Friday, December 31, 2010

10 for '10


Sam Sifton, who has the best job on Earth -- restaurant reviewer and food critic for The New York Times -- wrote up a list of his favorite restaurant meals of the past year.

And so, I thought: "Hmmm ... what have I, who so relish my food, eaten this year that was particularly spectacular?" (Yeah, I'm sorta stealing Sam's intellectual property here; let's call it an "homage," instead, shall we???) I started thinking back and looking through my blog posts to come up with a sampling.

But then, how would I arrange this? Would I stick to restaurant meals, to avoid the ego-coddling of including my own recipes? Well, I'm pretty enamored of some of the things I've prepared this year; why shouldn't I take pride in a job well done??? Would they have to be dishes I've already written about or ones I had pictures of? For the most part I do have a record, between my own personal blog and my writings for AnnArbor.com.

And then I just thought: "Stop deconstructing and obsessing! If you liked it, share it with your loved ones!!!"

So, in no particular order -- 'cause I had enough trouble making the decisions about what to include on the list, let alone having to decide which was incrementally better than another -- here are my 10 favorite foods from 2010:

Olives all'Ascolana (fried stuffed green olives) at Silvio's Organic Pizza. Fresh and hot from the oil, fragrant, crispy, tender, salty, juicy, and utterly unique, these little tidbits were a fabulous treat! You could very possibly devour platesful of the addictive little things before you realized you'd overdone it. Fortunely they're served only by the dozen, so that you don't have to worry about excess. But no one said you couldn't order another round ....

The cheesy potatoes Tom's sister, Sandy, served at the family's Christmas gathering. Tom has told me that I shouldn't take pictures at the holiday meals for fear of being thought a tad ... um ... odd (shall we say?) by his loved ones, so I can't show the dish to you. But they were a creamy, rich, gooey, luscious, soul-soothing mass of hash browns baked in a thick sauce of sour cream and sharp cheddar cheese. Who needed to eat the ham (which I actually couldn't, because of the sodium nitrite which gives me migraines) when you could just indulge in the bliss of the potatoes???

The maple-glazed salmon from Tom's birthday lunch at The Real Seafood Company. It was sweet, it was tender, it was flaky, and it didn't have the raw center that many trendy chefs pass off as "rare." (If I want sushi I'll order sushi; and, as you can see from the descriptive blurb under my blog title, I never order sushi!) The salmon was cooked to absolute perfection. That it was served along with fennel (one of my very favorite foods) that paired perfectly in a slaw along with green apple strips, as well as being accompanied by tender-crisp roasted vegetables, only made it more delicious. The pumpkin cheesecake served for dessert was lovely, but the salmon was absolutely the star of my meal. This plate was vibrant and colorful and nutritious, but it gave every impression of being truly decadent.

A true work of art at Giordano's Restaurant and Pizzeria in Chicago: a deep-dish spinach pizza. Handmade just for us, there were nearly 45 minutes of anticipation before Jeremy and I laid eyes upon this beautiful specimen. Once it arrived, it was difficult to destroy its perfection ... and yet, of course we did! Pure hedonism, a doughy crust layered with cheeses and spinach and sauce -- an utter masterpiece from its tantalizing appearance to its seductive aroma, and finally its rich, salty, yeasty, sweet, savory, spicy, explosion of flavors. This pizza was unbelievably, indescribably fabulous!

The banana pudding ice cream from Happy Cream Ice Cream and Deli in Detroit. (Oh, my heart is broken! I just found out the shop has closed when I looked for the link! Very sadly, another small business owner's dream has died ....) Not only is there divine intervention connected to this ice cream, as I ate it on the night Tom and I were visited by an angel; but it was so rich, so creamy, so smooth, so generously portioned, so infused with love and pride by the man who recommended it to me with a smile ... oh, it was utterly sublime. Every part of the comfort food that is banana pudding -- from the custard to the banana slices to the softened vanilla wafers -- was contained in that paper cup. It was a thing of true beauty. I am so, so thrilled that I was able to try it while the shop was open!

My triple orange brownies absolutely had to make this list! Still warm from the oven, these are too soft to be considered fudgy; and yet, there is a sticky layer of combined chocolate and marmalade at the bottom that is reminiscent of a candy filling. The orange flavoring doesn't overtake the chocolate, and neither is it hidden -- instead, the two predominant players do a seductive dance wrapped tightly in each other's arms, moving in unison as their hips sway and their passion ignites. These are so good that you will be spoiled and may never want to eat any other brownies again. I'm not kidding -- make the recipe for yourself and you'll find that I speak truth.

