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Cookbook Review: The 5-Ingredient Italian Cookbook

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

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

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

National Ice Cream Day

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

HEB Ice Cream Truck

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

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

HEB Ice cream float

Look! An ice cream float! On wheels!

Is that not a happy sight?

HEB ice cream truck

There was ice cream all around.

Speaking of friendly faces:

Miss Lei in HEB

Look who it is!!

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

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

Neighbor E with Astronaut pic

Looking good, Dude!

Loved this picture too.

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

The 5-Ingredient Italian Cookbook by Francesca Montillo

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

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

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

The Accidental Dinner Party

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

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

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

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

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

Saltimbocca alla Romana

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

Broccoli stir fry

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

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

Ingredients

The Setup. Prosciutto was already in the freezer

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

Slicing chicken breasts in half

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

And pound them a little:

Pounding Chicken flat

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

And then slice it in half:

Breast half slices

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

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

Chicken and sage

Fresh sage from the HeatCageKitchen garden!

Then top each with that paper-thin prosciutto:

Chicken topped with ham

Handle the prosciutto with care, it tears easily

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

Coconut flour

Just a half-cup

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

Flouring chicken

Just a little coating, not a full breading.

Cooking The Chicken

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

Butter and olive oil heating in the pan

A good start to any chicken dish!

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

Chicken cooking

Cook prosciutto side down first

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

Cooked chicken

This is what it looks like out of the pan

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

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

The Reaction–Dinner Is Served

So, this is what we all had for dinner:

Dinner

A delicious dinner is served

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

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

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

Dessert

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

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

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

Success!

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

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

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

Buon Appetito!

 

 

The Meal Kit

Hello again, Dear Readers:

Well, after my post on a great New Orleans mystery, I have heard exactly nothing about Hubig’s Pies. . .but that’s why it’s a mystery. I even sent a link to their Facebook pages and. . .nothing. But a lawsuit is probably more important than a blog post, so I really didn’t expect anything. Maybe one day.

They’re back!

Neighbor E finally got around to trying the Hostess Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes, after being given a home-made cake he couldn’t resist. He said the cupcakes were smaller than he remembered, and while they tasted like dark chocolate and raspberry, they weren’t overwhelming. Really. They were OK. He told me that if I wanted to try one, to stop by. I’ll be happy to see E anytime, I just don’t want to try one. I’m afraid I’ll find them irresistible, and spend a lot more to stockpile boxes of them before they go away.

Back on gardening

Our monthly gardening lectures have started up again, and last month I was able to ask a very enthusiastic lecturer about. . .composting. Something went wrong when I did that last year, and now I know what it was. (Shouldn’t have chucked all that out, though!) Guess I’m going to start doing that again. Soon as I move things around in the kitchen and on the breakfast bar to accommodate the compost crock. One new attendee drove from Deer Park to attend (about 14 miles from here.) I also got to see new friend of the blog Miss Shirley, who is always a friendly face no matter what’s going on.

A time for changes

OK. . .this time of year, people think about cleaning up their diet and eating healthier. New year, new start. But it does seem like a daunting task, doesn’t it? Clean eating doesn’t have to be difficult. (Yes, I know when Valentine’s Day is.)

So let me ask you–do you dream of making an elegant, healthy dinner that looks like this?

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-Fry (from The Food Network's website)

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-Fry (from The Food Network’s website)

But for whatever reason, it usually looks more like this?

Enchiladas. . . .

Enchiladas. . .leftover, from the microwave.

I may have the solution for you.

The enchilada picture above came from a friend who texted me the other night, who said he was “cooking.” I asked him what he was cooking, and he said “enchiladas.” I envisioned a 9″ x 13″ pan of hot, bubbly, cheese-covered Tex-Mex deliciousness that he’d enjoy for a few days, like I do. Then he sent this picture. When I talked to him later that night, he mentioned that someone brought them to work and he took some home. I said, “that’s not cooking!” His response: “you and I have very different ideas about cooking.” To quote Mrs. Patmore from last week’s episode of Downton Abbey: MEN! (Didn’t know Mr. Carson would be such a fussbudget after the wedding, did we?)

