Instead of the cup of water that the other models use, the Duo Evo Plus requires a cup and a half, or 12 ounces. You don’t get that from the “quick setup” manual that comes with it.

The Purchase

I bought mine at BBB (with multiple coupons) right after its release 18 months ago. At the same time, I also bought a cake pan, a glass lid for slow cooking, and two egg bite molds to make breakfast just like Starbucks.

Empty egg bite mold

The key to egginess!

I love the bacon type. Turns out those egg bites are quite popular with the low-carb and keto crowd, and for good reason. I’ve since bought the silicone cake trivet because it keeps things from sliding around when you remove them, and not just cakes. There are a few other accessories I’d like to get later, but I’m not in a hurry for them.

I’ll be honest and say that I have not used all of the functions on this new and improved Instant Pot. I wanted an all-in-one model.  Mostly, I’ve used Saute, Slow Cook, and Pressure Cook. There is even a baking function, and I may play with it one day. I also wanted this one for the yogurt-maker function, but I haven’t tried that one out, either.

A Removable Pot

While all of the Instant Pots have removable inner pots, they are simply for use inside the unit. They aren’t designed for use anywhere else. However, you can buy replacements.

The Duo Evo Plus has one with silicone-covered handles on the side. (I think that’s the correct one for mine.) Add the glass cover, and you can use that inside pot on top of the stove, too. You can also take the pot out of the unit, cover it with the glass lid, and bring it directly to the table for serving. Just put a trivet or something underneath to protect your tabletop.

Of course, the IP has a big range of functions, like saute, so you probably won’t have to use the stove. But you never know, it could come in handy when you need an extra pot for something, right?

Quick Cooling

One of the newer features of the Duo Evo Plus is this little spot on top:

Ice rack on the Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus

The specially-shaped ice pack goes right here.

Sometimes you’ll make a recipe that requires “natural pressure release” (like the cake below.) In other words, you leave it alone until the float valve drops. Otherwise, the recipe won’t work right.

In the new model, this little tray makes that easier. Remove the grate and put the accessory ice pack right there to cool the machine faster and therefore release the pressure. But when I went looking for one of these ice packs, they weren’t available. They are now, so I’ll get one eventually.

Instant Pot Chocolate Cake

The first thing I made was a little chocolate cake with a recipe from Corrie Cooks via Pinterest:

chocolate cake

This was my first attempt, not pretty, but well-received by BF.

I decided to make it again this past weekend and add some rich, homemade frosting to it:

Chocolate cake cut open

Looks delicious, doesn’t it? BF loves it.

Yes, Corrie is a guy. I’ve made this a few times to BF’s delight.

When I told BF I would make one for him last weekend, he said, “oh, no, I want that cake with the regular flour.” Well, that was the plan, but he wouldn’t let me finish. I made the cake, two keto chocolate cakes for me (from Jen Fisch’s book), and our dinner for that day, all in the Instant Pot. (The frosting was made with a mixer, no cooking required.) The dinner was keto, but this cake was not. But I just really, really wanted to use it, too.

No, I did not eat this cake, but enjoyed the keto cake. I did taste-test this cake’s icing. It was so rich it made my teeth wiggle.

Our occasional dinner guest TT had a piece of it and told BF that it was “too perfect.” He insisted that it came from a store because it didn’t “taste homemade.” That’s because TT, like most people here, is used to boxed cake mixes. BF says it’s very rich. With a stick of butter in the cake and two in the frosting, plus a lot of sugar, you bet! It was indeed homemade in the IP, with the icing whipped up in a bowl, so I guess I did well with it.

Note that while my IP has a “bake” function, Corrie’s recipe uses the “manual” function. Not every IP has “bake,” but they all have a manual button.

Egg Bites In The Instant Pot

This is one of the main reasons I bought this thing. I love egg bites. Well, let me say that they are a bit more trouble than, say, hard-boiled eggs. They take longer, and involve more prep work, depending on what you put in them.

Cooked egg bites on red plate

Aren’t they delish?

After futzing around with Ree Drummond’s recipe for a while and then one or two from Jen Fisch, I more or less created my own with:

  1. 8 eggs
  2. Cooked bacon, chopped up after cooking (it’s easier that way)
  3. Alternate: breakfast sausage, browned and drained (hence the saute function, although I forgot on the first try)
  4. Alternate: chorizo, browned and drained, which you can either make yourself easily or buy in the grocery (even here!)
  5. Heavy Whipping Cream (a cup, I think)
  6. A half-cup of sour cream (optional, adds body)
  7. Cheese of some kind, about a half-cup to a cup (the leftover shredded Mexican blend from Taco Tuesday works just fine)
  8. A splash or two of Chipotle Tabasco
  9. Salt
  10. Pepper
  11. A can of chopped green chiles (optional)
  12. Anything else I feel like chopping and tossing in

 

You mix the eggs with the cream and sour cream (if using). I like to use the immersion blender here, and then switch to a whisk or spatula for the rest of it.

Ree Drummond recommends adding the cheese and cooked chopped bacon into the molds first. Jen Fisch doesn’t. Your choice.

 

Cooking chorizo with onion

 

 

 

Make sure to drain off the grease from bacon, sausage, or chorizo before you proceed.

 

Spray the egg bite molds, then add your ingredients:

You can do it this way or just dump them all in together. I’ve done it both ways.

Cooking Egg Bites

 

Egg bite molds half full

Trust me on this–spray your egg bite molds.

Also, don’t fill them to the top. You’ll be covering them with foil before putting them into the IP, and they will expand like popovers if you overdo it. Ask me how I know this. <grin>

Egg bite mold covered in foil in IP

Add a cup (to 1.5 cups) of water in the bottom, put foil on top of the egg bite molds (not the lids that came with them, I dunno why), and put them on top of the metal trivet (or the silicone one if you’d rather.) Seal it up, and pressure cook for 18 minutes.

IP cooking

This was somewhere towards the end of the process.

For these, I went ahead and used the “quick release.” That is, I flipped the switch on the top of the lid and it depressurized quickly. Remember to stand back from the steam, because it will burn you.

I make two batches at once (that’s why I bought two molds) and then scoop them out with a big spoon.

Cooked egg bites

Breakfast is served!

It was a trial-and-error situation because if I cooked them for 15 minutes it wasn’t long enough. Into the trusty microwave they went to finish:

Microwaving egg bites

Oops.

Then I just put them into food storage in the fridge. But lately. . .well, maybe again soon.

These molds can also be used to make other things like cake pops. I haven’t tried that yet.

Other Notes

I wasn’t kidding when I said to use the cooking spray:

Egg bite molds with stuck egg

See?

They will slide right out with the aid of a big spoon IF you have them sprayed well. Do that right before you fill them or the oil will roll down into the bottom. Again, never mind how I know this.

Make batches for the week and freeze them whenever you want, or just refrigerate them for tomorrow’s breakfast. I’ll admit that it is more trouble than just hard-boiled eggs. But if you really like them, go for it. You can find thousands upon thousands of recipes on Pinterest or with a simple search.

No, BF won’t eat them either. It’s not that there is anything offensive IN the egg bites, even if it’s bacon and eggs and cheese. He just doesn’t like that the idea came from Starbucks.

The IP Cheesecake

Yes, you’ve seen this before in my cheesecake post. After being ill last year I kind of fell out of love with the cheesecake, but that’s OK. Both are still delicious anytime.

