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Are you ready to Swerve?

Hi, again, Dear Readers–let’s Swerve!

I’m sorry to be late again, *life* has happened, and there are dogs involved. We’re getting that sorted out, and I’m always looking for new things to bring you.

As I alluded to in a recent post, there is something available for folks who miss SomerSweet, and anyone who’s looking for a sweet alternative to sugar that isn’t toxic or make you feel ill after eating it. An alternative sweetener that allows you to sweeten foods naturally without wondering what will happen in an hour. And one that’s somewhat accessible without ordering it from somewhere else. I found it: and it’s called Swerve.

I still miss my HEB.

Now, y’all keep hearing me say this. I really do, and here’s one of the main reasons:

Notice the drink holder spots?

That’s right, I’m really ticked off about this. HEB, Kroger, Randall’s, and other stores in Houston (and around the country)  have cup holders for your coffee. Many stores, like Kroger, Randall’s, and Target, have Starbucks locations in the store. (The Walmart on I-45 has a McDonald’s in the front of the store as well.) I mean, coffee is a thing now, right? People shop with their coffee, especially during the cold winter months, so why not?

See? They all have them!

When I went to Winn-Dixie a couple of days before Thanksgiving, I stopped in at the PJ’s in front of the store for a coffee. Once I grabbed my basket, I realized–no place for coffee! I had to be very careful balancing a coffee in one hand, or balancing it in the “seat” part of the basket. It’s 2016—child seating areas have been in grocery store baskets since I was a kid—so why don’t they have coffee cup holders in the rest of the US?

Pictures from HEB in Clear Lake

Neighbor E graciously took these pictures for me last Saturday, and included a pic of our friends there, Miss Lei:

Hi, Miss Lei!!!

She made a different version of the hatch apple cake, and E got me the recipe for you:

Note: this isn’t the dump cake version. You don’t use the whole jar, either.

And check out the display that’s right in front of the bakery, inside the store.

NOW do you see why I miss my HEB? (And many thanks to Neighbor E for the great pictures, too!) Well, I’m getting there. And, BF makes it easier. He’s been to our HEB, so he understands why.

Turkey thighs found!

I did find more turkey thighs at the Rouse’s on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, and I bought both packs—they were under $2! Next trip to NOLA, I’ll go look again. The newest Trader Joe’s is across the street; I just went there for a couple of bottles of water for the trip home (and I know they’re 17 cents each.)  But it’s nice, just like the one in Baton Rouge, and the one in The Woodlands. If you haven’t been to a Trader Joe’s, and there’s one in your area, might be worth a visit. I very nearly brought home a packet of their Pork and Beef Tamales. They actually are a product of Mexico. They’re real tamales, and very tasty too.

Anyway. . . .

Do *you* have a coffee while you shop?

I did notice that my Whole Foods in Mandeville has coffee cup holders in their baskets—the little “urban” baskets, as I call the smaller ones with two compartments, have them in the handle like HEB does. The bigger baskets, the ones with the child seats in them, have these plastic holders, which also hold things like flowers:

This will hold coffee or a bunch of flowers.

I know, I know. . .these are “first world problems.” But DARNIT! When there’s a PJ’s right in front of the store, why can’t Winn-Dixie shoppers have holders for coffee too?

What’s this foolishness?

Speaking of Whole Foods, I saw this little gem last time:

Not Beef? Not interested!

No kidding, “Not Beef.” OK, riddle me this, Batman—if you’re truly a vegan and/or vegetarian, and you do not partake of a product that comes from “anything with a face,” why are you in need of a product that tastes of simulated beef? Is this to go with your “plant-based burger meat?” Not a joke, and it’s $3 a box!

Yuck.

No, OK? And that recipe for “Not Beef Noodle Soup” starring cut bits of tofu? Yeah. . .not happening in the Casa. Even if I weren’t allergic to soy, I wouldn’t try it. What’s the point? Besides, BF would run me up the street for bringing tofu into his house.

I know, I know–Whole Foods is giving customers what they want, or what they think they want. This is America, the land of invention, so. . .spend your money where you like, but I still think it’s silly.

Resistance is futile

Oh, and, despite my refusal to do so, I now have a Winn Dixie Customer Reward Card, similar to the ones I have for Kroger, Randall’s, Vitamin Shoppe, Petsmart, Petco, IKEA, and a myriad of other stores in Houston and elsewhere.  I added the app to my phone, too. Lucky me, they have “fuel points” that we can use to save a few rubles when we fill up The White Knight. So I hope to be able to use the points soon. I spoke to Winn-Dixie today to resolve an issue with duplicate cards.

While I on the phone with the nice lady, I expressed my discontent with having no place to put my coffee cup while shopping. (The PJ’s is right there, for heaven’s sake!) She didn’t know why that was, but she promised to pass along the suggestion to management. So maybe during the next upgrade of baskets, Winn-Dixie will get with the 21st Century and have a place for customers to put their coffee cups while shopping there.

Enough of that—this is the post you’ve been waiting for.

Let’s do the Swerve!

If you’re one of those folks who is missing SomerSweet, isn’t happy with stevia, or would like to move away from the Splenda, Equal or other chemical sweeteners you’ve become accustomed to using, Swerve might be what you’re looking for.

 

As I mentioned in my last post, I found Swerve in the Mandeville Whole Foods on my first trip. Swerve is erythritol, a natural sweetener that doesn’t have any nasty side effects like chemical sweeteners, and no, um, gastro issues. This is great news for diabetics and anyone who wants to cut down or eliminate sugar from their diet. You can have some sweet stuff and not be tempted by something you know you shouldn’t be eating. It’s especially useful this time of year when you know how all the well-laid plans go pear-shaped when someone shows up with anything called “Black Forest,” “Chocolate Cherry,” “Peppermint,” or the thing that makes me knock a big guy out of the way. That would be nearly anything with chocolate and raspberry in the same place.

BF knows to move if I spot that combo, but I haven’t been in the company of the esteemed Shaquille O’Neal; I’m sure he’d move out of the way just as fast.

The ingredient list.

