Tuesday, June 30, 2015


May the Force be ... gay

I don't know about you, but I love memes. Even the bad ones make me laugh, which may say something about me that bears no further exploration.  

This one is a little too close to the truth

Yesterday I needed to laugh.  Today too.  Yesterday my pain got progressively worse as the day moved on, the kind of internal pain that brings tears to your eyes.  Today my mood is spiraling down despite my best efforts to maintain some kind of balance.

Seriously - MEEEEEEEEMES!!!

I went outside with my first cup of coffee, my music and my hat and checked on my little garden.  This time of the day the garden is still in shade, and walking around admiring my single eggplant and one burgeoning Roma tomato is nice and temporarily curative. Even before that, though, I got the best laugh of the day when I saw how Anakin was spending his morning.

Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Kitten, Feline Dark Lord of the Sith. Wait for it ...

I only wish I could have maintained that level of jocularity, but I'm still in several kinds of pain, and right now all I want to do is sit in my corner of the couch.

This one is definitely too close to the truth ...WAIT FOR IT ...

I have a couple of dishes I'd like to whip up - crab fried rice, maduros, and chile rellenos - but unless I can cook one-handed, the other being used for support with a cane - it just isn't going to happen.  Crap.

Wait for it ... and, now:
Aren't you glad you waited for it?

But something even better than crab fried rice happened today.  Today James planted my new trees, a lemon and a kumquat. I am really excited, because I'm one step further to finally getting rid of the world's ugliest evergreens, forced upon us by the City of Kissimmee, and replaced with nice trees that are legitimately representative of the South.

Come on nerds, you know who the gift recipient is

When we lived in the first house in Hunter's Creek, I planted crape myrtles and a kumquat tree.  When we moved to the other house in Hunter's Creek, my brother-in-law planted for us a beautiful magnolia in front, and three different citrus trees in back.  For some reason the citrus trees - kumquat, lemon, and lime - did not thrive, but the magnolia was sturdy, and every year gave us gorgeous, lush ivory blossoms.

Now that this house is a residence, we've been slowly putting in DIY landscaping, based on our favorites from 23 years living in this area.  So we have hibiscus and crotons, bougainvillea and two magnolia trees, and now kumquat and lemon.  Next project is to get rid of yet another ugly evergreen that looks like it belongs in the Canadian Rockies, and replace it with a crape myrtle. Southern comfort, indeed.

Speaking of southern comfort, I don't think my neighbors have any idea how much pleasure I get from their yard plantings.  I took this one just as we were getting hit with (yet another) rain storm, but you can still appreciate the color of the plumbago, and yes, that is the courthouse peeking between the trees.

Not far from the plumbago, my neighbor has what is probably my favorite tree, the crape myrtle.  When I first moved here almost 24 years ago, I remember telling someone - can't remember who he was, except I do remember that he was a special kind of stupid - that I was going to seriously miss being able to grow lilacs here.  Lilacs hold a special place in my heart, and the scent of no other flower, even roses, can cause me that much joy.  Special Kind of Stupid told me to "just grow crape myrtles instead." He thought he was being helpful, so I didn't smack him up side the head.

No cooking today. I'm still in pain, damn it.  I have worked out the recipe I'm going to follow for the crab fried rice, but that's for tomorrow.  Hopefully.

From the "I'm naturally depressed, and all this doesn't help" department:  It is hard to believe that in the real world things keep getting worse. Greece is about to default on all its loans, and it is taking the rest of the world economies with it.  The Dow is tanking as I'm sitting here typing.  The South Carolina Church Massacre.  The escape of two convicted murderers from the Clinton Correctional Facility in "really" upstate New York, and their remaining on the lam for three weeks. Almost simultaneous terrorist attacks in three countries. ISIS ISIS everywhere. Exploding space ships. A bad nuclear deal with Iran. Shark attacks. Flesh-eating bacteria. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have issued a Fourth of July terror warning. Our Nation's birthday party being crapped on by terrorists, that's terrific.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Frankenchickaroni: Buffalo Wing Mac and Cheese

SCOTUS June 25
Still feeling the love at the steps of the Supreme Court

Cooking: Today is Buffalo Wing Mac and Cheese; tomorrow is Maybe Like Bonefish Grill Crab Fried Rice.  Both of these are coming  from my head, the same head that has mental confusion, brain fog, and forgetfulness.  Good luck to me.

Decisions - and the winner is the Buffalo Wing Glaze

I needed to make a side dish to go with the lamb chops, meatloaf, and tamale pie.  I developed a craving for macaroni and cheese, but at the same time it was bothering me that I did not have a chicken dish to balance the heavier meats.  

