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Spare-time cooking

Evening, Dear Readers:

Finally, I have a little something to write about! I cooked something new this evening! Let me tell you about it. . . .

But first, the back story: while I was in college (1991 to 1996) I was, out of necessity, forced to cook on Sunday for an entire week. You see, after working a 40 hour week, I went to Tulane University at night. For five years. No kidding. One semester I took a Saturday class, too. If I didn’t get some sleep during the week, I had to wait until Friday night to get some. Hardest thing I’ve ever done, and likely is why I’m frequently tired to this day. But hey–wasn’t it worth it? I graduated from Tulane! I still do this weekly, even though I have been unemployed since June. I do cook at night, but try to get as much done on Sunday as I can, even if it’s boiling a dozen eggs for a week of breakfast.

Yesterday I had to go down to someone’s house and pick up mail, and stopped at the Target in League City for a couple of things (one of which was bathroom tissue, OK?)  I decided to buzz through their meat department and see what might be on sale.

Sacre bleu! Red tags everywhere! Sausages! Grass-fed beef! Chicken Thighs! All with $2 and $3 off tickets! Let’s just say my freezer is REALLY full right now. My favorite Bare Chicken was $3 off each packet–I couldn’t resist, I bought four flat-packs of chicken thighs, the best part. I am happy.

Today I had a couple of stops to make, one of which was Kroger. I saw some Crimini, aka “Baby Bella” (Portobello) mushrooms on sale. Immediately I thought of this recipe that has been sitting on my cookbook stand for months. I just ignored it while I made other things (like the acorn squash dish. Again.)  I looked at it and realized I needed mushrooms, for one thing. So I took out one packet of chicken thighs and proceeded to thaw them in repeated courses of hot water in a baking dish. Took a while, but it worked. Mostly. Hey–the dish is fine.

So here’s the recipe from last year’s Everyday Food Light book for EFChickenCacciatore.

For many years, I have been partial to Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatore, because a) I saw her make it on TV and b) it’s darn good. But when I got this book when it published last year, I wanted to try it when I got to the winter dishes. Then, life happened.

Truth to tell, there are lots of great recipes in this book, separated by seasons. During the summer, I made both the Grilled Tilapia with Cherry Salsa and a pork chop recipe with a peach/onion relish. Both are AMAZING and absolutely delicious. “Diet?” Forget it!

I gave my elderly neighbor one serving of each, because her gourmet-cook sister was out of town for a while, and I didn’t want her to starve while her sister was gone. (I always say that to her when I bring over something to try–and she loves it.) Actually, she can cook, she’s just not the kind I am, or her sister. I bring her delish food occasionally, although she fussed at me the last two times because I wasn’t working. But she enjoyed them just the same.

Anyway. . .

This dish really was as easy as they say it is, and it was pretty tasty, too.

Four servings in about fifteen minutes.

Four servings in about fifteen minutes.

Now, I have to say that although this dish is easy, you MUST read the directions before proceeding. Why? Well. . .I put the chicken in with the mushrooms and garlic, and realized it just before I microwaved it for 2 minutes. I was picking the chicken bits out by hand, which made it longer than 15 minutes. DUH.

I’m not really a fan of microwave cooking, but I have to say for a quick dinner, this definitely hits the spot (even though I got Crimini mushrooms instead of Shittake.)

Confession: back in the 80’s, I attempted to cook a Thanksgiving turkey in a microwave. Well. . .I was a military wife in far-flung North Carolina in 1984, where you still had to talk to an operator to make a long-distance call. Heck, any call when I first got there. The results were not bad, just not something to be proud of. I had a bigger microwave than I have now. Obviously I learned how to correctly roast a turkey later.  My spouse and his buddy ate it and were nice about it, since we were all far from home. That part of my life is long over, although I do have an affection for Marines because of it.

Do not try to cook a turkey in a microwave, OK? Maybe little turkey parts, but not a WHOLE turkey. At least give me points for ingenuity.

