Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fifty Shades of Schmaltz - Coconut Curry Chicken

This arrived in my email yesterday:

"Come join us for a unique walking tour through beautiful Downtown Kissimmee featuring the Sculpture Experience and 12 local restaurants, shops and galleries all while sippin' on ice cold beers or glasses of wine! Experience and 12 local restaurants, shops and galleries all while sippin' on ice cold beers or glasses of wine!"

So it seems I am going to miss the 2015 Kissimmee Main Street's Sculpture Pub Crawl, because it takes place the same day as the start of my cruise.  You know that I love those street sculptures, and have always wanted to do the walking tour.  I'm not so sure about me and walking and sippin' wine at the same time, being a natural born klutz, and therefore somewhat unsteady on my feet under the best of circumstances.  But I am a trifle disappointed, just not so much as to cancel my cruise.

Like most words in Yiddish, "schmaltz" has different shades of meaning. This thought occurred to me while consulting this book, which was written by a shaygetz, no less, for the best way to prepare a decent amount of chicken schmaltz. (Like a good barbecue, low and slow). Besides referring to the Fowl Fat from Heaven, schmaltz can mean "excessive sentimentality", exaggerated, maudlin, corny, overblown ... feh.  What nonsense, and what a disservice to a great and descriptive word.  To me, schmaltz means rich and unctuous.  Schmaltz means whatever you are cooking in it is gonna taste like a million clucks - I mean, bucks. Schmaltz is gorgeous stuff, my friends.  Use it well.

Michael Ruhlman is one of those celebrity chef types who used to show up as a judge on Iron Chef America, and who pals around with one of my least favorite people, the pathetically self-important superannuated frat boy, Anthony Bourdain.  Despite his questionable choice of friends, Mr. Ruhlman has written a very fine book, in large part because of his collaboration with Lois Baron, Joan Nathan, and Arthur Schwartz, and in other part because he states, unequivocally: "Schmaltz is Good, and Schmaltz is Great."  He may be a goy, but when it comes to cooking, he's got a Yiddische kopf.

Unfortunately, while he gives excellent direction and photos, he cannot help me resolve my obsession with determining the exact, perfect moment at which to add the chopped onions to the rendered chicken fat.  He says to add the onion "when the chicken skin is golden brown", but in my cooking experience golden brown is a slippery term indeed.  I think I've got it this time, after the skin cooked for an hour and forty minutes, and I've added the onion and said a heartfelt silent prayer to the Great Schmaltz God In The Sky.  I'm sure that neither my maternal Grandma Gussie nor my paternal Grandma Yetta ever agonized over her schmaltz. When you're cooking for seven or eight children, you don't have time to run over to Home Depot to pick up color samples for comparison with your griebenes. I have discovered, incidentally, that for the purposes of achieving the perfect golden brown-ness for this dish, all you need to do is compare your griebenes to the contents of a can of French's French Fried Onions. I bet even Michael Ruhlman doesn't know that.

Oh hell, did I add too many onions??

In order to have enough chicken skin and fat to go through this cooking ritual, I purchased a package of nine chicken thighs.  Now that they've been thoroughly skinned and trimmed, I want to use them to create a dish for my son, the Vacuum Cleaner With Teeth, to eat while Rob and I are eating sushi on Sunshine.  I know I said I didn't need to prepare a chicken dish, but like everything else, I misjudged - this time, the current state of Cory's appetite, which is extraordinarily healthy.  But it all works out - the schmaltz, the chicken, the cruise - everything in its place and a place for everything.  The final result, which was generously inspired by the recipe from this blog, "Can You Stay For Dinner", exceeded my expectations, the coconut milk is my new favorite ingredient, and there will be rice to accompany this poultry marvel.  But that's another blog post ...

 Coconut Curry Chicken

8-9 chicken thighs, on the bone, all skin removed and fat trimmed (the skin and fat will be used to make schmaltz and griebenes)
Kosher salt
Garlic pepper
3-4 tablespoons roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, or 2 medium onions, halved and sliced thin
6 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped fine
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
2 serrano peppers, seeds and veins removed, chopped fine
2 tablespoons yellow curry powder
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cups chicken stock
1 - 13.5 oz. can Badia coconut milk
3 tablespoons mild chutney
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves

Season the chicken generously on both sides with the salt and garlic pepper.  In a large deep skillet heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the chicken, top side down, and cook without moving the chicken for at least five minutes, until the chicken takes on some color.  Using tongs, carefully turn the chicken and repeat on the other side.  When you are done, the chicken should be almost completely cooked, so don't rush this step.  Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside.  

