Friday, March 30, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Ayse's Cafe


I had dinner recently with my friends Marcie, whom I've known and loved for 5 years, and Stacy, who is new to my extended family and welcomed wholeheartedly.  We ate an utterly sublime meal at Ayse's Cafe, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.

Ayse [EYE-shuh], the owner and cook, is Turkish, and she makes luscious food that is distinctly different than anything you've eaten before.  Yes, there is familiarity if you've eaten Middle Eastern or Greek food; but the spice blends and ingredients are unique to Turkey.  The cuisine has been greatly influenced by the country's situation between both Europe and Asia, surrounded by such diverse neighbors as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria; it is also bordered by the Aegean, Black and Mediterranean Seas.

Fruits and vegetables are essential elements of Turkish cooking, as are lamb (pork is generally not eaten, as Turkey is a mostly Muslim country), chicken, and fish.  The spice blends are complex, but the food is not spicy; there is an underlying sweetness to many dishes.  Milk-based desserts are enormously popular, and puddings are quite varied.  Baked sweets are essential to accompany intense, dark coffee.

By the way, if you've ever eaten baklava, Turkish delight candies, shish kebab or rice pilaf, then you, too, have experienced just a hint of the great joy of this fabulous cuisine!

But now that a bit of background has been provided, let's get back to the girlfriends' dinner ....

For $4.95 - within our mandatory $5 per person Frugal Floozie Friday budget - Stacy and I each ordered the red lentil soup for which Ayse is justly famous.  Sprinkled with a subtle dusting of slightly sour sumac to stir in, its flavor is richly and deeply spiced but without being at all spicy.  It tastes as though it has simmered all day long until the lentils have melted together with the flavorings to create a beautiful, golden, bowl of deliciously supreme comfort.

In addition to the soup, I also thoroughly enjoyed the Spinach Chickpea Stew pictured above.  It cost only $3.95 for what is called a "side order," but it was easily more than a measuring cup's worth - an ideal size for a light meal.  The chickpeas were exquisitely tender while still retaining their shape; the spinach had been cooked down until it it had been nearly reduced to just its flavorful essence.  I truly wished I'd ordered a full entree, it was so good!

The cost of the main dishes exceeds our Frugal Floozie Friday mandate, but Ayse's still offers lots of options for cost-conscious diners.  Each of the salads - which greet you as you walk in the door - is available for $3.95 as a side dish.  You can choose from cabbage, beet, chickpea, green bean, lentil, and other options.  It's terribly difficult to choose, as the visual display is so tempting and the aromas wafting through the restaurant are so seductive!

There are also boreks, vegetarian or meat "pies" made with phyllo dough, which cost $3.95.  And small sausage-shaped lentil rolls can be enjoyed for only $1.  A multitude of desserts is available, from brownies to yogurt cake to pumpkin and carrot-walnut treats (prices vary), in addition a variety of puddings for just $3.25.  You can enjoy a simple, creamy rice pudding or the Turkish favorite - Noah's pudding - which features grains and dried fruits.

Marcie, unfortunately, suffers from a number of food-related allergies, intolerances, and other miseries; she is a fabulous cook and a consummate food enthusiast, and yet, eating has become difficult for her.  Much to the restaurant's credit, Ayse and her staff truly took personal care of Marcie and made sure to help her sort out what items she could enjoy.  The cafe offers many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes which accommodate customers with special diets.  Our waitresses went back-and-forth repeatedly to find answers about ingredients and to ask questions of Marcie to narrow down some options so that she could eat a fabulous meal.

It was great fun to sit and talk about food - from the novelty of black rice to Southern matzah balls made with Creole spices and pecans - with two women who are integral to Ann Arbor's food community.  Marcie is the charming hostess who offers walking and tasting tours of the city with Savor Ann Arbor; and Stacy is the extraordinary cook and visionary behind What's Cooking, which lets customers order healthy, freshly prepared meals for delivery.  To enjoy a luscious dinner with such fabulous company was a great treat!

Ayse's Cafe is bright and cheerful, offering tremendous hospitality and amazing food.  You can indulge in many exceptional items there without breaking your budget.


Ayse's Cafe
1703 Plymouth Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
734-662-1711
Lunch: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., Monday through Friday
Dinner: 5 - 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday




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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Tart


Elvis Presley was noted for many things, among them his beautiful baritone, his white jumpsuits, his gyrations, and his beloved grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Since I obsess about food, let's focus on those sandwiches, shall we?

This is my final entry into Project PB&J - a contest for food bloggers which is being hosted by my friend Cindy of Once Upon a Loaf and her friend Christina of She Runs, She Eats.  The competition is in honor of National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, as well as Cindy's birthday, on April 2; and the rules required preparing a sandwich and/or a baked good with a nut butter and a jelly/jam or fruit.

So, as I thought of all the variations on the theme of peanut butter paired with fruit, how could I not think of Elvis' favorite treat?  And yet, that particular pb&j has already been done, hasn't it?  Hmmm ....

But it could be transformed into a different entity, couldn't it, taking the essential components and whirling them in my brain until I devised a different concoction with those flavors ...?

And so, I settled upon a dessert ... a dessert with a peanut butter-flavored crust ... a dessert with a peanut butter-flavored filling ... a dessert with a peanut butter-flavored topping ... and a dessert with bananas happily mixed in.

Thus, I present to you ... the Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Tart!

Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Tart


Crust:
1-1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup butter, chilled, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons ice water


In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and salt.  Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles meal.  Mix in the peanut butter with a fork.  Add water 1 tablespoon at a time and stir with a fork; then knead gently until the mixture comes together.  Form dough into a ball, flatten into a disc, and wrap in plastic; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.  On a lightly floured countertop, roll out dough to a 12" round.  Place dough into a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom or into a 9" pie pan; trim edges.

Place a sheet of foil into the crust and fill with dry beans.  Place the tart pan onto a baking sheet; bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is set.  Remove foil and beans, bake for 5 more minutes until the crust is cooked, then let crust cool completely.

Filling:
2 cups Breyer's Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream, very soft
3 small bananas, sliced thin
1/3 cup Nutella
1/4 cup peanut butter-flavored Multi Grain Cheerios, ground (a fabulous marketing gift to play with!)
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, ground
whipped cream, if desired

Spread the ice cream into the prepared crust; top with the sliced bananas, then freeze for 45 minutes until the ice cream is mostly set.


Spread the Nutella over the bananas, swirling it over the top.  (If the ice cream mingles with the Nutella, it won't hurt anything ... I know from personal experience!)  Combine the Cheerios and peanuts, then sprinkle over the top of the tart.  Freeze for at least 3 hours until firmly set.

Let the tart rest at room temperature for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Makes 12 servings.  Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Be sure you play Elvis tunes while you prepare this.  Just as you should listen to arias while cooking Italian food, you need to listen to the King while making this tart in his honor!  Infuse your food with the appropriate spirit ....