Here’s a closeup:

How does it compare to the now-defunct SomerSweet?

Very similar, but not exactly the same.

Here’s a peek in the bag:

Swerve!!

The day I bought it, I paid $7.99 for this bag:

My receipt. Thankfully, BF doesn’t look too closely sometimes.

No, it’s not cheap–but it’s useful if you’re looking for healthy ingredients.

Not everybody cares

Please note that in my own experience with healthier foods, not everyone cares that it’s sugar-free, gluten-free, carb-free, or yeast-free. This was especially true at Thanksgiving when my favorite Cranberry Ginger Relish wasn’t well-received. The vegan cornbread made for BF’s Dad wasn’t well-received, either. I’m not doing that again, I’ll make all that stuff for myself. BF “kind of” liked the vegan cornbread, but the “regular” cornbread wasn’t all eaten, either—about half went to Hound Training.

Another example: A few years ago, I brought former Neighbor R a pan of yeast-free brownies at her request (she’d given me a big favor.) She thought that little pan was “too much,” and she gave half to another neighbor. That other neighbor, I was told later, brought them to her booth at a flea market, where “everybody loved them!” No kidding—that neighbor didn’t know they were more expensive, sugar-free and all that, because she was accustomed to making brownies from a box. I’ve said this before: alternative ingredients are pricier than the usual white-flour/white-sugar stuff. So unless you know someone who would appreciate yeast-free brownies, gluten-free cornbread, or other non-standard healthier recipes, it’s probably better to keep them to yourself, or at least in your family’s kitchen.

Swerve is all good

Granular Erythritol is available in a number of places, including Amazon and Dr. Hotze’s in-house vitamin store (called Sweet-N-Natural.) This 2-pound can is $50; SomerSweet was considerably less expensive. But if you don’t have the inclination to pop for that much Sweet-N-Natural, Swerve is a great option to try erythritol. A 12-ounce bag was $7.99 at Whole Foods, and you may find it on sale occasionally for less.

So what do you do with it? Use it like sugar. Between the Swerve website and their Facebook page, you’ll find lots of ideas for using Swerve to satisfy your sweet tooth. They don’t yet have a downloadable PDF file of recipes; you just go there, or to their Facebook page, and pick out what you’d like. I’ve seen some tasty desserts on their site, but I haven’t tried them yet. This one, for Pecan Pie Biscotti, looks pretty tasty.  (Access all their recipes here.)

I had a chat with the very nice Natalia at Swerve, and she says that although they’ve been around since 2001, they’ve only stepped up their marketing since 2012. Swerve is available nationwide as well as in Canada and is also available at places like Amazon, iHerb, and Vitacost if your local market doesn’t carry it. (They currently don’t have an e-commerce function on their own website.) You can also use their handy online store locator to find it in your neck of the woods. I  had no idea that it was available in Clear Lake, but it is!

Swerve comes in 12-ounce packages, in granular and powdered.

What makes Swerve special?

The cup-for-cup measure is a distinct difference between Swerve and other similar products. Swerve is the only product of its kind that comes in not only granular, like you would put in your coffee, but also powdered for confectionery creations (i.e., truffles.) No one else has a “confectioner’s sugar” version. It’s also gluten-free and non GMO (two big sell factors for me.) Erythritol doesn’t promote tooth decay the way sugar does, and of course, it TASTES LIKE SUGAR! No metallic aftertaste like stevia—I’m sorry, but stevia kind of tastes funny to me. So, I’m liking Swerve a lot.

Unlike xylitol, erythritol is also safe for the dogs who might get under your feet and nibble a bit of crumbs you didn’t know you dropped. Xylitol is very toxic for animals, so if you have some or might use it, do keep an eye out around the critters. Last thing you want is an emergency vet bill for a poisoned animal.

So what does Swerve taste like?

It tastes like sugar! No, really, it tastes like sugar. No aftertaste at all.

I tried Swerve myself recently when I made some coconut oil chocolate to nibble on. With It worked perfectly, and there was no difference between the one I made with SomerSweet and the one I made with Swerve. They were equally tasty, and melted all over my hands as coconut oil is wont to do.

This much coconut oil

Some cocoa powder:

Two tablespoons of cocoa powder, then mix well with a fork:

Chocolate first

Now add Swerve, just stir it in:

See? Works like sugar. Just stir it right in.

I think I added two of those tablespoons, just like SomerSweet. And because the coconut oil was unflavored, a little almond extract does wonders for the taste:

Chocolate. . .er,”candy.”

Please note that almond extract is VERY potent, and you only need a tiny drop for this.

Freeze until hard, and carefully break it into chunks to eat like candy. Well, it pretty much is, isn’t it?

I’m thinking it might be time for another crack at the YeastFreeBrownies, sweetening them with Swerve. I haven’t made them in a while. Maybe BF might even like them, just a little.

So, now you have an alternative, and if you’re like me, a replacement for the beloved SomerSweet. (Or if you’re looking to permanently ditch the toxic chemical ones.) I’ll use the rest of the SomerSweet over time, and will pick up my sugarless cooking and baking with Swerve. BF will probably not like me buying many bags of it at a time, but you know I hate to run out of anything.

Be sweet and enjoy!

 

HeatCageKitchen Garden and The Return of Blue Bell Ice Cream

Happy Friday, Dear Readers!

My sincerest apologies for the lateness in posts. I’ve been busy on the copywriting side, so writing here has been postponed. But I’ve got some things to tell you about, including the return of Texas’ favorite ice cream. I’ve got a new cookbook, which I’ll tell you about in a future post, as well as a new piece of kitchen equipment.

I’ve finally decided to start watching the Harry Potter films. I’ve read all the books more than once–the most addictive books ever–but I’ve never seen the movies. I ordered them from the library, and shortly I’ll be watching “Year 6” (Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince.) After that, the two halves of Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows should arrive, hopefully next week. I tried watching Mad Men. UGH. Five episodes of season 1 was all I could stomach. Like a lot of folks, I’m waiting for Downton Abbey’‘s final season to start. We are all distressed by this, of course, and hope Mr. & Mrs. Bates catch a break and the wedding of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes goes off without a hitch. (I think Lady Mary gets married, because in the trailer, I thought I saw a wedding ring on her left hand.) After so much Harry Potter at once, I’m now wondering where I can use the incantations “Stupefy!” and “Expecto Patronus!” in daily life.

