Saturday, September 19, 2015

Out of Sync - Down and Dirty Lemon Zucchini Muffins

Nothing that was supposed to happen today happened today.  I seem to be experiencing an annoying increase in palpitations, real rib-knockers, the type I haven't had in many years. I know what causes them - I have a tricuspid valve prolapse - and I know what to do about them - I have been faithfully taking a daily dose of propanalol, aka Inderal, since the early eighties - and it is rare indeed that the palpitations break through the beneficial effects of the medication. These are not life-threatening, at least I don't think they are, and by the way I have a little heart murmur as well, a souvenir from scarlet fever in the sixth grade, but they are annoying and they do knock me out.  Which is why I still haven't crept downstairs to start my day, although it is embarrassingly late, and that totally precludes my pack-and-go visit to the office. Crap. Better luck Monday. 

  • I finally did make it downstairs to make a cup of coffee and pick up Chelsea (her brothers were upstairs with me, leaving her to bark her lonely little head off) but we headed back upstairs, and if I could, I would stay here the rest of the day, drinking coffee, napping, blogging, knitting and coloring. Yes, coloring. Very relaxing. No cooking today, as I wore myself out yesterday making soup and brownies. Cooking tomorrow, or maybe Sunday. Today's recipe is for the muffins I made a few days ago - my blog and recipes are rarely in sync - like me, ha ha.  What I do have to do today is pick up a few dozen eggs and semolina flour.  I have to resolve NOT to make this an opportunity to stroll up and down the aisles at Publix for two blissful hours. Even that can be too tiring for me, and I'm starting the day physically exhausted and mentally off-kilter (just a tad. Kind of nice.)
  • I picked up a big bag of gorgeous zucchini at BJs last week, with no clear idea of what I was going to do with them. So far, I used them while preparing the 5776 Brisket and in the Cherry Tomato Pasta Salad.  I think what I had in my head all along, though, was to use them in a muffin. So I typed "zucchini muffin" into the browser, and was rewarded with a whole bunch of possibilities, but they all had the same basic flavors - cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, nuts - and I was looking for something different.  Especially, as it turned out, one of those recipes that showed up on search was my own. Ha! I thought briefly about making that one - the Carrot-Zucchini Muffin from January of this year - but I really wanted something different. No cinnamon, as much as I adore it. No brown sugar or applesauce.  Maybe lemon. Lemon and zucchini go so well together, right?
  • I found an interesting recipe on a site called "iFOODreal" which combined the fresh zucchini with whole wheat flour, avocado or coconut oils, Greek yogurt, maple syrup, and lots and lots of lemon. The mom who writes the blog is working on feeding her family "clean eating" recipes. While my version does not qualify as "dirty eating" I have made changes to use more conventional ingredients. If you would like to check out her recipe, just click on the link to iFOODreal.  The topping she developed is absolutely fabulous. 
  • Down and Dirty Lemon Zucchini Muffins

  • 2 extra large eggs, lightly whisked
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Log Cabin syrup
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • juice and zest of 1 large lemon
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini, excess liquid squeezed out (I use a dish towel)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour

  • Topping:
  • 1/4 cup rolled quick oats
  • 1 tablespoon Log Cabin syrup
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • zest of 1 large lemon
  • 3 tablespoons sweetened coconut flakes 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tin with paper liners. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream, Log Cabin syrup, canola oil, lemon juice and zest, baking powder and baking soda. Whisk well to combine, making sure baking powder and baking soda have dissolved. You're going to get some foaming action here. Stir in the shredded zucchini and set aside briefly.

  • Sift together the two flours and the salt;  add to the zucchini mixture and stir gently to combine. Do not over mix.  

  • In a small bowl, combine the topping ingredients and mix with a spoon. Using a large ice cream scoop, fill the muffin tin with batter. Spoon some of the mixed topping on each muffin..  

  • Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let muffins cool in the tin for at least 60 minutes before transferring onto a cooling rack to cool off completely.  Do not skip this step, otherwise the paper liners will stick when you try to peel it off.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Everybody Wang Chung Tonight - Shrimp and Crab Devilled Eggs

How much longer before Donald Trump starts to tank in the polls? I have to admit that I expected it to happen long before this. Instead, he keeps get stronger, with ever-higher double digit poll numbers that are the envy of everyone else running for the position.  What does this say about the voting public? Everybody have fun tonight? Everybody wang chung tonight! The Donald shakes things up; he has enough money and more than enough chutzpah to say whatever he wants and anyone who doesn't like it can kiss his tuchis. And he says things other people would like to say but are afraid due to the ubiquitous spectre of political correctness. The Donald is New York. The Donald is fun. And let's face it - this is going to be one hell of a long election season, and Donald is necessary comic relief.