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Peanutty Macaroons


Most people think that macaroons are chewy spherical cookies made with coconut.  But this is only one variation on the theme.  Macaroons are actually more generic - they're cookies made with beaten egg whites and sugar, with either ground nuts or coconut stirred in before baking; they don't usually contain flour.

And don't even start the "macaroon" vs. "macaron" debate, as the latter are an entirely different confection of great delicacy!  Macaroons are simple cookies, but much loved.

Today, I'm offering macaroons ... but they're not quite like any you've eaten before, I'm sure.  Because I made these as an entry for Project PB&J - a contest for food bloggers which is being hosted by my friend Cindy of Once Upon a Loaf and her friend Christina of She Runs, She Eats.  The competition is in honor of National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, and required preparing a sandwich and/or a baked good with a nut butter and a jelly/jam or fruit.

So, because I made these for Project PB&J, they include peanuts rather than either almonds or coconut; and they also have a little dollop of fruit - the charoset I offered in yesterday's post.  I met the basic requirements, and then found that the end result more than transcends its simple ingredients: these cookies are so, so good!

They're chewy, and there is an intense peanut flavor since ground peanuts provide the bulk of the cookies' substance; the sweetness of the date-fig fruit mixture complements the nuts perfectly.  And I have to admit that I eat them by nibbling along the perimeter, before finishing off the last center bite with an enormous proportion of fruit-to-cookie.

These macaroons may seem simple and plain, but they are such a fabulously addictive treat!

Peanutty Macaroons

2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup dry roasted peanuts, ground
1/2 cup date-fig charoset (see yesterday's post)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with lightly greased foil.

In a medium bowl, stir together the egg yolks, peanut butter, sugar, and ground peanuts.  In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks; fold them into the peanut mixture.


Place the batter into 12 mounds on the baking sheet.  Place a generous teaspoon of charoset into the center of each mound.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until the macaroons are set and just golden along the edges.

Carefully remove the macaroons from the foil and cool them on a rack.

Makes 12 macaroons.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Charoset


I know it's a little bit early to be offering a recipe for charoset [hah-ROH-set], which is a fruit mixture served at Passover; it represents the mortar used by the Jews during their enslavement in Egypt, and is an integral part of the Seder which commemorates the flight to freedom.  But although it's early, giving this to you today serves two purposes:

1. You'll have the recipe for next Friday evening, when Passover begins at sundown, without thinking "Gee, if only she'd provided that a few days earlier, I could have bought the ingredients and had it ready!"

2. You'll have this at your disposal when you see tomorrow's cookie recipe, which uses the charoset as a thumbprint filling.  The cookies are an entry into Project PB&J, a food bloggers' competition, so it was necessary to post them - and thus the charoset - this week.

This is a variation on a recipe which was a co-winner at the Charoset Throwdown held at a local synagogue in 2008; I've simplified it here.  It had originally called for several more ingredients and extra steps that can be saved without losing quality of taste or consistency.

European-style (Ashkenazi) charoset tends to feature apples and wine, while Middle Eastern (Sephardi) varieties often employ dates and figs.  And just as each family has its own special recipes for other holidays, every family serves a different type of charoset for Passover; some have one favorite, others serve an assortment, and still others try a new one each year.

At the Throwdown, I was thrilled to have someone tell me that my charoset "tastes just like candy."  And another woman suggested that it would make a lovely filling for hamantaschen at Purim, which it most certainly would if I ever remembered to use it as such instead of only thinking of this as a Passover dish!

Whether you schmear this onto matzah, use it as a filling, or just eat it with a spoon, I hope you enjoy it ... and tomorrow's cookies featuring this delicious fruit mixture, too.


Fig and Date Charoset 

2 tablespoons butter (or pareve substitute)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup ginger ale
2 cups chopped dates
2 cups dried Black Mission figs, chopped

Melt the butter and sugar together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Stir in the connamon and ginger ale; bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the dates and figs; cook over low heat for 2 minutes, until fruit softens.  Mash the mixture together until the liquid is absorbed and the charoset is glossy.

Makes 2 cups.


Here are some other recipes for you to enjoy at Passover:

Chocolate Caramel Matzah

Custard with Strawberry Sauce

Vegetable Cheese Mina

Roasted Radishes

Monday, March 26, 2012

Krispy Kreme Peanut Butter Dream Sandwich


Alright, let's get the obvious statement out of the way right from the beginning: this sandwich has no - and I do mean NO - redeeming nutritional value.  There's no arguing that peanut butter provides protein.  There's no rationalizing that apricots provide vitamins A and C.  There's fat, there's sugar, there's salt ... and lots of each.  Oy!

This sandwich is nothing but giddy, gleeful, obscene decadence!

I created this seductive little tidbit for Project PB&J - a contest for food bloggers which is being hosted by my friend Cindy (a former Ann Arborite, I must point out) of Once Upon a Loaf and her friend Christina of She Runs, She Eats.  The competition is in honor of National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, as well as Cindy's birthday, on April 2.  What great excuses for a party, celebrating with everybody's favorite flavor combination!

The rules required preparing a sandwich and/or a baked good with a nut butter and a jelly/jam or fruit ... the critical ingredients in a PB&J, but with some room for variations on the theme.  I tried to think globally, since peanuts are an integral part of African cooking.  I tried to think of ways to modify classic desserts, such as the Austrian Sachertorte made with dense chocolate cake and apricot jam.

And then I came back to the sandwich's inherent identity; it just made sense to not riff into territory that was too terribly unfamiliar.  A PB&J is classic after all; at what point, I debated philosophically, does it cease being a PB&J if one tinkers too much ...?

And so, I kept to the basics.  I used peanut butter.  I used jelly.  I tossed a bit of Nutella into the mix because, frankly, one can rarely go wrong with Nutella; its chocolate and hazelnut flavors are both nice complements to the other two ingredients.

And then, the hedonism really kicked in.  What kind of bread to use?  Well, why use bread at all?  Jeremy loves Luther Burgers, named in honor of the late Luther Vandross, which use Krispy Kreme doughnuts as buns.  So, why not use a doughnut as bread?  And then - simply because it's been all the rage, and its saltiness and crispness would add flavor and texture to my concoction - I tossed in a little bit of bacon.  I'm smirking as I contemplate this notion, even though I know I should hang my head in shame.

This sandwich is ridiculously easy to make, which only enhances its beauty.  Cook up some bacon.  Schmear doughnut halves with yummy things.  Put it all together.  Grab some napkins.  Enjoy!

