Friday, September 30, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Tuptim

A friend and I recently ate a fabulous dinner at Tuptim Thai restaurant. Neither of us had been there in ages, so it seemed a perfect place to go on a Friday evening.

Tuptim means "ruby" in Thai, and the restaurant's owners extend a very warm invitation on the menu with hopes that "you will find our atmosphere as lovely and our food as enticing as that precious gem."

The atmosphere is friendly and very inviting; the exterior is a bright and vibrant red. The staff is also quite gracious, helping to create an ambience conducive to conversation.

But the food is the greatest enticement - I have never eaten anything at Tuptim that I haven't loved.

Our Frugal Floozie Friday feature is the appetizer pictured above: Curry Puffs. Delicate pillows of puff pastry stuffed with a curried potato and pea filling, these are tender and delicious! They're served with a tangy cucumber vinaigrette that isn't absolutely necessary - the puffs are wonderful without it - but which also adds a unique flavor and distinction if used for dipping. They were a perfect fit for the mission, at precisely $5.

We also ordered a Grilled Beef Salad, with tomatoes and cucumbers and a lovely vinaigrette. At $8, it exceeded our Frugal Floozie Friday $5 per person budget if ordered by an individual; and it is admittedly a perfect size for one person's meal. But since we split the salad as part of a several course meal, this also counted as a less-than-$5 per person option. The beef was tender, the vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the dressing was slightly tart, slightly sweet, and an ideal way to bring all of the flavors and textures together.

Our entree went over the budget even when shared; but it was so wonderful that I had to mention it anyway. The Basil Fried Rice with chicken cost $12, was fragrant with a variety of seductive aromas, and was probably the highlight of the entire meal ... quite a statement, given how delicious everything was!

There were several other potential Frugal Floozie Friday options at Tuptim, from spring rolls to fish cakes to dumplings, a vegetable soup with tofu and ginger and vermicelli, as well as a tapioca pudding prepared with coconut milk.

Enjoy some great frugal - but still delicious! - dishes at Tuptim!

4896 Washtenaw
Ann Arbor, MI 48108

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Tuptim Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hot Dog Hotdish for the Minnesota Game

Minnesota is noted for its cold weather and for hardy residents who speak with cute accents. The severe winters don't keep people huddled indoors, though; folks continue to go ice fishing, skating, and socializing.

But after venturing out into the frigidness, a warm meal is warranted. And Minnesotans are famous not just for casseroles, but specifically for what they call "hotdish."

According to Wikipedia:

"Hotdish is a variety of baked casserole that typically contains a starch, a meat or other protein, and a canned and/or frozen vegetable, mixed together with canned soup."

In honor of Saturday's game - Minnesota vs. Michigan - I thought I would pay tribute to this culinary tradition. But I was not going to resort to using the infamous condensed soups.

That is, until I read the following:

"Cream of mushroom soup is so ubiquitous in hotdish that it is often referred to in such recipes as 'Lutheran Binder,' referring to hotdish’s position as a staple of Lutheran church cookbooks. The soup is considered a defining ingredient by some commentators."

And so, I realized that I would be dishonoring the very essence of the hotdish if I tried to make it more sophisticated. It is consummate comfort food, and part of its charm is its hominess and ease of preparation.

So I took as my basis the famous green bean casserole, and added a few tweaks to make it an entree rather than a side dish. It's perfect food for a football game, as it's hearty and substantial and ideal for fall.

Hotdish is so integral to Minnesota culture that Sen. Al Franken even welcomed the state's Congressional delegation to participate in a hotdish competition this past January. The winner did not feature another Minnesota product, the lovely wild rice. It didn't feature venison bratwurst, or any other enobling ingredients. Nope - the winner was Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose Taconite Tater Tot Hot Dish was a combination of ground beef, creamed soups (mushroom and chicken), tater tots, and Pepper Jack cheese.

Hotdish may be lowly, but you know what? Even with its simple ingredients and lack of elegance, it's really, really good! My Hot Dog Hotdish was devoured when I served it, and will be a hit if you serve it for Saturday's game. Jeremy loathes green bean casserole, but he loved this so much that he actually ate more helpings than anyone else!

University of Minnesota at University of Michigan
Saturday, October 1 at 12 p.m. EDT

I was THRILLED to see that this post was found and discussed thoroughly on Serious Eats the other day: "Hotdish Casserole"!!! And I was equally happy to find that everyone had lovely things to say about, and memories of, hotdish ... regardless of whether it's called a casserole or a covered dish or whatever around the country ... :)

Note: Today is the first full day of Rosh Hashanah. My friend Debbie Vanni at The Culinary Cellar very graciously invited me to write a guest post for the holiday. Thank you, Debbie, for the fabulous honor!

