Friday, May 22, 2015

Orange You Glad You Clicked On Our Link Today? - Orange-Lacquered Pork

Three Dog Night

Thursday - The electrician is here, and any minute all power is going to be shut down so he can work without getting fried.  I did get to watch a little bit of the news today - first, I saw Judge Jon Morgan on the bench, in some case I haven't been following.  Now there's a really good judge. Serious, pleasant, respectful, well-versed in the area of law, in control of his courtroom, the consummate professional.  He covered the juvenile bench for several months in 2005 while the assigned judge dealt with some legal problems of his own.  We were truly sorry to see Judge Morgan go back to his regular bench.  Truly.  Sorry,

The other bit of news I saw this morning was an online video from WFTV here in Orlando, announcing they were investigating nepotism and other unfair practices in the Clerk of Courts office in Osceola.  A little late to the party, that WFTV.  This has been a big issue, covered by every other news agency, since the moment Armando Ramirez took over the position from Malcom Thompson, who had several newsworthy moments of his own during his thankfully brief tenure.

I had two cats named Dora, both now gone over Rainbow Bridge. Had to take this picture.

A rhetorical question here: do you really need Donald Trump's ego and Harry Reid's arrogance to run for public office?  Do you have to be amoral and believe that rules and laws are for other people? Does it help if you are rude and thoughtless, a bully and a liar? A cheat, a conniver?  Someone who perverts the whole meaning of public service?

Enough of that - for now.

This is what I decided to do with the pork loin that was part of that gorgeous package of porcine perfection I picked up at BJs. The stacked and stuffed chops were a definite success according to my   official tasters. This crockpot recipe is also good; you can slice the meat, or chop it.  Not sure about shredding.  It's good, no matter how you slice it.

Orange-Lacquered Pork

2 tablespoons roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil
3 pound boneless pork roast
Your favorite seasoning blend or just plain salt and pepper
1-18 oz. jar orange marmalade
about 1/2 cup beef stock
3 full sprigs of fresh thyme

Season the pork roast all over. Heat the oil in a large skillet, then sear the pork on all sides.  Transfer the pork roast to a crockpot. Add the entire jar of marmalade over the pork.  Pour the beef stock around the roast, so that the bottom of the crockpot is covered.  Add the thyme sprigs around the roast.  Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours, turning once. I cooked it for 12, and I think the meat came out a bit more done than I liked.  If you go with 10 hours, it should be more than enough to thoroughly cook the pork. Always check with a meat thermometer; the interior temperature should be between 145 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mine read 180 degrees, which was just south of dried out.  It was still moist enough to enjoy, however.

Remove the pork to a cutting board to rest before trying to slice it. Remove and discard the stems from the thyme.  The sauce is going to be very reduced; add a little fruit juice (I happened to have mango in the fridge) to dilute it just a bit.  Slice the roast, and serve it with the sauce ladled over.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Song Sung Blue - Stacked and Stuffed Pork Chops

Song sung blue, everybody knows one
Song sung blue, every garden grows one
Me and you are subject to

The blues now and then
But when you take the blues
And make a song
You sing 'em out again
You sing 'em out again

Song sung blue, weeping like a willow

Song sung blue, sleeping on my pillow
Funny thing,
But you can sing it with a cry in your voice
And before you know it get to feeling good
You simply got no choice

Tuesday - Finding myself in need of a stuffing recipe for 14 gorgeous boneless pork chops, I started to wrack my brain and the Internet, when I realized I'd had the perfect recipe all along.  It is something dreamed up by Rachael Ray when she was going through her creative-use-of-prebaked-muffins stage.  My version is very slightly different, all the credit goes to her.  How she puts flavors together never ceases to amaze me.

I have managed to prepare the stuffing, which is pretty damn amazing considering I had a a CPS attack in the middle of the day, but there is no way I'm going to be able to prepare and stuff the chops anytime today.  Besides, I am watching "The Five" on Fox (yes, Fox) and Kimberly Guilfoyle and Juan Williams damn near got into the center of the floor to try to knock each other out.  Smashing entertainment! 

4 thick-cut boneless pork chops, center cut, about 2 pounds
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup rioja or other dry red wine, eyeball it, about 1/4 of a bottle
1/2 cup black cherry preserves or all-fruit spread
2 cups beef stock, divided
1/2 pound linguica or chorizo, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 corn muffins, crumbled
1 teaspoon smoked paprika, eyeball it in your palm
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, 4 to 5 sprigs

Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil to the pan, 2 turns around the pan. Add the chops and caramelize the meat, 2 minutes on each side. Transfer meat to a sheet pan and place in the oven to finish cooking through, 12 to 15 minutes. Return pan to stove, reduce heat a bit and add butter to the skillet. Add flour to butter and cook 1 minute. Whisk wine into pan and reduce 1 minute then whisk in preserves and 1 cup of stock. Season with salt and coarse black pepper and let gravy thicken over low heat.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan. When oil smokes, add linguica or chorizo and brown, 2 minutes. Add the celery, onions, peppers, garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes then crumble muffins into the skillet and combine with vegetables. Dampen the stuffing with remaining 1 cup of stock and season with smoked paprika and thyme. Reduce heat to low and keep warm until ready to serve.