Watching the Republican candidate's debate on CNN. My problem is cognitive overload - eleven candidates talking over each other, five CNN folks trying to unsuccessfully manage the conversation. They might as well try to herd cats. The bright lights and flashy colors, the voices, the arguments - too many notes.  My eyes are starting to burn and my head is starting to hurt.  P.S.: Carly Fiorina is doing a fabulous job up there.

Having been woken up at a ridiculous cow-milking hour by palpitations (can't blame that on the fibromyalgia), I popped my daily Inderal earlier than usual and began checking my mail and the news. Looks like CNN agrees with me in declaring Carly Fiorina the winner of last night's shindig. For every winner there has to be a loser, and last night's was as obvious as the nose on my face (go check my photo to the left) - Rand Paul. Feh. Rand, after last night's debate, you've been fired.  Next time, expect to be consigned to the second tier candidates.

So we have a winner, a runner-up (in my opinion, Jeb Bush; CNN declared that to be Marco Rubio, with Jeb third)) a loser, and a disappointment - Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, and someone I like to listen to, except when he goes off the deep end about religion, or when he (and many other politicians) insist that the courts are "legislating from the bench."  Okay, follow me here: just because you don't agree with the court's decision doesn't mean they are legislating from the bench.  Case law is a primary source of law. The Court's job is to interpret the law, and many times that results in the law being tossed out. That is what happened when the Supreme Court decided that the state laws denying same sex couples the right to get married are violative of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. As a result of that decision, most states began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.  That's not legislation, that's interpretation, and yes, it does make law. Governor Huckabee's fundamentalist support of Kim Davis, the Clerk in Kentucky who refuses to follow the law, is a bit scary, based as it is on "God's Law". The First Amendment forbids the supremacy of God's Law, and Governor Huckabee should know better. You can disagree with the law, but you should not disobey it, especially when, like Kim Davis (who I thought was going to fall down on the stage floor, start writhing and speaking in tongues) you have take an oath of office to uphold the law. Shame on you, Mike Huckabee.

In case you had not already figured it out, I love the whole Presidential election process. Having all these Republican candidates to put under the microscope, to discuss with Robert and others (keeping in mind that politics is something you really shouldn't discuss with most people) is my idea of fun. Your mileage may vary.

I have a new toy I want to try out, so I decided to make a small batch of devilled eggs and use my "Eggstractor" to help me peel the hard boiled eggs "instantly."  Ha.  Don't waste your money.

Shrimp and Crab Devilled Eggs

6 medium eggs, hard boiled, cooled, and peeled, plus 1 for good luck
12 cooked and peeled salad shrimp, defrosted and rinsed in cool water
1/8 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup crab meat (I had some crab legs in the house)
2 heaping tablespoons Hellmann's mayonnaise
1/4 rounded teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 rounded teaspoon prepared horseradish (Gold's white)
1/8 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

You just know that you are probably going to lose one or more egg whites to the peeling process, no matter how careful you are. So I always add an extra to the pot.  If all the shells come off perfectly, that's great. In any case, I add the extra yolk to the filling, which gives you a nice, piled-high devilled egg half.

Pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel. In a small bowl, toss them with the lemon juice and set aside. In another small bowl, combine the crab meat with the remaining ingredient. Remove the yolks from the eggs and grate them, using a small box grater, right into the rest of the filling. Stir gently to incorporate and smooth the yolks, then fill the egg white halves with a small spoon.

Carefully press a shrimp into each filled egg, curved side up. Use the spoon to smooth the filling so it holds the shrimp in place.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters - Cherry Tomato Pasta Salad

Glory be, I slept last night! It was only 5 1/2 hours, but it was uninterrupted, and on that basis I claim a moral victory. I would do a happy dance, but the floor upstairs tilts, especially in the morning, and I run the risk of landing on my ass, so I'll save the dancing for a more level occasion.

Truthfully I wasn't sure I was going to make it. The benadryl did not seem to be working, and I was on a roll in Words with Friends. That in itself is a positive sign, because when the brain fog is really bad, I can't manage Words or my other favorite, Free Cell. On the other hand, when I get too wrapped up in Words, I tend not to fall asleep.  Fortunately, all my Words Friends seemed to fall asleep before me, and I eventually followed suit.

This is going to sound weird, but I have to come to terms with the fact that some days I am going to feel pretty good. There are two problems with that: first, I start feeling guilty about being out of work and applying for disability, even though I know, at least intellectually, that (and here's the second problem) it's not going to last.  So I have to stop feeling guilty, but hell, guilt is in my DNA.