So go visit her fabulous site devoted to recipes and cookbooks, and you'll find us celebrating the new year and reviewing the past one while sharing a sweet treat: Apple Almond Kugel. 'Cause it's not a Jewish party without kugel, after all - a traditional creamy noodle pudding with a crunchy, cinnamony topping.

I've baked a lot of kugels over the years, but Jeremy told me that this is "the best one you've ever made!" Pretty high praise ... :)

Shana Tovah!!! [shah-NAH toh-VAH]

May you have a sweet new year!

Hot Dog Hotdish

4 wieners, cut into 1/2" slices
1 10-3/4 ounce can cream of mushroom soup
half of a 10-3/4 ounce can condensed cheddar cheese soup
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup milk
several splashes cayenne pepper sauce
1 pound frozen green beans, defrosted
1 cup fried onions
45 tater tots
4 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded

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

Heat the wieners over medium heat in a medium skillet until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine soups, mustard, salt, milk and pepper sauce. Stir in wieners, green beans and fried onions; pour into the prepared baking dish.

Place the tater tots in rows over the green bean mixture. Bake for 25 minutes.

Place the cheese over the tater tots, and bake for another 25 minutes until the cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbling.

Serves 8.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Apple Almond Kugel for Rosh Hashanah

My friend Debbie Vanni at The Culinary Cellar very graciously invited me to write a guest post for Rosh Hashanah. Thank you, Debbie, for the fabulous honor!

So go visit her fabulous site devoted to recipes and cookbooks, and you'll find us celebrating the new year and reviewing the past one while sharing a sweet treat: Apple Almond Kugel. 'Cause it's not a Jewish party without kugel, after all - a traditional creamy noodle pudding with a crunchy, cinnamony topping.

I've baked a lot of kugels over the years, but Jeremy told me that this is "the best one you've ever made!" Pretty high praise ... :)

Shana Tovah!!! [shah-NAH toh-VAH]

May you have a sweet new year!

Note: Debbie plans to post the recipe tomorrow, for the first full day of Rosh Hashanah. If you must see it now, check it out on ... but still be sure to visit Debbie and say "hi!"

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Saga of the Broken Apple Tart

'Tis the season to pick apples, fa la la la la la la la la. Whether you pick them at an orchard or at a farmers' market or at a grocery store is up to you. But you must pick them!

And while there are lots of cobblers and crisps and applesauce in all of our futures after we pick our apples, I thought I might make something a bit more elegant and also use the tart pan I just found again after moving last month.

I made a Caramel Apple Tart ... sigh.

Of course, I have to admit that my cooking venture with the apples didn't start out as a tart; my original plan was to make dairy-free caramel apples for my co-workers, one of whom has a dairy allergy. But the caramel was too hard, and became too brittle to bite into.

So I smashed the caramel off the apples and melted it with a bit more of the non-dairy milk substitute I'd used in making the original batch. I poured the now-liquid mixture into a greased pan, refrigerated it, and hoped to cut it into soft caramels.

But ... the ingredients separated and the greasy butter substitute rose to the top, coating everything in a layer of slime. It was pretty disgusting! (Remember, just 'cause I write about food doesn't mean that everything I make is a success! We all have our trials, our errors, our experiments, our humiliations ....)

So, then, after venting in frustration as my plans had gone so significantly awry, I still had apples to use up.

Et, voila! An apple tart!

I contributed some caramel sauce and some leftover streusel topping from a different baking project to the cause, and thus was able to clear some items out of my refrigerator while also redeeming my afternoon of kitchen adventures.

And the tart turned out beautifully - gorgeous, with tender apples coated in sweet caramel.

My ego was restored!

That is, until I tried to slice the tart for its photo op. I just didn't have any "mazal" - luck - with my apple ventures on this particular day. Each time I tried to cut a piece, the back crust crumbled or the bottom crust only came up partially from the pan ... oy! Sometimes it's easier to just go to the grocery store!

But once again, I pulled a proverbial trick out of ye olde hat. I simply scooped up the crust, filling and topping and plopped some onto a serving plate. A never-unwelcome scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, and ... voila!

I present to you an elegant French dessert which will now be known as Tarte Cassée de Pomme [tart cah-SAY deh POHM]: Broken Apple Tart.

Broken Apple Tart

1 pie crust, at room temperature
8 apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4" slices
2/3 cup caramel ice cream sauce

1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup cookie crumbs (from Nilla wafers or graham crackers)
1/2 ounce sliced almonds
1/8 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375F.

Place the pie crust into a false-bottomed tart pan (or a pie dish). Press crust into the bottom of the pan and up the sides; use a knife to trim excess dough.

In a large mixing bowl, combine apple slices and caramel sauce; pour into the crust.