I’ll be able to have this again three times this week, as well as something else I literally tossed in the pot while the Chicken Cacciatore was cooking in the microwave:

Beef stir fry

About a pound of stew meat, cut into smaller pieces. Sliced up the stems from the mushrooms and used a bag of organic frozen mixed veggies bought on sale at Target. A little olive oil, a little sesame oil, a little soy sauce and a splash of Chinese cooking wine, dump it in a big chefs’ pan on high heat, don’t forget to stir it, and I’ve got more ready-to-eat meals this week. I actually ate one serving of the chicken, but the beef stir-fry only made three servings. That’s OK, I can make something else, or have a breakfast (which is a whole different story.)

Easy meals this week!

Easy meals this week!

All us foodies will miss Everyday Food magazine in the new year, but the website and the books will live on. If you’re planning to cut calories this year, Everyday Food Light is a good place to start. The recipes generally have less than 10 ingredients that are readily available, and all of them are under 500 calories per serving. (That means if you eat the entire recipe, it’s 2,000 calories, and you shouldn’t eat anything else today.) Check it out and see what you like. Me, I’m leaving alone anything with tofu or edamame in it, since I’m allergic to soy. But there are plenty of recipes to chose from, plus you can always go to the website to find something else.

I hope to eventually get the other two Everyday Food books; but who knows, there could be one or even two more published under that moniker.

Next up is going to be a sausage and kale recipe with Cannellini beans–my favorite! I don’t have any kale, but that’s OK, I’m not in a hurry. I’ll let you know how that one works out too. I love sausage.

Happy Dining!

Meeting an old friend again

Hello, Dear Readers:

Well, it’s the holiday season and, honestly, I haven’t had much foodie adventure since The Tuscan Turkey got turned into soup a few weeks ago. But it’s OK, everyone loved it, and I just have some cut up Tuscan turkey meat left in the freezer. Well, OK, enough to keep me happy for a while, and make The Soup of Enlightenment if I really want to, but I don’t, since I had it at Thanksgiving, skipping over the big meal to that part.

I will tell you that I was just in Cost Plus World Market, using a $10 coupon to get stocked up on the fantastic Typhoo Decaf Tea from the UK and got me some microwavable steamed puddings–the real British stuff, produced in New Zealand. Really. I guess the Brits like it, but I never asked–but I’m having steamed pudding for Christmas!! (I’ll let you know.) Convenient, and just a little bit, enough to try it once. If I wanted to, I could use Nigella Lawson’s recipes out of her Christmas book, but really, I’m giving myself the gift of peace and quiet this year, and lots of sewing. Not to mention the Doctor Who Christmas Special on Tuesday thanks to a very nice neighbor who is out of town. I did offer to do a carpet cleaning for her while she was out, but she declined. Maybe I’ll just clean her windows before she gets home.

BTW, if you join their World Market Explorer program, you get those $10 off $30 purchase coupons regularly, including one for your birthday.

Oh, and while I was there, nibbling on the sample cookies, I talked to a lady who was going to get ingredients for a cranberry sauce. One of Paula Deen’s recipes from FoodNetwork.com. I love you, Paula, but fifteen ingredients, including Grand Marnier! I was shocked when I read that. She didn’t know what Grand Marnier was, either. I told her that she would have to get it at a liquor store, which are closed on Sunday in Texas, and that it would probably run $35 or $40 a bottle. She had no idea. . .so I told her to forget this one and go look up the recipe for my favorite Cranberry Ginger Relish and make that. Four ingredients, fifteen minutes, and make it three days in advance. Easy, and it’s sweet and warm at the same time.  “Can I get all the ingredients at Kroger?” she asked. Absolutely, including sherry vinegar. It sidles up to you all nice and sweet, then POW! Hits you right in the kisser. Everybody loves it, including me, and I always get requests for the recipe when I make it.

