Saturday, August 22, 2015

Smile Although Your Back Is Breaking, Laugh Clown Laugh - Old Fashioned Mashed Potatoes

Yesterday I engaged in two acquisitions which brought me cheer.  Cheer is hard to come by lately, so I count it as a very good day.

The first one was something I'd been promising myself to do; I got an Osceola County library card. Don't laugh; this was a big deal for me, living in a shell as I usually do. The second one was one of those things I buy rarely and try to keep forever; we bought a car, a 2013 Ford Escape to replace my 2001 Ford Expedition.  When I woke up yesterday, the last thing I expected was to buy a car.  Or get a library card, for that matter.  All I had on my agenda was getting out of bed and a trip to Publix. See how that works sometimes?

Driving the Escort from the dealer. In Plainview. In the snow.

I have come to really appreciate Fords although I was raised to drive only General Motors cars by my Pop, who was an old-fashioned car-loving man.  This will be my fourth Ford.  The first was a 1979 (I think) Escort we bought after my 1972 cardinal red Pontiac Ventura was unceremoniously stolen from the parking lot at our condo in Central Islip.  Who steals an 8-year old car? Since that was my very first car, bought in a joint venture between myself and my parents while I was a sophomore at SUNY New Paltz, I was beyond upset.  After all, that was the car that survived the Route 44-55 Hairpin Turn On The Mountain In The Fog.

My contribution to half the purchase price of that car represented all of my savings from baby-sitting, birthday presents, and my first job at Mays - Woodmere Department Store (although it was really in Rosedale, Queens.  Come to think of it, while the store sat on the wrong side of the Nassau-Queens county line, it bordered Cedarhurst, not Woodmere.  I guess in some marketing man's mind, one Five Town was as good as the other).  Having your car stolen is a terrible intrusion of personal space, besides an unneeded financial burden. And the tassel from my 1970 high school graduation was in the car when it got stolen, which still bothers me.

I'm not a car person; I have no car vanity.  I love old cars - show me a 1962 Chevy Impala and my eyes will light up - and I can appreciate the good looks and vroom vroom of the ultimate American sports car, the Corvette - but I won't drive a Corvette, and I don't really like riding in one either (both my boys are serious Corvette fans).

The goodbye photo of the Expedition.  Well-done, good and faithful servant.

My car needs are relatively simple.  I prefer American-made cars that are higher off the ground, get decent gas mileage, have wide, comfortable seats and get me where I need to go, like the nearest Publix or Little Rock, Arkansas. New cars are nice, but the last new car I bought was a 1989 Ford Taurus.  I like a car that plans on hanging around for a while and doesn't mind growing old with me.  That Taurus was just shy of 300,000 miles when I gave her up for a mad whirl with a bright green Chevy Geo, and my Expedition, battered and bruised as she is, passed the 200,000 mile mark a few months ago.

Amtrak passenger train, crossing and blocking Dakin Avenue.

The library card cheered me up so much I didn't even mind being stopped by the Amtrak train resting majestically at the Kissimmee station.  I even took a picture because that's the kind of hairpin I am. That's my officially former office building in the background. I also tried to get a picture of Mama Duck and her five imprinted ducklings, but the shadows were too dark. I might have been able to work on better lighting, but did not want to startle her and cause her to waddle into oncoming traffic, duck babies strung out obediently behind her.

The last time I had an Osceola County library card was 1991, so to say that things have changed is a vast understatement.  And even though I have - or had - an Orange County library card, I did not hang out there often enough to more than read every book in the Mystery section.  I'm a specialist.  So it was a surprise and a pleasure to NOT have to fill out any forms, as the young lady at the desk took care of this from her keyboard, with my driver's license.  She also gave me a bunch of handouts, outlining all the various free services available through the library system, including online learning opportunities that made my mouth water.  My tax dollars at work, and damn glad of it.

In case you were wondering, and even if you weren't, my very favorite top-of-the-list comfort food is mashed potatoes.  My mother made the World's Best Mashed Potatoes (didn't everybody's mother?) which were of course, from scratch, full of margarine and milk.  Good stuff.  Between my trouble swallowing and my trouble chewing, mashed potatoes are also the World's Best Food For Me.  If I happen to have mashed potatoes and green peas (my favorite vegetable) on the same plate, I will eat them the way my mother showed me when I first learned to hold a fork: first, I scoop up some of the potatoes and then I take the fork and press down lightly on the peas, so that they stick to the potatoes gently leaking out from between the tines of the fork.  One perfect bite of two perfect foods. Nirvana, kids, and don't knock it till you try it.