Lotsa lotsa cheese

What I came up with was this Frankenchickaroni of a dish that I like a lot.  I would eat more of it if I could, but you know how that goes with my fabulous digestive system, so I'll just have to take the wish for the deed.

The sauce component is both lush and fluffy, the result of stirring ricotta, feta, and sour cream into the cooked macaroni before pouring on a bechamel-based five-cheese sauce.

Trust me

Frankenchickaroni: Buffalo Wing Mac and Cheese

1 - 16 oz. box Mueller's Large Elbows macaroni

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart (4 cups) whole milk

Kosher salt
ground black pepper
a pinch of cayenne
a pinch of nutmeg
a few drops of Tabasco
one shot of Worcestershire sauce

1 cup each of shredded cheese:
sharp cheddar
pepper jack
Velveeta (Yes, Velveeta)
Swiss cheese

1 - 15 oz. container whole milk ricotta
1 - 4 oz. container Athenos crumbled feta cheese
1 cup (1/2 pint) sour cream

1 - 24 oz. bag Banquet frozen popcorn chicken
1 bottle Sweet Baby Ray's Buffalo Wing Sauce and Glaze
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar

2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups French's French Fried Onions (Yes, yes, YES, French fried onions in a can. Trust me.)

Cooking the elbow macaroni according to package directions, drain and rinse briefly with cool water.  Drain again.  In a large bowl, combine the cooked macaroni with the ricotta, feta, and sour cream. Set aside and prepare the cheese sauce.

In a medium pot over medium high heat, add the stick of butter and when melted, add the flour.  Whisk these together until a smooth roux forms and continue cooking until the "raw" flour smell is gone, about 2 minutes.  Continue whisking as you pour in the milk.  The white sauce (bechamel) will not thicken until it is fully heated, so keep whisking over medium to medium high heat.  Once the sauce has thickened, season it with the salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, Tabasco and Worcestershire.  Now remove from the heat, and stir in the five cups of shredded cheese.  Whisk until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is smooth.  Pour the sauce over the cooked macaroni.

Now prepare the popcorn chicken: in a 9 x 13 aluminum baking dish that has been no-stick sprayed, put about half a bag of the popcorn chicken to fill the bottom of the pan, not more than one layer.  Cook according to package directions.  Remove the pan from the oven, and change the cook setting to broil.  Pour enough of the wing sauce over the chicken to coat each piece.  Place under the broiler for a few minutes, then turn each piece over and broil the other side.  Remove the baking dish from the oven and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Put the 2 tablespoons of butter into a 9 x 13 inch aluminum baking dish and place in the oven to melt the butter.  Pour off the melted butter and set aside. Pour half of the macaroni and cheese sauce into the prepared baking dish.  Arrange the glazed popcorn chicken in a single layer over the macaroni. Top with the remaining cup of cheddar. Pour the remaining macaroni and cheese over the chicken.

Top the dish with the French friend onions. Carefully pour the melted butter over the onions  Place in the oven and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the dish is warmed all the way through and the French fried onions are light brown and crispy.  Check the onions after 15 minutes; if they are getting brown too quickly, lay a piece of foil over the top to prevent them from burning.

This is best right out of the oven.  No matter when you eat it, it is incredibly rich and creamy and awesome and cheesy.  The buffalo-glazed popcorn chicken is a neat little bite of heat in the middle of all that richness.  And the French fried onions are much better than bread crumbs. Really, truly.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Put The Lime In The Coconut Cake

I apologize, but could not pass on this Morpheus Matrix Meme.  Or the excessive alliteration which seems to spring unbidden from my fingertips.  Sorry - but not much.

Put the Lime in the Coconut Cake

1 package Duncan Hines Signature Coconut Cake mix
1 - 3.4 oz. package Jell-o coconut cream instant pudding and pie filling
4 extra large eggs
1 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup Baker's sweetened coconut
1 - 22 oz. can Duncan Hines/Comstock key lime crème
1 - 1 pound tub Pillsbury creamy vanilla frosting
1 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 cup Baker's sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour (or use a no-stick baking spray) a 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water, and oil in a large bowl.  With an electric hand mixer, beat at low speed until moistened, and then at medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add the 1/3 cup of coconut and beat on low just to incorporate it into the batter.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 27 to 32 minutes.

Let the cake cool for a few minutes.  With a cooling rack, turn the cake out of the pan, and then carefully return it to the pan so that the flat side is now on top.

With an apple corer, create 15 holes in the cake.  Fill each hole with some of the key lime creme, then use the remaining creme to cover the top of the cake.  Refrigerate for several hours.

