Monday, December 31, 2012

Word of the Year


My word of the year for 2011 was "Nurture."

It turned out to be the perfect choice, though not for the reasons I'd intended. I'd written that I hoped to nurture "people, animals, ideas, projects, tomatoes, and also myself." But the year was so chaotic - multiple break-ups and attempts to cling to a doomed relationship, numerous moves before settling down, much trauma and heartbreak, and far too many tears.

My overwhelming memory of that year is of the tears. Instead of my nurturing others, I am still so immensely overwhelmed by the generosity and love and kindness of those who nurtured me. It wasn't what I'd planned. But it was still the operative word for the year. As much as I'm loathe to quote the Rolling Stones, I have to say that "you can't always get what you want, but ... you just might find you get what you need."

Restored, though still frail and fragile, I was ready to "Reach" in 2012:

"Reach out to friends, to keep them close.
Reach out to new people, to broaden and enrich my family.
Reach out to those in need.
Reach beyond my comfort zone.
Reach for new opportunities, both personal and professional.
Reach beyond my limitations, not letting them inhibit me.
Reach my potential ... reach for the proverbial stars."

I reached new audiences when invited to write each month for the Washtenaw Jewish News in addition to my regular posts for AnnArbor.com, and with an article about The Molly Goldberg Cookbook for Repast, the quarterly newsletter of The Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor. (I'm thrilled to have been asked to contribute an essay about baking my own matzah for an issue to be devoted to Jewish baking, too.)

I reached out when new adventures were offered, such as: being invited to work with the wonderful people at Entre-SLAM (an opportunity I've unfortunately had to take a hiatus from, given recent stresses), or judging culinary masterpieces for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (chili) and Perry Nursery School (pie) as well as Temple Beth Emeth's Sisterhood (brisket) and the Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan (luscious desserts).

I reached into my bank account to start fixing up the condo I landed in, which I inherited from my ex-husband (who will one day appear on "Hoarders").  It's not presentable yet, but I hope one day to be able to host Friday night dinners and holiday celebrations with loved ones. I reached past my comfort zone, which already encompassed a wide variety of musical styles (everything from 80s New Wave to French chansons, from Cuban rhythms to Medieval chants), and even found that I like country music ... a long-reviled genre that I've now grown rather fond of; it provides a great background while I'm writing.

I reached out to old friends, going out for coffee or for dinner or for hot fudge sundaes, to keep them close. I reached out to new people, welcoming fresh faces into my extended family. If there was a way to reach out or a direction to reach towards, I tried valiantly to do it. I became an opportunist, but not with any negative connotations: if an opportunity presented itself, I gratefully appreciated it and cherished it and sought to do my best with it.

And so, after achieving so many of the goals I'd hoped for in my choice of last year's word - both thrilled and humbled at being able to reach into so many different facets of myself and of life - I considered what to do for 2013.

Along with my beloved Leanne of From Chaos Comes Happiness, who initiated this project by choosing a new word each year and encouraging all of us to join her, I pondered the coming months and my hopes and dreams for them. In July - when Leanne and I finally met in the real world, as opposed to only hanging out together in cyberspace - we discussed my choice as we toured, and became inspired by, The Art Institute of Chicago. I shared with her the word that, even at that early time, seemed like the perfect choice.

Dance.

I confessed to Leanne that, after a year of misery and then a year of rebuilding, I found myself - every so often, quite by surprise - dancing as I cooked. A spin. A twirl. A swivel of my hip. As I stirred. As I baked. As I waited for the timer to ring. I could play music I enjoyed, music that infused what I was creating. Music to which I would instinctively sway, something I hadn't done for more than two years. Music I had chosen, music I loved.

I was happy.

I could once again cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water to the sounds of passionate Italian opera, rather than being told the noodles (and only a certain type of approved noodles) had to be sparingly prepared in a small, cramped saucepan so as not to irresponsibly squander precious resources such as water and electricity. Italians - who know just a bit about these matters! - say that you should cook pasta in a large pot of salted water, precisely so it can dance without being constrained. For many, many months, I still could not cook pasta once I was free of the limitations ... or, rather, just free. I would try, and tension would overcome me. Such a simple thing, and yet it had been taken from me for a long while. But I found I could enjoy this again.

I was happy.

