Friday, January 16, 2015

Shake Your (Metal) Booty - Chocolate Mint Birthday Cupcakes

January 15, 2015 - Some days are from hell and others are all right.  I would have to say that today didn't suck.  I got stuff done.  I had a few bad moments, and at the end of the day I lost my will to run by Publix for eggs, but I got stuff done. And now it feels good to be home because frankly, I'm running out of steam.

I took these shots last week when the sky was blue and the air was clear. This piece, titled "Copacabana Wave" is the latest tenant on that particular cement block in back of my office complex.  The photo simply does not do it justice.

I did not see this particular sculpture until walking back to my car I happened to look up, and glad I did.  This evoked a whole range of emotions from laughing out loud and big smiles to WTF??, and "nice booty."

I am beginning to end my cupcake cycle, so here is one of the two easy recipes I worked on this week - chocolate mint birthday cupcakes.

Chocolate Mint Birthday Cupcakes

1 - 18.25 oz. pkg. white cake mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup canola oil
3 large eggs (I had to use 2 jumbos instead)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
chocolate mint chips, optional

2 - 16 oz. tubs Hershey's Special Dark Frosting
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Set up muffin tins with 24 paper liners. Combine the cake mix, sour cream, oil, eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a large bowl.  Combine on low for one minute; scrape down the sides, then beat for 2 minutes.  Portion into the muffin tins.  If you wish, pleace 4 or 5 chocolate mint chips on top of each cupcake.  Bake for 18 to 22 minutes. Cool in the tins for 15 minutes, then remove the cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely.

Stir the frosting together with the extracts.  Frost the cooled cupcakes using your favorite method.  I like to pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes using a large star tip.  I also placed one chocolate mint chip on the very top of the frosting.

These were so good even I ate a whole one.  And most important, the birthday girl loved them.

Lovely Lemon Cupcakes coming to a blog post real soon.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Strolling Down the Chocolate Minty Mile

January 14, 2015 - It is so difficult to describe what it feels like.  It feels bad.  There are much worse pains, for sure.  It is just that these go on and on and on.  They make you tired.

I am so tired.

What makes it worse - or more weird - are the moments of  joy scattered in between the hours of  mind-numbing discomfort.  A good morning in court with our new judge.  A crazy happy greeting from my furry kids.  An order from the Fifth District Court of Appeals affirming a favorable ruling.  Sitting on the couch watching TV with my husband.  Laughing with my office peeps.  Listening to music.  Snapping pictures of Kissimmee street sculpture.  Exchanging Mel Brooks' quotes with my son.

Today I have the trifecta.  Pain from the back of my head to my lower back. Insane itching along my entire left arm and hand.  Constant movement in my feet and legs.  There's a little fibro fog in my head, but I can still function.  Sort of, anyway.

The eggplants are still sitting, unmolested, in my fridge while the lemon cupcakes shiver in frozen nakedness, still hoping I will cap each of them with a lemon frosting hat.  "Progress" is nothing more than a word of aspiration.

My back was breaking and then it wasn't.  The ibuprofen kicked in all of a sudden. (Insert smiley face).  Better living through chemistry indeed.  If only this blessed relief could outrun the inevitable exhaustion.

If only ... well, I may pay for it later, but I pushed forward to finish two projects that just had to get done.  The eggplant parmesan is all set up in the crock, but I'm leaving that in the refrigerator overnight and will fire up the crockpot tomorrow afternoon.  It should only take four hours, even coming right out from the fridge.  The other project involved cupcakes but not those lovely lemon jobs.  Those still wait to be properly dressed.

Tomorrow we are going out to lunch to celebrate a couple of January birthdays, including my friend Terry.  Usually, come Christmas I fill up a bag with all different variations of the chocolate mint theme for her, but this year I just did not make it.  So I baked some cupcakes tonight to help celebrate her birthday in chocolate minty style.  If nothing else, they came out awfully purty.