Ichiban eggplant

Cherry tomatoes

My garden has been a great deal of fun this season, with the best producers being the okra, ichiban eggplant and cherry tomatoes.  You might call it an embarrassment of riches, what with all those fresh vegetables begging to be picked each morning. I wanted to do something I hadn't recently done with tomatoes, and this salad came to mind. This recipe is really all about those sweet, fresh tomatoes and my brainstorm turned out to be a tomato tribute.  I only wish I'd had more of the mini eggplants available. Obviously if you can't find them, just leave them out.  Pasta salads are wonderfully flexible that way.

2 cups uncooked pasta (tricolor rotini or this Wacky Mac blend of shapes and flavors)
1 dry pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium zucchini, cut into small cubes
2 large green onions, sliced
1 small stalk celery, with leaves, chopped
2 ichiban eggplants, sliced and fried
10 black olives, halved lengthwise
15 pimento-stuffed green olives, halved lengthwise
3 petite kosher dills, sliced
1/2 cup Athenos crumbled feta cheese, garlic and herb flavor
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup pizza size pepperoni slices, quartered
Ken's Light Options Balsamic Vinaigrette, to taste
Herbes de Provence, to taste

Cook the pasta according to package direction; rinse with cold water and drain well.  Combine all ingredients in an extra large bowl.  Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sleep Be Not Proud -The Ultimate Okra Fritters

Can't sleep. Waking up every two hours is pretty far from restful. The paresthesia - insane itching to us regular folks - has temporarily moved from my arms to everywhere else. Not only are the sleep disturbance and insane itching annoying, they are expensive - since I am up at an ungodly hour, I checked my mail, which led me to follow a link to Amazon, which led me to order a new cookbook. Pasta By Hand: A Collection of Italy's Regional Hand-Shaped Pasta. It'll be here Wednesday. I  found it appealing because there is nothing in it that requires any specialized equipment like a pasta roller, which is good because you can probably purchase that on Amazon as well, and I don't want to get started with that - I just want to learn how to make really good gnocchi and gnudi.

One of the annoying hallmarks of insomnia is that once that every-two-hour wake cycle has subsided, usually about 6:30 am, you are able to sleep. I can't tell you how many times I jumped on a moving LIRR train or ran a red light because of it.  Like Bill Clinton, I have a reputation for being punctuality challenged, and some years back, one of my judges took judicial notice of the fact the I do not do mornings.

Fortunately I had nowhere to go this morning, so despite Chelsea's snoring like a lawn mower with a broken gear, I managed to pick up a few hours albeit at the wrong end of my sleep cycle.

Athene also snored very loudly without cessation, except she sounded like the TARDIS. Sometimes I would wake up to that sound and start looking for David Tennant in my bedroom.  Ahem.

Unfortunately, that morning sleep time does not compensate for a normal night's unbroken sleep, so here I am, huddled in the corner of the living room, in the dark, trying to swim to the surface for some daylight.  It hurts to keep my head upright, and my brain is stuck on stupid. I have some mail to respond to, but it is freaking me out.  I have an appointment in the Universal Studios area at 4:00 and I am already panicking about getting there on time. It's odd, and definitely unpleasant, just how the fibromyalgia makes one feel so vulnerable to everyday demands.

Okra Fritter Aficionados: Discard that beta version, peeps! What I have here will make you jump for joy, if you are the type of person who is inclined to react that way to food, and even if you are not.  These okra fritters will make you want to run out and plant a half dozen okra plants in your garden.  They are so delicious all on their own, showcasing that wonderful okra flavor (garden-fresh but earthy) that you may not want to bother with any kind of dipping sauce.

You really do have enough batter to cover the vegetables.  

However - it occurred to me that I always serve my corn fritters with maple syrup (actually Log Cabin, go ahead and shoot me) or honey, and so I tried a little drizzle of Log Cabin on an okra fritter, and it was very good. Part of that is the tiny bite of heat from the cayenne, which is complimented by the sweet syrup.  

                    I told you that you had enough batter. The trick is to use the rubber spatula.

The Ultimate Okra Fritters

1 - 12 oz package fresh okra pods, blanched, chilled, and sliced (about 2 - 2 1/2 cups sliced)
1/2 cup small chop red bell pepper
1 bunch green onions, sliced (discard only the darkest green ends)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup Bisquick
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon McCormick garlic pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 extra large egg
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup plus 1 full tablespoon milk

Prepare the vegetables: Blanch the whole okra pods in salted boiling water for 4 minutes, then immediately move them to a bowl of ice water. After 5 minutes, move the drained okra to a bowl or pan lined with paper towels, and leave in the fridge while you do the rest of the preparation.

