Sunday, December 14, 2014



All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go, I'm standing here outside your door,
I hate to wake you up to say good-bye.
But the dawn is breaking, it's early morn, the taxi's waiting 
He's blowing his horn.
Already I'm so lonesome I could die.
So kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you'll wait for me, hold me like you'll never let me go.
'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again. Oh, babe, I hate to go.

Every single Carnival cruise I have ever been on - too many to count, as I am nothing if not brand loyal, you know me - Hellman's mayonnaise, Heinz ketchup, and Carnival Cruise Lines -  has ended with this old chestnut being sung at the last dinner before departure, by the entire dining room staff, all claiming English as a second language.  It's corny, I know, but sweet.  And premature; this cruise is just starting.  And inaccurate; I have come to hate flying.  How about this one?

I'm sailing away, set an open course for the virgin sea
I've got to be free, free to face the life that's ahead of me
On board, I'm the captain, so climb aboard
We'll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I'll try, oh Lord, I'll try to carry on

I look to the sea, reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy, some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever, so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we'll try best that we can to carry on

Better, at least for this stage of the trip.

If I wasn't in desperate need of a vacation before this, preparing for the vacation wore me out to the point that I really need a vacation.  (That's convenient, because as I type this I'm just under 2 miles from the cruise terminal.)  The effort expended to prepare all my cases for next week was beyond crazy.  Well worth it, though.  This is an awesome ship, folks.  Although it is Carnival's newest ship, it is not, technically, a new ship.  I never sailed on the Carnival Destiny before it's uber-refit and rename to the Carnival Sunshine, so I can't make any comparisons, but this is even nicer than the Carnival Dream, which is/was a brand new ship.  I look forward to exploring.

We're in the Alchemy Bar now, sipping on martinis.  Make mine chocolate.  The first toast of the cruise always goes to Bethe and Maurice, God bless their precious, generous souls.  We did have lunch on the Lido deck, but deviated from our traditional stop at the deli counter and chose from the regular buffet.  Oh, it was great!  Very different from the usual Lido Deck fare.  What I particularly loved was a baked eggplant slice topped with melty cheese and a caponata-type topping.  I am also a sucker for chicken fingers and honey mustard dipping sauce.  Good lunch.

Getting ready for the cruise involves a lot more than preparing all my cases for court.  It involves making decisions.  Tough decisions about important stuff, like which knitting projects to bring?  This takes some pretty heavy thought, my friends. I have to consider all angles - am I working outside or inside?  What projects are at the top of the list to be finished?  How heavy are the bigger projects, like shawls and afghans?  Will they sit nicely in my lap, or are they so heavy and warm as to set off hot flashes?  And what about downloads to my Kindle app?  When I am on vacation, I can read a book a day.  Cornwell, Fairstein, Haddam, or classics likes Rex Stout and Ellery Queen?  Such gorgeous choices!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Salad Days, My Way - The Layered Salad

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall; 

And did it my way.

I've never really liked Frank Sinatra.  But he sang some good songs, even long after his voice was gone, and this was one of them.  He didn't write this, Paul Anka did, which may also account for why I like it.  I like Paul Anka.  Sinatra, not so much. (And if you are one of the readers who thought "Sinatra who?", see if you can Netflix the first "Godfather" movie.  Don Corleone should have slapped him harder.)

There are many millions of blogs out there.  Some are very well-known and widely read, and this is not one of them.  I'd say Inspiration Nation borders on the obscure.  Still, there is a small, loyal group that does follow what is mostly a cooking blog, and I was wondering if anyone actually tries any of the recipes.  You can leave comments on the actual blog, as I would love to hear from you, about the recipes or anything else.

I try to post something everyday, a recipe and/or an ear worm story, so I just wanted to mention that there will be a period of 6, maybe 7 days, where I won't be able to post.  I also won't be able to cook, so that works out okay, I guess.

I'm writing this to be the last post before I sail away from Port Canaveral, so I want to leave you with more than just one recipe.  Ear worms are at your own discretion.

Layered salads are quintessentially American, extremely practical in that you can prepare a salad, with the dressing, the day before you plan on serving it, and it is capable of endless variations.  The first time I tasted a layered salad was at the home of a coworker, back when I worked for the American Hull Insurance Syndicate.  It was very similar to this recipe for a simple seven layer salad.  What grabbed me was the addition of the peas as well as a layer of cheddar cheese.  It was so good, I could have eaten it in lieu of anything else on the menu.

