Thursday, June 30, 2011

Baked Tilapia with Smoked Salmon Spread


At the grocery store recently, I found a container of Cajun-spiced smoked salmon spread that was on Manager's Special: it was nearing its "do not sell" date, so the store was trying to banish it from the premises by discounting it and luring sale shoppers. Well, it worked! It cost only $1.29; and I could see significant potential for this product, so I took it home with me.

For one thing, it made a lovely evening snack with crudites or even extra-large croutons dipped into it. When I was up late, insomniac that I tend to be, and needed "a little something" (as Winnie-the-Pooh would say), this was just perfection.

It would also have been excellent shmeared onto a toasted bagel, with some lettuce and tomato and red onion tossed into the mix, if I'd had everything I needed for such a sandwich all at the same time rather than perpetually lacking one of the key ingredients.

But even better, my serendipitous purchase contributed to a supremely delicious dinner one evening, spread over some tilapia and baked just until the fish was moist and flaky.

There was a twinge of spice from the Cajun seasoning, and sweetness from both the fish and the mayonnaise base of the smoked salmon spread. The toasted crumbs on top provided the ideal crispness to complement the tender tilapia.

Some things are just meant to be ....

Baked Tilapia with Smoked Salmon Spread

4 4-ounce tilapia filets
3/4 cup smoked salmon spread
half of 1 whole wheat hamburger bun, ground into fresh breadcrumbs
sprinkling of seasoned salt
sprinkling of lemon pepper

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease a 9" pie pan.

Place the tilapia into the pie pan. Spread each filet with salmon spread, then sprinkle the bread crumbs over everything. Sprinkle lightly with the seasoned salt and lemon pepper.

Bake for 15 minutes, in the top 1/3 of the oven, until the bread crumbs are toasted.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Simple Chopped Salad


I engaged in an internal debate over whether to even bother posting this recipe; it's almost too ridiculously simple to seem worth it. And yet, why not offer something easy, something nutritious that can be tossed together quickly at the end of a long day with no forethought?

Not only is this salad delicious in its pure simplicity, and not only is it gorgeous with all those vibrant colors; but it is also ideal for picnics, as it has no mayonnaise to spoil and no lettuce to wilt.

It's easy to make, and could even have some fresh herbs tossed into it for variation on the theme.

And so, in all its colorful glory, here is my Simple Chopped Salad -- actually, now that I think about it, a perfect offering with farmers' markets being held today, tomorrow and Saturday in Ann Arbor and also on Saturday in Ypsi.

Enjoy!


Simple Chopped Salad

1/2 cup each chopped yellow, red and orange pepper
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped tomato
1/4 lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
sprinkling of kosher salt
generous sprinkling of freshly ground pepper

Combine all of the vegetables in a medium bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the vegetables, then drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper, then stir together and serve.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vanilla Cakes with Caramelized Bananas


I recently won a lovely "swag bag" from my very good blogging buddy Angela, of the always inspirational Foodie Road Show. She had attended the BlogHer Food '11 conference in Atlanta, and decided to share the wealth with those of us who'd been unable to go.

And just what goodies did I receive?


- Nordic Ware's The Great Cupcake Book: Exquisite Cupcake Recipes for Year 'Round Baking

- Salty Sweets: Delectable Desserts and Tempting Treats with a Sublime Kiss of Salt, by Christie Matheson

- and a 3-ounce bar of Scharffen Berger Mocha 62% Cacao Dark Chocolate with Freshly Roasted Coffee

Sigh ....

So, of course, I had to put my new cookbooks to use. For a food/cooking/baking enthusiast like lil' ol' moi, this was like having a new toy!

It took a considerable amount of effort to determine where, precisely, to start with this project. The peanut butter frosting was calling loudly; no cake or brownie or other vehicle necessary, merely the frosting.

Perhaps some butterscotch pudding? I had already devoured a sufficient quantity of whipped cream on National Strawberry Shortcake Day, and feel quite certain that my arteries are still groaning under the strain of it; so I didn't think that another indulgence in cream was particularly warranted.

And then I settled upon one recipe from each book, which would then be combined into one luscious dessert.

I baked the cupcake portion of the Bostom Cream Cupcakes from the Nordic Ware book, and topped them with the Caramelized Bananas which would normally be part of the filling in the Oatmeal-Crusted Banana Tart featured in the book about sweet treats.

This doesn't, admittedly, make for the most colorful dessert. And yet, it is utterly delectable without being too sugary. I had thought that a dab of whipped cream might be warranted, but found that this was actually unnecessary when I tried it. (Oh, the things I do for my readers, eating my way through variations on recipes until finding just the right one to share with you!)

The cakes are tender and moist even before being drenched in the caramel syrup, and their flavor shines through independently. The bananas almost taste as though they've been touched with a hint of rum (which would not be an ill-advised contribution to the cause!), and the brown sugar develops a rich, burnished depth of flavor from being melted and boiled.

These are a lovely, light dessert for a summer evening.