Have you noticed the plethora of pumpkin-flavored everything yet? Starbucks has brought back their (in)famous Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL), now with real pumpkin! Honest, I’ve never had one. Maybe when I win the lottery. However, after discovering a meme creator for my phone, I made another one of these, that we see every year:

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No kidding. Last weekend’s trip through The Fresh Market yielded this:
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Neither the Pumpkin nor the Chocolate Cherry come in decaf. Darnit. I didn’t check Pecan Pie, because HEB has a Texas Pecan flavor in decaf.

And because I couldn’t resist poking fun at the GER again, this one went on Facebook:

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That actually IS the GER’s  profile picture in my iPhone. Because I know he wouldn’t let me take one of him. If I did, he would break the phone. So the piggy pic from Fresh Market has to do. Yes, he knows. In fact, it was his birthday this week–he wasn’t interested in a cake, either. Oh, well.

So let me give you an update on the HeatCageKitchen garden.

As I mentioned last time, the recently planted organic spring onions have taken off:

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I’m not kidding when I tell you they’re easy to grow–just cut the white rooted part and stick it in water, or better, dirt. They’ll keep growing a while, until of course, you attempt to transplant them. Hopefully this container will last at least as long as the last one did, and I don’t have to buy more for five years.

More rain off and on, so no weeding yet. But soon.

Look! Basil!

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Both plants had lots of leaves, although the slugs have had a munchfest on the bottom leaves and on the little sprouts which are slowly getting bigger. I hope they get bigger before Christmas. . .MAN this is the longest I’ve seen seedlings grow past the first two leaves. Never fear. . .I also had plenty of parsley, and you know what that means!

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I measured everything and discovered I had enough for TWO batches of pesto! Some of it is parsley, but I don’t mind. Longtime readers know of my affinity for pesto, and for Pea and Pesto Soup. Hopefully the two big plants will grow back, and the seedlings will be nice and big so I can make even more for the winter. This, of course, means a trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, for more of those little containers, but who cares? It’s PESTO!! (Can you tell I never had it growing up in New Orleans?)

In addition to the citrus trees doing whatever (the Meyer lemons are still the same, no change), the tomato plants are. . .well, I don’t know what’s going on with them. Let me fill you in:

  • The Sungold plant has given me some tiny tomatoes for seeds, and flowers indicating more to come
  • The Chocolate Cherry and Cherokee Purple have done nothing since the initial harvest of a few
  • I’ve trimmed the dead stuff off all the tomato plants, two of which exceed six feet
  • The Chocolate Cherry and Cherokee Purple have new growth from the bottom of the plants
  • The Tumbling TomTomato has given me four more full-sized yellow orbs
  • The Tiny Tom (red) has given me these alien-looking things that I hope contain seeds I can save for next year:

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The first ones I got were nice, round tomatoes. What do you call this nonsense? Seriously, have you ever seen anything so WEIRD? Take a closer look after I picked them and brought them in:

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I’ve gotten three or four like that, the size of the top digit of my pinky finger, and the ones that are coming behind it are round (you can see it bottom right, under the leaves.) What the heck do you call that?

In all seriousness, the very dry, hot summer has taken a toll on all the plants, and even though they were watered regularly, I’m guessing that wasn’t enough. Remember, my beautiful red bell pepper scorched, and I had to toss it. Can’t even put that in the compost bin (which I plan to re-start soon.)  However, there are more on their way. I hope:

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Already got one being worked:

Bottom of the baby bell pepper

Bottom of the baby bell pepper

Oh, and I think my sage plant is toast. Just shriveling up on me. Oh, well, I can find another one, I’m sure.

On the other hand, the Anaheim/Hatch chile peppers are coming back like gangbusters:

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One of many, MANY peppers that are coming in the next few weeks.

The thing about these is that they are the same color as the leaves, so I actually have to go out and poke around and feel through the leaves, otherwise I’ll miss one. It’ll stay too long and get red-hot. Not something I want in my breakfast casserole. There are little flowers all over this plant–I’ve never had that happen before with an Anaheim. If this keeps up, I might not have to buy the cans for a while.

Now we switch gears for something important.

If you’re in Texas, you know we’re celebrating the return of Blue Bell Ice Cream. Not everyone is celebrating, however–it’s in limited distribution and not all the flavors are available. lt’s only available in Houston and parts of Alabama, and only four flavors: Homemade Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate, Butter Pecan, Cookies and Cream, and The Great Divide (half chocolate, half vanilla.)  My favorites, Sugar Free Vanilla and MOO-llennium Crunch, are not currently available, but remember, they’re coming back from a complete suspension of operations. You can find out more with this locator can show you where it’s available now.

Neighbor K gifted me a pint last week, since I wasn’t feeling well all week:

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She wasn’t sure if I’d prefer chocolate or vanilla–chocolate would be my first choice, but since it was a gift, I was not going to be picky, and said “thank you.” It was wonderful!

I did get more a couple of days later:

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I posted these pictures on Facebook, to the consternation of many folks, one of whom attempted to get some in Lumberton, TX, and was told, “go to Houston.” He was rather unhappy about that.

Another individual posted a rather bad picture of someone (possibly himself) with a half-gallon on the table, lid off, a belt around his upper arm,and a cigarette lighter under a tablespoon of ice cream. Yes, I agree, bad taste, although you do get a fair amount of dark humor on Facebook. But that’s how deprived we’ve been.

When I went back for another pint a couple of nights ago–eaten in three parts over 3 days–I intended to get more chocolate. While standing in line, I happened to look down and saw that one of the ingredients was. . .WHEAT!!

SAY WHAT????

Flour? In ice cream? OK, I’ll give on the Cookies & Cream–you expect that. But plain old chocolate? Oh, NO!!!