The cake is a basic white sour cream cake, made with a white cake mix, scooped into pretty pink paper and spotted with some chocolate mint chips.  The topping starts with Hershey's Special Dark frosting, mixed with some vanilla and pure peppermint extracts, and then piped extra high for a dramatic finish.  I just hope these taste as good as they look.

The eggplant is your basic layered parm with sauce and cheese, but I treated the eggplant a little differently with roasted garlic oil and Italian bread crumbs, then a short run in a 400 degree oven.  I also cleaned out my deli drawer of Italian cheeses, so no two cheese layers are exactly the same.

I'll type up the recipes tomorrow.  Right now I'm watching the Magic play the Houston Rockets.  It's been a nail-biter since tip-off.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


I guess I need to make this one point, out here, about the events that have occurred in France.  As an American, I am embarrassed beyond words that neither the President nor the Vice President attended the rally.  It was wrong, so terribly wrong.

And that's all I am going to say about that.

My cooking has been erratic this past week.  Normally I am all preplanned and organized about my weekly cooking, and I mise en place like nobody's business, but this week I staggered around in a massive fibro fog, tossing frozen wings in a crockpot and shoving unfrosted cupcakes in the freezer.  I managed to throw together an edible meatloaf, but I haven't passed on the recipe because I'm not entirely sure what I did.  Fortunately, meatloaf is a most forgiving creature.

Even now, feeling a bit better, I can't be sure that come the end of my workday I will be up to more cooking.  I really want to frost those cupcakes, which are lovely and lemon and made specifically for my non-chocolate craving husband.  And I really must prepare this recipe for crockpot eggplant parmesan, as I have two perfect eggplants in the refrigerator and all the other ingredients ready to go before the eggplants collapse and grow fuzz.  I picked those eggplants most carefully and I hope they really are male eggplants, which have a lot less seeds and are therefore less bitter.  I love eggplant, but I don't always have the patience to run through a 3-part breading station and fry fry fry.  Not in the mood.  I have a headache.  This recipe is somewhat less complicated to prepare and has the added benefit of being slow-cooked in my favorite kitchen appliance.  My heart says yes, my back says "who do you think you're fooling, you old bag?"

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Breathe Deep - Oy Vey Teriyaki Chicken Wings

Welcome sulphur dioxide,
Hello carbon monoxide
The air, the air is everywhere
Breathe deep, while you sleep, breathe deep

Can anyone explain to me why so many of us human beings are constructed to be so damn emotionally fragile?  Life is hard sometimes, and it doesn't help when our body chemistry betrays us as well.  Why should it be that the first thought of the day has to be "deep breath ... stay calm ... deep breath"?

The news is depressing.  Anarchy in France's so-called "no go zones".  Nancy Pelosi talking about it being a good time to raise the Federal gas tax.  Arguments about how political correctness is impairing the ability to fight terrorism.  Debates about the permissible consequences of free speech.  The world is making me nervous.  Deep breath.  Stay calm.

Om mani padme hum ...

This is the chronic pain syndrome, this is the fibromyalgia, this is something, some syndrome that fogs my brain and leaves me wrung out in every cell of my body.

I have been knitting.  Not too much, and not too fast, but knitting nonetheless, which I find soothing.

I have been stuck on this one post, which has been written and rewritten several times.  I think it must be time to wrap this one up and move on.  I haven't done much cooking the past few days, and no, we're not starving.  In one of those moments where the headache was blinding and my body hurt from  my shoulders to the back of my ankles, I literally threw together this crockpot dish.  To call it a recipe would be a joke, so consider having a chuckle or two while you eat them.

