Saturday, January 31, 2015

Too Many Notes

1/29 - Robert bought a new bathroom scale and I don't like it ... yet.  The older I get, the less I appreciate change.  Change of any kind just contributes to my cognitive overload, and that's not a good thing.  Too much to process.  Too many notes.  Here I am trying to simplify my life while all around me the world is swirling like a whirling dervish.

The new scale weighs in 4/10ths  of a pound lower than the old one, so you would think I would be happy, but it feels like cheating, and besides, I'm not trying to lose any more weight.  The old scale has recorded my ups and downs since the morning of my gastric-bypass surgery.  I like continuity, and the fact that the old scale is finally dying from advanced old age and perhaps even extreme overuse doesn't change that fact.

Here in my world, we are in transition.  Translation: new judge.  This happens every two years or so, and for someone like me, who gets rattled over a new bathroom scale, that is much too often.  Since I have been practicing almost exclusively in the juvenile division since 1992, that's a whole lot of change.  Especially as juvenile court seems to have become a traditional first assignment for a newly elected or newly appointed circuit court judge.  Every new judge who has ever come on this bench has their own ideas about how to improve the way the courtroom runs.  That's natural, I get it.   I always try to roll with the punches as I endeavor to follow the new judge's paradigm.  Most of the time I am successful, and the judge is relatively happy.

But it's a lot of change.  I can't emphasize that enough.

1/30 - Just because the past two days were bearable doesn't guarantee today will be relatively pain-free.  Au contraire, my frere ... today's discomfort is a full-body experience.  Still, I am grateful for my ability to function in the office and in court, and I did manage to get quite a bit done during those two days.  When I have good days, I feel guilty about what seems to me to be my never-ending bitching about this ache or that pain, especially when I have so many people close to me who are dealing with real medical issues like cancer, multiple sclerosis, kidney failure, cancer, diverticulitis, cancer (damn cancer) ... and then I have a bad day and I remember this is  a real medical issue that can land me flat on my back and render me useless, or at the very least, stupid.  Today my mind is blessedly clear.  The pain, however, which was mild when I started the day, has escalated alarmingly.  Hurts to stand, hurts to sit, hurts when my very small dogs jump against me to greet me.  My head hurts, my eyes hurt, and my arms don't bear speaking about.  Today's pain I blame on the environment of change in which I find myself immersed.   Too many stressors.  Too many notes.  Maybe too many dogs.                      

As the work week winds down, my mind is wandering into the food zone.  I have pork loin and stuffed red peppers, pork chile verde, and even some lasagna all cooked up in the refrigerator.  Gotta strike a balance but also have to remember that there are no chicken wings available in the entire state of Florida.  Super Bowl weekend.  Since I don't get football, and have no reason to cheer on either of these teams, I can look for another part of the chicken.  Perfhaps the thighs.  I don't think chicken thighs are symbolic of Super Bowl Sunday.  Unless you wrap them in bacon.  Anything wrapped in bacon is a Super Bowl food.  I think there is some Federal law that addresses it, perhaps one of those Executive Actions the White House is so fond of proclaiming.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Pork Chili Verde

I've been making white chili in the crockpot for many years.  Light and delicious, made with chicken and sweet peppers and fresh jalapenos.  This recipe is also light - and green - but it is made with chunks of tender pork and has a refreshing, citrusy undertone from a full pound of fresh tomatillos.  Both of my green chili recipes are soupy rather than stew-like, which is how we like them, but you can certainly cut back to one can of chicken broth for more of a traditional chili texture.

1 - 1 1/4 pound boneless lean pork, in one inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup Goya sofrito (tomato base), plus 2 tablespoons
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed, and chopped (don't skip the rinse, tomatillos are sticky once the husks are removed)
1 - 15 oz. can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 - 15 oz. can chili beans, rinsed and drained
1 - 7 oz. can diced mild green chiles
6 large cloves fresh garlic, sliced
kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cumin
Raging River Five Pepper Blend, to taste (or cayenne, or a few drops Tabasco)
2 - 14 oz. cans chicken broth
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped

To prepare this, in a large skillet brown the pork in the olive oil, then add the 1/4 cup of sofrito and cook for a few minutes.  Add the onion to the crockpot, then pour the pork and any cooking juices over them.  Add all of the remaining ingredients, except the cilantro and the two tablespoons of sofrito, to the crockpot.  Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, stirring and checking to re-season after 2 hours. Add the cilantro, reduce heat to low, and cook for another 10 minutes.  Stir in the remaining sofrito, taste and re-season accordingly.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Coming Apart at the Seams

Sometimes I lie awake, night after night
Coming apart at the seams

1/26 - So I woke up this morning and decided I'd had enough.  The body hurts, the mind is foggy.  This is no way to live.  I have made an appointment to see the doctor later this morning, something that everyone has been urging me to do for a long time.

I don't have a normal life anymore.  I never know, from one day to the next, whether I am going to be able to discharge my responsibilities at work.  It is difficult for me to leave the house, because I feel safe here, but not out there.  Sometimes it is hard for me to drive home, and I only live a half mile from the office. I can no longer engage in exercise or sport.  Physical therapy made me feel worse, not better.  Both of my forearms look shredded from having to scratch at the constant, inexorable itching. My left hand and arm are pretty damn useless because of the pins and needles that never ever stop. I cannot eat, at least not like a normal human. Often I experience pain in my abdomen (I can't say in my stomach, because as far as I know, they bypassed that sucker over 10 years ago.  But as Tom Baker says, Who knows?  Who knows?)  My eyesight suddenly and dramatically declined.  I'm afraid to drive after sundown.  Weirdest of all, I lost so much weight so rapidly, it reminds me of my early days after my gastric bypass.  No clear idea why.  I know I don't eat much, but I never have gone back to eating normally.  Nothing is normal for me anymore.