My father-in-law loves salads, so I always try to have something I know he'll enjoy.  For years I have made Paula Deen's Cornucopia Salad for Dad, an absolutely awesome variation which includes water chestnuts, bananas, nuts, and raisins in addition to the usual ingredients.  It makes a gorgeous presentation in my 2 quart glass soufflé dish.  I have come up with a number of variations, some successful, some not so much.  If you google layered salads on the web, you will have hundreds to choose from; this one is the classic, though, and I recommend you try it first.


1/2 pound bacon
1/2 large head iceberg lettuce - rinsed, dried, and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 (10 ounce) package frozen green peas, thawed
5 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped cauliflower
(1/2 of a green bell pepper, chopped - optional eighth layer)
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Crumble and set aside. (I cook my bacon in the oven, at 400-425 degrees. I also chop it first).

In a large flat bowl, place the chopped lettuce and top with a layer of onion, peas, shredded cheese, cauliflower, the optional green pepper and bacon. (I prefer a deep glass bowl.  For this, I used a 1 quart glass souffle dish).

Prepare the dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, sugar and Parmesan cheese. Drizzle over salad and refrigerate until chilled.  You can double the dressing ingredients and seal the entire top of the salad.

Like this one.  All twelve layers of it.   Not even sure I wrote down what I did, but you get the idea.

I Love the Cauliflower Girl - Bacon Curry Cauliflower "Slaw"

Who remembers the Cowsills?

I saw her sitting in the rain
Raindrops falling on her
She didn't seem to care
She sat there and smiled at me

And I knew (I knew, I knew, I knew, I knew)
She could make me happy (happy, happy)
Flowers in her hair, flowers everywhere

I love the flower girl
Oh, I don't know just why
She simply caught my eye
I love the flower girl she seemed so sweet and kind.

Better yet, who remembers the name of the TV show which was based on this singing family?  There are no prizes for the winner, but if you can get this one right, I think I love you.

I have spent the better part of the past 18 hours trying to figure out what to do with my Thanksgiving leftovers.  Not the turkey, mind you - I've got that covered.

In fact, I've got plans for everything except a fairly substantial amount of raw cauliflower and Brussel sprouts.  And that aggravates me, because right now I am over the whole roasted vegetable thing.  I thought about an unctuous cheese sauce, with extra sharp cheddar and a touch of mozzarella and parmesan, but that left me as cold as winter in Minnesota. Cauliflower in the crockpot?  Yeah, and then what?  Let me tell you, my friends, I was stumped.

Being a lawyer, I proceeded to do some serious research, some of it at 3:00 in the morning.  The internet let me down.  My vegetable cookbooks failed me miserably.  Nothing was clicking in my head (except for the usual voices, giving me ear worms).  Then I sat down and checked my own very extensive collection of recipes, focussing on a big binder full of vegetable and salad recipes.  I have them organized by "tried" and "not tried", and then within each category, by the particular type of vegetable.  I discovered something I had never realized before - I have collected zero, zilch, zip, nada cauliflower recipes.  Well, one exception - my mother-in-law's recipe for breaded vegetables, which involved cauliflower and Brussel sprouts.  Delicious, but I had already considered that and rejected the idea early on - I wanted something DIFFERENT.  It blew me away that I had never come across a recipe for cauliflower that I wanted to try enough to print out the recipe and run out for the ingredients.

It didn't help, mind you, that I had already made a whole crockpot full of broccoli spears in a creamy garlic sauce that was to die for.  When you get right down to it, broccoli and cauliflower are practically interchangeable.  So I looked through my broccoli recipes, and that didn't help either.

And then ... ILLUMINATION.

There is a saying that cauliflower is cabbage with a college education. Never was this a truer statement than when I found a coleslaw recipe which I was able to rework into a cauliflower "slaw" with Brussel sprouts and other good stuff.  Although this recipe was all about the cauliflower to me, the real stars of the dish are the bacon and the curry dressing.  Oh my word, that dressing! I switched out sour cream for part of the mayo, added more curry powder (why are some people so timid with curry powder?) and tweaked a few other things - well, almost everything.  Okay, I changed everything, alright?