Craig doesn't like to dance. He won't go line dancing with me even though, when I tried it, I remarkably found that I enjoy it and have some talent for it.  Just the other day, he did write to me that "I'll dance w/you anywhere," but then added a disclaimer ... "(well, almost anywhere!)" Maybe I'll get him to dance at the Ann Arbor Art Fair in July ...? Perhaps at Memphis in May, which I plan to attend for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, but which also offers a music festival ...?

But he's dancing through life with me, even if he won't go out on a dance floor. And it's a life that's been a bit complicated in our four months together, as one of my most cherished loved ones has been hospitalized for rehab but still relapsed several times afterward, as I've found my once-legendary immune system has been compromised by two bouts of bronchitis, as he's suffered from kidney stones and then even threw his back out on Christmas Eve, as we negotiate with elderly parents and take care of Craig's adorable little aging dog, contend with the abundant energy and enthusiasm of my grandpuppy, and help to guide our kids who still seek to find their way in the adult world.

I reached out across the table when we met for coffee, and Craig took my hands in his ... my new dance partner.

And so, in 2013 I intend to dance. Dance while I cook. Dance - or, at least, bop a little bit - while I drive. Dance in the grocery store, a place I find so full of fun and inspiration (and only occasional routine drudgery). Do the Snoopy "happy dance" whenever I can, appreciating the moments that inspire it.

Because I will also have to continue to dance with the twin devils of mental illness and alcoholism, which occasionally rear their ugly heads in my loved ones and do not back down readily from the war even if some battles have been won. They have been rudely cutting in again recently, making me dance on tiptoe rather than dancing with joy.

I will dance with my boyfriend, even if he won't do so in public. I will dance through life, because the alternative is to sit still, to be stagnant. I may not always do it gracefully, as I tend to be a bit clumsy; Jeremy is convinced that Armageddon will arrive the day I don't have any bruises on my legs.

But I will dance, literally and figuratively.

And so, what better way to end this with than a cheesy dance song from the 70s??? (I have such a perverse affinity for this genre, though no one else can tolerate it!) So much is in place that's never been settled before, even if my life is still a work in progress. Yeah, it's taken me 50 years to even get to this point. But my ancestors were living into their 80s even 150 years ago, and my paternal grandfather lived to be 98. I'm only halfway done!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - The Northside Grill


Jeremy and I enjoyed a great breakfast at The Northside Grill this week, thus making it today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature. Tremendously friendly service, a festive atmosphere, and great food made it a wonderful place to visit!

I debated many options, as always, from the classic dish of an egg with hash browns and a biscuit to an assortment of side dishes to splitting a sandwich. But I settled upon two items, for a bit of variety: fried eggs served "over easy" plus a warm bear claw proudly made in-house. Generously filled with walnuts and fragrant with cinnamon, the pastry was perfect with my vanilla-flavored coffee. It was a tremendous value at only $2.29.

The eggs - costing a mere $1.25 each, ordered a la carte - were perfectly cooked, and were a nice complement to the sweet treat.

Jeremy, as usual, was much more decisive than I was and readily settled upon the short stack of buttermilk pancakes for $4.39. This was an enormous serving that fully covered the plate, and I can't even imagine being able to finish a full portion! Tender and light, with just a hint of tartness in contrast to the syrup, Jeremy told me he can't remember the last time he enjoyed a plate of pancakes so much.

Another option, had we not been there for breakfast, would have been the Brownie Sundae "topped with ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, walnuts and a cherry. Enough for two!" At $5.75, this would readily have met our per person budgetary requirement.

From an assortment of side dishes to pastries, from muffins to soups and chilis, and even plate-sized single pancakes or servings of French toast, there are many frugal options to choose from at The Northside Grill. That you also get a warm welcome, free coffee refills, and the comfort of a neighborhood hang-out only makes the deals that much better.



The Northside Grill
1015 Broadway
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105
734-995-0965
Open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.



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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top 10 of 2012


Well, it's that time of year again - time to review everything I've eaten, drunk, tasted, sampled, and enjoyed this past twelve months. There's been a lot o' good eatin', as always - I live in a fabulous community filled with great food, restaurants, shops, and other treats! But as I remember and reminisce, there are inevitably a few shining stars that rise to the top of the list.

And so, without further ado, here are some of the very best things I enjoyed in 2012. I highly recommend that you go find them, cook them, and relish them, too!