Oy Vey Teriyaki Chicken Wings

3 pounds frozen chicken wings, do not defrost
1 bottle Soy Vey brand Island Teriyaki Sauce

Coat the inside of a 6 quart crockpot with non stick spray.  Add all of the frozen wings. Pour the bottle of teriyaki sauce over all.  Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.  Stir occasionally during the cooking.  Remove the wings and some of the sauce to a baking pan.  Put under the broiler for a few minutes until the wings crisp up a bit.  Turn over each wing and return to the broiler.  You can serve them immediately, or refrigerate overnight and remove the excess fat the next day.

Friday, January 9, 2015

No News is Good News

January 8, 2015:  My back has been breaking a good part of the day.

All I wanted to do, all day, was go home, empty my mind.  Didn't work out the way I planned. Charles Krauthammer wasn't at his usual spot on Special Report with Bret Baier, and Greta Van Susteran did something to her hair color, but she's doing good coverage on the terrorist attack in Paris.  I missed Charles. Yes, I watch Fox News.  I watch a lot of news.  I read online news from the local Orlando Sentinel and the New York Times and CNN.  Old habit die hard, and I grew up in a home where my Pop read two or three newspapers every day and Walter Cronkite was a nightly visitor.   I followed in his footsteps, at least until I developed an allergy to newsprint ink.  Fortunately for me, cable TV and the internet came along or I would have perished from news deprivation.

Today's news is bad, and yesterday's news was bad.  Despite my kidding around on the blog, I am really a very serious person with very strong feelings about the type of events that show up on the news.  I don't discuss them much, at least not in public fora, because I am likely to offend somebody, and I don't like to do that for a variety of reasons.  But I think it's safe to say that I am very upset by the news.  Angry, really angry.  Time to move along before I become indiscreet.

I did not cook or bake today, because, well, my back has been breaking.  Work was stressful.  No time for lunchtime knitting.  Heck, no time for lunch.

January 9, 2015:  Another day, another backache, another panic attack.  God bless understanding co-workers!  The news is a little better.  The French police are not the buffoons we've been led to believe in Pink Panther movies.  Unemployment is down.  Gas prices are down.  I've managed to keep my food down.  

I did not cook today.  When I got home from the office, I ate a little, I knit a little, and then I napped a lot, with my little Chelsea girl tucked in next to me.  I've been thinking about eggplant parm for the last few days, and chocolate mint cupcakes.  It should be a tasty weekend.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Interregnum of the Profits - Butter Pecan Cupcakes with Creamy Nutella Frosting

January 7, 2015:  "Hey Dad, somebody wants to get their taxes done tomorrow, is that okay?"  Of course it is okay, and with those words from our daughter Betty, we enter the Interregnum.  The Fifth Season.  The No-Cruise Zone.  This year, Tax Season promises to be extra-special, thanks to the cluster-f*** known as Obamacare.

My husband, also known as The Taxman, has been getting geared up for this annual event since early last fall.  Despite the inevitable aggravation of high pressure number-crunching, he really does thrive on this, sort of like the way I thrive on doing between eight and thirteen trials a month for an eight month period.

Thriving is not what I'm doing today.  I was beset by the Insane Itching for a good part of the night, which impacted the quality of sleep, so I am a trifle cranky.  I am suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous bulls*** from an outside source.  I am, however, extraordinarily proud and pleased that I did not respond in kind.  But ohhhh, the temptation.  And then, I have been working on a particular drafting project for a number of days, and have run into a ginormous glitch.  Big surprise, right?

Time to find my Zen Zone.

Back on the needles, albeit the smaller ones and I like the results.  I have to get used to the color changes, which occur more frequently than from a ball of Noro Silk Garden.  I also have to get a new bottle of Advil, because my head is starting to crack and my eyes are protecting themselves by going all squinty on me.  No time for lunchtime knitting, I'm afraid.

So you know that lately I've been hooked on cupcakes.  Today, when I ran into Walmart to get a nice big bottle of Advil, I ran into the grocery section to find a new flavor of cake mix.  Always experimenting, that's me.  The basic sour cream recipe works perfectly, as I found when I tried it with chocolate and then with white cake mix.  The butter pecan mix, however, comes in the new, smaller size, which requires adjustment to the other ingredients.  I can't take credit for this - I can say that it works really well.  I got 22 cupcakes from this mix, but then I did not add a cup of chips as I did to the other two recipes.