Today I called Blue Bell to ask about that very thing. Cheryl Ignasiak in Customer Relations asked around her office, and was told that flour is not actually added to Dutch Chocolate ice cream. But because the possibility of cross-contamination exists with the Dutch Chocolate, they have to list it on the label as an “ingredient.” Cheryl was very nice, and of course, I wasn’t out to do a “hit piece” on Blue Bell (I leave that for people in areas where they’ve never had it), I just wanted to know the score on this for folks who read this blog that do have problems with wheat, so they can know if they’re exposed.

Cheryl did tell me that Homemade Vanilla and my other favorite, MOO-llennium Crunch, are both gluten free. So that was good news. (But better news would be that they MAKE MOO-llennium Crunch again.)

Again, Blue Bell is not at full production yet, and they are working towards that goal. Eventually, everyone will be able to get some, and all the flavors will be available again. Cheryl was nice enough to email me a list of their products that are suitable for folks avoiding gluten, and you can read the PDF file here:

Nutrition Notes GLUTEN Ice Cream.

That’s quite a few flavors for folks with gluten issues. Good news, indeed.

I know, I know. . .the Great Ice Cream Lysteria Hysteria of 2015 is almost over. (Blue Bell wasn’t the only brand that was hit.) I did try to get by with other, lesser brands of ice cream. Admittedly, HEB’s Creamy Creation is not bad, but I didn’t think about it. I did make ice cream a couple of times, and on one occasion bought Target’s Market Pantry ice cream. Know what? I discovered that not only is a lot of air whipped in, making the container feel half-empty, one I almost got had. . .wheat flour. I put that stuff back and got something else. Blue Bell, when frozen, doesn’t feel “squishy.” It gets HARD, like ice cream should be.

If you are in the areas that get Blue Bell, rejoice and go buy some. If you are not, you have two choices: drive to an area that has some, bring your ice chest, and get some. Then, be patient–the house-elves are working as fast as they can to get everything up and running for full production.

Oh, wait–Blue Bell has employees, not house-elves, don’t they?

Nevermind–I’m going watch that Harry Potter movie before bed.

Happy Friday!

Summer Simmer: The Crock Pot

Hello, Dear Readers:

Well, I’m back for a bit. The copywriting training went well, and I’ve been quite busy working on my marketing materials–and getting a little brain freeze occasionally. No, Blue Bell ice cream is completely unavailable, and I don’t want any other kind. Soon the “great ice cream listeria hysteria” will be over and Blue Bell will be in stores again. No, it’s been the writing and constructing of things I’ve needed for a long time. I have a better understanding of it, but it’s a bit slow going. There will be an email to the coach/instructor soon, if for no other reason than clarification of a few things.

One idea borrowed from my copywriting website is a page for my writing samples. I realized one night that I could start a recipe section on this website, and I have. At the top of the page, you’ll see a link to recipes, (you can click on the link too)  where my favorites old and new will be available as PDF files. I even created a logo that I think I’m going to use on the recipes and maybe elsewhere on the site. I’m not a designer, so that’s a “C priority” right now. But there are currently four recipes there, one from this post, and more will be added as I can.

While the rest of the country says “spring,” the 80-degree days are here, so we’re pretty much back into running our air conditioners 24/7 except for the recent spate of cool fronts that have come through. I’ve been wearing shorts for some time now, and even with the breezes we get, it’s still warm. Neighbor K’s adorable Daft Pug isn’t interested in the long walks anymore, but he’s good about. . .well, going outside for a sunshine break.

The HeatCageKitchen garden is roaring along–I’m getting tomatoes! I now have only three Meyer lemons growing, after one dropped off during the rainstorm this morning. . Mint, pesto, onions, parsley, cilantro–they’re all getting bigger, and so is the Anaheim chili pepper plant. Oh, and I’ve re-done the ‘re-grow your lettuce” experiment; it’s working this time, but I should plant one or two more lettuce cuttings. More on the garden soon.

Neighbor J upstairs has gotten into the habit of giving me the Sunday paper when he’s done with it, mostly for the coupons. He keeps the sports section, so naturally, I’m not complaining. He’s also the neighbor who has generously given me some venison and some raw honey on occasion. I need to bake him some muffins or a cake soon, as well as a couple that live in a different building. They generously planted some free landscape things in front of our little enclave; someone else dug up the free plants. Neighbor K and I keep saying we’d get around to it, but this sudden gift happened on Good Friday.

Remember: gifts do not always come wrapped up at Christmas. Ask anyone who’s received something handmade from me, like The E Man and friend of the blog KJ, both in New Orleans, who each received a package of handmade items recently; KJ didn’t know it was coming.

Speaking of The E Man, I recently helped him find Trader Joe’s in Baton Rouge. He happened to call me a couple of weeks ago and mentioned that he was in Baton Rouge, and I said, “Are you going to Trader Joe’s?” No, but he wanted to, so I employed a strategy I’ve used before: faith, hope, and Google Maps. He took a casual ride up Perkins road, saw lots of newly constructed housing and was amazed. It only took about 15 minutes or so, and he had to take another call. When I called back he was in the store and found the coffee samples. I may have created a monster.

Now, speaking of warmer weather, if you’re one of those people who has a taste for iced coffee, take heart. Nick Usborne at Coffee Detective has you covered. Nick just posted a tutorial on making iced coffee at home–and it couldn’t be simpler! I’ve been making it one cup at a time, and when I put almond milk in it, well, the milk curdles. No more. I first started drinking iced coffee when it was just hot in the Boeing building, and I poured my fresh coffee in a glass of ice and have loved it ever since. Check out Nick’s tutorial and start making your own. I did, using some decaf Community coffee last night.

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I just used the big French Press. Twice. Made it a little stronger than I should have; but since this was the first time, I’ll be able to do better next time.

If you have the room, and I don’t, you can also make coffee as you normally would and make coffee ice cubes so your drink isn’t diluted. Maybe in the country house.

Anyway, into the pitcher it goes for whenever I want some.

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If you go to a coffee shop, you will pay good money for iced coffee. Since Starbucks uses some kind of sugar-heavy mix, when I ask for a decaf iced coffee, they make it fresh for me. I don’t do that often, honest.