Remove meat from oven and whisk the drippings into your gravy. Pile stuffing on plates, chops alongside and ladle gravy over both. Scatter parsley over meat and stuffing.

My changes to the stuffing:
I used roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil to sauté the chourico and vegetables
I used Gaspar's Chourico, because Publix did not have any linguica
I used just one celery rib
I used granulated garlic along with the salt and pepper; I also added the smoked paprika and the thyme at the same time
I sautéed the chourico and vegetables for quite a bit longer than called for in the recipe
I only used 1/2 cup of the broth in the stuffing
I added 2 tablespoons of butter and a generous 1/4 cup of cherry-infused craisins just before adding the crumbled corn muffins
I will be adding two lightly beaten eggs to the stuffing so it will hold together as the middle of the pork chop "sandwich", and I have allowed the stuffing to cool down completely before doing so.

Wednesday - Sucky day. Depressed. Feeling blue, caught an ear worm, passed it on.. Unimpressed by Trader Joe's.  Yet another medical-type appointment to shlep to.

My changes to the pork chops:
14 boneless chops from the loin, 1/2 inch thick
2 tablespoons roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil
7 slices regular bacon

Constructing the stacked and stuffed chops:

Fasten the bacon around the chop with a wooden toothpick

I did brown them on each side, but did not put the individual chops in the oven to finish cooking.  I divided the stuffing, 1 1/2 ice cream scoops on seven chops, then used a fork to pat the stuffing down evenly.  I covered the stuffing with the remaining chops, and wrapped each stacked and stuffed chop with one slice of bacon.  These went into a preheated 400 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.  Once they came out of the oven I ladled all of the cherry gravy over the chops.  

How I prepared the gravy:
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups red wine
2 cups beef stock
1-18 oz. jar Smucker's cherry preserves
1/4 cup cherry-infused craisins
salt, pepper, granulated garlic
a few drops of Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons butter to finish sauce

Melt the butter in a large skillet and whisk in the flour, cooking for a minute, constantly whisking.  Add the wine and beef stock, raise the heat and cook until the gravy thickens slightly.  Add the entire jar of preserves, continue stirring until they melt.  Add the cherry-infused craisins and let them cook until softened.  Add the seasonings and the Worcestershire.  Continue to cook on medium low, whisking, until sauce reduces slightly.  Stir in the butter until melted and the sauce is shiny.  Ladle over the stuffed pork chops.

Now, I found the taste of the wine to be very pronounced, so either use a little less (make up the difference with stock or water, or try a different red wine.  Mine was a semi-sweet Russian red, a little too intense.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Beers for Fears - Double Jeopardy Refried Beans

So it's Tuesday and I HAVE ANOTHER DOCTOR'S appointment! Fooray! Actually it is with the dentist, which is probably worse.  He's usually poking my tender gums with a sharp metal instrument or drilling for oil, or some such painful venture.  Truthfully, I like my dentist quite a bit; he will freely administer novocaine, and he has awesome staff as well. (The other thing I like about him is he is very circumspect about prescribing pain killers. "Oh, you have some pain after having all of your upper teeth removed?  Take Advil.") The only time I was truly unhappy in his office was when my appointment there was with the now-retired periodontist, who I had dubbed "Dr. Mengele."  Listen, over the years I've had countless root canals and all of my teeth pulled, and the teeth-cleaning I got from that periodontist was far worse. He reminded me of a somewhat refined version of Steve Martin's character in "Little Shop of Horrors."

The rest of the day belongs to me and my pork chops.  And those refried beans, but that's a straightforward recipe from a cookbook.  The pork chops jumped out of the meat case and into my cart when we were at BJs on Sunday, and demanded to be stuffed.  Who am I to deny such a simple act of kindness to the pig that gave his life for my family's supper?

The problem (there's always a problem) is that I have no idea what to use for stuffing.  Oh wait, I do! It came to me while I was working on the refried beans, and it is perfect.  Except I will have to stop into Publix for some of the ingredients.  Oh, darn.

The autocorrect just tried to change refried to retried.  Clearly the autocorrect does not understand The Law (said like Dredd).  The Law is The Law, and it says neither you nor the beans can be tried twice for the same crime.  If the glove don't fit, you must acquit.  Or refry your beans, it's your choice.  No double jeopardy, my friends.  It's The Law.