And enjoy this little ditty, too, whether you've seen it 149 times or have never been introduced to its odd charms:




Krispy Kreme Peanut Butter Dream Sandwich

4 Krispy Kreme doughnuts, halved
1/2 cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
1/4 cup Nutella
4 tablespoons apricot all-fruit spread
8 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked until crisp, halved

Place the tops and bottoms of the doughnuts onto a countertop.  Schmear each top with some of the peanut butter, dividing it evenly among the doughnuts.  Schmear the bottoms with Nutella, then schmear the apricot spread over the peanut butter.  Place the bacon onto the Nutella-covered portions, dividing it evenly among the doughnuts.  Put the tops and bottoms together to form 4 sandwiches.

Makes 4 sandwiches, serving 4-8 depending upon how much tolerance you have for such excess.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Aubree's


Jeremy, his best friend Mitch, and Stuart (my ex-husband, for those who don't remember that we're actually capable of associating with each other civilly!) went out for an early dinner recently to  Aubree's in Depot Town, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature. Jeremy chose the location, as he was craving a Reuben - his favorite sandwich - and he knew that this restaurant makes a very good one.

Stuart was feeling particularly agreeable that afternoon, so he offered to just split whatever I ordered.    And I was in the mood for something substantial.  I considered a variety of items, and heeded Jeremy's warning not to order salad (he grows weary of watching me do that, but I love salads!).  And so I settled upon a calzone, which would come in at under $5 per person - our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget - when split with Stuart.

The calzone was huge, and could have fed four with no trouble - the portions were significant.  This was, after all, a 12" pizza folded over and filled with sauce, a blend of five cheeses, and two toppings of our choice - spinach and mushrooms.  Even a hearty eater could be satisfied with one slice.

Mitch and Jeremy each ordered a Reuben, which was generously portioned and tender.  It was served with the customer's choice of side dish: thin-cut fries, sweet potato chips, onion straws, cole slaw, cottage cheese or - the one both chose - the endless steak fries.  For $8.99, this is a stellar deal!  And the platter can easily be shared by two.

We also ordered dessert ... well, why not?  Each offering costs $4.99, so it's either a great Frugal Floozie Friday treat for one or an even greater value if shared.

Jeremy and Mitch split the Rockside Brownie Bites - "Rich brownie bites topped with caramel, toasted pecans & chocolate ganache dipped in a fluffy batter & fried crisp.  Served with vanilla ice cream & chocolate & caramel drizzle."  It was obscenely decadent and absolutely delicious!  Stuart and I shared the Cookie Crisp - "Creamy chocolate chip cookie dough rolled in a flour tortilla and fried," which was also served with ice cream and the sweet, seductive sugary drizzles.  Neither dessert offered any redeeming nutritional value, but both were simply good for our souls.



When our very friendly waitress left the bill, we thought there had been a mistake made; the calzone was listed at $4.99 rather than the $9.99 I'd seen on the menu.  But when I asked about the discrepancy, I received some fabulous and completely unexpected news: during Happy Hour, from 3-6 p.m., the calzones are half-price!  So the entire enormous, delicious array of crust and cheese and sauce and fillings qualified as a Frugal Floozie Friday bonanza without any need for an accomplice to split the cost!  Shared by four hungry eaters, it would come in at only $1.25 per person!

Needless to say, Aubree's offers great value, friendly service, and lots of frugal dishes to choose from.  Enjoy!

Aubree's
39 E. Cross Street
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-483-1870




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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chickpeas with Chorizo


Last week, I wrote a blog post that mentioned my dream of someday travelling to Morocco.  It's been ages since I cooked anything from that region ... and why?  I adore Moroccan food, with its vivid spices and flavors. I've been so busy with holiday cooking, writing about cookbooks, judging events, and other missions; and, of course, I have to accommodate other eaters in my life, who aren't necessarily terribly adventurous.  So much food to cook and eat, so little time!

This recipe is traditionally Moroccan in that it is stew-like and reminiscent of a tagine - a beautiful conical dish that simmers foods, as well as the dishes that are cooked in the utensil (the name can be used for both); this is indicative of influence from the Berbers of North Africa.  It is also Moroccan in that it has been strongly influenced by Spain, which is evident in the use of both chorizo and paprika.  Spain and Morocco are only 8 miles apart, across the Strait of Gibraltar.

To make this a vegetarian dish, I used a lovely soy chorizo that is available at Trader Joe's; it isn't a firm sausage, but rather a crumbly one.  It offers good flavor and color, and is great in many recipes (such as the Sloppy Joes that I'm told are a friend's family favorite).  You could easily use traditional meat chorizo, which is sliced rather than ground; of course, while that ingredient would be indicative of Spanish influence, it would also be an affront to Morocco's Muslims with its forbidden pork.  So many cultures, so much history, such a melange!

But whether you're serving carnivores or vegetarians, this simple, fragrant, fabulous dish is one you should absolutely try.

Chickpeas with Chorizo

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 small red onion, quartered, sliced
1 small roasted red pepper, quartered, sliced (from a jar is just fine)
6 ounces chorizo (soy or pork)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
juice of half lemon
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
generous pinch freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion; saute for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is softening.  Add the remaining ingredients and bring just to a boil.  Cover the saucepan, turn heat down to low, and cook for 10 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.

Serve "as is" with bread, or serve it over couscous.  Serves 2-4.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Piepalooza - The Perry Pi Day Party


I ate very, very well last week!

My social butterfly-dom was in stellar form, with fabulous friends, good causes to support, and great food ... :)  Coffee dates on Monday and Thursday, Piepalooza to support the Perry Nursery School for at-risk children on Wednesday, Temple Beth Emeth's Brisket Bake-Off on Saturday, and the Zingerman's Tour de Food Gatherers on Sunday - wow.  Boy, have I had fun!

Today, I'll tell you how great it was to have pie at dinner and to start my meal with dessert.

I was one of two judges for the Cream/Custard/Meringue category at Piepalooza, so I was the giddy taster of chocolate, coconut, lemon, pumpkin, peanut butter, and cream pies ... sigh.  So much love and care had gone into the entries!  Each was delicious in its own way, truly - I was a very happy camper, and seriously challenged in weighing each offering against the others.

When the points were tallied for my division of the competition, the charming picnic basket pie carrier - emblazoned with a tag announcing that it was the prize for "Best Tasting Pie" in its category - was awarded to the beautiful, rich, decadent Chocolate Cream Pie (above) prepared by June Geise (left). Her sorority sisters - who were wonderful, welcoming volunteers at the event - were so thrilled for her!

A fresh raspberry pie won in the Fruit category, while a Toll House pie won the "catch-all" Other category. And yes, despite my feet hurting in brand new gorgeous red pumps, I boogied over to try both of those fabulous achievements ... as well as a divine pie baked by Lia Dykstra (whose mom, Marcia, is on the Perry Board of Directors and is responsible for my invitation to the party - thank you!), which had a shortbread crust, a marzipan-like layer of almond filling, and a topping of raspberry jam ... and a creamy, peanut buttery pie prepared by fabulous teacher Sheila Metz (whose class of little ones prepared individual cherry cheesecake tarts for the competition) ... and a luscious rhubarb pie (I adore rhubarb!) ... and a rich pecan pie ....  Oh, I think I sampled a good 75% of the 20 entries, once they were divvied up to serve to all the guests!