Sweet, cold, delicious iced coffee. Nothing like it, and made at home.

Sweet, cold, delicious iced coffee. Nothing like it, and made at home.  And I’ll have it for a few days. Thanks, Nick!

Now, I’ve written before about the wonders of the Crock Pot. Do you have one? Do you use it? Seriously, do you? Well, you should. If you don’t, go get one. But before you do, let me tell you what you can find. Well, let me tell you how I found out about all this.

I first started using one when I lived with the GER. When we weren’t getting along and I was planning to move, I stopped at Big Lots one day after a Buddhist meeting (I didn’t want to go home, basically) and found that they had white Crock Pots for $19.99 each. (This was 2004.) I bought a big round 6-quart and a smaller, oval 4-quart. I used both of them regularly, but slacked off a bit in recent years (I’ve been busy.)

One of the biggest draws is that the 110v Crock Pot doesn’t heat up the entire kitchen like your 220v stove will. Put food in it in the morning, and it’s ready to eat when you get home, no extra cooking, baking, or anything. So. . .with summer on its way, dust yours off, read the instruction manual and get started.

Continuing The Karma of Spare Parts, (oh, you have no idea) I haven’t used either of my Crock Pots in a while because a) the 6-quart needed a new knob to replace the melted and cracked one that didn’t work well, and the 4-quart oval needed a new lid after the old one lost the handle. I just got sick of waiting. Finally. . .I got on Crock Pot’s website and ordered them, darnit!

They arrived Easter Saturday, and I was SO happy. . .I had a piece of pork ribs I was going to drown in BBQ sauce, and I was going to make a breakfast, too, all on Easter Sunday. I figured the ribs would fit in the 4-quart one. Nope–change gears. Pulling the 6-quart out of the cabinet and transferring the meat, I moved the 4 quart to the other side of the kitchen. The plug caught in my apron somehow, I felt the pull when I moved, and before I could stop it, the next thing I heard was. . . .CRASH.

The 4-quart oval stoneware piece was in pieces, although the brand new lid and heating unit were fine. Oh, this was a big problem. I had to go out anyway, and one place I did go was Wal-Mart to, ah, “rent” another Crock Pot until I could get a new stoneware insert for the 4-quart. (Returned it a week later.) Meantime, I had a schedule and I had to get on with it. The day was saved, and the next day, I was cruising through a cookbook and found a chocolate custard recipe to make.

The next day I called Crock Pot and asked if they might have any white ones, but no, all they have now is black. That’s OK. I also needed to make sure I had the right one, and I did. The new stoneware arrived a few days later, and all was back to normal, more or less.

The Crock Pot started out as a bean cooker back in the 1970’s, and I’ve actually used it for garbanzo beans recently; that’s the subject of an upcoming post. But it didn’t take long for people to figure out that inexpensive cuts of meat cook up really nice and tender in it. Whole meals can be made in them, if you like (and if you have a small family.)

I clicked around Crock Pot’s official site, and I found a number of interesting things, including recipes, travel gear for Crock Pots, and something I wish I had when I was working–a Crock Pot for lunch! It’s small enough to tote around and carries just enough for lunch. You just plug it in at your desk and your lunch is nice and hot whenever you get to it. No waiting for a microwave that may not be sanitary, or leaving your lunch in the community fridge where someone might mistake it for theirs (or worse, mess with it.)  Awesome, and I wish I’d known about these a long time ago.

Now, the technology side comes out when I see the WeMo web-enabled Crock Pot. If you’ve never heard the term “The Internet of Things,” well, it means stuff that we use every day that is (or will be) *Internet-connected. While the smartphone is an obvious example, this is a definite contender. You download a free app for your smartphone, and you can turn the temp up or down, or turn the thing off by way of your phone. Great idea for people on the go, but it begs one question:

Do you really want your dinner hooked up to your WiFi?

Look, I’m kind of tech-savvy, especially after being in IT for 8 years. I’m so glad I have an iPhone (even if it is a 4.) The iPhone does, shall we say, butter many parsnips, and it’s a great help in a lot of ways. But connect your Crock Pot? Is that really necessary? One of the benefits of slow cooking is that if you’re a little late, it won’t burn. This, of course, is your choice, but even as a writer who does marketing, I just think it’s techie for the sake of being techie.

Up to you, of course.

There is also a blog, a spot for replacement parts, customer support (US based) and a page where you can order food just for your Crock Pot all ready to drop in. Call me whatever you like, but is it that difficult to cut up some stuff and throw it in? I’ve seen them once or twice in stores, but you can order them online. Up to you.

My first, and favorite book for slow cooking is The Everyday Low Carb Slow Cooker Cookbook, which I bought when it was new. (The GER wasn’t sure what to make of that, but that’s OK–I still confuse him to this day.)  Another one I have but only recently rediscovered is Dana Carpender’s 200 Low Carb Slow Cooker Recipes from 2005. That’s where the next recipe comes from. (I also have her book 15-Minute Low Carb Recipes, which I also need to go back and look at sometime.)

If you’ve never used a slow cooker before, or you need a refresher, let me tell you the basic rules:

  1. You put the food in
  2. You put the lid on
  3. You plug it in
  4. Turn it on
  5. Leave it alone

Got it? One other thing–make sure that when you put the lid on, it is covered and there are no “escape holes” for heat to leak out. You could come home to dry, tough food you weren’t expecting. I’ve done it, that’s why I say that.

When you go to clean the stoneware, make sure it’s cooled, or you use hot water to wash/soak it with–or you’ll be getting on the Crock Pot website and ordering a replacement.

Last night I went on Pinterest and typed in “Crock Pot Hacks.” I actually started another board to save them. One tip that I found was to line the crock with foil makes it easier to clean and helps everything cook evenly. However, I found a list of tips here that you might find interesting. One pin involved wrapping potatoes–sweet or russet–in foil and baking them in the slow cooker, but dry. Another one involved some wire and stuff, turning it into a sous-vide machine. I’m not posting it here because I do NOT want any of my readers getting shocked because it looked easy to do. (I’m thinking about you, GER, ’cause I know you’ll try it.)  But if you’re interested in finding new recipes, or other stuff you can do with a Crock Pot, check out Pinterest for more. Just start searching–you never know what you’ll find, and it’s not like Facebook at all.