Now I want some, too.

Rest assured that some kind of diet will commence after January 1, and I will ease my way into it over the next week. Might go to a potluck next Saturday, we’ll see, and I’ll bring something good, if I go. Exercise too, Pilates is my preference, with some yoga thrown in for good measure, since walking will be impossible soon. More on that later.

So anyway. . . .

Last week I had my third interview in a different department at a major medical center here in Houston. I’m not going to say which one, but it’s big, well known, and they have great benefits. The interview started about 3:20 pm, and I left the facility at 5:30 pm, escorted by a Texas Medical Center (TMC) police officer. (I rode in the FRONT seat, OK?)  I was lost, and he offered. . .hey, I can trust a guy with a pistol on his hip!  Especially since I had on my suit and a crisp white collared shirt, not to mention sky-high heels. No t-shirt and jeans on this day–I needed to look sharp, and I did.

I believe I will be hired on soon, which means bus rides and walking around a lot. No way I’m driving to work every day.

My TMC copper got me back to the building where my vehicle was, and I checked out–at nearly 6:00 pm! I was very HUNGRY at this point, and decided to get a bite in town since it was high traffic and driving home was a bit of a nightmare. It was also the Friday before Christmas, and everyone is not only getting off work but heading to shop. (Bay Area Boulevard was a parking lot at 1:30 pm.)

As I drove up Holcombe towards Buffalo Speedway, I was trying to remember where I could find a good dinner around there. Hmmm. . .Burger King. No. Some kind of wing shop–no. Taco Bell (which required a left U-turn in heavy traffic)–bookmark for later. Spec’s Liquor Warehouse–no. Some little sushi place–absolutely not. I knew I could get to Rice Village if I turned right on Kirby, but having been there a week before and had much trouble parking, I kept driving.

Then I remembered a little place that used to be there when I worked for Baylor all those years ago. Would it still be there? I started thinking. . .it was by a grocery store, but which one? I knew it was on the left. . .I saw Rice Epicurean Market, but no little place. I kept going, and saw the Randall’s Flagship about a mile or so up the road, along with a Barnes & Noble in the same strip mall. Then my eyes saw what I was seeking–their name on the marquee. It was still there, after all these years, in a city where permanence is fleeting. It was a sight for sore eyes that day.

Prayers get answered one at a time. Gifts do not always come in a box wrapped in paper and ribbon. Trust me on that.

This little place is called Yapa Kitchen-Fresh Take Away. When I worked at Baylor, we used Yapa’s catering for our activities, and everyone loved the sandwiches and lunch boxes they brought us. There was one occasion that for some reason, we had to use a different catering company. (I think someone higher up told us to.) We were very disappointed and made sure we called Yapa after that.

Once in a while I’d go get a sandwich over there if I was driving around or running office errands. Their sandwiches were delicious, unbelievable cookies, and great chef-prepared food in the case. The store is actually quite small, and hasn’t changed since the last time I was there–maybe 2001?  I held the wheel tightly and kept thinking about what I could vagely remember from my days working in the VA Hospital (as a Baylor employee.)

It came flooding back when I walked in the front door. It was pretty much the same as I remember it. Some of the cookbooks look old now.

I gazed in the case and saw all kinds of delicious things. I was thinking about a crab cake, since it wasn’t too expensive (not ready for $25 a pound pepper crusted tenderloin yet, but will celebrate when I get my new job.) I asked if there was anything else to look at. “Well,” the young bloke said, “we have a few sandwiches over here.”  There were four. I saw two chicken salad sandwiches, one turkey with cranberry, and a roast beef.

THAT’S WHAT I WANT.

I grabbed the last roast beef, and asked about dessert. They still had that little case on the side, and I remembered having their delicious creme brulee once. But their cookies were in big jars on the counter, and I got a chocolate chip and a white chocolate/macadamia nut cookie. He asked me if I’d like some horseradish sauce; I declined. There was some already on the sandwich, and it was just enough and just perfect.

