Sunday, February 15, 2015

Goldene Yoich - Easy Jewish Chicken Noodle Soup

I knew it was highly unlikely I would make any progress on my cooking list today, but I still held out high hopes for the raisin bran muffins.  Today was our big shopping day, when we hit BJs and Publix (and Jimmy Bear's BBQ), and it frankly wore me out.  I pray I don't pay for this tomorrow. Anyway, the only thing I did manage to prepare was salad - I cut up radish, cucumber, and sweet pepper to add to a precut superfood salad.  It's not bad, not bad at all. 

Raisin bran muffins tomorrow, God willing and the crick don't rise.  Maybe flap steak or spiced pork and apple stew for the crockpot.  Fresh asparagus wrapped in proscuitto.  Burgundy mushrooms soaked in butter and wine.  Ah, I got plans, I told you so.  But for today, I'm going to share one of my chicken soup recipes for Jewish chicken noodle soup.  

This is a chemo cap I am crocheting for a friend undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.  When I am done with this one, I am going to start another one for another friend who is in the same situation. I feel sick for them, as well as for others, who may not need chemo caps, but do need prayers and empathy.  My heart hurts for all of them.

When you feel as blue as I do (a deep, dark blue, none of that light and lovely baby blue) there are few foods that can comfort without making me want to heave.  Out of that limited list, I settled on chicken soup.  Jewish penicillin, good for anything that ails you.

1 medium carrot
1 medium stalk celery
1 - 2 inch piece yellow crookneck squash, from the narrower part of the squash
1/2 medium sweet onion
1/2 cup frozen petit green peas
2/3 cup vermicelli in 1 inch pieces (I buy Modena brand, found in the Spanish food aisle)
1 - 32 oz. container chicken stock (important that you use stock, not broth)
1 small chicken breast, cooked (I remove the breast from a cooked rotisserie lemon-pepper chicken)
Kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper
Parsley flakes

Cut the carrot, celery, squash and onion into small dice and put into a medium saucepan. Pour in just enough water to cover the chopped vegetable, turn the heat up to high until the water boils.  Lower the heat just to high medium so that the water continues to bubble and evaporate. When half the water is gone, add the peas and the vermicelli, bring back to a rapid bubble until the water is completely evaporated, and immediately pour in the chicken stock.  Cover the pan, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Cut the cooked chicken into small dice pieces and add to the soup.  Cover and simmer another 10 minutes or until the chicken is warmed all the way through and the celery is soft enough to eat without having to put in one's dentures (just sayin').  Season to taste with the salt and pepper, and finish with the parsley flakes.

This will warm your soul.  Enjoy.

NBA All-Star game tonight, in Madison Square Garden.  Last night's All-Star festivities in Barclay Center in Brooklyn.  Like Dorothy said, there's no place like home.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day - Mussels in the Style of the Harlot from Amatrice

I must be feeling better.  I have insomnia, and I don't mind one bit.  Friday the 13th is finally over, and here it is, 3:50 AM Saturday, and I am in the kitchen cooking mussels.  These mussels have been on my mind ever since I took them out of the freezer and sort of forgot about them for a few days while I temporarily unraveled.

I love frozen mussels.  I love their uniform quality, their availability, and their reasonable price.  But I did not want to have to toss them, no matter how reasonable the cost, so I started thinking about ways to cook them, now, immediately, not one minute sooner.  Since I was wide awake, I started researching on the Internet, which turned out to be a perfectly useless exercise, as apparently there are only two ways to cook mussels, in a white wine sauce and in a marinara sauce. Well, I got the white wine sauce recipe to end all white wine recipes - see the October 21, 2014 blog entry - and while I love marinara, I had just made a marinara sauce this past week to go with the chicken parmesan.  So I started thinking, and came up with this sauce, the nonmarital child of All' Amatriciana and Alla Puttenesca, and combined it with my now-defrosted mussels.

1 tablespoon roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil
4 slices bacon, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 - 14.5 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 - 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped
8 pitted black olives, quartered lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil (I used Gourmet Garden Basil Paste)
kosher salt, coarsely ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 pounds cooked frozen mussels, defrosted overnight in refrigerator

Warm up the oil in a large deep skillet and add the bacon.  When it is about half-cooked, add the garlic, lower the heat, and cook until the garlic is softened and just barely beginning to show color.  Add the diced tomatoes and the tomato sauce, then use the wine to swish out the inside of both cans to capture all of the tomato and add that to the skillet, along with the capers, olives, pepper flakes, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.  Cover the skillet, leaving the lid very slightly tilted, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.

While the sauce is cooking, take the mussels out of the refrigerator, cut open the bags, and pour off any liquid.  Taste the sauce and re-season if needed.  Add the sugar if needed.  Stir in the butter.  Now add all of the mussels.  Increase the heat and bring the sauce up to a fast simmer.  Cover the pan, lower the heat a bit, and cook the mussels in the sauce for 4 to 8 minutes, stirring halfway through.  Pour the entire contents of the skillet into a large serving dish, and garnish with the chopped parsley.  Very good with bread to dip into the sauce.  Or, you could pour the finished mussels and sauce over 12 ounces of spaghetti or linguine, cooked according to package directions.  Either way, TASTY.

Today is Valentine's Day, and as always during the Interregnum of the Profits, Robert is busy working.  This year, he is just on the other side of the door between the office and residence, so if I want to sneak over with a kiss, I can ... but in all truth, after being part of each other's lives for 43 years, just having him nearby is enough.  When I was a young and callow youth, and even on my first wedding day, I could not imagine ever loving someone so deeply and so completely.  We have been through terrible and wonderful times together, but have always made it through because we had each other's heart.  Happy Valentine's Day, my love.

Failure is Not an Option - The Recipe for Phoenix Corned Beef Hash

And I shall call it "Phoenix".  You know the mystical corned beef brisket that arose from its ashes ... but first, a word from Morgan Freeman -

February 12 - Today is the day after I declared I was going to beat this thing.  So far, I got up, I got dressed, I drank coffee and I headed to court.  I did both of my scheduled morning trials.  I did not throw a chair at anybody.  And in just a few moments I am heading back for the remaining court appearances.

Everything was going okay.  I stopped when I had to.  I explained my situation to the judge, and she granted me permission to stay seated.  I used my cane, and it helped.  I took the new medication.  The Gabapentin, which is supposed to help with the pain, seemed to help.

And then, because I had been advised by my doctor's office to try the Mirtazapine again, this time with food, I did exactly that.  Took it at night, along with the Hydroxyzine and another Gabapentin.  Got into bed, tried to do some reading, felt woozy in a bad way and must have fallen asleep.  The next thing I knew, I was on the floor next to my bed, and Rob was asking me if I wanted him to call 911.  I had great trouble communicating with him.  I must have fallen asleep again because after that I remember nothing.

Friday the 13th - Come the morning, after stumbling about, unsteady on my feet, I asked Rob what happened.  He said "you tried to get up to go to the bathroom but you collapsed and the slid out of bed, between the bed and night table."  Apparently, and embarrassingly, I also urinated on myself, something I haven't done since I was potty-trained 58 years ago.  Rob managed to help me back onto the bed, and I fell asleep.  Throughout this, I remember trying to speak, but having trouble forming sentences.  I guess that qualifies as incoherent.

