Rapid Ragu and the Cafe Nervosa

Happy Friday, Dear Readers:

Are you ready for fall? Or are you already sick of pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING?

The other night I was in Target, and saw the new “limited edition fall frolic” scent of cat litter that one of my writer friends posted to Facebook last week. I opened the bottle and took a sniff. Not bad, smells nice, and I wouldn’t mind it in a candle. But don’t be surprised if you change to this “fall frolic” scent and your cat starts avoiding the litter box. Their little noses don’t like scented stuff like that. I know–I had cats. I did that. They let me know about it in their own “specially scented” way.

I’ve had the old Steely Dan song Deacon Blues stuck in my head since reading the Wall Street Journal’s article the other day. (Don’t let that old “long-haired-hippie-freak” picture throw you too much–they’re old men now.)  I haven’t heard that song in a long time, and at over 7 minutes, it’s a big earworm. The song was quite complicated and layered, especially for the time, and will forever be associated with the late 1970’s. (For anyone younger than 40, that also means no Auto-Tune. They actually had to play their own instruments, and usually wrote their own music.)  However, since I hadn’t heard it in years. . .now it’s stuck in my head.

You’re welcome.

I suppose I should pull out their Two Against Nature CD and put it into iTunes so I can listen on my iPod sometime. I bought it the day it was nominated for a Grammy, but haven’t played it in a while.

After our two-day autumn tease last weekend, with Sunday morning a wonderful 62 degrees, summer is back for a while, with hot, muggy days and warm muggy nights. And lots of those annoying snails. One of my neighbors suggested today getting some deer whiz from someplace like Bass Pro Shops. (Yes, I said “whiz,” but I could have called it something else less polite.) I’ll let you know what happens if I try it.

This week I have been plagued with alimentary issues, some of which I won’t discuss, but will lead me to the yeast-free diet again. I start Monday, I think, soon as I figure out if I’ve consumed all the dairy stuff I made. I think I did. But I’ve got some Yeast Control, and I’ll be on it. Started Labor Day weekend, and I actually noticed it when I had a glass of wine with Neighbor R. It just never went away.

I conquered the heartburn but yesterday found myself with horrific nausea. After a quick search of using powdered ginger (all I had handy) I came across this comment on a LifeHacker article:

I’m a huge hypochondriac, and over the years I’ve come up with the perfect concoction for whenever I feel the slightest bit sick:

  • Hot water
  • honey
  • lemon juice
  • powdered ginger (~1/2 tsp)
  • cinnamon (~1/2 tsp)

It will seriously make any ailment better.

It worked.

Who has time to run to the store when you don’t know what time the next wave will happen? Thank heavens for the Internet. If you’re not familiar with, go take a look next time you need to learn how to do, fix, or figure out something. I forget that sometimes. People share all kinds of articles there. You just might find out something you didn’t know you needed.

So, I’m going to watch the final Harry Potter film this evening, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, and then I’ll be done with them. I guess I either figure out what to borrow next, or wait for the end of Downton Abbey, which as we all know will start its final season soon in the UK,and in January here in the US. (It will also be released on DVD in late January.)

Last week I went to pick up the earlier Harry Potter DVDs and took a quick look through the library’s bookstore. You never know what you’ll find, and this particular day, I found a couple of good ones, at $1 each. Are you ready for this?


It was a dollar. I could not resist. I always need funny. And, get this–it’s autographed by the author!


“Husband Hunting?” It’s still a thing? Really? Guess Deanna found that man of her dreams. I’ll read it when I run out of movies to watch. Mostly as a defensive measure–if I know what to do to actually find a husband, I’ll also know what NOT to do.

It’s counterintelligence for a dollar. You just can’t get that kind of a bargain every day.

But the one I could not pass up, for $1 was. . .yet another cookbook. Yes, I know, I don’t need another one, but I could not pass up Cafe Nervosa: The Connisseur’s Cookbook. Fans of the TV show Frasier will remember the endless social interactions of the characters at Cafe Nervosa, and the two pompous brothers would occasionally drive the staff up a wall. (Am I the only one who was glad to see Kelsey Grammar rid himself of that steel wool mess on the back of his neck after the second or third season?) It’s still on in reruns on a number of cable channels. Frasier Crane is one of the longest-running TV characters on American TV, keeping Kelsey Grammar employed first through many seasons of Cheers, then on the namesake show. I used to watch it weekly when I could. . .ooh, maybe I should see if the library has those DVDS for me to binge-watch next?