Bacon Curry Cauliflower "Slaw"

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons sugar
2-3 teaspoons curry powder

1 cup frozen cooked extra-small shrimp, defrosted under cold water and well-drained
8 slices bacon (about 1/2 pound) chopped, cooked, drained on paper towels

3 cups of cauliflower florets, broke into very small pieces (use just the tops of the florets)
1 cup of very thinly sliced Brussel sprouts (slice across horizontally)
1/4 cup very thinly sliced onion
2 tablespoons very thinly sliced green bell pepper
1/4 cup lightly packed grated carrot
black pepper

1/2 cup roast pecans, chopped (optional)

Combine the dressing ingredients, cover and place in the refrigerator for several hours so that the flavors can meld.  In a large bowl, combine all of the remaining ingredients and toss gently. Add all of the dressing, toss again to evenly coat all of the vegetables, cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Add the chopped pecans, if using, and toss again.

Happy Broccoli, Mr. President - Crockpot Broccoli with a Creamy Garlic Sauce

Five days to cruising.  I like the looks of that sentence, incomplete though it may be.  Four days at sea, three days in various ports, and departure day which is half-port, half-sea, and a fire drill.  That adds up to eight days without access to a kitchen  Eight days without the feel, the touch of my santoku knife.  Eight days without my kids.  Ouch.

I'll be trading my knives for knitting needles.  Nice!  But before that - just now, I developed a craving for chopped liver.   Blame Andrew Zimmern and his trip to Brooklyn.  The only problem is that craving is going to require some duck fat, which I do not keep in the house as a matter of course.  Something else to put into my cyber shopping cart when I order the duck breasts (hello, turducken!) and a couple of confit duck legs.

Liver is a food that my son, who cheerfully downs raw fish, eel, goat, and all sorts of game, will absolutely not eat.  Liver is a food that both of his parents grew up on, and we love it - chicken, calf, beef, and best of the best, foie gras.  The cheapest meal I can prepare involves a pound of chicken livers - organic is best and still economical - and a lot of onions, some to fry in something a bit healthier than duck fat, the rest left raw to chop fine.  A lot of kosher salt and pepper.  Perfect.  And cheap, did I mention cheap?  Chicken liver also plays well with others, like garlic, oregano, and fresh sage.  Oh myyyyyy ... I may not be able to wait until I can get hold of that duck fat.

Today's recipe is from the Thanksgiving menu.  Nothing as adventurous as chicken liver, but controversial in it's own way, thanks to President Bush the First:

"I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli."  - George H.W. Bush.  
Sorry, Mr. President, but if you can jump out of airplanes at your age, and wear crazy socks (I love that he wears crazy socks!) you can try my broccoli recipe.

Crockpot Broccoli in Creamy Garlic Sauce
1 - 22 oz. bag frozen broccoli spears (Birdseye)
5 cloves fresh garlic cloves, slightly cracked and peeled
Olive oil
1 jar Ragu Creamy Mozzarella or Roasted Garlic Sauce
About 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
Kosher salt, to taste
coarse black pepper, to taste
Italian seasoning (optional)
Shredded mozzarella

Pour one or two tablespoons of the olive oil in the bottom of a 3-4 quart crockpot.  Add the garlic cloves, then lay the broccoli spears on top.  Drizzle a little more olive oil on top of the broccoli, then add the granulated garlic, kosher salt, black pepper, and Italian seasoning, if using. Cover and cook on high for one hour.

Uncover and rearrange the broccoli.  The garlic cloves should remain touching the bottom of the crock.  Cover and cook another hour, rotating the broccoli spears periodically.  Pour on the sauce, reduce the setting to low, cover and cook another 20 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling.  Serve from the crockpot or move to a serving dish, top with the mozzarella and put in a warm oven just until the cheese melts.

The World Is My Oyster - Oyster and Sausage Dressing

What ever made me think of this?  The summer that I volunteered at St. Joseph's Hospital, I would ride my bicycle from my home in North Woodmere to some spot on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, lock up the bike, then take a bus to the end of the line in front of the Far Rockaway branch of the Queens Library, and then walk to the hospital on Beach 19th Street.  Then, I finished my shift and reversed the trip, unless Bethe and I were heading back to her house first.  Or we would walk around the block to Beach 20th Street, curious about the convent on the hospital grounds. At the end of our time together, she would walk me part of the way back to the bus stop.

