Saturday, March 14, 2015

Living in a White Bread World -The Best Damn Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Friday, Day 8 - My house smells wonderful!  No, it's not a new air freshener scent, it's BACON.  In the oven, lovely, sizzling, getting-near-crispy bacon.

Robert and I had been talking about making bacon, tomato and cheese sandwiches on the panini grill, so I picked up these gorgeous heirloom tomatoes at Whole Foods, cooked the bacon, checked the cheese drawer for the extra sharp cheddar, and ... the bread.  Oh.  Well yes, we've got perfectly good Pepperidge Farm sandwich bread in the house, but maybe perfectly good isn't good enough.

So before I have to head out for yet another appointment - this one to the dentist - I am going to ready the bread machine to bake up a white bread.  Let's see how the panini grill does with that.

My CT scan got cancelled this morning because the insurance authorization did not come through as of yet.  This has me a little pissed off at AvMed, but just a little. Things happen, and besides, their prescription drug program rocks.  So we reset for next week, and God willing and the crick don't rise, there won't be any more delays.

My head is still scrambled and I am loathe to tackle the ADA and FMLA paperwork because of that.  It is difficult for me to break down and understand instructions and when I try to read explanations or just plain blocks of information, my brain "shorts out" and my eyes (even with my new glasses) start to skitter across the page.  Perfect example - I want to leave the bread machine on time delay, so that it will be ready close to dinner.  I go to read the instructions for using the time delay feature and I get confused by the reference to adding hours to arrive at a certain time.  I have to calm down and re-read the instructions twice before I can perform this simple task.  Once upon a time I passed the Florida bar exam ... the good news is that I haven't misplaced my coffee cup lately.

Made it to the dentist.  Driving with my new glasses was awesome.  I felt so empowered by my new specs, I headed over to the Asian market on my way home, in search of dark soy sauce.  Got the soy sauce, found the five-spice powder (I am certain the bottle I have been using has been open since George W's first term of office), thus putting me in position for tomorrow's experiments in cooking.  Two nice pieces of pork belly ... two different marinades, both Asian.  My little Asian market also saved me a trip to Walmart in search of frozen mussels, which will form the basis of the sauce to be poured over Cory's squid ink pasta.  Yeah, I'm not going to eat the squid ink pasta either, but my son loves it.  Hopefully the finished dish will be at least as good as the one he had in Miami, maybe even as good as what he ate in Bologna, Italy.

Since I can now see the world around me, I noticed a big, honking billboard on John Young Parkway, while driving to the dentist, which annoyed me.  It has annoyed me in the past, but then when I started driving in a fog, I avoided driving distances and thus forgot about it.  Big sign, advertising a church for "real" people.  What do they mean by "real" people?  "Real" people as opposed to what?  Artificial people? Cyborgs? Robots? Wookies? Other Christians?  Bah!

I'm here to tell you that the best damn grilled cheese sandwich started with the best damn white bread.  Nothing quite that delicious had ever come out of my bread machine, and after using it to make these sammies, I may never eat packaged bread again.

The white bread recipe is easy.  Even an Uptown Girl can make it.

This is the order in which my bread machine manufacturer recommends adding the ingredients.  The water should be warm, between 105 and 110 degrees.  Baby bottle temperature.  All other ingredients should be room temperature.

1 cup water
1 extra-large egg
3 1/2 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I use kosher)
1/3 cup dry whole milk (I use Nestle brand "Nido" or you can use nonfat)
2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
3 tablespoons butter

Add everything in the order given, through and including the dry milk.  Very gently and carefully stir the dry ingredients just to combine.  Do not go too deep or you will expose the wet ingredients, which you do not want to do. Tap the bread pan against the counter once or twice to even out the ingredients, and then with a wooden spoon, form a shallow well in the center, and add the yeast.  Divide the butter into four even pieces, and place one on each corner around the pan.  Bake on the basic or white setting.  Let the bread cool a bit before removing it from the pan.

Each sandwich uses two thick-cut slices of the white bread, Hellman's mayonnaise, three slices of your favorite cheese, two slices from a gorgeous heirloom tomato, three pieces of crispy bacon, and some coarse salt.  Spread some mayonnaise on each slice of bread.  On one of the slices begin stacking two slices of cheese, the tomato, some salt on each slice of tomato, the bacon, and the last slice of cheese.  Finish by putting the second piece of bread on top of everything.

Spread a little more mayonnaise on the outside of each slice of bread, and cook according to your panini grill's instructions, or in preheated nonstick skillet.

Look at that gorgeous sandwich!  Tomato soup?  You don't need no stinking tomato soup with this baby!  Add a pickle and you've got your green vegetable, if you are that kind of person.  Or just go naked, and be the envy of every puppy on your living room couch.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Walk This Way - Peace, Love, Pork Belly

Thursday, Day 7 - Today's ear worm is courtesy of Steven Tyler and Aerosmith.  The full lyrics are a bit naughty, and have nothing to do with today's post, but the "walk this way" joke has been around since vaudeville.

Walk this way, talk this way
Walk this way, talk this way
Ah, just give me a kiss ...

The best part of this song, besides the opening guitar, is the story behind the inspiration for the song title and lyrics.

This may be an urban legend, but the story goes that the band had the music, but no lyrics to go with it.  They took a break, went to the movie theatre and saw Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein", found this scene beyond hilarious, and the rest is Aerosmith history.

So glad it only took me a week to figure out that I have to get up and out each day.  You know, walk - the only exercise I can still do - so that I don't become one with the couch.  Some day I hope to try tai chi, which is actually recommended for folks with chronic pain, but for now, it's walking, with or without my cane.  Even though I had to give up tae kwon do, at least while I was working I was moving.  Back and forth, up and down.  I always got up and walked to the copy machine each time I printed out a few pages, even called it my cardio.  

