Friday, October 31, 2014

Morning Has Broken

Another Friday morning in paradise ... I watch as Anakin Skywalker, The Last Cat Standing, stretches his way out of his bed on the floor by my side to begin his morning routine.  An extended morning greeting follows, complete with head bumps and loud purring.  I swallow a hydroxyzine, which is supposed to give me some relief from the chronic itching in my hands and arms, without knocking me on my ass.

There seems to be an insurmountable distance between my eyes and my brain, as though my senses are operating on automatic while my brain remains disengaged.  I have been awake since 5:30, and have crawled back into bed to soak up those last precious minutes of semi-sleep.  From under my eyelids I can see Anakin riding my husband's shoulders as they head downstairs for tea and kitty treats.  In my half-wake, headachy state, Anakin resembles an Egyptian Pharaoh, borne upon the Royal Litter to the Nether Regions of my home's first floor.  He plays his part with panache, his silky black-and-white head held high and proud, perusing his kingdom.

Comforting rituals which do nothing to assuage that vague feeling of dread that causes me a stubborn reluctance to leave the sweet emotional safety of my bed.  My "boys" - Woodrow, Indiana, and Romeo - are prowling the halls and stairway, heading first to the kitchen to stand in line for their morning snack, and then back upstairs to check on my progress.  Chelsea sleeps through everything, that lucky dog.  Eventually Chelsea and I make our way down the dark stairway.  I am carrying her, all six pounds of short-legged little Yorkie, teetering on the edge of early old age.  We teeter together.  She is rewarded with extra treats for using the pee-pee pad,  For me, it's all about that first cup of coffee.

My weight, which I monitor daily, is like an old Barry Manilow song:  "I'm lost, I'm found, I'm up I'm down, but somehow I survive ..."  I understand my sudden rapid weight loss even less than I understood the sudden rapid weight gain.  Could it have all been related to the start and stop of the Lyrica?  Is my body undergoing another one of those momentous hormonal shifts so prevalent among Woman of a Certain Age?  Have the scars from my 2003 gastric bypass surgery woken up and rearranged my digestive system yet again?

There are no court hearings scheduled today, but a truckload of office work which must be addressed expeditiously.   I sense a disturbance in the Force, and try to beat down my anger at the recent advent of the office dementor ("sucking the joy out of people's lives since 1632.")  And worst of all, the coffee is not working.  My eyes continue to spin in their sockets, while my eyelids droop uselessly.

Happy Halloween.  Let's have another cup of coffee.

Deer Readers ... (Mexican Chicken Meatball Enchilada Soup)

I would be lying if I told you I'd had absolutely no worries about our recent drive to Georgia.  Last time we attempted a night trip up I-75, we had an unfortunate encounter with a deer.  Unfortunate for the deer, who likely did not survive, and unfortunate for our brand-new car.  It took us 2 days to get home, by way of Albany, Georgia, and cost a whole lot of money we did not have.  

The weekend of the wedding, because of other commitments, we could not leave home until quite late, meaning we did not reach our destination outside of Atlanta until somewhere around 3:00 in the morning.  That was a lot of time spent on dark roads bordered by woods on both sides.  Deer live in those woods; we could not help but hope that none of them were related to the guy who plowed into us last November.

Thankfully, this trip was deer-free.  I was looking forward to this wedding for quite a while, and on the trip back, we had stops planned at the peach farm and the sausage place and maybe the nut place.  I had my knitting and my iPad and I was going to relax if it killed me. 

Eating on the way up the interstate, dinner was a chicken salad sandwich for Rob, and a cup of seafood chowder for me, straight from Wawa.  That reminded me that I haven't made soup in a couple of weeks.  I like to keep soup in the fridge the way my grandmother liked to keep a container of tuna fish salad.  Nobody was ever going to go hungry in her house, no matter what the hour or the circumstances. There is no better snack, in my opinion, than solid albacore tuna mixed with a lot of Hellman's mayonnaise piled on a piece of matzo.  Unfortunately, unlike my grandma I'm not real diligent about the tuna (or the soup, for that matter) and in lieu of tuna, I've been known to turn to chocolate for my 3 AM snacks.

This wasn't a cooking weekend for me, which didn't stop me from planning what I was going to cook when I get back.  Like chicken soup, with tiny chicken (or turkey) meatballs.  With a decidedly Mexican flavor, offering a good excuse to eat more sour cream.