Cupcakes:
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup skim milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a muffin tin with 4 paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Combine the milk, butter, egg and vanilla; pour into the flour mixture and stir just until combined.

Divide the batter among the lined muffin tins, and bake for 20 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Caramelized Bananas:
3 tablespoons butter
3 medium bananas, peeled, sliced into 1/2"-thick rounds
1/4 cup light brown sugar
pinch of salt

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the bananas to the skillet in a single layer. Sprinkle the bananas with the brown sugar and salt.

Raise the heat to medium-high and cook the bananas for 3-4 minutes, turning them once about halfway through, until the sugar is caramelized.

To assemble: Remove the papers from the cupcakes, and place one cupcake onto each of 4 dessert plates. Pour the caramelized bananas over the cupcakes, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Never Out of Mustard"


My good friend Wendy and I went to Detroit recently for an adventure. First we went to the Eastern Market and bought tomato plants and gorgeous sparkly, dangly earrings; we immersed ourselves in the abundance of fruits and vegetables and baked goods and plants and colors and aromas and vendors.

Before heading off to lunch, we walked the length of the Dequindre Cut:

"The Dequindre Cut is a below-grade pathway, formerly a Grand Trunk Western Railroad line, located on the east side of Detroit, Michigan just west of St. Aubin Street. Much of the Cut has been converted to a greenway; the colorful graffiti along the pathway has been left in place." (With thanks to Wikipedia for the succinct description.)


I had been there before, in the winter, and hadn't been able to see the entire expanse. But Wendy and I can both walk for long stretches (we walked 6 miles in all that day) and it was a stellar, sunny morning that was just perfect for a leisurely stroll.

As I had the last time I walked the Cut, I took pictures of the notable graffiti lining the way. Some of it is amateurish, and some is quite exceptional.

But how could a food obsessive like me not capture and cherish this piece:


This is practically my motto in life! I love mustard, in so many of its variations: yellow, Creole, whole grain, honey, whatever.

And, truly, I am never out of mustard.

In fact, I love mustard so much that I used two different types on a grilled salami and Muenster sandwich awhile ago (pre-discovery of my blood pressure issues, of course!): both brown and Dijon. Each makes its own unique contribution to the cause, and works in unison with the rest of the ingredients to offer flavor but without overpowering any other item.

Why be boring and just settle for one mustard, when you can boost the flavor with something as simple as a second schmear?

Grilled Salami and Muenster on Rye

2 slices caraway rye
schmear of Dijon mustard
schmear of brown mustard
2 thick slices Muenster
4 thin slices salami
1 tablespoon butter

Lay the bread on the countertop. Schmear one slice with Dijon mustard and the other with brown mustard. Place one slices of cheese onto each piece of bread, and top with salami; close the sandwich. Spread the butter on the outsides of the bread slices.

Place a skillet over medium heat and cook the sandwich in it for 2-3 minutes per side, until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melting. Let the sandwich rest for 1-2 minutes before cutting.

Serves 1-2.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Schakolad Chocolate Factory


On a recent afternoon, I had a very stressful appointment. I had dreaded it.

Matters weren't ultimately quite as horrific as I'd anticipated, though I can assure you that I didn't have much fun. But then it was over ... sigh.

And how did I reward myself for my success in getting through it?

I bought myself chocolate, of course!

I'd anticipated that, too, so I'd have something to look forward to. I'd debated what sort of treat was warranted, but it was abundantly clear that this was an occasion for chocolate. Not just an Almond Joy or a bag of M&Ms, though ... oh, no. I deserved far, far better.

And so I meandered on over to Schakolad, our Frugal Floozie Friday feature today, for handmade chocolates.

I peered into the display cases at a gorgeous and tempting assortment as a most patient gentleman waited for me to somehow settle on only a few selections despite an array of utter temptation.

What to choose? What to choose???

There were champagne truffles ... chocolates filled with cheesecake ganache ... pieces of candied ginger coated in chocolate ... Key lime truffles ... mocha and cappuccino truffles ... pretzels coated in chocolate ... chocolates filled with Amaretto or Grand Marnier ganache ... dark or milk chocolate coated marzipan ... oh, so many luscious things!

With the help of recommendations, which were very much appreciated, I selected the following (clockwise from top):

- Milk Chocolate Michigan Cherry
- Jamaican Rum Ganache
- Raspberry Ganache
- Milk Chocolate Peanut

I brought my treats right out to one of the cafe tables outside, and placed my treasures in front of me. And then I savored one, saving the rest for later.

And which came first? Why, the rum one, of course! It'd been that kind of day ....

There was a distinct flavor of the spirit in a sublimely smooth and rich chocolate filling, which was perfectly complemented by a thin coating of dark chocolate. There was no inclination to pounce upon the next treat, as one perfect chocolate candy is all one needs for satisfaction and serenity.

I was generous and gave away the peanut candy, which I'm told was a solid chocolate with tidbits of peanuts throughout. It, too, was enjoyed thoroughly, though admittedly by someone who confesses: "It was very good! But you know me -- I'm happy even with a Hershey bar."