Let’s get serious about dinner

I’ve been seeing ads on TV, in Martha Stewart Living and other places that offer what’s called “meal kits.” If you’re not familiar with them, the most prominent players are Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated. However, a quick search discovers several more:

You may remember the company Schwann’s and their little freezer-case trucks that drive around neighborhoods occasionally. Schwann’s is a bit different than these companies, as their food is frozen, much of it processed, and geared for longer-term storage once they drop it at your house. Crock Pot’s website similarly sells frozen meals that are intended for the slow cooker, and even offer an auto-delivery service. I find that a bit baffling–I mean, how hard is it to toss some ingredients into a pot and turn it on to cook all day? But everybody’s different–some folks actually like their dinner connected to the WiFi, too.

I just found this delicious recipe on Schwann’s website, and I made some. Pretty good, but chop the garlic fine, or you’ll be eating chunks of raw garlic and not kissing anyone for a while.

The Meal Kit

I found a lot of good information on The Kitchn, and a lot of reasons why–and why not–meal kits by mail are a good idea. Let me back up and explain a little.

Remember Graze.com, the snacks-by-mail company? They’re still around, and I’ve even seen TV commercials for them recently. They’ve changed things just a bit–the boxes are now eight snacks instead of four, and yes, the price has gone up, but they’re actually less expensive than buying two boxes, and the shipping is less than two little boxes of four. They’ve expanded their offerings, too. . .and if you find something called a “flapjack” in your snack box, you’ve hit the mother lode of snacking. (Especially the cocoa flapjacks–oh, my GAWD.)

Disclosure: I have NOT tried any of these meal subscriptions for myself, but may find them useful at some point in the future. I present this completely un-sponsored information for anyone who has seen these and considered trying out one of them for reasons known to you. I’m also not encouraging you to run out and try these services–but if any one of them appeal to you, and you decide to try one, I would love to know which one(s) you tried and how you liked it.

Anyway. . . .

The basic premise of the meal kit is similar to Graze’s subscription service, but what comes in these boxes are ingredients to cook full meals with no waste. Included in the box is everything you’ll need, including recipe cards with instructions, all ingredients, down to tiny packets of spices and condiments, and the recipe and instructions . (That’s a bone of contention with some folks.) If the recipe calls for one celery stalk, that’s what you’ll find in the box–one stalk, not a whole bunch. The packaging is also recyclable and compostable to further reduce waste (you can also return the packaging to them for re-use.) The means to make a fresh, home-cooked gourmet meal comes shipped in dry ice, and I think it takes about 30 minutes to prepare (but don’t quote me on that one.)

There are no leftovers, and no containers of that spice that you probably wouldn’t buy again unless you were making this particular dish again, one day, and wanted to make sure you had that spice around. If the recipe calls for a half-teaspoon of celery seeds and a quarter teaspoon of celery salt, that’s what’s included, in little containers. (They assume you already have salt, pepper and oil in your kitchen, so they’re not included.)

The companies all offer menus, and you pick from those menus based on preferences, dietary restrictions, etc. The shopping and prepping is done for you, and shipped to you in an ice-packed box that is waiting for you when you get home. Easy, right?

Advantage: fresher food

One advantage–which may or may not be appealing–is that there isn’t a “broker” between you and the ingredients (that is, your grocery store.) Ingredients tend to be fresher (from what I’ve read) than buying them in the grocery store. Think about it–once that bell pepper or fennel bulb is in your grocery waiting for you, it’s traveled from heaven knows where, and may not even last long enough for you to buy it. Grocery stores toss out a fair amount of soggy, limp produce–but the meal kit gets the ingredients are directly from the producers and into your hands days before you’d find it in your local market. Shipped with dry ice, it’s ready for you to open, cut, peel and cook.

You can sign up to receive free recipes by email from Blue Apron, and you can check out their cookbook online for free. Blue Apron also has an online market where you can buy kitchen ware, bake ware, tools, pots and pans, books, binders, spices, and of course, lovely blue aprons, for yourself or for gifts.

The cost issue

Now the big question: how much does it cost? Well, they vary from company to company. You can see Blue Apron’s pricing plan here for two people and for a family of four. It works out to $9.99 per meal for a two-person kit, and $8.74 per meal for a four-person kit. Terra’s Kitchen offers farm-to-table ingredients, shipped in a “reusable, eco-friendly vessel,” and their online menu shows a range from $11.99 per meal to $17.99 per meal, although a better explanation is in their FAQs. Terra’s Kitchen also offers gluten-free, vegetarian and Paleo menus. PR Newswire also has this article on Terra’s Kitchen, and explains that you’ll spend $160 for 10 meals from 5 recipes, which assumes dinner for two for a week, or $16 a meal.

Advantage or disadvantage?