And then there was dinner!!!

Dinner consisted of lovely finger foods and hors d'oeuvres ... here, let me show you:





Zingerman's donated some beautiful pies for the Pie Walk:


And I even won my chosen auction item: a beautiful basket with a birdhouse that has a chili pepper decor (perfect for a Food Floozie's yard!), a tiered tea candle holder, a membership to English Gardens, and flower seeds to spiff up my back yard this summer ... yay!

Now I'm going to run a marathon and do a wheat grass fast to recover from the week's hedonism ... yeah, pffft!  I'm already looking forward to next year's Perry Nursery School fundraiser - a celebration of cakes and cupcakes!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Roasted Asparagus with Dijon Vinaigrette


I'm not dictatorial about it, but I do prefer to eat seasonally.  Strawberries are a Summer food, for example - whether bought at a roadside stand or, ideally, picked at a farm - and lesser flavorless specimens should simply not be schlepped thousands of miles from warmer climates so that people can consume them in Michigan in the middle of Winter.  I have spoken!

And asparagus is one of those foods that, to me, is simply integral to a particular season: Spring.  So, since Spring officially begins today, this simple but delicious dish seemed the perfect offering.

Many people aren't aware of this, but you can politely pick up asparagus with your fingers to eat it.  That would be a bit messy here, though; it would also prohibit sharing a bit of the vegetable with a taste of the egg that complements it so well.  So resort to your fork this time, but don't forget that asparagus is really finger food!

This vegetable dish would be lovely at either your Passover Seder or your Easter dinner - both holidays are fast approaching.  Roasting the asparagus intensifies its flavor, so it's delicious to serve to guests; and the egg, of course, is symbolic for both holidays.

But you should really just enjoy this simply because Winter is officially over!

Roasted Asparagus with Egg and Dijon Vinaigrette

1 bunch asparagus
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon + generous sprinkling of kosher salt
2 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
generous sprinkling of black pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

Place the asparagus onto a baking sheet; drizzle with the 2 tablespoons oil and the 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Roast for 20  minutes, until fork-tender.  Let cool to room temperature.

Peel the eggs.  Use an egg slicer to cut them first in one direction and then in the other, to make small shreds.  (If you don't have an egg slicer, just chop the eggs.)

Combine the 2 teaspoons oil, lemon juice, and mustard.

Place the asparagus onto a serving platter and sprinkle the egg over it; generously sprinkle salt and pepper over everything.  Drizzle with the vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Serves 4-6.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lentil Salad with Red Pepper Hummus Dressing


I was poking through my pantry recently, and I found I have a lot of lentils ... 3 bags of lentils - brown, yellow and red.  And it seemed to me that if I have this many lentils at my disposal, perhaps I should actually make something with them!

And so, on one of our recent warm, sunny, Spring-y days, I made a light and nutritious salad rather than a warm and hearty soup which might have been the option had I cleaned out the pantry only a few days earlier when the high was 40F rather than 70F.

This salad offers gorgeous colors, vibrant flavors, and tremendous health benefits.  Serve it on its own for a light meal, or as an accompaniment to meats or fish.

How great is it when one simple recipe provides so much?

Lentil Salad with Red Pepper Hummus Dressing

1 cup brown lentils
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 small cucumber, seeded, chopped
1/2 small orange pepper, chopped
1/2 small yellow pepper, chopped
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons red pepper hummus
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
generous pinches of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place lentils into a medium saucepan and cover generously with water.  Bring to a boil, then turn heat to "low" and cook for 25-30 minutes until lentils are tender; drain, rinse under cold water, and place into a medium bowl.

Add onion, tomato, cucumber, peppers, and feta to the lentils.  Combine the hummus, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper; pour over the salad and stir to combine.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Tour de Food Gatherers

   
We're taking a bit of a detour this week for Frugal Floozie Friday.  Oh, don't worry - we're still talkin' 'bout food, and focusing on great deals at local establishments!  But this time, our budget of $5 per person isn't being spent at a restaurant.  Instead, I'm featuring a way to have that meager amount of money go towards feeding as many as 15 people rather than just one.  Who knew my frugal skills were so finely honed???

Actually, I don't even think I could accomplish that feat, despite being a great sale shopper!  But Food Gatherers can.

And so, today's post isn't about a fabulous deal at a restaurant; rather, it's about how you can enjoy food and fun for free - yes, free! - while helping to get our regular $5 Frugal Floozie Friday budget donated to Food Gatherers so that this amazing organization can feed the hungry in our area.

Today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature is the Zingerman's Tour de Food, being called affectionately the Tour de Food Gatherers for the months of March and April.  You won't have to spend a penny while tasting great treats - really!

Just visit each of the five Zingerman's shops within a 24-hour period any time before April 30.  Taste all the great samples that are offered to visitors each day, get your "passport" stamped at each place, then turn in your sheet at the end of your tour.  Enjoy baked goods, coffee, cheese, and other goodies, all at no charge - a price tag that's definitely within our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 per person!  And for each person who turns in a form, Zingerman's will donate the $5 you didn't have to spend to Food Gatherers, one of my very favorite organizations.

Food Gatherers "is not only Michigan's first food rescue program, but the first program of its kind to be founded by a for-profit business ... Zingerman's Delicatessen.  In 1997, Food Gatherers also assumed responsibility for the county food bank.  Today, it is an independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization governed by a board of directors and operated by 22 staff people and more than 5,000 different dedicated volunteers.  Food Gatherers is now the primary distributor of food in Washtenaw County."

Through lots of hard work and the support of its many friends and supporters, Food Gatherers "provides enough food for more than 12,000 meals a day," bringing nourishment "to more than 150 community programs serving ... mostly families and children."

So, let's all do what we can to support this great cause!  Here are the participating sites to visit and taste samples at: Zingerman's DeliBakehouseRoadhouseCreamery, and Coffee Company.  Start wherever you like, end wherever you like, just be sure to visit each of the five within a 24-hour period and to get your "passport" stamped at each one.

Eat!  Eat well.  Eat for free.  And help your neighbors in need to eat, too.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fairy Mary's Food Fantasies

I haven't written a post with a meandering list in ages and ages.  But for some reason, it struck my fancy that the time had come to do so ... to make a list of goals to encourage acting upon my word of the year - reach - and keep seeking ways to expand my proverbial horizons.