Last night on Facebook I saw a short video titled “Shredding chicken like a boss!” It was a video of someone with a hand mixer shredding chicken that was obviously cooked in the Crock Pot–it was still hot. (Looked like chicken breasts, in a big Crock Pot.) The cook used the hand mixer on low speed, and the chicken was shredded in no time! It may be on YouTube as well.

Now–dessert time. How about some chocolate custard made in the Crock Pot? (That’s one of the recipes on the new page.)  It takes just a few ingredients and couldn’t be simpler.

First, heat up some almond milk and chocolate:

Almond milk and chocolate heated in a double-boiler

Almond milk and chocolate heated in a double-boiler

When it looks like that, whisk in your sweetener (I used 3/4 cup of SomerSweet, but the recipe calls for 2/3 cup Splenda, which you know I won’t use.)

The original recipe called for some kind of low-carb milk called Carb Countdown. I’ve never seen it, but the same amount of almond milk worked just fine. I don’t know if coconut, rice or other alternative milks will work, but if you want to try it, go for it. I just can’t guarantee anything.

Next, grease or spray a 6-cup glass casserole dish, and pour the cream in:

IMG_1950[1]

I used a bit of olive oil, that’s why you see the globules on top. No big deal.

Then add the chocolate mixture, then the eggs individually:

One of six eggs, beaten one at a time.

One of six eggs, beaten one at a time.

Carefully put the casserole dish into the slow cooker, pour water around it, up to 1″ of the top rim. DO NOT get water into the custard, please.

Now cook it!

Now cook it!

Cover the slow cooker and cook it on low for 4 hours.

What you get later looks like this, but it’s not ready to eat yet.

Too hot to eat!

Too hot to eat!

You take the lid off and let it cool. When it’s not burning hot anymore, carefully remove it from the crock, cover it, and when it’s cool enough to refrigerate, well, do so. Once it’s nice and cool, this is what you slice and serve:

IMG_1958[1]

NOW it’s ready to eat.

It’s rich, fudgy and substantial. Made in advance, it’s a nice option for a dinner party, or for a single woman to enjoy all week by herself. Hey–it’s my kitchen, I’ll enjoy a sugar-free, low-carb chocolate thing anytime I want.

Incidentally, the second time I made this, I topped a slice with some bought-on-sale raspberries and a light dusting of SomerSweet. Yum.

So, it didn't come out of the dish just right. I'm not FoodBabe, either.

So, it didn’t come out of the dish just right. I’m not FoodBabe, either.

A printable PDF copy of this recipe is available on the new recipe page, so you can try it today if you like.

With summer pretty much here in the south, and coming everywhere else, a Crock Pot is going to be a good thing to have around. There are so many models available in various price ranges that it’s a good investment for cooks everywhere.

There are hundreds of books on slow cooking; I just listed two that I have. But with all the cooking websites available, it’s easy to find and keep recipes you like and either stash them in your DropBox, save them to your hard drive or print them and save them in a notebook. I found two e-books last night on Pinterest–one Paleo and one gluten-free that I’ll be reviewing soon.

College students in dorms also might want to think about Crock Pots, too–and learn to use it before they go to school in the fall. Might that be a good gift idea for a graduating senior? Just a thought.

And really–now that the long, cold winter is done, you want to get outside again, right? Let dinner cook itself. It’s easy to do, and couldn’t be simpler. Follow simple directions and you’ll have some tasty food waiting for you on your schedule. (You almost can’t burn it–that should make the “I can’t cook” crowd happy!)

Have you got a favorite thing you use the Crock Pot for? Post it in the comments (nice, please), so we can all try it! (If I do, I’ll post a review later.)

Whatever you cook in it, get that slow cooker out and start using it again. After a few times, you’ll be glad you did.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Chocolate alert: Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

Good evening:

Well, yesterday was cooking day, and boy did I ever. I started out with a trip to my local Kroger stores. I say “stores” because I couldn’t get everything at the first Kroger, so I had to drop by the second. Next time I may go all the way to Friendswood and visit the one by LK’s place. Oh, wait, is she in League City? I forget. it’s over there on Bay Area and 518, or 528. . .I get those two mixed up. Anyway. . .I did get online and open up my online Kroger account and add some “digital coupons” onto my Kroger card. I also had some paper coupons that arrived in the mail on Friday. I saved a total of $45.45, which made me feel kinda stoked. Nevermind how much I actually spent, but I stocked up on some things and even tried something new.

It was great to watch that $90 tab go down to $63 in a heartbeat when my Kroger card was scanned. But I don’t do that every day.

I roasted a big ol’ pork loin roast, so that was easy. I made some barbecue sauce, because one thing I picked up on sale were some cross-cut shanks. Those went into the slow cooker this morning–delicious! Also made some more of the low-carb fruit muffins I made a couple of weeks ago.

And then I made some of the muffins I told you about in the last post from GF and Methe chocolate hazelnut muffins. Yes, they are worth the trouble to make, including with Somersweet. Wanna see?

First, you mix the cocoa powder and olive oil:

Chocolate and oil, mixed

Sounds a bit odd, but roll with it

Then you whisk up the dry ingredients:

Hazelnut flour and other goodies

Hazelnut flour and other goodies

Then beat the eggs until nice and frothy:

My Suzy Homemaker mixer again!

My Suzy Homemaker mixer again!

And then add this wonderful elixir:

Vanilla extract, HeatCageKitchen style

Vanilla extract, HeatCageKitchen style

And a little of this, too:

All Natural SomerSweet!

All Natural SomerSweet!

 

Add the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture first:

WHIZ!

WHIZ!

Mix in the dry stuff and stir it all up:

wpid-wp-1423534291155.jpeg

And then bake them at 375F for 25 to 30 minutes.