While I'm on leave, sitting around the house, if I am not careful I'll end up sitting around the house (a very bad Orson Welles joke).  I don't want to lose anymore weight, and it seems to have finally stopped its precipitous slide down, but I don't want to start gaining again either.  So walk I will, making a conscious effort to do so.

Part of the problem is that my dogs don't hunt - nor do they walk.  Not one of them is leash-trained, which is why we spend a small fortune for paper towels and pee pee pads. I have a fairly new baby stroller put aside, which I originally bought to take walks with Athene.  Because I suffer tremendous Jewish guilt at the thought of treating one dog better than the other, I also tried shlepping the two (and later three) other dogs along, on leashes.  How many ways can you express disaster?  I like to think I learned from that experience, and will restrict myself to one dog-at-a-time accompanying me on my strolls.  Or more likely, I will plug in my iPhone, set it to music, and boogie on down the road.

At this very moment, I am a bit of a nervous wreck.  For one thing, I have to drive a distance, and I haven't picked up my new glasses yet.  For two things, I am headed to one of a multitude of appointments, but this one is special.  I wasn't certain whether I should mention it here, as it is rather personal (no, not the gynecologist - that's next week), but I suppose it is integral to my story.

Driving to my appointment was a hoot.  A bad hoot, as I was as near-sighted as Mr. Magoo, and I had to drive on the turnpike as well as I-4.  Oy.  But I made it there, and the meeting was productive.  There will be further meetings, once a week for as long as it takes.  Last time, it took ten years.

After the appointment I headed straight to Whole Foods in Dr. Phillips.  I wanted pork belly, peace and tranquility, and I knew I could get all three there.  I spent a marvelous time shopping; let's face it, I always feel better after a couple of hours walking around a food market.  I picked up stuff I can only get there - a certain brand of kimchee for Cory, good smoked whitefish salad, fresh pasta, aged Gouda for Rob, quinoa salad for me.  Keep your kale, I'm into quinoa this season.  I'm so juiced about fresh pork belly that I don't have to soak for three days to remove the salt, I can't wait to cook it.  I want Asian flavors, and I remember seeing the perfect recipe - somewhere.  I'll find it, and if I can't find it, I'll invent it.

Soundbite of the Day: Never underestimate the intelligence of your family pets.  As you may know, my Yorkie boy Woody can talk.  He has a knowledge and understanding of English that is rather impressive.  Just today, when I told him he was going to have a shower, he replied "don't want."  When I repeated myself, he gave me a dirty look, turned his back on me, and walked upstairs.  He can say things like Mama, Raba (Robert) and Ira.  Smart dog.

But the real story here has to do with Ira's "spot", the place on my left side where he slept glued to me for many years.  In my blog post from just this week, I wrote about how none of my furry kids would occupy that spot, even though I had repeatedly invited them to do so.

Well ... last night, I began to suspect that Anakin might be reading my blog ... tonight, I was utterly convinced that Anakin and Chelsea have been reading the blog together, and decided to gaslight me.  Make me think I'm losing my mind (not a far leap these days) by each doing exactly what I said they had never done.  I don't know what's weirder - that they know how to read, or that they gained access to a computer.

Incidentally, the Mel Brooks movie with the most great lines is "History of the World, Part I", including my favorite "walk this way" sight joke.  He recycles the joke in two other movies, "Robin Hood - Men in Tights", and the second "Producers" movie (the one based on the Broadway play).

My favorite Mel Brooks movie?  Whichever one I happen to be watching at the time.  Mel Brooks is a comedic genius, the greatest stand-up philosopher of modern times.  It's good to be the King.  Long may he reign.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Uptight, Out of Sight - Beef Empanadas, Part 2

Wednesday, Day 6 - Did not sleep most of last night.  Insane itching takes its toll.  I am as crabby as Baltimore with none of the charm.  Instead of relaxing, this time out of the office is making me feel like an old Stevie Wonder song.  I still have a bunch of medical appointments coming up and there is no comfort in that.  Who knows what they will find?  Or not find? How long will I need to be on leave? Will I ever be able to go back to work? What if I can't go back?

Okay, enough of this spit.  Things could be a lot worse.  I could live and work in Ferguson, Missouri for instance, instead of within easy driving distance of The Happiest Place on Earth.

I could be undergoing chemotherapy, like too many of my friends are having to do.

Very bad news this morning out of Eglin Air Force Base, in the Florida Panhandle, where 11 Marines were killed in a helicopter crash.  Yesterday, more terrible news created by ISIS, yet another beheading, where the knife-wielding militant was a child.  There's something to put on his resume.

And it's a good thing I'm not running for President, because like Hillary, I delete personal emails.  Hello, who doesn't?  If you don't periodically delete emails, you get a nastygram from your carrier, and no one can get hold of you and you end up missing a lot of important messages.

I could be a Republican.  Or I could be a Democrat.  Either way, it's bad news.

Despite a slow start, there was some good news today.  I finished the beef empanadas, and according to my husband, they are "the best."   I also gave Chelsea that bath she so badly needed.  A nice, long soak in warm, medicated suds; conditioning for her hair, and I trimmed her bangs; and a blow dry which left her looking pretty, if I say so myself.

Beef Empanadas, Part 2

When last we met to cook, we had finished preparing the filling for the empanadas.  I then refrigerated the filling for two days, but an overnight would also work to let the flavors fully develop, and the temperature and texture come together for easy scooping.