Later in the evening, I went back to my prize to finish rewarding myself.

The cherry candy was very solid and firm to bite into on top, with a sweet jam at the bottom and a dried tart cherry -- cherries being just one of Michigan's great sources of pride! -- placed decoratively into the chocolate.

And upon biting through the crisp dark chocolate casing, the raspberry candy had an incredibly smooth and creamy filling with a surprisingly and enticingly bright, vibrant flavor.

My total for this purchase, which could vary slightly for others since the chocolates are sold by the pound rather than at individual set prices, was $4.07. Sure, I could have gone down the street to a diner and ordered a cheeseburger for likely the same amount; so one might perhaps argue that this wasn't necessarily a frugal expenditure.

However, in terms of a) staying within the required budget of $5 per person, and b) the value of a luxury that provided such a balm to my frazzled soul on a stressful day ... well, as far as I'm concerned this was a tremendous deal!

After all, Frugal Floozie Friday isn't necessarily about getting the greatest quantity of food for the expenditure. Rather, it's about enjoying oneself within a limited budget, and offering a variety of options -- from light meals to sweet treats -- to meet the needs of every appetite.

So the next time you deserve a special perk, for any and every reason, remember that chocolate is always there for you, a priceless and beloved friend ... :)


Schakolad
110 East Washington
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
734-213-1700


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Frugal Floozie Friday: Food and Fun for Five Dollars or Less ... Really!!!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

National Pecan Sandies Day


Yet another food holiday -- I love it! Each day there is a reason to celebrate food, though some festivities -- like National Strawberry Shortcake Day -- are more fun than others (February 29: National Frog Legs Day).

Today is National Pecan Sandies Day: a tribute to those fabulous shortbread cookies which are rich with both butter and toasted nuts. Perfect with iced tea or milk or coffee, they really require no embellishment. And yet ....

It seemed a shame to just leave the cookies sitting on a plate, looking forlorn. Why not dress them up a bit for their big day? I debated whether to crush some to form the crust of a pie or cheesecake, but it seemed that this would hide them rather than letting them shine in the spotlight.

And so, I compromised: I crushed a few cookies to disperse them throughout a sundae, letting their crunch and flavor complement the simple beauty of a good quality vanilla ice cream, and letting their natural affinity for chocolate play a role, as well.

But then, for use as both garnish and dipper, I left a sandie intact for each serving. It is National Pecan Sandie Day, after all, not Cookie Crumb Celebration Day ....

Pecan Sandie Sundae

4 cups vanilla ice cream
1-1/3 cups Sanders milk chocolate hot fudge, slightly warmed
12 pecan sandies

Place half-cup ice cream into each of 4 serving dishes, then drizzle with a few tablespoons of hot fudge.

Reserve 4 cookies for garnish, then crush the remaining cookies. Divide half of the crumbs among the ice cream servings.

Divide the remaining ice cream among the serving dishes, then sprinkle the rest of the crumbs over it. Pour the remainder of the hot fudge sauce over the tops of the desserts, and garnish each with a whole cookie.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Garlic Scape Season Has Arrived!

It's garlic scape season! I've been waiting all year for this precious 2-3 week period, and it's finally arrived!

And what, exactly, is a garlic scape? According to WiseGeek.com:

"The garlic scape serves as the stem from which the seed head of the garlic bulb is formed. As the bulb begins to grow and mature, garlic stalks also begin to lengthen. During the growth period, the garlic scape begins to curve. Contained within the garlic scape is a great deal of flavor, although the stalk never does reach the level of the pungent garlic bulb itself."

My friend and fellow Michigan Lady Food Blogger, the charming and radiant Diana Dyer, and her sweetheart of a husband are garlic farmers; and they're my sole trusted source of the precious scapes at the various farmers' markets in the area, with many varieties to offer and a wealth of information to generously share.

Here are just three of the many options available, each with its own distinctive bite or lack thereof:




The Dyers tend to their garlic farm with wholehearted devotion: Diana told me that if they were to count each time the garlic is cared for in one way or another, it would probably total 20-25 separate events, from planting to harvesting.

And so, the garlic which will be available later this summer is amazingly wonderful, with each bulb offering its own strengths and colors and virtues.

But to me, the scapes are the most prized -- not only for their flavor and versatility, but also because one must respect and accommodate their moment of glory. Scapes represent seasonal eating, as they are only available for a short while. Then they become a happy memory and something to long for and anticipate through the rest of the year, with late Spring bringing their joyous return.

Diana asked me how I prefer to prepare the scapes because, of course, she would recommend different varieties depending upon my plans.

As much as I adore her justly famous scape pesto recipe, my favorite thing to do is saute them in butter ... a simple, flavorful preparation that showcases the scapes' flavor with little intrusion from other ingredients.

This time I added some white wine (I used Flip Flop Wines Riesling, a most generous marketing gift!) and a touch of cream, to infuse the sauce with more depth and richness.

Then I tossed some pasta and peas into the sauce, for a luxuriously sophisticated yet ridiculously easy dinner. And it was just perfection, after waiting an entire year for the opportunity to eat this luscious meal again ....