The barbecue at Red Rock Downtown Barbecue in Ypsilanti is excellent; the mac 'n' cheese (pictured above) is even better. Here's what I wrote in my Frugal Floozie Friday post about the restaurant: "the star of the show - the star of the entire meal - was the Macaroni and Cheese. What you see ... is the small version ordered off the side dish menu; it was enough that I could very well order it for a full meal! And I'd be lucky to finish it ... though it was so exceptionally rich and smoky and luscious that leaving any behind would be unforgivable. Jeremy and I literally scraped the bottom of the dish to make sure we didn't miss any of the goodness!"

After you eat the mac 'n' cheese for dinner, walk across the street to Bona Sera Cafe and linger over the luxurious Salted Caramel Gelato for dessert. You only have to spend a mere $1.50 for this rich treat.  This past summer, I posted that "if the salted caramel gelato was my last dessert on this Earth, I could die blissfully happy in a giddy reverie. It was buttery, salty, and like liquid gold as it melted on my tongue. I've been craving it since I left, and promised Wonder Woman I'd be back for more."  I need to get back there, and you need to make a special trip yourselves.

Not too far removed from the buttery sweetness of the gelato is my very own Drambuie Butterscotch Sauce, which doesn't even need cake or ice cream, just a spoon. I'm always loathe to include my own recipes in this annual list, as it seems a bit conceited; at the same time, this really was stellar and I'm very proud of its flavor as well as its simplicity. It's a lovely change from traditional hot fudge sauces.

Another item which can be enjoyed in a variety of ways - on a salad, as a vegetable or pretzel dip, schmeared onto a sandwich - is the blue cheese dressing at Old Town Tavern. It is "an exceptional thick, garlicky blue cheese dressing so good that I've even written to the restaurant to see if they might share the recipe with me." (Still hoping to be able to make it myself, though I'm happy to go pay for it at the restaurant, too.) Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of it; but it's not too hard to imagine a dressing with generous chunks of cheese, which is thick enough to cling to whatever it's going to enhance.

I am a huge fan of chocolate, of peanut butter, and of chocolate served with peanut butter; this is, as we all know, one of the classic combinations. In September, I was thrilled to help judge the Girl Scout Cookie Bake-off Benefit, featuring desserts prepared with Girl Scout cookies. The treat that won 2nd Place for "Most Creative" was the Peanut Butter Bombe created by Cheryl Hanewich of La Dolce Vita. This was rich, creamy, seductive, filled with rich peanut butter and topped with smooth, sleek chocolate ganache. It was even garnished with candied bacon - the sweet/salty combination reigned supreme!

Now, to go back to the savory rather than focusing upon the sweet ....

The Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery is noted for its beers; however, when I go out I'd rather spend my money on food than on drink. For a ridiculously fair $5, the restaurant offers an exceptional snack that Jeremy and I enjoyed immensely: Truffled French Fries. As I wrote in my original feature: "They were utterly irresistable - so crisp, so fragrant with rosemary, so subtly and perfectly flavored with truffle and salt - that we'd have each happily devoured our own serving rather sharing. The fries were perfectly complemented by a rich mayonnaise-based dipping sauce - ketchup would be a sacrilege. I've already made a note to myself that these fries will be on my Top 10 list for the year."

When I served Baked Chicken with Morels and Leeks, Jeremy told me it was the best chicken dish I've ever served. Wow! In the post about it, I wrote: "The chicken, having baked in cream, is fork-tender. The sauce is luscious, and lets the leeks and the morels shine without either one overpowering any other ingredient." You don't need to spend a fortune on the ingredients: chicken thighs are inexpensive, and a few dollars' worth of morels are all you need to infuse a rich, indulgent flavor to the sauce. Be sure to make this during the all-too-short morel season! When I noted to Jeremy that I was including this dish, he reiterated: "I don't think there could be anything better in the history of ... ever!"

Baconfest Michigan is one of the best events I've ever attended; Jeremy and I were in our glory, eating bacon in everything from sliders to grits to ice cream! (Here's my summary of the party.) But of the multiple options served by 30 vendors who celebrated everything glorious about the pig, my favorite treat was the bacon-coated caramel apples from The Root Restaurant & Bar. The apples were tart and crisp, the caramel was smooth and creamy and buttery, the bacon was chewy and salty. Altogether, these hit every taste bud, offered every texture. They were utterly sublime.