Melt the butter in a small skillet; add the red bell pepper, two-thirds of the sliced green onions, and the garlic and sauté until the peppers are tender and the onions and garlic are fragrant. Set the skillet aside to cool while you prepare the batter. Chop the reserved green onion a bit finer, and add to the cooling vegetables.

In a large bowl, combine the Bisquick, dry mustard, nutmeg, paprika, salt, pepper, basil, granulated garlic, garlic pepper and cayenne pepper, and whisk until the spices are evenly distributed.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the egg, Dijon mustard, and milk, whisk together, then bring in the dry ingredients in and whisk until smooth. Set aside while you slice the blanched okra.

With a rubber spatula, fold all of the vegetables into the batter.  Over medium, heat a half inch of canola oil over in a large deep skillet.  Using a medium scoop, put the batter into the hot oil, immediately using the back of the scoop to flatten out the fritter to a diameter of roughly 3 inches.  Repeat with two more scoops of fritter. Fry the fritters on both sides until golden brown, and then with a slotted metal spatula, remove them to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining batter.  The recipe yields about 15 fritters.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Real Southern Queen - Mushroom Risotto with Sherry and Cream

Yesterday, which was Sunday, I managed to complete my shopping at both BJ's and Publix, which was quite an accomplishment given the fibro flare that tackled me, wrestled me to the ground, and totally stole my Saturday. I always check out their cookbooks; can't help it.  Lately the pickings have been scarce, but yesterday I hit the jackpot when I found Paula Deen's newest book, Paula Deen Cuts the Fat.

I had planned on purchasing this book about two years ago, before all the trouble happened.  When "it" hit the fan, the publishing company dumped the project in a burst of knee-jerk political correctness. Paula pulled herself back up, marshaled her resources, and self-published.  It happens to be a lovely book and the recipes are very, very good, and I am thrilled to finally own it.

And that's all I'm going to say about that, except to add that the American media, as well as a good part of the public, are still terrified by powerful, successful women. That is why, in 2015, we still have never been led by a woman President, although many other nations got past that stupidity a long time ago.  That's why Martha Stewart went to prison (albeit a short sentence), why Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to an inexperienced, opportunistic senator from Illinois, and why Paula Deen was treated like a 19th century leper for admitting to saying a certain word, in the privacy of her home, over 25 years ago, in referring to the bank robber who stuck a gun in her face.  If Carly Fiorina starts to rise even more in the polls, look out for vultures.

Now that I got that out of my system, let me say that we had a nice dinner last night including the 5776 Brisket, and the Mushroom Risotto, which is today's recipe. But before that , just at sundown, I drizzled some honey on a few slices of the challah I'd bought earlier at Publix (the Florida version of Waldbaum's) so Rob and I could celebrate our wish for the sweetness of the New Year.

Today, I had hoped to work on the okra fritter, and went so far as to blanch the whole okra pods, but my fibro flare was apparently not done with me yet, and I am back on my ass, hoping the pain will cop a walk, at least long enough for me to get something done.  Besides the okra fritters, I am hoping to try out a recipe for Lemon Zucchini Muffins. Right now, I couldn't stand long enough to grate the zucchini anymore than I could do Zumba. Ibuprofen, do your stuff!

Despite a reputation of mystical proportions, risotto is not difficult to prepare.  In fact, if you can make Rice-a-Roni, you can make risotto.  The only difference in the preparation is that for risotto, instead of adding your liquid, covering your pan and walking away, you have to add the liquid incrementally - about a half a cup at a time - and stir into the rice until absorbed.

Now a couple of observations - risotto is, to this Jewish cook, a bit like preparing kasha varnishkes.  Pretty easy, not too many ingredients, but requiring multiple pots to put it all together.  Risotto also falls into that category of recipes Alton Brown refers to as "refrigerator velcro" - dishes like omelets and gratins - in which the only limit to creativity is the contents of your fridge.  The basic risotto only requires some broth, a small amount of onion cooked in butter or oil, and the most important ingredient, Arborio rice.  The finished dish is different than any other rice dish you have probably ever eaten.  It is rich and creamy and comforting.  I love long grain rice in all it's permutations, from plain buttered to Savannah red, and I also adore Asian sticky rice, but if you've never eaten risotto, you've never really eaten rice. The best risotto I ever tasted was in Bologna, Italy, over Thanksgiving of 2004.  A curried seafood version which I have managed to recreate at home.  I wouldn't even mind it as my Last Meal, should I ever require the need for a Last Meal.

