Friday, March 29, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Satchel's BBQ

On a recent rainy, cold, dreary afternoon, Craig and I went in search of some good ol'-fashioned comfort food. And for frugal prices - within our mandatory budget of $5 per person - we found precisely what we sought at Satchel's BBQ.

I decided to try something a bit off the proverbial beaten path, so I ordered Satchel's Stew - "smoked chicken & pork, corn, okra in a tomato broth" - that comes with a large slice of cornbread for $5. I spooned the stew over the cornbread, which made for a very filling meal; I even brought half of the stew home with me, and it made an exceptional breakfast one morning. (Everyone else loves breakfast for dinner; I like that too, but I adore dinner leftovers for breakfast!) Accented with some of the vinegar sauce that's available at each table - there are four different varieties of barbecue sauce to choose from - it was rich and spicy and very good.

Craig went for the classic pulled pork sandwich for exactly $5; the photo doesn't do it justice in showing how generous the portion of meat is. Tender and smoky, the sandwich was so good that Craig - who can be a picky eater, so his favorites should really feel complimented! - commented on how exceptional it was.

There are several frugal options to enjoy, including a pulled chicken sandwich. Side dishes cost $1.25 each; you could easily choose four of the options - cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, greens, or beans and rice - and make a meal from them. Or you can order a pint of any side dish for only $4, if you want to focus solely on one item.

The service at Satchel's was very friendly, and we were welcomed not only by the staff but also by the amazing aroma when we walked in. So for hearty food at reasonable prices, try Satchel's BBQ soon.

Satchel's BBQ
3035 Washtenaw Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday - Sunday: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Mejadra (Spiced Lentils and Rice)

This isn't the most photogenic dish, but its fragrance and flavor more than make up for that. Jeremy, who would normally prefer pizza to lentils and rice, remarked immediately upon coming in the house that dinner smelled amazing; he then proceeded to eat two helpings of it.

Quite the testament!

Mejadra (also known as mujadarrah or mujadarra) is a very old, traditional dish and it's featured in Jerusalem: A Cookbook, a beautiful new work by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi which was just nominated for a James Beard Award as best international cookbook.  It showcases gorgeous pictures and seductively enticing recipes for classic foods from this city which is home to both Jews and Arabs, and generously shares culinary representation from both cultures. Here is how describes it:

"In Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi explore the vibrant cuisine of their home city with its diverse Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. Both men were born in Jerusalem in the same year - Tamimi on the Arab east side and Ottolenghi in the Jewish west. This stunning cookbook offers 120 recipes from their unique cross-cultural perspective, from inventive vegetable dishes to sweet, rich desserts. With five bustling restaurants in London and two stellar cookbooks, Ottolenghi is one of the most respected chefs in the world; in Jerusalem, he and Tamimi have collaborated to produce their most personal cookbook yet."

My very dear friend Nika loaned me her copy of Jerusalem, and I wanted to make so many, many things! But I started with one of my very favorites, mejadra - a simple, comforting plate of spiced lentils and rice.

But this isn't just any ol' lentils and rice; the key ingredient in mejadra is onions which have been slowly, lovingly, patiently crisped until they're deeply golden and toasty and richly flavored. Combining these very basic ingredients with cumin, cardamom, turmeric, allspice, and cinnamon enhances and elevates them to make a dish that is absolutely stellar.

And now that Ashkenazi Conservative Jews have been granted permission, if they choose to do so (it's optional, based upon personal preference), to eat kitniyot [KIT-nee-YOHT] - corn, rice, peas, lentils, and beans - which were formerly banned at Passover along with leavened products, this is a fabulous dish that can easily be modified for the holiday that begins at sundown tonight. (See "The Kitniyot Dilemma" for more information about the dietary laws, the new ruling, the difference between customs for Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, etc.) Simply use matzah meal instead of flour to coat the onions, and you've got an amazing new dish to serve at your seder or at any time over the next 8 days. And it's pareve ([PAHRV] = neither meat nor dairy), so it can be served with any kind of meal!

But really, mejadra is such a wonderful dish that you'll want to serve it all the time!