Fruit 'n' Nut Baklava - my own spin on this beloved traditional dessert - was a huge hit with everyone who tried it. The flaky layers of phyllo dough, the sweet chewiness of the dried fruits, the crunch of the nuts, the hints of dates and cinnamon and honey throughout. Baklava has a reputation for being difficult to make, but this isn't true at all; one of the beauties of phyllo dough is that, while it's very fragile, it also doesn't really matter if you tear it while layering it - the dough will crack and crumble anyway, so who's going to know??? Try this recipe for yourself and see how easy it can be to make something so impressive.

And finally, here is a lovely wine that Craig and I enjoyed immensely, celebrating its annual release in November. The bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau that I purchased at The Produce Station was wonderful - light, fruity, sweet but not overly so, juicy, bright, and vibrant ... it was definitely our favorite of the variety of wines we've tried (with dinners, at events, at tastings, etc.).  As I paid for my purchase, the fabulous cashier noted that my outfit perfectly matched the bottle; she gleefully called for Jorge, wine steward extraordinaire, to bring the camera so she could take a picture of me with my prize!

As Frank Sinatra sang, it was a very good year for my continued adventures in celebrating food. This list doesn't even begin to encompass all the wonderful creations, the fabulous dishes, the friendliness of service, the helpfulness of staff members, and other attributes which contributed to celebrations, to moments that required comfort, and to the many instances where food was integral to an experience. Whether a guilty indulgence in doughnuts at midnight, brownies offered as solace, or a milkshake shared with someone you love, food is so much more to us than mere sustenance.

May 2013 bring you much luck and happiness, and an abundance of good things to enjoy!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Santa Sammi, or Two Versions of a Bolognese


As Jeremy, Craig and I were enjoying our recent feast of treats from Whole Foods Market, and tasting their easy-to-prepare gnocchi [NYOH-kee], I started pontificating about the different styles of this classic dish.

Many people know about the dumplings, which are readily available in grocery stores. But there is also a Roman version, made of either farina or cornmeal, which is baked rather than boiled. I know - the little minutiae that take up space in my brain! Don't ever ask me anything practical, like how to jump a car battery. But I can chat for days about such esoteric matters as linguistics, art history, and regional cooking styles!

So anyway .... As we ate, I promised to make the Roman variety of gnocchi, which are akin to a cheesy polenta, to show the difference.  And here they are!

The substantial gnocchi require a topping that's sturdier than a marinara sauce, which is better suited to something delicate like angel hair pasta. And so it occurred to me that I should make a sauce in honor of Craig's dog, Sammi, pictured above as a puppy (he's now 13). His breed and the sauce I chose share a name and a place of origin: Bolognese [boh-lohn-YAY-say], from the city of Bologna [boh-LOHN-yuh].

Because the Italians are as obsessive about their food as the French are about their mother tongue - remember the Académie Française, devoted to regulating the language into submission, an impossibly Sisyphean task - there is an "official" version of Ragù Bolognese. According to Wikipedia:

In 1982 the Italian Academy of Cuisine (Accademia Italiana della Cucina), an organization dedicated to preserving the culinary heritage of Italy, recorded and deposited a recipe for "classic Bolognese ragù" with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce (La Camera di Commercio di Bologna). A version of the academy's recipe for American kitchens was also published. The academy's recipe confines the ingredients to beef from the plate section (cartella di manzo), fresh, unsmoked pancetta (pancetta di maiale distesa), onions, carrot, celery, passata (or tomato purée), meat broth, dry wine (red or white, not sparkling), milk, salt and pepper. The option of adding a small amount of cream at the end of the preparation is recommended.

My version isn't an exact replica of the authorized one, but does feature all of the required ingredients: the pork fat, beef, vegetables, wine, tomato, and milk. And it's very, very good!

Have a lovely and very merry Christmas, with lots of good food! I wish you many blessings and much happiness ... :)

Be sure to stop by and visit on Wednesday, for my "Top 10 of 2012" post - the best things I've eaten all year!





Roman Gnocchi with Ragù alla Bolognese

Gnocchi
(adapted from a recipe for Roman Gnocchi in From a Monastery Kitchen by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette)

  • 4 cups milk
  • generous pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Heat milk, nutmeg, and salt in a large saucepan over high heat just until it's almost boiling; turn heat down to medium-low. Slowly stir in cornmeal, in small increments; stir for 5 minutes until thickened. One by one, stir in eggs; then stir in cheese.