In a heavy nonstick skillet, over medium low heat, toast the cup of coconut.  Remove from the heat before it is done, and keep stirring with a wooden spoon.  The skillet will retain heat and the coconut will continue to darken for a minute or more.  Let the toasted coconut cool.

When you are ready to finish the cake, uncover the frosting and microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir in the coconut extract, and keep stirring until the frosting is fully and evenly melted.  Pour the frosting over the entire cake and top with the toasted coconut.  Refrigerate for several hours before serving. 

Cut the cake into 15 pieces, each piece having a pocket of filling situated in the center.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

You Can Get Here From There - Minerva's Tri-Color Calico Meatloaf - #LoveWins

Once upon a time, there was a cat named Minerva, and she was a tiger calico.

Minerva, A Calico Cat

But first, something really important happened today.  The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a ruling so perfect, so equalizing, and so right, that we can all forget yesterday's ruling, involving the Affordable Care Act. (I'm not a fan of Obamacare. So sue me).

I hate hash tags, but just this once: #LoveWins.  Oh yes, the "Nine Old Men" - who are actually "Six Mature Men and Three Women of Various Ages - announced that hereafter, states cannot ban same-sex marriage.  Well, actually only five of the Justices were in favor - the other four dissented.  Strongly. That's what makes horse races.

Bam!  About damn time. I cried when I saw the report. Happy for my gay relatives and friends (some who had to travel out of state to get married). Happy that people I love will no longer face any impediments to the most basic right, the right to create a family with the person they love, to raise children together, to have all the legal rights and protections afforded married opposite-sex couples. 

Today's ear worm is brought to you courtesy of "Star Trek: Enterprise", my least favorite TV show in the franchise, and the only show whose theme song is sung.  I love it; most Trek fans hated it.  More horse races.  

It's been a long road, getting from there to here.
It's been a long time, but my time is finally near.
And I can feel the change in the wind right now. Nothing's in my way.
And they're not gonna hold me down no more, no they're not gonna hold me down.

Cause I've got faith of the heart.
I'm going where my heart will take me.
I've got faith to believe. I can do anything.
I've got strength of the soul. And no one's gonna bend or break me.
I can reach any star. I've got faith, faith of the heart.

It's been a long night. Trying to find my way.
Been through the darkness. Now I finally have my day.
And I will see my dream come alive at last. I will touch the sky.
And they're not gonna hold me down no more, no they're not gonna change my mind.

Cause I've got faith of the heart.
I'm going where my heart will take me.
I've got faith to believe. I can do anything.
I've got strength of the soul. And no one's gonna bend or break me.
I can reach any star. I've got faith, faith of the heart.

I've known the wind so cold, I've seen the darkest days.
But now the winds I feel, are only winds of change.
I've been through the fire and I've been through the rain.
But I'll be fine ...

So it's the day after I sent in my application for disability retirement, and I'm anything but fine.  There is still a lot I have to do and I know this is going to be a long haul.  I have a debilitating disease which happens to be invisible.  Looking forward to the battle. Not.

And we still have to eat.  Is there anything as basic and homey as meatloaf?  Am I the only home cook who has made meatloaf over 400 times and never the same way twice?

Minerva with Ira the First and Dora the First

Minerva Athene Rothfeld was the only calico cat in our family; we had multiple tabbies, fluffy oranges and various bicolors, and one spectacular all-white male with blue eyes (yes, he was deaf) but only one tri-color tiger calico.  A sweeter animal never lived.  I could relate a lot of Minerva stories, but I would start to cry and frankly I've done enough crying lately both happy and sad.

Her name comes from Robert Heinlein's book Time Enough for Love.  Our first Yorkie was named for her in proper Ashkenazic Jewish tradition.  

At the very end of her beautiful life, Minerva taught me that loving someone includes putting aside your own pain to help that person die surrounded by love, and comfort, and peace.  

She died in my arms in 1996 at the age of 18.

Brands Do Matter

Minerva's Tri-Color Calico Meatloaf

4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 each: green, red, and yellow bell pepper (marketed as "Stoplight" or "Tri-Color" peppers)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
kosher salt
ground black pepper
granulated garlic
smoked paprika
cayenne pepper

2 pounds market ground beef
1 cup uncooked quick oats
1 cup half and half
2 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup Heinz chili sauce
2 tablespoons Gold's horseradish
1/4 teaspoon allspice
kosher salt
ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

Glaze Ingredients:
Additional chili sauce
Wildflower honey

First, sauté the onion, garlic and peppers in the butter.  Add the seasonings while cooking.  When the vegetables are just tender, take off the heat and set aside.  In a large bowl, combine the beef with the remaining ingredients, excluding the glaze ingredients.  Add the cooked and cooled pepper mixture and mix thoroughly with your hands or wooden spoon.