When Jen Fisch’s last book, Keto In An Instant, arrived, I knew I had to try her recipe in the Instant Pot.

Instant Pot Cheesecake

Cheesecake! Sugar-free, gluten-free, and thoroughly delicious!

Now, I already had the six-inch springform pan from about 1996. . .used once or twice, and I think for BF’s IP chocolate cake, too. But this is a real cheesecake with a nut crust that’s baked in the Instant Pot. Yes, it’s very good, and it’s pretty easy to make.  The crust is also not damp like you’d think due to aluminum foil on the bottom. Jen’s recipes are delicious, I don’t care what BF says. I need to get her book that I don’t have soon.

If you get just one book for the Instant Pot, I highly recommend Jen’s. Her recipes are easy, delicious, and, honestly, the ones that BF will eat and likes the best. I’ve told her that on Instagram, and she said it made her happy to hear it.

After writing four cookbooks in two years, it’s going to be a while before Jen writes another cookbook. (I asked.)

More Than Cheesecake

Jen has some of her delicious Instant Pot recipes here on her website. Unfortunately, these aren’t the ones I’ve made for us! From the same book, I’ve made some creamy Brussels sprouts with bacon, a quick IP Gumbo (minus okra–sorry, we hate it in gumbo), an incredible crab bisque for two, and a tasty chicken with pancetta and broccoli recipe. (Gotta keep pancetta stocked in the freezer, of course.) Jen’s Chicken and Green Chile Soup on page 80 is also delicious, but BF won’t touch it because of the poblano and jalapeno peppers. But guess what? It’s not “hot” because you take out all the seeds and ribs. His sister and brother-in-law did like it.

While BF loves the non-keto chocolate cake you see here, he also enjoyed Jen’s keto chocolate-espresso lava cakes on page 193. So there’s good food to be had in all of her books, especially this one, even if you aren’t eating keto. There are plenty more recipes we haven’t tried but will over time.

The Instant Pot Brand

Although the company started out with one product, you have probably seen a range of branded IP products that are not cooking pots. There’s a blender now, an air-fryer oven, and other stuff. There are also other “pressure cookers” that aren’t from Instant Pot. I didn’t want any confusion when I started so I just bought the IP brand.

For starters, there are lots of accessories you can buy, including those that are IP branded. Oxo has a range of products for the pressure cooker as well, and you can find a range of them on Amazon and in stores like Walmart, Target, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Recipes are everywhere, on Pinterest and other places on the web. Newer cookbooks bring new recipes made for pressure cooking. There are multiple books on the subject that you can find pretty much wherever you look.

Instant Pot Accessories

There is no end to the accessories you can get for the Instant Pot, including this air fryer lid that fits every model except mine. In fact, a search for “Instant Pot Accessories” on Amazon brings over 3,000 things you can get for your IP, like this set of over 100 pieces. Whatever you buy, always check to make sure that whatever you buy will work with yours. (Yes, they’re my affiliate links.)

For fun, I also bought a wrap to make my IP look like R2D2. The maker, Becky of InstantWrapsUSA on Etsy, creates a range of colorful wraps to have a little fun with your machine. I had to wait a while because, at the time, she wasn’t doing Duo Evo Plus, but has since added them to her lineup. I asked about a Doctor Who version, and she said she’d do that on request. They wrap around the front with a cutout for the control board and attach with magnets at the back. If you should spill something, just carefully wipe it clean.

And for fun, I also found this very nice accessory for the stand mixer. Yes, I will get a decal to turn my black Kitchenaid stand mixer into a Suzy Homemaker model.

Resources

If you’re wondering where to learn more about this abominable beast, I’ve collected some Instant Pot resources that I use regularly.

Books

In addition to Jen Fisch’s book with IP recipes, I also have:

  • How To Instant Pot by Daniel Shumski. He’s the same author of another favorite, Will It Waffle? I went looking for his subsequent books one day and discovered this one. Shumski also has one more book that I would like to get called Will It Skillet? This one is all about cooking in the classic cast-iron skillet. Oh, look! He’s got yet another one coming in September called How To Sous Vide! Ok, I’ll add that to my list, too.
  • The Pioneer Woman Cooks: The New Frontier, Ree Drummond. In addition to the books I was receiving from Callisto, I bought this one. There are several recipes for the IP here, including egg bites. She also offers a primer on the IP. I think I got this one and then decided to jump into the waters of pressure cooking, pardon the pun. Ree’s food is always good, with great photography and stories to accompany them. I started with the egg bites, but I don’t think I’ve made anything else there yet. Time to revisit. Her updated biography, Frontier Follies, is also an amusing read. Ree’s next cookbook is released in October.
  • The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook For Two, Janet A. Zimmerman–I learned about this book through my Callisto Publishing book review membership. (Recently I unsubscribed.) I can’t say this is the best book ever, but it’s pretty darn good–and cooking for two, not 12. There are multiple recipes I’ve bookmarked, but I haven’t made any yet. Why? They’re not BF’s style of eating. That doesn’t mean I can’t make them, it just means I haven’t. But the book covers a range of different flavors that normal people will find appealing. And it’s just for two.
  • The One-Pot Weight Loss Plan by Shelley Rael. Another of the many from Callisto, and the food is good here. The book isn’t exclusively about the IP, but has a number of recipes for it. Winner: Page 105, Turkey Chili With White Beans. It’s easy and fast, and you can have dinner on the table in about 30 to 45 minutes. It’s a good substitute for the Frontera White Chili Starter that they don’t make anymore. One alteration is that I use a can of Navy beans instead of cannellini because. . .BF.
  • One-Pot Cooking For Two by Linda Kurniadi. Another favorite from Callisto. Again, not strictly for the IP, but several recipes for it. Bonus: this book has an index of recipes in the back that are listed by the cooking vessel. There are 15 for electric pressure cookers. Included are recipes for baking dishes, sheet pans, skillets, and slow cookers. I made the Pressure Cooker Beef Stew on page 124, but subbed in coconut flour for the regular all-purpose. It worked well, as it does with other keto recipes, but I have a note to try another type of seasoning instead of the Italian. It was “OK, not great,” and it takes about an hour. I should revisit this book soon.

 

If you visit a bookstore or any online bookseller, you’ll find fifty million plus books on Instant Pot for nearly every taste and style. No kidding. Amazon has a wide range of free Kindle books you can get, too, if you just want to find a few recipes to start with.

Ready To Instant Pot?

I know this is a long post. But you know me, I’m thorough.

As with anything, you should consider whether this would be a good idea for you and your kitchen. It’s a big beast, so you’ll need space for it. Mine is in a cabinet until I’m ready to use it. A few months ago I used it daily for a week.

Neighbor E may not find it useful, but maybe Miss Alice will. But I’m not sure what the GER would do with one, even though he does cook well. At least he could cook in his outside electronics laboratory.

I first considered getting a smaller IP just for us. Then I read in the Janet Zimmerman book that you’d be forever confined with cooking smaller amounts. If you have the need to cook more, it wouldn’t be possible. So, I went with the six-quart.

I’m in a couple of Instant Pot Facebook groups, and many people have multiple models. Later, I could go with a 3-quart model if I wanted one.

Like the slow cooker, you can cook anywhere you have an outlet. During our February Big Freeze, that was a possibility, especially if we had a longer power outage.