This will fill 14 discs. Each package of Goya Discos has 10 pastry discs. So you can have leftover filling or leftover discs. This time I voted for leftover filling, which will not go to waste.  Next time I may opt for leftover discs, and then will fill them with apple pie filling or leftover mashed potatoes and fried onions.  You get the idea.

So to finish this recipe, you will need:
1 - 14 oz. package frozen Goya Discos (white, not yellow), defrosted
Wondra flour
canola oil, for frying

Place each disc on wax paper that has been lightly sprinkled with Wondra flour in the center of the paper.

Sprinkle a light dusting of Wondra over the disc, and then place the second piece of wax paper on top of that.

Gently roll the disc out so that it is slightly larger and pliable.

Place 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of the disc. Use your finger, dipped in a small dish of water, to dampen the edge of the bottom half of the disc. Fold the top half over the filling so that the edges of the disc meet neatly, and with a small amount of pressure seal the edges shut.  Use the tines of a fork to press down around the entire edge, sealing the empanada.

Heat about an inch of oil in a large skillet and fry the empanadas in batches, until golden brown on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels and drain the empanadas.

We ate these "as is" but ideally there would be sour cream and homemade guacamole and maybe salsa, and a side of refried beans "with everything", another on my list of recipes to be tried.  Corn and black bean salad?  With jicama.  Working on it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Long and Beautiful Life (A Cat's Story)

Tuesday, Day 5 - Cleaning out the pet food pantry last night, I came across his needles and needle clippers and his medicine droppers.  I was crouched down on the floor, and I hugged the box I found them in, and I cried.  His bottle of insulin is still in its special spot in the refrigerator; I can't bring myself to discard it, any more than I can discard his predecessor's prescription bottle for thyroid medication from 1990.

I will never forget the look on his face as our vet gave him the shot that would relieve his pain and suffering forever.  Ira wasn't ready for the Big Sleep, even though he was full of cancer and he'd been having violent seizures for two solid days, and was so drugged with phenobarbital I don't know how he managed to open his eyes.  I was standing next to Dr. Vega, Ira's "personal physician" - a wonderful vet at Hunter's Creek Animal Hospital - and Ira looked at us both, a trifle balefully, as if to say, "Hey! Not yet, I'm not done fighting this thing!"

And what a furry fighter he'd been.  Over 2 years fighting feline diabetes, taking his injections in the back of his neck, twice a day, like a trooper. Then six months before, he developed horrible seizures, so severe I thought I was going to lose him before I got him to the Animal Hospital, where Dr. Vega was waiting for us.  I'm not sure how I got there without being pulled over by FHP, because I was driving way above the speed limit with one hand, while trying to hold Ira steady as he continued to seize on the car seat.  I remember telling him, "not yet, not like this", and he hung on, and Dr. Vega was able to stabilize him, and he had no more seizures until those two days before he died.

This is the cat that slept right up close to my face so he could breathe the air I exhaled. As he got closer to the end of his long and beautiful life, I had to carry him upstairs every night, while he wrapped his front paws around my neck.  Always affectionate, he became even more so, gluing himself to my left side as I sat on the couch watching television or in bed reading a book.  These days, none of our pets will sleep next to me on the left side, even though I've invited them to do so.  Anakin, the Last Cat Standing, will sit there for a few minutes, but then he always leaves what will be eternally thought of as "Ira's spot."  The real spot, of course, is in my heart.

So I overdid today, not because of Ira but despite my sorrow and depression. I had several appointments, each one taking well over an hour, and I got gas for the car, and I went into Target to check on my new glasses and now I am tired and hurting and bordering on crabby. Someone or something was just driving sharp hot needles into my right arm and underarm, which is scary because that's where I had a tumor removed in 2006.  It was thankfully nonmalignant, but until I got to that point in the diagnostic process - well, you can imagine.

Obvious to me, if not to you, I did not make any additional progress on those empanadas.  Fortunately the fridge is full of cooked food (and I'm always willing to fry an egg) otherwise we all would have starved several days ago, our last coherent thought of unfinished empanadas.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I Get Weak - Beef Empanadas, Part 1

Happy Monday! Day 4 of my banishment approved sick leave.  I can't get out of bed.  My back is on fire, my legs hurt,  I feel weak.  Oh heck, it's been a while since I tossed you an ear worm; let's start this week right:

When I'm with you
I shake inside

My heart's all tangled up
My tongue is tied it's crazy

Can't walk, can't talk, can't eat, can't sleep
Oh, I'm in love, oh I'm in deep 'cuz baby

With a kiss you can strip me defenseless
With a touch I completely lose control

'Til all that's left of my strength is a memory,

Whoa oh oh oh oh whoa, 

I ... I ... I get weak ...

I must look like hell ... all five of my furry children are not only on the bed with me, but tucked up against me.  Always a bad sign.  Well, I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and haul my tuchis out of bed.  Owwwww!  

I made some more appointments for the upcoming week - one with my dentist, the other with Decent Nails.  I love the name; after all who would go to a place called Indecent Nails?  The staff all speak Vietnamese and 95% of the clientele speak Spanish.  I speak absolutely no Vietnamese, unless you count "pho" and "banh mie", and my knowledge of Spanish got stuck in eighth grade.  (El cielo esta nublado.  Estoy cansada.  Hace frio, or calor.  I use those a lot, as I am hypersensitive to changes in temperature.)  But I've been going to Decent Nails for years, and I very much like the lady who takes care of me, so it all works out.