(slightly adapted from a recipe in Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)

1-1/4 cups green or brown lentils
2 very large onions, halved, sliced very thin
3 tablespoons flour or kosher l'Pesach matzah meal ([KOH-sher leh PAY-sahk] = kosher for Passover)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 cup white rice
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
1-3/4 cups water

Place the lentils into a medium saucepan and cover generously with water; bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and cook for 20 minutes until just tender. Drain.

In a large bowl, toss the sliced onions with flour or matzah meal. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, to taste.

In a very large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Carefully add the onions, then turn heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently to keep onions from burning, until they are mostly browned and crisp. Drain in a colander lined with a paper towel.

In remaining oil in the frying pan, cook the cumin and coriander for 1 minute; add rice, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, and sugar.  Stir to coat rice with spices, then add water and reserved lentils. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes, until rice is tender and water has been absorbed.

Stir in half of the onions, then place lentils and rice onto a serving platter. Top with remaining onions and serve hot.

Serves 6-8.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Roy's Squeeze Inn

I had driven by Roy's Squeeze Inn so many times, but never managed to stop in. That's too bad, because it offers wonderfully friendly service, good food, and amazing prices. Thus, it is today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature!

Virtually every item - with the exception of a few of the burgers and the family-sized side orders - qualifies for our mandatory budget of $5 per person. So you could share the generous larger servings of fries, if you want to; but you can also get a meal for yourself within the price range.

I ordered the BBQ Pork Sandwich, pictured above, for $3.70. It was the size of a large burger, and - I was very pleased to find out - came topped with the cole slaw so that it wasn't necessary to place an extra order to put this together myself. I also wanted to see how generous the side dishes were, and found that the curly fries were a perfect single serving at $2.15. If you're just in the mood for a salty snack, they're ideal.

Craig chose the Quarter Cheese Squeeze burger that cost $3.70, and paired it with onion rings that also made for a nice-sized single serving, if you were to order them alone, for $2.20.

Roy's is quaint and old-fashioned with a semi-circular counter and cute tchotchkes; but Craig and I were the only ones who chose to eat in the restaurant on the evening that we visited. I was impressed to see at least a half-dozen customers come in for take-out orders, and found the service to be tremendously friendly as well as efficient.

Vegetarians will have to make do with the side dishes, from potato wedges to fried mushrooms, as well as the options listed above. Carnivores, however, will be able to eat very well for very little money. "Sandwiches," as the menu calls them, range from hot dogs to ham sandwiches (with or without cheese) and also a chicken sandwich; prices range from $1.30 to only $4.

And then there are the burgers, from Little Squeeze sliders costing a mere $1.15 each to the half-pound Big Squeeze for $4.95. You can also add toppings - extra cheese, crispy bacon, jalapeno peppers, grilled mushrooms, cole slaw, or chili - for as little as 40 cents and as much as $1.50.

So sort through the various permutations and eat very well at Roy's for less than $5!

Roy's Squeeze Inn
1315 E. Michigan Ave.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
Monday - Saturday: 10 a.m.- 10 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cookbooks Needed!

I have the enormous good fortune to be working with Jan Longone, curator of the culinary archive at The University of Michigan, who is putting together a Jewish cookbook exhibit that will be held at UM in Ann Arbor later this year.

Jan wants to include a display of Jewish charity/community cookbooks from all 50 states; these would come from temples, synagogues, Jewish community centers, Hadasssah, ORT, etc. I've been given the task of trying to hunt some of these down, so I'm reaching out to all my friends, colleagues, readers, etc., to ask for help. Here are the states we still need books from:

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Wyoming ... whew!

Jan is also looking for a copy of The Temple Cook Book from Temple Beth El in Detroit, dated 1903. This one is the Holy Grail for her.

It is preferred that people donate books to the collection rather than loaning them to the exhibit; Jan can appraise them, if you do so. (She appraised Julia Child's collection before donation. If you want to read more about her - a fabulous woman and a priceless resource - here's a good article.)

Please let me know if you have any of these books, any questions, etc.

Thank you so, so much!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Habemus Papam Franciscum

Pope Francis is going to be formally installed tomorrow. And at my house, where we happily waved goodbye to Benedict XVI, we are celebrating!