Butter Pecan Cupcakes with Creamy Nutella Frosting

1 (15.25 ounce) package butter pecan cake mix 
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 extra large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with paper liners.
2. With a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, eggs, vanilla and almond extracts and water. Beat for about two minutes on medium speed until well combined.
3. Using a large cookie scoop, distribute the batter between 22 muffin wells.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 18-22 minutes or until the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly touched. Allow cupcakes to cool inside muffin tins for about 20 minutes.
5. Remove cupcakes from muffin tins and allow to fully cool on a wire rack. Once cupcakes are cool, top with the Creamy Nutella Frosting, recipe below.

1 - 16 oz. tub creamy vanilla frosting
1/3 cup Nutella
2-3 tablespoons half and half

Stir all of the ingredients together until completely combined and smooth. Frost the cooled cupcakes using your favorite method.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Number of the Beast

How often have you heard the phrase "older and wiser?"  So often, I imagine, that you have come to believe that the one naturally follows the other.  Well, don't believe the hype.

I stand before you, the perfect example of how oxymoronic the phrase "older and wiser" can be.  Without going into details, let us just say that I allowed my enthusiasm to override my good sense.  You would think I would know better, but it seems I am fully capable at 62 of repeating the same types of errors I made at 16 and 26.  My most profuse apologies.

From the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" Department:  So my day started out a trifle cloudy, and thanks to My Friend Fibro, my back and neck were hurting.  I also found myself facing an arduous problem at work, and had to keep chanting to myself "don't get nervous, don't get nervous."  So I didn't, and then I managed to lessen the potential for panic, and figured I could actually go out to pick up lunch.  I rarely do that anymore, but I had to move the car anyway, and I wanted another cup of coffee, so why not?  And I ordered a sandwich, because I never do that anymore, and I may never do that again:

Freaked out the regular counter girl, and I think she was relieved someone else got the job of actually filling the order.  It was a pretty good sandwich; you might even say it was a hell of a sandwich.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Stop the Presses - Alpine Cheddar Bisque

As happens often, and I am my own worse critic, I was not satisfied with the results of my cooking.  Yesterday it was the Potatoes O'Brien.  It is a simple recipe, just a few basic ingredients, but I was not happy about the over doneness of the onions and peppers. It's fixable, it's a matter of timing ... or maybe its my technique ... or maybe it was the seasoning or I had no damn idea what I was doing.  Anyway, I am annoyed sufficiently to toss the recipe and will therefore not put it out here in print.

Robert and Cory said the potatoes were fine.  I think they're just being nice to me.  Because when they were finally done, they didn't look fine.  The onions and peppers had lost their color, and their presence among the potatoes was noticeably diminished.  To me, at least, the flavor was just meh.

Coincidentally, last night was the premiere episode of "Worst Cooks in America", on Food Network.  Without a doubt, this group of contestants is the worst group ever, and I watch this train wreck every year.  Is that blonde really a teacher?  God help the children of the state of California!  I realize there are certain categories and stereotypes that have to be filled (makes for good television?) but this year they are particularly annoying.

The Chocolate Diva (their phrase, not mine)
The Flamboyant Gay Guy
The Morbidly Obese African American Female
The Sloppy Jewish Guy with Greasy or Welcome Back, KotterHair
The Flirty Cheerleader (female), hitting on the male host
The Flirty Personal Trainer (male), hitting on the female host
The Normal Black Guy
The Comedian
The Stoner Guy/Goth Girl
The Rebel

Sometimes these personality types overlap or merge, which just intensifies the urge to send them packing.  Naturally, the most annoying types are the last to leave;  you don't get a lot of ratings from some pathetic high school dropout with the IQ of an unpeeled turnip.