And so today, in no particular order, I offer a list of various food-related hopes and dreams, experiences I would like to have someday (although some of them will require not just renewal of my passport, but also a 'script to medicate myself into submission to overcome my phobia of flying!):

1. Memphis in May: The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is also known as "The Super Bowl of Swine."  To even place in this event is a coup; to win it brings not only prize money but - really, even more importantly - tremendous respect.  I can't see myself competing against people for whom this is truly a life's passion; I don't even own a grill, though I plan to remedy that personal deficit this summer.  Instead, I want to just eat my way through it and experience the joy of - and devotion to - a culinary art form: meeting the contestants, sampling entries and voting for People's Choice Award, touring the grilling stations, and relishing the celebration.

2. Although I've lived in Michigan since 1978, I have never stood in one of the very long lines at a Polish bakery in Hamtramck on Pączki Day (the day before Ash Wednesday).  I want to schmooze with my fellow devotees as we huddle in the cold before being rewarded with freshly-fried pączki [POONCH-key] once reaching the front of the line. Here's a video that shows the camaraderie and anticipation as happy, hungry folks wait for what is so much more than just a glorified jelly doughnut. I need to do this next year!



3. I want to eat my way through Italy, learning about the idiosyncracies and trademarks of the regional cuisines.  The Italians take these things very seriously - there are even laws enforcing production standards and places of origin in order for certain foods to be labelled by particular names.  (For example, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese can only officially be called such if it is produced in the provinces of Parma or Reggio-Emilia or their immediate surroundings.) There is no such thing, in Italy, as "Italian food."  Items are localized to regions and even to cities, with pride at the heart of it all.

4. I would love to win a James Beard Award, considered the Oscars of the food world - sheesh, even a nomination would thrill me!  I don't see it happening - I'm not a chef, I'm not a sommelier, I haven't published a cookbook.  Sure, there's a category for "Best Food Blog;" but I do this part-time and don't have the resources to create anything substantial or impressive enough to garner Beard-worthy attention.  There is a category for "Best Personal Essay," as well as the M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award; but these aren't meant to cover flaky chicks who blather about $5 Frugal Floozie Friday deals or cling peaches in heavy syrup. Maybe I'll finagle and schmooze my way into these venues some day!  A girl can dream ... :)

5. Morocco has long sung its Siren song to me, and I would love to shop in the souks (open air markets), taking in all the colors, fragrances, sounds, tastes ... it would be an entire sensory experience.  Moroccan cuisine is one of my favorites - tagines, spices, fruits, salads, pastries, mint tea (I have my own set of the special tea glasses) ... all of it calls to me.  There is so much more than just the couscous that many people know of!  I need to cook some Moroccan food ... it's been too long ....

6. How extraordinary would it be to have dinner at Alinea in Chicago, to be amazed by the transformation of ingredients that culinary magician (and James Beard Award winner) Grant Achatz and his staff performs???  Just click on this link and gasp at the sheer beauty of the gorgeous photos - these dishes are artworks, not merely sustenance.  Achatz is one of the leaders in the poorly named Molecular Gastronomy movement, which involves scientific and technological techniques that go far beyond just "cooking" foods.  Instead, they are altered and become both unfamiliar and yet, once touching the tongue, recognizable as each item's unique essence shines through.  I'm not quite certain that I would even know how to approach some of the plates!  But a meal at this exceptional restaurant would be, truly, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I would so love to indulge in.

7. It would be a tremendous challenge to be the cook for the winter-over staff at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station.  From February through October, it is desperately cold (on average, -100F); travel to-and-from the continent is virtually impossible, so once you're there you're committed to the extreme 24-hour darkness.  Summer is the more crowded season, with numerous projects and greater staffing needs, but some work continues through the winter.  A unique community forms among those who think it is reasonable to live cooped up in the facility for 6 months dependent upon each other, despite these being independent-minded folks who would otherwise think it was ludicrous to abandon loved ones and life as they used to know it for this adventure!  Supplies are very carefully and cautiously purchased and shipped to the Pole, and what you've got is what you work with; thus, as kitchen staff, you'd try to provide nutrition and variety while simultaneously not being able to run to the market to buy ingredients to satisfy cravings or replenish the pantry when it's running low.  My "Chopped" Challenge was nothin' compared to this!

8. And finally, I would adore an opportunity to go on a food-fanatics' road trip with my best-est blogging buddies, so we can all finally get together and celebrate food, fun, and our fabulous selves!  Touring the country, eating our way through large cities and small towns, cementing life-long friendships as we learned about each other's favorite family recipes and legendary hometown restaurants ... how amazing would that be???

If I really were a fairy godmother - my Purim costume for this year - I would wave my beribboned pink wand and make all these wishes come true!  Unfortunately, I have no powers.  And in the picture above you can't even see the glitter that sparkled in my hair; and my gold-bedazzled wings were blowing around in the breeze ... oy.  Many people told me I'm the only one they know who could pull off wearing wings and a tiara, that this outfit was very "me."  I'm happily taking that as a compliment!  A girl's gotta have a sense of humor and whimsy ... :)


I don't normally post on weekends, but this girl who's one-quarter Irish is, indeed, aware that Saturday is St. Paddy's Day.  (I'll be happily and excitedly judging the Brisket Bake-off at Temple Beth Emeth that evening; but I'll wear green, and they're also serving that Irish staple - potatoes!) So, a few days early, here are some Irish-themed recipes for your upcoming festivities:


Irish Soda Bread


Banbury Cakes


Chocolate Guinness Cake



For today's recipe - Cipollini in Agrododolce alla Romana (Roman-Style Sweet-and-Sour Onions) for the Ides of March - go to the Food and Grocery page of AnnArbor.com ....

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pi Day - Ooey Gooey Peanut Butter Cream Pie


Today is Pi Day - a cause for celebration!

If you can count off even a few digits of pi beyond the standard 3.14 that we mere mortals remember, today is your day.  If you're a nerdy chick like me - who watches the National Spelling Bee, who actually read (and loved!) a book about a man who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary, and who can still recite the Lord's Prayer in Old English after learning it decades ago - then you're in good company with other folks who are celebrating the cerebral.  And if you like pie - and who doesn't? - then we're all having fun today!

There are savory pies, sweet pies, pot pies, hand-held pies, double-crusted pies, graham cracker crust pies ... an entire array.  And they're all welcome to come to the party!

In honor of this auspicious occasion, I concocted a new recipe cobbled together after looking through many old ones.  I mulled over the possibilities, but then simply worked with what I had in my pantry rather than schlepping to the grocery store for new and different ingredients.  Sometimes the path of least resistance is the one to follow.

This pie is rich and gooey, sweet and crunchy ... it isn't particularly beautiful to look at, and yet it's simply sublime.  Served with ice cream, it's a bit reminiscent of a sundae topped with thick caramel sauce, then made more decadent with peanut butter cookies and marshmallow rice cereal treats crumbled into the mix ... oh, yeah!