What The IP Can Do For You

I keep hearing from folks who are just devoted to IP that it revolutionizes cooking. Yes, it will cook things like roasts, ribs, and frozen chicken in an hour. There are many recipes that are easier with it. But there is the learning curve to get over the fear of the thing going off and how it actually works in practice. The Shumski book has a good amount of instruction on the thing.

At this point, I’m over my compulsion to take a sledgehammer to it. And BF does like much of the food I’ve made with it, both from recipes and on the fly. I also use it as a slow cooker, and no complaints there, although it only heats from the bottom. Like a slow-cooker, it does keep the kitchen cooler if you’re just using it for dinner. Because it can also saute, you may not have to turn on the stove at all.  But I can’t say it has “revolutionized” my cooking yet, just gave me another way to make dinner. I’ve not yet come across the “thing” or the trick that gives me the magical understanding of all things IP.

This machine will do whatever you like it to, I suppose. It’s just a matter of finding what you like and want to get out of it, no pun intended. In a home with children, an Instant Pot can likely go a long way in making dinner easier. In a smaller kitchen, it can keep you from turning on the stove and oven, or cook one thing while your countertop oven is baking something else.

If you’re interested in getting one, do read some of the online resources I listed here. Know someone who has one and loves it? Talk to them first, see what they say, and maybe watch them in action. An IP has different ranges of functions in all of its models, so think about what you’d use it for. One day, I’ll make yogurt and dry-bake in it too. For now, it’s good for that turkey-white bean chili, a little chocolate cake, and the egg bites, and anything else we try to do with it. Just makes sure to read the directions and do the “water test” before you put food in it.

Happy Cooking!

 

Easy Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken Chili

Do you like chipotle chicken? I’ve got more slow-cooked good for you today: Easy Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken Chili

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Hi, again, Dear Readers:

How’s your week so far? Thinking about dinner? Thinking about some slow cooking this week? You’re in luck.

I’ve got a good one for you.

I’m still writing on Upwork, and although the big project has cooled off for a bit, I’m still at it. This past week has been particularly busy, and so have the slow cookers at the Casa de Rurale. We’ve had a pot roast, some lima beans, some of Stephanie O’Dea’s Chicken with 20 or 40 Cloves of Garlic, and an unexpected new favorite.

Easy Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken Chili

I’m still getting Stephanie’s emails every day, but some of them are, shall we say, not suitable for our purposes. Last week she sent out this recipe for Thai Coconut Soup. If it’s your thing, go for it. I started reading it, and I see that it includes coconut milk. First thought: “no way he’s going to eat this.” Then I saw that it includes 1/2 pound extra firm tofu, cubed. And then I thought, “no way I’m going to eat this!” So that was the end of that. But I’m holding it in my back pocket for April Fool’s Day, along with a couple of other irritants for BF.

Chicken & Garlic

I managed to find a package of on-sale cut-up chicken in Winn Dixie the other day, and I was pulling up my email in the store so I could find the recipe for Chicken with 20 or 40 Cloves of Garlic. Turns out I only needed. . .garlic and chicken. So one night, that’s what we had. Really, really good chicken, and not strong like you’d think , but BF gave me a funny look when he saw all that garlic. It’s a slow-cooker version of a classic French dish; this is Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa version, although, admittedly, I’ve not made this one.  I posted a comment on Facebook about how good it was (BF was working late) and three people asked for the recipe and said they would be making it. It’s pretty straightforward, so I’m not reviewing it here. Go try it, it’s darn good. Thanks, Stephanie.

So what *are* you talking about today, Amy?

No, the recipe here is another chicken dish that came to me via Bloglovin. You’ve obviously seen my header about it, and of course, you can find this humble blog with many others on that site. I get an email every day about “blogs you need to read today,” but I can’t say I read them all. I primarily get blogs about sewing, but this particular recipe was in one of the daily emails.

And I talked BF into letting me make it. He did not regret his decision.

Easy Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken Chili

It started with a packet of chicken thighs and a busy day.

Despite getting up early, things didn’t go exactly as planned, and the prep stage took longer. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s make this deliciousness, courtesy of Lisa Lin at Healthy Nibbles & Bits.

The setup. (That’s the saddest bunch of cilantro I’ve ever seen.)

Admittedly, the chicken was supposed to be breasts, but I’m cheap and use what I have on hand. Unfortunately, the chicken was neither boneless nor skinless, so guess what I was doing in a big hurry? Oh, well. At least I could get some cilantro in Walmart that night. (I so miss my HEB.)

Hunt's BPA-free cans and no GMO tomatoes

See? BPA-free and no GMO

I got all the cans opened:

Beans and tomatoes–OK, so it’s not TEXAS chili, but bear with me.

Rinsed the beans:

And dumped them into the slow cooker. Then diced a sweet potato:

Just an ordinary sweet potato.

And diced the onion. . .although not without incident. The knife slipped, and. . . .

Then this happened. And I had to finish while keeping anything acidic away from it.

It’s all REAL in the HeatCageKitchen

After adding those to the crock, there were the chipotles:

These are ancho chilis in a spicy sauce.

My Texas readers will recognize these immediately, but if you’re not familiar with them, you’ll find them with the taco shells, seasonings and sauce. You also add one tablespoon of the sauce these babies come in:

It’s called “Adobo sauce,” but no idea why. It’s not ketchup, that’s for sure!

Goes right into the pot:

 

And cumin. . . .

Ahhh, cumin. A favorite of Southwestern and Tex-Mex cuisine. (That’s why I have that huge container.)

Some salt:

These are ancho chilis in sauce.

Now the tomatoes:

Just pour right in.

Mix that all up:

Just stir it well until they’re all combined. Watch what comes next.

Enter the chicken

So, now I realize that I have to skin and debone this chicken, which, unfortunately, took a while. For this kind of recipe, I HIGHLY recommend boneless and skinless! But I got on with it:

Why does Winn-Dixie pack them upside down?

Now, this is Lisa’s little trick: don’t mix the chicken into the chili. Park them on top, like this:

Yes, they’ll sit there, don’t worry. But don’t mess with them, either.

And follow Amy’s basic rule of slow cookery: Put the food in. Put the lid on. Plug it in. Turn it on. Leave it alone.

Hours later, it’s dinnertime

 

Are you ready to eat?

Open the lid, and you see and smell this, but there’s one more step to this chipotle chicken chili:

Ready to shred

Scoop out the chicken and shred it with two forks:

Like this.

You’ll have a pile like this.

Dump that back into the crock.

These two ingredients are added last. Putting the cilantro in water and into the fridge helped:

Return all the shredded chicken to the pot, stir it again, and add the lime juice:

One more ingredient, then stir

Put it into a bowl, chop some cilantro and drop it on top, and you’re ready to eat:

Delish! (You might need salt, taste it first.)

This rich, flavorful chipotle chicken chili is good anytime you want a satisfying meal in a bowl. We ate it twice and froze the rest for another day. So far, I haven’t had any trouble freezing most of my slow cooker soups. Might need to cook and frreze more often, too.

Oh, and I forgot to buy and add corn. But it was still really good.

Caveat

The chipotle peppers and adobo sauce add spice, but it’s not really, really hot. But if you eat it hot out of the pot, the spiciness is intensified. Let it cool a bit. I still have a painful burn in my mouth!