Grease a 9"x13" baking pan. Pour cornmeal mixture into the pan, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour to chill it and let it firm up.

Preheat oven to 425F. Cut into the cornmeal and score it into 2" squares; bake for 30 minutes or so, until firmed and golden at edges.

Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 large carrot, chopped fine
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • generous sprinkling freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1-1/2 cups milk

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the bacon fat over medium-low heat. Add the red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, carrot, and celery; cook for 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, sugar, and Italian seasoning; cook for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and are just starting to turn golden.

Add the beef and pork; brown the meats, then drain the mixture. Add the wine and the tomatoes; cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add a generous splash of milk, stir in, and cook for 5 minutes. Add more milk in this same fashion, every 5 minutes or so, until all the milk has been incorporated. Cook on low heat for 15 more minutes.

To serve: Place 4-5 gnocchi onto a plate and top with sauce, then top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Serves 4-6.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Siam Cuisine


Siam Cuisine is today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature, where there are a variety of delicious treats available for less than our mandatory budget of $5 per person.

Craig and I enjoyed a really lovely lunch there recently, before heading off to an afternoon of holiday shopping. Rather than splitting a dish - though there are many that meet our criteria - we decided to sample an assortment of appetizers.

We shared each of these, except for the Tao-Hu Tod (pictured at left) - "deep-fried bean curd, served with sweet and sour chili peanuts sauce."  It cost a mere $3.50, and Craig loved it. The Chicken in Peanut Curry Sauce (at right), served with a dipping sauce as well, was wonderfully flavorful and tender; it was very, very good.

The beef salad pictured above was a generous serving for $5.25 - just over our individual budget - and enough to share with another appetizer for a light meal. Crisp, fresh vegetables topped with zesty, but not spicy, chili-sauced beef strips ... it was an excellent dish.

The Po Pia Tod - "Spring rolls stuffed with shredded chicken" - were crispy and not at all greasy. Overstuffed, like a comfy chair, they were a substantial starter. And at only $2.95 for two, the order can easily be split with a dining companion leaving room financially, and otherwise, for another option to round out your meal.

Our final choice was the Geaw Grob, which cost $3 for 6 large beautifully fried, crispy-on-the-outside and tender-on-the-inside shrimp. These were served with a cucumber chili peanut sauce for dipping, which was a perfect complement.

Siam Cuisine is at the front of the Braun Court strip of restaurants and small shops, in a warm and cozy house. Service is very friendly and welcoming, making customers feel very much at home.

So, for good food, good service, and good value, head over to Siam Cuisine for your next meal.



Siam Cuisine
313 Braun Court
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
734-663-4083



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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eggnog Pudding (a2.com)


Christmas Eve is also National Eggnog Day, so you'll want to have this recipe on hand for celebrating both occasions. It's an easy make-ahead dessert, so all you have to do when serving it is pull it out of the refrigerator ... et voilà! A rich, luscious treat.

Here are some recipes for you, if - like me - you're in the midst of a cookie baking spree:

Chocolate Snickerdoodles

Cookie Butter Cookies

Apple Oatmeal Cookies

Butterscotch Pretzel Brownies

Toasted Coconut Haystacks

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Blueberry Walnut Rugelach

Ginger Shortbread

Holiday M&M Cookies


Eggnog Pudding

3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cups prepared eggnog
1 tablespoon rum or vanilla extract
2 eggs
whipped cream, for serving
pinch of nutmeg, for serving

In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch, salt, sugar, and water; bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes translucent and thick like rubber cement. Slowly whisk in the eggnog and the rum; cook for 7 minutes until boiling rapidly and thickened, stirring constantly.

Place the eggs into a medium bowl. Remove 1/2 cup pudding and whisk it into the eggs; whisk this mixture back into the pudding and cook for 1 minute.

Pour pudding into serving glasses. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the pudding to prevent formation of a skin. Refrigerate until chilled.

To serve, top pudding with whipped cream and a slight pinch of nutmeg.

Makes 8 servings.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Cappuccino Biscotti


Ridiculously easy to make, and also ridiculously good, these biscotti are deceptively "plain Jane"s.

