Friday, January 30, 2015

Foodie Friday: Homemade Zingers!

I was heartbroken when Hostess went out of business a few years ago. I was never a really big Twinkies fan, but I loved the cupcakes and chocolate zingers. A host of make-your-own recipes emerged shortly after and this is a really good one. Of course, Hostess is back in business now so to speak, so I can buy them again, but every now and then, I get in a baking mood.

Homemade Chocolate Zingers

Makes 12 cakes

For the devil's food cakes:

1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed

2 eggs

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup sour cream

1/2 cup hot coffee

For the cream filling and chocolate frosting:

1/2 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup unsalted butter, softened, divided

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided

1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup chocolate syrup

1 pinch salt

To get started, you’ll need to grease the pan well, then combine the butter, sugar, eggs, cocoa, baking soda, vanilla extract, and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat in flour and sour cream, then add the hot coffee and mix until a smooth batter forms. Spread the batter into the baking pan as evenly as possible. Preheat the oven to 350ยบ F and bake for 45 minutes, the chill the cake in the freezer until firm. This will help each cake retain a crisp shape when you cut into it to add the filling.

While you wait for the cake to chill, prepare the frosting and filling. I’ll admit, sometimes when I’m feeling lazy I substitute ready-made marshmallow fluff for the filling, but if you’re looking for authenticity, then this cream filling is a close approximation to the real thing.

To make the cream filling, whisk together the milk and flour in a small saucepan until it thickens to a pudding-like consistency, then transfer the mixture to a shallow dish and refrigerate until it cools completely. Once cool, whip the mixture with the softened butter and the granulated sugar for about five minutes, until it becomes fluffy. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract, then beat the mixture until well-combined. Transfer the filling to a piping bag or zip-top bag with the corner snipped.

When the cake is chilled, cut it into twelve snack cakes by making three evenly-spaced cuts in one direction, then four perpendicular cuts. These snack cakes end up being slightly larger than the original, but I doubt there will be many complaints. Use a serrated knife to cut a slit lengthwise on top of each snack cake, taking care not to cut all the way through.

Fill the cake with the cream filling until it bulges slightly, then pinch the cake together slightly so that a little of the filling squeezes out the top.

To make the chocolate frosting for the top, place the cocoa powder, confectioners' sugar, and butter in a large mixing bowl, and beat them until combined. Beat in chocolate syrup, vanilla extract, and salt, then transfer the frosting to a piping bag. A number 789 cake tip icer makes an authentic frosting stripe on top, but if you don’t have one, spread the icing on with an offset spatula then run the tines of a fork through the icing to create the characteristic ridges.

Store the cakes in an airtight container for up to two days -- if they last that long!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Happy Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day! It's Also Blue Monday...

No, really, it's a thing! See?

And if you don't have any bubble wrap to pop in celebration of this glorious day, there's always this!

Blue Monday is a special day, for people to focus on doing good for each other. Not necessarily presents and cards, just little acts of kindness (or big ones, if you like).

It comes at a time when people might need a bit of cheering up: the gloomy, post-Christmas, back-to-work-and-school month of January. And of course, it had to be a Monday.

Blue Monday occurs on the 3rd Monday of January each year. In 2015, this will be Monday 26 January.

A couple of years ago the organisers of the day had a thought. Wouldn’t it be good to start a new tradition that encouraged people to do nice things for each other? This inspiration then lead to the formulation of a wider day of happiness, and so Blue Monday was born.

Blue Monday ideas should benefit others (a person, an organisation or even internationally) and will probably be something you wouldn’t normally do (but might do regularly from now on), voluntary (compulsory kindness doesn’t really count), thought up by those involved (there’s no formula or template) and fun and creative (for everyone involved).

As long as your event is safe and doesn’t put anyone at risk of physical danger or emotional upset, then you’re on the right track!

Many Blue Monday events are on a small scale and are quite personal. If you want to do something bigger then that’s great, but don’t forget to find out what you need to do in terms of risk assessments, insurance and any other important factors. The only limit to your event or activity is your imagination!