That, dear readers, is what hit the spot and scratched the itch on Friday, December 21st at about 6:15 in the evening.

The sandwich, on a really great whole-grain bread, was just as good as I remembered it. Ditto the cookies. Next time I get two of those slightly soft and chunky white chocolate/macadamia nut cookies. Both were good, but I liked that one better.

To the observer (or the guys working the counter that night), it was just a sandwich and cookies to have while I sat at a table and flipped through my magazine. To me, it was like finding an old friend again. No, I didn’t go in all the time when I was there, just once in a while, and it was a nice little refuge, even though they were quite busy during the day. The food was good, the people were nice, and it was just up the street. You can get a delicious lunch or dinner to eat in or take home with you.  I once bought three of their cookies and brought them to someone in the hospital, because I knew they were the best to be had that day, plus they were on the way to the hospital.

And it’s still like that. For this, I was, and am, very grateful.

Yapa is quite a distance for me to go now, since I’ve been in the suburbs since 2002, I’m in town about once or twice a month, and to be honest, I don’t go into TMC unless I have to, as I have for the past 3 Fridays. Should I find myself working back at TMC, I might have the opportunity to visit more often; we’ll see.

If you’re in Houston and find yourself in the Medical Center area for whatever reason, consider having lunch at Yapa; their menus are online, so see what they have and find what you like before you get there. They are located at the corner of Holcombe and Buffalo Speedway in the little building close to the corner. The address is 3173 W Holcombe Boulevard (77025) and you can call them at 713-664-9272.

Warning: While Yapa is a little place worth visiting, it’s not in the big building with Randall’s. Yapa is in the small one-off building in the parking lot. You know the type of building I mean, an auxiliary building. You can see it here–Yapa is in that building on the right, close to the big building.

Thanks for still being there, and feeding this hungry feline when she really needed it.

Happy dining!

The Tuscan Turkey

What a difference a week makes.

A couple of weeks ago, the wonderful Suzanne Somers posted on Facebook that her Sea Salt Rubs are a great way to season a Thanksgiving Turkey. Oohh, good one! But I wasn’t doing a turkey, right?

Well. . .on “Black Friday” I get a phone call from Ann, who I affectionately refer to sometimes as the “crazy Chinese lady.” She’s actually very nice, but sometimes does odd things. (Don’t have to be Chinese for that, it just makes for a fun nickname.) Ann is from Taiwan, and despite being in the US for many years, with three Americanized children, still sometimes doesn’t always grasp bits of American culture, or doesn’t always get the joke. It’s the language barrier, so I try to explain it best I can.

However, on this particular day, Ann has purchased a turkey, just for me. I’m surprised, and I hope I didn’t sound mad (I haven’t been myself lately) and I said, “What am I going to DO with it?” I don’t have a big enough freezer, and it turns out that this turkey weighs 22 pounds.

Yes. Twenty-two pounds. Turns out it was on sale. Along with a few other things.

So it was decided that we would make it for the study meeting tonight. A Buddhist non-Thanksgiving. Just like in one of the Barefoot Contessa books.

Ann called me at 7:30 this morning. I was asleep. WAS. Knowing that this will take four hours to cook, I told her I’d be by around 12:00 pm. Well, I got to sewing, and watching my Saturday morning cooking shows, and so I was running a little late.

Maria’s birthday party is next Saturday night. I got all her presents finished off and perfect. Now I can go and drink if I want to, because there’s no driving involved.

I got to Ann’s about 12:45, and we started in on the turkey right away.  While I was sewing, I remembered Suzanne Somers’ Sea Salt Rubs, and that I have some in the pantry–Provence, Tuscan and Southwest (my favorite.) After considering it, I decided to take a box of the Tuscan Sea Salt rub, thereby making  it. . .the Tuscan Turkey.