Mexican Chicken Meatball Enchilada Soup

1 pound ground chicken (not all white meat)

1 egg
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon McCormick's Montreal Chicken Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon dried cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1-32 oz. carton chicken broth

1-32 oz. carton chicken stock
2-10 oz. cans mild green chile enchilada sauce
1 cup diced fresh tomato
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, with leaves, chopped

In a medium pot, bring the chicken broth to a steady simmer.  Combine the first 10 ingredients and make very small meatballs, not more than an inch across.  Place the meatballs into the simmering broth and poach gently.  When they are all poached - there should be no more pink color showing - add the enchilada sauce, and the tomato, and turn off the heat.

In a large pot, heat a small amount of corn oil, and add the onion, carrot, and celery.  Season with a little salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and a pinch of sugar, and saute' until the onions are just beginning to color.  Add the chicken stock and bring up the heat.  Then very carefully transfer the meatballs and cooking liquid from the medium pot into the large pot, and bring to a simmer. Adjust the seasoning.  I used salt, pepper, garlic, a small amount of cumin, and a sprinkle of the cilantro leaves.  Cook the soup partially covered for about 15 more minutes. 

There is a small amount of heat from the 'mild' enchilada sauce. I recommend that you stir in a spoon of sour cream into your soup bowl, and garnish with tortilla strips.  This soup is both light and filling.  Please enjoy.

Serves 8-10

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#TBT - Apple, Pear and Peach Strudel

Inspired by a pie, only better. This recipe yields four medium sized strudel rolls.  This is such a good idea for Thanksgiving dessert, I expect there to be a run on frozen fillo!

Come to think of it, I haven't seen strudel on a dessert menu for many, many years.  Creme brulees and bread puddings galore, molten chocolate cakes, tiramisu, cobblers ... but no strudel.  I also just checked a couple of celebrity chef cookbooks, and no strudel, not even in my much-loved Emeril's Potluck.  We used to serve apple strudel at the kosher catering hall in New Hyde Park, but that was over 20 years ago.  The strudel came from a kosher bakery, and it was, in my opinion, just "all right."

A search of the Food Network site pulled up only 57 recipes for strudel, more than half of those for savory versions.  Of the sweet variety, a number used puff pastry instead of fillo.  The most recent entry is from 2008, a pear and pineapple strudel courtesy of Guy Fieri, which he makes with puff pastry.  In 2007, Paula Deen prepared a rather delicious sounding apple strudel on an episode of Paula's Home Cooking, and she did use fillo (phyllo) leaves.  I don't recall ever seeing any sort of strudel on the menus at The Lady and Sons Restaurant, nor at Uncle Bubba's Oyster House, which is a shame.  Banana pudding and Gooey Butter Cakes and Key Lime Pie are undoubtedly sweet Southern treasures, but I'm betting that a lot of diners would really enjoy a slice of sweet and crispy strudel. (This is a #TBT entry, and since I wrote it, Uncle Bubba's has been closed.  Now that's a real shame - his chargrilled oysters were to die for!)

Apple, Pear and Peach Strudel

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or with a silpat.

Ingredients for the Filling:
1 lemon
6 medium to large apples, Golden Delicious, or Granny Smith
3 pears, Anjou or Bartlett 
2 ripe peaches
1/4 cup zante currents
1/2 cup dried cranberries, soaked in a little Grand Marnier or other liquor of your choice
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, finely chopped or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fine salt (table salt, not kosher salt)
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

Prepare the filling:
Finely grate the lemon zest and set aside. Place the dried cranberries in a 1-cup glass Pyrex measuring cup.  Pour over just enough Grand Marnier to reach about 3/4 up the cranberries.  Heat in the microwave for just 30 seconds.  Remove and set aside.  Peel the peaches:  bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  In a bowl place cold water with some ice in it.  Cut a small "X" in the bottom of the peach.  Using a long fork, carefully place the peach in the boiling water for 1 minute, then immediately place into the ice water.  Repeat for the second peach.  Using a small paring knife, remove the skin from each peach starting at the "X".  The skin will come off very easily.  You cannot core a peach, and it is now too slippery to safely cut in half to get at the pit, so with a chef knife, carefully cut off the peach flesh on either side of the pit, similar to how the flesh is removed from a mango.  Once all the peach flesh is removed from around the pit, slice into 1/2-inch slices.  Core, peel and then slice both the apple and pear into 1/2-inch slices. Place all the cut fruit into a large mixing bowl.  Squeeze the lemon juice over the fruit, then toss fruit with the sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, salt and nutmeg.