Up until an hour ago, I was having a really good day.  Happy to complete my chores, enjoying the warm breeze.  Chronic pain syndrome is merciless, and has a really bad sense of timing.  The pain came, and then the depression, and then the fatigue, and then the inability to retain even liquids and to taste food properly.  Talk about rapid cycling.

Chelsea, being a bitch

Anyway, once I got back to the house, I had to sit down and put my head down. No jumping right into the stuffing for the pork chops for me. Besides, Chelsea is running around the house like a Mad Dog and Englishwoman, whining her little head off, presumably because I sprayed a small amount of anti-flea stuff on her.  You would think I had set her hair on fire.  Oh, now she stuck out her tongue at me. Nice doggie.

The onions, bacon and garlic, together again for the "nth" time

The refried beans came out even better than expected.  They are not difficult, and the only "exotic" ingredient in there is beer.  I realize for some people, beer is as common as orange juice, but I don't normally keep it in the house (wine is an entirely different matter.  I'm not a bloomin' tea-totaller, just not a beer drinker).  Fortunately, my son keeps a couple of bottles in the fridge, so today's recipe is brought to you courtesy of Cory and Stella Artois.

Double Jeopardy Refried Beans

2 tablespoons roasted garlic extra virgin olive oil
5 bacon strips, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 generous teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 generous teaspoon dark chili powder
1/2 cup beer
1-14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
1-14 oz. can refried beans
1-14 oz. can pinto beans, drained
kosher salt, ground black pepper, granulated garlic

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  First add the bacon and cook for a few minutes, then add the onion and cook until the onion is soft and translucent and the bacon is well-rendered but not crisp. Add the garlic, cumin, and chili powder, as well as some salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.  Cook another minute or two, then deglaze the pan with the beer.  Stir to scrape up all good stuff, then add the drained tomatoes and continue to cook.  Stir in the refried beans, using the wooden spoon to break them up.  Reduce the heat and cook, stirring, until refried beans are smooth.  If the mixture seems too thick, add a little more beer or some of the reserved tomato juice.  Add the drained pinto beans.  Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cinco de Mayo Came Late This Year - Chicken Enchiladas and Angry Guacamole

Today, May 18, would have been my grandparents-who-raised-me's 69th wedding anniversary.  Unlike my in-laws, they had a perfectly miserable marriage.  When Pop died of cancer in 1983, they'd been married just 36 years, most of it spent screaming at each other.  The day he died - we were in the hospital actually - she went into some sort of fugue state, and when she came out of it three years later, it was for the dual purpose of bad-mouthing him mercilessly and making my life a living hell.   When my grandmother died in 2000, her senile dementia had taken him from her yet again.  Probably just as well.

On that happy note, it's time to discuss the menu for Cinco de Mayo.  It came late this year, or it's right on time if you live by DDST, as I do.  That has nothing to do with Daylight Savings Time.  Never mind what it does mean, just know it is a useful time zone for procrastinators, such as myself.

If I was going to throw a Cinco de Mayo party, which is highly unlikely since I don't throw parties anymore, I would have crammed into it every Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Faux-Mex recipe I know.  Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.  Chicken enchiladas, beef burritos, beef empanadas,  tamales, shrimp chimichangas, refried beens, chili, guacamole, Savannah red rice, arroz con gandules, sweet corn pudding, and more.  For the purposes of today's "better late than never dinner", I finally pulled together an acceptable version of green chili chicken enchiladas, a guacamole I can only describe as angry, and a new recipe called "refried beans with everything", that I have been wanting to try for a while.

Why angry guacamole?  Well, for starters, I am feeling angry, part of whatever it is I am passing through right now.  I did not merely chop the vegetables on the cutting board - I whacked them into submission, with a great deal of sound and fury.  And I threw in one large jalapeño, which wasn't part of the recipe I thought I was making, along with the cayenne pepper, which was part of the recipe I suppose I thought I was making. It seems I had my personal ring binder cookbook open to my recipes for guacamole, and for some strange reason, thought they were the same.  So I looked back and forth,  one page or the other, depending on where I happened to be standing in the kitchen.  By the time I realized it, the guac was finished.  Since nothing tastes right to me today, I couldn't begin to tell you how it all came out, and my official tasters are busy elsewhere.

Angry Guacamole

2 ripe Haas avocados
1 lime, juiced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced small
1 very small onion, chopped small
1 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 heaping tablespoon dairy sour cream
pepper, granulated garlic (to taste)

Scoop the avocado flesh into a medium bowl and mash with a fork.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine.  Cover and place in refrigerator for an hour before serving. Try as I might, my guacamole always reverts to an unappetizing olive drab color, but it tastes good.  Really.