The reluctant taste-tester

Now, BF approached this strange looking concoction with a little hesitation, (and a funny look on his face), but agreed to try it. Nothing weird in this soup, just an unusual combination of ingredients (at least, for him.) Here’s a picture of his reaction:

He likes it!

So, another win for me.

Easy Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken Chili is a real treat with simple ingredients that will make any night of the week special. I just keep looking for more good things to slow cook, and we keep enjoying it. That comes in handy come summer in the south!

I hope you try this soon and enjoy it like we did. The print version from Lisa’s site is here on the Recipes page. I’ve got a couple of posts in mind that just need a little research and phone calling. Meantime. . . .

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

pizza sauce
Let’s Make Slow Cooker Pizza Sauce!

Homemade Pizza Sauce. In your slow cooker.

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Today, we got our new President and a stylish new First Lady. We watched the inauguration and I saw the most beautiful powder blue suit I’ve ever seen. Now I want one, but in royal blue. I hope the pattern companies create one like they did for Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. Quickly.

Well, I got the hankering again for them. Pizza. Waffles. But life throws us curve balls, and in this case, it was the end of my HEB Organics Pizza Sauce, darnit.

Such sadness. . . .

Since we have Winn Dixie and Walmart for shopping, I didn’t find any good alternatives there. This is what’s in the HEB version, which was less expensive than Classico:

You can’t beat this one–and it’s organic.

Now what? I’m limited if I don’t find an alternative. But–after seeing something on Facebook about pizza, I found Foodie With Family’s recipe for pizza sauce–in the slow cooker, darnit! It’s pretty simple, too–you just need to stir it frequently.

The setup

Almost everything you need–I forgot the sugar.

I made sure to look for as many ingredients that were not GMO and in cans that did *not* have BPA in the liners. Cost a little bit more, but of course, there’s a payoff elsewhere–even if BF doesn’t see it that way. I’ll explain more about that in the post that I’m horribly late publishing.

Yes, it’s important.

You have to look to make sure there are no GMO ingredients.

Another thing you have to make sure of is the ingredient list–is there sugar? Soybean oil? What else did they put into the “tomato paste?” No, no, no–read that label. I have returned tomato products before that I found out too late had other ingredients in them.

So,  you open up some cans of tomato paste and tomato sauce, and dump them into the crock:

Only a can opener is required here.

Then add in some garlic:

The return of the garlic doo-dad!

It says minced, so I minced:

Garlic. Minced instantly.

It says one to four cloves, so I added four.

Anchovies.

Now, this may offend some of my more sensitive readers. I added the one filet of anchovy, and thankfully, BF was nowhere to be found. I found the tin in the back of the pantry, under something else. Miss Alice packed up everything so carefully, and I am still not unpacked. But I was glad to find this.

pizza sauce

Sssshhhh. . .don’t tell BF!

If you’ve never seen anchovies, well, this is what you get when you open the tin:

See how tiny? I only needed one filet.

So after separating one of these much-maligned fish pieces, I dumped the rest of it into a glass jar and stuck it in that secret drawer where I keep things I don’t want BF to know about.

pizza sauce

One filet.

Added it into the crock and that was it. Honestly, you won’t taste it, because it melts into the sauce and gives a subtle background flavor.

Now let’s add the rest, starting with olive oil:

pizza sauce

I used the EVOO since the recipe called for it.

The herbs, oregano, basil and parsley:

Pizza sauce pizza sauce pizza sauce

I had to go find those in the pantry boxes first. Then, the ingredient I almost abhor the most:

pizza sauce

Sugar.

Yes, sugar, but of course, a raw sugar:

Pizza Sauce

This sugar is unrefined, and not bleached like granular sugar

Tomatoes, especially canned, can be very acidic, and you don’t want the sauce to ruin pizza. The recipe calls for one tablespoon first, and then the second after cooking, but I added a tablespoon of SomerSweet at the end. I chickened out.

Once you’ve got all the ingredients together, whisk them together:

Pizza sauce

Until it looks like this:

Pizza sauce

Until it’s nice and smooth and all mixed.

Cook on Low, but stir every half hour or so, for 4 hours. I know, I know. . .but it’s not that much trouble. You don’t want it burning in the pot, do you?

When you’re done, it looks like this:

Pizza sauce

Pizza! Well, almost.

At this point, it’s up to you to see if you like the way the sauce tastes, or if you think it needs a bit more sweetening. I think it did, so of course, I added the. . .SomerSweet. BUT–I could have added another tablespoon of the turbinado sugar, or even a packet or two of saccharin.

I forgot to take a picture of it, but after it cools, mix in the cheese.

Now it’s time to freeze it for whenever you need it next:

pizza sauce

Pizza sauce for a long time!

I didn’t feel like looking for more of those glass containers. And I put the plastic wrap on it to make sure we didn’t have any leaks in the freezer.

You can click on the link or check out the Recipes page if you want to try this for yourself. And why wouldn’t you?

The Hot Mess: Waffle Brownie Edition

Wanna know what happens when I beg BF to let me try something at least once in the waffle maker? I finally tried making brownies from a mix in the waffle maker:

The setup

After spraying the waffle surfaces with. . .Pam. . .

I don’t like this stuff.

And heating up the Griddler:

One of my favorite kitchen toys

I mixed it all up:

And poured it onto the waffle plates:

I let it cook until it looked like it was done:

It’s done, right?

And attempted, using multiple spatula tools, to remove it from the waffle maker. This is what happened:

BF ate some of the brownies that came out edible, laughed at me a little, and made me promise never to attempt this again. I also added that I would only make brownie waffles using a recipe designed for the waffle maker. Agreed. And then, after it cooled, I washed it all up.

Lessons learned. One success and one flop.

Next post, which is dreadfully overdue, is a very serious subject, and I’m sorry I’m late with it. I need to re-read the book I want to tell you about and why you should read it. I hope next week. It ties in with this post as well as the last one, and you’ll see what I mean when I finish it.

Meantime, Happy Dining!

Slow Cooking: Christmas Edition

Slow Cooking–great all year long!

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Hello again, Dear Readers:

Well, I’m back again with more slow cooking. Recently, I was introduced (online) to a lady who is a pro at the slow cooking thing. She’s written books and has blogged about it for many years. And I just found her. She’s going to help us with our holiday dinners!

But first, a lesson in irony.

Recently, I had an errand in Hammond, and of course, made a quick stop in the closest  Starbucks there. Take a look and tell me if you see the irony here:

Seriously?

Seriously. . .

This was, of course, in the ladies room after a tanker full of coffee (free refills with your Starbucks card!) If you’re not seeing it, allow me to explain: the sign is an instruction on how to wash your hands. In it, you are told to dry off your hands with a paper towel, then use said paper towel to turn off the water when you’re done.

In the sticker on the hot-air hand dryer, you are told about the energy efficiency of using the hand dryer. It eliminates the paper towel, but gives you nothing to turn off the faucet (or open the door to leave) with to protect your freshly-washed hands from someone else’s hand germs.

Does no one think about this?

Louisiana is the only state I’ve ever been in that posts hand-washing instructions in the bathrooms, nearly everywhere. I never saw those in 18 years in Texas. Draw your own conclusions.

Sewing!

I took out one of my sewing machines this week, mostly to test it out. With a few fat quarters from Walmart, I made this item:

The State flag of Texas

That’s right. A Texas flag.

