Saturday, December 26, 2009

christmas merriment

Christmas. It's one day past, 364 until the next.

There are plenty of presents and four giggling children. And of course, there is the Christ Child. My Savior. But when he created me he gave me tastebuds; possibly, the greatest Christmas present ever received. Around here, we don't dream of sugar plums. We dream of yorkshire pudding and prime ribs. We wait, we salivate for the Christmas food.


Snacks and Apps

You've had a late filling breakfast during break from present opening. You know you're going to have a rich dinner, but you need a little snack in the early afternoon to tide you over.

various crackers & breadsticks, prosciutto (can't live without it), brie, comte, beemster aged gouda, zingerman's pimento cheese, marinated mushrooms, green spanish olives

nantucket bay scallops seared with a balsamic reduction

cranberry prosecco


(apologies for the poor picture quality - I was exhausted)
  • beef tenderloin from Sparrow roasted with a mustard herb paste :: topped with a mushroom cabernet cream
  • truffled mashed potatoes (mashed in the food mill and combined with truffle butter and white truffle oil, with sour cream)
  • roasted broccoli tossed in pistachio paste

  • christmas cookies
  • cannolis, mail ordered from Mike's Pastry (an Anastasio tradition) - (I left my heart in Boston, after all)
  • homemade kahlua with a dash of calder cream

Friday, December 25, 2009

8 minutes left

There are only eight minutes left to Christmas 2009! And I'm exhausted. I've got a house full of sleeping little ones and sleepy big ones.

We ate well today. But I'm too tired to write about it now. I'll post pictures and the menu tomorrow.

sweet dreams of sugar plum fairies.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

christmas cookie countdown::

Although I have yet to complete my Christmas shopping, I am ever closer to completing my Christmas baking.

Here's what we banged out today during today's non-snow day:
And the crazy thing is ... there's more to come.

For sure there are gingerbread men, sugar cookie cut-outs, white chocolate cherry, peppermint meringues & toffee.

I'll keep you posted with pictures to come.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

paella magic

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What an amazing creation a paella is. It is party food to the max, especially when the making of it is also a joint effort. There’s something for everyone; seafood, chicken, chorizo, rice. But it’s so much more than just a sum of the ingredients. When so many layers of flavor are combined, how could you not end up with a masterpiece. It is absolutely nothing less than art. Stunning colors, patterns, flavors, textures.

Having only participating in the making of it once, I do not feel qualified to leave you with an exact recipe. However, I’ll summarize the process and show you what we ended up on the evening of paella magic.

Here’s the key as I see it. Take every opportunity that you have to add flavor. Frankly, it’s not different than any other time you’re cooking something at home. It seems obvious, but if you think about it, sometimes you probably throw together a meal without wisely using the chances you have to add flavor. For example, if you are boiling pasta for a quick meal, salt the water heavily. It should be as salty as sea water. How much better even a simple pasta meal tastes if the water is salted.

If you do paella correctly, there are numerous flavor points; some that like to take front stage, like the chorizo, and others that don’t mind being background notes, like the calamari. Altogether it sings a Spanish love song.

Paella points:
1. Start with a sofrito, a sauté and reduction of onion, garlic, tomato, red peppers, and cured ham (Serrano). This time around Alex provided roasted tomatoes and peppers – flavor addition #1. Roasted vegetables add a depth of flavor that doesn’t exist with raw ones. You can make this in a separate pan to speed up the process. We used a cast iron – yet another opportunity to add flavor. (#2)
2. Darkly brown chicken in olive oil. Use a home grown free-range chicken (flavor addition #3).
3. Sauté chorizo (this Spanish sausage needs no flavor booster in my book) in the same pan once the chicken is fully browned. Browning this first extracts the pork fat and paprika into the pan making it absorbable for the other ingredients.
4. Lightly sauté 1 lb. shrimp (in their shells – flav add #4 – shells add flavor to the liquid for when the rice is cooking).
5. Sauté one lb. of fresh calamari bodies and tentacles. (from Monahans = #5)
6. Add the sofrito to the growing paella mix.
7. Pre-bloom saffron in warm water. (#6) Yes, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, but for a paella pan that feeds 16, you’ll need quite a bit – maybe 4 tbsp in 2 cups of warm water. Getting the saffron soaked first lets it impart its flavor before it’s added to the party pan.
8. Soften seafood bullion in the water that you’ll need to cover the rice. (#7)
9. Taste the liquid here. You should have a splendid balance of spice from the saffron, bullion, chorizo; sweetness from the seafood; & heady depth from the sofrito. Tasting the liquid before you add the rice ensures that the rice will have good flavor. This is your opportunity to make any changes you’ll need.
10. Use paella rice, a close relative of Arborio, or risotto rice (#8). This starchy rice adds a texture that compliments the other ingredients.
11. Sprinkle with frozen peas, to add color and texture. (#9)
12. Add fresh mussels (#10) into the pan, lips up. Just watch for them to open, as if asking for a Spanish kiss.

