Sunday, November 23, 2014

What, no ear worms? - Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake

Must be because I am now officially in the Thanksgiving groove.   But before I even get to that I recently needed to prepare a dessert for our holiday luncheon.   That decision turned out to be really easy - pumpkin gooey butter cake.   Oh I considered brownies, and better than sex cake, and even pig pickin' cake.  But those ideas whooshed so fast through my brain there was barely a lingering scent of warm chocolate from the brownies.

Speaking of whooshing ideas, I have already changed the Thanksgiving dinner menu. I'm going with oyster stuffing. With two kinds of bread, some sausage, corn kernels, red bell pepper and some other stuff. Leeks instead of ordinary onions.  Stuffing should have interesting stuff in it and this one certainly will.  Fishy stuff, piggy stuff, veggie stuff, herby stuff and you get the idea  And I can prepare it in advance. Working with recipes that can be prepared in advance is the most important strategy for Thanksgiving dinner.

Back to the dessert - I once got verschicknert on pumpkin gooey butter cake. True story. This was Thanksgiving 2003, and for the first time since 2000, we were home for the holiday.  It was also almost 6 months since my gastric bypass surgery and I was 80 or 90 pounds down.  Those six months had been full of new eating adventures - discovering what I could and couldn't eat; rediscovering coffee; learning that dumping is not just something that happens at Jersey landfills.  I am not going to lie, there were rough times.  I do not recommend this surgery to anyone, because not everyone is mentally or physically ready for it.  Some people get terribly sick or die.  Some get divorced.  And others gain their weight back, all of it.  Would I go for the surgery again?  Absolutely.  But that's me.

Anyway, I made the pumpkin gooey butter cake as one of many desserts.  I had not been eating sweets for 6 months - really had no interest in them - but this was a brand new recipe for me, and it was creamy almost like a cheesecake, so I sliced a wafer-thin piece from the edge, just to taste.  Nirvana.  I tasted a few more times. I stopped when I developed the sugar-fueled, completely  irrational belief that I was going to wake up the next morning having gained back all of those 90 pounds.  Shortly thereafter, I felt like I was going to toss my cookie bars.  My head started to spin, I felt queasy, and ended up having to lie down on the couch for a good half hour.

It's called dumping, a super-hypoglycemic reaction to sweets experienced by us posties (post-surgical gastric bypass folks) in the early stages of recovery.  I still have it happen occasionally, and recently gave up even the smallest amount of ice cream for good, because it just isn't worth feeling like I had drunk two strong Cosmos while on a cruise ship caught in a hurricane.

I haven't baked the pumpkin gooey butter cakes since then, and I surely will not take a chance and taste them at the holiday luncheon, but that's no reason my coworkers shouldn't enjoy something really really delicious.

This is my version of the pumpkin bars.  I switched, cut, and added some ingredients for a slightly more complex combination of flavors and texture.  More festive for the holiday.

Cake base:
1 (18 1/4 oz) package spice cake mix
1 stick butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup pecan meal
1/2 cup lingonberries

Pumpkin filling:
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
3 eggs
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 (16 oz) box powdered sugar (next time I cut this back a bit)
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350°.

Prepare cake base: 
While oven is preheating, melt the butter in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.  Remove from the oven once melted, and set aside to cool.   In a large mixing bowl, combine the cake mix and the melted butter and mix with a wooden spoon.  Set aside the baking pan, which is now greased and ready to go. Next add the egg and mix well.  If the dough is a bit difficult to work together with the spoon, switch to your hands. Add the pecan meal.  Pat the mixture into the baking pan and bake for 5 minutes.  Let cool a few minutes, then spread the lingonberries over the crust.

Prepare filling:
In a large bowl, with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese and softened butter together until smooth and light. Next beat in the pumpkin. Add the 3 eggs and the vanilla, and beat together.

Next, add the powdered sugar about 1/3 at a time.  Use a sieve so that the sugar isn't clumped up.  Finally, add the pumpkin pie spice and mix well.

Spread pumpkin mixture over the cake base and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to over bake as the center should be a little gooey, but you don't want the center to be runny.  Refrigerate overnight before serving.

Now the funny part - not ha ha funny, but funny - I never made it to the holiday party and neither did the pumpkin bars.  I woke up early to make sure they were all cut neatly, and then left them in the refrigerator and headed to court for another day, and hopefully the last day, of a lengthy trial.  My plan was to scoot home at lunchtime, retrieve the pumpkin bars, bring them to the office, eat a forkful of mashed potatoes, and head back to court.  Didn't happen that way because of the need to restart the trial one hour earlier than anticipated, so ... tomorrow is another day.  It might not be a party, but my legal peeps will have a little sweet treat, always nice any day of the week.

Not sure you can see the layers of cookie base, lingonberries, and pumpkin filling, but I have it on good authority from the Official Taste Tester that they are delicious.  Maybe I'll leave a few home for him.

You can serve these with Cool Whip or real whipped cream.  Since I can no longer eat Cool Whip - it hates me, and after a lifelong relationship, that hurts - I would have to go the real stuff route.  Or eat 'em naked (the bars. I plan on wearing clothes.)

Sitzfleisch - Double Duty Tiny Turkey Meatballs

I was spending the day at home, cooking and watching TV all over the airwaves.  So cool to watch Sara Moulton cooking again on public television.  Not that I could sit still long enough to watch her complete even one of the three recipes she knocked out. including that risotto with duck confit and duck cracklings.  Okay, oven risotto made no darn sense, though, because regular risotto made on top of the stove is really pretty easy.  But the duck confit set my heart aflutter, and since I might want to order boneless duck breast from Maple Leaf Farms in the very near future, I might as well throw a couple of confit duck legs into the mix.

For a while, nothing gets accomplished. I sit down, I stand up, I go into the kitchen, I sit down, I watch TV, I jump up, I go upstairs, I come downstairs, I forget what I went upstairs for, I go back into the kitchen, I talk to myself, I sit down, and over and over again.  I change topics in the middle of a conversation.  I start a new topic which is actually a continuation of something we talked about 4 days ago.  In Yiddish, we call my problem "sitzfleisch".  Here in the good old USA, we call it ADD - attention deficit disorder.  I call it the Gracie Allen Syndrome, and - hey, is that a chicken?  No, actually it's a turkey, ground turkey to be exact.  I am extremely distractible, and I daydream at the drop of a hat.  Except when I knit, or cook, or find myself in court trying a case.  I wouldn't mind a little consistency, but that wouldn't be me.