Now, why would someone use a service like these and spend that kind of money? The answer is obvious: convenience. However, after reading comments on this article on The Kitchn, I realized that it’s not just urban yuppies who are too lazy to shop (although I’m sure there are a few of those in the mix.)  This comment was particularly telling:

I wouldn’t call myself a lazy person. I am able at times to get to the store to buy the type food the send weekly. But I am handicapped, am my illness prevents me at times to even think of what I’m going to once my feet touch the floor in the morning. So please b4 you comment think of how convenient it is for some people to have food delivered to your home. It’s healthy food and preparing it helps exercise my mind.

Never thought about that. Seriously–how many shut-ins who can’t get out like they used to could benefit from delivered meal kits? It would also make a nice gift for newlyweds, new parents, etc.

Another suggestion in the comments was for folks going to a vacation rental to have a meal kit delivered to the location with a few days worth of supplies so that you don’t have to visit restaurants every night, and can cook for yourself a few times. Not a bad idea, right?

And another comment was about learning to cook with guidance from these meal kits:

A friend of mine who doesn’t cook told me about this, and for the convenience of them doing the shopping for him, giving him the confidence or learn how to cook, this is a great idea.

Are they worth it?

That depends on you. Blue Apron’s menus are limited, but Plated’s are a little more flexible, from what I read.

If you’re considering utilizing one of these services, The Kitchn has two articles on the subject (here and here) with lots of comments from people have used Blue Apron and other meal kit companies. Read the article AND the comments before you put up your credit card. A lot of folks who have used these services have a lot to say (not just complaints), and their different perspectives might be what you need to know before you decide.

With all of these companies, I noticed that you could cancel at any time, (it’s not like the infamous “forever” gym membership) and they will work with you to resolve any issues like missed deliveries. Much like Graze, you go online and tell them if you want a future delivery, get more boxes, or if you want to skip a week (which, I think, is 3 meals in one packaged delivery.)

They bring it right to your door!

Again, I haven’t tried these companies out myself, but I might try a few of them in the future, just to see what it’s like. I’m used to thinking about something I want to make, shopping for it, cooking it up, and enjoying it for a few days. For me, it’s kind of tough to wrap my head around–you’ll make beef noodle something, and here is exactly what you need to make it. There are so many subscription services available now that you can get pretty much whatever you want in a little box delivered. No kidding–coffee, tea, doggie biscuits, pantyhose, makeup, shaving blades and kits–the list is endless. If there’s something you want delivered regularly, do a search, and you just might a subscription for it.

That’s on top of Amazon’s Subscribe & Save service, where you can have things you use regularly like grocery items, health & beauty things and baby stuff like diapers sent to you on a recurrent basis, often at a discount. For instance, a few years ago, when I couldn’t find the shade of L’Oreal hair color I wanted in stores, I set up a regular delivery and it cost less than when I bought it locally.

Back to the idea

If you’d like some of the benefits of these meal kits, but less money, there is another option called GatheredTable. It’s an online custom meal planner that includes a grocery list, recipe library with collections like “Crave Worthy Winter Salads,” “Date Night In” and “Game Day Favorites.” You can start out with a free subscription and get to the recipes, but to continue and get the full benefit of the site, it’s $86 for a year’s subscription paid at once, or an option to try it out for 99 cents for the first month, and $10 monthly after that. What you get for the money are weekly meal plans, “smart” grocery lists that are based on what you like to eat, “curated” recipes that are tested (as well as user-submitted recipes in the library). The benefit is that you save time and money by planning more, eating out less and create less waste.

There is a huge library of recipes, and you can submit your own as well. You can clip and save your favorites and find new ones you might like. But you’re back to doing the shopping. Since my meal planning adventures include cooking for a week, I don’t know that it would necessarily benefit me. If I suddenly found myself cooking for a family or a group, then it would probably come in handy. Up to you.

For us tech-savvy folks

Another option (if you like free) is in this article on using Google Sheets for meal planning and shopping. Note that you’ll need a basic idea of using spreadsheets, but since it’s cloud-based, the list can be shared among two or more people. Would that help? Best part–it’s free, all you’ll need is a Gmail account.

Meal kits are another option for folks who like to cook, but may not necessarily have the time to do the shopping or prep work involved in nightly meals. If you’re interested, do some reading, and if you know someone who’s tried it, ask them about it too.

Meantime, I think the time is right for some Pea & Pesto Soup for me. It’s a beautiful winter day here in Houston, and I’m ready for some.

Happy Dining!

Part 2: The HeatCageKitchen Christmas!