finger friendly caesar

I had a need for a finger friendly salad a few nights ago, so I turned to my friend, the romaine lettuce. My kids call pieces of romaine the crunchy guys. They’ll eat the darker and more bitter stuff because I tend to serve it more often, but oh how they love the mild romaine. It’s like the iceberg lettuce of my childhood. We often have a bag of hearts in the fridge. They so easily become the base of a salad, a clean canvas ready to stand up to any combination of flavors. Stripped down to the crunchier core, they’ll last a week or so in the fridge in a bag.

Before I turn to my simple dressed up Caesar, I want to mention another romaine favorite in my house. Most recently I found a whole head that looked fresh at the market, so I took it home, and sliced it directly in half lengthwise through the core.

For the dressing, I sautéed one julienned red pepper, and one thinly sliced red onion in olive oil and generous kosher salt, until both were softened and gently browned on the edges. When they were done, I shut off the heat and splashed a bit of sherry vinegar into the pan, then scraped up the yummy bits from the bottom of the pan as the liquid was cooling down.

I simultaneously heated up a grill pan. I’ve got a Le Creuset that can go on top of my range, but you could also open up your panini machine flat (if it does that), and use it as well. Of course, in the summer, I’ve used my Weber propane, if I already have it on for something else. Using a pastry brush, gently coat the cut sides of the romaine head with olive oil. Grill the lettuce on the heated pan, cut side down, about only 2 minutes on high. Remove from the heat when there are grill marks on the lettuce. This is such a great trick. It looks impressive and different, but more importantly it gives the lettuce multiple taste dimensions. Parts of the romaine have wilted slightly and others will remain crisp.

Pour the warm dressing from the pan over the top of the grilled romaine heads.
This is wonderful enough just as is, but again I’ll urge you to think creatively about your pantry here. Add a handful of toasted pine nuts to the top, perhaps bacon, or shaved pecorino. I know what you should do; add all three if you have them around.

Back to the Caesar. When you buy a bag of romaine hearts, the darker softer (and more vitamin rich) leaves have been removed. You are left with the inner leaves that are quite sturdy. They can be used as small edible plates to hold a number of different salad toppings. This night I chose to go with the standard Caesar flavors.

Finger Caesar
1. Separate the leaves of a romaine heart and spread them into a single layer onto the plate you intend to serve the salad.
2. Sprinkle croutons (see recipe for puff pastry croutons below), shaved parmagiano, and crumbled bacon evenly onto each leaf.
3. Drizzle with your favorite Caesar dressing. (I’ll include my fav in a later post)

Puff pastry croutons
1. Defrost puff pastry overnight in the fridge or on the kitchen counter for two hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
3. Lightly dust the counter with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry dough until it is about twice the original size.
4. Generously sprinkle with finely grated parmagiano cheese. Use the rolling pin to gently push the cheese into the dough.
5. Use a pizza cutter to cut puff pastry dough into 1/2 inch squares. Unbaked squares will come off the counter with a pastry bench scraper or a thin spatula.
6. Bake squares about 5-7 minutes, but do not rely on a timer. Depending on how defrosted your puff pastry is, it could be faster or longer. Remove them from the oven when they are medium brown.
7. These are best enjoyed within a couple hours of baking. Use them for salads or soup, or just right off the pan.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

the Grange kitchen

I've read varying reviews online about Grange, a new locavore restaurant in Ann Arbor, some good, some not so. Despite some of the less than positive comments, my husband and I went last night. We were looking for quick bar food before going to see the Berlin Philharmonic over at Hill Auditorium.