Mom always used regular old white potatoes that could also be used for baking under other more formal circumstances.  She always peeled them.  She never bought new potatoes; I think she thought they were for goyim (Gentiles, non-Jews) only.  A proper balaboosteh (superb Jewish housewife) always peeled her potatoes.  Me, I'm a rebel with a cause - I not only buy new potatoes, I use them in a myriad of ways.  I have been known to mash a pound or two of unpeeled new potatoes, in the interest of time constraints.  Peeling takes a little more time but is worth it.  I have also been known to grate a bunch of unpeeled Yukon gold potatoes when making potato latkes for Hanukkah or just because we love latkes.  I'm not sure Mom would approve, although she finally admitted, in the later years of her life, that one could make a decent chopped liver from chicken livers, rather than beef, and adding a couple of hardboiled eggs was good taste, not heresy.

4 medium to large white potatoes (Idaho, Russet - but no thin-skins for this.)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter (Butter is better. Forget margarine, or "healthy" spreads.)
1 cup hot whole milk, half and half, or cream (Cream is a dream.)
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
Mo' butter
Mo' hot milk, half and half, or cream

Peel the potatoes and cut them into eighths.  Put them in a medium pot and cover with cool water.  Throw in some kosher salt.  Put the pot on the stove top, and bring the potatoes to a boil over High heat.  Boil them for 15 to 25 minutes until done.  I like 'em softer, so I go the full 25.  If the water is boiling too furiously, drop the heat to Medium-High so it boils without splattering.

Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot, place back on the stove (residual heat is fine) and let the potatoes dry out for about a minute.  Start mashing them (by hand!) and then add the butter, which  is best if you cut it into small cubes.  Mash the melting butter with the potatoes, and then add the hot milk, etc.  I used cream today, but any of the three will work. Add salt and pepper and mash until you get the texture you prefer.  Lumps are to be expected, nay, PREFERRED.  Taste and season - these soak up a lot of salt.  Finally, if like me you want a really creamy mash, add a little more butter and up to a half a cup more of hot milk.  These do reheat well in the microwave.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Aw geez, not again ... Good Mushrooms

...  are there any normal people left in this effed-up world?  This time my rant is brought on by the news that the suspended, and now permanently erased, long-time spokesman for the Subway sandwich chain has pled guilty, not only to possession of child pornography but to multiple acts of sexual acts with minors.

I had all kinds of ideas for cooking, but found my head galloping in too many directions.  The blueberry lemon rugelach and PB&J sandwich wafers are going to have to be another blog post, maybe two. And then there is, or will be, the smoked pork shoulder.  Apparently, despite all the hours I have spent watching BBQ Pitmasters, I have forgotten just how long it takes to actually smoke the meat, and how involved and time-consuming the preparation can and should be.  So although my original plan was to fire up the grill this morning, I'm going to slow down and gather my thoughts, my barbecue rubs, injections, and mops.  I've never actually smoked a pork shoulder on the grill - I've done ribs, brisket, and beer can chicken - so this should be fun, despite the steep learning curve ahead of me.  Good thing this kind of cooking calls for "low and slow" because slow is the only way this spoonie rolls.

That reminds me - when I was a kid, my Pop always complained I had two speeds - slow and stop.  I guess he was trying to say I had no sense of urgency, and as a teenager I felt mildly insulted over that canard.  As an old lady, I have to admit he made a good point.  I am, as the saying goes, going nowhere fast.

So, no cookies today and no smoked pork butt.  I am making slow cooker chili, but that is really about testing a product and following the product's instructions.  I have to say, the house smells awesome a six-hour cooking period, but there's more to go, especially as this starts with dried beans.  I don't care; this chili is better than air freshener.

I did go to Publix to pick up the rest of the stuff needed for the smoking project, but it was sheer hell. Unbelievable pain all over, but I kept walking because, as I told myself, if you stop walking you will die.  It's the same thing I used to repeat to myself when I was a B.G. (Big Girl) and pushing those 274 pounds on my dinky ankles, along the half block between my office and the courthouse was a precarious undertaking.  Never graceful, I fell with annoying regularity.  I battered both knees and ruined more pantyhose than some people wear in a lifetime.  I got winded.  I was terrified that I would fall into the street and get hit by a car, or a paying client would see me with my skirt over my face and my slip showing.

I have nothing to show for the day, at least in a food sense, except for the chili and these mushrooms:

My bad, I didn't even get the potatoes mashed.  Here's the recipe for the mushrooms:

1/2 stick of butter
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound large button mushrooms, halved or quartered
1/4 tube Gourmet Garden chunky garlic
black pepper
Emeril's Essence
Italian seasoning blend
Worcestershire sauce
kosher salt
dried oregano.