The chicken is on the right; the chicken fat is already in the freezer

Remember that whole chicken you cooked the other day to make soup?  Well, now all shall be revealed - we are going to use it to make Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas Suizas.  This make an enormous amount - a little over four dozen smallish enchiladas, perfect for a party.  If you give parties, which I don't, not anymore.

2-3 bags of Mission brand yellow corn tortillas (24 to a bag, extra thin)

For the filling:
1 whole chicken, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, skin and fat removed, cooked as for  chicken soup in crockpot for 4 to 6 hours on High
1-2 oz. jar Dromedary diced pimentos, drained
1-4 oz can sliced back olives, drained
1-7 oz can chopped fire-roasted green chilies
2 very large green onions, all green and white parts, halved and sliced
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped sweet green bell pepper
1  jalapeño, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons chopped culantro (or cilantro)
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 packets Sazon Goya con Culantro y Achiote
2 cans cream of chicken and mushroom soup
3 cups sour cream
salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, granulated garlic, and onion powder, all to taste
12 oz. shredded cheese (Mexican blend and/or sharp cheddar)

To finish:
1 bunch slender green onions, all parts, sliced thin
1 large Roma tomato, seeded and diced
2-10 oz. cans mild green enchilada sauce
1-15 oz. can mild red enchilada sauce
2-3 tablespoons  chopped cilantro
12 oz. Mexican four cheese blend

Chop up the chicken into bite-sized pieces.  Stir in all of the remaining filling ingredients. Set in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.  When you are ready to fill the enchiladas, set a small skillet on medium high heat.  Spray an aluminum lasagna dish with some no-stick spray.  Warm the tortilla in the hot pan just until it softens enough to roll easily. Place two medium scoops (same size you would use for meatballs and matzo balls) just above the center of the tortilla and roll up to enclose the filling.  Set each enchilada seam side down in the prepared pan.  Repeat until all the filling is used up.  Refrigerate covered overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sprinkle the enchiladas with the green onions and chopped Roma tomato pieces.  Drizzle first with the green enchilada sauce, then with the red.  Sprinkle on the chopped cilantro and finally cover with the cheese.  Bake between 20 and 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and the filling is hot.  Serve with angry guacamole and sour cream.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Just a bit loopy - Roundly Roasted Vegetables

Where I would like to be

Sunday - My back was so bad today, I gave in and took something that the orthopedist had prescribed for muscle spasms.  Oh myyyyy, as George Takei would say.  I am not used to anything quite that strong, and while it was effective in giving me relief, it left me loopy.  And I needed stuff from Publix, to finish the chicken enchiladas and the guacamole, but while I was there the loopiness hit and I had to restrain myself from breaking out in song.  Good thing I had the shopping cart to hold onto.

Before I left for Publix, I was in a Very Dark Place.  The pain and the depression were all enveloping.  I got hit with it early Saturday morning, and it chased me all the way to the wedding and back.  My balance was off, I was perpetually tired, and I had to rely on my cane.  Food shopping always cheers me up, so I got home in better shape than when I'd left.  But loopy.

Also before I left, I had drafted a post for the blog that is best described as a career buster.  Now that it is written, I cannot post it.  Not now, not yet, maybe never.  I wish I could, because it is full of bitter truths that until now I have only expressed privately.

I want to share the chicken enchilada recipe, but I've been working on the damn thing for three days and just finally got the filing the way I wanted.  Now it's all about filling and rolling the tortillas, which is almost done, and then the finishing touches.  So maybe tomorrow.

So putting aside all the Sturm und Drang of my life for a moment, I want to say something about the wedding. First of all, Robert was the officiant and did a damn fine job.  Second, and most importantly, this marriage is bringing much happiness to everyone involved.  The people involved are well-deserving of a wonderful life filled with love and joy.  Nicki and Will, and Jacob, may God bless you all, and your families as well.

Nicki and her dad

Monday - As I am sitting here with the insane itching having taken over my body, I am wondering how the hell does anyone, my doctor included, expect me to go back to work?  Yesterday was the back-breaking pain and debilitating depression.  Today is the brutal itching all over and my left hand rendered practically useless by invisible pins and needles.

You can't see the groom standing next to Rob, but he's there, and he's smiling

I have also been trying to figure out what to do with a rather large box of button mushrooms, which turned out not to be needed for a sauce for the chicken stuffed with spinach.  So during my loopy time, I decided to roast the mushrooms with other vegetable that were roundish and about the same size as the mushrooms.  But first, I'm going to marinate them.

1-28 oz. bag honey gold potatoes, pricked several times
1-6.5 oz. box peeled red pearl onions
1-24 oz box button mushrooms, stems cut off even with the cap
1 pound Brussel sprouts, trimmed
1 package Spice World garlic (6 small heads), cuts tops to expose cloves

Place these vegetables into a 2 1/2 gallon ziploc bag.