I had this idea that I would set up the turkey in the roaster and leave. No. Next thing I know, I’m making mashed potatoes, salad, sweet potato frites and at the last minute, the infamous Cranberry Ginger Relish. Only a little red liquid remained.

So I melted some butter and mixed in one packet of the Sea Salt Rub. When it came time to season the turkey, I needed more, so I melted another stick and added another packet of the rub. THAT did it–rubbed it inside and out, and tossed in a packet of poultry herbs Ann also bought on sale–sage, thyme and rosemary. It was so GREEEN!!  But it seasoned that turkey perfectly. (NOTE: I think olive oil would have worked, too, but butter seems to give such a nice color and taste to it.)  I also used the last bit of butter in the fridge, along with some half and half, for the mashed potatoes.

Ann is now out of butter.

I just kept going, and once one task was done, I started another. Worked perfectly. Until. . .

The Buddhist meeting was actually at 5. Once the sweet potatoes were cut and prepped for baking, we stashed them in the oven. At 5:30, I turned the oven ON. At 6:00 pm, I unplugged the turkey roaster, brought it inside, and turned the turkey platter upside down on top of the roaster to warm it for when I was ready to cut and serve it.

I should have asked John or Mickey to help me bring that thing in from the back porch. It was heavy. Now my lower back hurts, darnit. Yeah, I know better. A little Aleve and I’ll be OK in a couple of days.

The turkey rested for a little more than 30 minutes, mostly because we just kept talking about the subject at hand. And I got a little help with the carving; I know how to do it, but my technique is off; I was just going to start cutting chunks, but Mickey took the knife and fork and did a beautiful job of cutting picture-perfect slices. I can’t do that. What a nice man.

Ann is growing basil on her patio, and I told her she should make some pesto. Ann has no idea what that is, although later I found out that daughter Rose does. Rose makes pesto and uses pesto frequently. I was also telling Ann about the delicious Pea Pesto Soup from Nigella Lawson, and how much I love it. Ann doesn’t get it, but Rose will make some Pea Pesto Soup for Ann one of these days, so Ann can know just how delicious it is, and what to do with her windfall of basil in the backyard. Thank heavens for Rose.

Through all of it, we never gave any thought to dessert. NONE! It was a bit impromptu, and some delicious satsumas brought from someone’s backyard became an easy-to-peel dessert. (I did think about stopping for chocolate, but ended up not doing it.)

So, in the end, I got to make the perfect turkey, a week after Thanksgiving, and everybody loved it. Me too. It was a lot of fun, and I hope we can keep doing it.

I went through two aprons tonight, too. My brother sent me an apron recently that says across the front, “The last time I cooked, almost nobody got sick!” I will likely NOT wear that apron anywhere. He never lets me forget the dinner I made for him and his family more than 15 years ago.

Oh, and Ann’s husband went to Australia for a business trip. He emailed from the airport in Moscow while he was waiting for his flight to Singapore, and then to Perth. We sent him a picture of us with the turkey before we ate it. I hope he doesn’t get too mad.

Since we didn’t have a really *big* crowd, there is plenty left over. Ann, being the nice lady that she is, gave me most of it. So, I’ll be chopping up turkey tonight, and figuring out what to do with it all, and if I should consider making another pot of The Soup of Enlightenment. and probably that other soup from Suzanne Somers with the tomatoes in it. Well, I have time on that one, just need some more half-and-half, and another batch of some kind of stuffing. I’ll think about it tomorrow.

You can see the pictures here.

Happy Dining!

