Some days

are better than others.

Gotcha!!

I was diagnosed in 1995 with Fibromyalgia.  Back then, it was a particularly controversial diagnosis, as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and related illnesses were under intense scrutiny and evaluation from the FDA and related medical agencies.

By the year 2000, Fibro was a widely recognized, if still disputed, syndrome (a collection of symptoms with a predictable pattern, though the cause and medical specifics vary widely from patient to patient).

I have lived with constant, widespread (affecting many parts of the body) pain for literal decades (omg I’m OLD!!).  It is a part of who I am, one of the first three phrases I use to describe myself to someone who doesn’t know me:

I love life.
I cook.
I have fibromyalgia.

Given the choice, those would be the three phrases that define me…to myself, at least.  To others in ‘real life’, unless I know them well, it would change to:

I love life.
I cook.
I love fashion & personal style.

It’s funny, isn’t it, the parts of ourselves that we try to keep hidden?

Updating my Facebook status is always a challenge.  A large part of who I am on a given day, or how I am experiencing the world around me, is influenced, if not dictated by, my physical handicap.  Even when Life is going my way, I may be in so much pain that turning too suddenly to the side, or bending to pick up a scrap of paper on the floor, is enough to make me pale, wince, and turn away from any possible onlookers until the flood of painful sensation washes over me and recedes to a tolerable level.  But do my 304 Facebook friends really want to hear that?  Nah. 

My life is a rollercoaster of discomfort, and my dear hubby has adjusted admirably to its necessities and reality. 

I told him about the fibro on our first date, giving him just enough information that he understood something of its daily impact on my life without dwelling on the specific symptoms or discomfort it entails.  By our second date, he had not only remembered the name of my disability…but had googled it and asked me intelligent questions about my personal experience, diagnosis, and prognosis.

I am a lucky girl.  Luckier than I deserve.

Because I have my days.  Boy, do I.  And he loves me through them.

There are days we’ve planned for weeks in advance, to go to a museum or movie or party…and when the day arrives, all I can do is sit morosely in my bathrobe and offer a wan, fake smile when he asks me how I’m feeling.  We don’t make it to the planned event on those days.  I wince every time I shift my weight, he insists on bringing me drinks and food and pillows I don’t want, and he is so excruciatingly gentle when he touches me that it hurts.

Sometimes, on those days, it really gets to me.  What I think about most is how different his life would be if he’d married a woman without so many complications and restrictions, a woman who could reliably plan her days in advance and answer with ‘Why not?’ when asked ‘Do you want to?’

We go on a road trip, even a short one like this weekend, and after 85 miles it’s all I can do to unfold myself from his incredibly impractical, but very cute, sports car and walk like a woman in her early (okay, mid!) 30’s and not like my own grandmother with a broken hip.  Sitting still for too long kinks the muscles, you see, and I’ll have crazy, miniscule muscle spasms for the next several hours.  Just part of life with fibro.

When it gets to me…sometimes I lash out.  I want to rage, and scream, and sob at the injustice of it all.  I am a decent human being, I use my turn signal, I wash my hands after using a public restroom…I don’t deserve this shit.  And some days it pours out of me, the frustration and the anger and the confused tangle that is my heart that day. 

And he listens, and holds me, and loves me anyway.  He rubs my shoulders when I can stand it, and drops butterfly-light kisses on my face when that’s all my overwrought nerves can tolerate.

He does the major bulk of the housework, keeping the litterboxes clean and taking out the trash and loading and unloading the dishwasher like clockwork, without ever throwing it in my face or even allowing me to feel bad about my relative indolence.  When I feel like cooking (which I do as a release from the pain as much as anything else) he cheerfully chops and stirs and samples for me.  And when he sees the pain in my eyes grow too deep, he insists that I sit for a minute and take a break, and I am grateful, even while I resent the necessity.