Funny how you don’t notice them until you don’t see them anymore. (The sign underneath is a WWIIposter that says “Sew for Victory.”)  There will be more of them, if for no other reason, to use up the stars. But BF has been told that when the day comes that he puts up an American Flag on the property, as many neighbors have, there *will* be a Texas flag flying next to it. And if the Texit business happens, I do hope they take Louisiana with it so we can have more great barbecue!

Cleaning up

For the record, Whole Foods isn’t kidding about encouraging you to “shop local” and all that. Not a bad idea, of course. This big guy’s grin greeted me as I checked out of the Mandeville store this past weekend:

Who's that?

Who’s that?

William Terry, the founder of Bayou Soap, is on board with natural soaps and creates them right in New Orleans.  (You can read more about them here, and their Facebook page is here.) I couldn’t resist looking at the many bars—lovely soaps, and they all smell wonderful:

Lavender--good for evening showers to help you sleep.

Lavender–good for evening showers to help you sleep.

Don't these look yummy?

Don’t these look yummy?

I have no idea what

I have no idea what “African Black Soap” is, but maybe one day I’ll give it a try. Long as it doesn’t paint me.

Mango soap? Mango!!

Mango soap? Mango!!

Yes, these are pricey, but handcrafted artisan items usually are. (You can also order them online.) Mr. Terry doesn’t have the manufacturing muscle of Proctor & Gamble, and he uses natural ingredients without harsh chemicals. (I used to buy some very nice soaps from a lady at the farmer’s market in Nassau Bay on occasion, too.) Plus, they’re very big bars. My thinking is to cut them into one or two smaller bars to make them easier to handle and last a while. I’ll get some one day soon. I do like to shop local when I can, and patronize local businesses.

While others have seen Jesus’ face in a grilled cheese sandwich, and the Virgin Mary in a mobile home door screen, I see BF’s cute face in this bar of soap:

Can you see his face in this bar of soap?

It’s BF!!

I can’t possibly use that to wash my hands now. . . .

Christmas is SUNDAY.

How did this happen? I mean, wasn’t it Turkey Day just a week or two ago? Carols have been playing nearly everywhere I go. . .that stuff has been out in Walmart for weeks. . .yesterday I told BF I wanted an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas, ha, ha. Being the smart aleck he is, he might just get me one–but where do you get the refill packages for it? I’ve never seen them, but I guess because I don’t have to.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and all through the house

The A/C was running, for we live in the South.

Yep. We’re waiting to see how Mother Nature treats us this year. It was quite warm last year, and I was in shorts Christmas Day. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like icy cold watermelon chunks. That could be the case this year, even though we’ve been shivering cold for quite some time–and so have my friends in Houston, too.

Let’s get serious with our slow cookers, shall we?

Longtime readers know about my affinity for slow cooking, and my more recent affinity for the waffle maker. Last weekend I used my Cuisinart Griddler not for waffling, but for making BF some pancakes. I used the flat griddle plate to make them right on the counter top. (I still haven’t replaced the drip tray, but we weren’t making bacon or anything that required it.) He got the biggest kick out of it–“you and your gadgets!” he said. Look at it this way: I didn’t have to turn on the stove for a little bit of cooking.

Yesterday was a 2 pound pork loin roast slow cooked with some olive oil and Italian seasoning. BF ate that right up with some baked sweet potato fries.

That’s the thing about the slow cooker–you really do just set it and forget it. It takes some advance planning, but so does cooking a standard meal. The other day I put two turkey thighs in BF’s 4 quart slow-cooker, and dinner was done when we got home. Added some Waffled Hash Browns, which took about 15 minutes to create, and we had. . .meat and potatoes, ready to have in less than 30 minutes.

Then I got ahead of the game by slow cooking.

I also started cooking the next day’s meal that night, before we sat down to the turkey and hash browns. There is a back-story to this.

Recently I was introduced, on Facebook, to a lady named Stephanie O’Dea, who is the author of a number of books and a blog called A Year of Slow Cooking.  I write a food blog, and would cook every day in the slow cooker if I could. . .how did I miss this?

Apparently Mrs. O’Dea decided she would be slow cooking every day for a year, and blogged about it. She’s since written several books on the subject, and has more slow cookers than we do at Casa de Rurale. So I eagerly signed up for her emails, and read them. This lady goes all out, OK? The other day, she sent one about making tamales in the slow cooker. I’ll try that one day, too, when we’re in the mood for Mexican food. But the one that caught my eye was the Crock Pot 16-Bean Soup Recipe.

Say what?

Mrs. O’Dea admits to being somewhat lackadaisical towards many things. . .OK, she’s lazy.

I have walked by the bags of soup mix in the grocery store a hundred million times. I’ve even picked one up, read the print on the bag, and taken it for a ride in the shopping cart. 

But then I chicken out and put it back on the shelf with it’s friends.

It just seemed like a lot of work.

I, um, actually don’t really enjoy work. 

I’d really like a house full of forest creatures like in Snow White or in Enchanted to come do it all for me so I can spin around in circles singing. 

So far the closest I’ve gotten to that dream is a six-year-old wearing a two-sizes-too-small rooster Halloween costume running around with a feather duster…

But it’s a nice dream, nonetheless.

We all think like this from time to time, right? Well, after reading this email, I had some time before I had to pick up BF, so I stopped at HEB. . .I mean, Walmart. . .on the way home and picked up a few ingredients I needed.

Unfortunately, this is Louisiana, so we only get 15 beans, not 16 beans in our soup packages. (I miss my HEB.) I take what I can get, check out, and head home to the Casa.

And I started cooking tomorrow’s dinner!

When I picked up BF later that evening, I told him, “I am on it.” He gave me that cute look of quizzical confusion that he often does, and I explained myself.  I saw this email, and I acted on it! The turkey thighs were ready when we got home, but the soup would cook all night, and he could have some to take to work the next day. Thumbs up on this one. . .but no pictures this time.

slow cooking

Really–just let it go.

I did as she instructs, tossed out that chemical “flavoring packet,” (no need to tell me twice) and altered it slightly. No tomatoes, BF has a problem with them sometimes. Beef stock and water from the pantry, and an inexpensive one-pound packet of cubed ham from the meat case. Boiled the beans and let them sit for an hour, and then started loading up the 6-quart slow cooker.

This soup smells wonderful while it cooks. The soup was slow-cooking all night, and we really enjoyed it the next day. BF became “all beaned out,” so I froze the rest for another day.

This soup is highly recommended. Slow cooking it makes it really easy. Check out the recipe and the “customizations” for making it yours. Yum.

Slow cooking a full holiday meal?

Absolutely–Mrs. O’Dea has you covered! Check out this Christmas Ham in the Slow Cooker with honey and ginger. Ham not your style? Heck, she’s got a myriad of slow cooker recipes for the holidays parked right here on this page.

Slow cooking apples

Slow cooking apples

Need an extra slow cooker? Borrow one a day or two before if you’re afraid of going out to the mall this holiday season like I was in Houston. If you haven’t planned anything yet, well, better get a move on! Both links have recipes suitable for holiday gatherings, but you have to plan ahead.