I decided to make my tiny turkey meatballs so I could have them with the  spaghetti squash and roasted grape tomato sauce.  I developed this recipe for the tiny meatballs a couple of years ago when I needed something to put in one of my quick chicken soups, and I had no cooked chicken.  These were delicious in the soup, and as it turned out, worked really well with the spaghetti squash and sauce.

Tiny Turkey Meatballs

20 oz. package of ground turkey (not all white meat)
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 eggs
2 1/2 tablespoons half and half
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 green onions, minced (all of the white and some of the light green part)
2 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt
ground black pepper
Italian seasoning

Combine all of the above ingredients in a mixing bowl.  I like to use a fork to mix everything together, so the meatballs will not be too dense.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Using Pam or a similar product, spray the bottom of two shallow baking dishes, the inside of a very small scooper, and the palms of your hands.  Portion out all of the ground turkey with the scoop, then roll it into nice meatballs.  Place them into the baking pans, and bake for just 10 minutes.  Serve in soup or with sauce over noodles or even mashed potatoes and turkey gravy.

I would not substitute bread crumbs for the matzo meal.  Matzo meal is one of my secret ingredients, and it makes things like meatballs and meatloaves come out almost fluffy.  Fluffy, not stuffy.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Back in the USSR - A Quintessential Southern Corn Casserole

Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the West behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia's always on m-m-my mind

Oh, show me round the snow-peaked mountains way down south
Take me to you daddy's farm
Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out
Come and keep your comrade warm

I'm back in the USSR
Hey, you don't know how lucky you are, boys
Back in the USSR
Oh, let me tell you honey

Crazy cold!  Twenty-two degrees it was in Staten Island, New York and 43 degrees here in Central Florida.  This house, built in 1925, is not known for it's cold-fighting capabilities.  Neither am I, anymore - 23 years living in Florida, your body adapts, and I am much more resistant to heat than cold.  All I really want to do is crawl back under the covers with these guys, and let the warmth soak into these old bones.

I had a strange dream the other night - we were sightseeing in Russia, a country that, despite both maternal and paternal roots, I have never hankered to see.  Might have something to do with stories about pogroms, and desk-diving at school during the Cold War.  My dream ignored the passage of time, the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and placed us firmly and unapologetically in the USSR.  Besides that strange turn of events, we ran into two old friends from my misspent youth - one, Sara Feldman, is a friend from high school who introduced me to the music of Sonny and Cher, and the other is a friend from college, Steve Feldman, a fellow psychology major and good buddy who once drove all the way down to Howard Beach to help me scrape those old-fashioned foot-stickies from the bottom of the tub in my first apartment.  Sara studied Russian and visited there when it first opened up to US tourists, but as far as I know, Steve has never set foot on that part of the European continent.  They are not related, by the way.  That was just my dream doing loopy things.  However, they both live in upstate New York (defined as anything north of the Bronx-Westchester border) and are no doubt feeling a bit chill this morning.  The dream ended with us sneaking past our Communist stalkers (nameless, faceless government spies).   Of course after that imaginary road-trip-from-hell, I awoke with one of my my trademark headaches.

Speaking of headaches, have I mentioned that I do not own a winter coat?

Because the day was so unseasonably chilly, I found myself inspired to look for cold recipes - gelatin molds, to be precise.  I printed out the Eggnog Molded Salad and the Layered Cranberry Mousse Mold.  I just need a good reason to whip them up and pour them into my vintage Tupperware gelatin molds.  Sadly, no good reason came to mind.

So let me focus on the good stuff.  I picked up the ingredients I need to make a dessert for the holiday party at the office.  I found the pre-made crepes so I can experiment with appetizer wraps like smoked salmon and cream cheese, and hummus and tabbouleh.  My wonderful husband stocked the fridge with burnt ends from Jimmy Bear's BBQ, along with fried pickles, pulled pork, and ribs.  And my son prepared, with his own two hands, a corn casserole to bring to a friend's potluck Thanksgiving.  Proud mom!  Kvelling!

  • 1 (8 ounce) box Jiffy cornbread mix
  • 1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can creamed corn (not drained)
  • cup sour cream
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cans of corn, corn muffin mix, sour cream, and melted butter. Pour into a greased 9 by 13-inch casserole dish. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and top with Cheddar. Return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Let stand for at least 5 minutes and then serve warm.

Come Saturday Morning - Spaghetti Squash with a Roasted Grape Tomato Sauce

I had a lovely work day recently, quite different from my usual routine, and while I like my usual routine, a change now and then is good.  Or so I've been told, because truthfully, I hate change. But this was a once-time-a-year thing, a meeting of Central Region DCF attorneys and we had a really fine class on Baker Acts and Marchman Acts, and a big buffet lunch that was prepared by our regional managing attorney (I love the fact that she can cook and bake and isn't afraid to show it) and then our annual awards and recognition ceremony.  I did not win any awards, but my direct supervisor did and I thought that was really pretty cool.

The meeting took place up in the Metrowest area, and as I was driving home, full of facts and good humor, I realized I could route myself to pass Whole Foods in Bayhill, and if I was going to pass it, I might as well stop in and check the vegetables.  Yes, I wrote that.

There are many people who do all of their food shopping at Whole Foods, and I am not one of them.  Not even close.  I usually go there maybe a few times a year at best, and when I stepped into that Mecca of Mangia, I realized I had not shopped there for about two years.  Think of all the money I saved!

Some people go to art museums to appreciate beauty.  I go to a well stocked, carefully tended market.    I love strolling through the produce department.  This appreciation of fine fennel and gorgeous green peppers may come from the fact that my father-who-did-not-raise-me, Mike Osher, was a produce manager his whole life.  One of my only memories of Mike is a very young me - three or four years old at most - hanging out in the produce store in which he worked.  Later on, when small neighborhood groceries gave way to supermarkets, he managed the produce department at a Waldbaum's in Far Rockaway, or so I've been told.  Mike's oldest son, my oldest brother Larry, was also a produce manager at Wegman's.  Unfortunately, I never got to meet Larry or next oldest brother Fred, or either of my younger sisters (although I have spoken on the phone with my sister Nora) but I think it is now clear that I inherited my love of food from both sides of my family.  Reinforcement of genes, and you get one food-obsessed crazy cat lady.  I'm okay with that, it was the unmanageable curly hair that was the bane of my youthful existence.