Melt the butter over medium-high heat; add the olive oil.  Add the mushroom and cook until they show a little color.  Add the chunky garlic, the pepper, and the Essence.  Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mushroom are at your tenderness preference.  Add a shot or two of Worcestershire, and some salt and oregano.  Cook a few minutes more.  Serve alongside steak or over mashed potatoes, rice, or pasta, or by themselves.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Don't You Hate When That Happens? - Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce

Good morning to you. I have another bone to pick: here are the "corporate" words and phrases I have come to detest: "team", "partners", "stakeholder", "law firm" (as applied to Children's Legal Services), and "staffing". I'm in a mood this morning; not totally bad, more like crabby-snarky. My back feels like it is broken in half, but other than that, the sky is blue and the clouds are gray.  I have things to do, decisions to make, contracts to sign.

I have not yet heard anything from the state Division of Retirement regarding my application for retirement disability, although I faxed the remaining documents over a week ago.  Looks like I am going to have to work the fax machine again.  Also, and perhaps more importantly, I can now start the process of applying to the Federal government for benefits.  Not entitlements, damn it, benefits.  I paid into the Social Security system for 45 years.

I have chosen an agency to assist me in this process, so now is the time for me to start filling out - gasp! - more paperwork.  Story of my life.  I've gathered everything in my "office" - yes, I'm sitting on my bed, surrounded by stacks of papers and several sleeping Yorkies - and will try to wade through the collection of names, dates, and medical conditions.  It's going to take a while just to figure out the medications, since I haven't really stabilized on anything either of my doctors have prescribed, although they keep trying to fine-tune them, and I have been (mostly) diligent about following their instructions.

I have also made a difficult decision regarding my supervisor's offer to have a luncheon to show appreciation for my work at the Department.  It was a lovely email, and just reading it made me feel better about myself.  But after long and hard thought (I realize this may seem minor in the grand scheme of things, but in my little world it has import) I have decided against it.  Rob and I will go up on Saturday to pack up and clear out my office, which will be hard enough.  My first instinct was to say "yes, thank you" but the words got stuck in my throat - or fingers, to be more accurate - and I realize I cannot do it.  I am not good about saying good-bye under the best of circumstances, and this is anything but. My therapist said it would be good for "closure" - how did I know he was going to say that? - and I told him I hate the word "closure" as much as "team" and "stakeholders".

I don't believe in the whole concept of closure.  I don't believe it really exists.  There are certain kinds of hurts that never heal.  All you can do is hope that the day arrives when you are no longer overcome with grief or regret or anger, when the emotions stop interfering with your ability to function.  A long time ago I read an article which explained that the 3Ds - Death, Divorce, and Dismissal - were the most Difficult events for a human to bear, and most likely to cause situational Depression.  If I can still visualize the details of my dismissal from A&A in freaking 1981, well, you get the idea.  Now I can tell you it was classy, but that day I was a mess.  It still hurts.

So having rejected the efficacy of closure, and not wanting to rip that fragile scab from my emotional well-being, I am going to respectfully and regretfully decline, and say good-bye in my own way, that won't involve streaming eyes, a runny nose, a migraine, or the overwhelming need to throw up.

And now, from the "Don't You Hate When That Happens?" Department:  while I was working on the quinoa and asparagus dish the other day, I had a brainstorm for a roasted garlic bread that would be a perfect accompaniment for the chicken with shallots.  It turned out to be a brainfart, at least as far as the whole garlic bread idea was concerned, but I did come up with a lovely roasted garlic cheese sauce which would be extraordinary poured over steamed broccoli, cauliflower, or even a grilled chicken breast.

2 heads garlic, roasted
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
Italian seasoning
parsley flakes
ground white pepper
dash granulated garlic (optional)
dash Raging River Five Pepper Blend (optional)
1/2 cup cotija cheese

Melt the butter, over medium-high heat, in a small saucepan; add the roasted garlic (it will be the consistency of soft butter) to the pan and whisk together.  Add the flour and whisk about 2 minutes.  Pour in the cold milk while continuing to whisk.

Okay, this is where all those years of watching Emeril Live comes in handy. The roux is hot, the milk should be cold.  Although it is counterintuitive, this and your mad whisking skills prevent lumps.  Also, the b├ęchamel will only reach full thickening when it is brought up to heat,  Keep whisking while the white sauce comes to a gentle boil. Stir in your seasonings.