Today, though ... today it hurts to stand for very long.  My mind is doing its skitter routine, which is not helped by the fact that I just received another packet of papers from the Department, to be filled out regarding this leave I am taking.  Because my thoughts are mildly scrambled, it is difficult for me to read and fully understand the fifty pages of important information, as well as to fill out the forms before passing them on to the right person.

That will have to wait a little longer ... in the meantime, the sun coming in from my kitchen window is warm and lovely, making it an awesome time to do dishes.  I love having a kitchen window over my sink, and this one faces south, so it is always bright and warm.  I also have a great view of Clyde Street, which can be very entertaining.  All those motorcycles coming from the Frankenstein house ... beautiful hundred-year old houses with stately trees just as old if not older ... the lights from the railroad crossing at what has to be the craziest, most dangerous corner in the state of Florida.  That intersection of Clyde, Clay (completely unpaved), Lakeview, and the railroad tracks is as twisted as Kim Jong-un's brain, and just as deadly. 

But first, I am going to make the filling for the Beef Empanada, or die trying.  I'm not foolish enough to commit to filling and frying the pastry discs today, but damn it, I can at least stand long enough to chop and fry an onion!

This is my adaptation of the Goya recipe found online.  I made several substantial changes, which I think work very well.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef chuck
2 packets Goya Sazon con Culantro y Achiote (Coriander and Annatto) 
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Black pepper, to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1/4 cup Goya Sofrito (Tomato Cooking Base)
1 - 8 oz. can tomato sauce
12 Manzanilla olives stuffed with minced pimento, sliced
1/4 cup golden raisins

Optional re-seasoning:2 tablespoons Goya Sofrito
1 teaspoon ground cuminKosher salt
Black pepper
Granulated garlic

In a large deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high.  Add the onion, green pepper, and garlic.  Stir and cook about 5 minutes.  Break up the beef before adding it to the skillet.  Once added, continue to break it up with a wooden spoon (or as I do, using a pastry scraper).  Lower the heat to medium.  While the beef is cooking, sprinkle it with the sazon, oregano, cumin, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, and stir to distribute the seasonings.  Stir in the sofrito, and then the tomato sauce.  Lower the heat to medium-low and let this simmer for about 15 minutes.  Take the skillet off the heat.  Once the mixture has cooled, turn it into a colander set in the sink, and let the extra fat drain off. Wipe out the skillet with paper towels, and return the mixture to the pan.  Taste and re-season, if desired.

At this point, I am going to cover up the filling and refrigerate it until I'm ready (and able) to finish the empanadas by stuffing the pastry discs and frying them.  That's Part 2.  That's tomorrow, or maybe the day after. When pain is the name of the game, you never know if you'll feel up to playing.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Fly Me to the Moon - The Ballad of Darth Kitten

Sunday - What is with this cat?  Anakin Skywalker, my 7-year old kitty, abandoned by his cat mother at the age of 2 weeks, on the side of this house, Last Cat Standing since I lost Ira in August - this previously normal cat, affectionate at times, coolly independent most of the time - has turned into a dog.  This cat won't let me sleep, he won't let me type on the iPad - he only wants to stand on me or the keyboard, or he wants to sit in my lap, occasionally reaching out with a paw to pet me, purring madly the whole time.  The Force is strong with this one.

I lost an hour today and I am pissed.  This daylight savings thing always skews my chi and confuses the hell out of my operating system (the one between my ears).  Same thing happens when I cross into another time zone.  I suffer from jet lag when we drive to Panama City, because some idiot decided to bifurcate Florida into two time zones.  Fly me to the Moon - or say, Portland, Oregon - and I am completely wasted for a week.

The itching in my left hand is so bad I took a Hydroxyzine during the day, which I normally never do, because it makes me drowsy.  Fortunately, I'm not driving today, nor am I engaged in the practice of law.  Depressingly, my normal Sunday shopping routine has totally knocked me out.  There will be no cooking today.  Oh yes there will.  I made Robert an omelet for dinner.  I love making omelets.  He loves eating omelets.  I love omelets for dinner.  I grew up eating these fabulous kosher salami omelets for dinner. Good memories.

Tomorrow begins my first full week on leave.  Part of me is relieved to be dodging the stress bullet.  The other part of me that likes to be in control, is upset that my life has come to this.  The New York subway rider in me is feeling vindictive.  Oops.  Can't let her (me) take control of the situation. This is, after all, juvenile court in Kissimmee, not the "A" train during rush hour.

I think it would be very easy to sink into a deep, dark depression because I cannot go to work. I have to stay engaged in activities that are within my physical and mental limitations.  I have to plan ahead for each day.  I have to make lists.  I have to feel useful.  I have to follow up with all my doctor and lab appointments.  I have to pray, not for me but for all the other people, friends and family, who are facing acute medical issues that are, to my mind, worse than what I am dealing with.  There are so many of them, all ages, so many different situations. Life is not only not fair, it is batsh*t crazy.  The people I pray for do not deserve to suffer.

Oh geez, the cat is back ...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chip It, Chip It Good - St. Cloud Crockpot Cioppino

Saturday - My sweet Lord.   I really want a cruise.  I really need a cruise.  Not this minute, of course, but soon, very soon.  I have been checking out the cruise schedules at Carnival, and there are several that are suitable in terms of sailing dates, itinerary, and designated ship.  We got spoiled by the Carnival Sunshine last year.  As the family travel agent, I want to ensure we are spoiled again this year.

In the meantime, I am caught in a cooking conundrum which has resulted in my skittering between my pantry and my freezer repeatedly, shuffling cans and pulling out bags of frozen seafood, searching for recipes, rejecting everything and starting from scratch.  I am missing ingredients but I don't want to go out today but I do want to make the cioppino and the beef empanadas.  I just made another cup of coffee, and my feeling is now, screw it, I'll cook with what I have.  So I will.  When my neck and back don't ache as much.