I sailed admiringly past the fish counter and the meat counter, noting that Whole Foods does carry real pork belly at a manageable price.  Maybe next time.  Their fish is fresh - really fresh, not defrosted - and beautiful.  And priced into the stratosphere, where I don't even visit, much less reside.  I checked out the olive bar and the cheese counter and cupcakes the size of my head.  I sniffed the fresh coffee.  And I bought, albeit sparingly, some different rices, a small container of smoked whitefish salad, a cute little spaghetti squash, and a very small container of pickings from the salad bar so that I could taste some stuff I've been wanting to try out (or retry, in the case of kale).  The verdict is that quinoa is very cool and I will try cooking it; I still don't get the great public adulation for kale, but at least it doesn't suck; edamame is as great cold in a salad as it is steamed and salted as an appetizer at the sushi place;  and tofu is just meh.  There's got to be a way to get more flavor into it - all those vegetarians can't be wrong about it, and I like the idea of alternate protein sources.

My plan, so much as I had one was to use up some of the vegetables in the refrigerator - grape tomatoes that were left after I prepared the pasta salad with balls, an eggplant that had been waiting patiently to be parm'ed, and the cute little spaghetti squash I picked up at Whole Foods.  Not to suggest that Publix does not stock spaghetti squash, but this one was a good bit smaller than theirs, and I did not want to wrestle with a behemoth spaghetti squash.

I have a great deal of trouble eating pasta.  Actually, I have a great deal of trouble eating most foods, so I am always on the lookout for different ways of getting my nutrition.  I do taste as I cook, but once I do that, I cannot eat anything else.  I am full and will likely stay full until the next day.

But I love good old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs, or with my grandmother's meat sauce, which got me to wondering if spaghetti squash topped with sauce might not go down easier (and stay down longer) than my favorite Barilla pasta.  For me, it's not about the calories, but this would certainly cut some carbs for those who are trying to do so.

Now, about those lovely grape tomatoes - first I thought about preparing a sauté with pesto, but I still had several different vegetable dishes in the fridge, so I switched gears and decided to try a recipe for a fresh grape tomato pasta sauce.  Found it on a food blog, tweaked it a bare trifle and when I tasted the finished product, I almost swooned.

First make the sauce.  I actually did this the day before, because the spaghetti squash gets cooked in the smaller crockpot, and that was being occupied by an eggplant for most of the afternoon.

Roasted Grape Tomato Sauce

2 1/2 pints of grape tomatoes (about 5 cups) - for the best flavor, mix the colors - I used red and orange grape tomatoes
5 cloves of fresh garlic, smashed and peeled
Freshly ground Himalayan pink salt, to taste
Freshly ground mixed peppercorns, to taste
a pinch of sugar (optional)
2 tablespoon of garlic olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh basil, or basil paste (I use Gourmet Garden brand)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the tomatoes in a single layer in a 9 x 13 aluminum baking pan.  Tuck the pieces of garlic between the tomatoes.  Drizzle everything with the olive oil, and add some salt and pepper, and the pinch of sugar.  Place into the preheated oven and roast for 45 minutes.  The tomatoes should have released a good part of their juices and appear somewhat wrinkled but not dried out.  Let them cool for about 10 to 15 minutes, then carefully pour everything into a food processor fitted with the chopping blade.  Add the basil or basil paste, cover, and turn on the processor.  Let it run until the consistency suits you - and I agree with Beth, the food blogger who created the original recipe, that smooth is best.  Taste the sauce and prepare to swoon.  Add a little more salt and pepper, as needed.  This sauce is so light and fresh-tasting, it is perfect for the delicate spaghetti squash.

Now take your cute little spaghetti squash and pierce it a few times with a sharp, thin knife.  Spray the inside of the crockpot with no-stick spray.  Place the squash into the crockpot, and add a cup or two of water.  Cover and cook on high for 3 hours, until the squash is quite soft.

Carefully remove the squash from the crock, and let it cool a bit before trying to handle it.  Then cut it down the center, and remove the seeds.  Finally, with a regular dinner fork, begin scraping at the cooked flesh.  You will see the squash form strands as you scrape.  Continue until all of the squash has been removed from the shell.  Serve the spaghetti squash with butter or a touch of olive oil and salt, or any kind of pasta sauce, homemade like this one, or a good quality jarred sauce.

A funny thing happened on the way to the final saucing - when I cut the squash open, I got an unexpected and unwelcome surprise:

As you can see, about half of the seeds have sprouted.  I tasted one, and it was bitter, so along with the seeds, I separated them out from the flesh of the squash and discarded them before scraping out the strands.

Unfortunately, the spaghetti strands were also quite bitter, so I spread the squash out on some foil laid on the counter, drizzled a tiny bit of olive oil over, and then seasoned with salt, pepper, and sugar, using small amounts and tasting as I went along. I also added some parmesan cheese, but I think I should have skipped that step.  The seasoning did improve the taste and counteracted some, but not all, of the bitterness.

Serving this with the roasted grape tomato sauce also helped, because of the tomato's natural sweetness, but I am convinced that the sprouting seeds caused the squash to become unpleasantly bitter.  Since I cooked it whole, I had no way of knowing about the seeds until it was too late, and I really don't know if removing the seeds and sprouts before cooking would have made a difference.

In the end, it was just okay.  Cooked in the crockpot, the strands came out beautiful and very spaghetti-like, and the sauce was awesome, but that bitter undertaste was off-putting.  I will have to try again with another squash and hope there are no sprouts lurking within.

Friday, November 21, 2014

I'm So Excited - Pink Clam Chowder

I never know what I'm going to find when I type a phrase into google.  I was looking for the lyrics to the Pointer Sisters' song, but up pops the Tenth Doctor.  What?  What?  Who?

Well, it so happens I am excited because of the weekend.  Weekend before Thanksgiving, which means it's time to go shop for the majority of ingredients.  I love food shopping this time of year.  I love the smells of cinnamon and spit-roasted chickens and bread rising in the bakery.

Saturday of this weekend the Magic are playing the new, Lebron-less Miami Heat, and Rob and I are going to Amway Center to watch them.  Maybe we'll win; we've got a pretty strong team this year, with Nick Vucevic, Tobias Harris, and Victor Oladipo.