1-10 oz. bag mini San Marzano tomatoes

Place the tomatoes in a quart sized ziploc bag.

1-16 oz. bottle Ken's Steakhouse Zesty Italian Dressing

Pour some of the dressing over the tomatoes, and use the remainder of the bottle to pour over the vegetables in the large bag.  Seal, turn the bag gently so all the vegetable are coated, and refrigerate over night.

Pour the large bag of vegetables into a very large baking dish.  Yes, I use aluminum.  Sprinkle on two packets of Hidden Valley Original Ranch Salad Dressing and Seasoning Mix.  Place in a preheated 400 degree oven and roast for one hour.  At the end, crank up the heat to 425 for 10 minutes.

Pour the tomatoes into a smaller baking dish.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper.  Place in a preheated 400 degree oven.  Roast for 20 - 25 minutes.

Remove the six heads of garlic from the pan and when cool enough to handle, squeeze the roasted garlic cloves into the vegetables, discarding the papery skins.  Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pan.  Season liberally with kosher salt and pepper; add some granulated garlic, cayenne, dried basil and dried oregano to taste.  Chop up one or two handfuls of fresh parsley and add the to the dish.  Add 3 or so tablespoons of butter. Stir everything together gently.

To eat this - take one or two of the potatoes and with a fork, mash them down or break them up.  Top with a spoonful or more of the roasted vegetables and their sauce.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Catsup. Ketchup. Catchup! - Northern Indian Lamb Meatballs, The World's Best Matzo Balls

Now all we need is 12 Jammie Dodgers

I am a strong proponent of Heinz Ketchup, and ONLY Heinz ketchup.  If it's not Heinz, I'm not interested in dipping a fry into it, and if it is labeled "catsup", I am likely to donate the bottle to some worthy cause, or simply set it back down on the grocery shelf.  Cats do sup, and they also dine, but none of that applies to my hamburger or French fries (even occasionally a steak, but don't mention that to Robert).

What I am doing today in this post has nothing to do with my favorite condiment, but instead I am focusing on the recipes I whipped up during my under-medicated cooking frenzy, and failed to properly record so they could be shared.  It's CATCHUP time, gentle readers.

First, let's talk about religion.  Just kidding; let's talk about ethnic cooking.  I am Brooklyn Jewish, and therefore my favorite foods are Eastern European Jewish and Italian.  And Brooklyn Jewish Chinese, of course, but that is totally another blog post.  The Jewish and Italian cooking came totally naturally to me.  I learned by watching and eating. A lot of eating and then, during those precious and few moments when my grandmother and I could communicate without snarling at each other, critiquing.  Talking about food is almost as much fun as eating it.  Or cooking.

My grandmother made several types of meatballs, none of them Italian.  In her opinion, the best way to use chopped meat in an Italian dish was to make a meat sauce.  I think she missed the boat on this one, as a proper Italian meatball is a thing of beauty.  Unfortunately, she passed on to that Great Test Kitchen in the Sky before I had developed what I modestly like to think of as The World's Best Italian Meatball.  Although I would be the first to admit that she did make the World Best Italian Meat Sauce.

She did, however, make excellent Jewish potted meatballs, and sweet and sour meatballs that did not involve a bit of grape jelly.  The sauce for her sweet and sour meatballs was just like the one she made for her stuffed cabbage, which to my taste was perfect.

I've previously quoted the late Dom DeLuise as saying that the Italians had meatballs and the Jews had matzo balls; growing up in Brooklyn, it was all the same. (I never did find out what the Irish and the Germans had; where I lived, you were either Jewish or Italian Roman Catholic.)  Sadly, my very Jewish grandmother could not make a decent matzo ball; my Pop said they sank like the Titanic (ouch!)  Which is why, by the time my brother and I moved in, she made all her matzo balls from a mix.  They were always good, if a bit uninspired.  If they didn't float like a butterfly, at least they didn't sink like the Titanic.  Or the Edmund Fitzgerald.

There are dozens of ways to make a decent matzo ball (or knaidlach, it's proper name).  Everybody (at least every Jewish everybody who fancies themselves a true Jewish cook) has a trick or kitchen hack that renders their knaidlach better than anyone else's, in somebody's opinion. For me, the best knaidlach were made by the chef at the kosher catering hall where my father-in-law worked as a maitre d' for many years.  Dad's Richie (not to be confused with Mom's Richie, who was one of the owners and cook at the kosher catering call where my mother-in-law worked as a maître d' for many years) had graciously shared his recipe.  His has always been my go-to knaidlach, and I've had no complaints.  They are a little fluffy and a little toothsome and do a fine job of soaking up the flavor from a good chicken soup. So of course, after 35 years, I decided to change it.  Kick it up a notch.  Put my own spin on it.