Melt the butter in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fruit and cook, stirring until the sugar dissolves and juices simmer, about 2 minutes. Stir in the crystallized ginger, the zante currents, and the cranberries with any remaining liquid. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, uncovered, until the fruit softens and the juices evaporate some, about 10 minutes. Evenly mix the flour into the fruit (I recommend putting the flour into a small wire strainer and gently shaking it over the fruit, this will minimize clumping); then cook about a minute more to thicken the juices slightly. Stir in the vanilla and lemon zest; and remove from the heat. When it has cooled slightly, taste and adjust the spices, if desired.  I liked a bit more cinnamon, but do not go overboard.  No one spice should dominate.  Cool completely. This can be made and kept covered in the refrigerator up to 2 days before completing the strudels.

Ingredients for the strudel leaves
1-1 pound box of fillo (phyllo, filo) leaves, defrosted in refrigerator overnight
1/4 cup cornflake crumbs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted for brushing
Granulated sugar

Make the first strudel: remove the fillo dough from the box, unfold, and cover with a damp towel. Place a large piece of wax paper on the work surface, then place 2 sheets of fillo on the wax paper and brush lightly with melted butter. Sprinkle lightly with cornflake crumbs.  Now using single sheets only, repeat 4 times for a total of six stacked leaves, brushing each addition with melted butter and sprinkling with crumbs.  Be sure to keep the unused fillo covered.  (It occurred to me, while editing this to publish, that using additional layers of fillo leaves might alleviate the problem with the leaking filling.  Next time I make this, I plan on repeating the layering of fillo leaves at least 2 more times, so that I have a total of 8 or possible even ten stacked leaves. )

Place one-quarter of the fruit mixture along the long edge of the fillo stack, being sure to leave a 2-inch border. Using the wax paper as needed to help roll and fold the fillo, gently lift the bottom edge of the  stack to cover the filling and fold the side edges over. Continue to roll the stack away from you until the filling is completely sealed in and the seam is on the bottom. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, leaving room for the second strudel. Brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Repeat with the second quarter of the remaining fruit and six more fillo leaves.

Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Watch it carefully for the last 10 minutes (which I did not do) and if the filling is starting to bubble and leak, take it out of the oven, it is done.   Let the strudel cool down on the baking sheet, then remove from the baking sheet using a long spatula.   Let cool before slicing. While the first two strudels are baking, prepare the remaining two strudels, then bake as directed.  Any remaining strudel should be refrigerated, and a slice can be reheated briefly in the microwave to get that just-baked experience.  You can serve this beauty au naturel, with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, or go whole hog with vanilla ice cream or real whipped cream on the side.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Salad Days - In Celebration of the Wedge and the Chop

From earliest memory, until the day I left home for good at the age of 22, my grandmother served a 3-course dinner 5 nights a week.  Being able to feed her family, and as she put it, to set out a nice (read: food-filled) table every night was her raison d'etre.  

My grandmother was old-fashioned in many ways.  Born in 1907 - or 1912, if you are into revisionist history - she was a very young woman when she raised her first family, my Uncle Martin and my mother Joyce.  Whatever mistakes she made in child-rearing (their numbers are legion) she never lost the ability to nurture through her cooking.  Unlike some mothers of her generation, she really liked to cook, and she was really good at it.  Although she was filled with many resentments and endless regrets, cooking for family was not one of them.  My Uncle Marty talked about her seafood casseroles with longing.  My Grand Uncle Red, her brother, would travel on subway and the Long Island Railroad to enjoy her chopped eggplant.  She could taste a dish in a restaurant and replicate it at home for us.  Oh yes, she was that good.

If there was any time in our long, contentious relationship that we were singing in the same key, it was while cooking or eating was going on.  Food was the common denominator that drew us together, despite so many other issues tearing us apart.

Her 3-course dinners consisted of an appetizer, entree with vegetable and side dish, and dessert.  Portions were big!  Back then, I could eat it all.  Today, I wouldn't get past the appetizer.  Youth is definitely wasted on the young.

The first course was pretty straight forward - a small glass of tomato juice, half of a fresh grapefruit, one of those little shrimp cocktails that came in a glass jar, maybe a scoop of her awesome chopped liver, or a salad.  Not just any salad, but a gorgeous 50's style iceberg wedge, accompanied by mini wedges of tomato and maybe a slice or two of cucumber.  Russian dressing, homemade.  I loved that salad, and when iceberg lettuce was declared déclassé, and no restaurant worth its Himalayan sea salt would be caught dead with such an item on its menu, I was sad.  Very sad.