I don't know how, if at all, the injuries I sustained back in May have contributed to this situation.  I was already experiencing the constant chronic symptoms of fibromyalgia or chronic pain syndrome for a long time before I took that awful fall in the elevator.  My worker's comp carrier sent me to this doctor or for that test, and in the end all they found was a pretty insignificant spinal irregularity, or maybe it was a pinched nerve.

I have headaches all the time. I feel depressed, almost always sad.  I am a bit more forgetful, but I've been fighting that for a long time, starting with menopause and antidepressants.  Most of the time I can find my words, or come up with an adequate substitute.  But I am not as sharp as I used to be, and that bothers me so very, very much.

Sometimes I'm tired, sometimes I'm shot
Sometimes I don't know how much more I've got
Maybe I'm headed over the hill
Maybe I've set myself up for the kill
Tell me how much do you think you can take
Until the heart in you is starting to break?
Sometimes it feels like it will

Done with the doctor.  My doctor, not The Doctor.  He spent quite a bit of time with me, which I appreciate.  He listens, which I also appreciate.  After I expressed my concerns about the impact of my health upon my work product, he said I might want to think about early retirement.  I might, I definitely might - I have, as a matter of fact, especially now that I am 62, but, as my friend Dave likes to preface many of his arguments to the Court, "the truth of the matter is" that I can't afford to do so.

In the meantime, I am going to have a colonoscopy, and then someone will stick a tube down my gullet to try to discern why the food I eat has become the gift that keeps on giving.  And blood, gotta give some blood to those ever-so-cheerful vampires at Quest Diagnostic.  But not today; I tried to walk into Quest following my doctor's appointment, but the waiting room looked like they were at the front of the line for an all you can eat ribs night at Sizzler.  The faces were grim but hopeful.  No empty chairs.  I had as much chance of joining their group as Netanyahu has of sharing tea and crumpets with Obama.  I'll try again, thanks.

And there will be drugs - actually, just one small add-on, as my doctor is aware that a) I have a "thing" about taking too much medication, especially anything that has the slightest chance of being addictive, and b) I can't swallow the damn things anyway.  No room in my stomach pouch, seriously.

So I am done with all that, and back at home, tucked into my corner of the couch.  I don't know what life is going to bring, but then, Who Does?  Who Does?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Amazing Corn Muffins and Honey Butter

I was in the mood for corn muffins.  Not cornbread, not corn casserole, not corn pudding.  Corn muffins.  The type you can eat for breakfast, with or without butter.  The type of corn muffins I like, not too big (a ginormous muffin from BJ's can last me four days) and (all my southern friends avert your eyes) on the sweet side.  Damn yankees.

I make a pretty good sour cream cornbread which goes really well with my chili or any Tex-Mex theme buffet (oh yeah, my burritos and enchiladas and even a rogue chimichanga) but doesn't work as a breakfast corn muffin.  I really wanted a corn muffin that would go nicely with my morning coffee, and that would travel well to the office - meaning it had to bake well in paper liners.  So I started my online research, and found that such a corn muffin really exists, and I had all the tools needed to create them.

There are certain things I keep in the pantry.

Besides an excess of canned goods, I mean.  I have 3 pantry closets plus a spice cabinet, so technically I have an excess of everything.

See the Jiffy mixes?  I always have a few of the corn muffin and a few of the yellow cake mix.  The corn muffin mixes are used in my favorite corn casserole, and the cake mix is there in case I have an urge to throw together my favorite coffee cake.

Today I was able to use one box of each to create what my son has christened "amazing" corn muffins.  Robert scarfed down most of two muffins and told me they smelled "amazing".  And having tasted and smelled them, I happily concur.

And the paper liner pulls away perfectly!

Amazing Corn Muffins

1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
1 box Jiffy Golden Yellow Cake Mix
2 extra large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a paper towel with some non-stick spray and wipe the top of a 12 cup muffin tin.  Place a paper liner in each of the cups.

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, and with a wooden spoon, stir well just to combine.  There are going to be lumps in the batter, which is normal when making muffins.  Scoop the batter into the cups.  They will be filled almost to the top.  Carefully slide into the preheated oven, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.  Let cool in the muffin tin for about five minutes, then remove the muffins and let them to finish cooling on a rack.  Be careful when separating the top of the muffin from the top of the tin; you might want to use the tip of a sharp little knife to slide between.  I used my very long fingernails, but that's just me.

You are going to love these.  You can eat them right out of the oven or cooled to room temperature.  Next time I am going to try them with butter.  Or honey.  Or honey butter.

Honey Butter

1 stick of butter, softened
1 tablespoon flavorful honey

With a whisk, whip the butter together with the honey.  Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

The honey butter is also perfect with Bubba's Beer Biscuits.  Yes, that's another blog post.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Confessions of a Balaboosteh

Sitting in bed and re-reading Heinlein's The Cat Who Walked Through Walls for the twentieth or fiftieth time.  Tomorrow is another day (oh shut up, Scarlett!)  Reading a real paper book rather than a digital version helps me get to sleep.  That and the stuff I take at night for the Insane Itching.

Got lots of sleep, mostly good, and put the lasagna into the crockpot to cook for the rest of the day.  As I sit here drinking my coffee, it occurs to me that I need to get dressed and out of here before my body remembers it is supposed to be in pain.  How's that for a strategy?  Rob is emptying the dishwasher and I'm about to pick up after the furries, but first he modeled this rather perfect tee-shirt which I just have to share.