Take the saucepan off the heat and with a wooden spoon, stir in the cheese until melted.  Serve immediately.

There are a couple of different ways to roast garlic, but this is what I usually do - preheat the oven to 400 or 425 degrees; cut the top off the head of garlic so that the cloves are exposed; pour on some olive oil (don't drown the garlic, you want just enough oil to seep down into each clove); wrap in aluminum foil and place in the oven for at least 45 minutes.  Check on the garlic after that, and don't be afraid to put it back into the oven for another 10 minutes or more until it is the color you want.  I like a deeply caramelized garlic that can be spread on bread like butter.  If you like a lighter, firmer, sharper-tasting garlic, 45 or 50 minutes will probably be enough.  I think I let these roast an hour, maybe a little more.

You can use any cheese you happen to have handy.  I don't usually have cotija, a Mexican cheese which goes great on grilled corn, on hand, but since I had some hanging out in my fridge, I tried it.  Nice, but not worth buying it special for this sauce.  Cotija does not melt as well as parmesan, which it resembles in taste, and if you want a good Mexican melted cheese, try queso blanco.

I did manage to rescue the bread, but it wasn't worth the effort, so we won't speak of it again.    Sometimes my inspirations fall flatter than Hillary Clinton's jokes about her new snapchat account.

Let's just say, in the interest of avoiding waste of food, that this bread and black coffee make a fine breakfast.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Pickings From My Garden - Number One Eggplant Bites

It's official:

Bet you were expecting Donald Trump, right?

Well, I got my letter of dismissal today, and while it was not unexpected (I had told them I could not perform my normal job duties any more due to the fibromyalgia), it was still a sad moment.  The letter was the coldest piece of work I've seen in a while; I don't know if it is a Department-sanctioned form letter, or something whipped up by the individual whose name appeared on the signature line, but either way, somebody's got to work on their people skills!  No "we regret to advise you" or even a "good luck in your future endeavors."  Believe it or not, those phrases do soften the blow.

I do know something about being dismissed, you know.  Back in 1981, I was laid-off from my position as an assistant something-or-other with the late, lamented Alexander & Alexander, at that time the second largest insurance broker in the world.  Now that was a classy termination.  The Marine Department Manager and Assistant Manager invited me into the conference room.  We sat down like civilized people.  They had an envelope for me which contained everything I needed to take care of, including forms to apply for unemployment.  The manager actually was upset by what he had to do, and excused himself.  It was explained that I was not being fired for cause, but laid-off because I was a "non income-producing member of the department."  Of course I was upset; but I never got to collect those unemployment benefits because they helped me get another job, with the American Hull Insurance Syndicate, an extremely respectable place to work.  Best of all, 6 years later they re-hired me for their Melville office, where I had a wonderful few years before I graduated from law school.

Classy, I told you.  Okay, I never thought I'd look back fondly at my termination from A&A, but time clearly does heal some wounds.  This time is very different in many ways.

This is a follow-up to my Save the Garden Pickings Campaign, which I started yesterday among the okra pods.  No frozen supplementation needed for this one.  I almost ate the whole damn thing for lunch yesterday, it was that good.  Ichiban eggplants are smaller, sweeter, and more tender than their larger cousins (think Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal, playing on the same team but with different talents).  I used my Cuisinart griddler (similar to a George Foreman grill) for the eggplant. Incidentally, "ichiban" translates to "number one", Japanese to English.

3 Ichiban eggplant, sliced on the diagonal
garlic flavored olive oil
a splash of lemon juice
seasoning (I used Emeril's Essence)
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
1/4 cup shredded Pecorino Romano
2 tablespoons chopped, drained pimentos, patted dry
2 teaspoons parsley flakes
1 teaspoon garlic pepper
thin slices of provolone, mozzarella, or mixed shredded cheese - small amounts

Toss the eggplant with the olive oil and lemon juice; season lightly on both sides.  Grill for a few minutes until you have nice grill marks.  Place the grilled eggplant slices in a shallow baking pan and let cool.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta and Romano cheeses, the parsley flakes and the garlic pepper.  Gently fold in the chopped pimentos.  Divide the cheese filling and spread evenly on each piece of eggplant.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Top the ricotta mixture with a small amount of provolone or other cheese. Place in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove the baking pan from the oven and allow to cool a few minutes before serving.  It's not really finger food, as the eggplant remains fairly soft, but it is well worth the knife-and-fork business.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Donald, The Guy, and The Frozen Chosen - Mock Choux Succotash

Prince of (Pillow) Thieves

I have to say it: Donald Trump is saying what a majority of Americans want to hear.  So before you hate a politician, look at your neighbors, your friends, your relatives, your coworkers, and all the people you interact with during the day, and wonder how many of them agree with his ideas on immigration.  Beside building a wall between here and Mexico, he also wants to keep illegal immigrant families together by deporting the children with their parents.