I go to work at the luxury department store where I’m a manager, and I smile and wear heels (at least most of the way through a shift, most days!) and act like nothing is wrong.  And when I go home and show him what’s really going on for me, I feel bad, because if I could maintain a smile for a hundred anonymous customers I’ll never see again…shouldn’t he get at least that much from me?

But there are still the nights when, as soon as I make it through the door from the garage and a cat or three meets me, rubbing affectionately against my calves and purring like they haven’t seen me in weeks…I can’t help tearing up and showing how grateful I am to be home with the ones who love me, no matter what I’m feeling like.

I am a lucky girl.

And I have Fibromyalgia.

She's my favorite...don't tell the others!

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Outrageous Bars of Mocha Toffee Hazelnut Goodness!

Brownie batter swirly goodness

The hubby and I are leaving early in the morning to visit his mom, stepdad, and family friends of their generation (along with his step-brother and -sister) in Bryan, Texas, about an hour and a half north of Houston.

Today was a cruddy day before 3 PM; I was officially on Paid Time Off, but had to go to work for over an hour to complete unpleasant, but necessary, managerial tasks before my weekend away from the store.

Tomorrow we are going to spend a couple of days with friends of the hubby’s family from way back.  For the most part, they are 60ish ladies who like to drink, eat, laugh, and tell slightly-raunchy stories…at least, that’s what I’m told.  I haven’t met them yet.  I can’t wait!!!

The weekend sounds like it will be a ton of fun.  The hub was quite insistent that his mom has been planning meals for weeks and I shouldn’t offer to cook anything, as it would throw off her carefully-planned menu for the weekend.  I can understand that; having houseguests, or accepting responsibility for the care and feeding of someone else’s houseguests, is an onerous and stressful thing.  One must learn and bend to any culinary whims, allergies, or prejudices of one’s guests, while planning food that will satisfy and please the bulk of the assembled host.  I am not envious of the post, having filled it more than once myself.

But I seem to be constitutionally incapable of showing up with a bottle of wine, a grocery-store 3-stalk bamboo plant, and a ‘thanks for having us!’ for the overworked, underappreciated hostess.  They all know that I cook…and while a meal might not be appreciated, I have to do something!!

So…I made brownies.  We’re also taking a bottle of wine, of course…but this is the homemade, heartfelt contribution to the weekend’s festivities.

I’ve made these brownies once before…but they turned into Bayou Goo due to undercooking and the extreme gooeyness of the middle of the brownies.  Proceed with a fork, 2 napkins, and caution. 

The recipe (originally courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, modified as usual):

Ingredients:

1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 (okay, I used 4!) tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons (or more!) pure vanilla extract (I used Mexican vanilla)
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups toasted, peeled chopped hazelnuts ( if you need to, Google ‘how to toast hazelnuts’ and find instructions. very important step!  I sprinkled them liberally with Kosher salt after toasting & peeling; I love salty/sweet stuff!)
1 cup Nutella
12 ounces Heath toffee crumbles
1/2 cup mini-chocolate chips, I used a milk chocolate/white chocolate swirl

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter and flour baking pan(s); I used a 12 x 8 inch and a 9 inch square pan; original recipe calls for one 12 x 18 x 1 inch baking sheet.
Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium (metal) bowl over simmering water.  Allow to cool slightly.  In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar.  Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt.  Add to the cooled chocolate mixture.  Toss half the toasted, chopped hazelnuts,  6 ounces of toffee crumbles, and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. 

Pour into the baking pan(s).  Best results are achieved when batter is less than 3/4″ deep.

Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking pan(s) against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the largest pan.  Do not overbake!  Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into large squares.

Once brownies are cooled:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix together the remaining 6 ounces of toffee sprinkles, 12 ounces of mini-chocolate chips (I used white & milk chocolate swirled), and the rest of the toasted hazelnuts, with a generous sprinkle of kosher salt.

Completed brownie pans!

Spread each of the brownies with 1 tablespoon of Nutella.  Sprinkle generously with the topping mixture.  Place the brownies on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 7 minutes or until the chocolate is starting to melt.  Transfer the brownies to the refrigerator and allow to cool until the chocolate hardens, about one hour.