Please note that despite the fancy fixtures that come attached to modern slow cookers, they are not essential. Last time, I told you about the web-enabled model with the smartphone app from CrockPot. I don’t have one of those, nor the one where you can brown and bake before the slow cooking. Mine are 13-year-old Crock Pots bought in 2003 or 2004 at Big Lots in Texas before I moved out of the GER’s house. I also have a “little dipper” I bought to get the cooking smells out of the kitchen. BF’s is a Hamilton Beach 4 quart, just like my Crock Pot. I refer to them as “dumb terminal models,” because you control them from the little knob on the front after you plug them in. (Eight years in IT, I know stuff like this.)  I know, I know, there are slow cooking marvels with all kinds of bells & whistles and apps and all that. You do not NEED it. If you spend that much on a slow cooker, that’s less you can spend on food. Your choice.

Wrangling the whole thing together.

The best advice I’ve ever heard for planning any kind of special occasion was from The Barefoot Contessa in Foolproof. Write it all down, figure out how long everything will take to make, create a schedule and work backwards. In other words, if your turkey will take 4 hours, and dinner is at 5:00 pm, you put it in the oven about 1:00 pm, making sure your oven is at the temperature you need (usually 350F.) Potatoes will take an hour, so those go into the oven about 4:00 pm–and at 350F, you can easily bake them at the same time on a different rack. I mean, why not?

And you can always drop the potatoes in your CrockPot, right? Slow cooking can indeed help with Christmas dinner as well as parties and other celebrations.

What’s on the HeatCageKitchen menu for Christmas?

Well, nothing yet, but there likely is going to be some slow cooking going on. Especially if I don’t make much.

BF mentioned the other night that he wanted to have ham for Christmas. I wouldn’t mind if it was *this* ham, but he says he wants it “baked.” How is this not baked if it’s slow cooking at 300F or 350F for several hours?

If he wants something with Coke and sugar all over it, or requires the use of any kind of “enclosed packet,”  I’m roasting a Lemon Chicken for myself. And I’m not doing *everything* I did for Turkey Day, although I wouldn’t mind making those Perfect Mashed Potatoes again. But we haven’t heard from the kids, nor anyone else, so it might just be the two of us with the critters.

But whatever we do, there’s a good chance a slow cooker’s going to be involved. And there’s a good chance that something will be waffled.

Remember too that there are recipes posted on this page. Most are favorites that I’ve tried many times, and that may be just what you’re looking for, including some slow cooking, too.

And if you’re not hosting. . . .

Are you going to someone’s house for Christmas lunch/dinner? Bring something tasty and delicious, whether you’re slow cooking or not. A Year of Slow Cooking is a great place to start, as is Pinterest.

And if it’s looking like you’re going to be home alone on Christmas, as I was for many years, enjoy it. Enjoy the peace and solitude, watch whatever TV shows you want, (I highly recommend British TV, especially a comedy if you can find some, turn on the CC,), enjoy the best meal you can cook up,  and don’t feel “alone.” Slow cooking something delicious will free you up to watch your favorite holiday DVDs, listen to your favorite music, and spend time with yourself. There are folks who will be working on Christmas and would be happy to be home. Many are first responders (fire, police, medical personnel, etc.) so please don’t make their job harder.

It’s OK to be alone on Christmas.

If you’re really not happy about the holidays (there are more than one) remember that Christmas comes but once a year. . .and in a week or so, it will all be over. No more carols blaring from the PA system everywhere you go. No more drunks wishing you a “Cherry Mistmas.” No more red and green everything. Come January 2nd, the trees will be heading to the recycling bin, the lights will come down, and people will start packing stuff up to put away for another year. Some might not finish until March, but you get the idea.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year!

I’m probably not going to publish a post again until after Christmas, so I will wish all of you Happy Holidays, whatever holiday you want to celebrate. (Hey–if there’s food involved, there’s a good chance I’ll be celebrating it, no matter what religion it’s from.)  Whatever it is you like to cook, make it tasty, healthy, and make enough for everybody, OK?

There’s a good chance I’ll be in the back doing some sewing while I’m doing some slow cooking.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

The Thanksgiving Post: Apples and Spaghetti Squash

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I hope you’re feeling better by now. The election, and all the associated nastiness, is over for a while. Now it’s time for transition, and hopefully, getting back to whatever passes for “normal.” It was a nail-biter, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop eating BF’s ice cream. (I didn’t eat all of it, just a little.) We stayed up until 3:00 am or so watching the results, and back-checking CBS News on our phones against what was showing up on Facebook in our feeds. Bizarre–I’ve never done that before, but we finally hit the sack once it was all over. Good thing we didn’t have anything planned for the next day, and he was off work. No more sugar-laden ice cream, and the weight is going back down again, thank heavens.

Time for some comfort food, OK? Keep reading, there’s a recipe for you shortly.

We’ve been doing some renovation type of cleaning in the Casa, which includes having one of his, um, ex-girlfriends finally come get her stuff out of his house. She’s got some of it, but some still resides for a few more days. (What are we, Public Storage?) His daughter took the things she wanted and I helped her clear out stuff she didn’t want. All that’s left is his friend from the Navy. Well, with moving stuff around and out, painting the back room for my soon-to-be studio office, and clearing car parts out of the house, we’ve set up a little breakfast area by the kitchen:

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino for Amy!

One whole-milk sugar-free hazelnut cappuccino!

This is my IKEA Tarno patio set that we just put there and put a tablecloth over, and BF decided to add my tiny lamp (Lampan, also from IKEA.) I repaired the miniblinds which had been damaged by a passed-on pooch, and cleaned the window really well. Know what? It’s kind of nice to have breakfast right there, or dinner. When we get things better situated, we’ll put my regular dinette there, and I’ll repair more of the miniblinds, now that I know how. (Looked it up on eHow and learned on the fly.) The blinds are closed so you don’t see that the Casa “beautification project” has not yet carried over to the patio out front.

After my trip to New Orleans on Sunday, where I bought some lovely pork chops, chicken sausage  and chicken thighs for us, BF decided Monday to get. . .one of those “kits” to make tacos for lunch on Tuesday. I kid you not. At least he had the sense to get the crunchy taco kit, which has corn tortillas. No word about “gluten free,” but there was no wheat or its derivatives in any of the ingredients that I saw, so I was glad about that and reluctantly took part. (It does say that it was partly produced with GMO ingredients; my guess is the corn, which I rarely eat.) He asked me to brown the ground beef to get started, and of course, twenty minutes later, we had tacos–because he went into the living room to watch more TV. GRRR. . .but I got the job done.

Dinner was Mustard Pork Chops in the Crock Pot, which I may post soon. It was pretty good, and worthy of doing again. Because he really wanted. . .tacos. . .the chicken shifted to lunch on Wednesday, where I made him, for the first time, Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatora, or “The Hunter’s Stew,” which, in Nigella’s case, is “lazy hunter’s stew.” (It only takes 30 minutes.) Although it’s long been a comfort food favorite for me, this was his first taste of it. Thumbs up–he likes it, and I can make it again for him. (Thanks.) The next day for dinner at work, he took some with a cup of rice, since he thought it “needed” some. No problem, I cooked up a small batch of white rice for him and added it to the container. Along with a slice of made-from-scratch pound cake from his friend’s birthday, he was all set for work.