And I'm here to say, yum, yum, and more yum.

please excuse the iPhone poor picture quality

*Spicy fried chickpeas (above)
crispy and delicious enough to be loved by a garbanzo bean hater.

*Potatoes, Fried in Duck fat, with roasted garlic mayo.
WOW. Not exactly figure friendly, but so amazingly good, I can still taste them 24 hours later.

So in addition to the above fried goodness, I ordered a fried egg sandwich was deliciously decadent. Only slightly less artery clogging than my husband's bar burger - which was also done very well - also topped with a farm fresh egg.

I think we'll have to return soon so that we can taste the less death-defying meals.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

on the road to vanilla extract

Vanilla extract. Store bought is good enough. Penzey's is even better, but it's so darn expensive. Why not try making your own? I understand it sounds a little ridiculous at first. You might not want to take the time. You might be thinking you have better things to do, and sure, maybe you do. But at least when you're done, you have something to show for it. Let yourself adjust to the idea. Okay, was that enough time? Are you with me now?

This recipe is easy enough to make a gallon at a time. You might not want a whole gallon, but when I'm baking a lot, I sure do go through those 11$ bottles pretty fast. Plus, little homemade-labeled bottles would make such cute little Christmas gifts!

One note on purchasing vanilla beans: If this is truly cost effective, you sure can't buy vanilla beans from the supermarket for 9$ a pop. I bought mine in bulk from Vanilla Products USA.

Some recipes online call for adding sugar, but it's not really necessary if you're using it as extract instead of a vanilla liquor - which would be another great project.

Vanilla extract

  • Sterilize pint sized Ball jars.
  • Split fresh vanilla beans 3/4 of the length of the vanilla bean with a sharp knife.
  • Place 4-6 beans split side down into jars.
  • Fill each with vodka. No need for the super fancy stuff. I used Smirnoff, even though I'd typically drink Grey Goose or Belvidere.
  • Seal jars. Place in a spot out of sunlight. Aggitate every few days, or whenever you think about it.
  • Use after six or eight weeks.

Day one

Jewelry Party Tassies

Looking for a simple fall dessert recipe? Give this one a try.

Pecan Tassies

based on a recipe from

traditional southern tassie crust
  1. Beat 1 cup butter with 1- 8 oz package of cream cheese
  2. Slowly add 2 1/2 cups AP flour to the mixer. Beat at low speed until incorporated.
  3. Split dough into 48 pieces. Place in mini muffin tins. Chill for one hour and up to one day.
only one of many tassie fillings - you can get very creative here
  1. Combine the following in a mixer: 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, 2 large eggs, 2 tbsp butter, melted, 1 tbsp vanilla extract, 1/8 tsp salt. Whisk until homogenous.
Cinnamon Maple Glaze:
  1. Whisk together a slurry of 2 cups confectioner's sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 real maple syrup (don't try to use Aunt Jemima). Add 2-3 tablespoons of water, depending on desired consistency. Whisk until there are no sugar clumps.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a thumb or the back of a tablespoon, press an indentation into each dough ball, making a well large enough to hold the filling.
  3. Divide 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans into the empty unbaked tassie shells.
  4. Gently pour or spoon batter into shells, trying not to come up over the edge of the crust.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes or until filling is set.
  6. Cool in pans on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans. Let cool another 20 minutes.
  7. Dust with confectioner's sugar.
  8. Drizzle cinnamon-maple glaze over the top using a fork or whisk.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jeff's food thoughts of the day

My brother-in-law is a soup aficionado. Loves to eat it and loves to cook it. Apparently in his earlier bachelor years before I knew him, he made a lot of soups and is now getting back into the swing of things. We've recently had a few chats about soup making and the other day he left a voicemail on my cell phone entitled "My food thoughts for the day".