You could dress them up a bit by dipping them in chocolate. But you know what? It's unnecessary. They're exceptionally good "as is" - a wispy hint of cinnamon shining through the coffee flavor, a bit of crunch from the walnuts contrasting with the slight chewiness of the centers. Chocolate never hurts, but sometimes it's just superfluous ... really!

Here are some other Christmas cookie recipes, if - like me - you're in the midst of a baking spree:

Chocolate Snickerdoodles

Cookie Butter Cookies

Apple Oatmeal Cookies

Butterscotch Pretzel Brownies

Toasted Coconut Haystacks

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Blueberry Walnut Rugelach

Ginger Shortbread

Holiday M&M Cookies


Cappuccino Biscotti

(adapted from a recipe from Better Homes & Gardens)

  • 1-1/3 cups + 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts

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

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir together the egg, oil, and coffee; pour over the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the walnuts.

Divide the dough in half; shape each half into a log 2" around and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Slightly flatten the logs, then bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let the logs cool for 30 minutes. Remove logs to a cutting board, and cut into 1/2" slices. Place the slices, cut-side up, onto the baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes. Carefully flip the slices over, and bake for 10-15 minutes until toasted and slightly crisp.

Remove biscotti to a rack and cool completely.

Makes 24 biscotti.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Luca's Coney Island


It's still Chanukkah until Sunday, which means we're continuing to celebrate the miracle of the oil by eating fried foods, particularly the classic potato pancakes. So, what better feature for a Frugal Floozie Friday than Luca's Coney Island, where you can find these on a menu that offers many great deals?

My friend Beth has repeatedly recommended Luca's Coney Island for this generous serving that costs only $3.99. Crispy, fried potatoes are one of the great comfort foods. And since this dish costs less than the mandatory budget of $5 per person, it's an ideal option.

I visited on a Tuesday, which was 99-cent coney day - a fully loaded treat for less than $1! And there are many other dishes to choose from that meet our strict requirement.

Appetizers range from a mere $2.69 for chili fries to $4.99 for saganaki "flamed at your table." Soups, burgers (even a quarter pound chili burger), and a wide variety of breakfast options meet our frugal standards, as well.

Even many of the hearty sandwiches can satisfy for an investment of less than $5: varieties featuring fried chicken, tuna, breaded fish, turkey, eggs with a choice of meat, bacon, and cheese all qualify. There is something for every appetite.

And don't forget desserts, ranging from fruit and cream pies to milk shakes, as well as ice cream sundaes - all cost less than $5. And the Hot Fudge Brownie Delight - "a rich fudge brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, smothered with hot fudge, swirled with whipped cream and topped with a cherry" - will set you back only $3.99.

So stop by Luca's for friendly service, very reasonable prices, and good value.


Luca's Coney Island
2469 Washtenaw Ave.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
434-8333
Open 24 hours


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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New Treats from Whole Foods Market


I was recently given a great opportunity to taste test the new frozen foods that Whole Foods Market has introduced. Ranging from appetizers to ready-to-heat meals, and - very importantly! - not neglecting the all-important dessert, Whole Foods has made life easier whether you're just trying to serve dinner or whether you're hosting a fabulous party.

I took the $25 gift card I'd been generously given, and started to meander up and down the frozen food aisle. Now, anyone who's ever seen me at the grocery store knows I alternate between speedy efficiency (since I practically live at grocery stores, I know where everything is without needing to hunt) and aimless wandering as I consider my options. At Whole Foods last week, I was engaged in the latter.

Because first of all, I knew I had to get pizza. But which of the three pizzas? At $5.99, I could get one of each, but then my other taste testing options would be limited. Knowing that neither Jeremy nor Craig would likely choose a pizza bearing green vegetables (oy!), I bypassed the one featuring arugula and instead chose the wood-fired variety topped with buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomatoes.

The pizza was a huge hit, and both guys said that they'd eat the entire thing themselves despite the package stating that one pizza serves two people. Cut into small portions, it would make an excellent appetizer at a party.

Next on the menu was the Gnocchi di Polenta with Peas & Kale.  Whole Foods has also developed skillet meals that require some add-ins; I thought it would be nice to see how one of the "heat-'n'-eat" dishes was, since it could be prepared so quickly even on the busiest work/school/shopping/traveling day. The one-pound packages of Italian meals cost only $3.99, while the Asian ones cost $4.99.