Neither of us had a driver's license; I was fifteen, and she was a very precocious fourteen.  Despite that, it was a summer of great independence for me.  I was far from the stultifying sameness of North Woodmere and even better, far from my grandmother's sharp tongue and occasional fisticuffs.  Those twice-weekly trips were great exercise, too.  I was a klutz in the school gym, but a whiz on the bicycle.  Good memories, except I can't imagine what triggered them ... they popped up while I was in my car, driving from Kissimmee to the juvenile court in Orlando (don't ask, I can't tell), and I passed the Children's Advocacy Center, where CPT (the Child Protection Team) is located.  I can't count the number of times I have actually been in that building over the years, but it always makes me feel like I am getting caught in a drug-induced hallucination. (Let me make it clear that I am implying no criticism of the CAC or CPT or the marvelous work they do to protect children.  I could not do my job as effectively or efficiently without them.) Bright clashing colors, cartoonish representations of various animals, fake trees sculpted out of metals and plastic, looking dangerous rather than cheerful. Even the pictures on the outside of the building continue that weird Alice-in-Wonderland-on LSD theme.

So is that what triggered the cross-county bicycle trip memory?  That would be simply too weird. Does that mean if it's not ear worms, it's bright colors setting me off?  Cognitive overload.  "Too many notes."  Too many visual bursts of lights and color apparently disrupt my train of thought, sending me off into a daydream fugue episode.  This may explain why I failed calculus in college.  All that fresh air and the bright, clean colors of nature up there in the Shawangunk Mountains.  Everything was so greeeeeeen .... just kidding, all you Mel Brooks' fans

So when I got home, I buried myself in Kevin Walsh's Forgotten NY site and took various tours of the Rockaway Peninsula.  Such interesting history, and I'm crazy about the roads, especially the way the Rockaway Freeway zooms under the elevated subway and between the concrete posts of the trestle supporting that structure.  Plenty of times my Pop would take that road when we found ourselves in Rockaway heading to relatives in Arverne, having crossed over the Marine Park Bridge (now known as the Gil Hodges Bridge) after bumping over the cobblestones of Flatbush Avenue (yes, you read that correctly) before he somehow magically merged onto Beach Channel Drive, which morphed into Seagirt Boulevard.  I'm a map freak, an architecture freak, and a New York City subway freak.  The world is my classroom.  And my oyster, at least according to Shakespeare.

This might be a good time for a recipe.

I never tasted oysters until I was in my early forties.  For someone who practically grew up in Lundy's restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, that's pretty darn amazing.  I ate steamed clams in enormous quantities, but nary an oyster, cooked or raw.  Broiled scallops, steamed lobsters, mussels in wine sauce and an oceanful of shrimp, but no oysters.  Forty years of unrestrained eating gone to waste.  Imagine the vast quantities of oysters I could have consumed during my heyday, if I had only known how utterly delicious they are.  The first oysters I ever ate were fried, but since then I've had them grilled, raw, Rockefellered, casseroled, Emerilized, and floating in a perfect stew.  I have used them at home in gumbos and seafood stews, as well as in stuffing for turkey, which brings us full circle to my Thanksgiving recipes.  I know, it's been a long trip from Far Rockaway, but it was all worth it.


1 cup corn kernels, frozen
3 tablespoons butter
2 onions, chopped
3/4 cup chopped celery
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1 - 1 pound roll of hot bulk sausage (Jimmy Dean)
2 - 8 oz. refrigerated cans shucked oysters, with their liquor
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
2 teaspoons dried thyme
4 cups cubed cornbread, dried in oven
4 cups cubed Thanksgiving bread, dried in oven
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
granulated garlic

In a 10- to 12-inch deep skillet over high heat, throw in the frozen corn kernels, and cook dry until the kernels start to brown.  Remove to a large bowl and set aside.  In the same pan, combine butter, onions, celery, red pepper and garlic. Stir often until vegetables are lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Pour into a large bowl.

Crumble sausage in frying pan and stir often until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to onion mixture. Discard fat.

Pour oysters and liquid into frying pan. Stir to free browned bits and bring to a boil. With slotted spoon, lift out oysters and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Add to onion mixture. Boil oyster liquid until reduced to 4 tablespoons, stir in 1 tablespoon of butter and add to onion mixture. Add sage, thyme, and mixed bread cubes; mix well. Season to taste.  Add the beaten eggs and use wooden spoon to combine.  Try not to break up the oyster pieces.  If mixture is dry, gradually add small amounts of water to moisten, but do not let the stuffing get soggy.

Pat into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes; remove foil and bake another 15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the internal temperature is at least 150 degrees.