My cooking plans involve a bouillabaisse which is going to simmer (maybe even burble) in the other crockpot.  Beyond that, my brain is devoid of ideas and I will just have to see what is available at BJ's and Publix.  After I peruse a few cookbooks, that is, and these are "my" cookbooks, or rather my recipe collections, 10 or so ring binders filled with copies of every recipe I've ever cooked and a bunch more I'd like to try.  I'm looking for something to do with ground beef, because I happen to have one perfect package in the freezer.  Stuffed Red Peppers.  I got this.  Chicken?  Leftover heaven.

Side dishes.  Hmm.  Well, I've some nice salad, and while Robert will turn up his nose at it, Cory and I will enjoy.  Starch?  Rice is nice and I really want to try my new rice cooker.

 So we went out - the way I shopped you would think I was feeding the Duggar family.  Between BJ's and Publix, we spent well over - well, a lot.  While we were at BJ's, my plan changed when I snagged a beautiful package of round bone shoulder lamb chops and a 10 pound boneless pork loin.  The bouillabaisse went out the window, the chili verde flew in.  Should be an interesting week for cooking.  I was excited to buy tomatillos and fresh, fragrant cilantro.  I'm so easy to amuse, I know.  I also got all happy about those gummy vitamins.

Tonight I am doing nothing more strenuous than setting out cheese and crackers and watching the Magic play the Indiana Pacers.  Maybe knit.  I ate an entire Ritz cracker with pimento cheese for lunch, and it stayed down, so I was full and happy.  For anyone who wants real food for dinner, the lasagna is done, the salad is tossed, and the garlic butter is ready to be brushed onto the French bread.  I picked at some of the melted cheese and sauce from around the lasagna while I struggled to move it out of the crockpot, so as far as I am concerned, I've had my dinner.                                                                                                          

I cut the first piece from the lasagna to create a photo op, and to satisfy my own curiosity about how well this behemoth dish set up.  It cut nice, so I'm pretty satisfied, although that is a really crappy picture.  Taste? Well, that cheese was pretty good.  The meat layer is really good, with my tiny turkey meatballs doing nobly next to the sausage.

But now I have a confession to make.  Several confessions, actually.  First, I don't like lasagna, never have.  That's why I have been perfecting my baked ziti recipe for the past 35 years.  I love baked ziti.

For some reason, although the ingredients are virtually identical, I do not care for lasagna.  It always tastes boring to me, which is why I started to throw in a layer of flavorful vegetables and change around the cheeses.  Despite that, given a choice between even a really good lasagna and say, sautéed chicken livers, I would definitely choose the chicken livers.

I feel a lot of Jewish guilt over this.  How can I, a native New Yorker, diss lasagna?  So I overcompensate by whipping it up twice a year, whether or not we need it.  This was one of those times.  Which brings me to my second confession.

I  will never cook this particular dish in the crockpot ever again.  Ever.  There was no advantage to cooking this in the crockpot (except the awesome food smells that emanated throughout the house for eight hours.)  Removing the lasagna from the crockpot was ridiculous, aluminum foil sling notwithstanding.  I made messes, cleaned up, made more messes, flinging sauce and cheese hither and yon.  The taste is okay, and it set up and cut nicely, but it would do exactly the same thing if I baked it in the oven, in one of my trusty aluminum pans.

So while I utterly adore the crockpot and all the amazing dishes that can be completed in one, take it from this balaboosteh - lasagna ain't one of them.

Monday, January 26, 2015

I Say A Little Prayer For You - Crockpot Fridge Buster Lasagna

The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup
I say a little prayer for you

Or for me ... it's taken me five days to write one blog post.  

January 21 - Abysmal.  That is the single most accurate word to describe yesterday.  I'm not assigning fault.  I'm not going to give specifics.  I'm just going to say that for thirteen hours, I was in an abysmal situation.  I was not alone, but as I have stated in the past, the pain of others brings me no pleasure.

Today is not shaping up much better.  And tomorrow is up for grabs.

The weather is lovely, nicer than it has been for weeks.  There is a warmth from seventies type temperature, the air is clear, and the sky is a crisp blue.  There have been some really great sunspots formed on the floor at the house, quite pleasing to several of my furry children.  As you can see, I am looking for the golden lining.

January 22 - Oh please dear Lord, by all that is holy, please just send a gentle heavenly nudge this way to ensure a voluntary consent.  I would like to avoid trials and tribulations this morning.  Especially trials.

January 23 - The last day of a tough week.  The pain and exhaustion come and then they go.  Rapid cycling fibromyalgia.  I can't eat, I can't keep my head upright, I can't think clearly.  I haven't been able to make it to the hospital to see Terry.  I can't cook nor food shop. And "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island" keeps running through my head.

Although we did not need a trial this morning, the proceedings were sufficiently convoluted and complicated to take most of the morning.  My back is breaking.  I'm going to have to head home and stay home.  I feel physically and emotionally defeated.

No cooking, no recipes.

January 24 - I survived.  I am here, albeit after a late rising, and I feel strong enough to put on clothes and leave the house for some food shopping.  After a disastrous Friday morning, the end of a horrible, stressful, debilitating week,  I came home and stayed home and crashed and burned.  I slept - oh, did I sleep.

Oh nuts.  I crashed again.  I tried to eat, I really did.  A nice one egg omelet.  Well, at least Robert enjoyed the other half.  Okay, shopping tomorrow, God willing and the crick don't rise.  In the meantime, I decided I had to prepare something edible for my family.  I had been playing around with the idea of crockpot lasagna, but I was missing ricotta cheese and ground beef.  That led me to strip-search my refrigerator, freezer and pantry, and while this is hardly easy, I was able to sit down between assembling each layer, and so it came together.  Of course, what with sitting down between layers and watching episodes of The Librarians, it was too late to fire up the crockpot, so the lasagna-filled crock is sitting in the fridge.  Tomorrow, while I head out to finally do some food shopping and stocking, the lasagna will be slow-cooking for 6 to 8 hours, until it burbles.  Isn't that a great word?  Burble.  It sounds so cheerful.  I could use cheerful.