I am assuming it was the Mirtazapine, combined with my other medication, but I'm a lawyer, not a doctor, and it could have been a small stroke for all I know.  Right now I am perfectly worthless, a foggy mess, who made it into work wearing my longest skirt which has gotten longer since the weight fell off of me.  The only reason I went in is because I had a shelter hearing - it was all staffed and agreed yesterday, and I had arranged for my 9:00 case plan conference to be covered, and I get to the office ready to review the petition, only to discover they decided not to shelter because blah blah blah.  The last time the PIs did that on one of my cases, the child died and everyone got fired except for me.  And that's all I'm going to say about that, except I was already there so I stuck around and did some work.

Bottom line here is that I am not taking the frakking Mirtapazine, and right now I'm holding the Gabapentin and Hydroxyzine in abeyance until that chemically-induced weirdness departs my poor, frail body.

Tonight, Rob decided on corned beef hash for dinner, so I offered to heat it up for him in a pan with some eggs.  You've got to eat corned beef hash with eggs - I think it's a law or something.  That reminded me that I'd meant to write down the recipe, such as it was, for you and for me.  What started as an abject failure - heck, I overcooked that sucker by 3 hours - turned into an enormous success.  I'm not saying you have to overcook the corned beef and potatoes to achieve a great dinner, but if you do, it apparently doesn't matter.  Pretty cool, eh?

Into a 6 quart crockpot, add the following ingredients in order given:

8 small red potatoes, halved or quartered if a little larger
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, large dice
2 tablespoons butter, cut up
black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
dried rosemary
dried thyme
smoked paprika
About 3 pounds corned beef brisket (these come in cryovac)
contents of spice packet (not all corned beef come with one, don't worry either way)
1 - 14 oz. can beef broth
equal amount water
1 - 12 oz. bottle beer (this is optional, just replace with more water)
4 cloves garlic, slightly cracked
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup orange blossom honey, drizzled over the top

Cook on High for 5-6 hours, turning the corned beef over twice.  When it's done, remove the corned beef, potatoes, carrots and onions from the liquid in the crock, place into an (all together now) aluminum baking tin, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

To make the hash:

2-3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 bag frozen tri-color peppers with onions
kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper

First, move the corned beef to a cutting board.  Chop and /or shred it into bite-sized pieces.  Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium high heat.  Cook the sliced onions, lowering the heat if necessary to prevent burning, until tender and sweet.  Add the cooked potatoes, carrots and onions, cook and stir until the potatoes get a little crusty. Add the frozen vegetables, and continue to cook and stir until softened.  Finally, add the chopped corned beef, and stir well to throughly combine with all the ingredients in the skillet.  Cook over medium until the corned beef is heated through (don't let it dry out.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with a couple of sunny-side up or poached eggs on top.  The yolks should be nice and runny, so that when you break them with your fork, they form a rich and unctuous sauce over the hash.

The Usual Suspects - Creamy Vegetable Soup "With Improvements"

Last night - really this morning - I found myself chopping and stirring and frying garlic at 3:00 in the morning.  Very bad insomnia, resulting in what I call a "white night."  No sleep until 6:30.

In addition to cooking, I was noodling around on Facebook, and came across one of those posts that have a poem or a warning or an inspirational saying.  This one was from the Fibro and Chronic Pain Support page, and it was their Insomnia Roll Call. I shared it, asking the question, "who do you think is awake at 3:17 am?"

Almost immediately I heard from the folks I've to think of as "The Usual Suspects", assuring me that they too were up and about.  No matter what time in the middle of the night I post something, I will always get a response or comment from Barbara, Vickie, and Lynne.  I had a few others join the list of Sleepless in Cyberspace, Mark, Jenny, Jean, and Carol.  Between us we must represent about 2 million hours of lost sleep which in my mind translates to a lot of daytime discomfort.  What a damn tragedy!

February 12 - Occasionally, I have the opposite problem - narcolepsy, when I pass out on the couch or in my car (one time I was driving).  Last night was one of those, and I don't know if it was the new medication or something else.  I had some pretty odd dreams, most of which I can only recall in fragments, but just before I woke up I was having a conversation with Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his wife, but they looked more like Ronald and Nancy Reagan.  Or maybe it was George W. Bush and Nancy Reagan.  I know they were sitting in wheelchairs, except when they were standing up.  Mrs. Rockefeller - Reagan was admiring my rings and Mr. Rockefeller - Reagan - Bush and I were having a serious conversation about human trafficking.  I can't make this stuff up.

What I can make up are recipes - this one kind of leapt out of my brain and took on a life of its own.  I started out wanting to gather the ingredients for dill pickle soup, but when I opened the refrigerator I realized I had too many fresh vegetables that were going to spoil if I did not use them up first.  So this soup, or stew, or stoup (a Rachael Ray-ism) was born, and I was very pleased with the results.

Also, it turns out this is a progressive soup, which is delicious but different at three different stages of preparation.  A soup that can multi-task!  Even Alton Brown would approve.

As to the title of the recipe, if any of my MOTs have Litvak ancestry, you may be familiar with a dish called "schav with improvements."  My grandmother (she-who-raised-me) used to make this for my Pop when we were getting served borscht for dinner.  Ick.  The borscht was cold, mixed with sour cream, and served with a hot boiled potato.  I don't like cold soups, and I don't like beets all that much.  The hot potato was the saving grace.  That being said, in 40 years of marriage I have NEVER considered serving that for dinner.  Ick.  President Bush 41 has broccoli, and I have borscht.  Ick.

The schav, which was purchased in a big glass jar like the borscht, was considered a grown-ups only dish.  It was bitter and sour and all the things most kid don't like.  There was sorrel, probably very badly prepared, and to this was added sour cream.  Let's face it, everything tastes better with sour cream.  Then there were the improvements - I think they were different sorts of fresh chopped vegetables, including the zippy radishes I love.  I think I liked them even then.

The improvements in this dish include your choice of diced meats - I used kielbasa and some of my tiny turkey meatballs - and the addition of biscuit dumplings.  Next time I make this, I am going to eat it naked - the soup, not me.  Just a creamy soup, without meat. Unlike schav, this dish doesn't really need any improvements (but feel free to try them, just the same).

Creamy Vegetable Soup "With Improvements"

1 large onion, large dice
canola oil
12 oz. mushrooms, sliced thick
4 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
6 medium red potatoes, quartered (or eighths if potatoes are large)
3 large yellow squash or zucchini (or mix and match), diced
1 - 32 oz. container chicken stock
Kosher salt, coarsely ground black pepper
granulated garlic
onion powder
bay leaf
1/2 cup frozen black-eyed peas
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
2 cans cream of mushroom soup 

In a medium saucepan, heat the canola oil and sauté the onions for 15 minutes over medium heat until they are softened.  Next, add the mushrooms, celery, garlic, carrots and potatoes.  Add more oil if needed, and cook, stirring fairly often, until the mushrooms are getting soft.  Add the squash, cook a little longer (keep stirring) and then pour in the chicken stock.  Add the seasonings to taste.  Bring the soup up to a boil, add the black-eyed peas and bring back to a boil. Immediately turn the heat to a low setting, cover the saucepan, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the black-eyed peas, celery and carrots are almost done.  Add the peas and corn, cover the pan and cook another 10 minutes. Now stir in all of the mushroom soup.  Keep stirring until the soup is smooth and well-blended, and has reached your favorite soup-eating temperature.  Taste and re-season.  You can stop right now and enjoy, or go whole hog with improvements.