1. "Starting a soup with a roux is a great way to add flavor and texture."

After the base of veggies, also known as a mirepoix or sofrito, have sauteed in the fat of your choice, add a couple tablespoons or so of flour. Let this cook until the flour has turned a light caramel colored brown. Then add your liquid and continue with the recipe.

Raw dry flour should not be added directly to a simmering soup. If you do this, you will probably get very unappetizing clumps of flour floating on top of the soup. The heat from the soup liquid makes the flour molecules bind to themselves instead of moving evenly throughout the soup. Starting with fat, as in a roux, allows the flour molecules to be surrounded by fat molecules, so that they are more easily incorporated into the liquid.

If you find yourself with a soup that's not as thick as you'd like, either make a roux on the side and add it to the simmering soup. Or make a slurry of equal parts flour and cold water in a separate bowl. Stir until homogenized and add this paste to the cooking soup.

2. "You have got to season things to make them taste good."

It's such a simple, yet essential concept. In order for food to taste good, the levels of salt and pepper need to be balanced properly. The only way to tell this is to taste, taste, and then taste again. Especially in a cooking preparation like a soup which has many layers and dimensions, it's important to season each level that you add. And then taste. Even if you are a strict recipe follower, salt and pepper amounts are subjective, and you shouldn't feel locked into someone else's taste preferences. There's nothing more disappointing to me then going to a nice restaurant that thinks so highly of themselves that there is no salt on the table; only to find yourself needing to amp up the flavor.

The need for salt in a human diet goes way beyond your food tasting good. Each cell in your body requires a proper balance of salts in order for healthy metabolic functioning. Our physiology is dependent on sodium.

I'm not advocating over-salting food just for the sake of your cells. But it's interesting to note the connection between our human need and craving for salt and the perception that food tastes "better" when it's properly seasoned. It's as if the salt is a catalyst unlocking the dimensional flavors of even the most bland foods.

Monday, November 09, 2009

off to the airport

Family is visiting, about to take off to the airport, and you want to make a quick but filling lunch as a comforting goodbye. Here's one to try - who doesn't love the old fashioned combo of grilled cheese and tomato soup. For the grilled cheese I used a high quality muenster and a locally made "italian" bread, grilled with plenty of farm fresh butter.

quick tomato soup
  1. heat 2 tbsp e.v. olive oil in a sauce pan. saute one tbsp oregano and one tsp red pepper flakes until the spices are fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. (have also added finely diced onion and/or garlic at this point, but not today in the interest of time)
  2. add one large can, 28 oz, of crushed san marzano tomatoes.
  3. add one quart of chicken stock. bring to a boil.
  4. after this has simmered for 10 minutes, puree with an immersion blender for a more homogenous texture.
  5. add 1/2 cup grated parmesan reg.
  6. (optional) for added thickness, reduce the heat and add 1/2 cup half and half. don't bring to a full boil once you've added the cream.
  7. season with fresh ground pepper and salt to taste.

Especially when there are kids around, I love to cut the grilled cheese into strips, made perfect for dipping into the soup.

** be careful with the amount of red pepper flakes. add to taste. if you like things a little less spicy or if you are making this is for kids, don't add quite as much. a pinch would probably be sufficient.

Friday, November 06, 2009

rice bowls extraordinaire

We're finding ourselves tending toward the vegetarian lifestyle more and more these days. It's not that I emotionally object to the killing of animals for food. In fact, if they're raised sustainably, I think they probably live a better life than they would have otherwise. It's just that I'm often disappointed by the flavor and texture of meat, even if I spend the money on the organic stuff. When I have no idea for a meal and go to the fridge full of Tantre Farm veggies, my mind starts scheming about vegetarian.

In addition, with a family of six, I make a policy not to make six different meals. I firmly believe in not adapting the concept of an entire meal to one demanding child. Once you start that, it's all downhill. This is how generations of finicky adults are enabled. I do, however, sometimes make meals where different people can choose different toppings to the main dish. As much as I don't like to make special orders as a short order cook, I do realize that individuals have preferences for different flavor profiles.