Pasta and Peas with Garlic Scapes

6 ounces whole wheat pasta shells
1 cup frozen green peas
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
generous sprinkling of red pepper flakes
pinch of kosher salt
4 garlic scapes, minced
1/3 cup white wine
2 tablespoons cream
parmesan, for serving

Prepare the pasta according to package directions, adding the peas for the last minute of cooking.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and oil together over medium-low heat. Add the red pepper flakes, salt and garlic scapes; saute for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and bring to a boil; cook until reduced by half. Stir in the cream.

When the pasta is ready, pour the sauce over it and stir to combine. Place onto a serving platter and top with parmesan.

Serves 2-4.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

National Peaches 'n' Cream Day

Today is National Peaches 'n' Cream Day. What a fabulous thing to celebrate!

There are a lot of culinary matches that were made in heaven -- peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti and meatballs, chocolate chip cookies and milk -- and the pairing of lusciously ripe peaches with rich cream ranks right near the top of the list.

But I didn't want to just offer a recipe for sliced peaches with whipped cream, or tell you to simply buy a container of peach ice cream -- those would have been boring.

At the same time, I also didn't want to give you recipes for cake layers, whipped cream frosting, and all sorts of complicated and labor-intensive efforts that would detract from the simple beauty that is peaches 'n' cream.

And so, I offer something ridiculously simple and yet still seductive: a store-bought prepared peach daiquiri paired with vanilla ice cream to make a rich dessert-like drink ... peaches 'n' cream with a kick!

Peaches 'n' Cream Daiquiri

2 cups vanilla ice cream
2 cups Daily's prepared peach daiquiri, at room temperature (available near the freezer section); substitute milk, if desired
1 cup peach sorbet
peach slices for garnish, optional

Place ice cream, prepared daiquiri (or milk), and sorbet in a blender and whir until smooth and frothy. Garnish with peach slices, if desired, and serve immediately.

Serves 2.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sausage Meatball and Roasted Pepper Stew


After our recent week of 95-degree highs and heat advisories, we then had a cold spell with temperatures only in the 60s. You live in Michigan, you get used to this; there's a reason we joke that if you don't like the weather, just wait 5 minutes!

And so, while it wasn't quite necessary to make cocoa or haul out the winter coats, it was just chilly enough that a hearty bowl of soup was calling to me.

I'd also given a friend some suggestions for vegetarian meals, and had offered an idea for a stew with peppers and tomatoes ... which, of course, then kept floating in my brain until I got around to making a variation on it.

I roasted the vegetables to caramelize them and intensify their flavor. And I rolled the sausage into meatballs rather than simply browning it because I thought that would be more fun ... there's nothing more creative than that, sorry!

I was thrilled with how flavorful this stew was, and how much I enjoyed it. It was the perfect meal to have had ready ahead of time, after a weekend cooking/writing spree, needing only to be warmed up after I worked extra hours one day.

It was substantial and light at the same time, and perfect comfort food with a lively zest. And to make it vegetarian, simply cook the meatballs in a separate pan and serve them for anyone who wants to add them to the stew.

Sausage Meatball and Roasted Pepper Stew

1 small red pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1 small orange pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1 small yellow pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1 small red onion, cut into 1" pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
generous sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
1/3 pound Italian sausage, hot or mild
1 large garlic clove, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon pesto
1 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
2 cups baby spinach leaves

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Place the peppers and onion into a large baking dish; drizzle with the oil, sprinkle with the salt and black pepper, and bake for 30 minutes. Stir, then bake for another 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Roll the sausage into 1" meatballs. Brown the meatballs in a medium saucepan, then stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes, pesto, tomatoes and red wine. Add the roasted vegetables.

Bring to a boil, then cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Add the spinach, cooking just until wilted. Serve immediately with a salad and good bread.

Makes 4 servings.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Ypsilanti Food Co-Op

There aren't many places where you can buy a meal for less than $5 ... and fast food joints don't count.

So let me introduce you to a place where you can actually find a wholesome, nutritious meal -- including dessert! -- for a whopping $4.87 including tax. Today's edition of Frugal Floozie Friday takes us to the Ypsilanti Food Co-Op. (That's pronounced [ip-sih-LAN-tee], by the way, for newcomers.)

When I go on my long evening walks, I often stop by the Co-Op just to see what goodies might be available that day. In addition to the standard groceries, you can find a variety of sandwiches and prepared foods; there are also luscious baked goods (breads, scones, cupcakes and such) prepared by the River Street Bakery, which is owned by the Co-Op and strategically located right next door.

I sometimes challenge myself to see if I can find anything there for less than $1. Health food stores have a reputation for being expensive after all, with organic and fair trade and specialty products, so this project amuses me. Once I found a basket with free samples of granola bars, and another time I bought a cucumber and limes on sale. The primo specimen, though, was a day-old baguette that had been sprinkled with assorted seeds (poppy, sesame) and was exquisite sliced and spread with butter!