I'm excited that I tweaked the Thanksgiving menu again.  Forget the cranberry mold, I'm going to make Ree Drummond's recipe for cranberry sauce.  Fresh cranberries, fresh oranges, and real maple syrup. And I am going to spatchcock the turkey before roasting it.  No maple ginger glaze this year.

And I can't help being excited that it's only 15 days to my next cruise.  Carnival Sunshine to Aruba, Curacao and Grand Turk.  New ship, new itinerary, old husband.  Very nice combination.  Heh heh.

Today is National Adoption Day, and although I have had a number of adoption finalizations throughout the year, I have four today.  Each of those were hard-fought cases to insure the children's well-being and permanency, and I could not be happier. Big happy ceremony at the courthouse, with so many children (my four are only part of the total) finally, legally becoming part of their forever families.

But best of all, Friday night I am meeting up with some very dear friends from my New Paltz days, my freshman year, College Hall.  I couldn't vote or drink, but I was living away from home for the first time, and independence felt sweet.  Over the years, I have gotten to see them all - Barb and Lynn and Kathy and Mark and Sandy - but never all together at the same time.  Maybe someday.

Finally, I am excited because I am sending you a double dose of inspiration today.  Here's a recipe I created back in 2011, and it involves clams and some crabmeat, and today is Friday:

Friday, FI - ISH, all you happy children, we wish the same to you!

From August 13, 2011 - I had an idea in my head about what sort of chowder I was trying to make.  For some reason I am obsessed with "pink" chowder, a diplomatic compromise between the creamy New England variety, and the earthy, tomato-based Manhattan variety.  I debated long and hard between Worcestershire and Vermouth, and decided that the Worcestershire better represented my seasoning goal in this case.  Except once I got started, I realized there had to be a touch of sherry to finish it off.

It is a rather good, but untraditional clam chowder.

4 slices bacon, diced small
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, medium-diced
3 carrots, medium-diced (about 15 baby carrots)
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (1 1/2 teaspoons fresh)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2-8 oz. bottles clam juice + the juice reserved from the drained clams
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
4 drops Tabasco sauce
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup milk, heated in the microwave
3-6 1/2 oz. cans chopped clams, drained, juice reserved
1-6 oz. can lump crabmeat, drained
1/4 cup sherry

In a stockpot, cook the bacon until crisp and the fat is well-rendered.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and  add 1 tablespoon of butter to the bacon fat in the pot.  Add the onions and cook over medium low heat for 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, celery carrots, potatoes, thyme, salt and pepper and saute for 10 more minutes, adding another tablespoon of butter if necessary.  Add the tomato paste, stir well, and cook another 30-60 seconds.  Add the clam juice, the Worcestershire, and the Tabasco, and simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.  Add the clams and heat over low heat while you prepare the roux.

In a small pot, melt the butter and whisk in the flour.  Cook over very low heat for 3 minutes, whisking constantly.  Whisk in a cup of the hot tomato clam broth then pour this mixture back into the chowder.  Simmer for a few minutes until the broth is thickened.  Add the hot milk and the crabmeat and heat gently for a few minutes.  Stir in the sherry.  Taste for salt, pepper, and Tabasco.  Serve hot.

Step Lightly - Spritely Southern Biscuits

Step lightly,
You're movin' too fast.
Take your time, boy,
Soon the pain will pass.
In the meantime,
You gotta find yourself a love
That's gonna last.

Step lightly,
Things will work out fine.
Nice and easy,
All it takes is time.
Please, believe me, 
I wish this song was yours instead of mine.

Back to convenience foods ... and then there was Bisquick.  I've been using Bisquick for years, probably dating back to my first recipe for sausage balls that I got from a coworker at the insurance broker.  You know the one.  I got it from that coworker in 1977, and it was old then.  Sausage, cheese, and Bisquick.  Couldn't be simpler or better.

(I have no freaking idea why the font is misbehaving.  It looks normal on the draft page, and all the settings are where they should be.)

Best of are the Impossible Pies.  This one has always been my favorite, and even without a crust, reminds me of Ebinger's coconut custard pie.  Mirabile dictu,  Bisquick rocks!

I spend an inordinate amount of time surfing the net for recipes and other cooking ideas, and sometimes I surf sideways to follow an interesting link within a link.  This biscuit recipe kept popping up as "7-Up Biscuits", and who can resist something like that, especially when all of the reviewers raved about the results?  Since I had already had good luck using Bisquick as the basis for my sweet potato biscuits, and I've used soda to cook chicken wings and turkey legs, how could this be bad?

Oh Em Gee, this is so NOT bad.  These are so damn good, I am mad at myself for not trying them earlier.  They are so good, you will throw big dinner parties as an excuse to bake big batches of these fluffy, buttery biscuits.

Spritely Southern Biscuits

    • 2 cups Original Bisquick
    • 1/2 cup sour cream
    • 1/2 cup Sprite or 7-Up 
    • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Cut the sour cream into the Bisquick. You can use a fork, knife, pastry cutter or just dive in there with your fingers.  You want to make sure that each portion of the wet ingredient gets coated with the dry, and when you are done, the dough will resemble coarse meal.  Stir in the Sprite.  The dough is going to be very soft and sticky.

This is where I like to put a nice big piece of aluminum foil on the counter.  Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of Bisquick on the foil, and also flour your hands with a little more of the Bisquick.  Roll the dough onto the foil, and begin to knead the dough, folding it over a few times, until it has incorporated the additional Bisquick and is no longer sticky.  You can add a little more Bisquick, but not too much, and do not overwork the dough.  Pat the dough out, and cut biscuits using a round biscuit cutter. Or, pat the dough into a square, a little smaller than the baking pan and then cut the dough into nine squares.

While the oven is preheating, place the butter in an 8 or 9 inch square pan, and slide the pan in to melt.  Watch it carefully so the butter doesn't burn.  Place the cut biscuits on top of the melted butter, and bake for 12 -15 minutes until the top is light brown.