Add the remaining olive oil to the skillet, and then add the sliced onions. Cook the onion for five minutes until it begins to soften, then add the garlic, the ginger, and the serrano pepper.  Cook and stir until the fragrance makes you swoon.  Add the curry powder and the turmeric, and stir to distribute well.  Cook for about 30 seconds, then add the chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and let simmer a few minutes, then lower the heat.  Add the coconut milk, the chutney, and about 2/3 of the cilantro.  Do not boil the sauce.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Return the chicken to the skillet and simmer together for 10 to 15 minutes, spooning sauce over the chicken.  Serve from the skillet or move the chicken and sauce to a serving dish.  Sprinkle the remaining cilantro over the dish.  Serve with Coconut Jasmine Rice and Schmaltzy English Peas.

We're on the road to ... somewhere.

Damn, forgot the itinerary again.  At least I know what ship we're sailing on.

I've got that sitzfleisch thing going on again.  I can't sit still more than a moment or two.  My mind is all over the place.  I thought I would calm down once I got the good news about the fibroadenoma, but it's just gotten worse.  I can't stop cooking.  I can't start knitting.  I can't read new books - only books I've read over and over again.  My head hurts. I'm depressed.  I was just told I do not have breast cancer, and I'm leaving on a cruise tomorrow, and I'm depressed?  Oh of course, I'm in the middle of switching medication. Timing is everything.  Have a good week.

Friday, April 24, 2015

First, You Cry

Friday - I normally would not start another post with Coconut Curry Chicken and Beef Stuffed Baby Bell Peppers hanging out there like laundry on the line, but I cannot help but make a side trip at this point in my week.  I am scared, so scared that my legs are weak.  Fortunately I am the passenger, as Rob is driving us to Winter Park to discuss the results of all those tests and procedures that were done to the girls. In discussing my long list of fears with professionals who are trained to do so, I have assured them that I am not afraid of breast cancer, that whatever has to be done will be done, and more of that sort of crap.  There's no percentage in lying to your therapist or your psychiatrist, folks.  I am certain I didn't fool either one of them, and I surely did not fool myself.

I have been through this scenario with the same surgeon, back in 2006, and I can still see myself, with Rob, sitting in one of her examination rooms, hearing the good news that everything was benign. What a marvelous word, benign. But this is 2015, and in order to deal with the mind-numbing anxiety from weeks and months of invasive procedures, I have forced myself to believe that this time it would be déjà vu all over again and everything would be benign.  Who am I fooling? I know no such thing.

Only now I do.  First, you cry - even when it is good news.  Then you hug your husband and go to Tibby's for lunch.  Thank you, God.

Real Men Do Eat Quiche - The Promised Quiche of Springtime

Thursday, Day 37 - I am so close to that cruise ship I can taste my first bagel with lox and cream cheese.  But until that happy moment, I promise you quiche, and Ella Fitzgerald singing "All the Things You Are."

You are the promised kiss of springtime
That makes the lonely winter seem long
You are the breathless hush of evening
That trembles on the brink of a lovely song ...

I hate when I oversleep, but that's exactly what I did this morning, necessitating what can best be described as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to SODO.  I realize I am dating myself with the reference to Mr. Toad, but you must remember this - we spent our honeymoon in Disneyworld, which back in 1974 was the Magic Kingdom and nothing else.  I had a 9:45 appointment with (yet another) doctor in Orlando, an area I've always thought of as "The Hospital Zone" because of the jowl-to-cheek juxtaposition of Orlando Regional Medical Center, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Women and Children, Winnie Palmer Hospital, and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Really an overwhelming collection of  edifices containing really sick people and enough medical personnel to cure a third world nation of whatever ails it.  

Earlier this year, I noticed that this general area on and around South Orange Avenue had been dubbed "SODO".  It took me a few minutes to realize this meant "South of Downtown Orlando", and another 2 seconds to realize how off base the developer had been.  SODO doesn't sound trendy like Tribeca or sophisticated like SOHO, or even charmingly silly like DUMBO.

Not wanting to be slow to SODO, I ran like Jesse Owens and drove like Richard Petty and prayed like Pope Francis that the Great God of Traffic Lights would favor me with fortune.  I made it in just under 41 minutes from sitting up in bed to sitting down in my doctor's waiting room.  And I waited, for her, and while I waited, I thought about food.  Specifically I thought about chicken schmaltz, and that led me to coconut milk and .... well, you'll just have to tune in tomorrow.

When asked if there was something he would like me to prepare for the week his father and I would be gone, Cory suggested "something with asparagus." Huh. Mention asparagus to me and I start dreaming about rivers of hollandaise, but that's a sauce that doesn't hold well.  Cory likes his asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, but we've done that lately.  Risotto?  Meh.  Soup?  Nah.  Quiche?  Well, real men don't eat quiche, do they?

Hell yes they do!  First of all, the book from whence that expression sprang was a satire!  Second, quiche is substantial food, rich and filling.  Why wouldn't a "real" man want to scarf down a couple of slices for lunch, or as a side dish for a more traditional entree like chicken or sliced pork loin?

Anyway, asparagus is one of those foods that has always been associated with springtime, so I wanted to reflect that in the quiche, without sacrificing the flavors that will attract men and women alike.  This is a hearty quiche.