If making this a day or two prior to your dinner, bake covered for 25 to 30 minutes, then remove from the oven, let cool a bit, and place in the refrigerator.  About an hour before you are ready to serve, place the covered baking dish in the oven for 45 minutes, then uncover and continue baking until the center reads at least 150 degrees, and the top is nicely browned.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cats and Dogs, Living Together

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” - Mahatma Ghandi

“How we behave toward cats here below determines our status in heaven.” - Robert A. Heinlein

You've seen them on Facebook daily, those pictures of cats and dogs, family pets who have been orphaned or abandoned, and who need a new forever home.  There are the pleas for foster and adoptive homes.  And then there are the more frantic posts, begging for immediate help in saving a pet's life because they are in a shelter, and they are scheduled for execution.

Somehow, the words "shelter" and "execution" sound so wrong together in that sentence.  Think about it.  A young teen, on the streets, is brought to a homeless shelter.  He is given a bed to sleep in, clean clothes, good hot food, a place to shower.  After a month, no one comes to claim him so he is given a needle of toxic drugs to let him die humanely.  His body is cremated as part of a group of other homeless youths like himself.

Are you upset yet?  Oh of course, everything would have been different if he had been brought to a No-Kill Shelter, where he could have continued to stay until a foster or adoptive home was located and approved, but those are far and few between, so there was only one choice:  death by lethal injection.  So much kinder to the teenager.  This incident just points out how important it is to locate the mothers and have them sterilized so they won't continue to give birth to kittens that they cannot properly parent.


My first two cats, Ira Carlos and Minerva Athene, were adopted from Bideawee, in New York City, in 1976 and 1978, respectively.  I believe it is a no-kill shelter.

My current girl Yorkie, Chelsea Rose, was first rescued from a kill shelter, fostered and put up for adoption by United Yorkie Rescue.  It just seems crazy that there have to be rescues from shelters.

The feline-love-of-my-life, Ira Carlos (the second) was adopted at one of the pet supermarkets, from a group that I believe fostered the cats until a home could be found.  They never accepted more cats for foster than they could care for indefinitely.  Unfortunately, that meant many other kitties went to kill shelters.

What kind of people abuse or abandon their family pets?  And what kind of so-called "shelter" executes relatively healthy animals?  Is there really such a thing as a "humane" execution?

The older I get, the less I understand.

A Chip Off The Old Blockhead - Corn Casserole

I like science fiction.  All kinds of science fiction - Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate SG-1, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert's Dune, the Marvel universe, Babylon 5, Buckaroo Banzai, Battlestar Galactica (only the reboot), Farscape, and at the top of my list, Doctor Who.  Not surprising, then, that I have the unshakeable belief that I gave birth to this child in another dimension.

Cory and his foster mom

I say this because he is so much like me, that I sometimes forget it was another dear lady who gave birth to him in Seoul, South Korea.  At least that's what happened in this universe, where I spend most of my time.  Cory writes like me - weird, wistful, wordy, full of passion and a touch of righteous indignation.  Like me, he has his low moments, sadness which springs from nowhere but can ruin an otherwise beautiful day.  Like me, he always bounces back.  And he cooks - not just from recipes, but from inspiration.  That is a recent innovation, one with good results, like his smoked salmon flatbread.

Recently, Cory was invited to a potluck pre-Thanksgiving dinner.  After some consultation with his personal cooking guru (me), he decided on making a corn casserole.  The recipe he used was, at my suggestion, off the web from Paula Deen.  Turns out it was different from my corn casserole recipe, but I've never had anything but good luck with Paula's recipes, and this was a very easy version of an old southern standby ("quintessentially southern" is how I referred to it in the November 22, 2014 post.) Cory ran with it (I had to practically handcuff myself, an incurable buttinsky, to the dishwasher to restrain from grabbing the wooden spoon) and did a wonderful job.  The smell in the house was absolutely lovely.

But the next day, my son said to me, "Mom, it was good but I think it could have been better.  I would have liked it a little sweeter."  My brilliant, intuitive son with the well-developed palate had discerned what it had taken me, early in my cooking career, a few years to figure out - corn dishes taste better with a touch of sugar.

So a few days later, the boy has another potluck - I love potlucks, I love this time of year - and he decides to try again, this time with my recipe, which is by no means an original.  I got it from a friend, who got it from his mom, who used to be a First Lady of a certain jurisdiction.  I've made it many times since then, as it goes well with lots of stuff besides turkey.  I particularly like to make it as part of a buffet with chili, beef burritos, chicken enchiladas, and Paula Deen's Savannah red rice. I tweaked it ever-so-slightly, but I just can't help myself.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  While the oven is preheating, place the butter in a 9 x 13 inch pan.  When the butter is melted, remove immediately from the oven and set aside to cool.