You can eat these plain, or with more butter, or with jelly, or (best of all) with honey.  Honey is amazing stuff, and its flavor changes depending on what kind of flowers the bees land on, and where those flowers are located.  Wildflower honey from Tennessee tastes quite different from wildflower honey out of Georgia.  Orange blossom honey, my go-to cooking honey, has a taste unique to Florida.  I'm still in mourning for that almost full jar of black sage honey I dropped on the floor a few months ago.  There just hasn't been time for a trip to Savannah and a visit to the Savannah Bee Company on West Broughton Street to replace it. But I've used wildflower and clover honeys on these biscuits, and I drank coffee and I was happy.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Great Expectations - Chopped-No-More Eggplant

I am expecting!!  Ha ha, no, not at my age (not at any age) - I am expecting a UPS delivery.  Even better, I am expecting a book, a real book with a cover and real paper pages.  Which can only mean one thing:  I am expecting a cookbook!

I got bitten by the Kindle bug years ago, and almost never buy real paper books anymore, but when it comes to cookbooks and knitting books, I remain a traditionalist.  Never mind that I already have hundreds of cookbooks; the collection still grows, albeit a lot slower than it did 20 years ago.

My latest acquisitions are Ina Garten's Make It Ahead which I found at BJs, and Emeril's Cooking With Power,  which I ordered from Amazon and awaited the delivery with much glee.  First of all, I adore Emeril Lagasse.  He's the best in the business, the man who made Food Network what it is (ruler of the airwaves) and a funny and fabulous teacher.  I learned so much about cooking from watching him 5 nights a week, every week, back when Food Network was more than a 24 hour game show.  I have most  of his cookbooks and I swear by his crawfish étouffée recipe even though there's no roux in it.

This book contains about 100 recipes which are made in either the crockpot, multi cooker (that was a new one for me) pressure cooker, and deep fryer.  I've already read through it twice (Yes, I read cookbooks.  So do a lot of people) and have a bunch of recipes I have to try.  Linguine with clam sauce.  Shrimp and lima beans.  Crawfish étouffée (this one has a roux). Stuffed calamari in a smoky tomato sauce.  Jerk chicken with rice and peas (but without 8 of the 9 Scotch bonnet peppers called for in the recipe).  And that's just for the crockpot.

After doing a little research, I learned that a multi cooker is a rice cooker with a split personality; an appliance that can't decide if it is a rice cooker, a steamer, a slow cooker, or an electric frying pan.  After a little more hand's on research at Walmart, I decided there is little difference between my rice cooker/steamer, and a multi cooker, certainly not enough to justify the purchase of yet another electric appliance.  I am pretty confident I can prepare the vast majority of Emeril's multi cooker recipes in my spiffy rice cooker, like the seafood soup with coconut milk and tamarind.

Successful delivery!

Okay, I really didn't need another crockpot cookbook since I have nine others.  And this recipe did not come from any of them.  It came from my grandmother, who never owned a crockpot in her life.  Actually, this recipe is a joint effort between me  my wonderful cousin, Cary Altschuler.  He threw in the food processor while I threw in the crockpot.  Besides the hardware, you will need:

1 eggplant
1 medium onion, chopped
olive oil (or canola or corn oil)
Kosher salt and black pepper

Coat the inside of the crockpot with some no-stick spray.  With a sharp, thin knife, pierce the eggplant in a few spots on all sides, and then place the eggplant into the crockpot.  Add about a half cup of water; cover and cook on High for three hours.  Turn the eggplant at the end of each hour.  When it is done, it will be soft to the touch and look like has collapsed.  Using tongs, carefully remove it to a baking dish.

Cut the eggplant in half, and remove the skin.  It should peel off fairly easily.  Break the eggplant up just a bit, and along with all of the juices in the pan, place it into a food processor bowl fitted with the chopping blade.  Add the onion.

With the processor running, pour a thin stream of oil through the feed tube until the eggplant-onion mixture holds together.  Try not to overprocess.  Remove to a small bowl and add salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate overnight.

This looks nothing like my grandmother's chopped eggplant, by the way.  She chopped hers, noisily and laboriously, in an old fashioned wooden bowl, using a double bladed hand chopper.  The physical work involved was considerable, which may account for why she only made it once a year.  Her finished dish looked somewhat like a relish, while this version is more like a dip or spread.

Taste-wise, this version is lighter and a lot less oniony.  She used two medium onions, and although she tried to get the milder Bermuda variety, most of the time those onions were extremely pungent and sharp to the taste.  And wonderfully odiferous, which is how Uncle Red was able to track it across three counties.  I used a sweet onion, or part of one equivalent to a regular medium onion, and it was very mild.  But wait ...

Allowing the eggplant to sit overnight is critical.  First of all,  the dish solidifies, making it both spoonable, dippable (is that even a word?) and spreadable.  Second, and most importantly, the flavors really come together and bloom during their restful evening, so when you taste this the next day, the onion will be much sharper on your senses, even if you used a sweet, mild onion as I did.  I remember my grandmother saying that this dish took a lot of salt, but I would recommend you wait until the next day to add salt.

This is good on toasted bagels or Wheat Thin crackers or matzo.  It would probably work really well as part of a Jewish or Mediterranean appetizer and salad table.  I suppose it is an acquired taste, but it was one I acquired at a very young age. So good, really.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

You Must Remember This ... A List is Just a List ...

It's a toss-up as to which Humphrey Bogart film is my favorite:  The Maltese Falcon, or Casablanca.  Both of them have such great stand-alone lines.  It's the stuff that dreams are made of.

I have drafted my menu for Thanksgiving dinner, and it is, for me anyway, very simple.  No turducken - I surrender, for now at least.  One appetizer, one protein, one vegetable and one dessert.  Indeed I am restraining myself, but nobody will be going hungry.

The First List

Deviled eggs with a shrimp garnish
Spritely biscuits with honey butter
Small layered salad
Maple glazed turkey
Sausage and chestnut stuffing
Sweet potato "pie"
Broccoli spears in creamy garlic sauce (crockpot)
Cranberry mold
Staten Island peach cobbler

Everything is subject to change based on availability of ingredients and just how lively I am feeling.

And of course, I will gladly share all my recipes with you.  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

A Turducken Before Dying

Holiday Headlines:  Taxonomists try to classify turducken - with the help of an earworm:

It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
(One-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater)
A one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me (One eye?)

That's too weird, even for me.  How about Frankenbird?