So, have some fun and beat Blue Monday! (taken from this site)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pokes & Prods

Welcome back to the medical soap opera that is my life. Last Monday I had the treat of literally being scoped out from top to bottom by the GI doctor.

Good news: I apparently have a beautiful colon.

Bad news: The acid reflux that I was told was all in my head has severely burned my esophagus and I am now having a Rx strength antacid
added to my medication. If the insurance company approves it. They want Dr. H to submit something in writing telling them why I need it before they'll pay for it. And of course it's too expensive for me to just pay for it outright. I'm trying to make do with OTC meds for now. They don't do a lot, but it's better than nothing.

Worse news: I have to give up my beloved iced coffee. The acid in it isn't helping. Luckily enough, I'm still allowed my teas.

Then on Wednesday, I went back to see Dr. M about my damned thyroid. He looked at the ultrasound pictures and said, "Well, the tumor's only grown a little bit." Yeah, but that little bit now makes it half the size of what's left of the kaza-flatching gland. "Hmmm, this isn't good. It's feeling firm." So what does that mean? Well, it's not likely to shrink, and it's apparently trying to calcify which means it's about to do something really icky. But again, the insurance company wants a biopsy before it gets removed. Dr. M did promise me though that if we don't get that sucker out by the end of March, it'll be coming out in the next 6-12 months. Fine by me. I'm not looking forward to the anesthesia mask- hello, flight or fight instinct!- but I want at least one thing to be finished and done with.

Oopsie! Foodie Friday on Saturday- Almond Nutella Pizza

Thank you to the sharp eyed person who pointed out to me that I'd already posted yesterday's recipe a few months ago. Here is a new one to make up for my error.

Almond Nutella Pizza

1 ball pizza dough [4] (store-bought is OK)
Approximately 1/2 cup almond Nutella [5]
6 amaretti cookies, crushed
Lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream for garnish


Preheat the oven to 500°F, setting a 10-to-12-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven at the same time.
Roll or stretch out the ball of pizza dough so that it's approximately an 8-inch circle; you're aiming for a thicker crust than is standard. If rolling the dough out, dust the rolling surface (either a large cutting board or clean countertop work well) with wheat bran or cornmeal to ensure that the dough does not stick.
Remove the cast-iron skillet from the oven, flip it upside down, and rub the exposed surface with oil using a paper towel. Carefully and quickly, arrange the pizza dough on top of the skillet.
Put back in the oven and cook for 8 to 12 minutes or until the crust is browned and puffy.
Move the baked pizza dough to a cutting board, and spread with Nutella. Top with crumbled amaretti cookies, and dot with dollops of whipped cream.


This pizza is best enjoyed hot out of the oven but is still quite tasty as leftovers the next day. If you don't feel like making homemade almond Nutella (though it is surprisingly easy to prep), I'd recommend Justin's Chocolate Almond Butter [3] or traditional Nutella. Chopped salted almonds are a solid alternative (or addition) to the crumbled amaretti cookies. Or hazelnuts if you use the original Nutella.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Foodie Friday- Nutella Hot Chocolate with Hazelnut Liqueur

Sometimes the simplest things are the best. This drink hits all the right notes!


1 cup milk
2 tbsp. Nutella
1 tbsp. hazelnut liqueur, such as Frangelico (optional)
Whipped cream, for serving


Heat milk in a 1-qt. saucepan over medium heat until just beginning to bubble at edges, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in remaining ingredients until smooth. Top with whipped cream to serve.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Foodie Friday- Chicken Lettuce Wraps

I first tried these at a Mongolian style grill restaurant. They're surprisingly yummy! You can use lean ground pork or ground /chicken/turkey instead of the chicken cubes, but I don't recommend beef in this dish.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps


2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons garlic, minced or pressed
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce or chili garlic sauce
1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
1 head bibb or butter lettuce, separated into leaves
1 small bunch green onions, sliced


In a medium wok or skillet set over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil. Add the chicken, and cook until browned on all sides; transfer to a plate. Add the vegetable oil to the same skillet, and cook the garlic and mushrooms until tender.

Meanwhile, add the other tablespoon of sesame oil, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, rice wine vinegar, and sriracha to a mason jar, and shake to mix.