I'm not sure what I think about that.  The present law is clear: citizenship derives from "blood" and from "land" - if you were born to American citizens or you were born within the United States (regardless of the status of your parents), you are an American citizen.  So The Donald is saying the law has to be changed to eliminate the derivation from "land".  I have to admit there is something downright appealing about that notion.  Yes, I am all about protecting children, but if you follow that line of logic, we will be throwing open our borders for children from every Third World, impoverished, dictatorial country out there.  I am truly sorry, but we can't go there, as the saying goes.  One thing I learned, the hard way, is that you cannot save everybody. (You want to save children?  Contact your local social service agency and offer to foster or adopt a child, an American child.  Or call CASA or the Guardian ad Litem Program in your area, and become a volunteer to protect the best interests of American children.  Contact your state legislators and tell them to stop cutting funding for child-related social service programs.)

I was watching Triple G, not to be confused the Triple D, on Food Network last night.  I am tempted to re-christen it the Guy Fieri Network, and even though my scalp hurts every time I see him on the screen, I like him and I like both of his evening shows.  Last night it was Guy's Grocery Games, and one of the curve balls thrown at the contestants was a restriction to pick their foods from the frozen aisle. People moaned and groaned like they were being asked to go through the garbage bins at the local Chinese retaurant in order to create a fabulous dish.  Hey, I like frozen foods!  I revere Clarence Birdseye!  Properly treated, frozen foods can work up into awesome dishes.  I'm not dissing fresh here - those were fresh asparagus spears and fresh green onions that went into the quinoa dish last night - but we all know there are times the produce section presents some pretty poor pickings, and the only way to satisfy a craving for green beans or brussel sprouts is to buy them frozen.

I have a garden which occasionally offers up an edible selection of okra, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and herbs.  As this is my first year gardening, I have made some mistakes and the pickings are still sort of slim.  Like me.  When you get an okra pod every other day, you've got to be creative in using the small amounts in a timely fashion so that the early picks don't go bad before you have just enough to make a recipe.  Same thing with the Ichiban eggplants, but that's what I'm eating for lunch today and that's another blog post.  There was a single perfect cherry tomato and I ate it.  It was the best cherry tomato I have ever eaten.

I am home today, I have neither the ambition nor the strength to venture past my property line.  That translates to frozen food: assuming I want to put those 5 okra pods to good use, and I do, I am going to have to rely on certain frozen vegetables to fill out the ingredient list for what I am irreverently naming "mock choux succotash". Walk this way, I may pull it off yet.

Having said that, my back is killing me, so I need to give the ibuprofen time to work its chemical magic before assembling ingredients.  This recipe is a mash-up from several different sources on the internet, plus two different recipes I've been making for years.

4 oz. tasso ham, diced (yes, I had this in my freezer)
small amount of olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons butter + more as needed
Emeril's Cajun seasoning
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup sliced okra
1 1/2 cups frozen bell pepper blend
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 1/2 cups frozen butter or lima beans
1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper
Crystal hot sauce, to taste
1/2 cup dairy sour cream (adjust the amount to your taste or leave it out)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the tasso and cook over medium for about 5 minutes until the tasso takes on deep color and renders out most of the fat.  Add the butter, and once it melts, add the onion, and season with the Cajun seasoning blend. Cook together over medium heat until onion softens, and then add the garlic. Cook for a minute and then add the okra.  Add more butter if needed.  Cook for another minute, then add the corn, lima beans, bell pepper blend, and tomatoes.  Raise the heat and bring to a boil; season with salt, pepper, and some more Cajun seasoning.  Add a few good shots of the hot sauce.  Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the excess liquid has mostly evaporated and all of the vegetables are tender (watch those butter beans, they like to stay toothsome). Take the skillet off the heat and stir in the sour cream.

Yes, pink.  Pink maque choux-succotash.  I said it was "mock" didn't I?  I would recommend trying this with a 10 oz. can of Ro-Tel tomatoes, just because it is a smaller can and has nifty green chilies.  You can find them in different degrees of heat.  You can adjust the ratio of corn to beans, like 2 cups corn to 1 cup beans, as long as it adds up to 3 cups, and if it doesn't, that's okay too.  If you don't like sour cream, leave it out for a more authentic maque choux.  Or stir in a little heavy cream.  