2 boxes Jiffy cornbread mix
2 tall cans of creamed corn
2 cans of sweet corn, drained
2 eggs
2 sticks butter, melted and cooled
2 pints sour cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons sugar
shredded cheddar and/or pepper jack cheese, to taste

Combine all the ingredients and mix well.  Add some of the grated pepper jack cheese into the batter. Turn into the greased pan and bake for about an hour.  The batter will puff up nicely and then become firm, and the top should be golden brown.  Once it's done, remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle the top with the cheddar cheese.  It will melt on its own.

Cory made one half of this recipe which yielded two small casseroles, one which he brought to his office potluck, and the other which he offered as an addition to our holiday menu.  It was splendid.

Cory and his cookin' cousins 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Last Cat Standing - Devilled Eggs

I woke up the other day with a cat sleeping on my outstretched hand.  He was curled up as cats do, a low-grade purr buzzing in his throat.  I hated to wake him up, but I had eggs to devil.

This cat, my only cat, is the Last Cat Standing.  Throughout my adult life, I have shared my home and office with numerous cats.  The last time I had just one cat was 1978.  The highest number was eight or was it nine at a time?  That, plus the three Yorkies in residence, classified us as a bona fide menagerie.  As time went on, each of my kitties, as well as some of my Yorkies, left us to go to Rainbow Bridge, each time taking a piece of my heart with them.

Ira and baby Anakin

On August 28th, last year, I lost the feline love of my life, Ira. That left just one, Darth Kitten, usually known as Anakin Skywalker. Ani, Nanny Boo. My baby.

His mother left him on my doorstep when he was 2 1/2 weeks old.  He waited for her to come back and she never did.  We took him in, and with Athene's help I was able to get the little guy past the bad  times.  No baby cat should be separated from his mother before 8 weeks, but these were exigent circumstances and we did the best we could.

He was a scrappy little thing, desperate to eat and equally desperate to avoid any attempt to clean his little muzzle after smearing it with formula.  He was a hyperactive bundle of baby cat energy, and an incipient escape artist.  When we were looking for the right name for him, my unsentimental husband said we should call him Darth Kitten.  I thought that was a bit harsh.  Rob insisted he was a devil cat and a baby Sith Lord.  I saw the good in him and named him Anakin.  Anakin Skywalker Rothfeld.  After seven years, I have to admit he does have his Darth Cat moments, but they are few and far between, especially since he is now the recipient of all the attention previously lavished on his many feline brothers and sisters.

So it was the little devil cat - he clearly was the runt of the litter - that had me pinned down that morning. In his honor, I added a little shrimp to the devilled eggs.  (Get it?  Devil cat with shrimp?  Ouch, that's worse than my last pun.

Let's set some ground rules here - I don't know when some American lexicological genius decided to change the spelling, but the British still spell the name of this recipe correctly, with two L's.  Spelling it "deviled" makes no sense, at least according to the spelling rules I was taught at P.S 119 in Brooklyn, circa 1960.  Spell it that way, the only way you can pronounce it is de-VEYE-led, just like defiled.  Seriously?  Defiled eggs?

Devilled eggs are easy to make, and a great culinary canvas for the creative cook.  There are so many different variations as to constitute a statistical universe, and they are (almost) all delicious.  The ones I've included below are very close to the traditional mayo and mustard mix.

To hard cook the eggs:  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Place the eggs into muffin tin cups and bake for 30 minutes.  Fill a large bowl with ice water and place the finished eggs into the bowl until cool enough to handle and peel.  After they are peeled, return them to the ice water bath to finish chilling.

Good Basic Devilled Eggs

8 hard cooked eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon pickle juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt
white pepper
a few drops Crystal hot sauce
1 teaspoon fresh dill, finely chopped

Smoked paprika
Dried parsley flakes (crumbled)

Cut the eggs in half and remove the yolks to a medium mixing bowl.  Mash with a fork until they are completely broken up.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix with the fork until smooth and fluffy.  Pick out the best 12 egg white halves.  Fill them with the yolk mixture using a small spoon or a piping bag.  Garnish with the paprika and parsley.  Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.  If holding longer, cover and return to the fridge.

Another Good Basic Devilled Egg with a Shrimp Garnish

12 hardcooked eggs
1/2 cup mayo
2 teaspoons French's yellow mustard

Follow the above directions for preparing the yolks and filling the eggs.  Pick out your 20 best egg white halves.