My favorite risotto is a mushroom risotto, however, and this dish manages to elevate the humble white button mushroom to new heights.  You can certainly use shittakes, which I love but tend to avoid because they are usually seriously overpriced, and I would also avoid portobellos and their Cousin Cremini.  I have lots of good things to do with Bella and Cremini, but they are too assertive for this otherwise delicate dish.

1 tablespoon butter
8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced
kosher salt
ground black pepper
dried thyme
1/2 cup dry sherry (not cooking sherry)
1/2 cup light or heavy cream
6-8 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup minced sweet onion or shallots
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

First, prepare the mushrooms:  in a skillet over moderate heat, melt the butter; add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until soft.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Turn the heat to high and add the sherry.  Cook until reduced by half, then lower the heat and add the cream.  Cook another five minutes until mixture has thickened somewhat.  Take off the heat and set aside.

Next, bring the stock to a bare simmer and hold it there. Taste it to determine the level of salt and let that be your guide for adding salt to the risotto.

And now, because you haven't already used a bunch of pots and pans, heat the butter and oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes, but do not allow the onions to brown.  Add the rice to the same pot and using a wooden spoon, stir for one minute, just until the rice grains are well coated with the butter and oil.  Don't cook the rice any longer than one minute.  Now start adding the simmering broth, about one-half cup at a time.  Stir to prevent sticking, and wait until each addition of stock is almost completely absorbed before adding the next half cup.

When most of the stock is used up, and the rice is tender, add the mushroom-sherry mixture, the Parmesan cheese, and the parsley.  Stir well to completely combine with the rice.

Finally, if you like, stir in a tablespoon or two of butter and/or cream.  Serve immediately. You can reheat leftovers in the microwave with pretty decent results.  If you have any leftovers.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Shana Tova - 5776 Brisket and Vegetables in BBQ Sauce

Oh no, not again. I am not losing another day to fibro-fucking-myaligia. I have things I want to do today. Tonight (Sunday) is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, and while my big holiday cooking days are over - big multi-course family dinners for 15 or 20, all that great Jewish food to weigh us down - I still have a brisket in the fridge and I am going to cook it.  I think I can get that one thing done, breaking back and aching arms be damned.

Feeding family and friends was always such a joyous project for me, and over the years there were so many holidays to celebrate. Not all of them every year - my mother-in-law, and a sister-in-law, an aunt and a cousin all hosted different holiday dinners.  It was quite nice when everyone got together, whether it was Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The Jewish holidays have their own list of special dishes, all that symbolic stuff I love.  If this was 20 years ago, I'd be cutting up apples to dip in honey to symbolize a sweet new year, grating potatoes and onions for kugel, baking honey cake and trying to find room in my oven for brisket and turkey and trays of special stuffing. If this was 30 years ago, I would also be baking my own challah.

But today is neither and the family is far-flung or even worse, gone forever.  Still, my boys deserve a taste of the past, and I've got just the brisket to do it.

Of course, I won't be participating in the macaroni and cheese challenge next week. Who was I kidding? What next, competing on "Chopped"?  If this had been all about producing one perfect baking pan full of the best mac and cheese recipe, I could have done it.  But having to prepare the equivalent of 4 trays and having to do it all at the same time, the morning of the competition, and then worry about keeping it at 145 degrees - well, as Mother Superior Helen Gaius Mohiam explains to a young Paul Atriedes when he asked what happened to the men who undertook the spice agony, "they tried, and died."

Today I will consider myself lucky to do my shopping at Publix and BJs, cook the brisket, and prepare mushroom risotto.

Brisket is one of my favorite cuts of beef, and the one most associated with Jewish cooking.  Our pot roasts were from briskets, unlike many other pot roast recipes I've come across over the years. Brisket is also the cut of choice for Texas pitmasters.  I have successfully smoked a brisket or two in my day, and the results are fabulous.  I briefly considered smoking this brisket, but the weather has been iffy this whole week, and I am simply not up to tending to smoked meat during a tsunami.  This recipe is a minor variation on my favorite, extra-simple pot roast.  I added the vegetables and some seasoning, but even with that it is ridiculously easy to prepare and virtually mistake-proof.

There is a fabulous gravy that is created during the cooking process, and it can be served with any kind of potato preparation. Traditionally, I would make a potato kugel to accompany a Passover brisket, potato latkes for Hanukkah, and either one for Rosh Hashanah.  If I was feeding a whole bunch of people, I would probably also prepare a smallish turkey and bake my High Holy Day Cornbread Stuffing, full of turkey sausage, apples, challah and cornbread.  In that case, I would definitely go for the potato latkes, to maintain some variety in the texture. And let's face it, you can never go wrong service mashed potatoes.  Never.  I can't emphasize that enough.