All of my loved ones are undoubtedly tiring of my obsession with the conclave, the pomp and circumstance and spectacle and glory of all the proceedings, the Latin, the chants, the intrigue, the mystery, the suspense, the new details gleaned about the pontiff as I read everything I can about him. You can take the girl out of the Catholic Church, but there's a reason we're always called "recovering" Catholics! The fascination lingers.

I didn't just have one "Vatican cam" on my computer screen at all times during the conclave - I made sure that I checked in regularly with two different ones, just in case there was some issue with one site or the other. (Go ahead, shake your heads along with me. I know, I know ....)

And, of course, the white smoke came just as I sat down in my Hebrew class, which is offered where I work, after having paid so much attention to the chimney! (As they say, a watched pot never boils.) Everyone knew how fixated I was upon this entire scenario, so I immediately received 4 texts and 2 phone calls all at once to disrupt the class. Fortunately, there were only 7 of us and everyone indulged my announcement of the news even though we didn't know who'd won the election yet. I got back to my desk just before the presentation at the balcony.

So now, instead of babbling incessantly about what might happen and what I wanted to have happen, I am babbling about what did happen. A new pope! From the New World! A Jesuit, from an order noted for intellectualism, education, and service. A transitional figure with ties to Rome by virtue of his Italian immigrant parents, but raised in Argentina. A man who brings many "first"s to the Vatican.

My favorite photo of Pope Francis, who has a wonderful smile.
I am enormously happy to read about Francis' humility, of his devotion to the poor and to those who are most marginalized in society, of his support for those whose choices he might not agree with but whom he still views as God's children (i.e.: caring for patients with AIDS, saying Mass for prostitutes, baptizing the babies of unwed mothers). He seems to strive to truly live the gospels and to follow Jesus' example.

And so, with significantly more hope than I've had for the Church in ages, I welcome Pope Francis.

And how could I not love this about him: the new pope is someone who is noted for preparing his own meals!

His favorite dinner is baked skinless chicken, salad, fruit, and an occasional glass of wine - healthy, benign dietary choices.

But this is a celebration! So, although he might eschew dessert, it seemed only fitting to make a beloved Argentine treat which is infused with Italian tradition - perfect for a man raised in Buenos Aires by parents who emigrated from northern Italy.

There is a sizable Italian community in Argentina, and it has distinctly influenced the cuisine. Pastas are enormously popular, but the flavors differ somewhat (Argentines seem to always add peppers to the sauce, as well as cumin and paprika); Argentines also sauce their pasta much more heavily than is done in Italy. Pizza is another favorite that crossed the Atlantic; but in Argentina the crust is much thicker, and the dish is often also served with a chickpea-flour flatbread called fainá [fah-ee-NAH].

But today, we are enjoying Pasta Frola [PAH-stah FROH-lah], a fruit-filled pastry with a buttery crust that is reminiscent of Italian crostata [krohs-TAH-tah]. According to Wikipedia:

"Pasta frola is a typical Argentine recipe heavily influenced by Southern Italian cuisine, also known as Pasta Frolla in Italy. Pasta frola consists of a buttery pastry base with a filling made of quince jam, sweet-potato jam or milk caramel (dulce de leche) and topped with thin strips of the same pastry, forming a squared pattern .... The traditional Italian recipe was not prepared with latticework as it is in Argentina, but with a lid pierced with molds in forms of heart or flowers."

Quince products are readily available in Latin markets. And I just happened to be near one of these stores recently; so I took the opportunity to buy a can of dulce de membrillo [DOOL-say day mem-BREE-yoh], which is quince paste (a product much thicker than jam). If you don't have access to this, however, a thickened jam or Solo pastry fillings would be excellent substitutes.

And so, a toast to Pope Francis! He has quite a lot of work to do to rebuild the Church, as the inspiration for his papal name - St. Francis of Assisi - was charged with doing. May God bless him and help him.

And in his honor, enjoy a slice of this lovely tart with a cup of espresso or a glass of Moscato, both of which are popular in Argentina as well as in Italy.

Habemus Papam Franciscum!

Pasta Frola
(adapted from this recipe)

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup + 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs divided
1 tablespoon water
confectioners' sugar, for dusting

1-1/2 cups dulce de membrillo (quince paste)
3 tablespoons water

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and 1/2 cup sugar. Add all of the butter and mix in with your fingers until crumbly.