Watch your audience melt while tasting.  Provide forks & extra napkins; this stuff is messy!!

Baby, Oh Baby!!

After my last, perhaps PETA-unfriendly, observation about the innate tastiness of the baby sheep…I decided it was time to give my husband what he’s been not-so-subtly hinting at for several months.

Not that, you naughty thing!!  😉 

The hubmeister has been asking me to cook veal for a while now and for some reason I’ve been resistant.  It’s a moral thing, I think…I mean, veal is a baby cow, right?  Cute and cuddly, and that’s just not…

Nah, it’s definitely not a moral thing.  I have no problem with a baby animal dying for me to enjoy its tender, delicate flesh…or to wear it.  I didn’t cry when Bambi’s mother died, either.  I only look like a softie; the hub is the one with the Kleenex box during Saving Private Ryan.

I’m not sure why I’d been putting off the veal for so long.  But after a particularly grueling Iron Chef: America session (and maybe some needling about being afraid of a baby herbivore) I agreed to try cooking veal.

Now, I don’t really know if I’ve ever eaten veal.  I’d guess I have, probably, at least once.  While working in the restaurant industry and traveling abroad, I’m pretty sure veal has crossed my lips multiple times.  I eat what’s available, and if it’s fried, that’s even better.  But I can’t call up a memory of a specific meal in which I consumed veal.

As usual, I started by reading as many veal recipes as I could find.  I discovered that it’s pretty much interchangable with pork in recipes.  You can do pretty much anything with it, and it (like the teensy baby critter it is) will just take the abuse, looking tender and delicious.

So I decided to do something with it like I would do with lamb, picturing in my (admittedly over-fertile) imagination a duel of sorts.  In one corner, the bleating, trembling lamb, its sparse smattering of  wool barely curling and still a little damp…and in the other, the spindly-legged, staggering baby cow, downy, light-red sides heaving while it butts tentatively at the oncoming lamb. 

But that’s just in my mind.  We were going to cook veal.  Sorry, rabbit-chasing again.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Now.

I chopped up some fresh rosemary and garlic, put them in a bowl with some olive oil and salt & pepper, and rubbed those beautiful, 1″ thick boneless veal chops down liberally with the resulting paste.  Both sides and sides.

I let this sit on the counter on a plate for about 15 minutes – long enough to let the flavors sink in, not long enough for bacteria to take hold.

Preheated my grandmother’s cast iron skillet to medium-high/high with a little more olive oil.  Not quite smoking…but almost.

Sizzle sizzle!  Veal certainly SMELLS like heaven!  I am a happy kittie.  Brown, brown, both sides, baby cow!!

Chops, nicely browned on both sides, go into a baking dish and into a 375 degree oven.  (I TOLD you to preheat it!!)  Depending on thickness, they could take 5 to 10 minutes.  It’s a weird whitish meat, mostly like pork, that gets that pale red liquid if you poke it and let it sit.  That’s always grossed me out.

In the meantime…you didn’t turn off the burner with the cast iron skillet, did you?

Add about a cup of white wine and half a cup of chicken stock.  Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the skillet and simmer until reduced by about 1/2.  Squeeze the juice of half a lemon in there at some point.  It may need salt.  You can handle the seasoning part – I believe in you!!  🙂

Take the veal chops out of the oven at some point and hope they’re cooked properly.  The fat isn’t like beef or lamb fat (yummmm!); it’s more like pork fat (ewwww!) so trim it off.  Spoon the pan sauce over the chops on the plate and serve with…

Chiles Rellenos

We’ve (okay, I’ve) made these a few times before, based loosely on the amalgamation of several recipes I found online.  The difference tonight is that all of the Mexican cheese in the house (a combination of Asadero, Cotija, and Panera) has been shredded (during the prep for last night’s shrimp enchiladas), and previously I have only used little domino-sized chunks of cheese to stuff my incredibly fragile, tenuously fibrous chile peppers.