For the garnish:
1/3 cup Goya Mayo-Ketchup (Salsa Rosada)
Salt, pepper, dried dill weed, cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
20 frozen extra small cooked shrimp, defrosted under cold water, drained and patted dry

Combine the first three ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour.  Fold in the shrimp and return to the refrigerator for an hour.  Remove each shrimp from the dressing, let some drip off and carefully place on top of an egg half, pressing the shrimp gently into the yolk.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Worst of Headaches, The Best of Worstenbroodjes - Pigs in a Blanket

A handful of Advil and two cups of coffee for breakfast and I've managed to hold the headache at bay. Now THAT'S a good morning.

In recognition of my Dutch heritage, I am going to write about that utterly delicious, minimally nutritious snack food, worstenboodjes.  Peter Capaldi would call them kilted sausages.  Most Americans would call them:


Pigs in a blanket.  Wonderfully yummy, pure retro, overwhelmingly kitschy little hors d'oeuvres that have survived any and every food fad and diet since 1968.

You know you love them, don't deny it.  Pigs in blankets are the first appetizer to run out, even at the toniest weddings, assuming the parents of the bridezilla were smart enough to include them on the menu.  As an at-home fun food, they are easy to make and the different flavor combinations are countless.  I was lucky to find crescent dough in a seamless sheet at BJs, which gave me plenty of dough to play with.

I tried preparing my worstenboodjes from little smokies, and also from Sabrett hot dogs.  I cut the dough first and then wrapped each little individual sausage; I wrapped the whole hot dogs in a whole sheet of dough, baked them and then cut them; and also wrapped a whole hot dog, cut it into bite-sized pieces, and then baked them.  Obviously you are not limited to hot dogs; any fully cooked sausage will work.

Condiments to dip into before and after baking.  Once rolled in dough, bake for 11 to 12 minutes.

Or stuff that puppy with mozzarella, drizzle a little garlic olive oil over the cheese and shower with Italian seasoning.  Place the stuffed sausage on dough that has been dressed with a line of sun-dried tomato pesto.  Close it up, pinch the dough, cut each wrapped sausage into six pieces and place seam side down on a baking sheet.  Place into a 375 degree oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

To tell you the truth, the best ones are the little dogs, either cocktail franks or little smokies, individually wrapped, with the dipping sauce in a little bowl nearby.  Toothpicks optional.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Fry Who Loved Me - Spritely Fried Green Tomatoes

When I moved to Florida in 1991, I was almost 40, and had already prepared something on the order of 10,314,424,798,490 meals for family, friends, coworkers, a couple of enemies and passing strangers. Despite that, I had never prepared nor even tasted a fried green tomato. Or grits. Or the iconic collard green.  Clearly, there was a serious lack in my culinary education.  While Florida is often referred to as "the least southern of the southern states" the truth is that you are much more likely to find grits rather than hot oatmeal on a Florida breakfast menu.

A tomato down south is not merely a colorful accompaniment for a wedge salad - instead, chefs fry the green ones like a slice of eggplant for a nice Italian parm, or make pies out of the red ones.  Yes, tomato pie.  Unbelievably good.  When I find a decent green tomato that is NOT cozying up to its riper, red cousin, I grab it, segregate it from all the other fruit and vegetables in the shopping cart, and rush it home before it begins to show the slightest blush of pink.  If I am not going to use it immediately, I put it in the refrigerator to slow down the ripening process, while the red tomatoes sit out on the counter at room temperature.

You've met these green tomatoes before.  I finally got around to frying them. 

3/4 cup self-rising flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup Sprite or 7-Up
1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
dash each of salt and onion powder

canola oil for frying

First, get the tomatoes ready.  Slice them into just under 1/2 inch slices, 5 to 6 slices from each tomato.  Lay them out on a rack over the sink, and salt both sides using kosher salt.  Let them sit for a half hour, then rinse off the salt with cold water.  Pat the tomatoes as dry as possible with paper towels.  You can see that some of the tomatoes were turning red despite my best efforts.  Once a tomato is too far down the Communist road, don't bother to fry it.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and seasoning and then whisk in the Sprite until the mixture has a consistency like pancake batter.  Heat about an inch or two of oil in a deep skillet.  Dip each tomato slice into the batter, let the excess drip off, and slide the tomato into the hot oil.  Repeat with the other tomato slices, half at a time.  Fry until brown on each side and then remove to a rack placed over foil.  

I don't have a recipe for any particular dipping sauce, although we've used commercial creamy horseradish sauce when I've breaded the tomatoes during other high frying adventures.  This time, we tried something else, and it was a fabulous flavor fusion.