Speaking of TV, I've never watched "Modern Family" but I understand it has quite a following. (I don't often have the patience for episodic TV, and while I can tell you some of my favorite shows include "Bones" and "Castle", I can go months without watching either one.) The family I am interested in is, of course, my own, and for today's purposes, the focus is on my office family.

I have had a number of office families over the years.  I am an introvert, a loner, painfully shy, disinclined to open my mouth and say the wrong thing, and essentially insecure about my abilities to communicate, especially with people I don't know well.  I lived in my last home in Orlando for over eleven years and never knew the names of any of my neighbors.  Most of my family, those who do know me well, are either dead or not speaking with me.  I am still in the early stages of building a relationship with my paternal relatives.

But I have to go to work everyday, and you can't work with the same people everyday for years and not develop a family-like relationship.  At least I can't.  My office family is important to me.  I like them all; some of them I love, because our friendships go back more years than I can easily remember.  I started working for HRS is 1992, and I transferred to Kissimmee in 1996.  Even after I left to try private practice in 1999, I spent 90% of my time on dependency cases, which meant I continued almost daily contact with my former co-workers.  And then I returned in 2008.  So I think you can see how those bonds formed and strengthened.

Today is a relatively quiet day - no court scheduled this week - but here in our family, there are Issues.  And Concerns.  (I capitalize these because they are Important words in the social work community).  One of our group lost a parent, terribly, unexpectedly, last week, and came back to find her car had been towed.  Another is facing major surgery, while a third is getting ready to start chemo. Come to think about it, just about all of us - there are twelve - have something worrisome going on in our lives.  For example, my fibromyalgia has settled in for the winter, I think (blessedly short in Florida) and I am back in a place that I don't like, where I hurt all the time and have trouble staying focussed.  

What matters is that we naturally slide into family mode and start providing mutual support. The current workplace vogue term for our group is "team."  Like the Orlando Magic, but we win a lot more often.  Better coaches. I mean "leadership".  We don't call them management anymore.  I might as well learn to sling the proper lingo, as I intend to die at my desk.

On that oddly cheerful note, I want to tell you that I do have a recipe I am willing to share.  It is a nice soup, fairly easy to make, and full of those wonderful cruciferous vegetables, broccoli and cauliflower.                                                   

Alpine Cheddar Bisque

1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
Kosher salt, white pepper, black pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1 - 16 oz. package frozen Alpine blend (broccoli and cauliflower), defrosted and chopped small
2 cups half-and-half
8 oz. extra sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
2 - 4 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tablespoons green onions, green tops only, chopped
a few drops of hot sauce (optional)

In a medium saucepan, sauté the onions in the butter.  Stir in the flour, salt, and white pepper, until the roux is smooth.  Add the broth, stirring well to avoid lumps.  Bring to a boil, and while stirring, boil over medium-high heat for 2 minutes or until the broth is thickened.  Add the chopped broccoli and cauliflower and continue to cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are soft, about 10-12 minutes.  Lower the heat to medium-low.  Gradually add the half-and-half, and then add the cheese. Cook and stir until the cheese melts.  Stir in the green onions, the black pepper to taste, the hot sauce if using it, and then the sherry.  Taste and adjust the salt and other seasonings.

You can use an immersion blender to smooth out the bisque, or leave part or all of the vegetable pieces intact.

As a side note, over lunch I cast on and started knitting with my lovely yarn from Hobby Lobby.  I think I am going to frog this little bit and switch to a smaller needle.  The yarn is nice to knit with, and feels good on my hands, as it is an acrylic/wool/mohair blend.  The name of the color is Ravenwood.  Now I really love it!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner - Not My Grandma's Cornflake Chicken

Today, January 4, 2015, would have been Bethe's 61st birthday.  You all know how much I miss her, the sister of my heart.