Now, if you’re interested in making this “hunter’s stew,” I want to point something out that’s not immediately obvious: although the printed recipe calls for a half-cup of pancetta cubes–which is perfectly acceptable, albeit expensive and hard to find here–you can also slice up 3 or 4 slices of bacon in place of it. That’s the way I’ve always made it since I saw the original show.  The show may be on YouTube; you’d just have to look for it.

It really is a nice comfort food. Even if it does come from across the pond. You’re welcome.

I’ve been in the larger Winn-Dixie in Hammond, and indeed they do have more organic produce. Surprise–they even have fresh sushi. I still hate sushi, but–they have it! I did some recon in the morning, and then did some shopping later in the day, mostly meat, eggs, butter, cheese, etc. I almost–ALMOST–thought I was in Kroger. And I kept saying “I live down in La Marque. . .” which, of course, is in Texas. Well, it’s probably because I felt like I was in Kroger. I sure do miss my HEB, though–the pork loin roasts I used to get on sale for $3 in HEB are something like $12 here. What’s up with that? I did find a nine-pound pork loin that was about 3 feet long, but we don’t have any place to store that monster. Another time.

Rouse’s has purchased a rival grocery store chain, so there will soon be a Rouse’s in Hammond for me to visit, right near that Winn-Dixie. That’ll be good, too.

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Thanksgiving is coming. It’s next week! I really have lost my sense of date and time. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I won’t be cooking turkey. That’s OK, I cook turkey all year long (I just wish I could get turkey thighs here; maybe Albertson’s has them.) I asked BF the other night what our plans were for Thanksgiving; he said his brother usually does a big spread, and we would attend. (Just have to figure out what I’m going to wear.) Well, if I’m allowed, I’ll bring some of that fantastic Cranberry-Ginger Relish and maybe one or two other small things, but I warned BF that I would likely eat before I went. Longtime readers know that things like sweet potato pie, sweet potatoes with other abominable things added to it and all things bread, pie and gravy are not coming my way. I’ll be happy to have some turkey–maybe a little mashed potatoes, too–but no gravy, please! Gravy, to me, kills the taste of everything under it. So this will be interesting, and maybe I’ll pull the Nordic Track out in the morning before we go.

Think I should just stay home and watch Britcoms?

So, what do you do when you’re hosting such an occasion and have health concerns to consider? (Besides panic, that is.) Or, surprise, his new girlfriend is a vegetarian, and he’s going vegan soon too? Knowing this in advance helps, of course, but sometimes you don’t, so having some extra vegetable dishes helps (just don’t use chicken stock!) I’ve written about these kinds of things before, and you can also get some help on Martha Stewart’s website, under “All Things Thanksgiving.” Sur la Table has also published its annual Thanksgiving Guide, and it’s available online or as a free download to print. BF and I caught a bit of the Rachael Ray Show the other day, and someone named Clinton Kelly was making dishes you could make in advance: Turkey Meatballs, a Roasted Vegetable Soup (which looked pretty good, actually), which you could make in advance and freeze, then serve from the Crock Pot and some popover kinds of things with smoked salmon.  The Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash is really good, too. Of course, if you’re looking for something specific, please check out the worlds’s biggest idea database, Pinterest.

One thing I can’t emphasize enough is getting started on your Thanksgiving planning early. Get that turkey NOW, if you haven’t already. Get your brine mix, or make it, NOW, because the turkey has to thaw first, AND you have to make the brine ahead of time. Buy your ingredients early, especially the unusual stuff, like puff pastry or something else that everyone will be looking for like fresh or dried sage. Doing potluck? Ask and assign people a specific dish–dressing, veg, cornbread, whatever–so you avoid the problem of everyone stopping at the grocery and picking up a cake or cupcakes at the last minute. All dessert and little turkey does *not* make happy dinner guests, you know? A broad variety of different vegetable dishes, and maybe including maybe a pilaf or risotto (using vegetable stock) can keep everyone happy and well-fed while including the vegetarians and not calling them out for it.

Brining a turkey? Here’s one from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman (warning: it has brown sugar) and one from Martha Stewart’s website. If you want to brine a turkey–and I highly recommend it–get going. Now. Juniper berries might be hard to find soon.

It’s also a great time to dust off the slow cookers and the waffle makers if you’re not using them regularly. Make sure all your appliances work before the big day, too. And isn’t there something you can slow-cook or waffle ahead of time? (Cranberry Ginger Relish can be made a few days in advance, thank heavens.)

Yes, it’s time to get your thinking cap on. Quick. Whether you’re hosting or just attending, it’s time to take inventory so your Thanksgiving will go well and everyone, including yourself, will enjoy themselves. (Here’s some advice I wrote about last year that may help.)

Here’s another tip: READ your recipes and understand them before you shop and get started. Case in point: last night I decided to make something new for me and BF. Seems he’s never had eggs with tomatoes in his life, despite his claim of “I’ve been all around the world!” So, I found this recipe for Skillet Eggs and Tomato Sauce in one of the Everyday Food cookbooks last night, and asked him if he’d like to try it. He said he would try it, with a bit of reluctance in his voice. (Next question I asked: “Do we have any anchovies?” Oh, the look on his face was priceless.) In the book, this recipe makes two servings, not the four that’s on the website. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the book called for a HALF can, 28 ounces, of tomatoes. Skimming over the ingredients, I just figured I could use two cans of tomatoes, 14.5 ounces. That’s pretty much the same, all right? WRONG–it was, indeed, way too much tomato, and that was his first comment. (I ate them, though.) I noticed the difference when I put the book away–and then made a note of it. He said he’d like to have it again, with half as much tomatoes. Done. (And maybe an anchovy, too, but don’t tell BF–I hide that kind of stuff in a drawer of the fridge.)

The point: please READ carefully and understand before you do something dumb like I do sometimes. Especially for Thanksgiving. OK? Don’t forget the hot mess I made when I invited The GER over a few years ago. It can happen to you. READ. Please.

Now, would I leave you without help for Thanksgiving? Of course not.

Remember last time, when NM handed me a bunch of apples to take home? Well. . .I did put them in the Crock Pot, and darnit, they were pretty tasty! I made them at the same time as the pork chops, but not because I had pork chops. BF wasn’t wild about them cooked, he’d rather have fresh. But, it’s fall, and it feels like fall, so I wanted to try something different.

I actually made two batches, in two different slow cookers, to see what would happen with two different sweeteners–SomerSweet and Agave Syrup. I think this would make a great lower-carb/gluten-free alternative to the traditional apple pie. Either for everyone, or just for guests like me who would rather keep the calorie count down.

If you’re planning to have an apple dessert, or more than one, for Thanksgiving, this is an easy one to toss in and forget for a while. I actually made it a second time with bigger, fresh red apples so I could take pictures and show you how it’s made.

When I cruised through Pinterest to find apples in the Crock Pot, I didn’t find much in the way of healthy versions–mostly, they were loaded with sugar. GRRRR. . .but of course, we have alternatives in our world, don’t we?

The setup

The setup

Yes, that’s the same sherry vinegar I have around to make Cranberry Ginger Relish, but since I don’t use it often, and it only takes a small amount, I decided to try it in this apple dish. You could use red wine vinegar, or just leave it out if you wanted. But I found that the sherry vinegar added a nice depth of flavor that’s not often in apple dishes.

I started out by washing all the apples, of course:

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

I love apples. Turns out so does BF.