Why now am I obsessing over the Ultimate Big Bird Dish, a whole turkey stuffed with a whole duck, stuffed with a whole chicken?  That's right, it is finally time to plan out my menu for Thanksgiving.  I start by making a list, but then I start almost everything in my life by making a list.  List-making is a family trait, and a lot more positive one than my proudly unaltered nose or that clinical depression thing that's been stalking me my whole life.  My grandmother always had a pile of shopping lists and notes to herself on the corner of  the kitchen counter.  Without any conscious forethought, I started doing the same thing once I was living in my own place with my own kitchen.  I should not have been surprised then, the year I went to spend Thanksgiving with my Uncle Marty (my grandmother's son and my mother's older brother) and Aunt Helen at their home in Cape Coral, Florida, that he also had a neat stack of lists and notes to himself on the corner of his kitchen counter.  

I consider list-making to be a useful obsession.  I make lists at work, on legal pads, of course,  and stack them on the right-hand corner of my desk.  Few things feel as good as checking a task off those lists, which include drafting petitions, writing up orders after trial, completing online training, and trial prep.  My home lists are much more pedestrian, including things like cheesy puffs, tomatoes, and kosher salt.  I also make cooking lists, based on the ingredients I have hauled home from Publix and BJs or for a planned menu for potluck, or for a holiday.  

Those holiday dinners happen a lot less frequently these days.  Family members scatter, develop impenetrable grudges, or pass on.  With all that being said, I am preparing Thanksgiving dinner this year for a party of five, and that means lists, lots of them.  What to make, what to buy, when to buy, preparation schedule.  I love this kind of stuff.

So the first item on my list is turkey, right?  Actually no, it's deviled eggs.  Then the salad, the bread, and finally, the bird.  So now I add the turkey to the list, right?  No, not yet.  Not this year.  This year I am going to find the Holy Grail and serve it for Thanksgiving dinner - TURDUCKEN.

Turducken is a made-up word, like the winter holiday of Hanukwanzamas, to describe something that doesn't really exist in nature.  It is a mostly boneless turkey that has been stuffed with a duck which has been stuffed with a chicken.  There are layers of richly-flavored stuffing between the different birds.  This behemoth is roasted in the oven for 12 or 20 hours, and when carved, will feed half the population of Omaha, Nebraska.  Still only two drumsticks, though.  Bummer.

I not only want to serve turducken, I want to prepare it myself.  Which creates a couple of huge logistical problems, the biggest one being that once again, I waited too long to properly plan this.  Another problem is that I can bone a chicken breast but not much beyond that.

I will cook a turducken before I die.

Now I did come across a recipe for a totally boneless turducken which relies on the breast of each bird to make a nice roulade which is then wrapped in bacon.  This sounds entirely manageable, except for one small problem - duck breast has disappeared entirely from the refrigerator cases at BJs.  This situation has persisted for several years and has really put a crimp in my cooking, as I have a number of really awesome recipes using duck breast.  So I would have to order the duck online, at ridiculously inflated prices and then, to add insult to injury, pay UPS or USPS a usurous sum of money to ship the darn thing.

And there stands the conundrum.  Maybe I'll try it for Hanukwanzamas after floating a bank loan.  Or maybe I will learn how to debone a turkey before next Thanksgiving, because whole duck is still available at the local supermarket.

A girl can dream, can't she?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

That does it ...

... I am buying a new crockpot.  Or so I told myself this past Saturday, right after court, not one minute later.  A smaller one, about 4 quarts.  I was down to one crockpot for the first time in many years.  Old Faithful died the other day.  I know, I didn't mention it.  But he was almost 40 years old, which in crockpot years is about 280 ... or is that dogs?  Anyway, I was heading out for weekend court (don't ask because I can't tell) and on the way back I stopped at a really cheesy Walmart for a new crockpot ...

... and now I am the proud owner of a brand-new, 4 quart crockpot to replace Old Faithful.  I am also resolved never to go back to the particular Walmart.

Very sleek, right?  All black, very classy like a good cocktail dress, and most importantly, a removable stoneware crock.  And cheap, did I mention cheap?  I think I paid more for it the first time, in 1975.  So now I can go ahead and cook that cute little spaghetti squash, but before that, I am going to bake an eggplant.  In the crockpot.  Forget the parm (I am utterly opposed to frying anything), this eggplant is going to get the Brooklyn Jewish treatment.  This is the eggplant dish for which my Uncle Red would take a bus, the subway, the Long Island Railroad, and a taxi.  Apparently he could sniff when my grandmother had a batch ready.  Since he lived in Brooklyn and we lived in the Five Towns on Long Island, believing that might take a leap of faith, at least until you got a good look at his nose. Trust me, he could smell that eggplant dish.

Until next time ...

It's Not Easy Being Green - Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Maple Vinaigrette

I love vegetables, especially if they are green.  Sure, I have a warm relationship with carrots and yellow squash and parsnips; red, yellow and orange bell peppers tickle my taste buds, and of course cauliflower makes me smile. Lately I've even made peace with beets, but at the end of the day, it's the green stuff that I like to cook and eat.  High up on that list is the cute little Brussel sprout.  No, seriously. Brussel sprouts are cruciferous vegetables and those, my friends, are good for you and even if they weren't I would love 'em.  If I prepared them, George Bush the Elder would have eaten his broccoli and he would have liked it.  What is corned beef without cabbage?  Choucroute garnie without sauerkraut?  Cheese sauce without cauliflower?

Brussel sprouts are awesome.  They look like tiny cabbages and they taste even better.  I will often serve them with corned beef instead of cabbage, along with boiled new potatoes of roughly the same size as the sprouts.  We always had them steamed or boiled, with a little salt and butter, but the new, better way to cook them, at least according to the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, is to roast them in the oven.  Roasting vegetables enhances the natural flavors in a different way than boiling.  Natural sugars are caramelized, and marry well with the salt that is usually added before cooking.

I decided to try combining roasted Brussel sprouts with a maple vinaigrette that was part of a recipe for boiled Brussel sprouts. Threw those random numbers in the air and came up with a winner, at least according to Robert, who did declare "don't lose that recipe!"  As if I would:

1 pound fresh Brussel sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
ground black pepper

For the vinaigrette:
4 tablespoons sherry vinegar
4 tablespoons maple syrup (not top grade)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons walnut oil
freshly ground nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Trim the root end of the sprouts, and pull off any yellowed leaves.  Place the sprouts in an aluminum baking dish (or a rimmed baking sheet).  Pour on the olive oil, and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.  Shake the pan gently. back and forth, so that the sprouts are evenly coated with oil and seasoning.  Place in the oven for 35 minutes, until the Brussel sprouts are light brown on the outside and tender on the inside.  Shake the pan occasionally while roasting.