Crockpot Fridge Buster Lasagna
Prepare each layer, and set aside.

olive oil
1 - 9.6 oz. bag Jimmy Dean Fully Cooked Hearty Sausage Crumbles (mine were frozen)
1 chopped onion
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 -24 oz. jars vodka sauce (I used one jar Bertolli and one jar of Classico.  Next time I think I'll use a spicy marinara, in which case I will substitute for the half-and-half with some water or wine)
1/2 cup half-and-half

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Pour in the sausage crumbles and cook until no longer frozen and starting to brown.  Add the onion and garlic and cook just until the onion is soft.  Now add the vodka sauce.  Pour the half-and half into one of the sauce jars, shake well and then add this mixture to the other sauce jar. Cover and shake well and finally pour the liquid into the pan.  Lower the heat, and simmer together for about 15 minutes.  Lower the heat as much as possible, and keep sauce warm while preparing the layers.

Sausage and Meatballs
olive oil
1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, sliced (I used red pepper and onion variety from Carroll's in Georgia)
1/2 pound tiny turkey meatballs, cooked (mine were from a frozen cache; see the November 23, 2014 post for the recipe)
1 - 24 oz. jar Bertolli Porcini Mushroom Sauce (next time I will go with a regular mushroom sauce)

In a frying pan, combine a tablespoon of olive oil with the sausage over medium heat.  Once the sausage is defrosted and beginning to show color, add the meatballs.  Cook together until the meatballs are defrosted, then drain off any fat in the pan.  Return the pan to the burner and add the sauce.  Simmer the meats and sauce for a few minutes, then leave sitting on the burner on the lowest setting.

Spinach and Artichoke Layer
1 - 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1- 12 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 very large clove garlic, minced or microplaned
1 egg
salt and pepper

With a wooden spoon, combine all the ingredient in a medium bowl and set aside.

Cheese Layer
3/4 pound large curd 4% cottage cheese
1 - 8 oz. package Kraft shredded mozzarella with cream cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 eggs
salt, pepper, parsley flakes

With a wooden spoon, combine all the ingredient in a medium bowl and set aside.

Lasagna Layers
1 - 1 pound package soft taco size flour tortillas (10 to a package)
remaining shredded parmesan (I hand-shredded a 5 oz. piece of parmesan for the entire recipe)
1 - 8 oz. package sliced provolone cheese

I prepared this in my 6 quart oval crockpot, and it was filled almost to the top.  Removing the finished lasagna from a crockpot is always tricky, so I followed the advice of several online food bloggers and created an aluminum foil "sling" as a liner for the crockpot.  Cut three of the tortillas in half.

Now, the layers:
Sauce to coat the bottom of the crockpotollllllWith a wooden spoon, combine all the ingredient in a medium bowl and set aside.e44444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444444

(Wait.  Chelsea just walked across the keyboard, typed this and turned on the music.  The iPad is now playing the theme from "Rocky", and Chelsea is seated next to Robert.  Apparently I wasn't paying enough attention to her.)

Let's try those layers again:
  1. Vodka sauce to coat the bottom of the crockpot
  2. One and one-half tortillas
  3. One-half of the cooked sausage and meatballs, including half of the sauce they were cooked in
  4. Shredded parmesan
  5. One and one-half tortillas
  6. Vodka sauce to generously cover the tortillas
  7. One-half of the cottage cheese mixture
  8. One and one-half tortillas
  9. All of the spinach and artichoke mixture
  10. One and one-half tortillas
  11. Remaining sausage and meatballs with their sauce
  12. Shredded parmesan
  13. One and one-half tortillas
  14. Vodka sauce to generously cover the tortillas
  15. Remaining cottage cheese mixture
  16. One and one-half tortillas
  17. All of remaining vodka sauce
  18. All of the sliced provolone
At this point, I covered it and put it in the fridge overnight.  The next morning, I set the cooker on high for the first hour, then reduced to low for the rest of the time.

Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours until done all the way through.  Shut off the heat, and leave the crockpot for about a half hour.  Using the aluminum foil sling, carefully remove the lasagna to a deep aluminum pan or casserole dish.

Before you run out and purchase a crockpot to prepare this ginormous dish, read tomorrow's blog post. Oh, it tasted pretty darn good, but ...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Viva la Vongole! - Linguine with White Clam Sauce

January 19, 2015 - There are a lot of things I could or should be doing today, but I'm not engaged in any activity more complicated than sitting in my couch corner, sipping coffee and enjoying the company of my dogs.  Even the television is off, as I am not sure I could handle more bad news. The Oklahoma Thunder crushed the Orlando Magic last night, and today is officially "Blue Monday", the saddest day of the year according to some bizarre mathematical formula that escapes me (but then so did calculus, both times I took it in college).

Truly, I don't feel like this is the saddest day of the year.  For one thing, I don't live in an area where freezing temperatures have turned the roads into ice-skating rinks and residents are suffering from frostbite and cabin fever.  I've been there, and that's no joke.

I made no New Year's Resolutions, so I do not feel bad about failing to follow through.  My traditional life-long resolution, to lose weight, is a joke.  This year I thought about resolving to stop losing weight.  Somewhere, Jean Nidetch is laughing at me.

Since I don't celebrate Christmas, I haven't run my charge cards up through the roof to purchase presents for my loved ones, and am now receiving the bills.  I've got bills, but not like that.  My bills always make me sad. Always.