Up to one pound cooked protein - I used kielbasa and my tiny turkey meatballs, a little under half a pound of each.  I heated the kielbasa in a small sauté pan first, then added it to the soup with the meatballs, covered the pan and simmered a while longer until the meatballs were heated through. I would not use the kielbasa again, because it masked the delicate chicken flavor.  It wasn't bad, quite the contrary, but not the flavor I was seeking for this dish.

Biscuit dumplings - I took a tube of Pillsbury biscuits, cut them in quarters, placed them on top of what was now more properly called a stew, covered the pan and cooked until the biscuits had magically transformed into dumplings.  I love these, but for this recipe I should have used half the biscuits, and just baked the remaining biscuits for some other purpose.

Inspiration doesn't divide, it multiplies

First of all, Happy Valentine's Day to the loyal followers of the blog.  I love you all.

Second, happy anniversary to my cousins Steve and Cookie.  I love you both, and when I grow up I want to be just like you.

I've been having such a hell of a week that the only way I can deal with it is to write about it - and cook - and write about the cooking.  So I am back in the position of having five posts drafted, and at least three of them are pinned to a timeline.

So watch for the multiple posts today, and prepare to start cooking because as sick as I was, those recipes are GOOD.

Have a wonderful, peaceful day surrounded by those you love best in this world.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Finally, Chicken Parmesan (and a simple tomato sauce)

But first, a short science lesson.

Recently, I've been referring to the bane of my existence as "CPS".  What happened to my fibromyalgia, you may be asking.  And what is this CPS thing, besides Child Protective Services (which is decidedly NOT the bane of my existence, but rather my life's work)?  Well, my official diagnosis is Chronic Pain Syndrome, CPS.  Most people don't know much about it, and it is virtually identical to fibromyalgia, which most people do know something about.  I believe I have read that Chronic Pain Syndrome is the broader category and that fibromyalgia is a type of chronic pain syndrome.  I'm not sure exactly what the differences are, or if there really are differences.  I don't think the medical profession knows what the differences are.  I know I did not test positive for all 18 pressure points - I think I had 11 of them - but I had already been taking Cymbalta, a medication prescribed for fibromyalgia, for a number of years for depression and anxiety. Certainly, unwittingly, and serendipitously, I must have benefitted, fibromyalgically (is that a word?) speaking.   Which begs the question of just how many pressure points I would have felt if I had not been taking Cymbalta for many years.

So what am I suffering from?  Pain. Ever-shifting, never-ending chronic muscle pain and weakness.  And a few other things, which you can find in any official list of fibromyalgia symptoms:

Severe fatigue and decreased energy
Insomnia and waking up feeling tired
Stiffness upon waking or after staying in one position for too long
Difficulty remembering, concentrating, and performing simple mental tasks ("fibro fog")
Irritable bowel syndrome and digestive disorders
Tension and migraine headaches
Sensitivity to odors, noise, bright lights, medications, and cold
Feeling anxiety and chronic depression
Numbness or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs, or feet
Itching/burning skin
Balance problems
No tolerance for exercise; muscle pain after exercise

I don't suppose it really matters whether you call it chronic pain syndrome or fibromyalgia.  I use them interchangeably, which is probably as accurate as I will ever be able to be.  What matters is that this condition, this syndrome, this thing - is a big part of what I blog about.  I suppose I am blogging through it, and I thank you for your patience.  I hope the recipes make it all worthwhile.

And now, chicken parmesan.  No wait, first a simple tomato sauce.  A marinara sauce that will have you licking the inside of the saucepan. This one is inspired by Melissa Clark's article and recipe in the New York Times.

Simple Tomato Sauce (Marinara)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 - 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
2 sprigs fresh basil
kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper, to taste
dried basil
granulated garlic
1-2 tablespoons butter

In a deep, medium-sized saucepan, over medium heat, warm the oil. Add garlic and cook until just lightly golden. Add chile flakes if desired and cook 30 seconds.  Stir in tomatoes and juices, basil sprigs and salt and pepper.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until sauce is thick and tomatoes have mostly fallen apart, about 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust heat as needed to keep at a steady simmer. Remove sauce from heat and discard basil.  With the back of a wooden spoon, crush the tomatoes and garlic bits against the side of the saucepan and stir into the sauce.  Repeat until the sauce is the texture you desire. Now adjust your seasoning, using any of the spices or herbs in the ingredient list.  Then return the skillet to very low heat and keep fine-tuning the flavors.  When you are completely satisfied, add the butter and stir until it melts.  The butter will actually pull all the flavors together.  Set aside while you prepare the chicken.

Finally, chicken parmesan!  Okay, it has been my experience that chicken parmesan tends to be bland.  The sauce definitely adds a great deal of flavor, but it seems to me that the chicken itself, bound like a sleeping butterfly in a cocoon of unseasoned bread crumbs, needs to be more than just a friendly slab of protein.  The natural chicken flavor, which I love, needs to be enhanced to stand up to the rest of the dish.  Otherwise, you might as well use firm tofu, an idea that is turning my stomach even as I type it.

So I marinated the chicken in an herb-lemon-olive oil combo.  I've never done that before when making chicken parmesan (I told you there was no real recipe, remember?) and this time the results were delicious, better than before, the best! I wrote it all down, so I guess it is now officially a recipe.

Cindy's Recipe for Chicken Parmesan

1 - 2 pound package frozen chicken cutlets (approximately 5 good-sized cutlets), defrosted overnight according to package directions. (Trust me, use the frozen cutlets)

Italian seasoning blend
Parsley flakes
Lemon pepper
Garlic salt
Dried chopped chives
Lemon juice (fresh or Minute Maid, defrosted)
Roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil

1 package Progresso Panko Plain Bread Crumbs
2 extra large eggs
1 or more cups all purpose flour
Canola oil for frying

8 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
1 - package sliced cheese (8-10 slices) like provolone, mozzarella, muenster, pepper jack
1 recipe Simple Tomato Sauce

The day before: Rinse the defrosted cutlets under cold running water, then place them in one layer in a clean plastic container with a lid.  Sprinkle the cutlets with a good amount of the Italian seasoning blend, parsley flakes, lemon pepper, garlic salt, and chives.  Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil, using enough to coat the top of the cutlets and to moisten the herbs and spices.  Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight, turning the cutlets occasionally.  Sprinkle on more herbs and spices if you need to first time you turn the cutlets. (Note: if the cutlets are large, feel free to cut them in half crosswise.)

When you are ready to cook:  set up a breading station.  I like to use 3 disposable round aluminum cake pans.  Put the flour in one, then the eggs in another, and the panko in the third, lining them up in that order.  With a fork, beat the eggs till the yolks and whites are combined.  Place a 9 by 13 inch aluminum baking dish at the end, after the panko.  Pick up a cutlet, letting the excess marinade drip off.  Dredge it in the flour so that all surfaces are dusted.  Shake off the excess.  Next, dip the cutlet in the egg so that all surfaces are covered.  Let the excess egg drip off.  Finally, place the cutlet flat into the panko crumbs, turning the cutlet over as necessary and gently patting it into the crumbs to assure that they adhere.  Place the finished cutlet in the baking pan, and repeat with the rest of the cutlets. You may need an additional baking pan if you bread all the cutlets at one time.  I prefer to bread the second batch while the first batch is in the frying pan.