Eventually, I found comfort and enjoyment in Caesar salad, baby mesclun, spinach salad with hot bacon dressing, dark salad greens topped with duck breast, foie gras, or quail eggs.   I still had iceberg, albeit as the base of an Asian salad with ginger dressing at any number of teppanyaki restaurants. My guilty pleasure.

At some point in this salad evolution, I met my first layered salad and my eyes opened wide.  The variations were endless, the ease of preparation was breathtaking, and results were delicious.  Same with chopped salads, full of meat and cheese and spicy vegetables, with or without romaine lettuce.

Finally, Wolfgang Puck, that clever clever man, brought back the wedge salad (with blue cheese dressing, which I hate) and suddenly iceberg was elevated back into the stratosphere.  Fortunately, Russian dressing had never gone out of style.  As that old song tells us, anything goes.  (Sorry for the ear worm.)

Fast forward to June of 2003. I've just had my entire digestive system renovated in the hope that I would finally lose a great deal of excess weight.  I am literally craving salad.  Because I cannot absorb most nutrients at this point, I can enjoy them with full-fat dressing and still lose weight.  Russian dressing, here I come!

Eleven and a half years later, I am 135 pounds down.  Kept the weight off, although I still have to make a conscious effort to do so.  As much as I love salad, it doesn't love me.  Try as I might, that delicious bite of iceberg and dressing is not going to stay down.  And that's all I am going to say about that.  Doesn't stop me from eating salads, though - I just have to confine myself to small amounts.  Very small amounts.

If you want to serve a wedge to your family and friends, buy a whole head of iceberg lettuce at the grocery.  Turn it to look at the core.  If it is darkened or rusty in appearance, keep searching.  When you are ready to serve, rinse the head, pat dry, and using a very sharp knife, cut it in half, right through the core.  Cut each half into 3 or 4 wedges.  Place the wedge on a plate, and add whatever extra vegetables you like - tomatoes, cut into wedges, or cherry or grape tomatoes, left whole; a few thin slices of bell pepper or cucumber ; a radish.  Don't overwhelm the salad with piles of accoutrements; this is, after all, all about the wedge.

Now, as to dressing.  There are so many really good bottled dressings on the market that it seems almost silly to make your own.  My two favorite brands are Ken's (on the shelf) and Marie's (in the refrigerated section of the produce aisle.)  I find ranch dressing insipid, but apparently the rest of the world likes it.  Hidden Valley is still the best choice.

And my grandmother?  She passed away in her sleep over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2000, about a month after her 93rd birthday.  She was far gone in the ravages of senile dementia, and had been for years.  I was the last person she remembered, and the last person she forgot.  Sometimes, just sometimes, I miss her.

Because this is a cooking blog, I hate to leave you without a real recipe, so here is one of my favorite salads.  It takes longer than a wedge to prepare, but it is really worth it.  Easy to pack up for an office lunch, great for a potluck. And even I can eat it!

For the dressing, I used Ken's Lite Northern Italian.  You can make your own vinaigrette, but why?  Just asking ...

1-10 oz. bag of Italian salad mix (romaine and red cabbage), finely chopped
1/3 bag of Angel Hair Cole Slaw, finely chopped
1 large or 4 baby cut carrots, freshly grated
4 red radishes, grated
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 small green or mixed colors of bell peppers, finely chopped (I used about 6 mini-sweet peppers)
1/3 of a large cucumber, seeded and patted dry, finely chopped
8 black olives, cut in quarters lengthwise
8 grape tomatoes, cut in quarters lengthwise
1-8oz. container Cedar's brand Fresh Chick Pea Salad, or 1-7.75 oz. can chick peas, drained and roughly chopped

Thinly sliced Italian cold cuts, chopped - I used hot calabrese, pepper salami and hot capocollo, but you can use whatever you like.  I think I used a total of about 10 thin slices

shredded extra sharp Cheddar cheese - to taste
shredded Asiago cheese - to taste.  Again, you can use any cheese you like; provolone is a natural with this, as is mozzarella

Place all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently.  Add the meats and cheeses and toss again.  No doubt you can already see where you might like to make substitutions or revise the amounts uses.  Go for it, this is a virtually no fail salad.