I've got tsuris in my life, who doesn't?   But the saddest day of the year?  Not by a long shot.  When I say I can't take anymore bad news, I'm referring to acts of Islamic terrorism or natural disasters like typhoons, or reports of child abuse.  And it's not a day for Yahrzeit, remembrance for the passing of a loved one.  Those are really sad days, even if they don't fit into someone's mathematical delusion.  And when I think about those of my friends who are, as I write this, facing a medical crisis, I feel very bad.  My heart hurts for them not just today but every day.  Damn cancer.

My fibromyalgia is at a low simmer today.  And I had enough fresh garlic to repair that truly awful linguine dish I ordered at the restaurant the other night.  Save the Clams!  Viva la Vongole!  Long Live the Clams!

The rescue operation involved preparing a smaller amount of my tried-and-true white clam sauce recipe, and then purging the leftovers of grape tomatoes (in white clam sauce?) and bits of some overly spicy sausage (in white clam sauce??)  Oh, and I poured off that sad excuse for sauce, which contained neither garlic nor olive oil.  I think it must have been watered down white wine.  Fortunately, after I got done with it, it was awesome.

Here is the full-bore, from scratch, no-rescue-needed recipe that I have relied on for 25 years. Once you prepare this at home, you will never again be tempted to order it at a restaurant, even a good Italian restaurant.

Linguine with White Clam Sauce

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
2 - 8 oz. bottles clam juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried basil
kosher salt, black pepper, and a pinch of sugar
6 flat cans chopped clams
2 tablespoons butter
2 dozen fresh littleneck clams

12 oz. linguine (flat spaghetti), cooked al dente

In a large deep pan, heat the garlic very gently in the oil to a golden brown.  Add the clam juice, lemon juice, wine, oregano, parsley, basil, salt, pepper and sugar.  Simmer for 20 minutes to heat thoroughly and mingle flavors.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Add the canned clams, with their juice, to the pan, bring up to heat, then add the fresh clams, cover the pan, lower the heat and cook about 10 minutes until the clams open.  Stir the butter into the sauce.  Gradually add the linguine to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta.  Heat together just a minute, then serve immediately.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Last Act of a Desperate Potato - Crockpot Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Crockpot Caramelized Onions

He rode a blazing saddle
He wore a shining star ...

 "Well, can't you see that's the last act of a desperate man?"

"We don't care if it's the first act of "Henry V," we're leaving!"

Oh, how I adore Mel Brooks!

It is a Kissimmee Valley Sunday, and I am home and no reason to leave my house.  I need one day a week like this, just one.  No bra, no dental adhesive, no eyebrow pencil, no trip to Publix.  I cook, I knit, I drink coffee, I watch TV, I talk baby-talk to the furries.  I've got these potatoes and onions in the crockpot now, set on high for four hours, and bacon baking for the sweet and tangy chicken (but that's another blog post, yes).  I made some tuna fish salad for lunch.  I suggested watching movies because there's just so much Fox News and Food Network one can absorb in a weekend.  My vote was Mel Brooks - all of them, a glorious comedic marathon - but Rob said he was thinking of Guardians of the Galaxy, which we have not yet seen. (Nor will we see today, because apparently the DVD player died.  Requiescat in pace.)

Today's recipes are the last acts of desperate vegetables, especially the potatoes.  When I came down into the kitchen this morning, I found these:

Sprouting taters.  Some cooks will toss these as they are, but I was taught to peel and discard the sprouts, and rock on.  These potatoes had just started to sprout, and so the potatoes were still relatively firm.  By tomorrow, however, they would likely be past their prime.  So these potatoes were desperate to be cooked, as were a couple of onions that were starting to show a bit of fuzz.

Perfect opportunity to use the divided insert for my 6 quart crockpot, right?  Onions on one side, potatoes on the other.  I've also done this with the onions, and a half recipe of Pioneer Women's Burgundy Mushrooms.  Oh my, let me stop to swoon.  Then let me stop to lightly coat the inside of the crock with some non-stick spray.

Crockpot Garlic Mashed Potatoes

6 - 8 smallish gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons half and half
a couple of cloves smashed garlic
kosher salt, black pepper, and dried chopped chives

Combine all of these ingredients in the crock.  Cover and cook on high for 3 1/2 hours.  Now add as much additional butter and half and half as you like, plus more salt and pepper to taste.  Beat the potatoes with an electric hand mixer.  Remove from the crockpot and set aside while the onions finish cooking. You can eat them like this or you can wait for the caramelized onions.

Crockpot Caramelized Onions

3 - 4 medium onions, sliced thin
4 tablespoons butter
kosher salt, black pepper, and a pinch of sugar

Combine all of these ingredients in the crock.  Cover and cook on high for 4 1/2 hours, until the onions are soft and sweet.

Now you have a tough decision to make.  Should you enjoy each dish separately, or fold the onions into the garlicky potatoes?

Not sure if you can see it in this photo, but I combined the two.  Very very good. But I could see eating those garlic mashed as is, and saving the onions for another noble purpose involving mushrooms and peas and Arborio rice - or just for topping a hamburger or steak.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fry Me A River - No Fry Sweet and Tangy Chicken

Now you say you're lonely
You cried the long night through
Well, you can cry me a river, cry me a river
I cried a river over you

Oy ... I'm crying a river for my beloved Magic, who are having a bad weather day.  Oh yes, the Thunder are in town and at Amway, and if the first quarter is predictive, the Magic are screwed.

During play-offs, I root for the Thunder.  I love Kevin Durant, and who wouldn't love a team with players named Sir Chewbacca (Serge Ibaka) and Reggie Jackson?  But these aren't the play-offs, and Orlando is 30 points down.  One small glass of wine is not going to help, but that's my limit.