But, as per usual, I digress. Back to the task at hand!

I doubt that it's possible to buy a supper for less than $1; but finding a good meal to bring home for less than $5 was quite a stellar accomplishment!

An 8-ounce cup of soup at the Co-Op costs just $2.97. I passed over the vegetarian chili in favor of a rich and creamy Potato-Leek-Pea Soup, intrigued by the addition of peas when I normally make my own version with just the first two ingredients. Soups (which vary each day) come with a slice of whole grain bread, a lovely complement and supplement.

And then I was seduced (as always) by the freshly baked treats. Mocha cupcakes, lemon-ginger scones, brownies ... but each of these was out of the price range, and would have pushed me over the Frugal Floozie Friday limit.

The Oat Raisin Cookie, however, was waiting patiently for me, its fragrant cinnamon slowly luring me in. It's made with organic ingredients, including whole wheat pastry flour, and is even vegan. A treat that's good for you! And it cost only $1.72.

The soup was very flavorful and perfectly seasoned, with hints of the peas shining through. And the cookie was sweet and spicy, with a tendency to fall apart without any eggs to bind it; but since I tend to break my food into pieces anyway, this was simply a cookie that someone must have baked just for me!

My light supper was ideal sustenance on a wretchedly Summer-like day -- hot soup to combat excessive air conditioning, which I loathe but don't get to control, though it was still light enough to be perfect for the season. The cookie was the essential sweet treat to finish the meal.

It's surprising just how far that $5 bill can go, isn't it? And how well you can eat for such a small amount ....

Ypsilanti Food Co-Op
312 North River Street
Ypsilanti, Michigan 48198


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Frugal Floozie Friday: Food and Fun for Five Dollars or Less ... Really!!!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Banbury Cakes for Bloomsday


Regular readers know that I'll celebrate virtually any holiday -- religious, secular, literary, whimsical. Since it's all about the food, it doesn't much matter to me whether I'm fully invested in the reason for the festivities, as long as there's something good to eat!

But today is a holiday which is completely and utterly a part of my very being: today is Bloomsday, in honor of the profoundly fascinating Irish author James Joyce.

Joyce's masterpiece -- the challenging, beautiful, lyrical and little read (even when it's assigned in college courses!) novel Ulysses -- takes place on June 16, 1904. It is modeled after The Odyssey, and tells of the adventures of Leopold Bloom as he travels through his day in Dublin.

This is very sweet and romantic, in that this particular date was chosen because June 16, 1904 is the date on which Joyce first went out with his future wife, Nora (née Norah). How often does one's first date get commemorated in a revered work of literature???

I love Joyce, though it has admittedly been many, many moons since I've indulged my affection and actually read his work ... I should remedy this, perhaps re-reading Dubliners, the book which began my Joycean devotion, on my sunny front porch this summer.

I have celebrated Bloomsday with lamb stew, with soda bread, with any number of traditional Irish foods; but I haven't yet resorted to preparing or eating some of the foods that Leopold himself relishes:

"Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine."

This year, I thought I would take some inspiration from the book ... but not with any organ meats! Instead, I made a sweet pastry described in Chapter 8 - "Lestrygonians":

"He halted again and bought from the old applewoman two Banbury cakes for a penny and broke the brittle paste and threw its fragments down into the Liffey. See that? The gulls swooped silently, two, then all from their heights, pouncing on prey. Gone. Every morsel. Aware of their greed and cunning he shook the powdery crumb from his hands. They never expected that. Manna."

And so today I offer Banbury Cakes: ovals of puff pastry filled with spiced dried fruits, and distinctively bearing three slits in the top. They originated in the Oxfordshire region of England and have been made since at least the year 1586.

I have actually made my own puff pastry before -- just once -- but can't really justify the time and effort, given how little counter space I have in my kitchen and how readily I can just open the freezer door at the grocery store to purchase a box of dough that Pepperidge Farm has graciously already prepared for me. So this recipe is very easy to make, and the fragrances emanating from the oven are absolutely divine!

The filling should theoretically offer currants, raisins and those little candied fruits that everyone else loathes in cakes and cookies at Christmastime. I don't actually mind them, but since it's not fruitcake season it didn't seem worth hunting them down; I used only currants, because that's what I had on hand ... that and some candied ginger, simply because I adore it.

Instead of "brittle paste" and "powdery crumbs," I found myself with warm, fragrant, freshly baked pastries that were sticky, sweet, perfectly spiced and addictive.

It would have taken virtually no effort to devour the batch, but I employed restraint and ate only one half of one treat ... though I can only claim that much virtue because I managed to clumsily drop the other half!

And I was valiant in my effort to save some because I didn't want to have a late-night craving and find myself wanting. These Banbury Cakes were so wonderful that they deserve to be savored with a cup of coffee or a glass of iced Irish breakfast tea.

Whether exhibiting more strength than the gulls did in resisting the temptation to eat every morsel in one fell swoop or taking the time to savor Joyce's intricate work, patience can be a virtue ....