Now just before you are ready to eat, take your portion and place it in a deep bowl.  Drizzle on just enough dressing to moisten the salad, and toss it gently.  Once you have dressed the salad, eat immediately.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Five o'clock World - Hungarian Onion Bread

Is it just me, or did the CDC really take the Zombie Apocalypse more seriously than Ebola?  How did we end up with an Ebola patient riding the New York City subway?  Why are doctors and nurses NOT following the rules?  Why did it take so long to establish the rules? 

Up every morning just to keep a job
I gotta fight my way through the hustling mob
Sounds of the city pounding in my brain
While another day goes down the drain (yeah yeah)

Right now I am very glad that I haven't taken the subway since 2002. Sending prayers to all my New York peeps.  This is no joke.

But its a five o'clock world when the whistle blows
No one owns a piece of my time
And theres a five o'clock me inside my clothes
Thinking that the world looks fine, yeah


Fine enough to bake bread?  Because we are running low, and there's no desire to move out of my comfort zone to drive to Publix.  Well, yes - with the move to Kissimmee, I not only don't take the subway anymore, I don't even have to take my car if I'm feeling energetic enough for a short walk to the office.  Since I always take my car (who walks to work in Florida?) I am definitely home early enough to throw a few things into the bread machine.

There are few things as comforting to the senses as freshly-baked bread, and while kneading the dough by hand is a wonderful therapeutic experience, it is generally not something one commits to at the end of a busy workday.  As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew it was the one for tonight - anything with "Hungarian" in the title always piques my interest.

Hungarian Onion Bread

These amounts are for a machine with a large capacity, however, it only takes 3 cups of flour and would probably work in a medium capacity machine as well.  Add these to the machine in the order given, unless your model gives other instructions as to when to add liquid or yeast.

3/4 cup water, warm from the tap
2 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 generous teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 generous teaspoon Hungarian paprika, sweet or half sweet
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
3 cups bread flour
1 packet Rapid Rise Yeast

After the flour is added, make a well, careful not to break through to the liquid below, and add the yeast.  Set your machine for Basic (or White) and start the machine.  After it has kneaded for a few minutes, check the dough.  If it is dry or crumbly, drizzle in a small amount of additional water, let it knead a few more minutes and check again for dryness.  The dough should form a well-rounded ball with a mostly smooth exterior, but it is by no means a "wet" dough, so work any additional water in slowly.  One that is done, you can walk away and the machine will do the rest of the work.

Remove the bread pan to a rack and let it cool upright for 5 minutes, then turn out the bread and let it finish cooling on the rack.  The loaf turned out fairly short, and I was sure it was going to be doughy inside.  But, on the contrary, it sliced beautifully and had obviously baked up perfectly.

This toasts up nicely, and works for breakfast or any other meal.  I sliced it on the thin side, toasted and buttered it.  Delicious.  The flavors of the onion and spices are very subtle, but we liked it like that.

Comments?  Suggestions?  Post them here, we like feedback!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Grecian Formula #16,000 - Greek Baked Chicken with Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Olives

For the first time since last tax season, I was totally on my own on a Saturday.  Robert and Cory headed out early morning to drive to Bradenton to participate in an all-day martial arts clinic.  So what did I do with all this freedom?

I spent the whole day cooking and cleaning up after my cooking and washing my hands more often than Lady Macbeth because I cannot stand to have my hands dirty from cooking.

And I had a fan-frack-tastic time!  Except when I got the club-hand while breading the Scotch eggs.  Hated that.  But loved when the boys got home, and the dishwasher was humming while I sat on my couch, in my spot, blogging and watching Doctor Who.  It's not the most exciting life, but it's mine and I like it.

This was the weekend I prepped the Scotch eggs and the stuffed cabbage but I still needed something chicken for the week.  There was a recipe for a Greek marinade that had caught my interest, a package of chicken thighs in the refrigerator, and a single baking potato.  So I made it up as I went along, and it made a very nice dinner.

Greek Baked Chicken with Potatoes, Tomatoes and Olives

6 skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat

Greek Marinade:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 small garlic cloves, put through a garlic press 
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoon parsley flakes (dried parsley)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 large Russet baking potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch by 1/2 inch pieces
Handful each of: pitted Kalamata olives and pimento-stuffed green olives
Handful of grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise

Whisk the marinade ingredients together and pour into a gallon zip top plastic bag.  Add the chicken, seal well, and turn the bag so that all of the chicken gets covered with the marinade.  Place the bag in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the potatoes, olives, and tomatoes in an 8 x 12 baking dish (yes, of course I use the aluminum tins).  Remove the chicken from the bag and place on top of the potato mixture in the baking dish.  The chicken will be covered in marinade and herbs, which is what you want.  Drizzle any remaining marinade in the bag over the potato mixture.  Bake for an hour, and remove the dish from the oven.  With tongs, carefully remove the chicken to a platter.  Spoon some of the juices in the baking dish over the chicken.  Cover and set aside.