The Promised Quiche of Springtime

4 tablespoons schmaltz and/or butter
4 spring onions, sliced thin
12 oz. sliced button mushrooms
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and sliced diagonally
kosher salt
white pepper

2 deep dish frozen pie crusts (Mrs. Smith's)
2 cups shredded cheese (1 cup mozzarella, 1 cup sharp cheddar)
6 thin slices capacollo,  cut or pulled into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup flame-roasted red peppers (sweet pimento), patted dry, sliced
4 teaspoons grated Pecorino Romano

6 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
pinch of nutmeg
dash of granulated garlic

Unwrap the frozen pie shells and let sit on the counter, while you prepare the filling.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet over medium high hear, cook the onions, mushrooms and asparagus until the liquid in the pan just evaporates.  Season with the salt and pepper and set aside to cool.  Divide the mozzarella and cheddar cheese between the pie shells, spreading across the bottoms.  Place the capacollo on top of the cheese.  Carefully spoon the cooled asparagus mixture on top of thecapacollo.  Arrange the slices of pimento over the asparagus.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the Pecorino Romano over each pie.  Place the filled pie shells on rimmed cookie sheets (I placed each shell in an aluminum lasagna pan, and it fit perfectly).

In a 4 cup (or larger) glass measuring cup, whisk together the eggs and heavy cream.  Add some kosher salt and pepper, Italian seasoning, the nutmeg and the granulated garlic, and whisk to combine.  Carefully pour half of the liquid over each pie, and the carefully moved them to the preheated oven.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the custard is set and the crust is golden brown.  Do not overbake.  Allow the quiche to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting.  I left the second quiche in the aluminum lasagna pan, double wrapped the pie and then the aluminum pan, and placed it into the freezer.

Both of the real men in my life tasted, scarfed, and heartily approved.

I do have a confession to make. When the asparagus begat the springtime theme, the first song that came to mind was "Springtime for Hitler" from "The Producers."  Try as I might - and when it comes to anything by Mel Brooks, I try really hard - I could not find a nice way to work it in.  I mean, imagine calling this my "Springtime for Hitler" quiche?  Pretty awful.  What is not awful is one of my favorite actors singing what can only be described as the most politically incorrect song in the history of modern cinema.  That is indeed John Barrowman, with his normal good looks marred by the swastika on his armband and the Guy Fieri bleach job.  Never mind all that, he's gorgeous, he's sexy, and he can sing like an angel.  I'd make this quiche for him anytime.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

It Don't Come Easy - BBQ Sliders

The Cat of Clyde Avenue

Wednesday, Day 36 - So here I am back at Florida Radiology at a ridiculously early cow-milking hour, for an MRI.  It was not, as MRIs go, uncomfortable in the least, thanks to that Valium my surgeon suggested I take prior, and the fact that for this test, I got to lie face down.  The girls, who would otherwise have been unbearably squashed, were suitably accommodated.  I think they enjoyed the "airing" so to speak.   If that has been too much information, I apologize, but not much.

Let's "Ringo" in the day with a little tune:

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don't come easy.
You don't have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.
Forget about the past and all your sorrows,
The future won't last,
It will soon be over tomorrow.
I don't ask for much, I only want your trust,
And you know it don't come easy.
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time,
And you know it just ain't easy.

As you know, eating "don't come easy" to me.  Most of that is attributed to the gastric bypass surgery I had in 2003, while the rest is a toothy issue - like in, I don't have any.  I was never blessed with good strong teeth, despite those yearly childhood visits to the dentist, and they only got worse over the years, so here we are.  Eating with dentures don't come easy either, and when I am home en famille, I forego the damn things. They not only hurt, but they interfere with my ability to taste.

I have learned the hard way that I have to eat small - small portions and very small pieces of food.  Texture makes a big difference as well, especially when I'm imitating Granny Clampett.  But that doesn't stop me from occasionally craving fried food or real pit barbecue or a Big Mac, hold the lettuce, and sometimes I've just got to give in.  

I'd had a mad yen for the burnt ends from Jimmy Bear's BBQ in St. Cloud, but tax season got in the way.  As soon as it was over, however, and while I was at one of my interminable trips to a doctor, my darling husband zipped down the highway to heaven and picked up a pound, along with a slab of ribs and some fried pickles.  

Of course there were leftovers, and I find leftovers of any sort to be difficult to swallow, literally.  But these burnt ends were so good, I knew I just had to find a way to enjoy them again ... and again.  So I repurposed them - repurposing being the New Millenium term for "making good use of leftovers."  I made the cutest little sliders out of them, keeping in mind my need for soft textures and tiny bits.  These are really so good, you do not need to be a post-operative gastric bypass patient to enjoy them. In fact, you can make a whole tray of these as snack food during the NBA play-offs or for your ladies' book club meeting.  That being said, I was able to finish one.  Just one, and it was marvelous.