In a small bowl, combine all of the streusel ingredients; sprinkle over the apples.

Place the tart pan onto a larger baking sheet because the caramel sauce seeps a bit, and bake for 50 minutes until top is golden and the apples are tender when pierced with a knife.

Let cool to room temperature, then try to serve it in slices. When it won't cooperate, simply scoop it up, place it on a serving dish, and offer it with ice cream or whipped cream ... and no explanations of what its original incarnation was supposed to be!

Makes 8-10 servings.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Peanut Butter Pancakes with Nutella Sauce

Been streamlining, tweaking and redecorating ye olde blog a bit ... an insomniac's version of entertainment in the middle of the night! Hope everyone likes the new decor! It was time for a new look, with the start of a new season and the Jewish New Year beginning on Wednesday evening ... :)

Rosa Parks lived an extraordinary life, and saved many memorable items - everything from gifts given by Martin Luther King, Jr. to her own personal address book - before her death in 2005.

Guernsey's auction house has now been given the responsibility of selling this collection, as a permanent home is sought for the treasures.

On one slip of paper that was found amidst everything - a simple receipt from a Detroit bank - a recipe was found scribbled on the back in Rosa's own handwriting: a recipe for Featherlite Peanut Butter Pancakes.

Well, considering that today is National Pancake Day, it only seemed fitting to put this find to good use!

I did tweak the recipe just a bit, and I turned it into a dessert complete with chocolate sauce ... well, not just chocolate sauce, but rather Nutella sauce. Thus, the pancakes are small instead of plate-sized; they're perfect for a special treat, rich and decadent.

Celebrate the holiday in style!

Peanut Butter Pancakes with Nutella Sauce
(slightly modified from Rosa Parks' original recipe)

1 cup flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup peanut butter
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. In another bowl, whisk the egg and the peanut butter together with a fork; whisk in the milk and the lemon juice, then pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and combine well.

Grease a 10" skillet and pour batter by 1/8-cupfuls into the skillet; cook over medium heat for 2 minutes per side, until the pancakes are golden and the edges don't appear to be raw. Continue until all of the batter is used up.

Nutella Sauce:
1/2 cup Nutella
4 tablespoons half-and-half

Combine the Nutella and the half-and-half; microwave for 45 seconds until warm, and stir until smooth.

Serve pancakes topped with Nutella sauce and whipped cream.

Makes about 20 3" pancakes, serving 6-8.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Tea Haus

A friend and I ate at Tea Haus recently, to support a fundraiser for my friend Michele; she's in Washington, D.C., this weekend participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure 60-mile walk to raise funds for breast cancer research.

As Michele writes on her personal fundraising site, she is walking "in memory of my maternal grandmother and paternal great aunt. I will walk with, and also in honor of, my friend Buff. She has defeated cancer twice, and I sincerely hope she doesn't have to fight that battle again."

It was wonderful of Tea Haus to donate a portion of a day's proceeds to Michele's effort! And what an easy fundraiser to support - a good cause in conjunction with lovely things to eat and drink. There are over 200 teas to choose from, scones, cookies, soup ... you can enjoy a small snack or a full meal, whatever strikes your fancy.

A charming pick-me-up for a chilly fall day would be a cup of hot tea paired with a simple but delicious lavender shortbread cookie. At $2.60 + $1.95, the total for this cozy snack would be $4.55, which falls easily into the less-than-$5 per person Frugal Floozie Friday budget.

But my friend and I didn't just stop at that option! We also ordered the Scone Plate (pictured at the top) for $5.95. This was plenty of food for two people to share as an afternoon snack.

There was one very large blueberry scone, and a freshly-baked biscuit-like scone that was brought to our table separately - and thus missed its photo op - because we'd placed our order just as a new batch went into the oven. The scones were accompanied by lovely fresh lemon curd and clotted cream, as well as orange marmalade (a personal favorite!) and berry preserves. It was quite filling, especially since it was a mid-afternoon treat rather than a lunch or dinner.

If you're merely thirsty, the 20-ounce iced tea was very refreshing and very generous, too. At $3.55, it also falls within the Frugal Floozie Friday limits if you're only in need of a cool drink. I ordered Earl Grey, whose fragrance I just love! But there are so many options that it could almost make a person dizzy to contemplate it all.

Quiet and restorative, Tea Haus offers several truly wonderful frugal options for food and drinks. Make a point of stopping by, and also pay a visit to Michele's fundraising site and support her good cause, too!

Tea Haus
204-206 N. 4th Ave
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Plantain Chip & Black Bean Nachos for the San Diego State Game

Michigan's new coach, Brady Hoke, left San Diego State University this year for the honor of coaching in Ann Arbor and returning The University of Michigan to its former football glory.