As it is now, I would like it served with white rice.  You could also kick up the protein content by adding cubed, cooked chicken or even shrimp.  If you don't keep a chunk of tasso in your freezer, switch it out for bacon or a zippy sausage.

Eat happy, my friends.

Monday, August 17, 2015

When Asparagus Met Quinoa

I've got asparagus, I've got quinoa, they want to get married and for me to throw the reception party. I've been trying to work this out in my head for a day or so, but no inspiration in this nation. Boring greens and grains.  Yes, the cat is driving me crazy.

Remember how I rhapsodized about the quiet - was it just yesterday?  Ha ha, well today, my neighbor is working outside to a loud Latin beat while there's a two-alarm something heading south on Clyde and a three-motorcycle contingent vrooming north on Clyde.  The juxtaposition of the two fire trucks screaming towards wherever the three motorcycles were vrooming from concerns me just a bit.  Well, if in fact the two noisy events were connected, I'm sure I'll catch it in tomorrow's local news.

This weekend, my soul is at peace.  Not sure if there is something about the medication, or having sent in my paperwork to Tallahassee, or a break in the worst of the pain.  Whatever it is, I am going to enjoy it while it lasts.

I finally worked out how to marry the asparagus with the quinoa.  Turns out the shidduch (matchmaker) for these two unlikely lovers was none other than bacon.  Everything is better with bacon.

Speaking of noise, everything I just wrote about is being drowned out by some pretty vicious thunder boomers.  The skies have darkened ominously, and the puppies are hiding.  Monsoon season has supplanted barbecue season in this part of Florida; no way I could have fired up the grill with this heading in.  No low and slow when you've got torrential rain storms on the horizon.

Quinoa with Asparagus and Bacon

6 slices bacon, chopped
4 green onions, white and light green parts sliced, dark green part set aside
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 to 1 pound thin asparagus, cut into 3/4 inch pieces, tips set aside
2/3 cup white quinoa
1-10 1/2 oz. can Campbell's chicken broth
1/2 cup frozen peas and carrots (La Fe brand with the little square-cut carrots)
1-2 tablespoons drained chopped pimentos
Emeril's Cajun seasoning
dried thyme
kosher salt
ground black pepper

Half-render the bacon in a heavy skillet on low-medium heat.  Add the onions, and cook until they start to soften.  Add the garlic and season the skillet contents with Cajun seasoning and thyme.  Keep cooking until the bacon is light brown, and not too crispy.  Add the cut up asparagus (excluding the tips); stir and cook for 1 minute.  Add the quinoa; raise the temperature to medium-high, and stir and cook for 1 minute.  Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Add the asparagus tips and the peas and carrots, lower the temperature to low, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

About those peas and carrots - I detest those big hunks of ruffle-cut frozen carrots that predominate all frozen vegetable mixtures.  I really love the frozen carrots that are cut into neat little squares about the same size as the peas.  If you can't find that peas and carrot blend in your local market, just use the peas.

Remove the cover from the skillet, and check the tenderness of the quinoa.  If there is liquid in the pan that hasn't been absorbed, carefully rest a piece of paper towel across the top of the skillet, and cover it.  Cook over low for another five or so minutes until the excess liquid is gone.

Pick out the nicest of the reserved green onion tops and slice them.  Remove the skillet from the heat, remove the cover (and paper towel if you used it) and stir the green onion and pimento into the quinoa.  Adjust your seasoning; taste first, because you may not need any additional salt.  Serve with a smile.

Speaking of smiles - no matter how hard I try, I can't make quinoa look pretty.  I've tried, but it insists on looking just meh.  This is one time that eating first with your eyes is a bad idea.  It tastes much better than it looks, trust me.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Spice Must Flow - Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Carrot Raisin Bread

So quiet.  Another Saturday adjacent to Courthouse Square, and the streets are blessedly silent, free from the maddening crowds of an average workday.  Well, perhaps with the notable exception of Clyde Avenue, masked as a local street, ha ha.

Clyde is actually a main thoroughfare linking the nearest fire station with the VFW Hall, double hairpin railroad crossings, lake access, and motorcycle club (there's got to be a motorcycle club, else where are they all coming from?) So sometimes the traffic is a bit crazy. Heavy enough to shake that side of my house and cause figurines to shift in the china cabinet and pictures to jump off the wall, breaking glass and my peace of mind.  Even on a Saturday.

 LIRR tracks running perpendicular to Ocean Parkway 

That just reminded me of something my grandmother told me about the Long Island Railroad train that used to run right alongside the building in which she lived in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.  Come to think of it, I lived there too, for a year or two, before we began our clandestine trek to the 'burbs.