In a large skillet, heat about a half inch of canola oil over medium high heat.  Place 2 to 3 cutlets carefully into the hot oil and cook until the panko turns golden brown.  Turn each cutlet and cook the other side.  Remove the cooked cutlets to a baking dish which has some tomato sauce ladled across the bottom.  Repeat until all the cutlets are fried.  You may layer the cutlets like you would an eggplant parm, but I prefer the chicken in a single layer, so I end up filling two aluminum pans.

Ladle sauce over each cutlet.  I used all of the sauce, but you could cut back if you prefer.  Over each cutlet, sprinkle a good amount of the Parmesan.  Next, place the sliced cheese over the cutlets.

In a 350 degree oven, bake the chicken parm until the cheese is melted.  Try not to let the cheese brown, you want it soft and melty (is that even a word?)

Serve and enjoy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pain is the Name of the Game

February 10, 2015 - Today I hit a new low.

After a mildly contentious morning in court, the pain in my lower back became so bad, so damn excrutiating, I had to leave.  Hurriedly handing over my remaining two cases to my very sympathetic supervisor, I gathered my possessions (having had to ask a coworker to pick my purse up off the floor, since bending over was a practical impossibility at that point) and headed out, probably looking like a crippled blue crab from behind. I left the courthouse and the remainder of my workday.  I left my routine, my planned projects and my responsibilities.  I left behind that feeling of accomplishment I'd enjoyed just the night before, when I'd happily worked late, and finished knocking out two quality petitions;  I'd engaged in trial prep with case managers during the afternoon;  I worked good and hard and productively during the entire day and I was happy. That was yesterday and this was today.

I went home and for the first few hours could not even think about climbing the stairs to my bedroom.  I could not get comfortable on the couch. I could not eat, although I tried, and it wasn't until 3:30 that I could finish the blueberry muffin I had started for breakfast.  Now I am going to go upstairs, close the door, and maybe leak a few tears, the ones I held back while briefly discussing a friend's return to chemotherapy after five obstensibly cancer-free years.

I take nothing stronger than Advil.  I am jusifiably terrified of pain-killers, addictive, destructive.  I cannot take Lyrica because of side effects, and I have been taking Cymbalta for years.  Neither Lyrica nor Cymbalta have ever given me a consistent degree of relief.  Lately I notice the Advil is unable to meet the level of discomfort I live with.  So I sleep because I can do nothing else.

"You're too young to be a hot mess."  That's what the nurse told me today after I explained why I had come into the doctor's office today.  It's tomorrow, and I knew from the moment I sat up in bed that I would not be able to go to work.  Pain is the name of the game.  My balance is off as well.  Stood on the doctor's scale and had to close my eyes.  Earlier, I contacted my office and let them know I would not be coming in, and I had cases that had to be covered in court.  I did not feel real good about having to do that.

What am I going to do?

Apparently, I am going to take more drugs.  Nothing like oxycontin or hydrocodone - I won't take that sh*t.  I've seen what happens when people take that stuff.  I've seen the lives it has ruined, the families it has destroyed.  Something that works on the nerves, like Lyrica, but of course I can't take Lyrica because it causes me to gain weight rapidly.  And another pill to help deal with depression.  Ha, my depression is in my bones like Stage 4 cancer.  The Cymbalta I have faithfully taken does help, a lot.  But not totally, so I'll try this other stuff, what the hell.

What am I going to do?  Well, I decided that I am going to do my trials tomorrow, come hell or high water.

And I'm going to beat this thing.

If at first you don't succeed, fry, fry again - Corned Beef Hash


Beer and honey braised corned beef; that is what I was going to call it.  It was a nice solid pieece of corned beef brisket, and I still had some red-skinned potatoes and all the other ingredients I needed to prepare a really nice entree.   Five hours on High in the crockpot.  It was all smooth moving from there.

Until I fell into one of my stupid stupors on the couch, and failed to wake up in time to tend to the corned beef.  After bubbling in beer, beef broth and honey for the equivalent of 13 hours on Low, this piece of brisket was dead, Jim.  After removing it from the crockpot and letting it cool, I could not find a way to cut it.  Like most meats, corned beef is cut across the grain, but no matter how I turned the beef and where I started the cut, I was always working with the grain, which left a good part of this sad, dead piece of protein in shreds.  Additionally, the braising liquid, enhanced by spices and butter, which all sounded so good on paper, left an odd flavor I found less than thrilling.

So I chucked the whole thing in the trash, because even the dogs wouldn't eat it.

Actually I did no such thing.  I threw it in the refrigerator until I could bear to look at it the next day.  And I already knew I wasn't going to waste it.  I would make hash.  Corned beef hash, with the potatoes, and some caramelized onions, and a bag of frozen tri-color bell peppers.  Salt and pepper.  A little canola oil for frying.

And it was good.  Really good, tasty and homey and warm and soul-satisfying.

Best of all, Rob and Cory both proclaimed it to be the best corned beef hash they'd ever had.  I'm sure the sunny side up eggs on top helped.  Because you've got to top corned beef hash with a fried or poached egg.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wake Up, America - Dill Pickle Soup (Link)

You all know I watch too much news.  For someone with my history of depression and anxiety, it's a fool's errand.  But I can't look away.  And neither should you.  Listen:

I have heard people say that if CNN and the Internet had existed in the middle of the last century, there would have been no Holocaust.  I even believed that at one time, believing as well that if the civilized people of the United States could have seen the horrific acts of the Nazi regime, few if any Jews would have died.  I should have known better.  Long before there was an Internet, I took a course in Modern Jewish History while at New Paltz, and learned of the terrible apathy, in the face of knowledge, from the Roosevelt administration.  Even before that, my Pop told me that FDR was an anti-Semite.  The great, revered FDR and his equally anti-Semitic Secretary of State, Cordell Hull.

But this is the 21st century, and we would never tolerate another Holocaust! (Would we?  Could we?)

I think the color photo was taken quite recently.  I picked it off the Internet after seeing it flash on the screen while watching Greta van Susteren.  I know the black and white photo was taken sometime around 1943.  Apparently, the Islamic terrorists are just as careful as the Nazis of keeping photographic records of their handiwork.

Wake up, America.  Mr. Obama, get out of your golf cart, put down that microbrew, and do your job - protect us, sir! Actions speak louder than words, and you could learn a lot from the King of Jordan.

Indiana looking guilty

Now, if you still have your appetite, or expect to regain it in the near future, here is the link to a soup recipe I have been wanting to try for a while.  Since we are just one bowl away from running out of soup, it seemed a propitious time to do so.