Rice bowls are one of my favorite examples of this style of meal. I fill the rice cooker with good jasmine, basmati, or sushi rice, (have also used quinoa) and then proceed to prepare the toppings. Sometimes with a mexican bent; other times with an asian flare. This time around I was going for fall accents. Everyone gets the base of rice, then they can construct their own delicious bowl, with the intention that the adults get it all.
  1. diced fresh pumpkin. tossed with spanish olive oil, kosher salt, and penzey's chili powder. roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes until brown.
  2. fresh baby spinach.
  3. cabot's white cheddar. grated.
  4. fresh avacado. diced. tossed with lime juice to prevent browning.
  5. goya black beans. rinsed.
  6. baby leeks (could also use scallions or shallots). chopped, then sauteed in brown butter until crispy.
  7. drizzled chili oil. (heat 1 cup e.v. olive oil to a boil. shut off heat. add 2 tbsp red pepper flakes. let sit. use for this recipe and save the remainder for the next rice bowl night.)
The key to this is utilizing and accenting complimentary textures, so that you get different mouthfuls every time. As we're all eating, and groaning, and mmmm-ing, I'm wondering why anyone would add a dry grilled chicken breast to this perfect balance of plant goodness.

One note: Despite how awesome this vegetarian meal was, I will NEVER NEVER give up bacon or prosciutto. EVER.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

I've had a request for a cookie recipe that is apparently addictive. Especially if it catches just in the right sugar craving, clothes swapping mood. And they're still good a week later, if there are any left...

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies
  1. Cream two sticks butter with 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar.
  2. Add 1 tbsp vanilla, 1 egg, and 3/4 cup pumpkin. Mix until incorporated.
  3. Combine of dry ingredients: 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt.
  4. Gradually add dry to wet ingredients.
  5. Add 2 cups ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  6. Bake on an ungreased for 8-10 minutes at 375 degrees.
  7. Cool on a rack until room temperature.
  8. Using a fork, drizzle zig-zags of maple glaze (recipe below).
  9. Eat them while they're dripping with wet glaze or for a more presentable cookie wait until the glaze dries.
Maple glaze
  1. Combine 1/2 cup real maple syrup with two cups confectioner's sugar until a paste is formed.
  2. Whisk in 1/4 cup water until the consistency of a thin glaze.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

junk swap quiche

Quiche is one of those things for which there are many varieties for both the crust and the filling. And having friends over is a great opportunity to try one. I typically use the recipe from The Best Recipe, a Cooks Illustrated collection of tested recipes. The quiche page from that book is tattered and worn from spilled egg yolks and cream. I was recently looking online at different food blogs, and was not surprised to find that quiche is a popular topic.

The Best Recipe calls for a filling base of 2 large eggs plus two yolks, one cup cream, and one cup milk. I decided that I wanted to use a springform pan in order to get a taller side and deeper quiche, so that it would feed more people. Naturally I would need more filling for that. Other recipes that I've read call for 6 whole eggs, two cups cream, and two cups milk. This seemed more like the amount of base that I was looking for.

Crust recipe:
  • 1 1/4 cup AP flour + 7 tablespoons butter + 1/4 tsp salt
  • pulse in a food processor until butter is encorporated.
  • drizzle in 2-4 tablespoons of ice water
  • run the food processor again until the crust begins to come together into a ball.
Some people are very intimidated about making crust. Trust me. It is not difficult. As in many other things, practice will make all of the difference to know what the correct consistency is at difference points.

After you put the crust into the pan you are using, layer it with parchment and dry beans. I have a ziploc bag of red kidney beans that I use for this purpose. Prebake crust at 375 degrees for up 12-15 minutes. This is when it starts to get exciting. The smell of pate brisee starts to waft through your kitchen and house, and you know you're in line for good eats.