This Ooey Gooey Peanut Butter Cream Pie is an ideal treat for Pi Day.  But if you're looking for a variety of temptations to serve, here are some other offerings for today's festivities:

Molly Goldberg's Lemon Meringue Pie

Pork Pie

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Indiana Cream Pie

Brownie Ice Cream Pie

Peanut Butter Pie



Ooey Gooey Peanut Butter Cream Pie

Crust:
1-1/2 cups sugar cookie crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted

Filling:
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup peanut butter-flavored Multi Grain Cheerios, lightly crushed (a fabulous marketing gift to play with!)
1 miniature Butterfinger candy bar, crushed
ice cream or whipped cream for serving, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine the cookie crumbs, sugar and butter; press into a greased 10" pie plate, then refrigerate while making the filling.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, peanut butter, and condensed milk.  Stir in the flour, Cheerios and candy bar.  Pour into the prepared crust and bake for 25 minutes until the filling is golden but still a bit wobbly when the pie is gently shaken.  Let cool completely.

Cut into 12 slices and serve with ice cream.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Earl Grey's Birthday Tea Cakes



Today, we're wishing a "Happy Birthday" to Charles Grey, 2nd Earl of Grey, who was born on March 13, 1764.  He was Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland in the early 1830s, but is most noted these days for being the man for whom Earl Grey tea was named.

This heavily scented tea is either adored or scorned - there doesn't seem to be any indifference to it.  Either you love the perfume of the bergamot orange oil that flavors Earl Grey or you loathe it.  Let me state the obvious: it is one of my favorite teas, or else I wouldn't be celebrating today!

And how did the tea earn its association with Earl Grey?

According to Wikipedia: "... the tea was specially blended ... for Lord Grey, to suit the water at Howick Hall, the family seat in Northumberland, using bergamot in particular to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water.  Lady Grey used it to entertain in London as a political hostess," and it was very well-liked.

In honor of today's occasion, it only seemed fitting to bake some small sweets appropriate for an afternoon tea, an indulgence that I love but don't get to enjoy often enough.  Small cakes struck my fancy, and somehow the tea needed to be incorporated.  It only made sense that the flavor would be more noticeable in the glaze rather than baked in.

These are very quick to make - stir together the batter, bake the mini cakes in just a short amount of time, and then whip up a 2-ingredient glaze once the cakes cool.  That's it!

A small treat and a cuppa tea ... what a perfectly charming way to toast the Earl of Grey.

Mini Jam Cakes with Earl Grey Tea Glaze

Cakes:
3/8 cup sugar
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup vanilla soy milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1 egg
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/8 cup blueberry jelly (or other fruit jelly)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease 16 mini muffin cups in a tin.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking soda and salt.  Combine soy milk, oil, egg, vinegar and jelly; the mixture won't fully blend, and there will be small dots of jam throughout.  Pour liquid into the dry ingredients and combine well.  Divide batter among the muffin cups.  Bake for 15 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean and the cakes are golden.  Let cool completely on a rack.

Glaze:
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons cold Earl Grey tea

Whisk confectioners' sugar and tea together.  One by one, take the tea cakes and dip the tops into the glaze; turn right-side up and place onto a rack to let glaze set.

Makes 16 tea cakes.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Raisin Cookies


Raisin Cookies.  Not oatmeal raisin cookies, but just "raisin cookies."

These are my father's favorites.  My family has been making them for more than 40 years, since we first found the recipe in a Highlights magazine at my dentist's office.  They're simple, but fragrant and flavorful with cinnamon and fruit.

My father suffered a small stroke recently, though he's doing well enough that he might be going home from the nursing home physical therapy rehab today (too soon for my liking, since he's still weak and has vision problems, even if his disposition and attitude are good).  And so I did what little I could to help him feel better: I baked cookies.

Sometimes you want a cookie with lots of goodies - chocolate chips, oats, nuts, candies, and all sorts of crispy, crunchy stuff.  This is not the cookie to satisfy that craving.

Instead, these are the cookies you seek when you just want the comfort of an old-fashioned snack with a glass of cold milk.   These are not the supermodels of the cookie world, sexy and glamorous; instead, they are the girl next door, wholesome and sweet.

You'll be surprised how they seduce you, how many you'll find yourself eating once you bake a batch ....

Raisin Cookies

3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

Place the raisins and the water into a small saucepan; bring to a boil, cook for 5 minutes, then turn off heat.

In a large bowl, cream together sugar, brown sugar, butter, vanilla and cinnamon.  Stir in the eggs.  Mix in the flour, baking soda and salt.  Stir in the raisins with the water.

Drop batter onto the baking sheet in dollops the size of walnut shells, leaving room for the cookies to spread.  Bake for 12 minutes, til the cookies are golden.  Let cookies cool on a rack.

Makes about 48 cookies.


Mommy of Two Little Monkeys

Friday, March 9, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - The Common Cup Coffeehouse


The Common Cup Coffeehouse - today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature - describes itself as "An eclectic escape located on the ground floor of University Lutheran Chapel ... serving the caffeine needs of the campus community."  And serving the community well, I might add!

The cafe is a welcoming space physically, with comfy chairs, tables to work at, wi-fi, and shelves of board games ready to provide hours of entertainment; whether you're working or socializing or relaxing, you are encouraged to stay awhile.  And the place is most inviting because of its friendly staff.

I stopped by on a recent afternoon in search of a bit of serenity and chocolate after a stressful day.  If I hadn't already known I needed cocoa, my brain would have experienced its usual "menu paralysis" when faced with too many enticing choices.  But hot chocolate was already on the agenda before I'd even walked through the door, and the cookie assortment placed so temptingly right in front of me on the counter made my decision-making process much easier.

For less than $5 - our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday per-person budget - I was able to enjoy a huge mug of rich, frothy cocoa accompanied by a large, chewy vegan espresso chip cookie ... a perfect solace.  Stadium Market provides sandwiches, salads, stromboli, and other hearty food if you're seeking something more substantial than restorative treats.

Common Cup's beverage menu is fairly extensive, offering a wide variety of both hot and cold drinks.  Your coffee can be prepared with a French press or as a drip brew or a pour over, and the usual assortment of lattes, espresso, and chai is offered.  There are blended drinks and smoothies if you want something cool and refreshing, and Coke products as well as French and Italian sodas are available.  Virtually all of these cost less than $5, and the small sizes in some cases cost less than $2.

The cafe offers locally roasted coffees, as well as a home for area artists to showcase their talents whether they create pictures that are displayed on the walls or are musicians who perform in the evening.  It also thinks globally, and is a supporter of Union MicroFinanza (UMF); a display table offered bags of coffee beans grown in Honduras that were available for purchase at $10/bag.