It's dead.  Just strip off the skin and fat and get over it.

But first, let me give you the chicken soup recipe - it's just like the clear and convincing, but uses a whole chicken.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Chicken Soup

2 - 32 oz. boxes unsalted chicken stock
2 medium carrots
2 medium parsnips
2 stalks of celery (no leaves)
2 green onions
1/2 small onion
1 - 2 x 1/2 inch piece of rind from Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon yellow curry powder (don't leave it out, although it is virtually undetectable)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 whole chicken (2 1/2 to 3 pounds), innards, skin, and visible fat removed. Freeze the skin and fat for future schmaltzings.
2 - 1/4 inch slices of lemon
5 or 6 stalks of fresh Italian parsley
2 nice full stalks of fresh dill

First, stuff the cavity of the chicken with the carrots, parsnips, celery, and green onion. Set into the crockpot.  Carefully pour in all of the chicken stock, and add the curry powder, kosher salt and white pepper.  Cover the crock and cook on High for 2 hours.  Skim off any icky froth that has risen to the top. Now add the parmesan rind, parsley, dill, and lemon and cook for two to three more hours.  Shut off the heat and use a large metal spoon to remove the chicken; set aside.  With a slotted spoon remove the parsley, dill, lemon slice and the Parmesan rind, and discard. Remove the celery, parsnip, carrot, and green onion from the chicken, and discard.

Now, remove all of the chicken from the bones and cartilage.  I have excellent plans for that chicken, so wrap carefully and refrigerate for further instructions.

Pour the chicken soup through two paper towels set into a metal strainer.  Now taste it, add a little salt if needed, and permit yourself a smile for having prepared the chicken soup that tastes like Mom's - my Mom (grandmother) who frankly made the best chicken soup in the world.

For the total Brooklyn Jewish experience, you have to have the soup with these matzo balls.

These are The Best Matzo Balls in the World:

4 eggs, separated
1 package Streits matzo ball mix (both envelopes)
1/2 cup melted Crisco, cooled to room temperature
1/4 cup lemon-lime carbonated water
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  If they are resistant, add a pinch or two of cream of tartar. In a separate bowl, bear the egg yolks.  Mix in the melted, cooled Crisco and the carbonated water.  Stir in the matzo meal and the parsley.  Gently fold in the beaten egg white.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until the mixture can be handled.

Fill a large kettle about half full (4-5 quarts) with water, and set to boil. Once the water is boiling, throw in four (4) Knorr chicken bouillon cubes. The matzo balls will be cooked in this boiling broth.

Form the matzo balls by scooping with the medium-sized scoop.  Wet your hands with cold water, and roll the matzo balls; set aside until all are formed.  Gently ease them, one at a time, into the boiling broth and cook, uncovered, for about 25 minutes.  Lower the heat slightly if they are boiling too rapidly.  Remove with a slotted spoon and serve with the World's Best Chicken Soup.

How Did Martha Stewart Get Into This Blog Post? Well, I told you I was playing catchup, and that encompasses these rather nifty meatballs.  The recipe is from Martha Stewart, who I really like (except for her endless spring cleaning campaign) and made good use of a pound of ground lamb I had thrown casually into the depths of my lower freezer, which happens to be large enough to hide a VW beetle).

Now about meatballs - my grandmother was pretty conservative when it came to these, but I did learn my absolute best meatball kitchen trick from her.  Instead of breadcrumbs, or white bread soaked in milk, use matzo meal in your meatball or meatloaf mixture.  There is a gorgeous symmetry there, that the main ingredient for knaidlach is also the secret ingredient in good meatballs.

Northern Indian Lamb Meatballs

2 small garlic cloves
1 piece (1 inch) peeled fresh ginger, sliced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 can (8 ounces) plain tomato sauce
1 dried bay leaf
Coarse salt
12 ounces ground lamb
1 cup fine fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro1 large egg
6 prunes, quartered
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

  1. Process garlic, ginger, and 1 1/2 teaspoons water in a food processor until a chunky paste forms; set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add onion; cook, stirring, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Set aside one quarter of onion in a large bowl.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon garlic paste, 1/2 cup water, the turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, and 2 tablespoons coriander to onion in skillet. Cook 3 minutes, stirring. Add tomato sauce, 1 1/2 cups water, and the bay leaf. Season with salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer.
  4. Mix reserved onion, lamb, breadcrumbs, cilantro, egg, 1 teaspoon each garlic paste and salt, and remaining teaspoon coriander and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. Divide into 24 pieces; roll into balls. Stuff each meatball with a prune quarter; roll to enclose.
  5. Add meatballs to simmering sauce (add water if meatballs are not covered by sauce). Cook until sauce has thickened, about 40 minutes. Stir in garam masala.