Fillings are only limited by your imagination. There are, of course, the classics. Lorraine, Spinach, mushroom. I was looking for something a little more decadent. Earlier in the morning I carmelized three thinly sliced red onion. But I also thickly grated an aged gouda. I've recently discovered an aged gouda, produced I think by Beemer (I'll have to check on this one). It is strong, like a cross between sharp cheddar, manchego, and parmesan. It's got the lovely granular bit like these other cheeses, with the smooth flavor of a young gouda. It's really fabulous. I added almost two cups of this grated aged gouda, one cup of carmelized red onions, and two teaspoons of fresh thyme into the filling base. I used the ratio of 6 eggs, 2 cups milk, 2 cups cream. To additionally flavor the filling, I added two tablespoons dijon mustard, three or four grates of nutmeg, fine sea salt, and ground pepper (one teaspoon each).

Fill the blind-baked crust and bake for an additional 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from the oven when the center is slightly jiggly. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, or standing in front of the fridge with a fork in hand.

At any rate, this is not a quiche made for trading worn clothes, this is a 24-carat make-your-mouth-dance quiche.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers of October

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Mexican chocolate macaroons, filled with salted caramel.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The South: Part 3

I never journal quite as much as I intend, in the old fashioned format or in this tech savvy way. So sometimes I feel like blogging falls right in that gap. Oh well. A quick summary will have to do.

On this southern weekend, we had some great food, & some not so great. But that's how it is everywhere, I suppose.

As usual, I enjoyed the appetizers of almost all meals more than the entrees. There's just something about a bite sized starter that gives you a better sense about what a chef is about. I'd almost always rather have a sample of appetizers for dinner, than one big dish. There are fewer bites in which to convey an idea and it often leads to a fuller stronger flavor profile.

Here's one example. In the south people eat fried dill pickles. Who knew? Actually I did know that, but I've never had the chance to try them. These are from Uncle Bubba's Oyster house, which is a spin off of the Paula Deen empire. Obviously, this dish isn't about the concepts of one single chef, but it's consistently on all casual menus down there. I love a crisp new pickle, but won't touch a slimy old one, especially one that's looks like it's been sitting in a brine in the warm kitchen for about 20 years. However, these fried dill pickles are great even for non pickle fans.

The best starter I had was at Ye Old Pink House in Savannah. This place has very mixed reviews online regarding both the staff and the food. We found neither to be the case. We had the most attentive waiter ever, and the food was wonderful, especially the blue crab beignets. Surprisingly this was the only beignet that we had for the whole weekend, but its' texture was perfectly tender and eggy with chunks of crab and a complimentary dipping sauce.

Entrees were good (but not as good as the appetizers). See below, crab stuffed grouper (both local- which is what caught me) and seared scallops. Not the best pictures b/c the flash was acting up.

Otherwise, I must have had crab cakes three different times because I wanted to try many variations as I could. To be honest, all were good, but none as good as the ones at the Roadhouse. And I'm not just sucking up.

Lastly, dessert. For my daughter's recent 10 year old birthday she requested a red velvet cake. Being one always to rise to the occasion, I accepted and conquered. And it was pretty darn good, for a yankee. Following that occasion last week, we made a pact that when we were down south, we would find a real red velvet cake and compare. For four days, at every meal, we searched menus to no avail. We searched for bakeries. Closed on Sundays. We were totally out of luck. Until this morning. A quick stop to Gallery Espresso for pre-airport coffee, found us staring into a bakery case holding a lovely red velvet cake. They all stared at me with wide eyes. It was 8am. They didn't dare even ask. It was breakfast, for goodness sake. So you can imagine what a hero I was when I suggested cake for breakfast. We could not break our pact. A happy ending to a wonderful family trip. Red velvet cake... and pecan pie. We couldn't pass up the pecan pie, now could we?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dinner @ Hanks

Tonight, our first full meal in Charleston took place at Hank's. Seemed a little bit too fancy for the kiddos at first, but once we settled in we were fine.

she-crab soup

grits (made with heavy cream and asiago)

crab cakes

low country shrimp and grits

from the land of biscuits and sweet tea

Sometimes I daydream about what my life would be like had we not ended up in Ann Arbor. Some of it's good, some bad. There are so many things about AA that I love, but I think often about the romanticized version of living in the south.