Because the coffeehouse is located within a church, there are copies of the Bible and a copy of the Lutheran Service Book on the shelves; but there is nothing else particularly overtly religious, and even these books were tucked to the side of the doorway rather than displayed prominently.  Common Cup's purpose is to invite and welcome, rather than to proselytize.

As you rush up and down Washtenaw in your busy lives, be sure to stop in the serene Common Cup Coffeehouse for a bit of respite from all the bustling.  Enjoy a few moments of peace and serenity while satisfying your caffeine needs.

Common Cup Coffeehouse
1511 Washtenaw
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
734-327-6914
Monday - Friday: 8:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Saturday: 12 - 5 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.


View Larger Map


Common Cup Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 8, 2012

BBQ Pork Sandwich with Fennel and Onion


I found a pork loin on sale at the grocery store recently, so I simply had to buy it.  I had no idea what I'd make with it, since I hadn't anticipated blundering into such a great deal.  But when one is granted a moment of serendipity, one simply follows along.

The next morning, I cut the roast into 4 portions and seasoned it simply before placing the pieces into my crockpot.  Then I peered into the refrigerator and concocted a sauce for it to linger in throughout the day.  I love crockpots - you come home from work, dinner is ready and waiting, and the house smells amazing as though someone has been cooking all day just for you.

The pork became tender and fragrant, practically dissolving into shreds.  I had many ideas for ways to enjoy it, but was so enticed by temptation that I didn't want to spend a lot of time preparing anything.  I gave very serious consideration to simply standing over the crockpot with a fork, but decided that this was a tad too bachelor-like to suit me.  I'm kinda prissy: I like little details like wine glasses and cloth napkins.

So I simply sauteed some fennel (I'm still on a mission to get others to like it as much as I do!) and red onion - crunchy complements to the tender pork.  A little drizzle of barbecue sauce, and a quick, hearty and delicious dinner was ready!

Saveur is seeking nominees for its 2012 Best Food Blog Awards.  If you know of anyone to nominate in one of the numerous categories, click on this link to submit your favorites ... ;)



BBQ Pork Sandwich with Fennel and Onion

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large head fennel, stems trimmed, halved, sliced thin
1 large red onion, halved, sliced thin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
generous sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
4 whole wheat sandwich rolls
3 cups shredded barbecue pork (see recipe below or pre-purchased)
1/3 cup barbecue sauce

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the fennel, onion, salt and pepper; saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and lightly caramelized.

Place the bottoms of each roll onto 4 plates.  Divide the vegetable mixture among the rolls, and divide the pork among them as well, placing it on top of the vegetables.  Drizzle the pork with barbecue sauce, then cover with the tops of the rolls.

Serve immediately.  Makes 4 sandwiches.

Crockpot Pork Loin

1 4-pound pork loin roast, cut into 4 pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
1 tablespoon white wine
juice of 1 small orange
1 teaspoon harissa or other hot sauce

Season the pork with the salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Place 2 pieces into the crockpot.  Combine the remaining ingredients and pour half of the sauce over the pork.  Place the remaining pork into the crockpot and pour the rest of the sauce over it.  Cover and cook on "low" for a minimum of 8 hours.  Shred the meat with a fork, stirring to incorporate the liquid.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Poppy Seed Shortbread Cookies


Purim [POOR-im] is the most joyous day in the happiest month on the Jewish calendar.  Falling on the 14th day of Adar [ah-DAHR], the holiday begins at sundown tonight.

In brief, Purim commemorates Queen Esther saving the Jews from extermination.  Her cousin, Mordechai, refused one day to bow to the king's vizier, Haman, which enraged Haman.  He sought King Ahasuerus' permission to massacre the Jews, which Ahasuerus granted without realizing that this would also include his wife, Esther, who had never revealed herself as a Jew.  Esther fasted for three days as she debated whether to approach the king and risk her own life.  Needless to say, her courage won the day: Esther spoke to the king, revealing Haman's plot, and Ahasuerus had Haman executed.  As the saying goes, they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!

Purim celebrations are silly and giddy and lots of fun.  It's customary to dress up in costumes, since Esther hid her identity; so I'll be masquerading as a fairy godmother, wearing a slightly cheesy thrift store prom dress accessorized with a pink tiara, a be-ribboned wand, and gold-trimmed pink wings.  (It's very "me," for those who don't know of my affinity for Disney princesses, sparkles, glitter, and whimsy!)

Because there are always traditional and ritual foods at Jewish holidays, I'll also be eating lots of triangular cookies called hamantaschen [HAH-men-TAHSH-en], which are shaped to resemble either the ears or the hat of the villainous Haman. (For my hamantaschen recipe, see last year's Purim post.)  Kids particularly love this holiday because it's expected that the name of Haman should be drowned out with noise.  How great to spin groggers, yell, stomp, and generally be granted permission to be a bit rowdy!

Other Purim customs are required by Jewish law: hearing the Book of Esther read aloud, as well as giving gifts of food to friends and donating to charity.  According to Esther 9:22, Jews are commanded "to observe ... days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor."

Mishloach manot [mish-loh-AHCK mah-NOTE] are small goodie bags that are thus given to loved ones; they are supposed to contain two portions of foods that are ready to eat - one is sweet while the other is savory.  The sweet variety is usually hamantaschen, and I offer pretzels to go with them.  And since I like to feed people, I always add some small candies and a second type of cookie as well.

This year, I had lots of poppy seed filling left over after baking my hamantaschen; this is the most traditional flavor, as it honors the diet of nuts and seeds that Esther is said to have eaten in King Ahasuerus' palace where she had no access to kosher food.  So I used some for the shortbread-based cookies offered below, since it's a lovely complement to the almond-flavored topping.

Hag Purim Sameach!  [HAHg pooh-REEM sah-MAY-ahck]

Happy Purim!



Poppy Seed Shortbread Cookies
(adapted from the recipe for Macaroon Bar Cookies in Gloria Kaufer Greene's The Jewish Holiday Cookbook)

Shortbread:
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup unbleached flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease an 8"x8" baking pan.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.  Stir in the egg and extract; stir in the flour.  With damp hands, press the dough into the prepared pan; bake for 15 minutes until set.

Filling:
1/3 cup poppy seed filling
2 tablespoons water

Stir filling ingredients together; carefully spread over the prepared shortbread base.

Topping:
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon unbleached flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
1/3 cup ground almonds

Combine all ingredients and whisk until well beaten.  Carefully spread over the poppy seed filling, swirling the topping and the filling together a bit.  Bake for 15 minutes until the topping is golden.  Let cool completely.

Trim 1/4" edges from all sides.  Cut into 4 rows and 4 columns, to make 16 squares.  Cut each square in half diagonally to form 32 triangles.

Makes 32 cookies.