Leftover barbecue burnt ends from Jimmy Bear's Barbecue, chopped pretty fine, with the layer of fat
onion, chopped
olive oil or canola oil
really good quality barbecue sauce from Four Rivers Barbecue

To serve:
1-15 oz. bag Martin's Party Potato Rolls (24 to a package)
1-8oz. jar Mt. Olive Dill Relish

On the side:
Tabbouleh from Whole Foods

I can't really give you precise amounts, because it depends how many of the burnt ends are left over.  I like a lot of onions, and they cook down anyway, but your mileage may vary.  This recipe is all about self-detrmination, so you will have to determine for yourself the ratio of beef to onion.

Cook the onions in some oil until the onions begin to brown.  Add the chopped beef and its fat (there is some serious flavor in that fat, so don't discard it) and cook together until the fat has melted and the beef is heated through.  Stir in the barbecue sauce and let everything simmer together until the beef is very tender.  If you can stand it, refrigerate overnight so the flavors can happily consummate their marriage.

Next day - take the chill off the beef mixture, but don't over heat.  Cut a roll in half, and pile on the beef.  Top with some of the relish.  Finally, make it into a real sandwich, stick a frilled toothpick down the middle, and take a picture.  Consume with one swallow or a dozen dainty bites.  Anyway you want it ...

I recommended specific pickle relish as well as the taboulleh because each is very finely chopped, making them perfect for me.  If you like chunky relish, or even a slice of pickle, be my guest.  Go ahead and enjoy a real green salad or a bowl of homemade coleslaw - both will go really well with the slider.  Get crazy and put the coleslaw on the sandwich!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tuesday Tootsies - Green Beans with Roasted Corn, Sweet Onions, and Roma Tomatoes

Tuesday, Day 35 - There are no vegetarians in my house, nosiree Rob. Cory will eat salad, as long as it is wearing his favorite Makoto Ginger Dressing.  I adore salad, indigestible though it may be for me, especially if it is well-dressed in Ken's Steakhouse Thousand Island. Cory will ask for asparagus, and will eat pretty much any vegetable I put in front of him.  But if  I'm not doing the serving, he is just as likely to pile his plate high with one of every cooked protein in the house while forgetting about the gorgeous Italian broccoli or Greek green beans.                                                

Rob can't be bothered with anything green.  At a salad bar, while I am honing in on choice bits of romaine, mesclun, and baby spinach, he is making his plate look like something out of an surrealist's nightmare. Chick peas, marinated artichoke hearts, pickled beets, blue cheese dressing, all swirling around in nauseating technicolor.  But even worse, he has little interest in any of my cooked vegetable dishes, especially if they are green.  Or yellow or orange or white.

I admit to being rather sensitive on the subject. I may not be able (or willing) to make my own pie crust, but I am a whiz with vegetables.  When I'm done with them, they taste good - really good - and it irritates me that my efforts go unrecognized by my regular eating audience.  Now it could just be that I am in a pissy mood today - and I am, make no mistake about it - but it would do this Jewish mother's heart good to see my husband happily, deliberately, and voluntarily piling vegetables on his plate next to whichever protein and starch is about to be consumed.

Which is why it was so funny when both he and Cory ate the "wrong" part of the kraut sveckle. Now, kraut sveckle is not technically a vegetable dish. although it contains a rather healthy amount of cabbage.  Shredded cabbage that has been slowly and lovingly cooked down in butter for an hour or more until it tastes rich and sweet and nothing at all like that boiled wedge you probably plunked down next to slices of corned beef on St. Patrick's Day.  But first and foremost it is a noodle dish, and it is the contrast of the bland egg noodles and the cooked cabbage that work together so perfectly.

So I was working on this green bean dish from Guy Fieri, and decided to cook the cabbage for  the kraut sveckle at the same time.  When they were both done, I set them side by side on the counter.  No noodles.  As you may have guessed, my two geniuses ate rather generously of the cabbage, ignored the green bean dish, and felt virtuous for having consumed at least one vegetable with their dinner.  I'm not so sure it was funny after all.

But that's not why I'm in a pissy mood today.  No, I know why and there is little I can do about it but stew like a Shabbos cholent. Because I am fed up to the eyebrows with bureaucracy and red tape and forms and systems and intrusions and questions and requests and all that jazz to the point that I want to tell somebody, or several somebodies, off. And I know it wouldn't help, and I would end up feeling bad about being mean, and let's face it, it's a hot mess, and if I open my mouth and go all New York stevedore on them, I will just make things worse.  Especially since I suspect I am overreacting in the midst of an anxiety attack.  Hot mess, I told you.

Even my pedicure did not cheer me up the way it usually does.

I followed Guy's recipe almost exactly, making half of it (I only had one ear of corn and two cups of green beans in the fridge) and using a sweet rather than a red onion.  Be generous with the salt, and feel free to blanch the green beans for an extra minute. I grated my own Parm, and I'm pretty sure there was more than three tablespoons, even with half the recipe. This made a very nice dish, tasty as well as visually pleasing.  I snuck it onto Rob's dinner plate last night, and he proclaimed it "very good." Coming from him, that is indeed high praise for a vegetable.