The book itself was actually produced by Oxmoor House, (1996) once the publisher for Martha Stewart’s compendium books as well as other titles. On the front cover is a picture of our favorite psychos. . .I mean, psychiatrists, enjoying a cup at a table by the wall. Inside are color pictures of some of the dishes, which are quite fancy fare, some black-and-white pictures from the show, as well as bits of dialogue. The book tops out at 108 pages, including the index and two pages of metrics equivalents.

There are several recipes for biscotti, as well as breads, muffins and scones, along with paninis, sandwiches, salads, desserts (yes, Tiramisu is on page 75) and coffee drink variations, like a German and a Mexican version of Cafe au Lait. On page 98, there’s a recipe for Cafe Pontalba, which requires coffee and chicory. Do they drink coffee & chicory in Seattle? I doubt it–but since Oxmoor House is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, it’s more likely a southern recipe they added into a book about. . .Seattle.

I haven’t made anything from this book yet, but there are a few recipes I’d like to try sometime. Chicken Salad Au Vin on page 34 looks good, and Quiche for the Fine-Boned might work with some kind of gluten-free crust under it sometime this winter (or maybe no crust at all.) Lots of cheese, though, and a can of my favorite chopped green chiles. On page 66 is also a nice looking Chocolate Dessert in Creme Anglaise that might be nice to try one day. There are a couple of nice-looking ice cream desserts that might have to be attempted eventually, too.

Page 69 has this typical dialogue between Frasier and his brother Niles:

Frasier: Niles, I think you’ll find this Courvoisier is the perfect brandy to top off our evening.

Niles: It was an exquisite meal marred only by the lack of even one outstanding Cognac on their carte de digestifs.

Frasier: But think about it, Niles. What’s the one thing better than an exquisite meal? An exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick at all night.

Niles: Quite right. Let’s savor it.

The jazzy closing theme song was not like other shows, with “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs.” There’s an explanation for it along with the complete lyrics here.

If you’re a Frasier fan, you might just enjoy this book.

Now. . .what did I make last weekend? Oh, I was prowling through The Fresh Market week before last and decided that I would make some of Nigella Lawson’s Rapid Ragu from Nigella Express. (Nigella’s newest book, Simply Nigella, comes out November 3rd, along with a raft of books from Giada de Laurentiis, Ina Garten, and I forget who else.)  I have only made Rapid Ragu once, and the reason I don’t make it more often is because of two things: ground lamb and sweet onion confit from France, bought once from Central Market. However, I decided to go for it, and instead of the French stuff, I got some of this, which I’d considered trying for some time:

A close substitute.

A close substitute.

I actually contacted Stonewall Kitchen (when I was contacting catalog companies as a copywriter) and decided to ask them about it. The comment came back as, yes, it would work, so I got some. To this day I hate the fact that I’d missed this product when Fresh Market sold it “buy one, get one free.” Darnit. They haven’t done it since. But at half the price of French sweet onion confit, I’ll deal with it. I’m sure Nigella wouldn’t mind.

Next up was the ground lamb, which I bought as two big seasoned burgers.


There were two, and when checked out, it was enough for the recipe, as well as less expensive than going to Kroger for some:


So here’s the rest of it:

The setup

The setup

Another exception to this recipe was the use of bacon instead of pancetta, because, after all, pancetta is Italian bacon, and I didn’t feel like springing for it. Target sells half-cup containers of cubed pancetta, and this recipe calls for a full cup–so that’s a good $10 or $15 for pancetta.

  1. The good stuff from Fresh Market.

    The good stuff from Fresh Market.

Bacon definitely works here, and I chopped it accordingly, with the kitchen scissors until I had a cup of the little darlings:


Yum. I only cut half the package, just like that.

Then we cook: heat the oil up and fry that delicious bacon (or pancetta) in it until it’s crispy:

Bacon. Fried. In garlic oil.

Bacon. Fried. In garlic oil.

Then you get busy with the lamb.

See? Burgers!

See? Burgers!

Add that to the pan and break them up to brown, just like you would for sausage or ground beef for spaghetti sauce:


Remember that these were burgers bought as-is, with parsley and rosemary already added in.

Add in the can of tomatoes, water, Marsala wine, lentils, and the onion jam (or carmelized onion confit, if you’re willing to splurge for it) and bring to a boil.