While the sprouts are roasting, whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together.

Carefully move the hot Brussel sprouts to a nice serving bowl, and pour all or most of the vinaigrette over.  Serve immediately.  Leftovers can be served chilled from the refrigerator, or at room temperature, or even gently reheated.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday, String Beans - Green Beans and Tomatoes

When I was a kid, I hated my grandmother's string beans.  She was such a good cook, why were the string beans so freaking awful?  Well, they were canned, but truthfully, I don't mind canned vegetables.  They were reheated within an inch of their life, but I like overcooked vegetables.  No, these were so damn bad I would pretend to eat them, stuffing my cheeks like a squirrel, head to the bathroom, and spit them out.  All those green beans, and their bad tasting, inedible strings.  Gack!

Since then, the strings have been bred right out of those beans by genius scientists who should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution to eaters everywhere.  Now, either fresh or frozen, the appropriately renamed green beans are high on my favorite vegetable list.

I first found this green bean and tomato combination, called "Papa's Greek Beans" in a southern cook book by James Villas.  Since then, I've seen this pretty basic recipe all over the South, with and without bacon.  Since I was up to my elbows in pork belly at the time I was cooking the green beans, I decided to save the bacon for another day.  This is my bacon-free variation of the recipe:

1 pound frozen whole green beans, defrosted (I use Publix brand)
1 - 14.5 oz. can stewed tomatoes, original recipe
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste

Place the green beans in a medium pot.  Add the tomatoes with all of the juice, and the remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.  The green beans should be very soft.

Sorry the photo turned out so dark.  But you can still see how everything cooked down together so that all the flavors melded.  Nothing al dente here, I can assure you.  Crudités have their place, I suppose, but not on my dinner plate masquerading as a vegetable I'd be willing to eat.  I'm sure all my southern friends would agree.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Footloose - Braised (Salt) Pork (Belly)

I had two more weekend shelters recently - that's five total in case you were counting, and that's two trips to Orlando and all that jazz, so I had to fill up my car.  There is a Wawa on Orange Avenue, and when I stopped, music both in and outside was blaring:

Now I gotta cut loose, footloose
Kick off the Sunday shoes

Please, Louise, pull me off of my knees
Jack, get Mack, come on before we crack
Lose your blues, everybody cut footloose

... and THAT brought me to the salt pork soaking in my fridge. 

Doesn't that look like bacon? (Get it, Bacon?)

Anyway, these are those two pieces of Smithfield salt pork, that I picked up yesterday at the Spanish grocery.  I did not remove the skin this time, but I did make shallow crosshatch cuts across the top.  Then I soaked these in just-plain-cold water for 24 hours, changing the water a total of 4 times.  Each time I changed the water, I rinsed out the container and dried the inside to get out as much lingering salt as possible.  I also rinsed and patted dry each piece of pork before placing it in the fresh water.

At this point, I would have liked to slice off a small piece and fry it off so I could taste it for saltiness, but I came home from court to a complete dearth of electricity.  Robert reports that there was a very big boom and the house went dark.  KUA was on the job almost immediately, as you can see from my kitchen window,  but there was another loud boom and we are still dark.

Honestly, if a 24 hour salt-leaching soak hasn't worked by now, I'm declaring this experiment a failure.  I never really did go to Hogwarts anyway, and just because some people have called me a witch at various times in the past doesn't make me so.  So it's time to get on with the penultimate step,  the dry rub, so it will be ready for some nice braising in the near future (assuming KUA is successful, otherwise, no slow cooker, no oven, no nuthin').

I wanted a salt-free rub, so I hit the cookbooks, and came up with this slight variation of Steven Raichlin's salt-free lemonade chili rub.  He writes that he got the recipe from "Kansas City barbecue guru Paul Kirk."  I'm glad he did.

Oven-Braised Salt Pork Belly

2 nice pieces of salt pork, about 3/4 pound each (I used Smithfield brand, which I found in the Spanish grocery.  Publix carries Hormel brand salt pork in what looks to be 1/2 pound pieces)

Salt-Free Dry Rub: 
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
1 individual packet Crystal Light pink lemonade powder   
1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Use a fork or a small whisk to mix this together.  Use 1/4 cup for each top and bottom of the pork.  Pat the rub into the pork, and used any extra to cover the sides.  Place in a dry container, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 hours.  Remove the pork and with dry paper towels, brush off all of the excess rub.  Discard the used rub.  Dry off the pork as best you can.

In a large deep skillet, heat a small amount of olive oil, to just cover the bottom, over medium high heat.  carefully add the pork, skin side down.  It is going to spatter like nobody's business, so use the longest set of tongs you have when turning the meat, and stand as far from the stove as you can. Also keep your cooking hand covered with an oven mitt or a kitchen towel to avoid splatter burns.

When the pork is well-browned on both sides, remove to a 9 x 13 baking pan.  Do not discard the fat in the pan.  Prepare the braising liquid.

Braising Liquid:
1 onion (or 1/2 large sweet onion)
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 medium apples, unpeeled, cut into thick slices or into wedges
2 cups apple cider

In the same pan in which you fried the pork, add the onion and sauté a few minutes.  Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, and black pepper.  Continue sautéing until the onion begins to show brown edges.  Add the apple slices and cook just 5 minutes, then add the apple cider and stir everything together with a wooden spoon, while scraping up any good stuff on the bottom of the pan.  Bring up to a boil, lower the heat and simmer while you set up the pork for the oven.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  With a slotted spoon, remove the apple slices from the braising liquid, and place around the pork.  Then carefully pour the sauce over the pork, gently pushing the cooked onions back into the sauce.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil, sealing it tightly.  Place in the oven to cook for a total of 2 1/2 hours, turning the pork skin-side down after 2 hours.  Then remove the pan from the oven, and allow the pork to cool enough to handle.  Use the tongs to grasp the sides of the pork, remove it  from the braising liquid, and place the pieces in a clean pan.  Carefully remove the skin from each piece.  Place the pan with the braising sauce into the refrigerator or freezer until the fat hardens enough to be removed.  While that is going on, sear the top of each piece in a very hot pan.  