So, I decided  to make cioppino in the crockpot.  This is inspired by a recipe I found at this site, and while I could not follow it precisely thanks to the poorly stocked market at the St. Cloud Walmart, I think I captured the spirit.  Remember, cioppino is all about what the fishermen "chipped in" to the communal cooking pot each day. You can see how flexible the recipe is in terms of seafood additions.

St. Cloud Crockpot Cioppino

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 2 medium sweet onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch of celery leaves, chopped
  • kosher salt
  • white pepper
  • 2 - 14.5 oz. cans of Hunts diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 - 32 oz.container  Swanson Seafood Stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups white Zinfandel wine
  • 1 pound bag frozen large easy peel shrimp, defrosted in cold water, peeled, tails off
  • 1 1/2 pound bag frozen seafood medley (calamari, mussels, shrimp, scallops), defrosted in cold water
  • 1 - 6 oz. can Bumble Bee Fancy Lump Crabmeat, drained and rinsed with cold water
  • 1 - 8 oz. can Bumble Bee Fancy Whole Oysters, undrained
Melt the butter in a medium pot.  Add the onions, garlic, celery leaves, some kosher salt and white pepper, and cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent.  Add the tomatoes, seafood stock, bay leaves, basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, granulated garlic, sugar, and wine.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat so the soup simmers, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Transfer the soup to a crockpot.  Cover and cook on low for an hour and a half.  Stir several times during the cooking, and after the first hour, taste and re-season if necessary.  Stir in the shrimp and seafood medley, cover and cook on low another 15 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and firm.  Add the crabmeat and oysters, cover the crockpot and then turn it off.  Let it stay covered another 15 minutes, so that the crabmeat and oysters warm through.  Serve with garlic bread.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I've Got a Little List - Backpacker Brownies

Friday, Day 3 - Who knew that morning TV was so darn awful?  I like to watch the news, but our local channel, News 13, is one long advertisement for personal injury attorneys imploring you to beware of insurance company attorneys, broken up by short news stories that repeat over and over again.  The weather takes longer than the news.  One growl and two yawns for that bit of programming.

And who watches eight episodes in a row - that's four freaking hours - of "Sex and the City" first thing in the morning?  Ewwwwww ...

I admit it could be a lot worse - I could be sitting in court at this very minute, trying to manage the 18 witnesses I had to subpoena two weeks ago, for three different trials set for "cattle call" at the same time.  Not the way I am accustomed to doing things, and while time-certain trials are not a perfect scheduling device either, at least I successfully managed to avoid pissing off the entire medical and therapeutic community.  Maybe I'm exaggerating just a bit.  Literary license. What I am not exaggerating is my back pain, coupled with Insane Itching in my left hand and foot.  This is slowing down my dishwashing progress, while speeding up my coffee-drinking and web-surfing.  I am surfing for seafood soup recipes, and I think I found what I am looking for, which is coincidentally what Cory requested in lieu of dill pickle soup.  I love that dill pickle soup, but it would not be his first choice on a soup and salad bar.

I already have several items on my cooking list, so what's one more? Backpacker Brownies, beef empanadas, hamantaschen, and now, cioppino, the San Francisco seafood treat.  I am going to take my time - what else have I got? - so that I don't stand in one spot for too long and aggravate my already aggravated little body.  Growing old sucks and so does CPS.  Some of my cooking plans will require a trip to Walmart, so I may have to start with the brownies.  (Everybody all together now: awwwwww ...)

The dishwasher is swooshing, and the Backpacker Brownies are in the oven.  It smells good in here.

Speaking of lists, I've got all of my PCP-recommended appointments set, which impressed even me.  I so impressed myself, I am going to add my dentist to the call list.

The news, when I bother to watch it, is depressing.  The Prez is in a pissing match with Bibi, and my money is on the Bibster.  The media is still picking on Hillary.  Dr. Ben Carson, who I have liked in the past, has publicly lost his mind.  He announced that homosexuality must be a choice, because straight men go into prison, and their experiences there turn them gay. (All of my gay family and friends, this would be a good time to let out a big, collective "aw, jeez ...")  Harrison Ford, my all-time favorite actor, crash-landed yesterday.  Fortunately he landed on a golf course, and there were several doctors immediately on site to help him.  That's not a Doctor Joke, that's the truth.  It won't stop snowing up north.  That's why we call it global warming.  That's a joke.  And I'm off to Walmart.

Those Backpacker Brownies, which are inspired by Camilla Saulsbury's awesome Ultimate Shortcut Cookie Book, are like a Chunky Bar on speed. Chocolate, fruit, nuts, chocolate, oats, chocolate ... did I mention chocolate?  So here is the recipe, and a picture.   Drooling is optional.

1 - regular size package brownie mix
3 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup half-and-half
1 1/3 cup quick cooking oats (not instant), divided
1 1/2 cup lightly salted mixed nuts (I make my own snacking mixture: roasted pecans, cashews, pistachios, and peanuts), coarsely chopped, divided
1 cup dried cranberries and/or raisins
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I combined 1 cup chocolate +1/2 cup butterscotch chips), divided

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with non-stick spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the brownie mix, eggs, oil, and half-and-half.  Mix with a wooden spoon just until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.  Stir in 1 cup of the oats, 1 cup of the chip, 1 cup of the nuts, and all of the dried fruit.  Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle the top with the remaining oats, nuts, fruit, and chips.  Bake for 28 to 30 minutes until the brownies are firm and the edges have started to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Let cool completely on a rack before cutting.