Add the chicken back to the pan with mushrooms and garlic. Add the water chestnuts, pour sauce over the dish, and toss to coat; cook until just heated through.

Serve with leaves of butter lettuce and green onions. (I prefer Romaine or spinach leaves)

Theoretically serves 6. (This makes me snicker every time)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Don't get too excited- I probably won't keep posting this frequently! :-)

So, I got home form work Monday night to discover that my heat had gone out. This was an issue because A: The Landlord had just put a new furnace in a couple of years ago, and B: It was too bloody cold out to not have heat! I wasn't about to pay for an after hours service call, so I piled every blanket in the house on my bed, trained the space heater on the foot, and hoped for the best. It was the best night sleep I've had in FOREVER. Nightshade was so cold that she burrowed in under the blankets with me- I woke up to find her lying along my chest with her head tucked under my chin on the pillow.

Got up, called the HVAC company, and the office to let them know I'd probably be late, and then started the waiting game. They told me that because I'm in a rental, I have to get HIM to call and give them permission to work on the heater. This also stuck HIM with the bill, so I was fine with that. It took a little while to track HIM down, since all we had was his home number and he's changed jobs several times over the last few years. I finally remembered what I thought was the most recent one, called them, and got HIM!

Cutting the story short, after numerous phone calls back and forth and a trip on the slow boat to China to pick up the needed part, I finally got heat again at 8:30 Tuesday night. YAY!

Anyway, the day wasn't entirely a waste, even though I'm not thrilled that I had to burn another vacation day for that crap. I started cleaning up the piles that have accumulated in my living room since last year's big clean. Seven grocery bags of junk made it out to the trash can. It's still a mess, but at least I got started.

Today I got up and made myself sit down and make arrangements to get caught up on all the bills that are past due. I already feel better now that I'm not stressing about dealing with them. Then the GI doctor FINALLY called to schedule my scopes and wanted to know if I could be there TOMORROW. Um, no. Since I'd have to spend a day (today) taking laxatives and living in the bathroom, taking today & tomorrow off with no notice after being off for yesterday's drama was NOT an option. But I did schedule it for Monday...lord help me. (don't expect a post on Monday)

I brought a bag of assorted flosses to work with me tonight and got them all wound onto bobbins. I am going to try not to buy much stitch stuff this year (especially since I didn't stitch an inch last year) and start working on projects from my stash. I have Star Trek, Avengers, and Doctor Who things to do for myself and some friends, and I want to work on Christmas ornaments for friends & family. I suspect that I'll still buy some stuff- Ink Circles has several new designs scheduled for release this year that I am not going to be able to resist, and I'm still a floss junkie- but I think I can do it.

So there's the latest. A little drama, but I'm proud of myself for getting things done instead of falling apart!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Is this year over yet?

Yeah, I know it's only the beginning of the year, but I'm ready for it to be over. Why?

1. I'm still waiting for the specialist my doctor referred me to. After my last post RE: medical crap, Dr B. called to tell me that my blood count was abnormally low and I needed a stomach scope as well as the colonoscopy because I appear to be bleeding internally. He's concerned, I'm concerned, apparently the internist doesn't care.

2. I also have to go to the gyno (something I've avoided for years because it's painful & humiliating) because I may have fibroids. (another possibility for my blood loss) Turns out 3 of my four sisters had them, very badly, and had to have hysterectomies. Yay.

3. My mom's favorite cousin passed away New Year's Day and was buried on Mom & Dad's 45th anniversary. We couldn't get to the funeral.

4. Dad & Uncle John have both decided to discontinue their physical therapy. Uncle John can get away with it because he'd been going for 5 months. Dad has gone twice. We're not letting him get away with quitting now. I told him that he has to go at least 2 more sessions.

5. My sister Sandra's husband, who was hospitalized for congestive lung failure the day Daddy had his surgery, is dying. His doctors have told him to go ahead and get his affairs in order and say he can go at any time.

Add the usual work follies to the mess and I'm done.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Foodie Friday- Virginia Ham and White Cheddar Croquettes

These are a fair bit of work, but very tasty! Found here.