Combine vanilla and 2 eggs; pour over dough and stir to mix. Knead dough on countertop just until it comes together. Cut dough into two portions: 1/3 and 2/3. Wrap in plastic for 30 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine quince paste and 3 tablespoons water; cook over low heat, stirring, until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll out the 2/3 dough portion to a 13" circle; carefully place into the tart pan, letting excess hang over the edges.

Fill tart with quince paste, spreading to edges.

Roll out the 1/3 dough portion to a 10" circle. Cut into 3/4" strips. Lay 5 strips vertically over the tart pan, then fold back the 1st, 3rd, and 5th ones.

Lay a strip across the remaining two strips of dough, then fold the strips back down.

Fold back the 2nd and 4th dough strips, lay a strip of dough across, then fold the strips back down. Repeat until you have a lattice top formed of 5 dough strips in each direction.

Press dough strips against the bottom crust to seal, then trim edges flush with the baking pan.

Combine remaining 1 egg with 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash. Brush over the dough, then sprinkle with the remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar. Place tart onto a baking pan, to catch any drips.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until tart is golden. Let cool completely, then dust lightly with confectioners' sugar.

Makes 12 servings.

(I found I had enough extra dough left over that I could likely make another tart. Gather any scraps, knead them together briefly, and save for future use.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Backroom Pizza

You can't get much more frugal than today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature, Backroom Pizza. It offers tremendous deals and fast service. As Jeremy put it, you get "real food at Taco Bell prices."

Two slices of pepperoni pizza and a 24-ounce soda can be purchased for a mere $3.50. Individual slices of this variety cost only $1.50, so you can even add a third slice and stay within our mandatory budget of $5 per person. Or you can get two slices of cheese pizza with your soda for only $3; bought separately, the slices are $1 each, and the sodas are $1.25. Slices are ready when you are, if you only have time to run in and grab a quick meal.

For $4.50, you can get 2 good-sized portions of spinach pie plus a 24-ounce soda. This was not what I'd expected; I'd presumed there would be a lot of doughy crust and a tidbit of spinach. But I was very happy to find a very generous layer of spinach layered within flaky phyllo dough. This was a nice vegetarian meal.

For $5, you can buy either a beef or a chicken burrito.  Jeremy ordered the latter, which came with both salsa and sour cream. It was quite large and fully stuffed - a filling option with meat, rice, and vegetables.

The menu isn't extensive, but Backroom Pizza offers fast food and good quantities of it for very little investment. And while there are no tables - it's mostly a "grab 'n' go" kind of place that caters to students on campus - there is a small counter along the wall where you can stand and eat if you're not taking your meal with you.

Be forewarned that Backroom Pizza only accepts cash. But it won't take a lot of your money to get a quick, substantial meal.

Backroom Pizza
605 Church St.
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Baked Eggs with Cheese

Jeremy has decided that he wants to learn how to cook. So he's asked me to look up a new recipe each week that he can make for dinner.

He already knows how to make burgers and pasta; so I want to expand his horizons a bit, but without nudging him to make anything too terribly complicated and frustrating. Cooking is supposed to be fun, after all!

So I thought that a lovely egg dish - perfect as a light supper or as a breakfast/brunch dish, too - would be a good one to start with.

And while these baked eggs are ridiculously simple - crack eggs into small dishes, top with cream and cheese, bake - they are really, really good. They're also sufficiently sophisticated that the end result far exceeds the sum of the very pedestrian parts.

Jeremy made an exceptionally nice dinner, and I'll happily encourage him to keep cooking delicious things!

Baked Eggs with Cheese

(adapted from the recipe for Shirred Eggs in The American Lighthouse Cookbook by Ed Jackson and Becky Sue Epstein)

kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12 eggs
4 tablespoons half-and-half
4 generous tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
2 medium scallions, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease 4 6-ounce ramekins or shallow baking dishes and place them onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle the dishes with salt and pepper.

Break 3 eggs into each of the dishes. Top each dish with 1 tablespoon half-and-half, 1 tablespoon Parmesan, and a sprinkling of the scallions.

Bake the eggs for 15 minutes, until set but slightly soft in the center; bake for a few minutes longer if you want the eggs to be firm. (Yes, Judy of Cranberry Morning, I'm noting this just for you, knowing how you loathe those runny yolks!)