Credit where credit is due:  this is the original recipe from Martha Stewart.  I made a few small changes which I will share with you:

Instead of that whole whirling garlic-ginger-water thing, I used equal amounts of Gourmet Garden's Chunky Garlic and Ginger.  I usually have a tube of each in my fridge.                                 

I cut back the cayenne pepper to 1/2 teaspoon.

I used 1 pound of ground lamb, because that's how it came packaged.

I used matzo meal instead of breadcrumbs

I used culantro instead of cilantro.  Identical taste, and culantro reportedly lasts longer in the fridge.

I used 12 prunes and cut them in half.  I portioned the meat by using the medium scoop, and stuffed each meatball with one-half of a prune.

Everything else was the same as the original recipe.  These are delicious.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mediterranean Chicken with a Garlic, Spinach and Feta Stuffing

What a perfectly craptastic day.  Two doctor's appointments today, one local, one in SODO.  Hopefully I will get some assistance towards herding ducks, while trying to figure out why I feel as badly now as I did when I was sent off on this journey two months ago.

The good news is:  Cindy 2, Cancer 0.  I feel very fortunate that the biopsy of the intenstinal polyp came back benign.  Benign is probably one of my top five favorite words in the English language, along with love, chocolate, and lobster.

The bad news is that I still have no answer for what is causing my eating difficulties.  All those tests and procedures over the last few months, and the only thing the gastroenterologist can tell me is that I had gastric bypass surgery, and my stomach (or what still passes as a stomach) is very small.  No, really?  He ordered more tests, two of which require me to drink that dreadful barium milkshake.  Since I have trouble swallowing coffee, this should prove very interesting.

One appointment over - well, that confused the hell out of me.  I may not be dead yet.  At any rate, that assembly of ducks, foretelling the start of my twilight years, is not a foregone conclusion.  My gastric bypass may have kicked in again, which is as good an explanation as any. I have more paperwork to fax to Tallahassee - probably get this FMLA cluster f--- approved just in time for me to go back to work.  Back to work.  Who woulda thunk it?

The second appointment took care of a few pharmaceutical matters. which was much appreciated.  Also, the doctor tells me that the new medication may take care of the brain fog which has screwed up the quality of my life even more than the pain.  Maybe better living through chemistry will become more than a catchphrase for an old hippie like me. Hope, like bad luck and taxes, springs eternal.

Ah ha, is that a glimmer of light I am seeing off in the distance?  Only time will tell.  Which is what I have always felt, but now time is being telescoped exponentially as I approach what looks like the Finish Line.  Life is never boring.

With all that going on, I have been spending entirely too much time driving around town, looking for parking spaces and hanging out in waiting rooms.  That's not a routine I particular enjoy, but it has consumed a big chunk of the last 3 months, and is becoming my new normal.  Bugger.  There's a sign of getting older.  Still better than the alternative.

The cooking has been slow going.  Things keep getting added to my list and my refrigerator looks like the poster child for bauxite mining.  Stack after stack of aluminum trays filled with food.  Still have more to go, but at least there is room in my freezers.  I still have a recipe for baby eggplants that I prepared before the cruise and have not gotten around to sharing.  And then there are the Northern Indian Lamb Meatballs which I finished day before yesterday and which are well worth your time to check out.  I'll get those in writing real soon, but first I've got some more cooking to do before any of the ingredients head south in the freshness department.

I did take an unscheduled turn into the realm of chicken soup.  Feeling totally disgusted by my inability to ingest anything with nutritional value, I dragged out the crockpot and made my clear and convincing chicken soup.  The only difference from the original recipe was that I used a whole chicken, stripped of it's skin and fat, which I froze for future schmaltzings.  To this I added the epitome of Jewish cooking, namely the matzo ball, or what I was brought of to call knaidlach.  Once you call it knaidlach you'll never go back to calling them matzo balls.  That will be another post; I'm overloading my cooking circuits here, but I feel good about it.

The following recipe was one that was lurking around in my head for a couple of days.  I had picked up a nice package of chicken breasts at BJs, and I wanted to do something different with them.  Of late, I'd been cooking my chicken with fruit, with curry-based sauces, tomato sauces, cream sauces, etc. Once I decided to stuff the little darlings, it was just a matter of what kind of stuffing, and that was easy.  I was craving spinach with a lot of garlic, and this is what I came up with.  This is totally my own, so I can't blame Martha Stewart or Mario Batali for any failures.

The truth is that I surprised myself with just how good these came out. The only hard part is creating the pocket, and if you have a sharp boning knife, it's no problem at all.  They make a pretty presentation for company, or an office potluck.