You might remember that I've prepared several lovely recipes from the Chaldean cookbook Ma Baseema: Cardamom-Scented Shortbread Cookies, Iraqi Salad, and Spiced Beef Egg Rolls.  My review of the book appears in this month's issue of the Washtenaw Jewish News, and can be found on page 29 ....



Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Chopped" Challenge - Mini Carrot Latkes with Chocolate Rum Caramel Sauce


Rachel at Diary of a Chocoholic is a girl after my own heart!  Here is her dare for my "Chopped" challenge: "Dessert (because it's my favorite!)? Carrots, Chocolate and Rum!"


Well, how can we go wrong with chocolate and rum, and with a hint of nutrition to delude us into thinking we're behaving ourselves?

Today is sadly the last day of the challenge, in which I had asked readers to suggest ingredients that I would then have to use in creating a dish for a specific course of a meal.  It's been so much fun!  But at least we're going out on a sweet note.

I knew immediately that I didn't want to resort to making carrot cake with the suggested ingredients.  It is one of the great foods in the universe, absolutely!  But it's too obvious.  I debated candying carrot sticks, turning them into gorgeous translucent rum-scented dippers with a chocolate fondue-like sauce.  But adapting a candied orange peel recipe for a vegetable with a different consistency seemed to have too many variables to predict success - too soft or too hard or too gumdrop-y?  A noble notion to tinker with some day when I have time to play.

So, being a girl with a Jewish soul and appetite, I then thought of latkes.  They don't always need to be made with potatoes, and they don't always need to be savory; carrots offer an inherent sweetness that could be played up for dessert.  The combination of mini spiced treats with a luscious chocolate sauce started to sing a Siren song to me.

These little pancakes have a fabulously enticing fragrance, and are utterly enhanced by the addictive sauce.  (Pour it over ice cream and it thickens like fudge ... sigh.  I'm almost - but not quite! - ashamed to admit that I made a full batch of the sauce, ate and enjoyed it with a few of the latkes, and then simply took a spoon and ate the rest of it "as is." )

Thanks to Rachel, we can all be chocoholics today while still eating our vegetables!


Mini Carrot Latkes with Chocolate Rum Caramel Sauce


Latkes:
1/2-pound carrots, peeled, finely shredded
4 ounces sugar cookies, crushed fine
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil, for frying

Combine carrots, cookie crumbs, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, salt, and eggs in a large bowl.

Heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add batter by the tablespoon and cook 3-4 minutes per side, until nicely golden brown.  Remove from pan, drain on paper towels, and continue with remaining batter.  Makes 16 latkes.

Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup half-and-half

Melt butter, brown sugar and rum together in a small saucepan over low heat.  Add chocolate and stir until melted.  Slowly stir in half-and-half.

To serve:
Whipped cream

Drizzle chocolate sauce over 4 dessert plates.  Place 4 latkes onto each plate, and top with whipped cream.

Serves 4.

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Chopped Challenge" - Spiced Potato and Bacon Pasties


My very good blogging buddy Angela - who features lovely simple but sophisticated recipes on Seasonal and Savory - offered the following for my "Chopped" challenge, in which I had asked readers to suggest ingredients that I would then have to use in creating dishes:

"Hmmmm...how about harissa, oranges, and bacon"? 

Since no course was mandated, I thought about making an appetizer of roasted chickpeas with crumbled bacon in a coating of orange and harissa ([hah-RIH-suh] = a very spicy, vibrantly colored North African pepper sauce).  I gave serious consideration to making a sweet, spicy and salty dessert.  But then I had a new idea ....

Angela spent some time in Michigan's Upper Peninsula ("da U.P., eh?" as they say up there with their quaint Finn-Canadian-ish accents).  Thus, she is well acquainted with the requisite Northern dietary mainstay: the pasty [PASS-tee], a hand-held pie that miners could bring with them for lunch.

Now, no self-respecting Yooper would serve a pasty flavored with harissa - it would be a sacrilege.  Chopped beef, potatoes, onions, rutabaga, salt, and pepper - that's it for the filling.  But I'm a troll: someone who lives under the bridge - south of the Mackinac Bridge, that is - in the state's Lower Peninsula.  No one expects me to know how to make a proper pasty anyway, so why not have some fun with it?

Pasties are dry ... very dry.  You'll note that the above listing of essential ingredients doesn't include any kind of liquid to bind them together.  And those starchy vegetables are served in a crust.  This serves a practical purpose, of course, to make them more transportable.  But "dry" is an understatement when talking about pasties, as is "bland."  The harissa was very welcome for livening things up a bit.

Ketchup is the usual accompaniment to pasties, though sometimes gravy is served.  Rather than incorporating the required oranges into the main course itself, as I was doing with the harissa and the bacon, I thought they would lend a brightness to a sauce which, as far as I'm concerned, is a mandatory condiment for this dish.

So for my 500th post (wow!), I offer you a hearty winter meal with a nod to Michigan's history but featuring a unique flair!  Everything turned out perfectly, with great flavor.  I like to call these "Troll Pasties," with love and affection for both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas!


 



Troll Pasties

Filling:

1 large baking potato, cut into 3/4" dice
1 large rutabaga, cut into 3/4" dice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon harissa powder (or use 1 tablespoon prepared harissa and eliminate the water)
2 tablespoons water

6 strips bacon
1 small onion, chopped


Preheat the oven to 400F.  Stir the potato, rutabaga, oil, and salt together in an 8"x8" baking dish.  Stir together the harissa powder and water; pour over the vegetables and stir to coat.  Bake for 1 hour or more until the vegetables are golden and very tender.


Cook the bacon in a large skillet; dry bacon on paper towels and crumble.  Drain most of the fat from the skillet and saute the onion just until translucent.  Stir the bacon and the onion into the potato mixture; cool to room temperature.

Crust:
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon cold water
1 egg


Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Mix in the shortening until the mixture resembles meal.  Add the 1/2 cup of water bit by bit; mix with your hands until the dough holds together well and forms a ball, using more or less water as needed.  Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for 30 minutes.


Preheat the oven to 350F.


Divide the dough into 6 portions.  One by one, roll a portion into a 10" circle.  Place 2/3 cup of the filling onto half of the dough.




Lightly dampen the dough around the filling, then fold dough over to form a semi-circle.  Trim the rough edges, then crimp the edge of the dough; press the edge with a fork to seal the pasty.




Place onto a greased baking sheet.  Repeat to make the remaining 5 pasties.  Combine the egg and 1 tablespoon water; brush over the pasties.


Bake the pasties for 50-55 minutes until lightly golden brown.


Gravy:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
juice and zest of 1 orange
juice and zest of 1 lemon

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and salt; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Slowly add the stock, incorporating each addition before pouring more.  Add the juices and zest; bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes until thickened.

To serve: Place 1 pasty onto a dinner plate and serve with gravy.

Makes 6 generous servings.

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