Here’s a tip: let them COOL. Overnight, if necessary. Why? Well. . .the GER came by last night, and I gave him the only one that came out perfectly. The rest, well. . .all I’m saying is let them cool completely. And maybe use paper muffin liners, too:

They sorta didn't come out of the pan exactly right. . . .

Delicious, but mine were not a feast for the eyes.

They sorta didn’t come out of the pan exactly right. . .don’t judge me. Or maybe I didn’t grease the muffin tins enough. Or maybe I need new muffin tins. . . .

I just talked to the GER and he’s not tried his muffins yet. I gave him one chocolate muffin and two of the blueberry muffins. When I mentioned that I was making some gluten-free muffins, he said, “oh, no! You nearly killed me the last time with that dinner!” Like the long-ago dinner with my brother and his family in 1997, I will likely not live that one down. Ever.

I didn’t feel like messing with the Nutella frosting, even though I could have whipped up some Homemade Nutella to make it.

Verdict: Delicious!! With hazelnut flour/meal more available in grocery and health food stores, it wouldn’t be difficult to whip these up anytime you wanted. If you’ve got a gluten-sensitive honey, get started on them Friday afternoon/evening so they’re cool on Saturday, which is Valentine’s Day. If you’re making frosting, I would do it ahead of time, too.

Note that Brenda’s original recipe calls for sugar. But because I’m a fiend for the alternative sweeteners and eschewing sugar, I used SomerSweet, which is primarily erythrytol. If you have something called Sweet N’ Natural, or another erythrytol-based sweetener, and prefer to use that, it might take some fiddling to get it right. But SomerSweet measure identical to sugar, so that’s what I go with.

And if you’re like me, don’t have a special someone, make them for yourself, (the recipe makes 6 or 7) because they’re just delicious. The rich chocolate-hazelnut taste is like nothing else you’ve ever had, and will become one of your favorites.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muffins and Meatloaf

Hello, Dear Readers:

Now that we’re all over the holidays again, time to get back to some “regular” cooking. For some of you, that will mean “light” cooking, some will just be cutting out the wheat, dairy, red meat, or whatever. In my case, as I mentioned last time, I’m back doing yeast free because I’ve got a bug in my gut. Again. Got more Yeast Control, and started taking it last Friday with some nausea, so I guess it’s killing off the little buggers

I’ve written about the yeast-free diet before and Candida albicans. If you are experiencing gastric things like heartburn, gas, bloating, and other embarassing symptoms, consider reading more and get rid of the yeast overgrowth. It’s an infection, like any other kind, it’s just not visible. NOTE: I’m not a doctor, nurse, medical person or scientist–just a patient who reads and pays attention. The Green Willow Tree still sells Yeast Control, and even though the price went up $4, it’s still relatively inexpensive. Especially when you consider how much not treating will cost you.

Oh, BTW–the garden will be revamped real soon. However, I bought some green onions recently to make sure I had enough for a recipe I was making, and planted the white rooted stems. Guess what? Five out of the six are growing:

The little stubs. They're growing!

The little stubs. They’re growing!

Plant the bottoms,and they grow. The rest of them have been growing for five years. I chop them and use them whenever I want to, and I don’t buy them unless, like that instance, I wanted to have the right amount.

So. . .

Are you still on your obligatory New Year’s diet? Or have you fallen off the wagon already? Most people do by the second week. It’s fine, til you get HUNGRY. Or someone brings delicious food into the office.

If you’re trying to cut down on meat, or calories, or whatever’s new and popular in dieting, you may be considering going vegetarian/vegan. Many meat substitutes are made with soy and other ingredients humans should not be ingesting. However, over the weekend, I found this little item, called Neat, in HEB and thought I should pass it along:

Neat, a soy-free substitute for meat.

Neat, a soy-free substitute for meat.

I haven’t tried it yet, just looked. This is what’s in it:

IMG_1709

I’ll do some more investigative reporting and get back to you. Warning: if you are allergic to nuts, keep going–there are indeed tree nuts in this mix. YUM. . .

So I’m back on doing whatever I need to during the week, and housekeeping stuff mostly on the weekends. I belong to a number of groups on Facebook, many for writing and some for cooking. Neighbor K told me about Low Carb Among Friends, the group headed by George Stella. If you don’t remember that name, he had a low-carb cooking show on The Food Network; some of his recipes are still on FoodNetwork.com, if you search. Low carb faded away, except for die-hards like myself. I bought his first book, and I knew he had one more book available, but I never looked for any more. They’re all available, either as Kindle books or paperback. One day I’ll go look them up and maybe get the paperbacks.

Why not just get the Kindle version? Because. . .I found a great recipe on Facebook and couldn’t find it again, darnit! But after quite a lot of searching and re-posting it to my wall, I’ve got it for you at this link. (Scroll down past the article to find it.) Gluten free, using almond flour, and sugar free using Somersweet:

Two main ingredients

IMG_1678

And a few berries, meaning I can’t make them right now because that makes it not yeast-free, darnit–but they’re good. You start out with some berries, which, in my case were blackberries on sale:

Big, juicy blackberries!

Big, juicy blackberries!

Just cut them to the same size as blueberries and raspberries:

IMG_1679

The recipe is supposed to make 12, but I ended up with a few more. After you grease the muffin tin, start beating the eggs:

Eggs. . .

My favorite little hand mixer

And then add in some other stuff to make a batter:

Was that the blueberry batch?

That may have been the blueberry batch

Bake them, and let them cool:

IMG_1680

Don’t do this, BTW–you want to use the same size muffin tins for extras. Otherwise, if you forget like I did, they cook too fast and burn a little. . . .

And you have some delicious, fruity, gluten-free muffins for breakfast or anytime you want something sweet.

Yum. . .

Yum. . .

Simple as using a mix, and a lot healthier. (The actual recipe is below.) Except that I can’t have butter for a while, darnit. I’ll live.

Now for something completely different.

Quick question for you: Do you like meatloaf?