Raise the oven heat to 425 degrees.  Gently toss the potato mixture with the remaining juices in the baking dish.  If you wish, sprinkle on a little salt, pepper, and sweet paprika.  Place back in the oven for 15 minutes.  Turn over the potato pieces, season if you wish, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.  Place the chicken back on top of the potato mixture and drizzle any chicken juices collected on the platter over the whole dish.

The Greek marinade made the chicken so tender and delicious!  I'm sure it would also work beautifully with fish or pork.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sometime in the Morning - Granola-Topped Breakfast Muffins

 Sometime this morning, I developed an unusual ear worm, the obscure "Randy Scouse Git" by the Monkees.  Besides the fact that the lyrics make no sense, this particular ear worm drew attention to another annoying, but inevitable fact - that I am a lady of mature years.  Sigh.  In my head I am still 18 years old, while in the mirror - well, I try not to look in the mirror too often.  Ear worms, however, have no such mercy, and can evoke age-old memories.  In 1967, the year "Randy Scouse Git" was released, the Monkees were in their second season on TV, and I was between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, finally finished with the year-long planning leading up to my brother's delightfully overblown bar mitzvah, where I wore the worst dress ever. Adolescence was not just creeping up on me, but smacking me repeatedly upside the head.  

Being now of mature years, I occasionally try to adopt a healthy life style, which explains the bag of granola in my desk drawer at work.  Fiber, you know.  I eat dry cereal without milk (gag if you must) and carry this bag between car and office.  It's quite good, with raisins, chopped dates, and pecans.  In one of my adult ADD moments, I kept staring at it until it occurred to me these would be a fine addition to breakfast muffins.  So I shlepped the bag home to work out a muffin recipe that would successfully incorporate my granola.

One small problem, however - I have no luck with muffins.  I can bake almost anything, and when I was younger I even decorated cakes, but muffins are my Waterloo.  They alway seem to come out too small, too dense, and too boring.  But if I could teach myself to make really good spaetzle at the age of 61, I could give muffins one more try.  Or so I reasoned.

I have a couple of muffin cookbooks in the house, but they have generally led me down the path of muffin failure, so I took to the internet, using search terms like "granola topped muffins" and "fluffy muffin recipes."  Within 10 minutes, I was suffering from cognitive overload.  I skimmed about a dozen recipes like I was briefing a case for my Federal IncomeTax Law class (fast and dirty) and came up with this recipe.  I was quite pleased with the light, even crumb of the interior, the attractive muffin top, and of course, the taste.  Oh, and the moistness.  Amazing.  Almost as amazing as the spaetzle.

Granola-Topped Breakfast Muffins

3/4 cup cake flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon each of salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon1 extra large egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
2/3 cup applesauce (I used Musselman's chunky, because that's what was open in my refrigerator)1 cup of your favorite granola (I used Post's Great Grains Cereal with Raisins, Dates, and Pecans)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray 6 of the wells of a standard muffin pan, including the top, and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Combine well, using a small whisk.  Make a well in the center and set aside.

In a 1-cup glass measuring cup, use the small whisk to beat the egg till smooth.  Add the oil and the applesauce and use the whisk to combine them all.  I also used the whisk to mash or break up the apple chunks.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the well in the flour mixture, and using a rubber spatula, gently combine wet and dry, just until the white flour is no longer visible.  Don't worry about lumps in the batter, they are normal and desirable in muffins.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan wells.  The batter will fill 5 to 6 cups, depending on the depth of the well.  Fill close to the top of each cup.   Now with a lavish hand, sprinkle granola over the top of each muffin.  Place the pan into the preheated oven and bake for 18 minutes, watching the granola so it doesn't burn.

Remove the muffin pan from the oven and place on a rack to cool for 5 minutes.  While cooling, carefully brush the excess granola from around the edges of each muffin.  Then, with the tip of a sharp little knife, remove the muffins from the pan and place them on the rack to finish cooling.