But this will be for my immediate family, and I've been filling them full of mashed potatoes lately, and I just happened to have a half pound of mushrooms in the fridge begging to be cooked.  I'll post that recipe tomorrow. Today is for that lovely brisket. Incidentally, if my mother could see the current price per pound of brisket, she would plotz.  It used to be a cheap cut, cheap because it was tough and required hours of slow cooking. Now that it's trendy, you may have to float a bank loan, but once in a while, it is very well worth it.

5776 Brisket and Vegetables in BBQ Sauce

4 large sliced onions
2-3 large carrots
3 stalks celery
1-2 zucchini
4-6 cloves garlic
Emeril's Original Essence

6 pounds beef brisket
McCormick Montreal steak seasoning

2 cups Heinz ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup water

Halve and slice the onions. Cut the carrots, celery into 3-inch pieces. If the garlic cloves are very large, cut them in half lengthwise. Place all these vegetable in the bottom of a very large baking pan. Sprinkle with Emeril's Essence.

Rinse the brisket under cold water and lay it on top of the vegetables, fat side up.  Sprinkle the top with the Montreal steak seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and water. Stir until smooth. Pour over the top of the brisket so that it is completely covered and drizzle any remaining sauce over the vegetables. Cover tightly with heavy duty aluminum and place into the preheated oven. Cook undisturbed for 2 hours.  Check to make sure there is liquid under the brisket and that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Return the covered pan to the oven for another 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until a large fork can pierce the brisket all or almost all the way through.  Remove the foil and with a wooden spoon scrape any sauce remaining on top of the brisket into the liquid in the pan.  Return the uncovered pan to the oven for another 30 minutes. If you have left the fat cap intact, switch the oven to broil for a few minutes to give the top a more finished look.

Remove the pan from the oven and carefully remove the brisket to a large cutting board and let it cool. Slice against the grain. I recommend using an electric knife if you have one. Serve with the gravy and vegetables.

I do not remove the fat cap.  I live for that fat - it is a special treat and remember, fat is flavor.  You can always remove most of it before cooking, but best that you cook with it on, and just remove before eating, if you can't eat it for any reason.  Leftovers should be placed back in the gravy and stored in the fridge.  This will only get better as a leftover.  Enjoy - I know you will.                                                                

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hurts So Bad

Today's ear worm is brought to you courtesy of Little Anthony and the Imperials. 1965 was a very good year for popular music.

I know you
Don't know what I'm going through
Standing here looking at you
Well let me tell you that it hurts so bad
It makes me feel so sad
It makes me hurt so bad
To see you again

I knew it was coming.  Despite feeling pretty good the past week, there was some part of my brain whispering "don't get used to it." The pain started early yesterday, in my side, and it was a sharp S.O.B. I thought I might be able to walk it off, but that didn't work out the way I had hoped, and by yesterday evening my nerve endings staged a protest. Standing, sitting, walking - I guess I had a hell of a nerve (bad pun) trying to get on with my life in a normal matter.

It's hard to describe how this all feels, but at some point all I can do is roll up in a ball while crouching down on the floor.  That was yesterday.

Today the pain is all-encompassing, and that has scrambled my brain a bit.  I had some minor plans for today, but even a trip to Publix is beyond my abilities.  Harvesting one tiny eggplant and two cherry tomatoes has done me in. I am back upstairs on my bed, waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in and take the edge off.

Sometime last night I dreamt I was dancing with Henry Winkler.  I can't dance, at least outside of my dreams.  But then, I dreamt I was back at the psychiatric hospital.  Good dream, bad dream. I have flashes of being back there, just sitting and seeing the halls I walked endlessly and the door to my room, stark and sterile. Then today I realized something - that the best medication in the world cannot protect me from the dark depression that comes with a flare-up of fibromyalgia.

No recipe today, I am truly sorry.  I had great plans to perfect those okra fritters, but I never even got close to the front door to pick up more ingredients. Instead, I fell asleep listening to music.

Feel like I hit a brick wall.  We'll try this again tomorrow.

Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11th, again - Okra Fritters, Beta Version

September 11th. I hate this day.

In past years, I have written blog posts to address the events of September 11, 2001, all full of passion and fury, pain and righteous indignation. This year, I just can't do it.  If I start, I'll get angry, and you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

My thoughts are with you, Denise.

Rest in peace, Mike. 