Virginia Ham and White Cheddar Croquettes

2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced
¼ cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 oz. Virginia ham, finely chopped
4 oz. white cheddar, grated
¼ cup finely chopped chives
1 cup flour, plus more for dusting
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups panko bread crumbs
Canola oil, for frying


1. Boil potatoes in a 4-qt. pot of salted water until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl; set aside. Add 1 tbsp. butter to the pot, and melt over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add to potatoes along with remaining butter, cream, salt and pepper. Using a potato masher, mash until smooth. Fold in ham, cheese, and chives; chill for 20 minutes.

2. Using flour-dusted hands, form 2 tbsp. chilled ham mixture into a 3"-long oval and flatten the ends; dredge in flour, dip in beaten eggs, then coat with bread crumbs. Repeat with remaining mixture, flour, eggs, and bread crumbs; transfer to a plate and freeze for 15 minutes.

3. Heat 2" oil in a 6-qt. saucepan to 375°. Working in batches, fry croquettes, turning as needed, until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain and season with salt.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Foodie Friday- Parmesan Fricos

I love these things. They go nicely with a warm bowl of soup and/or a salad. Plus they look like something you've spent hours on, but a really easy, so they impress guests. This version, found here, is perfect.

Parmesan Fricos


1 8-ounce piece Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon herbes de Provence, optional


Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a half sheet pan with a silpat.
Using the largest holes on a box grater, coarsely shred the cheese. Stir together the cheese, flour, pepper, and herbes de Provence in a large mixing bowl. Arrange tablespoons of cheese four inches apart on the silpat, stirring the cheese mixture in the bowl between tablespoons to keep the flour evenly distributed. Flatten each mound slightly with your fingertips to form a three-inch round.
Bake the fricos until golden, about 10-12 minutes. Cool two minutes on the half sheet pan, then carefully transfer each crisp (they are very delicate) with a thin spatula to a rack to cool completely.

If you really want to impress people, make them into cups by draping them over upside down custard cups/ramekins/muffin tins after the 2 minute cooling period. You may have to push them into shape a little with your fingers.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy (?) New Year

I may as well start the year out complaining. 2014 couldn't leave without a few parting shots to remind me that it sucked ass.

1. Mom developed a problem with the eye she had cataract surgery on. The panicky eye doctor sent her for a MRI to make sure she wasn't having a stroke or anything like that. Luckily, she wasn't, so now she's being sent back to Dr B to be tested for a sinus infection or to see if it's some sudden diabetes complication.

2. Dad, who objects to going to PT to build his strength up, keeps trying to do things on his own and falling. Luckily he hasn't hurt himself yet.

3. I ruined the ham we had for Christmas dinner. It was mostly edible, but NOT the delicious feast we were planning on.

4. The thyroid tumor is now exactly half the size of what's left of the thyroid. I get to go see the surgeon again and we get to fight with the insurance company over whether or not we can just remove the damned thing or if I get to have a needle jammed into it again first. Dr B. decided that wasn't enough to deal with, so I also have appointments to have my boobs mashed and a camera shoved up my ass. And I'm still too fat for his taste.

5. My car started doing all kinds of not-so-neat tricks. Two days at the mechanic for them to do the repairs that it turned out were part of the recalls on my vehicle and for them to come up with enough time to find something wrong that I'd have to pay for. Bob needs a $250 part (not including labor, of course) that I just can't do until later this month. The kicker is, of course, that the longer I go before I can afford the part, the more likely it will go from the $250 repair to a $1500 one.

6. The cousin my mom was closest to, Aunt Georgia, died yesterday. There's a winter weather front moving into the Iowa area (hoping it blows itself out before it gets here) and with Daddy's shakiness and needs, there is NO WAY we are driving into a snowstorm to go to the funeral.

On the plus side:

1. I still have a job even if I hate it most days.

2. I still have both my parents, even if they drive me crazy.

3. I still have my Shady-cat, who is very cuddly in winter weather.

4. I have a ton of new books to read.

5. I have a ton of new DVD's to watch.

Let's see what this year does to me...