Serving options:  I cut each piece of pork belly into 3 or 4 squares, and placed them into a baking dish with the apple braising liquid.  I had added some more apple cider to the liquid, since it seems to have picked up some of the salt lingering in the pork.  The entire dish can be reheated, or just one portion at a time.

And I am STILL not completely satisfied.  Next time, I take the skin off at the beginning.  Having said that, this was so delicious.  It gives new meaning to the phrase "meltingly tender."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

All you happy children, we wish the same to you - Butter Chicken

Ear worms are running my life.  They are my Muse.  If that's not the definition of crazy, I don't know what is.  My younger brother has been on my mind lately, and I associate this children's rhyme with him.  One day he came home from elementary school singing this (I can only guess the class was learning the days of the week) and it's been in my head ever since.  Since my brother is a 60-year old pediatrician with two grown daughters, that's a hell of a long time to have an ear worm.

Do any of you remember this one?
Today is Monday, today is Monday
Monday -- string beans

All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

Today is Tuesday, today is Tuesday
Tuesday -- spaghetti
Monday -- string beans

All you hungry children, come and eat it up! 

From there it just continued, adding all the fabulous foods coming down the pike as the week progressed:

Wednesday -- soup
Thursday -- roast beef
Friday -- fresh fish
Saturday -- chicken
Sunday -- ice cream

Apparently there are a number of different versions; my memories change the line "all you hungry children, come and eat it up" to "all you happy children, we wish the same to you."  Also, I don't remember a single word about spaghetti, and fish wasn't necessarily fresh in the version my brother was singing. (Still. fish on Friday was de rigueur in those pre-Vatican II days, so at least that was consistent.)  And I distinctly remember on one of the days, all the happy children were getting bread and butter, and to be honest, I'd rather have that instead of string beans.  Which is yet another upcoming blog post.

Today is Saturday and I would like to talk to you about chicken.  Incredible, edible, affordable chicken.

Chicken is God's gift to the human race.  Like the rainbow in Noah's Ark story, it represents a promise to the people of the Earth.  By giving us chicken, God has promised that humans will never be forced to eat fish eyeballs or lamb fries (or any other sort of gonad), or pig brains, or any offal, or insects, or beating snake hearts, nay, any bizarre food unless they choose to do so (and hopefully get paid for such insanity, like Andrew Zimmern).   And especially for God's Chosen People, the chicken is a promise that we will never run short of Jewish penicillin.

I am an unabashed carnivore, and I love all the standard cuts of beef, pork, lamb and veal, as well as most forms of fin fish and shellfish, but if for some reason I had to choose a single source of protein for the rest of my life, it would be chicken.

Chicken can be prepared for eating in every way known to humans, except raw.  Boil, bake, roast, pan fry, deep fry, grill, sauté, poach, simmer, braise, stir fry.  You can smoke it, buffalo it, throw it in a crockpot, pressure cook it, seal it in a plastic bag and sous vide it, or even shove a beer can up its rear.   And chicken can be breaded, barbecued, tempura'ed, and stuffed.  There are almost as many recipes for stuffing for chicken as there are for chicken itself. 

Contrary to general belief, chicken is not bland in taste, although it is mild, and therefore plays well with all kinds of seasoning.  I would hazard a guess that there are so many recipes for chicken that they constitute a statistical universe.  And then there are chicken eggs, schmaltz, chicken liver, gizzard, and hearts, but that's definitely another couple of blog posts.

I grew up eating chicken that had been simply prepared.  Boiled soup chicken, broiled chicken quarters, chicken quarters dipped in butter, pressed into cornflake crumbs and then baked, chicken quarters drizzled with maple barbecue sauce and baked, whole chicken rubbed with a paste made of spices and a little corn oil, roasted and then cut into quarters.  Except for the skin on the boiled chicken, I loved it all.

I am a self-taught cook, but that doesn't mean I haven't learned a lot of good cooking stuff from others.  While I may have read The Joy of Cooking cover to cover when I was a newly married bride in 1974 (theoretically, I can skin a squirrel), my knowledge of the best recipes and cooking techniques came from watching my friends and relatives cook.  And so on chicken days, I thank my college (and lifelong) friend, Vicki Schumacher Granek, for introducing me to another way of preparing the ubiquitous quartered chicken.  Once I tasted her Hawaiian chicken, and watched her prepare it, there was NOTHING I could not do with quartered chicken.  Complex flavors, ease of preparation, all this from only 4 ingredients.  From that day forward, my chicken world expanded exponentially.  Once you see the recipe, you will understand exactly what I mean.

But not today.  Today I am going to give you the recipe for another super-easy chicken recipe which requires very few ingredients.  This relies on a really good bottled simmer sauce from Patak's Taste of India product line, Butter Chicken. Butter is not the overriding ingredient, so I have no idea where the recipe got its name, but it does have smoked paprika and other lovely spices in a tomato base.  Reading the ingredients reminded me of a very non-Indian dish, csirke paprikas (Hungarian chicken paprikash, which I do prepare from scratch) so I just had to try it.  I've also used Patak's Tikaa Masala sauce in the past, with great success.   

1 -15 oz. jar Patak's Butter Chicken simmer sauce
1/2 of a small onion
1/2 of a small green bell pepper
2 tablespoons butter
8 skinless chicken thighs

On medium heat, melt butter in a large deep skillet.  Add the onion and green pepper, and cook until the vegetables are nice and soft.  Push the vegetables aside to make room for the chicken, and then four at a time, place the chicken into the pan and brown it in the butter on both sides.  Take your time with this, as it will take longer to develop color without the skin.  Remove to a baking dish, and repeat with the last four pieces of chicken.  Return all of the chicken to the skillet and pour in the butter chicken sauce.  Add about a half cup of water to the sauce jar, cover and shake to get all of the sauce off the sides of the jar, and pour that into the skillet as well.  Bring the sauce to a boil, then immediately cover the skillet and reduce the heat to simmer.  Cook the chicken for an hour, stirring occasionally.  Cool, and transfer to a 9 x 13 baking dish.

Refrigerate overnight.  About an hour before serving, remove the fat from the sauce.  Add a little water to the pan, cover it with aluminum foil, and place it in a 275 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the chicken is as soft as butter.  Serve with rice or couscous.  Really tasty.