Divide the meatloaf mixture in half, and in a greased or no-stick sprayed baking dish, form two loaves.  Pour a stripe of chili sauce on top of each, then drizzle some honey over that.  With the back of a spoon, spread the chili sauce-honey mixture to cover the top of each loaf.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 to 60 minutes.  The interior temperature should read 160 degrees.  Let the meatloaf cool before trying to slice it.

Minerva loved ground beef; she once snuck a stuffed cabbage roll off the table, unwrapped the cabbage and ate the beef and rice filling. She also stomped on a jelly roll I was baking, but that's another blog post.

Friday, June 26, 2015

You Can't Get Here From There - Cassie's "Famous" Avocado Dip

Time is a bitch.  In my mind, heart, and soul, I am that 39 year old overweight redhead, with a brand-new Bar license, starting my first job as an attorney with the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.  I had a little boy in kindergarten, and a brand-new house in Hunter's Creek.  Life was good.

And then I blinked.  My little boy is all grown up, and I've gotten older, the house in Hunter's Creek is gone.  Somehow, I'm a post-menopausal, underweight, gray-haired, 62 year old hag (I own a mirror, thank you) who can no longer do the job I've loved.  And so I sit, terrified, with a stack of papers in my hands, knowing I have to fill them out to apply for disability retirement, but still ... terrified.

Here's the recipe for the avocado dip to serve with the tamale pie.  Cassie was a deputy in the Brevard County juvenile courthouse where I practiced for several years.  Back then we did potlucks in the courtroom and everybody brought something, including the judge. I tweaked Cassie's recipe slightly to boost the avocado flavor and keep it thicker,  but her version is still famous as far as I'm concerned.

2 perfectly ripe Hass avocados

Think of it as a relish, like guacamole but creamy.  This goes great with my empanadas, and chili, and enchiladas, and burritos and you get the idea.  And unlike guacamole, the avocado does not turn unappetizing brown.

Cassie's "Famous" Avocado Dip

2 perfectly ripe Hass avocados (how to determine when an avocado is perfectly ripe)
1/2 pint sour cream
1/4 cup Hidden Valley cucumber ranch dressing
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
kosher salt
ground black pepper
granulated garlic
The Salt Table's Raging River Five Pepper Blend

Peel and mash the avocado.  Add the sour cream, ranch dressing, lemon juice and all of the seasonings, to taste.  Stir until well combined.  Serve with Frito scoop chips or any Tex-Mex dish.

I am so excited to watch the 2015 NBA Draft.  These kids are all terrific. Best of all, this is taking place at Barclay Center in Brooklyn, the city of my birth and home of the Brooklyn Nets.  This year, the Magic has the number five pick, behind the Lakers (what?) and the Knicks (WHAT?)

Now it's our turn - Mario Hezogna?  From Croatia, played in Spain.  The commentators all have good things to say about him.  They say he'll be a good fit for the Magic.  Let's hope he will do as well as my two personal favorite Magic draft picks, Shaquille O'Neal (1992) and Victor Oladipo (2013).

Fun facts - Victor Oladipo was born on my husband's 46th birthday, in the year that Shaq was drafted.

Another "fun" fact:  I pushed through the panic, completed the application and faxed it to the Division of Retirement in Tallahassee.  It's official - I have applied for disability retirement.

I feel like something very dear to me has been taken away, and I am very, very sad.  But in filling out the application, and having to recount the symptoms and manifestations of my illnesses, I realized how the entire quality of my life has been irrevocably damaged.  I am a virtual recluse, rarely leaving the house.  I find travel, even cruising, to be very difficult.  I tire easily, my balance is compromised, I am uncomfortable in crowds and have had to miss a number of friends and family gatherings.  

I was having terrible difficulties at work; I know that, and I also know that a bunch of people were quietly helping me, sometimes covering for me, without even being asked.  Preparing for trial, doing my own legal research, interacting with my case managers, completing staffing forms and petitions, drafting final judgments, managing a difficult judge - all things which I had done successfully in the past - have become a series of exercises in mental and physical torture.  I know that; I hope, as this process continues, that the State of Florida and the Social Security Administration come to know this as well.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Red Pork Chile Tamale Pie (Cazuela de Tamal) - Because Making Tamales Is A Pain In The Culo

New tamale cookbook arrived this morning. Stubborn, I am.