I did not cut these myself, as they were intended as a hostess gift, and they are already on their way to the intended reipients.  I think I would remove them from the pan, place them on a large cutting board, and cut them with a long serrated knife, like a bread knife.

Something possessed me to do my shopping at the St. Cloud Walmart. The good news is that I actually found several pairs of slacks that should hopefully fit me.  The bad news is that I could not find some of the major ingredients for the cioppino, including items I normally find in Walmart. The other good news is that I found other stuff, like spinach and feta popcorn chips (very good) and unwrapped white chocolate Kit Kat minis. Also canned baby whole clams, canned whole oysters, crawfish tails, a rather handsome corned beef brisket for hash, and the ground beef for the empanadas.  So I have ideas and I have options, based on the content of my freezer and pantry.  I also have time to do more shopping elsewhere, as Cory will be gone all day tomorrow and the cioppino won't be needed until Sunday evening.

The Magic won tonight, but not before I became emotional and used language that would blister paint off the side of a barn. Well worth the spike in blood pressure.  Go Magic!

Friday, March 6, 2015

The New Normal - Hoisin Chicken Drumsticks

Thursday - my second full day of leave.  I miss my office peeps terribly, but it is still a tremendous relief not to have to go to court.  My physical, cognitive, and emotional struggles are real, and the current court environment only exacerbates my symptoms.  Best to recognize that and move along.

In the meantime I am trying to organize my thoughts and prioritize various tasks I included on my list.  I am an inveterate list-maker, and the worst part of coming apart at the seams was losing my ability to pull it all together by making a list.

Right now, I am engaged in a great inner debate regarding what to do with these chicken drumsticks.  My original plan was to roast them after marinating them in a hoisin marinade from my new Chinese Takeout Cookbook.  That recipe is intended for chicken wings, but the idea of meaty drumsticks appealed to me, so here we are.  On the other hand, I've been thinking of smoking them in the oven, using the mesquite oven smoker bag I picked up on sale a few weeks ago.

Okay, I think I see where this is going.  Hoisin Chicken Drumsticks it is.

While they marinate - I had a productive day.  First of all, I made some rules for myself:  Get up and out of bed at a reasonable hour; take medication and vitamins; put in dentures and earrings;  get dressed (it used to drive me nuts that my grandmother-who-raised-me always wore a housecoat.  I promised myself that when I grew up, I would always get dressed during the day).

This may sound petty, but I am trying to maintain some degree of normalcy.  Ha!

I made calls, I made appointments, I made salad, and  the marinade for the aforementioned chicken.   I made a shopping list.  I emailed Terry.  I hung out on Facebook for a while.  Just one more phone call and the dishes, and I am calling it a day.  My energy level is deescalating and I feel the beginning of pain in the back of my head.  Ha ha, left shoulder.  Left arm, pins and needles.  Time for a nap.

And so I slept on the couch with my little girl curled up near my face.  So nice to be able to rest when I need to.

The chicken is finished, and it is good.  Tasty, but a trifle spicy, which makes sense since this recipe is  really designed for wings.  Next time I would cut the cayenne pepper back to 1/2 teaspoon.

Hoisin Chicken Drumsticks, adapted from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook

4 pounds chicken drumsticks

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup hoisin sauce (I use Kikkoman brand)
1/4 cup white rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

white sesame seeds (optional)

Place the drumsticks into a 9 by 13 aluminum baking pan. Whisk together all remaining ingredients, excluding the sesame seeds.  Pour over the drumsticks, turning them to coat with the marinade.  Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Uncover the chicken and place in the oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and using tongs, carefully turn each drumstick, spooning the marinade over each one.  Return the pan to the oven for an additional 20 minutes; remove and sprinkle on the sesame seeds.  Return to the oven for a final 15 minutes until the chicken is well-browned.  If you like, you can finish it under the broiler after basting one more time with the marinade.

This has a very slight sweetness from the hoisin, but is in no way a sweet sauce.  I think I would like to serve it with a nice fried rice, maybe even a pineapple fried rice.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pick Your Poison - Egg Salad and Garlic Bread

Wednesday - My first full day on approved sick leave.  It is hard to gather my thoughts about this and other things. My head is not working well, which is why the decision was made, not by me, but for me, by compassionate supervisors.

There is more to the story (isn't there always?) but now is not the time.

Today I have a bunch of forms from my human resources department that need to be downloaded, printed, and attended to.  I tried reading some of them yesterday, and again today, but the words were shuffling in front of my eyes and I could not extract their meaning.  Let's try this again tomorrow, shall we?  I also have to make an appointment for a CAT scan of my brain, but can't do that right now, either.

"This is your brain on spaetzle"

Having said all of the things I can't do, let me think about what I can do.  I can make egg salad, and I can prepare some more garlic bread.  I can also complete the blog post on spaetzle and publish it.  I prepared the spaetzle on Monday evening, a final remnant of happier times, ha.  More like a moment of calm between storms.

Does anyone still eat egg salad?  Or is there anyone who doesn't know how to make it?  All I really need to say here is that I love it - that I now hard cook my eggs in the oven, 350 for 30 minutes - that I break up the cooled and peeled eggs with my favorite utensils, my hands - and that all they need to taste perfect is mayonnaise (yes, Hellmans, why do you even ask?), kosher salt, and white pepper.

Can I tell you how weird it is to be sitting in my favorite couch corner and watching everyone else going to court?