Tomorrow I have an appointment at 7:00 am for the breast MRI, which means we will have to leave here around 6:00, which means waking up around 5:00.  Ha, if you thought I was cranky today, wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Monday, Monday - Apple Honey Mustard Roast Pork Loin

You can thank The Mamas and the Papas for today's ear worm.  If you are old like me, nothing screams the 60's like their four part harmony, except possibly extra wide bell bottoms and platform shoes. 

Monday, Monday
Can't trust that day
Monday, Monday
Sometimes it just turns out that way

Oh, Monday morning you gave me no warning
Of what was to be
Oh, Monday, Monday
How could you leave and not take me ...

But whenever Monday comes
You can find me crying all of the time

Flowers outside the Florida Radiology building.  Of course they are pink!

Monday, Day 34 - I hate to give up my fine parking spot outside Florida Radiology, but I'm waiting on some CDs to be burned, which is going to take a little while, and I really do need another cup of coffee.  The lot was practically empty when I got here just an hour ago; now, it's filled up all the way to left field.  Minor inconvenience standing between me and my coffee.

Chelsea, hating her new shirt

I am finding it just a tad overwhelming to have medical appointments of one sort or another, every day this week. Last week I "only" had them four out of five.  And did I mention that every single one has been way outside of my home zone? How do other people do it?  What well of strength do they draw from, that I seem to be lacking?

When I feel sorry for myself, I go shopping - food shopping, that is, and that's how I found myself at the Winter Park Whole Foods this morning.  You can't tell me it's not therapeutic to stroll up and down aisles where almost everything is marked "organic".  I know I feel better for having gone there, and it only cost me $9.32 for steel cut oats, Bob's wheat bran (I don't know Bob, but I like his products), zante currants, and Popchips brand sweet potato chips.  That's a lot less than a therapy session, although I have to go to one of those this week as well.

Feeling lower than Chris Christie's poll numbers, I finished at Whole Foods and then struck off on a trip to nowhere.  I missed the easy exit to I-4 and kept going, exploring roads and locations that were hardly known to me.  I love to explore, and the day started to shape up the way I like it, finishing with yet another food shopping foray inside Publix.  If it wasn't for my back trying to crack in two, I'd say it was a pretty damn fine day.

Orchids and Hydrangea at Whole Foods

I want to Talk Pork with you today. First of all, it's a good thing I don't keep kosher, because pork is still affordable, unlike beef, lamb, and veal. Second, the best deal on pork is a honking huge boneless pork loin, in cryovac, from BJs warehouse.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Costco and Sam's Club likely carry the same hunk of porcine glory in their meat case.  They run between nine and twelve pounds and every single ounce of it is edible.

Last time I bought one of these, I divided it into thirds, used one piece and froze the other two, but before freezing them, I seasoned them rather well and swaddled them in aluminum foil.  One was seasoned with my mild Jamaican jolt spice blend while the other got showered with garlic salt and lemon pepper.  Just as I feel secure in the knowledge that one cannot starve with a drawer full of sliced cheeses, it satisfies my balaboostah's soul to see hunks of meat - pork loin, pillow packs of chicken thighs, eye round roasts - tucked into deep freeze.  One could survive a zombie apocalypse with such provisions at hand, assuming your living dead next door neighbor had not destroyed the local electrical grid.  In that worst case scenario, throw the frozen protein projectile at the marauding zombies, grab a couple of cheese sandwiches, and run like hell.

Because I need to do some serious advance cooking for this week and next, I pulled the garlic salt and lemon pepper loin out of the freezer, and thought I would figure out a recipe by the time it defrosted.  I did, and I have it on good authority that the flavor combination rocks.

Apple Honey Mustard Roast Pork Loin

1 - 3 pound piece of boneless pork loin
Garlic salt
Lemon pepper
5.5 oz. can apple juice
1 bottle Ken's Steakhouse Honey Mustard Dressing
kosher salt, black pepper, granulated garlic
Raging River Five Pepper blend or cayenne pepper, to taste

Season the pork with the garlic salt and lemon pepper.  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.   Heat a heavy skillet on medium high; sear the pork roast on all sides.  Remove to a baking dish into which the apple juice has been poured.  Cover with aluminum foil, then place into a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and squeeze or pour on enough of the honey mustard dressing to coat the pork loin. Use a fork or flat wire whisk to incorporate any honey mustard that has dripped dow, into the apple juice in the pan.  Return to the oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, and with tongs, carefully move the pork to another dish. Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Whisk the cooking liquid until well-combined.  Taste and adjust seasoning with the salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and Raging River.  Place the pork back into the pan, and baste with the cooking liquid.  Finish cooking the pork for 10 to 20 minutes, basting twice more, and until the internal temperature reaches 145 to 150 degrees.  Let rest before carving.  Slice into fairly thin slices, and pour the sauce over the slices.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Sleep of Reason - Little Ears Alfredo

Sunday - What the hell??  I woke up at 3:00 this morning and never got back to sleep.  I finally gave up just before 6:00, came downstairs and started to prepare breakfast.  Bacon in the oven, eggs poaching in the oven, and the griddler is fitted with the waffle plates, coated with nonstick spray, and ready to be heated for the Krispy Kreme doughnut French toast.  Yes, Krispy Kreme. Don't knock it till you try it. Then I "repurposed" the burnt ends from Jimmy Bear's, and finally felt tired enough to go back to sleep.