Definitely worth a trip to Georgia, even if it's not peach season.

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Rap-a-Rap-a-Rap, They Call Him the Wrapper" - Miniature Braciole

Today's ear worm is brought to you courtesy of those one-hit wonders, The Jaggerz:

Hey girl, I betcha, there's someone out to get ya,
You'll find him anywhere, on a bus, in a bar, in a grocery store.
He'll say "excuse me, haven't I seen you somewhere before?"

Rap-a-rap-a-rap, they call him the Rapper.
Rap, rap, rap, know what he's after.

Another wedding-weekend-in-Georgia story:  I know I mentioned in an earlier post that the food was delicious.  One of the best things I tasted was a delicate canape, a smoked salmon roll-up that was enhanced with a bit of cucumber, like a good California roll.  The wrap itself was light, but held its shape well.  I have made roll-ups in the past, but always using a flour tortilla as the wrapper, which is actually pretty good.  I would love to use lefse, the Norwegian potato flatbread, but I've had no luck finding it.  I've tasted it, though, during stops at Scandinavia during EPCOT's Food and Wine celebrations, and I just love the way it works so perfectly.  Unable to find lefse, I decided to try another wrapper - a premade crêpe, available in the produce department.

First I wanted to test the crêpe with a really easy filling, so I opened up a container of Sabra brand roasted pine nut hummus, and container of tabouleh.  I've made this roll-up a number of times, using the flour tortillas and then slicing the rolls into 1/2 inch pinwheels after having let them chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.  Delicious little finger food, always appreciated by my guests.

So I wrapped up the tabouleh and hummus in a crepe, rolled it in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge for a few hours.  I couldn't wait to taste it, and when I did -

Ack!  As the Mythbusters always warn us, do NOT try this at home! Awful. What can I say?  I threw the rest out and considered myself lucky for having not made up a whole bunch of those dreadful rolls.  At least this way, I still have most of the ingredients left to put to much better use.

Because that was so awful, I feel guilty, and when I feel guilty, I offer food.  I also offer food when I feel happy, sad, depressed, ecstatic, or anywhere along the full spectrum of human emotion.  I am totally predictable, and a really lousy poker player.

So here is my recipe for a different kind of wrapped and rolled food, and these are absolutely delicious on their own, or as part of an old-fashioned Italian Sunday sauce for pasta.

Miniature Braciole

1 to 1 1/4 pounds of eye round steak, thin sliced
kosher salt
coarse black pepper
granulated garlic
Italian seasoning
Six Cheese Italian blend, or any grated Italian hard cheese
panko bread crumbs
capocollo, thin slices (I used the 3 oz. package of Daniele brand, which I found in Walmart, of all places)
1 roasted red pepper, from a jar, drained and patted dry, and cut into even pieces (see the photos, below)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup white wine
1 - 24 oz. jar marinara sauce (I used Bertolli Fire Roasted Tomato Marinara with Cabernet Sauvignon)

You will need kitchen twine and a Dutch oven that can be used both on top of the stove and in the oven.

The package of "steaks" I picked up were already sliced very thin, not more than one-quarter inch.  I pounded them with the flat side of the meat mallet, just to flatten a bit and insure they were rollable.

I have a very bad habit of overstuffing ingredients, and so I resolved to stuff the braciole with a very light hand.  Each little steak was sprinkled lightly with the salt, pepper, garlic, Italian seasoning, and the Italian cheese.

A slice of the capocollo is placed on top of the cheese, and then a piece of the red pepper.  I used regular, rather than hot capocollo, but if you want to blow the top of your head off, who am I to stop you?

The steak is rolled up from the short end, encasing the roasted red pepper.  For each roll, I cut two pieces of kitchen twine, and tied the rolls closed.  Season the rolls with salt and pepper, and then -

In the Dutch oven, heat the olive oil.  Start browning the little rolls, seam side down, and cook on all sides until browned but not done all the way.  The meat will continue to cook in the sauce.  Pour in the wine, bring to a boil, pour in the sauce, stir, lower the heat, and then partially cover the pot with aluminum foil.  Place in a preheated 350 degree oven.  Baste with the sauce after 30 minutes, then again after another 30 minutes.  Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning.  Place back in the oven for another 30 minutes, for a total of 90 minutes, or until the meat is very tender.  Serve the little braciole whole, 2 or 3 to each person, spooning over some more of the sauce.  The sauce is really tasty from the meat and capocollo as well as the added wine, so don't forget the pasta.