MMmmmm. . . . getting there.

MMmmmm. . . . getting there.

And let it cook for 20 minutes.


Stir occasionally. It won’t be long now.

I wasn’t sure how much Cheddar cheese I had at home.  The recipe calls for either Cheddar or “grated red Leicester,” and I have no idea what that is, but I bet it would be expensive if The Fresh Market had some. So I got some Cheddar while I was there:

I don't normally buy anything "baby," but this was just what I needed.

I don’t normally buy anything “baby,” but this was just what I needed.

And grated it right up:

So glad I bought this blender/food processor combo when I did.

So glad I bought this blender/food processor combo when I did.

After grating up cheese and adding things to the dishwasher for the eventual washing up, IT was ready. I split it up into four of those food storage bowls I use, and added some of the grated cheese on top of each of them:

Lunch for three more days!

Lunch for three more days!

It was as delicious as I remember, and I’m glad I made it. I have more of the onion jam in the fridge, so I can make it again one day soon, should I find ground lamb on sale.

Dig in!

Dig in!

I guess I should mention that it happens to be gluten-free, but really, it was already, since there’s no flour or anything in it, right? But with the wine and the onion jam, it’s NOT low-carb.

But it sure is good.

You can find a printable version of this on the recipe page, if you’re interested, along with a number of others I’ve put to paper. Ragu is to Europe what chili is to Texas, I think, and although it has lentils in it, I don’t think the word “chili” would occur to anyone eating this delicious, meaty dish.

Oh, and since “bowls” are now a thing (as are “toasts,”) this will fit the bill perfectly for a day where dinner needs to be a dump-and-stir proposition. And with winter coming, this is a good one to keep in your back pocket for a cold night and a quick meal.



Chocolate, Meyer Lemons and Sweet Potatoes

Good Evening, Dear Readers:

This post, and maybe your evening supper, is a bit like the title. Some things tossed together. I hope you enjoy it.

For my gluten-free folks: I just received an email today from thyroid advocate Mary Shomon about something called the FODMAP diet. Kind of hard to explain, so here’s the link if you’re interested. It looks to mean high-sugar/carb content foods,but I can’t say I understand all of it from a quick read. For anyone reading that’s interested, I am passing along info.

Two topics are on chocolate, so I’ll start with the first one: Lindt. You probably heard about the incident in Sydney, Australia in a Lindt cafe yesterday: the terrorist went down and two hero hostages didn’t make it out. The company is offering full support for the people affected; I’m sure that includes medical assistance. Awfully nice of them. There is a worldwide call to support Lindt (#buyLindt and #supportLindtchocolate) by buying something they make, i.e., one of those delicious balls of chocolate at the register in my fabric stores. I know, fabric stores. . .but despite everything going on around here, I’m ready to head out for a couple of Lindt dark chocolate truffles with the deliciously soft insides. Maybe tomorrow, but I will. I am also thankful that my wonderful Aussie friends live in Melbourne, some distance away from where this happened.

Please say a prayer for Sydney as the city puts itself back together, buries its heroes and heals from this horrific incident. Much like Boston, it will take time to sort out what happened.

The second topic is a different chocolate company here in the US, and I occasionally drop in their shop in Baybrook Mall when I have to go in there. See’s Candies is a company in the US with some locations in Asia that is more of what you’d call a “chocolate boutique” (my term.) I always thought they were a Texas company, or even a Houston company, but no, they’re headquartered in Carson, California.

Last week I headed to Baybrook Mall for some fact-finding. Because I was slowly becoming claustrophobic, I stopped in See’s for one of their Sugar Free Dark Chocolate Bars, which are pretty darn good. In the store, they’re also sold individually, so it’s not a problem to pop over and get one on the way out. (There is also a Godiva store next to Starbucks, but I’m not going in there.)

Sorry, I forgot the picture until it was gone.

Sorry, I forgot the picture until it was gone.

See’s is white and shiny on the inside, like an old-fashioned candy shop, but of course, it’s mostly chocolate. I don’t go to the mall very often, especially this time of the year, unless I have to. But every time I’ve been there, I’ve been happily greeted by this nice man, even if I’m not feeling nice:

The very nice Malcolm, who always greets me with that smile when I go in there.

The very nice Malcolm, who always greets me with that smile when I go in there.