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry I dropped the ball again. . .but there’s more to tell about Christmas dinner. And dessert, of course!

If you’re in the US, you’re likely freezing your butt off. I know I have been, but heck, I love it. I’ve got firelogs, and the little laptop in the living room with the fireplace burning all day long (including early this morning.) It’s been raining in addition to being cold, so there’s been coffee, tea, yeast-free hot chocolate and more tea.

And if you’re Down Under, you’ve got shrimp on the barbie. Enjoy them for me, OK?

On the sewing side, I finally finished the hot/cold grocery bag LAST NIGHT. (On the pattern, it’s bag E.) What I’ll show you is the prototype for the planned gifts for Neighbor K and Neighbor R that didn’t happen. First, I used up some denim that R had given me a few years ago, because I thought it would be great. Nope. Too thick. Then I couldn’t sew on the Velcro, even with the help of a friend who sews.The bag has actually been stitched up for quite a long time. So a few months ago in Joann Fabrics I came across contact cement. Hey–my Dad used it all the time on stuff! So I bought a bottle (with a coupon, of course) and finally, yesterday, I finished the darn thing:

The Hot/Cold grcocery bag, Butterick #5338

The Hot/Cold grcocery bag, Butterick #5338

I had to wait until I could work outside, and the rain has stopped for a few days. Contact cement has some mind-bending fumes, and I can’t afford to get bended, you know. This is the side of it:

That little flap holds it onto the rack that the bags sit on. Neat, huh?

That little flap holds it onto the rack that the bags sit on. Neat, huh?

This is the inside, though this is one time it doesn’t look like the pattern envelope picture. Hey–at least it’s not a cocktail dress:

The hot/cold quilted batting that will, hopefully, keep milk cold and a rotisserie chicken hot on the way home.

The hot/cold quilted batting that will, hopefully, keep milk cold or a rotisserie chicken hot on the way home.

Next time I go to Trader Joe’s, or even HEB, I’ll give it a field test and let you know how it works. That inside fabric is $10 a yard–it better work great!

Now to continue with the holidays. . . .

So I wondered what to have for Christmas dinner, and despite my love for roasting turkey, I went with chicken. Specifically, two small organic chickens, and a recipe from Suzanne Somers’ Sexy Forever Recipe Bible, called Zannie’s Perfect Roast Chicken. It really was, and simple, too. After rinsing them off, you rub some garlic on it, there’s lemon, onion, and a bunch of herbs. Oh, heck, let me show you–this is the actual recipe from the book:

This is actually one of the pictures--I don't know her personally!

This is actually one of the pictures–I don’t know her personally!

Two organic chickens piled high with herbs and stuff.

Two organic chickens piled high with herbs and stuff.

I took out my really big roasting pan and went after it. I topped it with slices of butter before putting it into the oven. I left it completely alone in the oven. And after two hours, I had some delicious chicken that I enjoyed for quite a while:

Some of the best chicken ever.

Some of the best chicken ever.

While that was in the oven I was making some of my favorite sweet potatoes, and also made a complicated but interesting dessert involving gelatin. I showed you the finished product in the last post, but this is the long process to make it.

You can find the recipe for Cafe Gelatin here, and my comment at the bottom from the first time I made it.

The first layer is a espresso panna cotta layer, which involves ground espresso and filtering it through cheesecloth.

Filtering the espresso panna cotta layer

Cheesecloth filtering

Because you use real ground espresso in this, not instant, and you don’t want to crunch down on a coffee ground. Next up is the absolutely vexing espresso gelatin layer:

This is what will be diced and added to the top later

This is what will be diced and added to the top later

 

I say “vexing” because if you scroll past the recipe, you’ll see my comment from 2008, the first time I made this recipe. Unfortunately, the same thing happened this time–needs a little more gelatin than the recipe specifies. I could do it for the stuff in the baking dish, but it was a bit too late for the stuff I poured into the glasses:

You can't see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here.

You can’t see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here.

The espresso gelatin layer doesn’t set like it should because there isn’t enough gelatin in it. Like the last time, I re-boiled the remainder, added a bit more, and set it back in the fridge for later.

Now to make sure each glass came out exactly right, I used a good ol’ Pyrex measuring cup:

Never underestimate the power of the right measuring cups.

Never underestimate the power of the right measuring cups.

I know, people might eyeball it, but even though it was for me, I wanted to make absolutely sure it came out as good as I could get it.