Finally done with this fiddling project which damn near sent me over the edge this week.  Not that it takes much at any time, but cooking is supposed to be therapeutic and this time it was anything but. The good thing is that the tamale pies came out really good.  The bad thing is that I have a headache, a backache, and a low-grade panic attack.

This recipe comes with a disclaimer: this version is untested.  It came together in stages, during which I was having a nervous breakdown while flipping back and forth between 3 different recipes. I tried to make it a logical set of instructions.  I hope it makes sense.

The tamale pie is absolutely delicious, unexpectedly so because I struggled so much for so long.  Having done it once, I expect it will be easier the next time.  The masa, which by its nature is at risk of coming out heavy, dense, and bland, was the best I've made.

I made two pies from this recipe, using 10 inch aluminum pie plates.  One is already wrapped and frozen, the other is cut into eighths for family consumption.

Red Pork Chile Tamale Pie

Pork for Filling
4 1/2 to 5 pounds boneless pork butt
1 large onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic

Place the pork, onions, and garlic in a large pot and cover with water.  Over high heat bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium, cover and let simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the meat is tender. Carefully remove the meat from the liquid and set aside to cool. Cut the pork butt into one inch cubes.

Red Pork Chile Sauce - From Tamales 101
10 ancho chiles
4 guajillo chiles
4 onions, quartered
8 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 cups chicken stock
1 - 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup tomato sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 Knorr chicken cubes
1 tablespoon each granulated garlic, onion powder, chili powder, ground black pepper

20 - 30 extra large black olives, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, sliced
1/2 of each bell pepper: red, green, yellow - chopped

Seed the chiles, set aside.  Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Remove the water from the heat, and add the chiles, pushing them down with a spoon so they are fully submerged.  Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, boil the onions for 25 minutes, until soft.

Remove the soaked chiles from the water, reserving 2 cups of the liquid.  In a food processor. blend the chiles, boiled onions, and garlic. In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Stir the cumin into the oil, being careful not to burn it.  Add the chile mixture and simmer for 3 minutes.  Add 1 cup of the chicken stock, 1 cup of the chile cooking liquid, the crushed tomatoes, the tomato sauce, sugar, kosher salt, Knorr chicken cubes, and the remaining spices, 1 tablespoon each.  Cook for 10 minutes. If the sauce is too thick you can add a little more of the stock and/or the chile cooking liquid. but don't thin it too much. Adjust the seasoning and cook a little longer for all the flavors to come together.

Place the pork cubes in a 9 x 13 aluminum baking dish; pour the chile sauce over the pork, cover the pan and place in a 300 degree oven for 2 hours.  At the same time, heat the olive oil in a large pan; add the onion, garlic, and bell peppers and sauté until the vegetables are tender.  Remove the pan from the oven; stir the cooked vegetables and the olives into the pork and sauce. You now have the complete filling for the tamale pie.

Masa for Tamale Pie - From Serious Eats
3 cups masa harina para tamales (Maseca)
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup cold lard or Crisco
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

This recipe produces an awesome masa.  In a large bowl, combine the masa harina and the chicken stock. Stir until completely incorporated.  Combine the lard, salt, and baking powder, and using an electric mixture, beat at medium-high speed until lightly whipped, about 1 minute.

Add 1/4 of the re-hydrated masa at a time to the lard, beating between additions until thoroughly incorporated. The masa should be soft and spreadable, with a hummus-like texture. Cover and refrigerate the masa for an hour.  

Assembly and Baking: Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove masa from refrigerator, and re-whip, adding stock 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to return it to original hummus-like texture. Lightly grease a 12-inch cast iron skillet or 3-quart casserole dish with cooking spray or oil, wiping up any excess.  

(Okay here's where I veered: I picked up a package of 2 aluminum pie plates, the big, 10-inch size. I greased them with a very small amount of the lard and then followed the instructions, dividing the masa across 2 pie plates.)

Scrape 1/2 of  2/3 of masa into each pie pan and press to form an even thin layer on bottom and edge. Spoon some filling (I used a slotted spoon) in each tin, Try to keep it level, and don't over fill.  Wrap and freeze the remaining filling for another occasion.  

Gently form a top crust with the remaining masa. Now as you can see from the photos, I was short enough mesa to totally cover the top.  Weirdly enough, it didn't matter, but if stuff like that bothers you, try increasing the recipe using 4 cups each masa harina and stock, 1 cup cold lard, 1 tablespoon each salt and baking powder.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the crust is golden and firm to the touch, and the filling is heated through.  Let it cool before cutting to serve.  

You can serve it with any of the usual condiments but for this occasion I prepared a creamy avocado dip which also works as a topping or condiment.

But that's another blog post.