The Mexican chocolate loaf cake baked by the River Street Bakery and bought at the Ypsilanti Food Co-Op. This "cake baby," as Tom and I called it as we lovingly cradled it to make sure it didn't get mushed (since it was so tender), was an intensely deep, dark chocolate cake with a thin chocolate glaze ... after all, who can have too much chocolate??? When we first took tiny tastes of it, we thought it was rich and delicious; we were also very impressed at how moist it was, given that the cake is vegan. As the flavors lingered on our tongues and we compulsively consumed more and more of it with no ability to resist, the hints of cinnamon and cayenne started to shine through. There was nothing too spicy or overpowering, merely chocolate paired with perfect complements.

Shalimar, where Tom's and my favorite meal is Murgh Saagwala (chicken with spinach), Dumm Aloo (potatoes in a spiced tomato-yogurt sauce), and -- of course! -- the assorted naan. Yes, I should be picking one of those items and featuring it; but read my last post about this amazing restaurant -- how could I ever possibly choose just one item, when the entire place is one great big "favorite"??? Tom and I ate dinner at Shalimar on our first date ... it has tremendous sentimental value to me, in addition to extraordinary and luscious food. The ambience is sophisticated and romantic, the service is professionally polite rather than effusive, and the food is perfectly spiced and prepared exquisitely. Thus, this entire meal constitutes a favorite rather than any individual item ... no further explanation needed!

Note: For those who read about our recent anniversary breakfast at The Broken Egg and are feeling a bit confused because you thought our first date had been there rather than at Shalimar: Tom and I started that date with breakfast at The Broken Egg. We proceeded to go for a long walk and then warm ourselves up with tea. After that, we found we were hungry and in need of dinner ... thus a meal at Shalimar. It was all on our first date! It was just a 15-hour date ... :)

Love Bugs from Decadent Delight, which are kinda sorta reminiscent of Twinkies. But they are Twinkies not on steroids, but rather Twinkies which have gone to finishing school to acquire some sophistication. These treats are not just adorable and a perfect size to share with someone you love. They are tender, flavorful cakes frosted and coated with any number of tempting options, enrobing pastry cream or chocolate or Jeremy's personal favorite -- a passion fruit filling that could easily just be eaten with a spoon without any other flavors or textures intruding upon the sensual experience. Everything I've ever eaten at Decadent Delight -- from tarts to cookies to cakes to cinnamon rolls -- is absolutely swoon-inducing.

Roasted Cheddar-Herb Almonds, which are a very recent addition to my repertoire but an exceptional and noteworthy one nonetheless. These give every indication, upon first inspection, of being everyday almonds that have a bit of something stuck to them. Try one ... go on. To quote Jeremy when he first tasted them: "Mmmmmmm ...." No words, just closed eyes and "Mmmmmmm ...." Salty, savory, a variety of flavors from the mixed herbs -- each sensation offers something different and enticing for your tongue. You'll find yourself swiping a few more, then a few more after that. You'll give up any pretense of just nibbling and grab them by the handful with abandon. Yes, these almonds are that good. They really are ....

There were many, many other items that coulda been contenders: the spiked Granny Smith applesauce or the coconut macaroons from my dinner at eve ... the Zzang! bar from Zingerman's ... the buttery pumpkin cake that Sandy served at Tom's family's Thanksgiving feast ... the fabulous array of beautiful foods (grilled salmon and potatoes and sweet potatoes and salad and so much more!) served at a lovely dinner by Tom's and my dear friend Martha ... the French chicken with fennel from Joan Nathan's new cookbook ... my good friend Marcie's creamy salmon blintzes ... the cheesecake I made for Jeremy's birthday last January, from a recipe that was first given to the family at the baby shower held for my ex-husband's impending birth in 1960 ... my beloved friend Wendy's buttercream frosting, made from her grandmother's recipe, for which a cupcake is a mere carrier for the addictive fix ... a hot dog eaten on a gorgeous summer day ... the roasted squash soup topped with a blue cheese crouton at The Real Seafood Company ... my own ginger shortbread cookies ... the peppermint Jo-Jo ice cream from Trader Joe's, with crushed cookies mixed into it ... the gingerbread cookies that my good friend Doris shared with me ... peanut butter granola from the Ypsi Co-Op ... the gorgeous salad with fresh oranges and strawberries that I ate at my Mother's Day lunch at the Sidetrack Bar and Grill ... the sweet-tart chocolate-covered Balaton cherries that my dear friend Marilyn gave me for my birthday ... the gingery granola that was part of an extraordinary gift basket from my priceless boss/friend, Rob ... my Mafioso pasta sauce ... the summer rolls and potstickers at Big Bowl in Chicago ... the cream-filled puff pastry at Silvio's ... the raw vegan chocolates that Tom's friend/co-worker Daniel makes ... Talenti gelato, any flavor ... Honeycrisp apples ... garlic scapes grown by my fellow Michigan Lady Food Blogger Diana Dyer, served on pasta and in salad ... the garlicky cream sauce with mussels at Conor O'Neill's (which we'll be feasting on again for Jeremy's birthday, January 10, so stay tuned!). I could go on and on, but I'm getting hungry!!!