Now, in between each layer, it had to go into the fridge to set, so I covered them with plastic wrap just in case:

The espresso panna cotta layer, going into the fridge

The espresso panna cotta layer, going into the fridge

Of course once that’s set up well, you add 2 tablespoons of the espresso gelatin layer on top, and let that set. Then you get on with the vanilla panna cotta layer, and when the time is right, strain that with cheesecloth like the first layer, and pour a quarter cup into each glass, over the espresso gelatin layer, like this:

This one came out perfect.

This one came out perfect. Sort of.

Since the espresso gelatin layer didn’t set up well, I had to be VERY careful pouring in the top layer, or the espresso gelatin would bubble up, just like the first time, and not make it as pretty. Are you seeing the problem?

You can't see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here.

You can’t see the dark brown espresso gelatin layer here. Darnit.

So I poured each quarter cup in by tablespoons until it was done.

I know, you’d think I was serving Christmas Lunch to HRH Queen Elizabeth. No, just me. But I want to get it right, because it’s SO good.

So back into the fridge they went for longer, and the rest of the espresso gelatin was firming up too. Meantime, I made my favorite Spicy Sweet Potatotes with regular paprika and no cayenne. When those were done, so was the chicken:

Some of the best chicken ever.

Some of the best chicken ever.

So while Queen Elizabeth might not have been impressed, I thought it was pretty tasty and was pretty darn happy with it. And of course, at the end, I ran a knife through the espresso gelatin in the baking dish to make tiny dices, and fixed up the final part of the delicious sugar-free dessert:

Ahhh. . .finally!

Ahhh. . .finally! Definitely NOT Jell-O.

Yes, eventually, it was worth it. Had I gotten up earlier I could have been done earlier, but you know how that goes.

Neighbor R wasn’t home, but K was, and I offered her one. (I had six. She got a perfect looking one.) She didn’t have it right away, but I did point out that it was made with Somersweet, so no guilt. A day or two later when she finally got to it, I got a text message: “Excellente, chica!” She loved it. And rightly so–it’s a nice, refreshing dessert that even works on Christmas.
Now that the holdiays are over, we’re all on diets again, right? I am, actually, the yeast-free diet that I’ve written about before. Why? Heartburn. . .but I was sick in October, so the antibiotics started that process. Then all the dairy, sweet stuff. . .well, you know. Sugar feeds yeast, that’s all I’m saying. . .so I’m back on it with some Yeast Control and missing the milk in my coffee already.

I’ve got more updates coming soon. Happy New Year!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year!!

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Did you have a great holiday period? Even good? Did you eat some good food? Great food? Of course I did! But I hope everyone enjoyed everything, even if you’re groaning about it now. It was delicious, but we move on to better eating and exercise, at least for a while.

The big holiday is over, and now everyone is trying to figure out how the heck to get back into their clothes that are suddenly tight. Well, you’ve got options: yoga, walking/running, weight training, Pilates, take your pick.

I am in pain. My feet hurt, my elbows hurt, my shoulder hurts, my back hurts, and yes, my butt hurts. For the last two weeks I have been doing what most people call “spring cleaning.” I figured that nobody was doing anything in the corporate world (including marketing departments) so I took the two week holiday period and cleaned the closets, my desk, all of it. The process of cleaning started because Neighbor K was worried about all the fabric and the possibility of another mouse in ‘da house. Well, all the fabric scraps are now sealed into huge Ziploc bags, patterns all went into huge plastic containers with click-to-seal tops, and then. . .the closets needed cleaning. The bathroom needed a cleaning and re-arranging. The kitchen, with the exception of the pantry, also got a once-over. Then the desk area, including the filing cabinet. The living room, the bedroom, and then finally, carpet cleaning. I also had to clean dog and cat hair from the carpet cleaner, since Neighbor K uses it occasionally and buys the soap for us to use. (That’s nice of her!)

I made five trips to the Salvation Army on NASA Road 1, the last one being today. After the third trip, just for fun, I did a bit of shopping and found a fabulous pair of knee-high boots with heels on them that actually FIT. My calves are large from years of walking and driving a 5-speed manual transmission, so most knee-high boots don’t fit me, much less with jeans on. They were not expensive, either, and look like they were never worn. The no-slip rubber soles make them safe. A dose of shoe polish made them look fantastic. I’m going to town tomorrow, and I think I’ll wear them with that new Guy Larouche jacket I finally finished New Year’s Eve.

Finally--3 years later!!

Finally–3 years later!!