Serve hot, accompanied by fruit, bagels, etc.

Makes 4 servings.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Happy's Pizza

A reader named Ken Calcut wrote to me last week, noting that "Catholics who are observing Lent have to eat fish on Fridays." He asked if, perhaps, I might "want to do a Frugal Fish Friday?"

Well, as a girl who spent 13 years in Catholic schools, I spent much of my life eating fish on Fridays. And two years ago, before starting my frugal series, I offered weekly Lenten Friday posts of non-meat dishes.

So Craig and I ordered take-out from Happy's Pizza to honor Ken's request, finding the generous Filet of Fish sandwich pictured above and also a seafood pizza. Both can be enjoyed within our mandatory budget of $5 per person.

Craig is not usually a fan of fish sandwiches, so I had expected to eat this myself while he ate most of the pizza. I was wrong - he liked this so much that he split it with me. Crisp fish topped with cheese, with tartar sauce, and with lots of vegetables - so you can tell yourself that it's healthy! - was substantial and cost only $4.95.

The small seafood pizza, which measures 10" across, costs $8.95; its thick crust is topped with Black Tiger shrimp, onions, mushrooms, and banana peppers, in addition to lots of cheese. Even just half of it turned out to be very filling - Jeremy was very pleased to be the recipient of leftovers, and he specifically stated to me that those three slices were "more than enough" for a meal.

Happy's has numerous offerings to keep both carnivores and vegetarians satisfied within our budget. You can order a small cheese pizza, a cheeseburger or chicken burger, a large serving of macaroni and cheese, or a half-pound of boneless wings for $4.95. Or try the Spicy Polish Boy - "2 Spicy Hot Links with fries & slaw smothered in BBQ sauce" - which also costs $4.95. One piece of fish costs $2.50, and can be paired with a side dish of cole slaw or fries (plain, BBQ or Cajun) for prices ranging from 95 cents to $2.50. Desserts are all less than $4 each. And, of course, you can order larger pizzas and share them with family and friends.

So whether you're looking for an alternative to fish sticks on a Lenten Friday, or you don't feel like cooking and want good food and a good value, Happy's Pizza is the place to go.

Happy's Pizza
600 S. Main Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Friday, March 1, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Mark's Midtown Coney Island

Mark's Midtown Coney Island - a friendly neighborhood standby - is today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature. Sure the coney dogs are great, and Craig thoroughly enjoyed going for the classic. But there are lots of other foods to enjoy that also fit within our mandatory budget of $5 per person.

I branched out to the soup 'n' sandwich plate for $4.99, which brought a cup of the daily soup - a bright, creamy Lemon Rice that offered just enough tartness to make it seem light despite being so rich - along with a half Turkey and Swiss that was absolutely stuffed. This was far more substantial than I'd expected, and I enjoyed every bite.

Several of the sandwiches - from Grilled Ham and Cheese to Egg Salad to a B.L.T. to a Patty Melt - come in at under $5 each. The coneys, of course, are a great deal: a single costs only $2.09. Or get the Coney Island Special, adding loose ground beef to your dog, which costs only $3.19. All but one of the burgers (the Italian Burger) cost less then $5, and you can even embellish them with an onion roll for 50 cents or extra cheese for 45 cents. And if you just want a snack, some consummate comfort food like Chili-Cheese Fries costs a mere $3.29.

Breakfast Specials offer a tremendous value as well, from eggs to the Breakfast Sandwich to a Short Stack; even Pancakes and Eggs - "Two pancakes or two French toast, two eggs, choice of one: bacon, ham or sausage" - costs only $4.99, just squeaking under the limit. But the prices get even better if you come in between 6-11 a.m. Monday-Friday, which is when Mark's offers extra special deals on this portion of the menu.

Even as good as our entrees were, I would have to say that the rice pudding - for a mere $2.29 - was the star of the show; Craig said it was the best version he's ever eaten. Dense rather than overly creamy, subtly flavored rather than doused in cinnamon as many can be, this was a perfect serving to share as it was very generous.

So, if you're looking for friendly staff, good food, and great values, go visit Mark's Midtown Coney Island!

Mark's Midtown Coney Island
Ann Arbor North
3586 Plymouth Rd.
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105

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