There's a beautiful Italian phrase which sums up the year in food for me: Chi mangia bene sta molto vicino a Dio. ([KEE MAHN-juh BEH-neh stah MOHL-toh vee-CHEE-noh ah DEE-oh) = He who eats well is closest to God.) God has blessed me enormously this year with good food, and especially with loved ones to share it with. May each of you be granted those blessings as well in 2011 ... :)



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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Our First Anniversary


Tom and I corresponded for a long time before we finally met each other face-to-face; he first contacted me on November 20 of last year, after some intervention from our guardian angel -- his sister Anne. But we didn't officially meet until after Christmas, several weeks later. We had breakfast at The Broken Egg, a comfort-food breakfast/lunch restaurant of supreme excellence, on December 26, 2009 ... which means that this past Sunday was the first anniversary of our first date.

So, of course, we went back to The Broken Egg for breakfast!

Neither of us could decide what to eat last year, and ultimately went to opposite extremes: Tom ordered a huge plate of bacon, poached eggs, toast and fried potatoes which was too enormous to finish, and I ordered oatmeal with fat, juicy raisins after he mentioned it as we perused the menu and it just sounded good.

The menu is extensive, God help me, with everything from standard pancakes and waffles to 4-egg omelettes and specialty items. Sunday's features ranged from Elvis French Toast (the famous peanut butter and banana sandwich immersed in custard and fried 'til golden) to the Devil's Breakfast (eggs and vegetables with spicy chorizo and jalapenos). What is an indecisive girl like me to do???

Tom indulged in a repeat performance of last year's feast, as I debated the merits of the Peruvian Breakfast Stew featuring chicken and green olives. But knowing that the portions are huge, I vetoed this excellent-sounding dish; I can't bring fleishig ([FLAY-shig] = flesh, literally) to work because of Jewish dietary laws and the potential mixing of meat and dairy. Therefore the inevitable leftovers would have to stay at home, and we still had plenty of cinnamon rolls and fish pâté and deviled eggs and roast beast and potatoes and gravy and cookies and candies from Christmas. We didn't need to contribute further to that cause.

So I chose the Vegetarian Breakfast Stew, which isn't really a "stew" (but that doesn't matter because it's delicious): scrambled eggs sauteed with red peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, sweet caramelized onions, and hash browns. Oh, and both meals came with multi-grain toast, because stingy portions are not something The Broken Egg offers!

Tom ate everything but a few of his potatoes and the fattiest parts of the bacon (he's very conscientious about such things, always checking fat and sodium and sugar contents while I'm shoving anything into my mouth that tastes good!). I, on the other hand, despite a truly noble effort -- and anyone who knows me knows I'm an excellent eater who can consume far more than most people believe I can -- still had enough of the stew staring back at me to provide lunch for the next two days ... and we all know, I don't do stingy portions either!

So, here's to the first of many anniversaries, and to Tom's and my 2nd Annual December 26th Breakfast at The Broken Egg ... :)

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In the Thrift Shops with Rosie

Remember when all the lemmings who follow Oprah's every move bought the cookbook that her personal chef, Rosie Daley, had written: In the Kitchen with Rosie???

Well, 'twould seem that no one wants the book any more. No matter which thrift shop I go into -- PTO Thrift Shop, Ann Arbor Thrift Shop, Value World, St. Vincent de Paul Store, The Re-Use Center -- I inevitably find a copy. The sampling offered below represents just the past few weeks' worth of trolling:








No profound observations to offer here -- it's just become a game for me to find a copy of the book at each secondhand store, so I thought I'd share my warped sense of amusement ... ;)


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Roasted Cheddar-Herb Almonds


Jeremy, I'm sorry to say, has gone on the late, not-so-great Atkins diet -- you remember, the one that was all the rage 'cause it let you eat all the bacon and burger patties and pork rinds you wanted without expecting you to eat anything nutritious like fruit??? He and his dad started it just in time for Christmas, on the "buddy system" ... sigh. They've had a great deal of success already, but it certainly made life difficult for this chickie who made a dozen different types of sweet treats!