Yes, it’s supposed to look like that. Check out the pattern if you don’t believe me.

It’ll be cold enough.

I also went to Half Price Books twice, returned an old cell phone to Verizon for recycling, and put out several extra bags of trash, including two huge bags of shredding. I can’t believe I still had old stuff that should have been discarded and/or shredded a long time ago, but I keep finding stuff to get rid of. Friend of the blog ND has also been going through boxes that she hasn’t looked through in years. She said it was the track of her life, then realized that if she didn’t make it home one day, her family would find all that stuff. I reminded her that if there’s anything she doesn’t want anyone to find, now is the time to get rid of it–while she still can!

So now the whole HeatCageKitchen headquarters is neat and organized for 2015. Soon I’ll be working in the garden, which, surprisingly, is now free of weeds since my August experiment with non-toxic weed killer. I just noticed it the other day–a little grass, but NO WEEDS. Hot DAWG!!

I have a confession: I did indeed make the biscotti I blogged about right before Christmas. I got up Christmas morning and made them first, carefully dipping them into the chocolate and carefully sprinkling on some French grey sea salt just like in the picture.

I told you I made some.

The exalted biscotti

Guess what? They were AWFUL! No joke–they were OK before the chocolate dip, but once I finished them off, yuck. They just did NOT entertain my palette. So, my apologies. I had planned to give some to Neighbor K, but that idea tanked quick. I ate them, but mostly to get rid of them. K says they are awful because they are gluten free. Oh, well.

On a recent trip to a local go-to grocery, I saw this sign:

Seriously?

Seriously?

Please explain to me how bananas are “no gas.” Bananas are high in starch/sugar, which is the best way to get gas. A bit like “cancer cures smoking,” isn’t it? But I’m sure a number of folks believed that one, considering what store it was in.

So, let’s start with Christmas lunch, which I enjoyed by myself while the all-day Doctor Who marathon was on. The recipe was Gingery-Hot Duck Salad from Nigella Lawson’s book Nigella Bites. It was partly exotic and partly to use up this duck I bought months and months ago and has been bouncing around in my freezer until I figured out what to do with it. Quack:

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Yes, from American raised duckies.

The instructions on the duck breast call for scoring the fat, so I did as I was told:

It's about the size of a chicken breast, really.

It’s about the size of a chicken breast, really.

And put that baby in a fry pan, skin side down:

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Now it gets interesting, doesn’t it?

While that’s going on, you get on with the salad part. You can find the link to the recipe here, but I will tell you that the American version of the book calls for “one small red chili, finely chopped.” Well, I couldn’t seem to find me a red chile, so this is what I ended up with:

The infamous Scotch bonnet, which is one of the hottest peppers available.

The infamous Scotch bonnet, which is one of the hottest peppers available.

Chop that baby up good:

I even used a knife like Nigella uses! (But that's not one from her collection.)

I even used a knife like Nigella uses! (But that’s not one from her collection.)

Here’s a tip: after handling hot peppers, don’t touch your eyes for any reason. If you do. . .get an eyedropper with milk, and use it. No kidding. If you’re not alone, get help–an eyedropper full of any kind of dairy milk, and drop it in your affected eyes. How do I know this? I had to look it up on a mobile device while my eyes were burning. I did it once with contacts in my eyes, too–and saved the contacts, thank heavens.

Well, anyway. . .you get on with the dressing and the salad part:

Salad!! My favorite!!

Salad!! My favorite!!

The pepper is well chopped, so it’s distributed into the citrus-based dressing. I actually bought some Thai fish sauce just for this recipe; it’s not expensive, and I found it in HEB so I didn’t have to go to Hong Kong Market. Woo hoo!

Duck is not like chicken. Blander, with a slightly gamey taste. I’ve long wanted to cook duck for Christmas, and a whole one was a bit on the high side for me. No matter, I’ll do it one day–just not in a Suzy Homemaker oven.

No, I didn’t get any more Suzy Homemaker appliances, but I look at them every day. I bid on an absolutely pristine Super Grill last weekend but didn’t win it. RATS! Sold for $20 plus shipping. Next time. . . .

I asked Neighbor K if she’d like to have some Christmas lunch, but she declined. (The GER was also invited and declined, he wasn’t feeling terribly festive. Then again, he rarely is without beer.)

So what was for Christmas dinner?