This is one of the 6 billion recipes for cooking chicken.  I found it about 20 years ago, and make it a couple of times a year.  It's got three of my favorite flavors combined in the glaze, honey, Dijon mustard, and curry.  I like this on the chicken thighs rather than the breasts, because I think the glaze works better on the richer dark meat.  The original recipe calls for pan frying the bacon and then frying the chicken in the bacon fat before putting it in the oven, but today I was simply not in the mood to spew oil all over my cooktop.  

Sweet and Tangy Chicken (Oven Version)

1/2 pound bacon
8 chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)

Spices for chicken:
kosher salt
black pepper
granulated garlic
sweet paprika
cayenne pepper
curry powder

1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon curry powder
kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the bacon slices in an aluminum baking pan and into the oven.  Let them brown and crisp, then turn over and repeat.  Remove the cooked bacon to drain on paper towels.  Once the bacon fat cools to room temperature, place the chicken into the same baking pan, turning each piece to coat with some of the bacon fat.  Season both sides of the chicken to taste with the spices, and finish with the skin side up.  Place the pan into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and carefully pour off most of the collected juices. Using tongs, turn the chicken pieces skin side down, and return the pan to the oven for another 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven.  Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.  Carefully pour off most of the liquid in the pan, and use the tongs to turn the chicken skin side up.  Combine the ingredients for the glaze in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, and mix until smooth.  Spoon over the chicken in the pan, using up all of the glaze.  Place the pan in the oven and bake another 15 minutes for the glaze to set.  If you like, turn on the broiler element for a minute, then immediately remove the pan so the glaze won't burn.  Before you return the pan to the oven, finely chop a few of the cooked bacon strips.  Immediately upon removing the finished chicken from the oven, sprinkle on the bacon bits, and serve.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

C is for Cookie. And Crockpot.

I sometimes get ahead of myself with this blogging thing, and end up with any number of drafts.  Eventually I get around to finishing and publishing them, although I have to admit a good number get deleted for any number of reasons.  Too dark, too personal, too likely to cause me trouble.

Part of the problem is that my mind never stops running tapes in my head.  The other problem is that when I am home, I cannot stay out of the kitchen.  Even now as I sit here typing, I feel the pull towards the oven - I've been wanting to bake cookies.  I am forcing myself to stay put.  Besides having already baked corn muffins today, I saved the clams and completed two more recipe blog posts.  I now have six fully completed, ready to go blog posts, each one with a really good recipe.  But I can't stay away from the keyboard anymore than I can resist the pull of the kitchen.

Also, I am trying to keep panic at arm's length.  Never fails the night before return to work after a weekend.  Especially when I am facing a heavy docket including a couple of trials and I don't have my files here at home.   Oh hell.  To quote Scarlett O'Hara "tomorrow is another day."  And "Bizarre Foods" is on.

I still want to bake cookies.

That inspired me to put some more work into my recipe collection project.  The last group of printed recipes to be placed into plastic sheet protectors is desserts - cakes, cookies, pies, puddings.  It's a pretty thick stack of paper, and this is definitely going to require more than one ring binder.  After going through all of the "tried" recipes - the "to-be-tried" pile still has to be worked on - I came across so many cookie recipes I forgot I had.  Old favorites from back in the day when I would bake 600 cookies for Christmas parties and gift-giving.  Some family heirlooms, like my grandmother's moon cookies and my mother-in-law's butter cookies.  The nut cup recipe I got from that really obnoxious junior broker from Connecticut.  Four types of oatmeal cookies.  Macaroons (not to be confused with French macarons).  Someday soon, I am simply going to have to break down and bake some cookies.  Maybe tomorrow.

Ha ha, no really.  I got home at 10 PM.  No warm sweet aroma of cookies wafting from my kitchen for me.  And I had kind of pinned it down to a white cake mix cream cheese cookie with dried cherries and blueberries.  An Independence Day cookie in January.  Or, assuming I had no time to pick up the dried fruit, a mixture of chips - semi sweet chocolate, milk chocolate, vanilla chips, and butterscotch chips.  Spotted cream cheese cookies.

Maybe this weekend.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pantry Plunder Split Pea Vegetable Soup - Another Corner of Crockpot Heaven

This is the weekend I made some inroads on the contents of my freezer and pantry.  As much as my heart was yearning for a shopping spree at BJ's, my head was reminding me of the substantial reserves I really needed to work through, to facilitate a well-timed stock rotation.  Out came my last two pillow packs of Perdue chicken thighs plus a package of bacon chunks I picked up during our trip home from Georgia in late October.  I raided my vegetable drawer, my pantry, and my spice cabinet.  I have other plans for the chicken, but here is what I did with the rest of my pantry plunder:

Into the crockpot with you!

2 large stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium gold potatoes, peeled and diced
up to one pound smoked bacon pieces (my package was frozen)
1 - 12 oz. bag green split peas, rinsed
2 small bay leaves
1 large plum tomato, diced
1 cup frozen black-eyed peas
1 envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets Vegetable Soup & Dip Mix
1 tablespoon dried thyme
black pepper, granulated garlic, parsley flakes, sugar
1 - 32 oz. box chicken stock
2-3 cups water

Put the ingredients in the crockpot in the order given. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, which means 8:30 to 9:30 tonight.  We are going out to dinner with friends, so I'll save room to taste the soup when we get back.

At 9:00, the soup wasn't quite done, so my plan is to let it keep cooking for a total of 12 hours on low.  Stir the soup two or three times over the course of the 12 hours.  The split peas should be dissolving into the soup as you stir.  Taste and re-season as you go.