So, while I've been baking cookies and planning to give a tin of them to Jeremy, he's been eating Quarter Pounders without the buns, strips of bacon doused in cheese, pork chops in sour cream sauce ... oh, and one token taco salad without any chips. What kinds of treats could I give to him, then???

Jeremy suggested Jell-O Jigglers, made with sugar-free Jell-O; he told me that the blue ones looked good. Oh, if only I could capture in words my look of disgust and disdain when I heard that!

And then another idea struck, a much better one than rubbery blobs of blue goo: roasted nuts ... almonds, to be specific.

I dug through some recipes for ideas and mangled this one together from pieces of all the others. They smell so, so good as they're baking! And they're unbelievably addictive ... Jeremy is lucky that I left a few for him!!! When he tried some at our Christmas gift exchange, he just closed his eyes and said, "Mmmmmmm" ....

Roasted Cheddar-Herb Almonds

1 egg yolk
2 cups raw almonds
3/4 cup finely grated sharp cheddar
1/2 teaspoon garlic
powder
1/2 teaspoon herb seasoning
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly oil a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, beat yolk; add almonds and stir to coat.


In a small bowl, combine cheese, garlic powder, seasoning and salt; pour over the almonds and stir to coat.


Place the almonds on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer.


Bake for 15 minutes. Stir, then bake for another 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and open the oven door a bit, then let the almonds rest for 15 minutes.

Remove almonds from oven and let cool completely. Serve in a decorative bowl or place into a pretty jar to give as gifts.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Homemade Green Onion Dip

Awhile ago, I won the most lovely set of spices -- the Harvest Time Gift Set -- from the Savory Spice Shop, care of a giveaway hosted by my friend Karen of Eat Drink Wash Up. I have put the set to use on chicken and pasta and all sorts of other goodies; truly, this was a fabulous thing to win!!! And I recently relied upon it to make a lovely onion dip.

I used two of the four spice mixes: the Tarragon Shallot Citrus Seasoning and the Wash Park All-Purpose Seasoning, each offering a different blend of herbs and spices and flavors and thus each making its own contribution to the greater good. 'Twould be an entirely different species without them!

Tom loves onion dip, which I never buy because I always make my own; there are many things I won't pay for -- chocolate chip cookies, salad dressing and manicures, just to name three -- because it's so easy and comparatively inexpensive to do it myself. Onion dip is on that list of items I wouldn't spend good money for because I can likely do it better. Call me conceited, but it's true!

So, one day recently Tom challenged me to make an onion dip. Ha! That's easy! Sour cream, maybe a green onion instead of white or red, some of the multitude of spices I have in my pantry, and stir 'em all together. It needed a bit of oomph after resting overnight, so then I threw in my favorite condiment (which goes on sandwiches, in salads, on pasta) -- Dijon mustard.

And a star was born, to be served with pretzels or chips or vegetables (not "veggies" -- never "veggies!") or anything else that strikes your fancy ....

Homemade Green Onion Dip

2 tablespoons butter
2 fat scallions, finely chopped
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon Savory Spice Shop
Tarragon Shallot Citrus Seasoning
1/4 teaspoon Savory Spice Shop
Wash Park All-Purpose Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the whites of the scallions, and saute just until translucent.


Place the sour cream into a medium bowl along with the sauteed scallions, the raw green parts of the scallions, the Tarragon Shallot Citrus seasoning, the Wash Park All-Purpose seasoning, the salt, pepper and mustard.


Stir to combine well, then cover and refrigerate at least overnight before serving.


Makes 1 cup.


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Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Mary-ness

"4 Candles to Illuminate the Christmas Cookies I'll Sneak from the Kitchen and Eat in a Closet"
by Thomas Boulan


Today is Christmas Eve, a day on which people will engage in activities as varied as attending Midnight Mass, shopping at gas stations and drug stores for last-second gifts, eating Chinese food, cursing while trying to put toys together according to incoherent schematics, watching "A Christmas Story," making pierogi or serving 7-course seafood feasts, stuffing stockings and leaving cookies for Santa ... an entire buffet table of choices, each continuing a tradition whether cultural or religious or individual.

And so, in honor of that variety (and because we all know how notoriously bad I am at making decisions!), today I'm offering an assortment of my own: one of Tom's beautiful artworks, which began life as a simple photo of our menorah at Chanukkah, as well as a most festive and fabulous song. These are bestowed as gifts to my friends and followers, albeit without a bow or curling ribbon or wrapping paper.