That will be the next blog post, possibly tomorrow. But I’ll leave you with a preview, one of the finished Cafe Gelatins I made just because I wanted it again. Sugar-free and delicious, but a LOT of trouble. I’ll tell you about it next time, too. Take a look:

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I don’t have the fancy $130 per stem wine glasses Martha Stewart used for the photo shoot. Mine are $9.50 a dozen from IKEA. But no matter, they worked just as well. I did offer Neighbor K one, and she accepted. She ate it a day or so later, and texted me that it was “excellente, chica!” Something like that. In other words, she loved it. Me too. Neighbor R was gone for a week, so I sorta finished them off before she got back. YUMMMmm. . . .

I did talk to my sainted aunt a day or so after Christmas, and tried to describe this to her over the phone. She has no computer, so emailing a picture is not an option. She said, “well, I have some sugar-free Jello I can make!” No. . . as I’ve said before, I don’t *DO* Jello. But Auntie doesn’t read this blog, either.

Oh, and dinner was also roast chicken, but not just any chicken. But you’ll have to wait for the next blog to hear all about the Cafe Gelatin and the roast chicken.

Happy New Year!

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Happy Monday! I know, Mondays are awful, right? No, not necessarily, but we’ve been conditioned to believe that they are. It’s just that for a great number of Americans, the work week starts on Monday, and the fun ends until Friday. However, I’ve had enough fantastic Mondays and bloody awful Fridays to be able to tell you that you shouldn’t hang a label on either one.

No, not yet.

I’ve completed watching all 7 seasons of the USA Network super-spy TV show Burn Notice thanks to the free DVDs I get from the library. No, it’s not instant gratification, since you have to order them and wait for them to arrive, but if you’re patient, you can watch a whole lot of stuff for free. Been doing that for 20 years now. I’ve moved on to a BBC program that our Houston PBS station was running but stopped, called New Tricks. It’s about a group of retired police officers under the supervision of a somewhat disgraced Detective Superintendent who is assigned the UCOS, or Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad. I’m on Season One, which I’ve never seen, and I’m waiting on Season 9, which is where the TV station stopped broadcasting it. Season 10 will be out on DVD soon, and I’ll be putting my request in for the library to get it to me when it’s my turn. Smart, well written and impeccably acted by a skilled British cast, there is nothing on American television like it.

One day, when things get a little better, I’m going to have SO many DVDs!! My next DVD player will be region free so I can buy the shows from overseas and watch them. Yes, I already have a few in mind.

So I’ve got a little good news about the HeatCageKitchen garden. First, what’s growing is growing well. Last week’s drought-busting rain helped, even though I do water regularly. However, I’m still fighting off the slugs. Somehow, the darn things are still getting at my basil and pepper plant leaves, although I can’t figure out how. I have discovered that some are finding ways around the eggshells, particularly on the basil. GRRRRRR.

Still hoping for a bumper crop for pesto later this year. If not. . .it's off to Trader Joe's for big clam shells full of fresh basil!

The beleaguered basil

Still hoping for a bumper crop for pesto later this year. If not. . .it’s off to Trader Joe’s for big clam shells full of fresh basil! One way or the other, I’ll have lots of pesto in my freezer this winter.

I haven’t done anything with the garlic scapes,which, as you can see, are happy. I’ve gone through some parsley, though.

But the big news is the little strawberry plant that I transplanted into a hanging planter. I think it’s about 3 years old, and last year it got parked in a paint bucket for a while. It’s now producing berries! Right now there are 13 of them in various stages of development, and one is turning red as of this morning:

See it?

See it?

I don’t know if it will fully develop, or what, but it’s trying to. There is one berry that’s developed into the proper shape, but will likely get bigger,and not changing color just yet.

The perfectly shaped berry. I can't wait to eat it!!

The perfectly shaped berry. I can’t wait to eat it.

Oh, boy, I love strawberries, and if this little plants starts putting them out. . .I’ll be one happy foodie.

Week before last, I told you about a replacement book I bought, The 20-Minute Natural Foods Cookbook by Sharon Claessens. I’ve looked through it a few more times and remembered some good food I’d made a long time ago. I think I finally ditched the beat-up copy I had maybe seven, eight years ago, but I remember using it last about the late 1990s, maybe. I remember the ex-husband coming home to my favorite Spaghetti with Garlic Salmon Sauce (page 48), and complaining about the kitchen smelling like “stinky cat food.” No, he wouldn’t eat it, but that’s what he gets for coming home early.