The gnocchi are prepared in Mongrassano, Italy, and only need a bit of oil and water while being heated. An easier dinner would be hard to find!

Both Craig and Jeremy enjoyed these small cornmeal dumplings very much; Craig even finished my helping. And then we moved on to a different country's cuisine, with the very crisp and crunchy Chicken and Vegetable Egg Rolls that required just a short time in the oven to be ready for hungry diners. A box contains 4 egg rolls, for only $3.99. Whether indulging at a family meal, or cutting them in half to serve as appetizers or hors d'oeuvres, this is a great value. Jeremy, in particular, really enjoyed them.

Dessert was easy to choose, and I had no qualms about selecting two varieties: Chocolate Lava Cakes ($3.99 for 2/box) and Chocolate Chip Lava Cookies ($3.49 for 2/box).

Both required only a short time in the oven to become warm, fragrant, and gooey when cut open - molten chocolate oozes out when you slice these decadent little treats. The 100% fully loaded chocolate dessert was my favorite, though this was a pretty tough competition to judge! Jeremy and Craig both preferred the cookie. Whether serving these for a holiday event, at a dinner party, or just 'cause you need a chocolate fix, they will make you very happy.

Thank you so much to Whole Foods for the opportunity to taste so many goodies! For family meals, for parties, or "just because," these wholesome foods will make your life easier ... and more delicious.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Loaded Baked Potato Latkes


"These are the best latkes ever!"

Jeremy has spoken. You should listen.

These combine all the crispiness of fried potatoes with all the goodness of a loaded baked potato that's been cut open and filled with cheese, green onions, bacon, and sour cream. These are a very good time.

You'll notice that I didn't use real bacon - you may substitute this fine ingredient, if you'd like to. When I prepare Jewish food for posts, I always respect the dietary laws that forbid combining meat and dairy products and also ban anything having to do with pig. But really, truly, even with fake bacon, these were exceptional.

Chanukkah is a minor holiday that began this past Saturday at sundown, but it's a festive and fattening party which celebrates the miracle of one day's worth of consecrated oil having lasted eight days. The Eastern European (Ashkenazic) tradition is to eat latkes, the Israeli one offers sufganiyot [soof-GAHN-yoht] - jelly doughnuts.

Fried foods reign supreme! Especially these latkes ....


If you'd like to try other celebratory foods during Chanukkah, here are some options:

Spiced Beef Egg Rolls

Doughnut Delights

Provolone Fritto con Marinara

Curried Potato Latkes

Reuben Latkes



Loaded Baked Potato Latkes

  • 4 cups hash browns, defrosted
  • 2 tablespoons matzah meal
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 4 pieces Morningstar Farms Bacon Strips, chopped
  • 2/3 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 4 scallions, chopped fine
  • oil, for frying
  • sour cream, for serving

In a large mixing bowl, combine hash browns, matzah meal, egg, and water; let rest for 5 minutes.  Stir in bacon strips, cheese, and scallions.

Pour oil into a large skillet to 1/4" depth; heat over medium heat.  Take 1/4 cupfuls of latke batter, and fry for 5 minutes per side until golden; drain on paper towels.  Continue frying until batter is used up, stove and countertops are greasy, and your entire house smells of cooking oil ... ah, the traditions of Chanukkah!

Serve immediately, with sour cream.

Makes 10 latkes.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Glee Cake & Pastry


First of all, let me congratulate Dawn - of mummytotwoboys - who won the $25 Whole Foods Market gift card in my recent giveaway! Mazal tov!!!

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Now, on to today's post ... :)

Craig and I took a trip out to Chelsea last Saturday to putter around, to see the Christmas-y sites, and to revel in small-town friendliness, quaintness and charm. And a highlight of our afternoon, of course, was cupcakes. But not just any cupcakes - these were baked by Glee Havens, who won the 2012 Girl Scout Cookie Bake-Off Benefit that I was thrilled to help judge this past September.

And so, when you can relish decadent treats like these for less than $5 per person,
Glee Cake & Pastry is a natural fit for Frugal Floozie Friday!

There are so many treats to choose from: cupcakes, dessert bars, slices of tortes or cakes ... sigh. I wandered back and forth from one display case to another (there are three); and instead of narrowing down my list of options, each time I considered my choices my list grew longer.