In closing, let me also share a strikingly poignant note that I found while perusing a display of Christmas cards as I waited for a friend who works at an office which serves the homeless and mentally ill; this was written in one of the cards, and it truly brings tears to my eyes each time I read the words:

"Thank you all for helping me find & keep a Home where I can have a Christmas."

How many Christmases did he wake up, knowing what day it was and feeling alone, forgotten, heartbroken ... and cold??? (His card also offered prayers for those who are still outside or in tents.) How many times did he feel isolated, not a part of the festivities and the joy of a day which clearly means so much to him??? If only we could all be so grateful for our blessings and for the important people in our lives, and have such a deep appreciation of the specialness of the season! I do hope that all his hopes and dreams come true, however simple or grand his plans are for celebrating.

May all of you receive the most precious gifts this Christmas:
peace, love, health and happiness. Each is more priceless than any material item, and I wish them to you with all my heart ... :)




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Thursday, December 23, 2010

O, Christmas Tree ....


Tom proudly displaying our tree, fresh from the Washtenaw Alano Club which supports the recovery community in more ways than I can express gratitude for; I buy my Christmas tree at their fundraising sale every year.


The angel tree-topper that Jeremy made years and years ago, when he was little, which is my very favorite ornament of all.


Tom's and my first Christmas tree together, in all its glory ... :)




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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blueberry-Walnut Rugelach

When you're behind on your Christmas baking, you want the most bang for your proverbial buck; so rather than making a batch of cookies in an 8"x8" pan that will give you 16 or maybe 24 cookies, you go for the gusto -- a batch that will make 64 cookies!

These are ridiculously easy to make, even though they look complicated. Make a dough that doesn't even require refrigeration, roll it into a circle (no measuring of 1/8" depth or any of that nonsense), no cutting, no re-rolling scraps, no scraping dough and flour off your countertop when you're done. Really, you can impress people with very little effort if you make these!

It's up to you whether you coat them with confectioners' sugar once they've cooled; Tom likes them plain, but I can eat them either way ....

Blueberry-Walnut Rugelach

1 cup butter, softened
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup blueberry jam
1-1/3 cups chopped walnuts
confectioners' sugar for coating (optional)

Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets.

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and cream cheese; stir in egg. Mix in sugar, flour and salt -- dough will not come together entirely. Empty the dough and remaining scraps onto the countertop and knead until the dough comes together. Divide dough into 4 portions. Roll one portion at a time into a 12" circle.


Spread 1/4 cup jam over the circle, then sprinkle with 1/4 of the walnuts. Cut the dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into quarters to make 16 pieces.



One at a time, starting with the outer edge, roll a portion of dough towards the center to form a spiral. Place on the cookie sheet, and repeat until the entire circle of dough has been rolled.


Bake for 25 minutes until the cookies are golden and are set when pressed. Remove to a rack to cool completely, and repeat until all of the dough has been used.

Optional: When the cookies are completely cool, place some confectioners' sugar into a large baggie. Toss in a handful of cookies at a time and shake to coat them in the sugar. Remove to a tray and repeat until all of the cookies have been sugared.

Makes 64 cookies.


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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ginger Shortbread Cookies

Given that I'm way behind on my Christmas baking, I'm trying to focus on the essentials. And so I asked Jeremy, "If I could only bake one kind of cookie this year, what would you want me to make?"

"Ginger Shortbread." He didn't even have to take a breath before uttering the words, it was such an immediate response!

Good boy! That was my choice, too ... :)

These are rich, crumbly, chocolatey, and feature the fabulous flavor of two kinds of ginger -- powdered and candied. If you love ginger, you will adore these cookies; if you're not such a fan, I promise you'll like these anyway. There is something about their simplicity with a twist that is simply addictive. And their aroma is absolutely heavenly!!!

Ginger Shortbread Cookies

(adapted from a Martha Stewart shortbread cookie recipe)

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup finely chopped candied ginger
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Grease a 9"x9" baking pan.

In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar; mix in salt, powdered ginger and vanilla.

Stir in the flours; the mixture will be crumbly.

Stir in the candied ginger and the chocolate chips; combine well, until a portion of it can be pressed together and stick.




Press mixture into the prepared pan and smooth it out. Refrigerate for 1 hour.


Preheat oven to 325F. Bake the shortbread for 40 minutes, until golden at the edges. Let rest for 15 minutes.


Trim 1/4" from the edges of the shortbread; the scraps are a tremendous treat for the ravenous baker, by the way!

While the shortbread is still warm, cut it into squares.


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