I found this on a site called The Noble Pig.  Lots of good things to explore on that site, and not just about pickles.  I want to make it, and I was all ready to make it when I had a cooking fit at 3:00 am, but realized I had a fridge full of vegetables that had to be dealt with expeditiously.  What I came up with is so damn good, I keep thinking Rachael Ray is hiding in my house, preparing soups when I'm not looking.  But this is definitely not one of her recipes - it is totally born of the inspiration that hit me when I looked in the produce drawer.  Whoo Hoo, you're gonna love it!  But that's another blog post.  In the meantime, I would recommend you click on the link for The Noble Pig and try that dill pickle soup.  I'm still keeping it at the top of my list of recipes to try.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sometimes, the news is good - Pan de Provence con Queso

Sometimes the news is good ... for a change, and I would like to share with you:

This baby is having a baby!

Iris and Jason are expecting a baby!  Which means Mark and Sandy are going to be grandparents again, and Jason's lovely mother Carrie is going to be a grandmother for the first time.  Heartfelt happiness to everyone in the Fendrick and Joyce families.

Congratulations to Starr on the occasion of her engagement to her young man.  He proposed while they are riding a Ferris wheel!  The ring is pink and gorgeous.  May you both enjoy a long, happy, healthy life together!

I tried Vietnamese food tonight.  Not bad at all. And the company was wonderful.  Thank you Tony and Carmen for joining us for dinner.

Yeah, I'm being silly in naming this recipe, since it has nothing to do with Spain or Spanish food, but all that good news left me feeling a trifle tipsy.  Drunk on happy news.

Pan de Provence con Queso

1 slender baguette, about 8.5 oz.
1 stick butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1-2 teaspoons capers, chopped fine
kosher salt
black pepper
herbes de Provence
granulated garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated
8 slices unsmoked Provolone cheese

Embrace the caper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the baguette into half-inch slices and lay them flat in an aluminum baking dish.

In a small saucepan melt the butter over medium low heat.  Add the olive oil, the garlic, the capers, and salt, pepper, herbes de Provence and granulated garlic to taste.  Cook over low until the garlic softens, but don't let it brown.  Remove from the heat, then stir in the basil and sun-dried tomatoes.

Distribute the solids evenly over the bread, then spoon over the oil and butter mixture.  Sprinkle on some of the Pecorino-Romano.  Finally, lay the sliced Provolone over the bread.

Bake for 15 minute until cheese melts and starts to brown.  With a small, sharp knife, cut the melted cheese between the bread slices so they separate easily.

I am already addicted.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I Found My Thrill - Monticello Blueberry Muffins

Today - If somebody can explain to me how having a five pound bag of bread flour hit me in the head is a positive thing, now would be a good time.

Sounds of elevator music:

Picture of clock showing time ticking away:

Uh huh, I thought so.  Hearing no takers, let's just move on to me in bitching mode.

Yesterday - a Friday, it was for those who are interested in such things - was particularly horrible.  Waking up to aches, pains, and a black depression.  Somehow I dragged myself into the office, just a trifle late, trifle being a relative term.  What followed was rapid-cycling CPS (chronic pain syndrome)   which left me exhausted - passing out and can't get up from the couch exhausted.  Too tired to get out of the car exhausted.  My mood ran from laughing at Facebook while eating a Whopper with cheese no lettuce (I finally gave in) to wanting to hang my head out the window and throw up.  No fast food jokes, folks.  That Whopper was GOOD.  There were times I could zoom around and get a lot of substantive work done,  immediately followed by pain and a deep sense of regret that I could not accomplish more.  I can't control this thing; it controls me.  All I can do is live in the moments it allows me to live.

Because I crashed on the couch, I actually missed seeing the Orlando Magic win in overtime, over the LA Lakers.  I don't like the Lakers, and I don't know why my favorites, the LA Clippers, should have to share an arena with them.  Kobe who?

The Magic lost their last 10 games, which added to what is the worst record in the NBA.  Finally, a year too late, the head coach was fired.  A very nice man, Jacque Vaughn, a class act by all accounts, and a great dresser, but a terrible coach.  I don't supposed it helped him that at every home game, while most people were chanting "let's go, Magic", a very vocal contingent was harmonizing with "Fire Jacque Vaughn!"  You can see how those would go together, right?

So here is the first game under interim head coach James Borrego, and my boys pull it off, and I sleep through the whole thing.  I really really REALLY hate fibromyalgia.  Chronic pain syndrome.  Whatever.

I'm stepping out of bitching mode now.

Today, a Saturday, I finally got around to preparing those blueberry muffins.  You HAVE to try these.

Monticello Blueberry Muffins

1 box white cake mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
1 dry pint fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wipe the top of the muffin pan with a paper towel sprayed with Pam.  Place a paper liner into each muffin cup.  

Set aside 36 of the blueberries. 

In a large bowl, combine the dry cake mix, baking powder, flour, sour cream, oil, and eggs, and stir together with a wooden spoon; don't worry if there are some lumps left.  Fold in the blueberries very gently with a spatula.  Let the batter sit for five or six minutes, then use the spatula to fold a few more times.

Scoop into the lined muffin cups, dividing the batter evenly between the cups.  Place three of the reserved blueberries on top of each muffin, gently pressing in to the batter.  Bake for 21 minutes in the preheated oven.  Let cool a few minutes, then remove the muffins to a metal rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 muffins.

Okay, this seems a good time to discuss just how many muffins or cupcakes my recipes yield.  I use Wilton muffin tins, which have a fairly deep well.  I have other muffin tins, dating back to the early days of married life, and I noticed that while the diameter of the top of the wells is standard, the depths of the wells are not.  So depending on the muffin tin you use, the yield will differ.  I like a nice deep muffin with a high muffin top.  This pan works perfectly for me.  

Why "Monticello" Blueberry Muffins?  Happy summer memories of picking buckets of blueberries at Camp Anawana in Monticello, upstate New York.  Wonderful Catskill years.  Lots of blueberry hills.

Mi Sheberach - Crockpot Potato Squash Gratin

Yesterday I had to use my cane for part of the day.  I haven't needed to use it in a long time, and I found it to be demoralizing.  My trial did not finish as expected.  It is difficult to know exactly how long a witness will take on the stand (although expert witnesses are pretty predictable) and I have no idea how long a defense attorney is going to need for cross examination.  I'm not sure they know either, until they hear what my witness has to say.  Bottom line is that estimates are just that, and our trials involve complex matters arising from human nature.  I try to proceed with respect for the feelings of the parents as well as the family members I often have call to testify against their own, and that takes time and a gentle touch.  I can't always anticipate how many objections defense is going to raise, or how the services of a foreign language interpreter will affect my timing.  So in addition to the damn cane, I found the fact that my trial did not finish to be demoralizing.  It was that kind of day.

More upsetting has been the recent spate of serious illnesses and surgeries and chronic illnesses plaguing a number of folks that I like, and some of whom I care for very deeply.  On a purely personal level, I pray for many things at various times, and so I have been praying for each of them.  Generally speaking, I am not a formal prayer kind of person, although I am definitely not opposed.  I figure God listens to me, no matter what the form of delivery.  Blogging my prayers are a new one, but I'm sure they will get to the right place.  Being a bit more formal today (I'm typing this during my lunch break at work, and so I am wearing pantyhose, which for me is very formal) I am saying the Jewish prayer for the sick, the Mi Shebarach.  (The Reform version, in case you couldn't figure that out.  Hello, Matriarchs!)