So the egg salad is done, and I am working on the garlic bread.  I bet there is a whole generation, maybe even two, of kids who think garlic bread comes from the freezer section of their local supermarket.  When I first learned to make this back in college, we used garlic powder, which still works just fine, but I now use 4 cloves of fresh, 1 stick of butter softened to room temperature, 1 heaping tablespoon mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and some variation on Italian seasoning.  Today I went with a touch of cayenne pepper, basil, oregano, a little sugar to balance the oregano, and a dusting of grated Romano.  Wrap it in aluminum foil, shiny side on the inside, and bake at just about any temperature until the butter is melted and the bread is as crusty as you like it.

I love this bread.

And now my head is starting to hurt.  I tried to watch television at around 5 pm, but even when I lowered the sound, it hurt my ears.  Then I got annoyed at everyone on The Five for picking on Hillary Clinton.  I don't know what I expected, since they always pick on Hillary.  Then I got annoyed at Hillary, who I have wholeheartedly supported for years, for getting herself into yet another situation. Then I got annoyed at William Devane and his damn Rosland Capital commercials.  Then I tried watching CNBC - that lasted all of 30 seconds - and switched over to the Weather Channel for something totally non-political.  That got me depressed for all the people up north, who are facing something called Winter Storm Thor.

Oh dear God in Heaven, now subpoenas have been issued for Hillary's private email communications while Secretary of State.  I am so damn tired of Clinton scandals.  I am also tired of Congressman Trey Gowdy's hair-do.  He reminds me of the Bob's Big Boy statue.  The man has had more hair-do changes than Cher.

I am not, however, tired of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  It seems I have picked my poison, at least for this evening.  But wait!  The Magic are playing the Phoenix Suns.  And the dill pickle soup went down just fine.

Life is good.  Different, but good.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Just Before the Storm - Spaetzle

Monday - If egg noodles and dumplings got married and had a child, it would be spaetzle.  Spaetzle is the German name for these cute little egg dumplings, while in Hungarian cuisine these are referred to as galuska or nokedli.  A rose by any other name and all that jazz.  My husband's Hungarian Grandma Blanche used to make something called "nuckaluck" (my spelling) which I presume was the same, or similar.  I don't know how Grandma Blanche made them, but I do require the services of a spaetzle maker.  Non-electric, inexpensive, indispensable.


2 cups all-purpose flour
4 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
white pepper, to taste
water, as needed (about 2 tablespoons)
butter for the cooked spaetzle
non-stick spray

Fill a medium pot 2/3 full and set on the stove to boil.  Add a good amount of salt to the water.  Spray the spaetzle maker with the non-stick spray.

In large bowl, place about a tablespoon or two of cut up butter.

Put the flour into a medium bowl and with a wooden spoon, make a well in the center.  Crack the eggs into the well, and add the kosher salt and pepper.  Start mixing the egg and flour together with the wooden spoon until well combined .  Add a little water as needed to make a smooth, but sticky batter.

Position the spaetzle maker over the boiling water, and let gravity push the batter through the holes of the spaetzle maker while you slide the holder back and forth, into the boiling water. Cook the spaetzle for at least five minutes, until they are tender, then remove from the pot using a slotted spoon.  Let the excess water drip off each spoonful, and then add to the bowl with the butter.  Continue until all of the spaetzle has been removed to the large bowl, and then add another tablespoon of cut up butter and stir gently so that the spaetzle is lightly coated with melted butter.  Season with more salt and pepper to taste.  You serve this plain, or as the recipient of a tasty sauce.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Good-bye, yellow brick road

Tuesday - And in the end, fibromyalgia won.

It is going to take me a little while - hours, days, weeks - to process the last day.  But I believe that everything happens for a reason.

I'm not trying to be mysterious.  I am on sick leave for now, at least until I can resolve my health issues.  I have a few more tests coming up in the near future.

In the meantime ... well, I don't know what I am going to be doing.  Trying to de-stress, I suppose.  Now there's a plan.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Whole Megillah - Hamantaschen (Cookies for Purim)

My son reminded me that Purim begins at sundown on Wednesday, March 4, and I have yet to bake a single hamantaschen.  Oy, if I'm not careful, somebody is going to come along and take away my balaboosteh designation.  Can't let that happen.

Cory as Mordecai, circa 1997, giving advice to "Queen" Esther

I have two hamantaschen recipes, and this is my favorite, as it is closest to the cookie-like dough I grew up eating in New York.  Purim is a rather happy holiday, and we Jews are not only permitted but encouraged to be rowdy.  The adults can get verschnickert, while the kids can buzz around on excess sugar.  The important thing is to yell "boo!" whenever the villain's name, Haman, is spoken during the reading of the Megillah, and to eat a lot of hamantaschen.

Urban Baker Hamantaschen (adapted from Joan Nathan)

2/3 cup (10 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 extra large egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking powder
a pinch of kosher salt

Filling choices: Prune (lekvar) and apricot are the fillings I grew up with.  Poppy seed (mohn) is very traditional, and raspberry has become very popular (and delicious).  Solo brand puts out all of these fillings, which are much better to use than preserves or jams which do not hold up well during the baking process and will leak from the seams of the cookie.  Nutella, that cocoa hazelnut mouthful of joy, is another filling that works well.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside. In the bowl of your food processor fitted with the metal blade, cream butter and sugar together.  Add egg and vanilla.  Slowly add dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly until the dough forms a ball.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Roll out dough on a floured work surface to 1/8″ thickness (I cut the dough into quarters, and rolled out each piece between sheets of wax paper.  Worked like a charm.)  Cut circles of your dough. with  a 3 inch round cookie cutter. In the center of each circle put a small amouth (scant 1 teaspoon) of filling.  Resist the impulse to overfill the cookie.  Dip your finger in some water and run your finger around the outer edge of the dough. Fold into a three cornered shape, allowing some of the filling to show. Line your baking sheet with a silicon baking pad (silpat), or parchment paper, place the hamantaschen about 2 inches apart, and bake for 14-16 minutes or until the outer edge is golden brown.  Remove from the baking sheet with a metal spatula and place on a cooling rack.