This weekend, feeling a bit nostalgic (and thawing out more chicken than I needed) I decided to make the dish on the back cover of this book, Pineapple Chicken Mozambique. The dish calls for a quarter of a small, ripe pineapple, but all Food Town had was big ones–so I’ve got a lot of chopped up pineapple in the fridge. I’m thinking about putting it on a small baking sheet and freezing it, because I just didn’t intend to have that much left.

Admittedly, I do like pineapple, but not a whole one at once. Yes, I would, in a prior life, occasionally have pizza with pineapple on it, along with ham, sausage, pineapple or some other kind of meat, olives, bell peppers, and whatever else I could remember. I have to say pineapple on pizza might seem weird. . .but it was REALLY good.

I was also out of onions, so I got some, and wouldn’t you know it? No turmeric! I ALWAYS have that orange-looking powder around, but not this time, so I had to get some. And raisins–a six-pack of those little lunch-box sized boxes. I only needed 2 tablespoons, and that’s what one of those boxes provides. I nibbled on a couple, then the rest went into my briefcase and my weekend/non-work bag. Along with a couple of small packets of peanuts, I might be able to survive a long drive home from town without stopping for a bite somewhere.

Now, while this book is all about 20-minute cooking, what they didn’t do in 1982 was mention the prep time. I had to gather up some parsley and chop that, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces, then deal with the huge pineapple. I think the whole thing took about 30 minutes, maybe 35, including prep time, which is still not bad for a quick meal for two people. (or one, if you’re that hungry.).

BTW, you can now buy pineapple already peeled, cubed and and dealt with in most produce sections, as much or as little as you want. THAT’s a time saver we didn’t have back then, too, and why didn’t I think of it yesterday? Next time, I’ll get the pre-cut pineapple instead.

One alteration I made was to use olive oil, not corn oil, since most corn oil (to my knowledge) is hydrogenated. Grapeseed oil, as faithful reader Kanani mentioned last month, might be a good substitute, since it’s a flavorless oil, and would let the good taste of the food come through; however, grapeseed oil can be expensive. While I didn’t have a problem with the olive oil, I may try the grapeseed one day and see if it makes a difference.

Oh, and because they are nearly the same thing, instead of tamari, I used regular soy sauce, the kind you find in packets in nearly every Chinese restaurant in America. (If you are gluten-intolerant, you’ll need to find that kind.)  Soy sauce is fermented, so I don’t have a problem with it, and it provides pretty much all the salt you’ll need anyway.

Also, this dish is intended to “serve with brown rice or whole wheat noodles,” but I bet a little quinoa would work too, or some gluten-free pasta, if you have some. Then again, you could just eat it by itself like I did and have more veg on the side, a salad, or some home-made gluten free bread. Otherwise, without the noodles, it’s what I like to call “gluten free by default.”

Remember, this was an “exotic flavor” back in 1982. So how do you make this golden oldie? Like this.


 

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique

2 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless

1 medium onion

2 teaspoons oil (corn is specified, but I used olive)

1 teaspoon butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 small, ripe pineapple

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (I grow the Italian flat-leaf kind)

2 teaspoons tamari (I used soy sauce)

2 tablespoons lime juice

  1. Cut the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces. Chop the onion.
  2. Heat a medium skillet and add 1 teaspoon oil. Add the butter, then the onion. Stir over medium heat, adding the cinnamon and turmeric. While the onion is cooking, peel the pineapple section and remove the tough inner-core fibers. Cube. Yield should be about 1 cup of pineapple cubes.
  3. When the onion is translucent and slightly tender, remove from the skillet and set aside. Add the remaining oil. Heat the skillet until quite hot, but not smoking, and quickly add the chicken. Stir to brown all sides of the chicken.
  4. When the chicken is just nearly cooked throughout, after 3 to 4 minutes, add the onion, pineapple cubes, raisins, parsley, tamari and lime juice. Heat through and serve.

What you end up with looks like this:

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique!

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique! (The cat food just sits there, honest.)

Want a closer look?

I do love my Splayds!

I do love my Splayds.

The combination of cinnamon and turmeric adds a nice color to the onion and chicken without being overpowering. I do think I should have measured the lime juice instead of just eyeballing it, because it was a bit tart. That, of course, was MY fault.

For a quick and easy meal for two, this is a good one, and you can get the needed ingredients on a quick trip through the express lane, assuming you have none of the onion, the spices, soy sauce, oil and butter, that makes for a supermarket drop-by on the way home. For four people (or more), just a little math is involved, and maybe a bigger pot.

For a busy Monday, or anytime you want something fast, you won’t go wrong with this recipe.

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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