May the One who blessed our ancestors
Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah
bless and heal the ones who are ill:
Terry, Chris, Donna, Barbara, Carol, Cristina, Steve, George, Rick, Margie, Kaleb.

May the Holy Blessed One
overflow with compassion upon them,
to restore them,
to heal them,
to strengthen them,
to enliven them.

The One will send them, speedily,
a complete healing - 
healing of the soul and healing of the body
along with all the ill,
among the people of Israel and all humankind,
without delay,
and let us all say:  Amen!

Work in progress.  That's all I can really say about the recipe for the potato squash gratin.  Despite what I consider to be a nice combination of flavors and textures, the finished product lacked something.  My tastebuds are always suspect especially in the evening, so I asked Cory what he thought and he said it was good, not the superlative I was hoping for, but at least a positive starting point.

There are things I might do differently next time, starting with cooking it in the oven rather than the crockpot, and uncovering it for part of the cooking time.  Definitely more cheese, one that melts better than the feta and also imparts more flavor to the dish.  More basil, plus other herbs like thyme and oregano.

3 medium yellow squash
2 large zucchini
4 medium red potatoes
4 very large whole mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil
small amount of crockpot caramelized onions
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, cracked and peeled
1/2 cup half and half
1/8 teaspoon Raging River Five Pepper Blend (optional)
3 medium basil leaves, chiffonade
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Use a mandoline to slice the squash, potatoes, and onions into very, very thin slices. Toss the sliced vegetables with the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large bowl.  Spray or oil the crockpot lightly.
Place 1/3 of the slices in the bottom of the crock - no need to layer them neatly, just spread evenly -then season with salt and pepper.  With a fork strew a few tablespoons of the onions on top of the vegetable layer, then scatter over half of the feta cheese.  Repeat with another 1/3 of the vegetables, seasoning again with salt and pepper and topping with more of the onions, and the remaining feta cheese. Finish by layering on the final 1/3 of the vegetables, season with salt and pepper, and a few more onions.  
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the garlic cloves.  Cook for a minute or so over medium low heat.  Add the half and half, the Raging River, and the basil chiffonade.  Turn the heat to low and let the half and half simmer for a brief while to infuse flavors of garlic and basil.  Take off the heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.

Pour the half and half over the gratin, cover the crockpot and cook on high for 4 hours.  Cool for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Oops, I did it again

You see my problem is this
I'm dreaming away
Wishing that heroes, they truly exist
I cry, watching the days
Can't you see I'm a fool in so many ways
But to lose all my senses
That is just so typically me
Oh baby, oh
Oops, I did it again

Sweet God of mercy, WHY am I such a procrastinator?  All I do is stress myself out!  I should know better.  I DO know better.  Great googly moogly, why do I do this to myself?

Don't ask what I procrastinated about.  It's just one more in a very long line of my death defying deadlines that set my heart racing and my heartburn churning.  And here I was feeling good about some of the things I had managed to accomplish - I got my blood taken for testing; I went to my doctor's office and got another referral for the colonoscopy I've managed to avoid for 12 years; I zipped into Publix and picked up the cake mix I needed to make the blueberry muffins; and I got my nails done, just before it would have been too late to salvage them.  I even picked up dinner for the family, having had a huge debate with myself over whether I should personally indulge in a Big Mac or a Whopper Jr. with onion rings.  I have this debate at least twice a week, and I never give in.  I didn't give in this time either, instead picking up a family meal at Long John Silver's.  All deep fried, I admit, but deep fried to order.   Then I came home to a house temporarily devoid of humans, and cleaned up after the dogs and cat.  Took me a while and that's all I am going to say about that, or my hair may catch on fire.

None of that changes the fact that I am still going to have to deal with the fallout from my latest procrastination, which is probably going to involve falling on my sword and bleeding profusely into the carpet.  Sometimes I can pull the project off despite procrastinating past the point of no return, but this is not likely to be one of them.  Sort of like when I opened my calculus book for the very first time the night before the final exam.  That was procrastination at its highest level.  If there had been a contest for Queen of the Procrastinators, I would have left the competition far behind.  Before that crown sat too comfortably on my head, however, I failed the course, the only time I ever failed anything in school, from kindergarten through law school.  Therein lies the cautionery tale, my friends.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Just Gonna Toke Up With My Buddy

SUNY New Paltz had the No. 1 per capita rate of students with drug arrests on campus -- 13.9 per 1,000 students, or 105 on-campus drug arrests in 2013. The school was No. 107 in 2012, with 24 on-campus drug arrests. (Huffington Post, February 2, 2015)

In 1970, despite standing 91 in a class of 619 and graduating with an 88.42% average, nobody wanted me except New Paltz.  I had applied to exactly four SUNY schools - State University of New York at Stony Brook, Albany, New Paltz, and Oneonta - and by February of my senior year, I knew I was in.  All I really wanted was to get away from home, so this suited me just fine.

What I didn't know was that New Paltz was ranked as the number two drug school in the country, right behind UC Berkeley and just ahead of SUNY Stony Brook.  It wasn't the sort of thing I was looking for and certainly was not included in the information I pored over in my well-thumbed volume of  1000 American Colleges and Universities.

New, New, New Paltz...
New, New, New Paltz...
New Paltz is good enough for me.
I ain't gonna work and I ain't gonna study,
Just gonna toke up with my buddy,
New Paltz is good enough for me!!!!!!

In my sophomore year, we got a campus radio station with a theme song.  Quaaludes were really popular then, so much so that the following year I named my lab rat Quaalude Cannabinol.  My reluctant nod to the prevalent drug culture.  

I'm not sure who did the ranking, nor what it was based upon.  Not arrests, not then.  Nelson Rockefeller was Governor of the State of New York, and the SUNY system was one of the prize jewels of his administration.  The story was that at least state law enforcement knew not to engage in any on-campus drug busts.  I am guessing the locals were similarly advised.  At any rate, I knew of exactly one drug bust during the 2 years I attended the school.  Unfortunately, it involved my lab partner from chemistry class, a dude named Paul, who made the mistake of dealing dope off-campus. I never saw him again.  Never.

At this juncture in my reminiscing, let me assure you that at no point during this post am I going to confess to using drugs during my college years, or any year that I was in school (and since I was in school, one way or another until almost forty, you can guess where I am coming from.  I'm as square as they come, I admit it.)

With Monday's article, is proof of that old chestnut "the more things change, the more they stay the same."  Too bad.  I never knew anyone whose life was improved by slavish devotion to weed or powder or pill.  I could rant on ... another time.  I had good times in New Paltz, and made the type of friendships that last a lifetime. No pot heads.

Today's new is bad news.  Anti-vaxxers and a measles epidemic.  Crippling blizzards everywhere but Florida.  Islamic terrorists burning hostages alive.  What, beheading wasn't barbaric enough for them?  These are the worst kind of animals, beasts without any kind of conscience.  They are modern day Nazis, and I do not say that lightly.With all due respect, the President is wrong.  Dead frakking wrong.  Stupidly, stubbornly, arrogantly wrong.  Of course, former President Bush was also mind-numbingly wrong in delaying his attack on Bin Ladin and Al Qaeda so that Afghani tribal chiefs could help us find them. He should have carpet-bombed the region on September 12, 2001.