Banbury Cakes

1 cup currants
1/2 cup green tea
splash of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons minced candied ginger
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 sheet Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg

Place the currants, tea, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and brown sugar into a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Chill.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Lay the puff pastry onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 6 rectangles. Roll each out just a bit, 'til 1" wider in each direction.


Divide the currant mixture among the rectangles, placing each dollop into the center of the dough.


One by one, bring the long sides of the rectangle up to meet each other; pinch to seal.


Trim the corners off each end of the dough.


Fold the dough up and pinch it to seal, forming an oval-shaped pastry.


Beat the egg. Flip the pastry over, and brush with the egg wash.


Take a pair of scissors and snip 3 diagonal slits into the top of the pastry.


Place the pastry onto the prepared baking sheet, and repeat with remaining dough and filling.


Bake for 20 minutes, until the pastries are golden and the filling is just bubbling. Let cool.

Makes 6 small (4") pastries.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Roasted Tomatoes with Blue Cheese


For dinner one night, I was having a simple burger patty. No bun -- I try not to eat too many breads, because the yeast and carbs make me feel bloated if I eat too many (and considering how much I love breads, that's an easy thing to do)!

But the poor patty was going to look so pitiful, all by itself on the plate. It needed company, and something vibrant and attractive, too.

Tomatoes were clearly the answer to this dilemma -- gorgeous, delicious, and a perfect burger accompaniment! And adding the blue cheese transformed my burger patty and tomatoes into a sophisticated meal ....


Roasted Tomatoes with Blue Cheese

3 medium tomatoes, quartered
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease a small baking dish, then place the tomatoes into it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.


Bake for 45 minutes until tender.

Sprinkle the cheese over the tomatoes, then bake for 10 more minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serves 2.





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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

National Strawberry Shortcake Day


I really don't need to work at selling this recipe -- is there any summer dessert more beloved than Strawberry Shortcake, that this could possibly need my persuasive assistance??? I think not!

You could buy some pre-made shortcakes at the grocery store, but they're so exceedingly inferior that I can't condone it; if you do so, please don't tell me. And it's so ridiculously easy to make your own shortcakes -- which are essentially biscuits -- that there's just no way to justify not baking from scratch.

The "short" in shortcake refers to the gluten strands, just in case you were wondering. Rather than the high-gluten flours that you want to use for baking yeast breads, which provide the fabulous texture we all crave -- thus making gluten-free breads an art unto themselves, lacking that key ingredient -- gluten is the enemy of a flaky, crumbly shortcake.

Lots of fat (in my recipe, both butter and sour cream ... 'cause that's the kinda girl I am!) mixed into the flour keeps the gluten strands short, making for tender baked goods. I also like to add some lemon zest, for a bright flavor that complements the rich cream and sweet strawberries perfectly.


You could also buy a can of whipped cream, but homemade is infinitely better. Sweeten it just a tad, and also put some confectioners' sugar to use in helping to stabilize it (rather than having it deflate quickly, after you've whipped the air into it).

What more can I say? Stop reading and go celebrate!

Strawberry Shortcake

Shortcakes:
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
zest of 1 lemon

Berries:
2 quarts strawberries, hulled, chopped
2 tablespoons sugar

Cream:
1 pint heavy cream
4 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Shortcakes: Preheat oven to 425F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar into a large mixing bowl. With a fork, mix in the butter and the sour cream until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the milk and lemon zest.

Place the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, and knead just until it comes together. Pat into a rectangle 1/2" high, and cut into 6 portions. Separate the portions, then bake the shortcakes for 15 minutes until golden. Let cool.

Berries: Combine the berries and the sugar in a medium bowl, and let rest for 30 minutes.

Cream: Place the cream, sugars and vanilla into a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until the cream holds peaks.

Assemble the dessert: Place a shortcake onto a dessert plate. Top with whipped cream, then top that with strawberries. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.




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Monday, June 13, 2011

High Blood Pressure? Me?!?!?


My blood pressure went skyrocketing in recent months, unbeknownst to lil' ol' moi. And so I'm going to be a bit long-winded today (it's been awhile, hasn't it???) with a cautionary tale.

I had always known high blood pressure to be a sneaky entity which put one's health at risk with no warning signs ... I was wrong. There can be symptoms when the situation is critical enough, but I hadn't been aware of that. And so I hope perhaps my little saga might inform or educate someone else who can benefit from it.

I'm someone who never gets sick -- the last time I had the flu was my senior year of high school, and I took care of someone who had the Norovirus at Christmastime but I didn't even catch so much as a sniffle from that nasty bug. I'm prone to sinus infections beause of seasonal allergies, but not actual illnesses.

And while I am, indeed, the poster child for osteoporosis (very small frame, Caucasian, rampant family history), I am not someone you'd consider a candidate for high blood pressure. It's much more prevalent among African-Americans, people who are overweight (I'm told nearly daily that I "should have a little more schmaltz on my bones"), and people who smoke (my sole contact with cigarettes has always been to remove them from my presence). My only risk factor was family history.

But beginning in January, I started having periodic episodes of skull-crushing headaches and nausea.