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

Today would have been former Florida Governor Reubin Askew's 87th birthday. One of the few honest politicians any where, any time. Rest in peace, sir.

Right to Left: Her Serene Highness, Princess Chelsea Rose, Reigning Queen of Everything; Ninja Husband; Jedi Knight and Sometime Dark Lord of the Sith Anakin Skywalker, Darth Kitten

It's a lazy day - the office of Taxman USA is closed, and Robert is out helping his mom with a doctor visit.  I am finishing the bake off of the hermit cookies; looks like the yield is 35 cookies, just under 3 dozen.  A night in the fridge did not harm them in the least.

My biggest problem today, if you can even call it that, is what to do with the okra pods I've been religiously harvesting this past week?  I really have to use them or lose them, and the time is now.  I don't want to stew them, maque choux them, or gumbo them. I don't want them playing second fiddle to tomato, corn, or butter beans; I want the okra to shine. This is their last hurrah, as the okra bush is reaching the end of its season. So I give you:

Okra Fritters, Beta Version

1 cup fresh okra pods, halved and sliced (about 3/4 cup sliced)
2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 cup Bisquick
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
cayenne pepper, to taste
1 extra large egg
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup milk

In a medium bowl, combine the Bisquick, dry mustard, nutmeg, salt, pepper, basil, granulated garlic and cayenne pepper, and whisk until the spices are evenly distributed.  Set aside. In another bowl, whisk the egg, Dijon mustard, and milk together. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate covered for an hour or more.

Hold off cutting the okra until just before you are ready to add it to the batter.

Start heating about an inch of canola oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Fold the okra, red bell pepper and onion into the batter. Lower the heat to medium. Using whatever size scoop you like, carefully drop the okra batter into the hot oil, flatten them out a bit so that the okra will cook inside and fry them on each side until deep golden brown. Break one open to make sure the fritter is done all the way through. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dipping sauce of sour cream mixed with some Gold's horseradish with beets (the red stuff).

I designated this recipe as a beta version, because it needs more work.  Developing a new recipe is an odd thing, and there are no guarantees, no matter how carefully you consider the flavor contributions of each ingredient. These fritters are good, but right now remind me of my ideal okra fritter's timid first cousin.  They are the offspring of the marriage of Bert Greene's recipe for "Ole Miss Okra Fritters" (from his book Greene on Greens and Grains - unfortunately the book is way out of print) and my ever-reliable corn fritter recipe, which I found in a Hadassah cookbook in 1977. A very good first start, and you are welcome to try them, but I know they can be even better.

Next time: Some more of the seasoning from Greene's recipe, a boost from paprika as recommended by my son, who assisted with the taste testing, a good bit more of okra because this batter can handle it, switching out the onions with green onions, and a brief sauté of the onions and red bell peppers and perhaps even the okra before adding them to the batter.

Since my okra plant is now denuded of ready-to-pick pods, this necessitates a trip to Publix for the store-bought variety.  Needless to say I will be planting more okra plants this new season.

SYNC is Sunk - A Mac and Cheese Challenge?

I am sorry to report that there is something General Motors has that I want installed in my Ford Escape: 


Right now, my boys and I are in the Escape, traveling to Bradenton for a special martial arts event. This is my new baby's first long trip since coming into my care, and I wanted to be prepared, so Rob signed her up with SYNC, Ford's answer to GM's OnStar. And what a wrong answer it turned out to be!

With OnStar, you get a live person who helps you with any number of travel-related issues.  This was particularly helpful when our Chevy Sonic was hit by a deer with a death wish while we were headed north on I-75 on the way to another martial arts event in Perry.  It was dark and deserted and we could not find a sign or landmark to pass on to AAA so we could be located.  Once we called OnStar, the operator located us by GPS, connected us on a 3-way to AAA, explained the situation to AAA and made sure the tow truck operator knew where to pick us up.

With SYNC, you get a computer-generated voice. The computer is hearing-impaired, and can only pick up voices from the driver's side of the car. When I am wearing my navigator's hat, I am usually sitting in the front passenger seat, so this may be a problem.  Voices with a New York accent seem to confuse it. Fortunately Cory was raised in Florida and sounds it, but I can't shlep him along every time I think I might need to use the system. Overall, it is a clumsy system to use, almost as hopeless as our old TomTom unit, code name "Mandy." You may recall that Mandy tried to send us into the Arkansas River, and refused to learn our preference for John Young Parkway over South Orange Blossom Trail, and had otherwise made a number of spectacularly poor navigating choices.  Mandy is in a drawer somewhere, but if we ever make it back to Little Rock I am going to take her along, and throw her into the Arkansas River.