In order to partially prepare me for this weekend that my family is spending down south, I've read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Sure, it's fiction, but as I see it, if I'm romantically involved with the fictional south, I might as well solidify the myths. It's a decent movie based on a great book, based on a real life story of a Savannah scandal. A large part of the plot of this book is the parties thrown by Jim Williams in the Mercer mansion, catered by the famous Lucille Wright with decadent spreads of low country food.

My affections for Savannah are partially grounded in my latent desire to be a daughter or granddaughter of Paula Deen. It's not that every recipe she makes on her show is fabulous, or that she's not annoying once in a while. From her TV personality (because I'm not naive enough to think there's not another one) she seems like the kind of woman that anyone would want to be nurtured by. I missed out on the whole grandmother experience, never meeting either of mine. As a result, I often covet the idea of having an older wiser stronger woman, slightly removed from disciplining you, but close enough to guide you and love you with a fierce maternal love. For some reason Paula Deen strikes a cord with this internal desire. But before this turns into a self-psychology blog, I'm going to turn back to the food.

I love the decadence of southern food and what I perceive to be an unabashed connection between food & socializing and comfort. Up north, food had its times when it was emphasized, but I didn't quite get the feeling that social gatherings revolved around food in the same way that I think they do in the south. Perhaps in certain ethnic settings, like with my Italian relatives, food was an axis, but it wasn't culturally accepted as a whole. When I think of hospitality, I think south. And I like to think that I've been establishing these "southern" traditions with my own family, some very literal, like always having simple syrup in my fridge to sweeten iced tea, to the more abstract, emotional connections with food.

This weekend, my family is going from Charleston to Savannah, hitting a few family destination spots, but equally important will be the times when the six of us sit down to eat a meal. My kids are psyched for the biscuits and grits, and so much more. We might try to do the Deen place, but even for my fictional grandmother I will not wait four blocks and 2 hours, so we'll see. We've got several other places in mind, some which are a bit out of reach with four little ones. On a large scale my goal is simply to eat as many southern cliches as possible in the next four days.

Please indulge me as I use this as a bit of a food diary for my weekend. Indulge and drool.

~ signing out from my hotel room with a pitcher of iced tea

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

brussel sprouts of the future

I confess. I used to hate brussel sprouts as a kid. They were bitter, and, blech, the texture was terrible. It might have been how my mother prepared them, but I think it also had a lot to do with buying them from the ShopRite. It wasn't until Tantre Farm brussel sprouts arrived at my door many autumns ago, that my mind was changed.

These things are fantastic, especially if they've been picked after a frost. The deep cold temperatures soften and sweeten the already nutty flavor. They're awesome sauteed in butter, or roasted with pancetta, or just steamed and drizzled with a ginger laced soy sauce.

Here's how I did them up this week.

Brussel Sprout Salad

1. Finely shred quart RAW brussel sprouts with a mandoline, enough for your family or a couple of meals for yourself.

2. Shave about 1 cup of pecorino romano using a vegetable peeler. Add to the brussel sprouts.

3. Add 1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts.

4. Drizzle with the best balsamic you've got. You'll have to play it by ear a little bit, depending on the viscosity of your vinegar. Somewhere between 2 tbsp and 1/8 cup. Then drizzle with good olive oil (this is one of my favs), about the same amount of the balsamic. Again you'll have to test this; it shouldn't be super greasy, just well coated.

5. Season heavily with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Toss until coated.

This is one of those things that is SO simple, it's crazy not to make it. All of the flavors meld together into an unami-filled crunchiness that is so fabulous. I had designed it as a salad, but once I started eating, it was all I wanted.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Autumn is here

We all talk about the change of weather affecting our food patterns. It's not news. But it sure is truth. As soon as I find myself donning my long sleeve shirts and reaching for a scarf, my food desires start to adapt to the weather. After pining for and savoring the fresh foods of summer, it's hard to believe that I welcome the change. If I look down deep, I've got to be honest with myself. It's there. The cravings for more autumnal flavors and textures run deep.