Lots of people are divided on the subject, much like cats (people either love them or hate them, but very little in between.)  My mother made it occasionally, but I can’t say it was particularly memorable. Then again, with 4 kids, meals don’t tend to be memorable, they tend to be as fast as you can. Meatloaf didn’t happen often, and honestly, it wasn’t one of my favorite meals until recently.

You know how I like to find meat on sale? Well, frequently ground beef is marked down for quick sale. One day I realized I had a lot of it and figured I needed to do something WITH it. . .hence meatloaf.

Additionally, I’ve developed a liking for meatloaf sandwiches, complete with mayo and other stuff, but I didn’t bake any bread this week. Didn’t feel like it this week.

Here’s the problem: in a loaf pan, they take FOREVER. One day I figured out how to bake it in about 30 minutes. But I digress. . .I’m getting ahead of the story.

See, meatloaf just needs some flavorings and a binder. You just dump them into a bowl, mix them up and bake them. Easy, right? Most standard meatloaf recipes call for bread crumbs. Not in my kitchen! If I do have bread crumbs, it’s from gluten-free bread, and I’ve usually eaten them anyway.

So what do you do, Miss Food Blogger?

Longtime low-carb devotees will tell you some Parmesan cheese will work well. And it does. . .long as you’ve not given up dairy. A couple of things I’ve tried have been ground chia seeds (not much!) and this past week, about 1/8 cup of coconut flour in place of the breadcrumbs. I still used beaten eggs as a binder, but somehow without the flour component, it can fall apart. The coconut flour worked great, and no crumbly meat loaf. I’m thinking that’s a keeper.

Since I’m also a devotee of the Tex-Mex, I started tossing in a can or two of chiles. Yes, THOSE canned chiles. I get the mild ones so that they don’t burn me, but if you like it hotter, by all means, get the spicier ones, or even the canned chiles in adobo sauce. (That’s hot!)

Another “essential” in most meatloaf recipes is the presence of something I used to like but now avoid: ketchup. Unless you make it yourself, and I have, ketchup can be as much as 25% sugar–usually in the form of the evil high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A few years ago, I found a store-bought ketchup brand with “100% pure sugar.” But. . .it’s still sugar, so I don’t mess with it. (That was for the weekend boyfriend who didn’t give a fig about any healthy stuff.)

So what did you do, Miss Food Blogger?

The simple and inexpensive solution was to simply use tomato paste. A whole can. No kidding, per pound of meat, one 6-ounce can of any kind of tomato paste, so long as it’s not flavored with stuff. I can’t find the picture, but I actually did buy tomato paste once with some kind of “Italian seasoning” in it, only to discover later that it had sugar in it, and quite a lot of it. Back to Kroger I went for a can of the correct type.

As I’ve said before–if I’m eating cake, chocolate, or something else confectionary, I know I’m probably eating sugar. But if I don’t know it’s in my tomato paste, or something else where you wouldn’t expect it, I get testy about that.

If you’re diabetic, or otherwise sensitive, you get it.

So here’s the set up:

Basics for the HeatCageKitchen meatloaf

Basics for the HeatCageKitchen meatloaf

Two tablespoons of chili powder and one tablespoon of cumin and coriander, and mix it all together with some garden onions and 1/8 cup of coconut flour:

The dry ingredients first

The dry ingredients first

And two pounds of meat, two beaten eggs, some garlic, and maybe some salt:

Getting there. . . .

Getting there. . . .

Stash it in the pan, bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, but keep an eye on it.

Now here’s the difference:

The flat meat loaf!

The flat meat loaf!

Yes, it’s FLAT. That’s the pan that goes into the toaster oven (it actually came with it) and after I line it with parchment paper, I pat down that mixture and bake it.

I know, this one split. . .I can’t find the picture of this week’s meatloaf, darnit. This week’s got a little over-done, but didn’t split. I think this is the one I used ground chia seeds in.

The pan is actually 12″ square, and is the broiler drip pan for the toaster oven. It can be used individually as a baking sheet, and can be purchased separately. Because I’ve used it so often as a baking sheet, I wore off the finish and now use parchment or foil for that. (It’s not stainless steel, I think it’s aluminum or something.)

If you don’t have a countertop oven, you can use a regular baking sheet and spread it out to whatever size you want it.

The key here is FLAT. And it takes less time than the loaf pan–a lot less.

However you make your meatloaf, there’s a chance flat might work for you.

So, that’s what’s up here, whilst my writer friends up north are digging through snow and ice and camping in until the state of emergency is lifted. One of those writer friends is in North Salem, MA–she just posted a picture showing snow that’s nearly 6 feet. Poor thing is from San Diego. . .and I am jealous. We don’t get snow in Houston very often, and it sure don’t look like a Hallmark card!

Here’s one of her pictures, if you’re in the South and don’t know what it looks like:

Snow from my friend Robbin in North Salem.

Snow from my friend Robbin in North Salem.

If you’re in the middle of all that, please take care, stay warm, and don’t go out unless you have to.

I’m in shorts and a T-shirt, and have been on my patio for a few days now. But that’s not every day, because Friday it’ll be cold again, and I’ll be back in front of the fireplace this weekend.

Stay warm, if you’re up north, and please be careful. If you’re in a baking mood, and you’re snowed in, now’s the time to bake, folks.

And if you’re of a mind, here’s my favorite yeast-free hot chocolate recipe, good anytime, even if you’re not yeast free.

Enjoy, wherever you are!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

George Stella’s Berry Muffins

Prep Time 15 min / Cook Time 25 min / Serves 12

SHOPPING LIST
Nonstick cooking spray
4 large eggs
2 cups almond flour
¾ cup sugar substitute
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup blueberries
1⁄3 cup raspberries

  1. Place oven rack in the center position and preheat to 375°. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add the almond flour, sugar substitute, vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt, and mix well, creating a batter.
  3. Gently fold the berries into the batter and fill each of the greased muffin cups 2⁄3 of the way full.
  4. Bake 20–25 minutes, until the tops of the muffins turn a light golden brown and a toothpick stuck into the center of one comes out mostly clean. Let cool 10 minutes be-fore serving.

NOTE: The recipe states that strawberries should not be used because of their high water content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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