We had a pleasant dinner with our friends, but sad to say, I am not about to recommend the restaurant.  All that joie de vivre was about the good company and the fine wine.  The food ranged from one really good dish (shrimp) to a just okay dish (the lamb shank) and ending with two disappointing dishes (the linguine with white clam sauce, and the pork milanese).  The saddest part of this culinary misadventure was that this fairly new Italian restaurant had replaced Cat Cora's Kouzzina.  We will miss Kouzzina, which served really good Greek and Mediterranean food.  As to the new restaurant, there are much better Italian restaurants in the area, off Disney property.  And let's face it, my preparation of linguine with white clam sauce is much better than theirs - or anyone else's, for that matter.  The late, lamented Tarantino's used to do a really fine linguine with clam sauce, but somewhere along the way the recipe changed and was not quite as good anymore.  Oh, how I miss the good old days when Tarantino's still occupied a tiny corner of an old sheet metal building on the corner of Oak and John Young, and consistently turned out the best Italian food anywhere.

Well, it actually took over 13 hours, but the soup is finished and I am very happy with the result.  So good!  And the bacon chunks are like perfect bites of ultra-tender pork belly.  Swallow and smile, my friends, while you send thanks to the crockpot gods.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lovely Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Lemon Frosting

Happy day after a long weekend!  Faced with a tough morning, and a tougher week, I am charging ahead with a Positive Mental Attitude.  Looking forward to the challenges!  Excited about the day!  Fear is not an option!   The early bird gets the worm, or at least the court files.  Charge!

Alrighty then, once I have some coffee, I'm sure I can pull this off.  Yes.  Right.  Ummm ... I'll let you know how this works out.  First, coffee.  Second, a recipe to try.

I am beginning to wonder if adding the pudding mix to cake mix is such a good idea.  Almost all cake mixes have pudding in the mix, and actually have for over 20 years.  This recipe bakes up a lovely lemon cupcake with a nice even crumb to it, and it was really plenty rich without the pudding.

I made these for Robert, because almost all of my other cupcake experiments have involved chocolate and even coffee.  The least I can do for the man who is still the Best Husband in the World.

Lovely Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling and Lemon Frosting

1 - 18.25 oz. package yellow cake mix (with pudding in the mix)
1 package lemon gelatin
2/3 cup canola oil
2/3 cup hot water
4 extra large eggs

1 - 2 jars Dickinson's Lemon Curd
2 - 16 oz. tubs lemon frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Set up two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners.  Place the cake mix, gelatin, oil, water and eggs in a large bowl.  Beat to combine for about a minute, scrape down the sides, then beat for 2 minutes with an electric mixer.  Portion the batter evenly, then bake for 18 to 22 minutes.  Cool the cupcakes in the tins for about 15 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

It was as this point I threw the cupcakes into the freezer, because I wasn't feeling up to filling and frosting.  It's not necessary to the success of the recipe, but I would recommend holding off the filling part until the next day.  You want the cake to be totally firm and set.

Now, using a small sharp knife or the large end of a metal piping tip, remove part of the cake from the middle.  Pipe some lemon curd into each cupcake.

Stir the frosting till smooth and use to finish off the cupcakes.  Gorgeous and delicious.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bat Out Of Hell - Meatloaf Ring filled with Peas and Corn

This is less of a recipe and more of a suggestion.  When I threw it together earlier this week, I was feeling grim, and only the thought of spoiled meat propelled me forward like a bat out of hell.  I measured nothing, nor did I take even one diddly photograph.

More metal sculpture, no meatloaf

If you've ever made a meatloaf, you know it is an inexact science.  Which kind of ground meat are you using, and what is the fat content?  Are you using large or jumbo eggs?  Heinz or DelMonte ketchup?  (If you're not using Heinz ketchup, we have nothing to say to each other.)  Meatloaf is one of those dishes that can't be precisely measured, nor tasted while preparing it.  You need to rely on look and touch, along with memory of what worked well for you last time.  While I never make meatloaf the same way, there are some basics I can always go back to.  Ground beef, no pork, veal, or poultry.  Grated onion.  An egg.  Heinz ketchup.  Matzo meal.  Kosher salt, black pepper and granulated garlic.  Meatloaf is never an elegant dish.  It is a Mom's dish, one of the best ways to feed a family without pulling every spice out of your cabinet or having to construct a mise en place for Iron Chef Morimoto.  Meatloaf is the kind of dish you eat when your jaws are tired from talking too much in court or when you are recovering from extensive dental work.  Those are also the times you serve the meatloaf with mashed potatoes.

Swirling Doodle

Chelsea Doodle

This meatloaf is a little bit fancier than that, but not by much.  It was heartwarming, but not boring.  It was pretty, but not precious.  It had good flavor without blowing off the top of your head.

Meatloaf Ring filled with Peas and Corn

1 1/2 pounds ground market beef
1/2 onion, grated
1/2 carrot, grated
1 jumbo egg
3/4 cup Heinz ketchup
3/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
kosher salt, black pepper, granulated garlic - to taste
1 envelope Lipton's Vegetable Soup & Dip mix (crush the unopened envelope to break up the contents a bit)

Heinz Balsamic Vinegar ketchup
3 slices bacon, cut into quarters

1 cup each frozen green peas and corn

Your favorite recipe of mashed potatoes, from 4 large potatoes (I made mine with sour cream, horseradish, and chives.  Just an idea.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the first eight ingredients in a medium bowl. Using your hands, mix well, incorporating all the ingredients.  Wet your hands with some cool water to work the meat mixture.  Pat the meat down into the bowl, cover the bowl with an aluminum baking dish, and turn over so the meat falls into the pan.  Using your hands, form the meat into an even ring with a center large enough to hold the peas and corn.  Wet your hands one last time and smooth the meat, closing any cracks.