Note: I was NOT rude to him, I just mentioned that I wasn’t in a good mood, and apologized for being a grouch. By the time I left Sees, I felt better. Please do not be rude to Malcolm, either!! He’s very friendly, doesn’t bite.

I’ve seen him several times, so I know he’s been there a while–which is more than I can say for Staples! (They’re nice too.)  Malcolm always tells me about the delicious new things they have, whether or not they are sugar-free. I can vouch for them all being delicious, even if I don’t know what they are. . .because I’m too busy listening to him tell me about what’s new.

I happened to mention to last week that I write a food blog sometimes, and, DUH–how about a blurb about See’s? I didn’t say I was the best food blogger. . .but Malcolm did mention that he’s also been to culinary school.

So now I know he’s smart, too. But I never doubted it. Once he starts telling you about what See’s has, you know he knows his stuff and isn’t “just working there.”

If you’re in Baybrook Mall sometime, stop in and see Malcolm and his very nice coworkers and see what they’ve got in the way of truffles, candy bars, and if you’re so inclined, sugar free chocolate. Whether for gifts or for yourself, Malcolm will make sure you are not disappointed.

Did I mention that chocolate is the Food of the Gods? I thought I should. . . .

Now, longtime readers of this humble blog are familiar with my attempts at gardening. I’ve had some successes, but I haven’t yet been able to grow enough to make a significant dent in my grocery bill. I’ve had a couple of small bell peppers, three Anaheim chili peppers, and four Meyer Lemons. The lime tree had flowers on it when I bought it, but no fruit this year. Then again, that Meyer lemon plant is about two years old.

The GER told me “you might get one or two from it.” HA! I got four. Take that! I need to ask him how the pineapple plant is doing. . . .

Well, the day finally came where they were ripe and I had to pick them. So what the heck was I going to do with them? Look no further than picture-based social media site Pinterest, where I found this delicious recipe for a gluten free cake made with almond flour and. . .FOUR Meyer lemons.


Now, the only “objectionable” thing in the recipe is sugar. . .so, naturally, I went with Somersweet, and it worked beautifully. Honest, it’s a little time consuming, but otherwise pretty simple.

First, you boil the lemons, no kidding:

I know--it's weird to boil lemons, isn't it?

I know–it’s weird to boil lemons, isn’t it?

When it cools, you cut them open to get the seeds out:


I cut them into pieces on that plate while they were still hot so they’d cool faster. (That one’s a Corelle, so it’s hard to hurt.)  When they cooled, I got the seeds out, which may be planted in the spring and make more lemon trees:

More lemons!!

More lemons!!

Next up, the secret–the food processor!

Meyer Lemon Mush!

Meyer Lemon Mush!

You puree the entire lemon–yes, peel and all–until it’s nice and smooth. Separately, the eggs and sugar/Somersweet get combined.

With my Suzy Homemaker, I mean, Suzanne Somers electric blender.

With my Suzy Homemaker, I mean, Suzanne Somers electric blender.

Then add this:


Next you mix in the almond meal, lemon puree and baking powder to make the batter.


Pour every bit of this into a greased 9″ springform pan and bake it for 50-60 minutes, or until the obligatory cake tester comes out clean:


Now, while that’s going on, clean up a little, and then get on with the icing–I used the fourth lemon, which was half-zested, and juiced it.


Look! It came out of its shell!

One thing I will tell you is that Meyer lemons, while bigger and slightly sweeter than regular lemons, are NOT edible as is. I tried it. Ended up with this much juice.


With 3 tablespoons of soft butter and 1.5 cups of confectioner’s sugar, or in my case, SomerSweet, you beat that all together and get this thick, stiff, tart, sweet icing that tops that sweet, nutty cake perfectly.


No, it’s not something you’d get in a fancy bakery, but you know what? It’s a rustic, homey, delicious cake that will really make you happy. Gluten free, and if you’re so inclined, sugar free.

Yeah. Take a bit outta that.

Yeah. Take a bite outta that.

Neighbor K and Neighbor R have both given two thumbs up to the slice I gave them, so I know it’s good–and neither one cared that it was healthy, either. Try it soon, (even with regular grocery store lemons) and you’ll be happy you did. This cake is good about anytime you want something different, and it’s not chocolate.

Many thanks to fellow blogger Sue over at The View From Great Island for this wonderful cake. It’ll happen again. . .because I have more pureed Meyer lemon in the freezer!!