Au revoir, Everyday Food (part 2)

Well, the last issue of Everyday Food is now out on the street, and this is the letter that came with it:

EverydayFoodFinalLetter

There are, as usual, some delicious looking things, including the Peppermint-Meringue Brownie Cake on page 92. (I’d like to try this one: now to find an occasion to make it for.) This month’s Everyday Food Loves column is about phyllo dough, and a nice recipe for an almond-pear tart that also looks good. But because I had some leftover sage from Thanksgiving, so I decided to make the recipe on page 85, Sausages with Acorn Squash and Onions:

SausagewithAcornOnions

The section is called Sheet Pan Suppers,where you literally throw everything on a sheet pan and bake it in the oven. This particular recipe looked good, and in addition to the leftover sage, I haven’t had acorn squash in a really long time.  (Here’s the EDF article on squash, including acorn.)

I *used* to have my own sage plant, where I could just pick some, but with everything that happened this summer, it sort of dried up. I’ll get another one again one day. I like fresh sage.

Oh, I’ll be making this again. More than once, I tell ya. Probably in the toaster oven, if I can figure out how to make it come out the same way.

It’s as easy as they say it is, and it’s definitely worth it. This is what it looked like when I took it out of the oven the first time to sprinkle the cheese and sage on:

The first time it comes out of the oven. At this point, you turn up the oven to “broil.”

Then you toss on the sage and cheese, it goes back in the oven, and when it comes out, toss on those chopped dried cherries.

Yeah, it’s good. It’s not beef bourignon, it’s not trout almondine, it’s not poached salmon, but it’s good for a quick weeknight meal. Heck, quick meal anytime. Dried cherries are a good thing on this dish, too.

I haven’t had acorn squash in a long, long time, I was peeling the skin off the flesh. And I realized it might be edible. Well, heck, I ate the skin, because it was much softer than it was before. So, if you’re game, eat the whole acorn squash, OK? Just get rid of the seeds.

Hey–I wonder if I can plant the seeds. Hmmm. . .it’s an idea.

If you can find the final issue of Everyday Food, grab it, and turn to page 85 to learn how to make this dinner for yourself tomorrow.

Happy Dining!

Splayds

Today I’m going to tell you all about the BEST way to eat food. No, not with your grubby paws, darnit (and wash them before you eat, OK?) No, eat like the Aussies. Use a Splayd.

A what?

Splayds were invented in Australia by Bill McAurthur of Potts Point, New South Wales in the late 1940’s. (Source: Splayds.com.au) He noticed that when eating at a party, it’s difficult to balance a knife and fork, and came up with a 3-in-1 tool that’s very easy to use. They became *the* wedding gift in Oz and has also spread to other countries. Except, unfortunately, this one. But there are those of us who know about these incredible utensils and favor them.  You can read a little more about it here.

How did I come across these, you wonder? I was, in 1996, a bride (for the third time), and received a set of four from a friend in Melbourne, Australia:

The first set of Splayds, received as a gift

I’ve had these since 1996, and won’t part with them.

She explained that they are what you give for a wedding present in Australia, and hoped that I would enjoy these. Well, DUH! Of course I did–and made sure to thank her for them, of course. Although the husband (who’s been an ex since 2001) tried them, he never really got used to them. No matter, I have forks, but I prefer the Splayd. If you’ve never tried them, you don’t know what you’re missing. They are so much easier than a standard fork–and not like the plastic “spork” you get in some fast-food establishments.

I always wanted more of them, and finally, a couple of years ago, Amazon.com started to carry them, the real thing, so I bought some:

Stainless Steel Splayds bought in 2010. Even better than the originals!

I love these even more than the originals! They really are a joy to eat with, and the clean design of both models goes with any flatware you already have. You can find them here, and they even come with in a nice box, in case you decide to give them as a gift. Amazon also now carries the mini-Splayds, which I didn’t know about until just now, but that’s going to have to wait a while.

But to put them side by side, you will see that they are the same thing (and, because it’s marked on the back.)

Side-by-side pics of my original Splayd, and the new one.

Really, I can’t say enough about how good Aussie made and designed Splayds are. I’m a native-born American, but I like to find new stuff that maybe we don’t know about and can use. Like Splayds. They’re not dangerous or illegal, they just make life a teeny bit better, you know?

Enjoy!

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