Was my immune system -- a source of such great pride to me! -- finally being compromised by my stress levels as I meandered through the telenovela that is my life??? This would be a new phenomenon, since my life has been a telenovela for years and years and I've always still been healthy.

I noticed that these episodes were tied in to very specific stressful instances in my personal life, rather than a generalized condition. And I finally went to the doctor during one of them, determined to figure out why I kept getting sick and why the symptoms were always the same. After all, shouldn't there be some variation in the viruses and bacteria I was falling prey to?

At that appointment, per the standard protocol, the medical assistant took my blood pressure.

It was 188/110.

For those of you who don't know what these numbers mean, my blood pressure has always been "textbook perfect" at 120/70. At 188/110, I was in a state known as "hypertensive crisis", described below by the Mayo Clinic:

"A hypertensive crisis is a severe increase in blood pressure that can lead to a stroke. Extremely high blood pressure — a systolic (top number) blood pressure of 180 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher and a diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure of 120 mm Hg or higher — damages blood vessels. They become inflamed and may leak fluid or blood. As a result, the heart may not be able to pump blood effectively.

.... An urgent hypertensive crisis is when your blood pressure is extremely high, but your doctor doesn't suspect you have any damage to your organs. Signs and symptoms of an urgent hypertensive crisis may include:

- Increased blood pressure
- Severe headache
- Shortness of breath"


I had each of those symptoms.

It was clear: the situation I was sorting out and finally resolving, to which I could directly tie my episodes, might literally kill me.

And so, I took certain steps like starting to take medication (2 different ones, actually), and removing myself from the stressful situation entirely (my BFF Wendy interceded on my behalf to finish some interactions). And I gave up potato chips, which I adore.

I researched ways to modify my diet to see if that could help as well. My salt intake was already low, and people have often asked for salt shakers to sprinkle a little bit extra on food I'd prepared because they were accustomed to using far more.

In doing my research, I was reminded of the DASH Diet, which is an acronym for "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension." It encourages:

- Eating more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods
- Cutting back on foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat
- Eating more whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts
- Eating less red meat and sweets
- Eating foods that are rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium

I bought bananas, for their potassium. I started taking magnesium supplements in addition to my prescriptions and my multivitamins and my calcium pills.

There was virtually no room for improvement on the fruits, vegetables or low-fat dairy foods (no-fat being my usual preference for milk and yogurt). I also eat whole grains almost exclusively, though I can't deny that I have 32 sweet teeth rather than only 1 sweet tooth! I also found that drinking green tea could be beneficial, so I made pitchers of it to have ready in the refrigerator.

With all of that tea loitering around, it only seemed natural to devise a recipe that would incorporate it. Poultry? Yup. Spices for flavor? Yup. Green tea? Yup.

And if I may say so myself, this was so good that you'd never know it had virtually no salt! Served with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, it's a dish that won't make you feel deprived or as though you're on a special diet.

Oh, and how is my blood pressure now, after waging war against it???

At my last check-up, it was 122/74 ... :)


Tea & Spice Marinated Chicken

4 chicken thighs (skinless, if you prefer)
1 cup green tea, chilled
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
juice of half lemon
1 teaspoon shawarma spices (available at Middle Eastern markets; substitute 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, if necessary)
1 teaspoon ginger
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce

Place the chicken into a strong gallon-sized baggie. Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over the chicken. Marinate the chicken for 8 hours or more.

Drain the chicken and place the pieces skin-side down into a large skillet. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes until nicely browned; turn them over, cover the pan, and cook for 20 more minutes.

Serves 4.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Zingerman's Roadhouse


There's no reason to deprive yourself of some of the very best foods that the Ann Arbor area has to offer just because your budget imposes strict limits upon your dining habits. Yes, you can enjoy the famous Macaroni and Cheese at Zingerman's Roadhouse even if you've been busy watching your pennies and guarding them carefully to make sure they don't escape!

Restaurants often offer smaller -- and thus less expensive -- menu options at lunchtime; and so, Jeremy and I took advantage of this opportunity this past Wednesday. At dinner, the mac 'n' cheese costs $14; at lunchtime, though, it's only $9.50 ... and that means it costs less than $5/person -- the Frugal Floozie Friday limit -- if you share it.

Now, this isn't any ol' Kraft or Velveeta dish -- it's been featured on the Food Network's "America's Best: Top 10 Comfort Foods." Here's how the menu describes it:

Roadhouse Macaroni & Cheese
Housemade cream sauce and lots of 2-year raw-milk Vermont cheddar caramelized with the Martelli family's artisanal macaroni from Tuscany

Well, isn't that just temptation incarnate???

And so, Jeremy and I relished a small-ish but spectacular portion each of the luscious macaroni cheese at the restaurant recently granted the enormous honor of a 2011 James Beard Award for Alex Young, who was named Best Chef: Great Lakes.