Squirt a good amount of the balsamic vinegar ketchup on top of the meatloaf, and smooth all over the meat.  Drape the bacon slices at even intervals all around the meatloaf ring.  Place in the preheated oven and bake for an hour, until the meat is cooked through and the bacon is starting to render and crisp.

Cook the peas and corn according to package directions, drain, and add a bit of butter and salt.  With a large spoon, remove excess cooking liquid from the meatloaf baking dish, with extra care to the center of the ring.  Spoon the peas and corn into the center of the ring, and pile mashed potatoes on either side.  And for God's sake, take a picture!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Way Past Midnight Musings - Crockpot Beer Brats

January 17, 2015 - Here it is 3:36 AM, and I cannot sleep.  Instead, I am in the kitchen, slicing onions and peppers and opening a package of Johnsonville beer bratwurst.  I am wide awake, and indeed it is my own fault.  I should known better than to skip the Melatonin, to stay glued to my iPad, to read the news, to listen to music, all when my body and mind need so desperately to unwind.

Crockpot Beer Brats

1 large onion, halved and sliced lengthwise
1/2 each of red, yellow, and green bell peppers, sliced lengthwise
1 package of Johnsonville Beer Bratwurst, each brat cut on a long diagonal into 4 slices
1 - 15 oz. can German potato salad
2 tablespoons each white vinegar and water
sugar, kosher salt, black pepper
parsley flakes

Add the onion, peppers, and bratwurst to a 4 quart crockpot.  Add the German potato salad.  To the can, add the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper.  Swish the liquid inside the can to catch any remaining sauce. Pour this into the crockpot.  Sprinkle parsley flakes over the top.  Cover and cook on low until 10:00 AM, or approximately 6 hours.  Stir well and season to taste with salt and pepper.

This is a crockpot version of a super easy recipe I've been making on top of the stove for at least 30 years.  I guess I'll find out sometime tomorrow if this version works.


For the most part, the potatoes broke up and gently melted into the sauce, which is what I was hoping for.  I think I would love this dish over my homemade spaetzle.  That's a tomorrow task, along with the chicken. Tonight we eat out.  Whoo hoo.

And now from the Feeling Sorry For Myself Department: For all my positive talk about the advantages of getting older, I live in (sometimes) silent fear of the side effects.  Whatever the direct cause - menopause, fibro fog, the early glimmerings of inevitable senile dementia, or even my worst nightmare, Alzheimer's - my mind just ain't what it used to be.  My memory, my cognitive abilities, my mental energy, all of these seem to me to be ever-so-slightly impaired.  I am half the woman I used to be, and I'm not just talking about my weight.  I find certain tasks more difficult to complete, especially in a timely manner and I don't like that.

So I guess all that stuff about getting older being a liberating experience is just so much false bravado.  Sure, I like getting senior discounts when I'm booking cruises and hotel rooms, but that's hardly a fair trade off for aging brain cells.

Or maybe this is all just the damn fibromyalgia playing with my emotions.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Somehow, It's Friday - Crockpot Eggplant Parmesan

January 16, 2015 - Somehow, it's Friday, and I have a long weekend ahead of me.  I would jump for joy, but that would set off a chain reaction of angry nerve endings and aggravated muscles.  If I could jump for joy, I would have continued in taekwando; sadly, I can do neither.

With my backache and foggy brain, I am struggling to complete a project here at my desk, and my slowness is making me unhappy.  I brought lunch - some of the eggplant parmesan - so I could keep working without having to pick up food outside.  I am taking a short break to swallow some Advil and clear my head.  The eggplant is delicious.  I am no vegetarian, but this dish could make me forget meat, at least temporarily.  Possibly until dinner time.

My little shawl is starting to take form.  As the rows get longer, the color changes will become more dramatic.  Eventually, they will become long enough that the color changes will defuse again.  Should make for an interesting finished piece.  Knitting during TV watching has been pleasant. Except when the Magic are playing, because then I've got to stand up and holler at the screen.

Back to work at my desk.  Those Advil did not go down well, and I cannot guarantee they will stay down.  What a completely craptastic day.

One thing - maybe the only thing - that was kind of good was lunch.  I'm back into my crockpot phase, and this time I adapted my eggplant parm for long cooking.  It came out so good, I surprised myself.  From a preparation standpoint, I loved not having to bread and fry it first.

Crockpot Eggplant Parmesan

2 eggplants (long rather than wide shaped), peeled, sliced lengthwise into 8 slices each
roasted garlic olive oil
Italian flavor bread crumbs
1 - 24 oz. jar spicy marinara sauce
about a pound of different Italian cheeses - I used sliced provolone, shredded mozzarella, grated Romano, and shaved Parmesan - basically the contents of my cheese drawer.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.   Brush some of the garlic oil onto a rimmed baking sheet.  Lay out half the eggplant slices and brush with more of the oil.  Sprinkle on bread crumbs, then turn and repeat.  Place in the oven and bake until the eggplant begins to soften and the crumbs turn medium brown.  Remove from the oven, turn the slices over and bake. Repeat with the remaining slices.

Place a small amount of the sauce in the bottom of the crock.  Layer with 4 of the eggplant slices,  ladle on one-fourth of the remaining sauce, then cover with one or two of your chosen cheeses.  Repeat until the eggplant is used up, ending with a sliced cheese layer.  Cover and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours.  Check after 4 hours for the doneness of the eggplant, then add only as much time needed for it to be done the way you like it.  It should still be a little toothsome.

You can serve this from the crockpot or carefully move to a baking dish and slide into the oven for a few minutes to brown the cheese slightly. Either way, this is an awesome dish.

(No, I did not bother to salt the slices - I always look to buy "male" eggplants, which have less seeds and are therefore less bitter.  Male eggplants do not have a "dimple" in their bottom rounded end.)