I had never given much thought to this, being then 5 years old and not yet a train nut, but there were railroad tracks and a tunnel right where it needed to be to take the train under Ocean Parkway.  If I remember correctly, that tunnel was immediately adjacent to the parking garage which ran under the building. (My friend Mark might remember this better than me, being a fellow Midwoodite and train nut.) There was some kind of a pedestrian overpass (I'm pretty sure this is what I am thinking of, captured on film by Forgotten NY), and the building custodian used to build a snow igloo for us kids to play in, or a snowman with coal nugget eyes and a carrot nose (corny, but hey, it was the fifties). When the train, which ran on what was the old LIRR Bay Ridge line, rumbled past our building, my grandmother would have to straighten all the pictures on that side of the apartment.  I am pretty sure that by the time my brother and I had gone to live with my grandparents, that line had stopped running passenger trains, and even freight trains had become infrequent.

I don't remember when or why I became so enamored of trains and rail lines, but whenever that was, it has stuck with me for a lifetime.  Okay, that's enough about choo choos.  For now.

Since it is so nice and quiet on the weekend, Rob and I are pretty serious about firing up the grill and smoking some different meats, most notably a 3 pound hunk of Boar's Head bologna. We've had the smoked bologna at Thompson Brother's BBQ in Smyrna, Georgia any number of times and it is ridiculously delicious.  I've got hickory and apple wood waiting to be soaked in water, beer, or apple juice.  It's been a very long time since I attempted any kind of barbecue, but I used to be kinda good at it.

But right now, I'm focused on a pumpkin carrot raisin bread, using mini loaf tins.  First comes the spice mixture, which I have chosen to make up myself.  This is very different from commercial pumpkin pie spice, or from any of the online recipes.  Those mixtures rely heavily on cloves, which I love (but Robert doesn't), although it still reminds me of childhood trips to the dentist.  I substituted cardamom for the ground ginger, but I am thinking about adding some ginger paste to the actual batter.  There's orange peel in there, and a couple of spicy surprises, but since both pumpkin and carrot tend to be a bit bland, I think this will work.  As you can see, this is most definitely a work in progress.

You dune know how good it is till you try it

Sweet & Spicy Melange 

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons dried orange peel
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8  teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine in a small covered container and set aside.

Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Carrot Raisin Bread

3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons Sweet & Spicy Melange
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 extra large eggs
3 cups sugar
1-15 oz. can pure pumpkin
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup raisins
optional: small amount of pepitas (shelled, roasted pumpkin seeds)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a very large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, spice mix, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar to combine.  Add the pumpkin, oil and water, whisking lightly after each addition.

Spray 5 mini loaf tins with baking no-stick spray (there is flour in it).  Place the tins on a baking sheet.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon, just to combine. Stir in the carrots and raisins.  Immediately divide the batter among the tins, top with some pepitas on each loaf, and slide into the preheated oven.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes.  Halfway through, turn the baking sheet front to back.  Remove the finished tins to a cooling rack.  You can leave the breads in the tins until ready to slice and serve.

I have to tell you, these came out even better than expected.  The bread was moist but light, the spice was just right, the pumpkin and carrot were in perfect balance.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

And We'll Have Fun - Chicken with Shallots

You know what fun is?  Fun is seeing a recipe on the internet, and knowing what you are making for dinner tomorrow, because you've got all the ingredients in the house.  Okay, so your definition of fun is different from mine - stipulated.  Look, with the weather and my mood, I've sort have been confined to the house.  Fun is a relative term.                                   

Fun is also when Chelsea takes a selfie

I love Andrew Zimmern.  I don't love the same foods he loves; heck, who does?  Stinky tofu, deep fried gonads, rotting fish that happen to pee through their skin (skate, anybody?), greasy grimy gopher guts, maggot-infested cheese, crunchy insects - not for me.  But this recipe, which is entitled "Rishia (wife of Andrew) Zimmern's Chicken with Shallots" involves nary an insect.  Instead, the list of ingredients is so appealing, I started pulling chicken thighs out of the freezer and checking on the condition of the shallots on the counter (you don't refrigerate shallots) and the cherry tomatoes on the vine.  I am so planning this for tomorrow.

I know there are a hell of a lot of people who don't cook or won't cook. I guess I don't get it, but that's what makes horse races.  I hate to shop, I can't run or exercise, I am hopeless with a sewing machine, I don't get cosplay or cute crafts, and I can't decorate a house. I am definitely not the most interesting person in the world.