Craig knew readily what he wanted: the Boston Cream cupcake pictured at right - "A light moist vanilla cake topped with a rich vanilla custard and dipped in chocolate ganache." Having gone to graduate school in Boston, it was a taste of his former home. And who doesn't love this lovely, decadent treat?

I debated among the Peanut Butter and Ganache cupcake, the coconut-topped Toasted Mounds variety, and the Death by Chocolate (no surprise to learn this is the shop's best seller). But I succumbed ultimately to the Salted Butterscotch cupcake pictured at the top of the post - salty, sweet, and sublime.

Cupcakes cost $3 each - well within our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 or less per person; but if you buy two or more, they are only $2.75. Slices of elegant, sophisticated, luscious cakes and tortes cost $4.25; and cookies, brownies, or bars range from 75 cents to $3 each.

Even better, if you visit Glee on a Sunday you can enjoy Happy Hour prices: from 12-5 p.m., "all items in the case are 1/2 off!"

Whether you're looking to enjoy treats for a special occasion, or just want a little something sweet "just because," be sure to stop by Glee's shop for wonderful items.




Glee Cake & Pastry
117 S. Main Street
Chelsea, MI 48118
734-475-3000
Tuesday - Thursday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Friday - Saturday: 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Sunday: 12 - 5 p.m.



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Monday, December 3, 2012

Shake 'n' Bake Cupcakes?!?!?


What is this nonsense??? (I'd be a bit more crass and use a different phrase, but I try to be ladylike. This image really warrants a more vehement expression of horror, though!)

Jeremy and I saw this container at the grocery store last week, as we meandered up and down the baking aisle looking for real ingredients like flour and sugar and such. "Just add water" - does anyone really want to eat dehydrated/rehydrated cupcakes?!?!?

Frankly, this is making boxed mixes look good; at least you have to add an egg and some oil to that concoction. Who'da thunk there'd be a product that makes a pre-measured mix look like it's either labor intensive or more enticing???

It's not particularly hard to make your own cupcakes. My Special Mocha Cupcakes (renamed by Taste of Home magazine, they were originally Quadruple Chocolate Cupcakes) list a prep time of 25 minutes which is, frankly, excessive; the baking time is 20 minutes. Add a bit of cooling time, and you can likely have fresh, fragrant cupcakes within an hour. And you get to lick the bowl and the spoon after you make the frosting.

Or, hey! If you don't want to bake from scratch you could buy some cupcakes at a bakery or, even, at the grocery store. Some of these are chemical-laden, some of them are fabulous ... go for quality.

But who on Earth would want to add water to a bottle that looks as though it should be holding laundry detergent, shake it up a bit to jostle all the dry crumbs loose and try to emulsify them with the liquid, and then pour this goop into cupcake tins? If you're that pressed for time, that bad a cook, or - let's call it as I see it - that lazy, then why bother??? So you can claim that they're "homemade" because technically they were made in your home, even if you didn't mix any of the ingredients and didn't have to exhaust yourself by holding a spoon and stirring?

'Cause even if I'm feeling generous enough to consider that you might want to make cupcakes this way with your kids, because it would be quick and easy, let me assure you that they'll be less than impressed by just pouring water. They actually like measuring, spilling sugar, stirring, slopping batter everywhere except into the baking tin ... and this is what memories are made of. Which would you rather have: a picture of your child turning on the faucet or a photo of your child's beaming, chocolate-schmeared, flour-dusted smile of satisfaction from having actually baked cupcakes him- or herself?

My loved ones understand my rant, and would wonder what sort of replicant had taken my place if I didn't obsess about this. But they also try to play Devil's Advocate by telling me that I'm unusual in my affection for baking, that I will make time for such an endeavor whereas others feel that it's a burden in their busy schedules. I offer the rebuttal that bakeries would be happy to sell their wares to these kinds of folks. And that's pretty much the sum of my argument - make the cupcakes properly or pay someone else to do so - because the rest of it is just my incensed, raving monologue about sacrilege.

So, if you can explain to me why this product exists and who would use it, I would be most grateful. I won't be happy, but at least there might be some comfort from comprehension. But right now, I consider this shake 'n' bake crap to be a desecration of the beautiful entity that is a cupcake. And I will defend my beloveds with all of my passion!



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