Of course, it doesn't help that the Dexter Cider Mill is alive and hopping. Fresh cider and cinnamon sugar donuts, warm, and waiting two miles from my house.

For the past three weeks my Tantre Farm share has included a lone winter squash, one week it was butternut, the next a sweet dumpling, and just yesterday a buttercup squash. (which is a very odd looking one. Odd, but yummy.)

This afternoon I had an opportunity to prepare dinner earlier in the day because I knew that my evening time would be crunched from kids activities. Since fall flavors have been calling, and the butternut squash is two weeks old, I decided to go with:

Butternut squash soup

1. Roast one butternut squash in a 375 degree oven for approximately one hour. Don't make this more complicated than necessary. All I did was quarter the thing and put it flesh side down on a lined baking sheet with one sprig of rosemary and a half cup water.

2. When squash is softened, take it out of the oven. Wait until it is cool enough to the touch, then peel the skin off, cut the stem off, and scoop out the seeds.

3. Drop chunks of roasted squash into a stock pot full of two quarts of homemade chicken stock. Here's where you can add your own variations. I had made homemade stock last weekend after I roasted a chicken, so I had some in the freezer. If you don't have any stashed, used a box of stock from the grocery store. If you're a vegetarian or vegan, use homemade or store bought vegetable stock.

4. Bring to a slow boil. Puree with an immersion blender to make a homogenous soup texture. If you don't have one, use a standard blender, but be aware of the dangers of blending a hot liquid. (Then consider buying an immersion blender.)

5. Simultaneously boil one package of noodles in salted water. This morning I found a bag of imported Betchle spaetzle at Sparrow market (why they're selling these on Amazon, I'll never know). I knew I wanted a thicker noodle than a plain egg noodle because the broth would be thicker than plain stock.

6. Because I wasn't eating this soup right away, I gently rinsed the noodles and generously drizzled with olive oil. That way they wouldn't be stuck in a big clump when I went to serve dinner a few hours later.

7. To serve, place a nest of the reserved spaetzle in a bowl. Pour the hot soup over the noodles, until they're swimming in a golden pool of autumnal heaven.

8. Serve with soft pretzels from Zingermans', sharp cheddar, and fresh honeycrisp apples, from Michigan, of course.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Whitney, we did good!

I've been partnering with a friend to do the more complicated Daring Bakers challenges. Typically we'll make the basic part of the recipe together, in this case the puff pastry. Then we'll return to our own kitchens to personalize the recipe before we post. Sometimes we team up because it seems less daunting to have a teammate, but always because it makes the whole process infinitely more fun.

This time, I'm shouting out to her. Whitney, this is awesome. We rocked this one! Look at these layers.

Last night for dinner we had a version of Michel Richard's wild mushroom pot pie. I call it a version because I recreated it from memory after browsing Happy in the Kitchen at Whitney's while the puff pastry was chilling.

As predicted by the Daring Bakers', I had more than needed for one dinner. So I made parmesan straws for an accompaniment. Not necessary for nutrients sake, for sure. But oh, so good.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Puff the Magic Dragon

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Making my own puff pastry is one of those things that I would never attempt without Daring Bakers. I have never been less than satisfied with Dufour's. Frankly I'm lucky I live in a place I can get it whenever I want. However, it actually turns out to be a fairly easy thing to make. Techically speaking, it's just not that difficult. But if you're in a rush, I wouldn't reach for this recipe.

Here are a few pictures from the process - including one of my toddler helping with the butter flattening.

I had to take an unplanned trip to visit family, but I wanted to get this initial note done on the 27th so that I'm not officially late. Tomorrow I'll add the additional finished product pictures and text. Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

tomah-to love

Not too many more days left of 2009 for which this can be lunch.

Local organic heirloom tomatoes on freshly baked Zingerman's bakehouse white.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mom, I found my special purpose!

A photo journal from last weekend's trip to Slow's BBQ in downtown De-troit.

So worth the trip.

Kudos to The Jerk.