If you’re not familiar with Hatch green chiles…they are a New Mexico pepper and are only widely available fresh for about a month in August.  Major grocery stores and Tex-Mex chains in Houston will have a Hatch Chile Festival and it’s awesome.  They’re like the love child of a jalapeno and a poblano and they’re sold as Mild and Hot varieties, though within those classifications is a pretty wide range of heat.

The hubster and I adore Hatch chiles and we always stock up when they’re in town.  For the first time, this year we went ahead and got a case each of Hot and Mild peppers, already roasted.  That’s almost 60 pounds of roasted peppers.  We portioned them into freezer bags and wrote the number and variety on the outside with a Sharpie (for example, 4M2H is, of course, 4 Mild and 2 Hot peppers).  Our freezer is a land filled with stacks and rows and mounds of pepper-baggies.  There’s one small shelf left at the bottom for the emergency pasta bag, pizza rolls, and pound of ground pork.

Weren’t we talking about Chiles Rellenos?  You keep letting me get distracted!  Chiles Rellenos are the most wonderful invention since…well…tortillas.  The basic idea can be (and has been) dressed up a million different ways; you take a pepper, you put something in it, you cook it, you top it with sauce and eat it.  The classic way, of course, is very simple: cheese inside, egg batter, fry, red sauce, yum.  Of course, left to my own devices I would be getting creative…’I wonder how many different things I can dice and mix with the cheese filling?  Let’s see, shallots and mushrooms and crab meat and cilantro and roasted piquillo peppers and definitely some bacon and…’

But (perhaps fortunately) when it comes to certain dishes, the hub is a purist.  Anything called a chile relleno that has anything except cheese inside is blasphemy.  So it’s given me a chance to actually cook the same thing, pretty much the same way, multiple times, tweaking a bit but not getting too creative.

Start with your peppers: roast them (or be lazy like me and buy ’em roasted).  Let them cool and rinse the skin off.  The peppers are pretty fragile and will tear easily, so be careful; you want them whole.  You’ll need to make a slit from the stem about 1/3 of the way down to take out the seeds.  

This is a good time to start your oil: heat a large pan with about 1.5″ of  your fav cooking oil (I use Canola) to medium-high heat.  You can test it by dropping in a bit of the egg batter; if it floats to the top and sizzles your oil is ready; if it sinks it’s not hot enough.

Stuffing is much easier with cheese that's not shredded.

Stuff ’em: get a good Mexican melting cheese (Chihuahua, Asadero, Oaxaca) and cut into sticks.  The size & shape depends on your particular peppers; you want it to fit inside, with a little space to melt but still going most of the way to the top & bottom of the pepper.  Get it inside with a minimum of additional pepper ripping.  Close the opening as much as possible (you can use toothpicks to hold them closed).

Since you rinsed the skins off the peppers, they’re a little damp.  Good.  Sprinkle them lightly with some all-purpose flour, all over.  Not too much, don’t want it cakey.  Just a dusting.

For the egg batter, separate your eggs, 1 egg for every 2 peppers, into separate bowls.  Beat the whites until they firm up, then fold in the yolks slowly with a little salt & pepper.

One at a time, dip the peppers in the egg mixture, then drop them into your hot oil.  Fry until they’re golden brown and floating, turning them over once.  Drain on paper towels.

For the sauce, I use canned Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce (the red kind, not the green kind) – you can see the yellow label in the pic with the hubby.  I doctor it up different every time (this is where I CAN be a little creative!) – this time I added 3 tomatillos, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 large shallot, 1 large jalapeno, and a bunch of fresh cilantro.  Whip it all up in the blender, then simmer until the chiles are ready to be topped.

Put your fried, drained chiles in a baking dish, spoon your sauce over the top, sprinkle some shredded cheese on top, and put them in the oven for just a couple of minutes. 