The first time I made this, I used just cinnamon. I decided to use apple pie spice for this incarnation, because I’m glad I did. I made some using this recipe, but because not everything is unpacked, I couldn’t find any allspice. So, it was back to Winn-Dixie for more after I picked up BF from work Sunday afternoon. He wanted some hot chocolate because the weather had turned cold. While he was prowling around looking for that, I went to the spices. Hmmm. . .should I get the stuff called “natural,” which is a rather nebulous word on food products, or get the brand I frequently bought in Houston?

It's "natural," whatever that means." No, it's not organic, I checked.

It’s “natural,” whatever that means.” No, it’s not organic, I checked.

 

That's more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

That’s more my style. I bought that brand in Texas, many times.

I picked up that bottle that was $1.64 and put it in the little hand basket. Then BF returned to the spice aisle and was of the impression that I’m not getting what I wanted. He then said to me, “Look! Here’s all the ‘allspice’ you could ever want, right here!”

He called this "allspice."

He called this “allspice.”

Oh, he was so funny, gesticulating towards all those spice blends. Giggling, I took the little bottle out of the hand basket and showed it to him:

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

This is Allspice. But you knew that already, right?

BF was in the Navy, you know. Fortunately, he was *not* on KP in the galley (kitchen), or he would have been keel-hauled for making that mistake. He only had to put up with me laughing at him all the way home.

This apple pie spice mix recipe from Life Made Sweeter is quick and easy, and I made a double batch to make sure I had enough:

The setup

The setup

 

Just blend them up!

Just blend them up!

 

Bottled, but I couldn't find my label maker in time.

Bottled, but I couldn’t find my label maker in time.

And use it like you would the store-bought stuff. No sugar or other additives to worry about. (Of course, yesterday, I found another carefully packed box marked “Amy Pantry,” which had not one, but two bottles of allspice. GRRR.)

Back to it–I started by putting a bit of olive oil in the bottom of the crocks:

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Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering if there’s a deliberate reason for a black and white crock. Well, yes, and I used it–the black one was mine, a replacement during a Karma of Spare Parts incident, last year, I think, when I sent the 4-quart crashing to the floor on a Sunday. They no longer had white, so black it was. The white crock belongs to BF. The difference came in handy: the black one had apples cooked with Agave Syrup, and the white one had apples cooking in SomerSweet.

Neat, huh? (Worked for me!)

Then started cutting the apples and adding them to the crock, and rolling them around in the oil:

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Yes, I was drinking coffee whilst I made this. It was early, and cold that morning.

Then I added in the apple pie spice mix to both crocks:

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Added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract:

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

This is cooked, so the vodka-based vanilla is fine; it will cook the alcohol out.

Then added in a tablespoon of the sherry vinegar to each one:

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

I used up what was left in the nearly-empty bottle.

And then I added the respective sweeteners:

Agave in the black one

Agave in the black one on the left

 

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the right one

SomerSweet (erythrytol) in the white one on the right.

Mix it all up again to coat the apples with the rest of it:

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Agave pot

 

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SomerSweet pot

And cooked it on low for about 4 hours.  What happened? Well. . .it was interesting, and BF gave me his honest opinion (I only had to needle him a little bit.)

Hmmm. . .looks like Miss Food Blogger forgot to take a picture of the results. Oh, well. I had three things going on at once. . .and we just ate them!

While BF would prefer eating apples raw, he said that the apples cooked with SomerSweet were a little less sweet, and still somewhat crisp, although they weren’t hard like a fresh apple. The agave syrup crock apples were softer and sweeter than the others, and that’s the one he preferred.

If I had cooked them longer they would have probably been a lot softer, and maybe even soft enough for applesauce. But peeling all them apples? No thanks. It was just something to use them up the first time.

Agave syrup works for a lot of different things, including a replacement for honey, with less of an insulin spike than honey would give. (Remember: I’m not a doctor, I just read about these things.)  SomerSweet’s primary ingredient, erythrytol, is a sugar alcohol that’s also quite sweet and works like regular sugar, also without the insulin spike.

For you and your guests who don’t want pie or other heavily-sugared dessert, baking apples in your Crock Pot may be a good alternative to have around, and in the Crock Pot, couldn’t be easier. But why wait for Thanksgiving? Apples are in season now, and available all year around–make some this week or this weekend, and see how you like it. Tweak it to make it yours, and offer it with pride on Thanksgiving Day. It’s one of those things you can set and forget.  You may be asked to make it again next year, or even before then–and what would be wrong with that?

Now for another side dish that’s also low-carb. Spaghetti Squash. Have you tried it? I have. They’re hard as a rock and can be somewhat dangerous to cut, especially the larger ones. Easiest method I knew of, until now, was to cut it in half, scrape out all the seeds and strings, coat the inside with a touch of olive oil, and roast at 350F cut side down for an hour.  I used to use the toaster oven to roast even the larger ones, but now I don’t have a toaster oven. What to do? Well. . . .

I also follow a blog called Half Baked Harvest. I found a recipe there a while back, and I may have posted it here, but I can’t find it now. HOWEVER–a few weeks ago, this recipe for Crockpot Spaghetti Squash with Lasagne Bolognese showed up and got my attention. I haven’t made the Bolognese sauce yet, but I might one day.

But cooking a spaghetti squash in the Crock Pot? Why haven’t I tried this before?

Tieghan makes up her sauce, adds it into the Crock Pot, then puts the whole, untouched spaghetti squash right on top the sauce. No kidding. So I pulled out the big one and put the (little) squash in it, because the ovals were needed for the apples.

I just pulled off the sticker, washed it off, dropped it in, turned it to low and left it alone for a good 8 or 9 hours.

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You put the food in, put the lid on, plug it in, turn it on, and leave it alone:

Really--just let it go.

Really–just let it cook itself.

I did this early on Monday, and about suppertime, this is what came out:

It's cooked, it really is.

It’s cooked, it really is.

And out comes a perfectly cooked spaghetti squash:

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Either use a good potholder or wait til it cools, then cut it in half to remove the seeds. Once you’ve got the “guts” out of it, scrape out the “spaghetti” with a fork into your serving bowl:

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Photo credit: BF, because I can’t do this and snap the picture.

Add some butter, salt and fresh herbs:

I only had rosemary handy.

I only had rosemary handy.

Mix it up well, and if needed, re-heat in the microwave or on top the stove, or leave in the oven to keep it warm:

Yum.

Yum.

And you’ve got delicious and perfectly cooked spaghetti squash for your vegetarian guests. (You could also use olive oil if you don’t want to use butter.) But don’t be surprised if the non-veg folks dig into it–spaghetti squash is delicious when cooked well and seasoned right. (If only I could get BF to try a bite of it; he hates squash across the board.)

So, did I give you some new ideas for a great Thanksgiving meal? Alternatives for your guests, maybe? Or just something different and deliciousi for dinner this weekend? (November also has 29 *other* dinners to prepare besides Thanksgiving, you know.) I hope this helps, and I hope everyone has a tasty and happy Thanksgiving next week.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Amy, there you go again, banging on about SomerSweet again. You have the last three cans of it in existence!” Well, here you go. I hope to finish the post on a new replacement for SomerSweet for you, but I want to reach out to the company and find out more from them. I will tell you that I found it in Whole Foods in Mandeville, it’s called Swerve, and the company is located in New Orleans!

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More to come on this, hopefully soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

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