These are rather good with a little butter.  Or a lot of butter.  Or Temp-Tee whipped cream cheese.  Eat over a plate, because granola will fall.  These are going to make a really good (and nominally healthy!) breakfast.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Happy Hangover - Sausage and Peppers Linguine Dinner

I woke up with what seemed to be a hangover.  Since I rarely drink, that was unexpected and extraordinarily annoying.  And painful.  And that was the end of my plans to get some food shopping done.  Which did not stop me from cooking today.  I guess that makes it a happy hangover.

I wanted a hearty pasta sauce to serve over spaghetti, and while I was missing some crucial ingredients for a traditional meat sauce or a bolognese, my freezer came through.  Like most home cooks, I always have jarred pasta sauce in the pantry.  My freezer may have a few things others don't - sliced beef liver, tasso ham, squid and calamari - but I also had the obligatory frozen vegetables plus a half package of Italian sausage links.

Spending the day at home, nursing a headache while working ever-so-slowly on my recipe collection, did not stop me from throwing together a rich and delicious spaghetti sauce.  

The recipe collection project is going better than expected.  It has already taken me about 2 months to sort through and organize the papers, and then there was a lot of photocopying to replace clippings from a 1984 Bon Appetit and the backs of pasta boxes.  I am at the point now of putting the recipes into clear plastic sheet protectors and from there into 3 ring binders.  That blue notebook contains all of my recipes for appetizers, plus a section for sauces, dressings, marinades and the like.  Today I've been working on salads, vegetables, and soups, and hope to have them tucked into a green notebook before too long.

Tonight's dinner involves a crockpot, which you may have guessed from my description of a sitting-on-the-couch sort of day.  The 4 quart is a perfect size.  It is literally the only pot you are going to need.

Sausage and Peppers Linguine Dinner

Olive Oil
3 Italian sausages, frozen (hot or sweet)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 - 24 oz. jar marinara pasta sauce (I used Classico Marinara with Plum Tomatoes and Olive Oil) 
1/2 cup each red wine and water (put into the sauce jar, cover and shake to get any sauce on the sides of the jar)
Italian seasoning blend
kosher salt
black pepper
granulated garlic
pinch or more of sugar
1 - 14 oz. bag frozen pepper and onion blend
about 6 oz. of linguine pasta, broken in half
another 1/2 cup of water

In the crockpot, place the frozen sausages and garlic and a drizzle of olive oil.  Season with the Italian seasoning blend to taste. Cover and cook on the High setting for 30 to 45 minutes.  Turn the sausage and cook for another 30 minutes.  Add the marinara, 1/2 cup water and the wine, cover, and let cook for another hour.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, using the salt, pepper, and granulated garlic along with the Italian blend. 

Remove the sausage and set aside on a cutting board to cool slightly.  Add the frozen peppers and onions, cover.  While the sauce is reheating, chop up the sausage in very small pieces.  Add the sausage back to the sauce and let cook for another two hours.  Now add the linguine and the last 1/2 cup of water.  Stir to separate the linguine and submerge all pasta in the liquid.  Cook for another 20 minutes, stirring half way through.

Serve immediately.

Did you enjoy this recipe?  Make any changes to improve it?  Let me know by posting something in the Comments section.  Thanks!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

#TBT - Hola! It's an Easy Paella

As promised - such a good dish for a casual dinner for friends. 

You will need a rectangular electric frying pan with a domed cover.  So by now you may have guessed that in addition to being the Aluminum Tin Queen, I am also Queen of the Electric Appliances.

Spices, Condiments, Oils:
kosher salt
black pepper
granulated garlic
Hungarian sweet pepper
1/4 teaspoon saffron
2 Knorr chicken bouillon cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce (e.g. Tabasco, Texas Pete, Crystal)

Vegetables, Produce:
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 medium or 2 small green peppers, chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped

Off the Shelf:

7 oz. chorizo (Goya or Tropical Brand), halved, casing removed, sliced into 1/4 inch half moons
1 1/2 cups uncooked converted rice (Uncle Ben's)
1-12 oz. bottle beer, poured into a 4-cup glass measuring cup
1-15 oz. can green peas (trust me), liquid drained into the beer
1-14 oz. can quartered artichoke hearts, liquid drained into the beer
1-6 1/2 oz. jar Fancy Pimientos, drained, patted dry, cut into pieces
15 or more small manzanilla olives (these are little green olives stuffed with pimiento)

Out of the Refrigerator:
6 chicken drumsticks
1 dozen littleneck clams
1/2 pound mussels
1/2 pound peeled rock shrimp (if these are unavailable, use more peeled white shrimp)
1/2 pound peeled white shrimp (medium or large, whatever is on sale)

Sprinkle chicken with some salt, black pepper, paprika and garlic.  Heat olive oil in frying pan at 325 degrees, and brown chicken on all sides.  Remove to a dish and hold. (This is where I use one of those aluminum trays, about 9x13.)  Next cook the chorizo for just a minute, and with a slotted spoon, remove it to the dish with the chicken.  Next cook both shrimp just until barely pink, remove them and hold in a separate bowl.  Do not overcook the shrimp.  Seriously.