The chiles, on this particular evening, are counting as our green veggie.  Shut up.  They’re green.  We’re eating them with the leftover potato salad from the lamb burgers…and the veal chops, of course.

Chiles rellenos just aren't photogenic...

I don’t think I like veal.  The hub does, though not as much as lamb, he says.  To me it’s like pork, only bland and a little mushy (‘they’ may call it tender, but I like some chew to my meat).  I eat a couple bites of the veal and start thinking about baby animals.

Apparently age doesn’t have as much to do with deliciousness as I thought.  I like grown-up cows much better than baby ones.  I wonder what a grown-up sheep would taste like?  I hear it’s called mutton…I wonder if there are any mutton recipes on foodnetwork.com – and if Central Market carries it.

So the score is…baby cow – 0, lamb – 1.  The lamb in my mind is standing with his little foot (hoof? do lambs have hooves?) on the conquered veal’s neck, head thrown back, bleating because now it’s not sure what do with its prey and it really wants some nice clover or something. 

And I’m thinking ice cream.  Yum.

Lambs: cute, fluffy…and delicious.

The done deal.

Every time I cook lamb, I can’t stop thinking about…how good it’s going to taste.

Sure, when they’re baby animals, and whole and alive, with their fur (or wool or whatever) intact, they’re snuggly and cute and I just want to pet their soft black noses.

But when it comes to cooking…there’s not much I like better.  You can do so much with lamb, and there are so many choices of cuts, and they all seem to turn out delicious and juicy and I love it.

This was a total collaborative effort with the hub.  We’ve done lamb chops on the grill a dozen times, and he keeps wanting to try lamb burgers.  So today was his day. 

The burgers themselves were his work, as well as all the grilling, and I did the tzatziki sauce, prepped the onions & mushrooms, and made the potato salad.

Grilled Spicy Lamb Burgers

Original recipe is Alan Hollister’s via foodnetwork.com; slightly altered to taste.

Ingredients:

1.25 pounds ground lamb
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sherry
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon molasses
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1.5 teaspoons red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 rolls of your choice; pita rounds, onion rolls, sesame seed buns…whatever
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat grill for medium heat.

Chopped bits of yummy things

Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl.  Shape into 4 patties.

Brush patties lightly with olive oil.  Grill for about 4 minutes on each side, or until mediumish.  Top with crumbled feta immediately after removing from grill and cover patties loosely with aluminum foil to retain heat.  Rest for 5 minutes.

Brush bread lightly with olive oil and heat briefly on the grill.

Grilled Sliced Mushrooms & Onions

This one is all my own, crafted over literally dozens of attempts.  We love these things and put them on any meat that’s even close to red when there’s a hot grill available.

Ingredients

1 medium red onion, cut in half vertically, then cored and sliced thin
8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced thin
Olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Red chili flakes
Healthy splash of Worcestershire sauce

Place sliced mushrooms & onions in a medium bowl, then drizzle generously with olive oil.  Add salt, black pepper, & red chili flakes.  Add some more.  Splash liberally with Worcestershire sauce (don’t make them swim, just a healthy dousing).  Make sure they’re glistening with oil but not soggy.

Preheat grill pan or wok on grill for 5 minutes.  Add mushrooms & onions and grill for 3-5 minutes on a side or until caramelized, flipping once or twice.

Tzatziki sauce

Ingredients

8 ounces of plain Greek yogurt
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chunked
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh mint
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon(ish) cayenne
1/2 teaspoon(ish) red chili flakes
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender.  Process until well-combined, taste, and adjust seasoning as needed.

Line a medium strainer with 2 layers of coffee filters.  Place strainer over a deep bowl and pour sauce into strainer.  Strain for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  (The straining idea was completely the hubmeister’s; I was fine with it being watery, but he wanted to try this, and by golly, it was amazing!!  Thickened the sauce right up.  He does okay sometimes.)

Pour into sealable bowl, discarding drained liquid, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours before serving.

This is the potato salad sauce waiting to happen.