Mediterranean Chicken with a Garlic, Spinach and Feta Stuffing

4 tablespoons butter
4 very large or 6 medium cloves of fresh garlic (about half a head), chopped
a pinch of table salt
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
1-10 oz box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted,  all excess liquid squeezed out
"Slap Ya Mama" White Pepper Blend
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, garlic and herb flavor
1 tablespoon grated Pecorino Romano cheese
dried oregano

8-9 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, pocket cut into each (see photos)

Melt the butter over medium heat in a skillet.  Add the garlic, sprinkle on a tiny amount of salt, lower the heat to medium low, and cook slowly until the garlic becomes soft and  light golden.  Add the flour and cook together, stirring constantly, until the raw smell from the flour is gone.  Add the cream and stir, bringing to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer.  This is going to be very thick and the sauce may "break" - separate - but keep stirring.  Add the spinach. and stir well to distribute evenly in the sauce.  Season with the white pepper blend, a pinch of nutmeg, and the oregano, then stir in the feta and Romano cheeses.   Set aside to cool while you prepare the chichen breasts for stuffing.

How I prepare a pocket for stuffing: with a very sharp boning:  with a sharp boning knike, I make a cut down the center, not all the way through, and not all the way from end to end.  I then turn the knife so that it is flat against the chicken, and carefully cut into both sides of the cut to create a pocket.

I like to use the meatball-sized scooper to portion out evenly.  Each chicken pocket took two scoops of the spinach mixture.  Pat the chicken up and around the filling, leaving some of the filling showing, as in the picture.

Now season the stuffed chicken using the ingredients listed below, in the order given.  The last thing you will do is spoon a little melted butter over everything.

Slap Ya Mama white pepper blend
Kosher Salt
Ground Black Pepper
Granulated Garlic
Fresh Lemon Juice
Seasoned Bread Crumbs
Melted Butter

Bake the chicken at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.  Then take a picture and post it on Pinterest; this is a pretty, pretty dish.  Tasty, too.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Baked Baby Eggplants

So here I am with nothing to complain about.  We have been working on a DIY Dog Project - just one dog per day - shaving and trimming and bathing and de-flea-ing.  Two down, two to go.  The cat is just getting a flea collar, because the last time I tried to bathe a cat was in 1978, and I still have the scars.

By the way, just in case you didn't watch the season finale of "Marvel:Agents of Shield" last night, you might want to toss any bottles of fish oil.  In fact, you might want to stop eating all fish now and forever.  I love that show, and especially how at the end of each season they kill off everyone who won't be coming back.  Out with the old, in with the new.  Goodbye Edward James Olmos, I wish you could have hung around.  And I really liked Kyle MacLachlen's psychotic character.  Oh, they didn't kill him off; they just sent him to T.A.H.I.T.I. for a little while.  Good as new.

I'm a geek.  I know it, you know it, and now the blogiverse knows it.  I am a Trekkie and a Whovian and a Babylon Fiver and a Farscaper and a Stargate-SG1 and Battlestar Galactica fan.  Just the remake; the original was beyond awful.  I don't watch American Idol or Dancing with the Stars; for me it is all about science fiction and police procedurals.  And basketball games.  And Fox News.  Yeah, Fox.  And I'm still ready for Hillary.

Baked Baby Eggplants

4 baby eggplants
kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil for sauteeing plus more for coating the eggplant shellls
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 small green pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 very large clove garlic, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
more kosher salt and ground black pepper
2-3 sprigs thyme
1/4 teaspoon capers, chopped
1 envelope Goya Sazon, with culantro and achiote
1-8 oz.can tomato sauce
1-8 oz. bag shredded mozzarella cheese and/or sharp cheddar
grated Pecorino Romano
fresh ground pepper

Cut each eggplant in half. Peel off the purple skin, except for a strip around the edge.  Place the eggplant in a baking dish, cut side up, and sprinkle with salt.  Let sit for 15 minutes, then rinse off the salt under cold water.  With a tomato shark or small spoon, carefully scoop out the eggplant pulp.  Discard the very seedy part; keep the rest of the pulp, set aside.  Sprinkle the eggplant shells with some olive oil, and use hands to coat them all over.  Place cut side down in the baking pan and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

In a skillet over medium heat, cook the onion, green pepper, celery, garlic, carrot, and reserved eggplant pulp until tender.  While cooking the vegetables, add the salt, pepper, and Sazon.  Stir in
the thyme, capers, and tomato sauce.  Simmer together until sauce thickens and reduces slightly.

Turn the eggplants over. Add some shredded cheddar cheese in each eggplant half, then bake about 10 minutes.  Now stuff each baby eggplant with the vegetable-tomato sauce mixture. Sprinkle with some Romano cheese, then cover with the mozzarella.  Return to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the eggplants are neated through.  You can serve these as a side or a vegetarian entree.