Now for something REALLY different. . . .dinner.

I was flipping through Nigella Kitchen on Sunday, thinking about what to do with something that’s been in my freezer for a while, and I found an unusual recipe I’d never noticed before. You know I just HAD to try it! Keep reading. . . .

Over the weekend I had the occasion to drive into town. I had no idea that the stretch of freeway was under construction and was closed, I had a fun time taking detours and getting lost. I got where I needed to go, eventually, but on the way home, I stopped at Trader Joe’s for a few things. I took two pictures of what I needed from Trader Joe’s, (paperless grocery lists!) missing only olive oil. I was told by one of the workers that it had not yet been unloaded, and was still sitting on a ship in the Houston Ship Channel.

Oh, well. At least I’m not out.

This recipe is on page 340, and is called Sweet Potato Supper. First thing that caught my eye was “sweet potato.” (The complete recipe is at the bottom of this post.)

Take a look at the picture in the book:

Sweet Potato Supper

Sweet Potato Supper

Well, I needed asparagus and thyme, but was unable to find the cold-pressed canola oil, so darnit, I just used some olive oil. And instead of “smoked lardons” (you try finding them in Houston, OK?) or the 16 slices of bacon, I used. . .bacon. Because lardons are bits of pork fat anyway, darnit.

Why bacon ends? Because they're CHEAP!

Why bacon ends? Because they’re CHEAP.

And because I didn’t notice the half-cup measure of smoked lardons, I just used the entire packet of the bacon ends and pieces:


Because, ladies and gentlemen, there IS no such thing as “too much bacon.” At least, not here. But maybe next time I’ll try half the packet.

Scrub, but don’t peel, two sweet potatoes:

IMG_1502[1]Drop most of the bacon, six unpeeled garlic cloves and washed, trimmed asparagus on top:


I lined the pan with parchment paper first, made cleanup real easy.

Toss some fresh thyme (or one teaspoon dried) on top. Like this stuff:


The rest will be used to make more of my favorite dry BBQ rub.

This pan goes into a 425 degree oven; naturally, in the HeatCageKitchen, it was the toaster oven. The broiler pan for the toaster oven was perfect for this (without the top grill part, of course.)  Roast for 30 minutes, flip the sweet potatoes, then roast for another 30 minutes. . .and this is what comes out:

This is SOOO good!!

This is very delicious. Trust me.


I chopped the sweet potato smaller than Nigella recommends, but I didn’t turn them right at 30 minutes like I should have, so they overcooked on the bottom. No matter. Nigella also recommends mango chili sauce, but I didn’t think to look for it in Trader Joe’s. I think I have some Tabasco Habernero, which has mango in it to tame the heat. . .but I forgot about it. I also forgot to use the lettuce leaves under this, as suggested.

Who cares.

This is SOOO good. . .you will not believe it. I texted Neighbor K, who had gone out for the weekend with her girlfriends, and told her how good it was. I offered her the other half, but she was still full from the morning, so she declined. That means I had it again the next day for lunch!  Maybe next time.

This recipe serves two, but could easily be doubled for four people. It does take an hour to cook, but that frees you to do other things, like make an easy dessert you don’t have to bake.

Seriously, this is amazingly delicious. Want something different for dinner this week? Give this a try. You won’t be sorry.



Sweet Potato Supper, from Nigella Kitchen. (Serves 2)

  • 2 sweet potatoes or yams (washed and dried, but not peeled) cut into quarters
  • 8 ounces (1/2 cup) smoked lardons, cubed pancetta, or 16 slices smoked bacon, snipped (or bacon ends)
  • 8 ounces asparagus tips
  • 6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • a few sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons cold-pressed canola oil (or olive oil)
  • salt to taste
  • Salad leaves, to serve (optional)
  • Chili sauce, to serve (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425, and get out the roasting pan for all the ingredients.
  2. Arrange the sweet potato chunks in the pan and then drop in most of the lardons/bacon, followed by the asparagus tips and garlic cloves, and finally, the remaining lardons/bacon.
  3. Sprinkle with the thyme, pour the oil over, then bake in the oven for 30 minutes, before turning the sweet potatoes over and bake for another 30 minutes.
  4. Let everything cool a bit, then divide between 2 plates on top of salad leaves (if desired) and sprinkling with some salt or chili sauce as desired.




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