I have a confession to make:  the recipe for Buttermilk Baked Chicken is a variation of a recipe my grandmother made at least once or twice a month throughout my entire childhood.  I'm not suggesting that the Neely's stole my grandmother's recipe, especially since she got it off the back of a box of Kellogg's cornflake crumbs, but the whole idea of coating chicken with cornflake crumbs and baking until crispy has been around at least fifty years.  I printed the Neely's recipe out a while ago and stuck it into my "to try" pile, because I liked what they did with the buttermilk.  I have come to appreciate the value of a buttermilk soak for chicken that is going to be fried, and I thought it would work equally well on this baked version especially the way the Neelys seasoned the buttermilk with sliced onion, smashed garlic, and some other good stuff.

All this time I thought the old cornflake chicken recipe was kind of kitschy, and it turns out that everybody from Trisha Yearwood to Martha Stewart is proudly preparing the dish before the cameras.  My grandmother's version was simplicity itself - she melted margarine, dipped the chicken in the margarine, then the crumbs, and put the chicken on a baking sheet and into the oven.  When it was done, the cornflakes were buttery and crispy and the chicken was moist and sweet.  When I make it, as I have over the years, I usually marinate the chicken in some Italian dressing, or a combination of melted butter and orange juice, and I also add some herbs to the crumbs.

Clearly I can never leave well enough alone.  I told you I'd tampered with the Neely's recipe, and I wasn't kidding.  I'm making this homey old standby exotic, and no one, not even Martha Stewart, has gone where I'm about to go.

Not My Grandma's Cornflake Chicken

Bobby Deen, Paula's younger son, carved out a specialty cooking zone for himself with "Not My Mama's Meals" by cutting down the fat and calories associated with his mother's brand of southern cooking.  I decided to call this "Not My Grandma's Cornflake Chicken" because my recipe incorporates spices that never saw the inside of my grandmother's pantry. So to start, you will need to whip up a batch of my version of Steven Raichlan's Jamaican Jolt Dry Rub.  You can cut this in half, which is what I do, and store it in a screw top jar in your spice cabinet.

Jamaican Jolt Dry Rub for those with a delicate palate
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup freeze dried chives
2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all the spice rub ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. 

1 whole cut up chicken, 3 - 4 1/2 pounds (I like to cross cut each breast into two pieces)
Jamaican Jolt Dry Rub, recipe above
1 quart of buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons Crystal hot sauce
1/2 large sweet onion, sliced

1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Granulated garlic
2 cups crushed corn flakes
3/4 cup grated Romano cheese


The night before:  Sprinkle the chicken on both sides with Jamaican Jolt, and place into a baking dish large enough to lay out the chicken in one layer.  Cover and leave in the refrigerator overnight.

Next day:  Place the onion slices and smashed garlic pieces over the chicken. and season with the salt, pepper, thyme and granulated garlic. Mix together buttermilk, lemon juice, and hot sauce, and pour over all.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for 3 hours or up 12 hours.

About 90 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Fit a sheet tray with a wire rack and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Mix cornflakes and Parmesan cheese together. Season with salt and pepper, and a little more of the Jamaican Jolt.

Remove chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip off, and dredge through the cornflake-Parmesan mixture, pressing to help it adhere. Discard the marinade.

Place on the wire rack-fitted sheet tray.  Lightly spray the tops of the chicken with olive oil cooking spray, and bake for 45 minutes until golden and crisp.

My opinion - very tasty and tender, and the crumb coating is nice and crunchy.  Next time though, I want to try drizzling melted butter instead of spraying with olive oil before baking.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

You Were Always on My Mind ... I've Got Chicken on My Mind

January 3, 2015:  First and foremost, I want to wish a happy 22nd birthday to my nephew Mark.  He is an EMT and also is studying at Lehigh University.  He's handsome, he's bright, he's funny.  A good son, brother, and nephew.
Number Two Niece and Number Two Nephew - Mark and sister Mara at her wedding November 2013

It is time to do some cooking.  Prepared food is running low, and that simply will not do.