I told the waitress that we'd be splitting the dish when I ordered, so it was very graciously presented to us on two plates. We were offered a gorgeous brown bread with a crispy crust that literally crackled when broken; this was accompanied by sweet, creamy (rather than refrigerated and rock-hard) butter.

And you know what? The food was so rich, not to mention so intensely flavorful, that Jeremy and I were both completely and utterly satisfied without feeling as though we either needed or wanted more. Half of the macaroni and cheese was actually the perfect serving size.

In all honesty, I have to tell you that the Roadhouse's macaroni and cheese tasted remarkably like my own; Jeremy and I nearly had to say "jinx" as we said it almost in unison! So I promised to quote him directly after he said: "If you can't get my mom's macaroni and cheese, then you need to come to Zingerman's to get some that's just as good." I'm so proud!

The walls of the Roadhouse are decorated with shelf after shelf of salt-and-pepper shakers, ranging from the tasteful to the cute and kitschy. It's a bit noisy, but we were there right at lunchtime. And the service was impeccable and exceptionally friendly ... everything about our meal was just lovely.

When we were shown to our table, we were also presented with a cheese menu from which we could have selected an assortment offering Parmesan or Cheddar or goat cheese or Maytag Blue ... a wide range, each choice costing anywhere from $2.50 - $4.50. So if we hadn't already had our hearts set on the macaroni and cheese, we could have had a Frugal Floozie Friday option of two-to-three lovely cheeses to try, still within our per-person price range.

And you know perfectly well that this is already on my "to do" list!


Zingerman's Roadhouse
2501 Jackson Avenue
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103
734-663-3663



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Frugal Floozie Friday: Food and Fun for Five Dollars or Less ... Really!!!



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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tomato Salad with Pepperoni and Sweet Pepper


This is an odd little dish -- a little cold, a little hot, very colorful and immensely flavorful. It just sorta came to me, so I put it together and ate it for lunch one day. It's been in the 90s here all week, so something light was definitely needed!

I debated whether to cook the tomato or whether to leave the pepper raw, so that each would match the other; but somehow sautéeing the pepper with some bits of pepperoni, then serving it over the sliced tomato, just struck my fancy.

And sometimes, that's all it takes ....

Tomato Salad with Sautéed Yellow Pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 small yellow pepper, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup finely diced pepperoni
2 tablespoons pesto
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic; cook for 1 minute. Add the onion and pepper; cook until vegetables are softening, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook until it is absorbed. Add the pepperoni and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the pesto.

Place the tomato wedges in a dish or on a plate, and top with the vegetable mixture.

Serves 2.

Note: I used Flip Flop Wines Riesling, which had been sent to me for tasting/cooking purposes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A New Award and a Newfangled Chicken Salad

I was so thrilled recently to receive an award from Mrs. B. of Go Ahead ... Take a Bite!, one of my favorite places to check in each day. Mrs. B. is as verbose as I am, which I love! I get to know her, share her passion for cooking, and feel as though we're chitchatting about recipes over either a hot cup of coffee or a cold iced tea (depending upon the time of day). THANK YOU so, so much! I'm so flattered ... :)

Now, here are the rules:

1) Name the Blogger who gave you the award.

Done, and happily so.

2) Link to their blog.

Done, and happily so ... :)

3) Pay it forward to 5 Bloggers.

Oy, the hard part! Decisions have never been my strongsuit, and I'm sufficiently frazzled at the moment (the telenovela that is my life!) that things have only gotten worse. So I'm going to pay it forward en masse -- I'm going to pass it on to anyone who wants to let their blog wear this award proudly! It's not a cop-out, it's generosity ... :)

So, on to the recipe du jour ....


I thought one day that I should try making up a new recipe by deconstructing something and rearranging it ... but I wasn't feeling as creative as I was hoping to be, and couldn't think of anything in particular to take apart and rebuild in a new and novel fashion.

And then the idea struck me to somehow re-work the Buffalo wings that everyone loves -- those spicy little tidbits that get dipped in blue cheese dressing, and are served with celery sticks to counter some of the heat. I didn't come up with anything as wildly inventive as, say, Buffalo wing whoopie pies! (Bleah!!!)

But I did put the critical ingredients -- chicken cooked in a cayenne pepper sauce, blue cheese and celery -- into a bit of a different format: a salad.

Simply chop the chicken and the celery, and place them decoratively on a plate. The blue cheese -- both crumbled and the dressing -- gets drizzled over everything.

Not particularly innovative, but delicious nonetheless ... :)

Buffalo Chicken Salad

1 tablespoon oil
salt, pepper
2 chicken thighs
3 tablespoons cayenne pepper sauce
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
blue cheese dressing

Heat the oil over medium heat in a small skillet. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper to taste, then cook for 10 minutes skin-side down. Turn the chicken over and cook 10 more minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the cayenne pepper sauce to the skillet and cook the chicken 3 minutes per side. Chop the chicken, then stir the remaining 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper sauce into it.

Arrange the celery in a circle around a serving plate; arrange the chicken in the center of the celery. Sprinkle the blue cheese over the top, then drizzle with the dressing.

Serves 1, but easily doubled.

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