Southwestern Potato Salad

Original recipe from Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, modified…well…generously.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups prepared mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
Juice of 2 key limes
2 tablespoons chipotle pepper puree
1 large ripe tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
3 green onions, chopped (green and white parts)
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon cayenne
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 slices of crisped bacon (I use the pre-cooked microwaveable kind), chopped
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste (be generous)
2 to 3 pounds red potatoes, chunked, boiled until tender, then drained and cut into smallish pieces

Potato Salad Extraordinaire!!

Combine all the ingredients except the potatoes in a medium bowl and season to taste.  Place warm potatoes in a large bowl, pour the mixture over the potatoes, and mix well.  Season again with salt & pepper to taste. 

Serve warm…and enjoy cold as leftovers.

Assembly:

Place lamb patty on bottom bun (or in pita pocket, or wherever it feels cozy and warm).  Top with grilled mushrooms & onions and find a way to get the tzatziki sauce on or in there.  Add sliced tomato if you feel the need (we left it off at the last minute as unnecessary).   Devour with potato salad and wine.

To Recipe or Not To Recipe??

I love this hunk of metal.

Pasta sauce waiting to happen.

or…My Life as a Copycat Chef.

I started cooking when I was about 8 years old.  I remember it well; my mother patiently walked me through the steps of making baked tuna noodle casserole.

We got distracted while it was in the oven and it burned beyond saving.  But I loved doing it!!  And after that I started following her around in the kitchen, always underfoot, handing her the milk jug or butter dish before she could ask for it and asking interminable questions. 

My mom, like me, is not a measurer.  She adds what she wants to the mix until it looks like enough.  Growing up, I always wanted to know, ‘How do you know how much oil to put in the cornbread?’ And her answer was always the same: ‘Experience.’  I hated, hated HATED that answer!!

Now, trying to write recipes…I’m looking at the bowl after I add the milk, thinking…uh, that looks like about two tablespoons.  Right?  I hope. Yeah, that’s about it.’  How do I know?  Uh, experience, I guess.  Dangit, I am turning into my mother.

Between the ages of 8 and 17, I cooked dinner for my parents and me every chance I got.  Often it was Hamburger Helper or something of that nature, but I always added something and tried to make it better. 

In my early 20’s I dated a chef for a couple of years and it changed my life.  Suddenly herbs didn’t just come in a jar.  Asparagus wasn’t just something in a can.  It was possible to create a sauce from scratch, without starting with something out of a bottle or packet.

I learned the basics of chopping, and blending, and sauteeing from him.  Of course, he did the vast majority of the cooking when we were together.  Just like with my mother, I would hand him things and ask questions and help as I could, chopping and peeling happily to his directions.  It seemed miraculous, the way he could take the contents of the fridge, including a hunk of whole fish that just looked scary to me, and turn it into something fragrant and delicious.

And once he wasn’t there to cook anymore…I started doing it myself.  Trial and error, baby, that’s how we did it back in the good old days.  I had twelve favorite ingredients and I would put them in anything.  To this day, I have ‘default’ flavors that wind up in almost everything I cook: some kind of pepper (jalapeno, serrano, habanero, poblano, or Hatch), cilantro, lime juice, cayenne, worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar…these are the things I love.  Not all at once, necessarily…but you know, it does make a great steak marinade, come to think of it.

My friends learned that my home was a good place to look for food, because I would cook at the drop of a hat, hungry or not.  Sometimes the results were shockingly good…and other times we went to the Wendy’s around the corner and they teased me for a few days…until the next time the culinary gods smiled on me and their mouths were too full to tease.

Guys I dated loved it that I cooked.  It seems not a lot of single girls do, at least not in Houston.  And lots of times I cooked just for myself when nobody else was there to feed.

But after that…how do you learn?  How do you grow?  I’ve taken a couple of classes from a local adult education organization, but…I need more!  So I watch Food Network obsessively, DVRing cooking and baking shows until the DVR recorder thing’s memory is full and suddenly The History of Styrofoam Peanuts doesn’t record and the hub is mad at me.  But then I learn to make key lime pie, so it’s okay again.