But an interesting recipe is a great find, and I think I found it.

Day 3 of the new medication - too soon to know if it is going to do the job, but I feel a little better - and a lot less angry - possibly as a result of being off the preceding pharmacological fubar for several days.  I am becoming a hermit, which I think I get from my grandmother, which she got from her father, my great-grandfather Charles Albert.  I told you I come from a long line of short, chubby, depressed Jewish women - I really should have opened the list to include my great-grandpa.  Oh, but that's a whole other blog post, maybe more than one.

First row, second from the left - "Prince" Albert

I still cannot go to the office.  I don't know what that is all about; I did nothing wrong.  I got sick, damn it. Everyone was very kind and helpful while I was spiraling out of control, so why am I afraid to go up there to say hello and pick up a few things?  I wonder if Grandpa Albert was afraid?  He lived in his little world - the music store, the room in back of the store where he lived with his dog - and that was it. Here is a man who was a musician, who had, at least on one memorable occasion, played his clarinet for the Czar of all Russias, had sailed the deep blue seas, one step ahead of the Cossacks, to the New World, where he opened a business and raised a passel of kids.  Surely at some point during his long life - he was 83 when he was killed during a robbery in his store - he must have been an outgoing and fearless man?  When did that change?  Why did that change?  Oh hell, I can't figure out why this is happening to me much less understand my great-grandpa. (Actually, I'm pretty sure he was in the early stages on senile dementia, same as what my grandmother went through.)

The hell with this, there are bigger things going on in the world.  The U.S. Embassy just reopened in Havana.  The Donald is still Numero Uno of the Republican candidates. Yes, we all must be taking crazy pills.  Dr. Ben Carson is rising up in the polls; the media is already honing in for the attack. Too bad, I like Dr. Carson. Hillary is well ahead of Bernie Sanders in the polls in Iowa.  Bernie, poor Bernie. A self-proclaimed socialist who also just happens to be Jewish - you have as much a chance of winning the Democratic nomination as Anakin Skywalker (who probably has better name recognition).

The Next President turns his back on me

I know that some polls, which are focusing on "truthfulness" and "trustworthiness" have noted (with glee; remember, I watch Fox News) that Hillary is losing numbers; people don't trust her.  To which I say, so what?  We the People do not expect our political leaders, including the President, to be truthful. Why? Because they never are. They never have been. They never will be. The sad fact is that a truthful politician is an inept politician.  Yes, I'm a cynic; one of the privileges of encroaching old age.

On that happy note - I have food on the horizon.  First, I am gathering the ingredients for Rishia Zimmern's Chicken with Shallots.  Second, I am assembling my mise en place for Pumpkin Carrot Raisin Bread.

But - before anything, let me kvetch about my back and kvell about my burnt ends from Jimmy Bear's BBQ.  I guess the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Yes, I see the fat.  (I also see the fried pickles.)  Fat is Good.  Fat is Flavor.  My back hurts, STILL, and the Fat makes me feel better.  What can I say?

Now, the chicken:  I followed the recipe as given, except I made a half-batch - four chicken thighs, 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, 11 shallots (because that's what I had in the house) - but a full-batch of sauce. That's what I do with my Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic, because I like to have a lot of sauce for reheating.  I almost died from just the salt and pepper seasoning - my hand kept sneaking to the spice cabinet - but I restrained myself till the end, when I dusted the top of the chicken with a small amount of Emeril's Essence.  Mea culpa.

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, sprigs of fresh tarragon, and Grey Poupon

When it came to reducing the sauce, I turned the chicken skin side down and reduced the sauce for 15 minutes. After that I moved the chicken to a baking dish, removed the sprigs of tarragon (trust me, they gave their all), and reduced the sauce for another 15 minutes.  During that time, I added the cherry tomatoes.  I also tasted the sauce and adjusted the seasoning with more salt, a dash or so of cayenne pepper, some fresh tarragon leaves, and fresh flat leaf parsley.

At the very end, I shut off the heat and stirred in another tablespoon of butter.  Finally, I spooned the awesome sauce over and around the chicken and garnished with more fresh parsley, which I chopped.

Here is the link to the recipe for Rishia Zimmern's Chicken with Shallots, which she adapted from Martha Stewart.  You see that her final dish is lighter in color than mine, probably because I was using a cast iron skillet, and I let the chicken take its sweet ass time getting a nice shade of brown.  I'm still getting used to cooking in cast iron.  I also let the cherry tomatoes cook a bit longer than the recipe calls for.

This is really good.  The sauce is surprisingly rich (don't skip the reduction stage) and the chicken extra tender.