One problem - it is now 9:47 in the morning, and heading back to bed is not an option, at least not a good one, so I may as well go back to cooking.  Although I have officially dropped chicken as a menu item (keeping in mind that there are several pieces of citrus jalapeño chicken sitting in the leftover zone), I still have a fairly substantial list of mains and sides in the preparation queue.

I cannot lie - I hurt today, all over.  Too much time on my feet cooking, too much time spent walking all over BJs warehouse, too much time living inside my head.  Very bad neighborhood. There's a bit of fuzz between my ears, just enough to cloud my train of thought. It's weird though, that my head can still be sharp enough to develop recipes - almost like that part of my brain is on automatic.

So it is from that place that this recipe sprang.  I had been wanting to use the last of my Tiny Turkey Meatballs in something other than a red sauce.  This worked even better than expected.  I use bottled tomato sauces quite a bit, and they are mostly pretty good, but I never found a bottled Alfredo sauce that suited my palate until I tried Publix Premium after comparing the list of ingredients with other brands.                                    

The name of the dish has nothing to do with corn, ears, little or otherwise, nor is it the name of a recently uncovered, previously unknown Van Gogh painting, nor the nickname of a character from "The Sopranos".  I asked Cory to pick the appropriate pasta to go with the finished sauce, and once he saw the box of orecchiette, it was a done deal.  Orecchiette is Italian for "little ears' and Alfredo is the gentleman who invented the well-known pasta sauce that forms the basis of the dish.  I know, I like the Van Gogh story myself.  Sorry.

This recipe presupposes that you made a big batch of Tiny Turkey Meatballs back in November and froze them for future dishes.  If you didn't, this might be a good time to do so, because these little meatballs are positively versatile.

Little Ears Alfredo

6-8 oz. cooked Tiny Turkey Meatballs (about 16 tiny meatballs)
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
Kosher salt, ground black pepper, Emeril's Essence
4 thin slices capacollo, sliced into thin strips
1-15 oz. jar Publix creamy Alfredo pasta sauce
1-14oz. can Cento quartered artichoke hearts, rinsed and well-drained
1/2 tablespoon herbes de provence
pinch crushed red pepper (flakes)
ground black pepper
1 1/2 cup dry orecchiette pasta, cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup half-and-half, and as needed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, or more to taste
2 tablespoons grated Romano

In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil; add the onion and garlic, and season with the salt, pepper and Essence.  Sauté for a few minutes, then add the capacollo.  Sauté another 2 minutes, add the meatballs, and stir together.  Pour in the Alfredo sauce, and stir in the artichoke.  Season with the herbes de provence, red pepper, and more black pepper.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Stir in the half-and half.  Fold in the cooked pasta.  Taste and  adjust seasonings.

Transfer to a baking dish, and top with the Parmesan and Romano.  You can refrigerate it at this point, or bake, covered, in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes until heated through.  If starting to heat it after refrigeration, drizzle in a couple of tablespoons of half-and-half, and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Huevos "Abogado" - Guacamole Devilled Eggs

Saturday - Let's see if I can pull myself back together.  The second cuppa coffee almost always helps, but the best thing this morning was a snuggle with my little lover, Romeo.  I'm also looking forward to our dinner with friends at our favorite Korean restauarant (outside of Korea, that is).

If you are feeling less-than-fine, go to your happy place, or borrow one of mine

And then I started giving some serious thought to cooking, and my mood began to climb even more.  We have pretty much worked our way through any prepared dishes, so under any circumstances I would be cooking, but Rob and I are leaving on our cruise a week from today, and that means I am going to want to leave Cory with plenty of choices for the following week as well.

Now it is absolutely true that Cory is perfectly capable of cooking for himself, or even a girlfriend.  He likes to cook, which I find rather gratifying. But I find it even more gratifying to cook for him and his dad.  It's what I do. It's what I did today, with tiny turkey meatballs, capocollo, and other good stuff, to create a sauce for pasta.  It's also what I did with a lonesome avocado and a couple of hard-boiled eggs.

Our dinner at Seoul Garden in Maitland was even better than expected. Our friends loved it as well.  A Korean dinner table is always a work of art because of the little plates of side dishes that accompany every meal. That can include a couple of different kimchi, tofu, bean sprouts, pickled daikon radish, and on and on.  Besides the banchan (side dishes), we enjoyed what seemed to be an endless variety of Korean specialties like japchae, bimimbap, galbi, bulgogi, and mandu.