Add the onions, green peppers, and chopped garlic to the pan; season with salt, pepper, paprika and granulated garlic.  I also like to sprinkle a very small amount of regular sugar over the onions for flavor and caramelization. Cook until onion is tender, not brown.  Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil in the pan.  Add enough water to the beer to make 3 1/2 cups liquid.  Add the hot pepper sauce to the liquid, then pour it all into the pan, stirring up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Add the bouillon cubes and the saffron and stir.  Stir the cooked chorizo into the rice, and then place the chicken on top.  Cover the pan with the domed lid, making sure the little steam outlet is closed.  Lower the heat to simmer, and cook 25 - 30 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is done.  You will want to check on the rice and stir it about halfway through the cooking to make sure it is not sticking.

Uncover, remove the chicken, and stir the rice.  Add the green peas, the artichoke heart quarters, pimiento pieces, olives, and cooked shrimp and stir gently. Arrange the mussels, clams, and chicken on top of the rice.  Cover and cook another 10 minutes or until the clams and mussels are open.  Discard any that don't open.  Serve everyone a little bit of each type of protein, and pile that awesome rice high on each plate.  Eat with gusto, or at least with garlic bread.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

From Fish Bait to Fine Dining - Mussels in Wine Sauce

Back in the early sixties, I spent several summers at the then-ubiquitous Jewish sleepaway camps of the New York Catskills.  We swam, we played a lot of volleyball, practiced shooting hoops, rode horses, and went fishing.  For bait, we gathered mussels from around the shallow shores of Lake Anawana, smashed the black shells, and retrieved the yucky interiors.  I caught the most beautiful fish with those sad bivalves.  Of course we never got to eat the fish we caught, as they were always thrown back for yet another day.

The mussels, though ... it seems that somewhere along the way from fish sticks to chilean sea bass, I also discovered something that European cooks have known for a long time.  Mussels make good eats, can be farmed and are sustainable, and are a lot more reasonable in price than scallops, oysters, or even clams.

This is my favorite way to eat them.  Hot from the pan, with the most delectable juices to sop up with bread.  I also love them cold from the fridge the next day.  If you have ever eaten mussels on the half shell at a Chinese buffet, then you know they are delicious when cold.  These are even better, because of the garlicky, herby sauce they've been resting in overnight.  Either way, you will be glad you tried them. 

This is my other favorite way to eat them, as part of a paella, and I will be publishing that recipe as part of Throwback Thursday #TBT later this week.  Besides tasting wonderful, they really add to the visual appeal. Thursday, I promise.

Back to the mussels in wine sauce - first, a little trick:  rinse the fresh mussels in a colander.  If any are open, and won't close when tapped with a spoon, throw it away, it's dead, Jim.  Place the mussels in a deep pot with a lid, add water to cover.  Stir in a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt, and fill the pot with ice cubes.  Cover, place in the fridge, and leave overnight or for as many hours as you can before cooking.  When ready to cook, dump into a colander and rinse with some cold water.  Shake off the excess water.  Debeard if necessary, then cook as usual.  This little soak seems to keep the mussels plump and tender when cooked.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I like the curly kind.  That's the kind of hairpin I am.)
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
salt, pepper, sugar

2 1/2  pounds fresh mussels, prepared as above
1 cup dry white wine

In a deep saucepan, heat the butter and oil together, then add the garlic, onion, parsley, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar.  Heat gently for 10 minutes.  Add the mussels and the wine.  Cover the saucepan and turn up the heat until it boils.  Simmer for 8 minutes, until the mussels open.  If any of the mussels have not opened up, throw them out.

Sometimes, I take half of a red bell pepper, cut it into strips, and add it to the onions and garlic.  I also like to chop up some more fresh parsley and scatter it over the top before serving.

Hot or cold, these are delicious.  Enjoy.

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