We do get 20 operator assisted calls with our SYNC subscription, but I did not want to blow even one of them on an easy trip going one way on I-4 and then another way on I-75.  Next time we are headed somewhere new or distant, I'll try the operator service; if it is good, I'll look into possibly expanding the services under our subscription, which is currently quite a bit less expensive than OnStar.  Until then, in my opinion, SYNC is sunk.                   

I am not going to be cooking this evening as I expect to get home fairly late, which is to say, past my bedtime.  I do have to finish baking the hermit cookies (what you saw in the photo was the first and only batch, hurriedly baked just in time to take a picture before tumbling into the car for a long ride which is beginning to hurt my back) but that is as far as my plans go.  I got clam cakes and crab claws; what else could I possibly need? The boys are in even better shape with meatloaf, manicotti, mock choux and chicken.  Leftovers are cool.

I did come across a cooking opportunity which piqued my interest, however, and I may take it seriously. On September 26, Vintage Vino is sponsoring a macaroni and cheese challenge.  In all the years I've been cooking, and talking about cooking, and writing about cooking, I have never entered a cooking contest.  It is very local - Vintage Vino is tucked between Three Sisters and Savion's Place on Dakin Avenue, which means they are next to the parking garage for my (former) office building. Very very VERY local.  Part of the proceeds go to a local children's charity - I like that.    

The down side is that participants must prepare enough food for 100 tasters. That requires filling two large chafing dish trays, which is the equivalent of four of the aluminum baking dishes I always use, with macaroni and cheese.  That's a lot of food, but even more, it's a lot of cooking, a lot of time, and a lot of standing on my feet.  Which is why I have to give this a lot of thought.  I've got the perfect recipe, but do I have the energy and fortitude to carry it through?  

In the meantime, despite SYNC's best efforts to route us to Tampa by way of Sea World, we have landed at Dojo Martial Arts in Bradenton, and my boys are already involved in the seminar.  Grown men smacking at and blocking each other, oy.  They enjoy it, and Robert has taken a number of sparring awards over the years at ATA competitions, including 2007 World Champion in his age category.  I despise sparring -  I do like taekwando forms (poomsae)  and don't mind weapons, but I hate sparring and ground fighting with a passion.

First, I dislike rolling around on the floor with anyone I'm not married to, men or women.  I've never liked anyone invading my personal space or touching me; I am inordinately modest and overly self-conscious. I don't like other people's sweat dripping on me, and I certainly do not want to offend them with bodily fluids of my own. Before class I always took the time to clean up and deodorize, but
some people are not so considerate, and I had enough of bad breath and body odor while riding the subways to last me a lifetime.  I know, I'm a bit of a diva, but even more than that, I don't like to be hit. Getting struck with hands brings back bad memories.  Neither Robert nor Cory share my hang-ups, so they are happily hitting and being hit.  Me, I'm just along for the ride, and I've had some awesome rides in the last 10 years - lots of road trips to cities I would not have otherwise seen, so that the boys could compete.  Time for lots of knitting - so many pairs of socks knit on the road to Little Rock, Atlanta, Perry, Miami, Panama City and even Dallas.  Discovering new places to eat, the best part of road trips. Good times, good times.

This dojo is not ATA (American Taekwando Association) but part of the World Warrior Alliance: "Many Arts, One Goal, Many Paths". In addition to being high-ranking black belts, Rob and Cory also happen to be studying jiu jitsu, and their instructor is here as well. I'm curious as to how many martial art disciplines are represented here.  It's an interesting approach, one that is becoming more popular.

"Get his eyes, his eyes - show me how to break his elbow - break his jaw - cut him down." Interesting instructions. "This is how you break his neck and rip out his esophagus at the same time." Oof - these guys don't kid around!

While the men are working on their ground fighting skills, I have a table to sit at and no one is crowding me, and if I had a cup of Wawa pumpkin spice coffee and one of those Lady Hermit cookies, life would be good.  I like what the instructor is saying - "martial arts is physical, mental and spiritual."   It's true - trust me, I'm a black belt in taekwando. No, really I am. Please stop laughing.        

Here's my advice to all you parents - send your kids for martial arts training. It's a cold, cruel world out there. Women, too - I can defend myself if I have to. I may have fibromyalgia, but I've got two thumbs and a cane and I know how to use them.

At the end of the seminar, Rob and Cory are inducted into the WWA. Very nice.

So we finally started back home and I finally got my one-for-the-road pumpkin spice coffee at Wawa. None of my Lady Hermit cookies are available but I did snag a bag of hummus chips and a mini Chips Ahoy. For me, that's a fine dinner indeed.