I can cook several Korean dishes and with all modesty, they come out pretty darn good.  I don't make my own napa cabbage kimchee - I don't even eat the stuff - but I make sure that there is always a jar of the good stuff in the refrigerator,  Cory is shameless about eating kimchee with kielbasa, which I suppose isn't all that different than my combining kielbasa and sauerkraut - except my dish is finished in a rich sauce of sour cream, while the kimchee contains enough Korean red pepper flakes, unlike any other red pepper I've used in cooking, to blow off the top of your head and send it spiraling upwards towards the International Space Station. Cayenne pepper is a pale cousin to the Korean stuff.  Since I'm no chili head, I'll just leave the kimchee-making, and eating, to other, braver souls with cast iron palates.

We over-ordered with complete abandon, resulting in a ridiculous amount of leftovers, so much that I have revised my cooking plans for the upcoming week.  Well, just slightly, mind you.  I won't be cooking any sort of chicken.  Not that I think anyone will notice.

Back in the day, when I did a lot more entertaining, I served a lot of homemade guacamole and trays of devilled eggs.  My guests never seemed to tire of these, nor of the barbecue smokies I threw into the crockpot.  I don't know if these appetizers fell under 50's or 80's kitsch, and I don't think anyone cared.

Recently I came across a recipe for avocado devilled eggs which seriously grabbed my interest. The best of both worlds you might say. Super-kitsch! I went so far as to pick up a Hass avocado and set it on the kitchen counter to ripen some more. Then I got side-tracked running to doctors and labs, and when I finally had time to prepare the eggs, I had misplaced the recipe.

This recipe is better than the one I lost.  I based it on my favorite guacamole recipe, making a few adjustments to accommodate the addition of the egg yolks. If I ever entertain again, I will be sure to serve these.

Huevos "Abogado" - Guacamole Devilled Eggs

1 ripe Haas avocado, cut in half, pit removed
1 small Persian lime, cut in half
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, cut in half lengthwise
1 tablespoon finely minced onion
1/2 Roma tomato, seeds and pulp removed, remaining tomato minced
1/2 tablespoon minced jalapeño
Gourmet Garden chunky garlic paste, to taste
Gourmet Garden cilantro paste, to taste (I used about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (no more than this or filling will become too soft)

additional ground cumin and dried cilantro leaves, to garnish (Optional)

Scoop the avocado flesh out of the shell halves and add to a medium bowl with the juice of half the lime.  With a fork, mash the avocado, then add the salt, cumin, and cayenne.  Add the yolks from the eggs and use the fork to mash them and combine with the avocado.  Stir in the onion, tomato, jalapeño, garlic paste, cilantro paste, and the mayonnaise.

Taste and adjust seasoning, including a few drops of lime juice if needed. Use a spoon to fill the egg white halves, piling the filling high.  Garnish with a very light dusting of cumin powder, and sprinkle on the dried cilantro leaves.  Cover and refrigerate an hour or more before serving.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Don't Need to Needle Me Anymore

Friday, Day 33, continued - Ouch. I'm done, but please don't stick a fork in me. I've had quite enough of that today.  I decided to forego the prescription for a pain-killer and went to Race-Trac for frozen yogurt instead.  For now I am just a little sore and hoping it doesn't flare into anything more dramatic, but my whole left side is starting to rebel from the earlier indignities and that ice pack feels good.

If I understood correctly, the lump did not, unfortunately, collapse when punctured.  That necessitated a series of entries deep into my left breast, a procedure involving pressure and sharp pinches and the loud click of metal, five different times.  Bummer indeed.

I now have an appointment every day next week, including the last day before we cruise, and that one to find out the results of today's tests.  I still believe everything is going to come out benign, and I am pleased that the surgeon is taking every possible precaution in examining the anomaly.

But this whole experience is wearing me down, physically and emotionally, and I feel like I'm back at the beginning of this nightmare, 33 days ago.  I hurt, I'm exhausted, and I'm depressed.

I was, however, able to appreciate the beautiful blooms on my hibiscus that appeared just in time for our return from the surgeon.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Loquat Lately - Buttered Waffle Toast

Thursday, Day 32 - I finally figured out how I would like to use the loquats in a savory recipe.  Just in time to notice that the overripe fruit has fallen from the tree, or rotted outright on the branch.  There will be no stuffed pork chops in the immediate future. Bummer.

A rather sad-looking rose in the midst of weeds; a survivor, notwithstanding

I spent most of today involved with (yet another) doctor - traveling there, waiting, over an hour speaking with her, traveling back, dropping off prescriptions, picking up prescriptions ... you'd think I was sick or something. Since I have been going back to all the doctors I haven't seen for 8 or 10 years, it has been like some kind of bizarre old home week - or month.