And I surf recipe sites and print out dozens – no, hundreds – of recipes, and they drift in white stacks all over the house wherever I got distracted while leafing through them, trying to decide what to cook next.  They have condensation rings from being absently used as coasters.  I can tell the recipes of dishes I have already made; their clean white surfaces have spatters of sauce and drips of chocolate and splashes of red wine. 

A wide stance is important for balance while creating...

Cooking is a messy sport.

I seem to be constitutionally incapable of actually following a recipe, however.  I always think of something else it needs, or something it needs more of, or a way to work in butter instead of olive oil, or cayenne instead of tarragon (because I loathe licorice).  I know, Bobby Flay wrote that recipe, it is culinary gospel, and there is no way in hell I can improve on it.  But I try.  Like with the Hamburger Helper…I just can’t help myself.

So when I post recipes…chances are, I didn’t make them up.  Not entirely, and sometimes, not mostly.   I learned to cook tuna noodle casserole from my mom, and grilled lobster from Emeril…but I don’t do it quite like they do.  So I post my version, and hope you use it to make your own.

Happy cooking.

CorN LoVers UnItE!!

My version of Macque Choux…as usual, based on a foodnetwork.com recipe and updated to add additional bacon and peppers!!

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon hot sauce (I like Piquin sauce from the Latino section of the supermarket!)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 mild & 3 hot Hatch chiles, coarsely chopped
6 ears fresh corn
1 red bell pepper, diced
8 slices bacon, chopped
1/4 cup lager
1 small yellow onion, diced

Saute bacon over medium heat until crispish.  Drain all but 2-3 tablespoons of fat.  Add red bell pepper and onion to pan.  Cook and stir until soft (about 5 mins).  Add lager and deglaze by stirring and scraping all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Continue cooking until lager is nearly evaporated.  Add corn, cream, and hot sauce.  Bring to a simmer and cook until cream is thick enough to leave a trail when a spoon is pulled through (this is called a ribbon).  Add salt, chili powder, and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat & stir in Hatch chiles.

Corn for the unhealthy

Creamy baconny goodness!!

Cupcake Central!!

The day I decided to learn to make cupcakes, I wanted to take two flavors to work the next day…so for seven hours I made cupcakes, filling, glaze, and two frostings…and it was all good.
 
Mocha cupcakes with coffee cream filling and chocolate fudge frosting:
 
  Cupcakes –

 Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I made it a full cup for extra chocolate oomph)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup strong brewed coffee, cooled (the stronger, the better – you want lots of coffee flavor for not much liquid!)
3 large eggs
8 oz. sour cream (I used light – sour cream is the only dairy product I will use a light version of, because I really can’t tell the difference)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used an equal amount of pure Mexican vanilla, which has a stronger flavor – it was noticeable but I liked it)

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin pans with paper liners and set aside.

 In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add oil, coffee, and eggs.  Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Mix in the sour cream and vanilla.

 Spoon the batter evenly into prepared muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.  Back until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, for 16-18 minutes (16 worked for me).  Let them cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes.  Remove from the pans and cool completely on wire racks.  (I have no wire racks – I just cooled them in the pans, then put them on the counter.  All over the kitchen, really.)

 Coffee Cream Filling-

 Ingredients:  (this is what it calls for:)

3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup coffee-flavored liqueur
8 oz. thawed ‘frozen chocolate flavored whipped topping’

this is what I used:

3 oz. cream cheese, softened by microwaving in a bowl for 15 seconds because I forgot to take it out of the fridge
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee, cooled (because I’m not buying Kahlua just for these cupcakes, cuz then I’ll just drink it with cream and it’s yummy but incredibly fattening that way)
8 oz. thawed Cool Whip – but not the chocolate kind because HEB didn’t have any.  So I added some cocoa powder and a squirt of Hershey’s syrup.