You cannot appease people like this.  Ask Neville Chamberlain's ghost.  Ask the six million Jews, and the millions of gay, Roma, Sinti, and handicapped people who were tortured, experimented upon, and murdered by Hitler's Nazi regime.  Ask the American soldiers who helped to liberate the Nazi concentration camps.

My back still feels like it is breaking, in part because I stood on my two little feet for the better part of three hours during my morning trial.  There will be no food shopping or cooking this evening. I have a mad craving for take-out Chinese food, but I'm not sure the stars are properly aligned to have that happen.  I hurt, I'm cold, my brain is sluggish although not foggy.  My office looks like my files engaged in raucous, illicit sex during the night and gave birth to an exploding population of more blue files, cluttering my desk, my shelves, my chairs, my floor.  Cognitive overload.  Too many notes, damn it.  I will be finishing my trial tomorrow morning, thanks to the Great Gods of Litigation.  Thereafter, I can jump right into preparation for my next two trials set for late next week.  Two termination of parental rights trials.  Very sad and that's all I'm going to say about that.

Before that, though, I just gotta do some cooking.  Coming home, curling up in my corner, watching the news, and knitting, just seems so darn decadent when it hasn't been preceded by some kind of cooking.  There's that Jewish guilt, lapping at my shoes. Or it could be Chelsea, lapping at my ankles.  In this household, one never knows.

For this evening, I'm going to continue knitting, because it's not like anyone is going to starve.  There are still a few meals worth of leftovers. Also, my son can, and does subsist on ramen noodle bowls that he fixes up with fresh garlic cloves and eggs, a pungent combination that makes my stomach juices curdle. 

Every man for himself.  Just this once, okay?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ground Hog Day - Single Serving Alfredo Sauce

Super Bowl is over (happy dance).  Monday morning and I am waiting for my trial to be called (sigh).  It's also Groundhog Day, and I sincerely hope that Mayor DeBlassio hasn't killed another groundhog.

A groundhog and his shadow are a very famous pair 
They forecast the weather, together — a trick that is rare! 
The one little thing that bothers me when out of doors I go 
Now, does my shadow mean springtime or 16 feet of snow? 

Never know which, I just can’t remember 
Will it be warm — or make like December? 
The whole thing just confuses me and that is why I sing, “
A groundhog’s shadow just doesn’t mean a thing.” 

Yes indeed, today's ear worm is brought to you courtesy of Warner Brothers cartoons, and this is one I saw fairly often when I was just a cub and too young for Walter Cronkite or Perry Mason.  It's been in my head ever since and comes out every February 2, or whenever I watch the movie with Bill Murray.  I love Bill Murray.  

My trial will start tomorrow morning ... we really need to get back to time-certain trials.  Docket soundings don't really work, at least not well, when you have the number and variety of witnesses we tend to have.  So I am making lists:  of witnesses, doctors, dentists and laboratories to call, dogs to wash, food items to pick up, recipes to prepare and the hopeful entry for "nail fill and pedicure."  Yeah, right.

There's not a lot of time to spend on thinking and imagining and considering, due to having to finish up trial prep and otherwise work for a living, but I did find a few lunch time moments to think about the following problem:  what the hell am I going to do with those zucchini and yellow squash???  When I bought them, I thought I would steam them in the rice cooker while I also cooked a special rice blend I had in the pantry, but that idea never achieved fruition.  I baked those delicious zucchini carrot muffins, but only needed one zuke for the entire recipe.  I hate to waste vegetables, so I've been searching through the internet as well as my entire cookbook and recipe collection for inspiration, and more specifically, a recipe that doesn't include tomatoes.  I found something, but it involves goat cheese.  I hate goat cheese, right up there with hating blue cheese and very ripe brie.  I researched substitutes.  I have some good ideas.  What I don't have are the ingredients I need (except for the zucchini and squash, of course) nor the energy to do any food shopping.

Toward the end of the day, my back and neck started to feel broken, and I had to cut the day a little short and head home.  Even if I'd had everything I needed, I could not have stood on my feet long enough to prepare the dish, a lovely-sounding gratin which requires some time with the mandoline.  The only thing I was able to do was whip up a very small alfredo to enjoy over a very small amount of very small pasta.

Alfredo Sauce for a Small Planet

1/3 cup dry pasta (small, like ditalini), cooked according to package directions and drained
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, cracked
1/2 cup half and half
2 tablespoons Parmesan

Melt the butter in a very small saucepan and add the garlic.  Cook for about a minute.  Add the half and half and bring to a simmer.  Cook until the half and half is reduced by half.  Stir in the Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper.  Discard the garlic.  Add drained pasta and toss.  Transfer to a small bowl and immediately chow down.  This serves one.

You can also just forget the pasta and use this as a dipping sauce for garlic bread.  Ask me how I know.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Karma Karma Karma-lized Onions

I have been craving chicken parmesan the last few days, and then voila!  Melissa Clark writes a column for the New York Times ("All the News that Fits, We Print) extolling the homey virtues of alla parmagiana dishes.  Feels like a sign from God, or at least Lidia Bastianich.

Today has been the Grand Opening for the Kissimmee Lakefront, and judging by the number of motorcycles zooming up and down this street, it has been well-attended.  Living and working as close to the beautiful, revitalized lakefront as I do, I can enjoy it anytime.  Of course, living as close to the lakefront as I do, I am able to hear the entire live concert from upstairs without leaving the comfort of my home. For a moment there, I thought they had set up in my parking lot.  Since I don't care much for crowds, this turned out to be an ideal way to enjoy the music.  Also the Magic were losing - AGAIN - this time to the Dallas Mavericks, despite us having some terrific players like Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, and Elfrid Payton.  I could not spend another minute in front of the television.

The news has been horribly depressing with reports from the Middle East and continuing attacks from those murderous Islamic terrorists in ISIS, but one tiny little glimmer of hope came from an article in the sports section.  Yes, it looks like the head coach, Jacque Vaughn, is about to be fired.  Now I don't wish unemployment on anyone, but the truth of the matter is that he has done an absolutely horrible job, and finally someone in Magic's management woke up, smelled the coffee, and noticed the vast banks of empty seats in Amway Center.

Back to the chicken parm ... I don't have a recipe for chicken parm.  I'm not sure there is such a recipe.  Chicken parm is one of those instinctive Italian recipes that is all about the method rather than the ingredients.  You bread the chicken using flour, eggs, and bread crumbs.  You fry it.  You layer it with tomato sauce and cheese.  You shove it in the oven.  That's Italian.

Of course, it helps if you know to pound the chicken a bit ... and to make sure the oil is hot enough so that the crust seals around the chicken, rather than falling off into the pan - and the sauce should be simple and a bit acidic - and the quality of the cheese you use really matters, and it might be worth your while to hand-grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and to hand-tear the fresh mozzarella.

Or I could be a pal and give you the link to Melissa Clark's recipe archive at the New York Times and you can check out her recipe (well, she calls it a recipe).

Speaking of recipes, that's not a hiccup in the title.  We're doing caramelized onions again, but with a slight twist.  Since I expect this batch to come out even better than last week's, I wanted to share it onblog.