Still worried about my cousin.  His procedure did not go smoothly, and the doctors are set to try a "do-over" next week, using a more serious device to get into the clogged arteries.  I get sick thinking about it.  Speaking of procedures, I have an office procedure scheduled for tomorrow with the surgeon; my poor girls are going to be subjected to involuntary acupuncture of sorts, with biopsies to follow.  I had so much tissue removed for biopsy during the multiple procedures I endured over the last month and a half, you would think I would have lost some weight. Ha.  Just kidding.  Still waiting for official word of results.

Friday, Day 33 -  This is the third, or maybe fourth, day of insane itching, which leads to crazed scratching which results in crankiness.  Mine. Fortunately that has been partially offset by my breakfast of toasted buttered bread.  I know, simple minds, simple pleasures.  But wait!  This is rather fabulous toast as it was made using my new griddler waffle plates. As you may remember, the griddler is my new favorite appliance, one of the very few - Keurig and toaster and that's it - appliances that I leave on the counter. This is the same appliance that, with the grill plates in place, made The Best Damn Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  Waffle makers are hot property right now, as Facebook and the Internet put up new and interesting ways to use them, like omelets and French toast.  Not just any French toast, but French toast made from a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

I have a lot to think about after my lengthy conversations with the therapist and the psychiatrist.  Fear really is the mind-killer, and I am afraid of a great many things.

Like this procedure.  I suddenly realized that last time I had a core biopsy done, I was knocked out cold, because I was also having the more invasive tumor removal under my right arm.  This time I get a Valium about an hour before the procedure, and the areas that are going to be punctured - best verb I could come up with - will be numbed.  I will likely be awake, Valium notwithstanding.  What are the chances that I am going to feel pain?  Put your bets down, ladies and gents!

I am afraid of many other things, most of them illogical (Leonard Nimoy voice here).  Those are the ones I have to think about.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Another Day, Another Doctor

Wednesday, Day 31 - April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  Although it's difficult to see in this picture, there is an entire "garden" of blue pinwheels in front of the sign.  This year the pinwheel garden was set up in front of the Historic Courthouse in Kissimmee, under one of the ancient oak trees.  Beautiful.

Children deserve a good childhood, a childhood free of abuse and neglect.  Parenting is the hardest job in the world, and many parents are not up to the task, because of substance abuse, mental health issues, intellectual limitations, poverty, or generational abuse.

There are a number of social programs out there to assist people to become healthier, competent parents, but these need to be funded and promoted.  Families need to be encouraged.  Children need to be protected.  And in case you ever need it, here in Florida, the Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-96-ABUSE.

As polarizing as my sunglasses, my Facebook status declaring that I was "Ready for Hillary" has garnered some reaction.  My nearest and dearest fall into one of two categories - staunchly conservative and strongly liberal. Being a rational anarchist I follow neither path.  I am mostly conservative except when I am liberal.  But even more than that,  Hillary is  perhaps the most polarizing and controversial figure in American politics.  You love her or you hate her, and either side can quote chapter and verse the facts that support their respective positions.  It is going to be a long and interesting election season, and perhaps it is best that that's all I say about that.

Today's odd-looking flower from yesterday's walk

Last night was horrible.  HORRIBLE.  The itching never stopped, even with an extra dose of hydroxyzine, which has left me feeling hungover.  The pups were suffering as well from their own itching issues, scratching and whimpering throughout the long sleepless night.  No sleep whatsoever, and I have to drive to the surgeon's office in north Orlando.  I just hope I don't fall asleep on I-4; it wouldn't be the first time.

I receive a lot of information on fibromyalgia through Facebook, and it amazes me the full range of bizarre symptoms we all seem to share.  The insane itching, the pain in strange places, the exhaustion, the brain fog.  I remember complaining about the brain fog 40 years ago.  Those needle-like shooting pains in my breasts - we know there is nothing on the mammogram or ultrasound to explain them - and then I saw posts from fellow fibro travelers complaining of the same thing.  What a really crappy disease!  I also saw someone asking about problems with swallowing food, and I found that interesting.

Chelsea is driving me crazy this morning.  First she barked her head off until I brought her upstairs, where I have been filling out endless forms for my medical appointment today (is it still relevant that I had my tonsils and adenoids removed in 1956?)  Then she barked her head off because her brothers were downstairs and she wasn't. She still isn't coming with me.

So, the doctor ... oy, the doctor, again.  So many doctor appointments. I could make this my life's work.  Today's appointment gave rise to three more - and so it goes.  I will have the core biopsy procedure on Friday, another mammogram on Monday, and an MRI on Wednesday.  My poor girls are definitely beginning to feel overexposed.

The Magic are finishing their season tonight in Brooklyn.  And tax season is finally, officially over.

From yesterday's walk, photos of some of the old homesteads on Clyde Avenue:

This one needs a lot of work, but the potential is limitless.  The photo doesn't do this justice.