 In a small bowl, whip the cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Slowly add the liqueur (or coffee/chocolate mixture) and fold in Cool Whip.

Little cupcake soldiers all over the kitchen

Chocolate Fudge Frosting –

 Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate (recipe calls for squares but I used chips, easier to melt)
10 tablespoons butter (as always when a recipe calls for butter…I rounded up – like to 12)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

 In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cream.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer for 6 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat; add chocolate and butter, stirring until melted and smooth.  Let cool for 10 minutes.  Whisk in confectioners’ sugar.  Let mixture cool until it reaches a spreadable consistency (for me this was about half an hour) then top cooled, filled cupcakes.

 Construction:

 Once cupcakes are cooled, put coffee cream into frosting bag or squirt bottle.  Insert tip into cupcake and squeeze until the cupcake bulges and/or the top cracks or your hand cramps.  After cupcakes are filled, smear chocolate fudge icing to cover indentions caused by insertion of filling.

 Sprinkle toffee bits over the top just for the heck of it.

  Sincere Strawberry Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:

  Cupcakes – recipe courtesy of www.dozenflours.com – I LOVE Julia’s recipes and blog and outlook on life!!

Ingredients: 

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract (I used an equal amount of Mexican vanilla, stronger flavor but I like it)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 3/4 cups sifted cake flour (I bought a sifter for this and I’m sure it did…something…)
1/4 teaspoon salt (anything this sweet, I overpour on the salt, cuz that makes it extra yummy!)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk at room temperature
About a pound of fresh strawberries (original recipe includes instructions for frozen berries but I’m just using fresh)
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar

Post-maceration

 First, rinse the berries well and remove the stems.  Quarter or rough chop them into a bowl and add a few tablespoons of water and mix to coat.  Then add a tablespoon or two of sugar (enough to coat the surface) and mix to coat again.  Cover and refrigerate the berries for several hours or, better yet, overnight.  I left mine for about 5 hours, tossing inside the sealed bowl every hour, and it would have been better to give them more time.

 Once they are soft and mushy, use a fork to mash the strawberries.  Be careful not to mash them too much (you want there to be some chunks).  Place the berries in a mesh strainer and drain as much of the juice as you can.  Reserve the juice.

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line muffin tin with baking cups.

 In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar with electric mixer for 3 minutes.  Mixture should be very pale yellow and fluffy.  Add one egg at a time and mix for one full minute on medium-low speed (no cheating! 🙂 ) – be sure to scrape down the bowl a few times to ensure that everything is mixing together properly.  Add vanilla and almond extract and mix again for 30 seconds.

 In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder.  Alternately add flour mixture and milk, in 3 batches, starting with the flour.  Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape the bowl down every so often.  This was the messiest part of the whole process for me.  The powdery stuff flew all over the walls, counters, etc – batten down the hatches!)

 Mix in the strawberries on low speed plus 1/4 cup of the strawberry juice.  Scoop batter into prepared pan and bake for 21-23 minutes.  The surface of the cupcakes should spring back when touched and be just a little brown.  (Mine was not necessarily brown, just golden and springy.)  You can also test doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cupcake and having it come out with just a few bits of cake clinging to it.  Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

 While the cakes are still a little warm, using a clean pastry brush (or a fork), paint the surface of the cupcake with the strawberry juice, being careful not to saturate the surface.  Let the cupcakes continue to cool completely.  Frost if desired.

 Cover and store at room temperature or in the fridge.

 Julia from dozenflours.com likes them plain; I’m a ‘frost em if you got em’ kind of girl.  So…

 Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting –

 Ingredients:

3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup butter (round up!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or Mexican vanilla, if you’re brave)
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream (seems like I used more)

 In a standing mixer, mix sugar and butter on low speed until well blended, then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

 Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

 Construction (optional) –

 Frost cooled cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting and let cool completely.  Place fresh sliced strawberries on top in random patterns just to confuse people.  Smile like you do this all the time.

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