I started out with nine different aluminum tins, but after combining, rearranging, and organizing, it all came down to this.  Another day or two at the most.  After that - rotisserie chicken, frozen pizza, or burnt ends from Jimmy Bear in St. Cloud.  Or I can cook.  You know my feelings on this.  Take out food is good - occasionally - but is not a daily substitution for home cooking.  You can see that last week we brought in Chinese food, but that was actually my birthday dinner as I did not feel like going out.  This week I really would like some burnt ends to bring home, but that still leaves a whole lot of home cooking to be done.  And I want some chicken.

But first, I've got to deal with my nails.  I need a fill, it's been a full month.  My problem is that I hate to sit still and do nothing.  Sitzfleisch.  Attention deficit disorder.  Get me outta that chair.

Okay, it was worth it, but there was no way I was going to make it through a pedicure.  I had an errand at CVS, where I found this:

This is as bad as Christmas decorations in July!  Everyone knows that Cadbury eggs are the first sign of spring.  (Not crocuses.  My second grade teacher was wrong.)  Putting them out alongside Christmas clearance candy is absolutely scandalous.  Other than that, I had a very good experience at CVS.  Besides the excellent service, loyalty has its rewards, and I saved a ridiculous amount of money.

Next, I treated myself to a trip to the brand-spanking new Hobby Lobby on Osceola Parkway.  The store actually opened on my birthday, but I restrained myself from even leaving the house on the day after Christmas.  It was worth the wait.  Not to be politically incorrect (not that I care) but I love shopping at Hobby Lobby.  I've been seriously off-track in my knitting, and was hoping a trip to Hobby Lobby would inspire me.

And oh, did it ever!

I have made a conscious effort not to buy any yarn - it has been well over a year - but the minute I laid eyes on that, I knew I had to get it, and I knew exactly which pattern I am going to make with it.  Those colors ... if that skein of yarn doesn't help jump start my knitting mojo, I don't know what will. I broke my self-imposed yarn purchase moratorium, added some old-fashioned candy to the order, and walked out smiling.

So I was feeling rather chipper as I headed back out to Publix to do my food shopping.  The lake was so gorgeous, I had to stop again, this time on the northern perimeter just off of Neptune Road.

These two shots (top & bottom) are facing southwest, towards Lakefront Park

Looking southeast towards Sunset Pointe, a gated community on the eastern lakeshore.

So beautiful at the lake ... peace in my soul ... chicken on my mind.  By this time, I had decided on a pretty simple recipe, buttermilk baked chicken, from the Neelys.  I don't particularly like the Neelys, but some of their recipes don't suck.  Let's hope this is one of them.

After my visit to Publix and a careful examination of their provisions and sale items, I decided what to cook over the next few days:

Buttermilk Baked Chicken
Meatloaf, Version ?
Potatoes O'Bacon
Alpine Cheddar Soup

I've already tampered with the chicken recipe.  Check back tomorrow for the results of my folly.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Thriller from Vanilla - Very Vanilla Cupcakes

After court on the first day of the year, and after I shot the pictures of the downtown sculpture, I stopped by the lakefront.  Although I drive along the northwest edge of Lake Toho almost daily, and certainly have admired the beautiful improvements visible from the car window, I had not yet walked the paths of the interior.  The sky was overcast, but the sights were still delightful.

I have a "thing" for lakes.  While other people crave beach property facing the ocean, I prefer proximity to a lake.  Maybe it has to do with those summers I spent at Jewish sleepaway camps and resorts up in the Catskills, all of them situated around lakes.  When we moved from Long Island all those many years ago, I initially felt the loss of my beloved Lake Ronkonkoma, dramatically touching three townships and possessing two beaches on opposite sides.  Lake Ronkonkoma was also steeped in history, having been the eastern terminus of Vanderbilt's Long Island Motor Parkway, a race car driver's dream and an engineering marvel for its time and place.  Oh, and it has a curse. And it is bottomless.  I really missed it (the lake, not the curse) but got over it once I discovered Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, and East Lake Tohopekaliga in St. Cloud.