Hopefully, I'll have some photos to share of freshly-baked hamantaschen once I get around to actually baking them.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Size Really Does Matter - Monday Morning Mississippi Mud Brownies

Friday - I finished crocheting the hat and I am perplexed.  Even though I went down a bit on the size of the crochet hook, it is still, in my opinion, too big as well as too long.  So I frogged back one full row, and if and when I ever get up from this corner of the couch, I'll try it on and check in the mirror.  But I don't hold out much hope, and I see myself frogging back even more, and fiddling with the increases.

I find this frustrating.  The hat is pretty, and I like the yarn I picked, but it is simply not working out as a hat for a chemo patient.  If anything, it should be a little snug to make up for the lack of hair.  Now the pattern called for a 4.5 mm hook - that's a G hook.  I tend to crochet (and knit) a little loosely, so I almost always go down a size of hook or needle.  When I started to crochet the hat, I chose a 4.25 mm hook - that's a G hook.  Yes, I know.  But maybe I need to go down one more size, to a 4.0 mm hook.  That's a G hook.

Yeah, I know.  It's totally annoying.  Not only the whole size thing, but I know from experience that a 4.0 mm hook can result in a tight stitch, which is not usually desirable.  I see myself frogging the whole darn hat.  I see myself doing that tomorrow.

I also see myself making spaetzle tomorrow, to soak up flavors from the pork stew I made earlier in the week, and the sausage, peppers, and broccoli I threw into the crockpot earlier today. That's not a recipe, that's a clean-up-the-fridge sort of deal which relies on a jar of bottled marinara sauce to pull the ingredients - frozen Italian sausage, sweet baby peppers, onion, and frozen broccoli - together.  A can of diced tomatoes, Italian seasoning, granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and a touch of sugar.  Four hours on High.  Oops. I guess that's a recipe.  Enjoy.

Saturday - I know I told you about my new toy, a Cuisinart griddler (like a George Foreman - very cool).  Yesterday I finally unboxed it and tried it out.  What I had in mind was to try heating up a couple of  frozen Perdue chicken patties that have been in my freezer, unopened, long enough to be approaching their "use by" date.  The results were very positive; the patties were cooked through evenly and had a nice crust.   Tasty snacking with some honey-mustard sauce.

This morning I attempted a grilled cheese with bacon. Very simple - two slices of white sandwich bread, two slices of extra-sharp cheddar, a slice of cooked bacon broken up so as to fit on the sandwich.  I think I need to learn a little more about my cool new machine before I offer to whip up a half dozen grilled cheese for friends or family.

Please stop laughing.  Please.

One of the symptoms of fibromyalgia/CPS is a sudden change in vision.  I did not know that, and was totally unprepared for my inability to see at a distance, which developed over the past month.  It was scary; I could not see signs nor the faces of people walking towards me.  I have had the same eye prescription since I was a teenager, 20/500 in one eye and 20/550 in the other.  I always considered myself blind as a bat, and adapted to that reality a very long time ago.  Third grade, to be precise.  That's when the blackboard turned fuzzy and stayed fuzzy.

I made an appointment at Target Optical, where I have been getting my glasses for years.  Once I got there, I politely declined having my pupils dilated, and the exam went pretty quickly.  The good news is that I do not have cataracts.  The bad news, not unexpected, is that my vision has deteriorated, a lot.    Those new glasses cannot come fast enough.  20/700, for crying out loud.

Cooking plans for today went out the window, but for a good reason - we decided to go out for Thai food tonight, at Chai Thai in Hunter's Creek.  Oh my.  The food there is always fantastic and tonight was no different.  Robert ordered the roast duck with panang sauce; Cory had yum woosun, which had extra thin noodles and ground pork and other stuff; and I ordered the duck noodle soup.  The bowl was the size of a large mixing bowl and every element was both simple yet incredibly delicious. The hoisin chicken legs can wait till later in the week, and the spaetzle, well maybe tomorrow.

What could not wait were the brownies I wanted to bring in for my office peeps.  Since the recipe starts with a brownie mix and is ridiculously easy, I went ahead and finished them off.  They are pretty, with a marbled frosting of marshmallow fluff and chocolate frosting, and hopefully tasty.

Monday Morning Mississippi Mud Brownies

1 pkg, brownie mix
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup water
2 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup white (vanilla) chips
7-8 oz. marshmallow creme
1-1 lb. container creamy chocolate frosting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch baking pan with nonstick spray. In a medium mixing bowl combine the brownie mix, oil, water, and eggs.  Mix with a wooden spoon until just blended.  Stir in the chocolate chips and the vanilla chips.  Spread the batter into the baking pan.  Bake for 28 to 30 minutes.

Remove the brownies to a cooling rack.  Scoop the marshmallow creme onto the hot brownies, and as the creme softens, spread it across the entire top of the brownies.  Remove the cover and seal from the container of frosting.  Set in the microwave and cook for 30 seconds.  Stir it, then pour over the marshmallow.  With a butter knife, swirl the frosting and marshmallow to create a marbled look.  Cool completely before cutting.  I like to put frosted baked goods in the refrigerator, especially those I have to cut.  Pretty, right?