And that's about all I will be cooking today.  We met family at Perkins for a late breakfast, and while the company was very pleasant, and the service was good, the kitchen was slower than a crippled turtle and the food was just meh.  We ran a few errands, and I ran out of steam, so I passed on the food shopping, but not before we made an appointment for Rob to get his eyes checked, and a few purchases for me.

I don't know if I was more excited about the chocolate or the new crockpot.  The spiffy new crockpot, 9 x 13 inches just like the perfect casserole dish, just the right size and shape for lasagna and eggplant parm.  And the new flavors of chocolate ... all tucked away now in my little upstairs fridge.

Oh, and the onions?  Forget the onions.  Came out the same.  Good and sweet.  Maybe I will get around to incorporating them into a risotto.  Tune in tomorrow.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Zucchini Carrot Breakfast Muffins

1/31 - "Thirty days have September, April, June, and November, all the rest have thirty-one" ... okay, that helps.  I slept so late into the day today, I wasn't sure what day it was.  I was kind of hoping Super Bowl was over, but it turns out to still be Saturday.

While it seems that fibromyalgia and chronic pain syndrome, its first cousin and my personal demon, are all about pain, there is actually a panoply of symptoms, including sleep disturbance.

Last night and all the way into this morning I had that sleep disturbance thing going on, waking up every hour.  So when I finally got to the point where I could sleep undisturbed for a few hours, my final wake up time was too embarrassing to mention.  Let's just say it was later than usual.  I tried to eat something, but then I heard about the beheading of the Japanese hostage by ISIS, and I threw up.

It seems to me that this is World War III we are living through.  It may not look like the Big One or the Great War, but it feels like it.  There is a world-wide enemy out there, taking over large portions of sovereign nations, striking at targets all over the globe.  True, these are not the Axis powers of the last century. but these Islamic terrorists are as set on world domination and ethnic cleansing as Hitler and the Nazi government. That's all I can say right now.  The President never listens to me anyway.

There was nothing left to do but bake those zucchini carrot muffins I had been wanting to try all week.  I was inspired by some of the recipes I saw online and came up with a version that I thought would best showcase the zucchini and carrots I love, sweet or savory.

Zucchini Carrot Breakfast Muffins

1 - 18.5 oz. package spice cake mix
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 extra-large egg
1/2 cup chunky applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup shredded zucchini (squeeze out most of the excess liquid with paper towels)
1 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place 12 paper liners into the wells of a cupcake tin.

Combine the cake mix, spices, eggs, applesauce, and oil in a large bowl, and with a wooden spoon, mix well.  Add the zucchini and carrots, mix to combine, and finally stir in the raisins.

With an ice cream scoop, divide the batter among the 12 cups.  Place in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the top of the muffin springs back when gently pressed.  Also, a toothpick should come out clean when stuck into the center of a muffin.  Remove the muffins to a rack to cool completely.

These are good with butter, or plain, but I want to try them with cream cheese.  Everything tastes better with cream cheese.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up - Picadillo Stuffed Red Peppers

1/27 - Nowhere as dramatic as falling down a flight of stairs, nonetheless my mobility has been compromised by whatever this thing is.  Syndrome, disorder, disease, condition, whatever - I have no will nor energy to move from where I sit, cross-legged, praying for relief.  I type a few words, I stop, my head droops.  Rinse, repeat.  I have to get to the office.  I have obligations to fulfill, deadlines to meet.  What kind of terrible joke is this?

My doctor says I am depressed.  He must have meant I am more depressed than usual, because I've been chronically depressed since I was fourteen years old.  It's been a very long time,  however, since the depression has interfered with my daily functioning.  Better living through chemistry, my friends.

When I cook, when I knit, I can push some of this away.  Great ideas, but I cannot cook and draft a petition at the same time.

Somehow I made it into the office.  There were times I felt panic rising.  I was overwhelmed.  I was underwhelmed.  I was determined.  I was relieved.  I made it through the day.  I finished a non shelter petition.  I made good progress on a TPR petition.  I set up two witness lists for trial subpoenas.  I checked my email.  I survived.

Best of all, I got to visit with Terry, who is recovering from surgery.  Thank you, Brenda.  You helped to make my day.  I stepped outside my own self involvement and thought about somebody else's welfare for a while.  It felt good.  It felt normal.

When I got home, I felt well enough to move along in my cooking.  Last night the pork loin, remaining after the pork chili verde, was divided into three substantial roasts, about 3 pounds of each.  Two of these were dry rubbed and wrapped tight for the freezer.  The last pork loin roast was also seasoned, then refrigerated overnight.  Tonight, I sauced that baby with the good stuff from Jimmy Bear's and put it into the oven.  I also prepared the stuffed red peppers, at least up to a point.  That's the recipe I'd like to share now.

I've been making stuffed green peppers since my friend Vicki shared her recipe when we were suite mates in college.  Never you mind how long ago.  Anyway, the way I make them now makes me think of them as "Jewish" peppers, because I cooked them in a sweet and sour tomato sauce, similar to what I would use for stuffed cabbage.

This recipe is totally inspired by Paula Deen, and to my mind that makes them - or at least her original recipe - "Southern" stuffed peppers.  I threw in a few Spanish elements, turning it into something resembling picadillo, with sweet, dark raisins, and briny green olives.  I don't know if that qualifies my version as Latino or Cubano, but the best thing about making stuffed peppers is that the filling can be just about anything, a direct reflection of your cooking creativity and the contents of your home food stores.

4 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, seeds and excess white membrane removed
1 1/2 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 packets Goya Sazon con Culantro y Achiote
1 - 8.8 oz. package Uncle Ben's Ready Rice, Spanish Style
salt, black pepper, granulated garlic
1 - 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup (generous) dark raisins
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, cut in half crosswise
1/2 cup jarred salsa con queso dip
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 - 8 oz. package sliced Monterey pepper jack cheese (8-10 slices)

In a large skillet over medium heat, begin browning the beef, breaking it up as it cooks.  Add the onion, garlic, and Sazon, and cook until the onions become transparent.  Add the rice (without heating up), and cook for a few minutes to let the rice soak up some of the pan juices.  Add the salt, pepper, granulated garlic, undrained tomatoes, and raisins, and cook a few more minutes so that the raisins begin to soften.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients.  Let the mixture cool to room temperature before using it to stuff the peppers.

Or, you can do what I did and remove the filling to a covered bowl and refrigerate overnight.  It will be easier to scoop out the filling and place it into the peppers, and I also wanted to give all those flavors a chance to come together and sing Kumbaya before the final re-seasoning.

The next day, I adjusted the refrigerated filling to taste, which meant more sour cream, another packet of Sazon, salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and cilantro.  You may find it fine the way it was.  Taste and judge for yourself. I then filled the pepper halves with the mixture, piling them nice and high without packing the peppers too tightly.  I placed the stuffed peppers into two aluminum baking pans, and carefully poured in about 1/4 inch of water on the bottom of each pan.

Place the pans into a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove the pans from the oven, and carefully place one slice of the pepper jack cheese on top of each stuffed pepper.  Return to the oven for another 25 to 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and starting to brown, and the peppers are tender.  If you like to check the temperature as I do, the interior should read about 140 degrees.  With a slotted spoon, remove from the baking dish onto a dinner plate.  Garnish with some more chopped cilantro.

You will never consider stuffed peppers to be boring again.