Man fishing on Lake Toho.  He waved, I waved back.  
Hope he got a good catch.

I could go on and on about Lake Toho, the Big Lake, world renowned for its bass fishing, its habitable islands which were sanctuary to the Seminole Indians during their various wars with the United States government, the rich and varied history, its fauna and flora, and its cute little lighthouse, which was built in 1999 and isn't really a lighthouse.  But while my obsession with finicky details about old buildings, maps, subways, and arcane history is well-known, I'm not sure it is shared by everyone.

Let's face it, the internet was invented for people like me, who can spend hours pouring over old pictures of the former Flatbush Avenue Long Island Railroad Terminal or Google maps of the building in which my Grandpa Albert had his music store in the 1950s.  I suppose that makes me eccentric, if not downright weird, and I do apologize if my mental meanderings are not your cup of tea.  The good news is that I have an utterly delectable cupcake recipe to enjoy with whatever is your cup of tea.

Kissimmee Lakefront, long long ago

The bad news is that, having drafted that yesterday evening with the plan being to finish it and post it later today, I woke up with a most horrible sort of headache, concentrating its evil powers on my right eye and side of my neck.  Since then it has sent tendrils of pain towards my left eye, the whole back of my neck and shoulder blades.  My usefulness quotient is practically zero, and I had to let my supervisor know I would not be in.  I hate to do that.  I hate having to admit to physical weakness, which I equate with aging.  I don't mind so much if my hair turns gray and my face shrivels like a prune - well, maybe just a little - but I do mind being slowed down.  It's not like I've ever been a marathon runner or terrifically athletic - I couldn't climb the damn ropes in fifth grade - but it should not be an issue for me to gather enough pain-free moments in a day to get to the office and work at my desk.

These are from yesterday; I didn't realize just how overcast the sky was. Gray, like my hair.  Sigh.

And here is the recipe for the cupcakes I wasn't able to bring into the office today. Sorry, guys.  But I'm going to freeze them and bring them in Monday.  Promise.

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

These are my answer to the triple chocolate cupcakes I baked last week.  The recipe is a super-vanilla version, light but rich.  The tops puff up beautifully in the oven, but sink down upon cooling.  Not to worry, I doubled the frosting.

1-18.5 oz. box classic white cake mix
1- 3.4 oz. box instant white chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 cup vanilla/white chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli)
Very Vanilla Frosting (below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line the muffin tins with paper liners.

Using a stand mixer or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat together all of the ingredients except for the chips. Beat for about two minutes on medium speed until well combined. Stir in the chips by hand.

Spray a regular ice cream scoop with release spray, and scoop, distributing the batter between the muffin cups.

Bake in preheated oven for 22-24 minutes or until the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly touched. Allow cupcakes to cool inside muffin tins for about 10 minutes.

Remove cupcakes from muffin tins and allow to fully cool on a wire rack. Once cupcakes are cool, prepare your frosting.  

Very Vanilla Frosting

2 - 16 oz. tubs creamy vanilla frosting
2 - 1/4 teaspoonfuls pure vanilla extract

Stir the frosting with a spoon, and add 1/4 teaspoon of the vanilla extract to each tub.  Use one tub for half the cupcakes (around 12) and then repeat with the other tub of frosting and the remaining cupcakes.  I used a large star tip and a one quart ziploc storage bag to pipe the frosting onto the cupcake, but you can use your favorite frosting method.  Just remember to fill in the depressions caused by the sinking tops.

The office cupcakes got a sprinkle of colorful non-pariels (Happy New Year!), while the home supply did not.  Good either way.