And this weekend, Hoke's old team and his new team will be meeting at The Big House.

So, what to serve in honor of this occasion?

Nachos. Perfect game food, whether tailgating or watching with family and friends at home. Some Mexican influence, since San Diego is right at the border. And our opponent's team colors just happen to be yellow, black and scarlet.

So I used golden yellow plantain chips for the base instead of the traditional corn ones; they're lightly crispy and offer a unique and different flavor - almost slightly sour, with a hint of banana-ish familiarity peeking through the saltiness. I used refried black beans instead of pintos, and I tossed in chorizo and some fresh salsa for some vivid redness.

Nachos are easy to make, and always welcome at a football game - try these for a change!

San Diego State University at University of Michigan
Saturday, September 24 at Noon EDT

Plantain Chip & Black Bean Nachos

1/4 pound fresh chorizo
1 small yellow onion, chopped
half of an 8-ounce bag plantain chips
1 14-ounce can refried black beans
4 ounces Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
1/2 cup fresh salsa

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Brown the chorizo in a medium skillet, adding the onion when the sausage is almost done; cook for 3 minutes, just so that the onions aren't too raw.

Place the plantain chips into the bottom of a 9" pie pan. Top with the refried beans, then cover the beans with the chorizo mixture. Sprinkle the cheese over the top, and spread the salsa over the cheese.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and the dish is bubbling a bit.

Serves 4-8, depending upon serving size.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Confetti Pasta

I recently had a meeting to attend after work, followed by errands. I got home late, and hadn't eaten much lunch; I was quite hungry.

I never resort to fast food, and I didn't want to just grab a bowl of cereal. So what could I make that was fast, but also had some semblance of nutrition?

That old favorite standby, pasta. I had a package of chicken- and bacon-stuffed borsetti (little filled pouches) in the freezer, which I'd bought on sale and saved for a time when I'd need a quick meal. Well, here was its moment to shine!

For color, flavor and health benefits, I sauteed some red pepper, green beans and red onion in a butter and balsamic vinegar mixture while the pasta cooked, then combined everything to finish the meal.

And that was it! Within 20 minutes, I had an elegant and delicious meal so festive that it seemed as though confetti had been sprinkled upon it ....

Confetti Pasta

1 9-ounce package fresh stuffed pasta (i.e.: tortellini, ravioli)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup chopped green beans (1/2" dice)
1/3 cup chopped red pepper (1/2" dice)
1/3 cup chopped red onion (1/2" dice)
1 large garlic clove, minced
parmesan, for serving

Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, melt together the oil, vinegar and 1 tablespoon butter. Add the salt, pepper, and vegetables; saute for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until beans are just tender when punctured with a knife. Stir in remaining tablespoon of butter.

Drain pasta, and toss with vegetables. Serve topped with parmesan.

Serves 2 as an entree, 4-6 as a side dish.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Creamy Macaroni & Cheese

Sometimes, a girl just needs some food for her soul.

Long days (and extra days) at work during the busy season, illness in the family, too many deadlines and obligations, a few crises thrown in to keep from getting bored ... it takes a toll. We've all been there. I know everyone is nodding in agreement.

So a dish like macaroni and cheese is precisely what is needed. Warm, rich, gooey, soothing - consummate comfort.

The seasoned bread crumbs add some texture and a boost of flavor; though really, when you're using an entire pound of cheese to make your sauce, you hardly need much more to make a dish great!

While we all have a perverse affection for the mac 'n' cheese in the famous blue box, it's so easy to make a homemade version that there's just no need to resort to dehydrated stuff. Just be sure not to bake this, as that dries it out; the key to its creaminess is to simply immerse the pasta in the sauce and let the two dance happily together without any further intervention.

Creamy Macaroni & Cheese

1 pound penne
4 tablespoons + 3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons unbleached flour
2 cups 2% milk
4 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded
4 ounces mild cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon Mrs. Dash or other seasoning
1/2 cup whole grain crackers, crushed

Prepare penne according to package directions; drain.

In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk and cook until sauce is thickening. Slowly whisk in all of the cheese until sauce is smooth, then whisk in the mustard.

Combine penne and cheese; place into a 9"x13" serving dish.

In a small skillet, melt remaining butter; remove from heat. Add seasoning and cracker crumbs; combine well. Sprinkle crumbs over the macaroni and cheese, and serve immediately.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Soft 'n' Chewy Oatmeal Cookies for Alpha House

Last week, it was my congregation's scheduled shift to support Alpha House, an exceptional organization which offers "temporary shelter, food and support services (to those without homes) in a caring atmosphere of dignity and safety. More than providing just a bed and a roof for families, our goal ... is to support the families in securing and maintaining their own home."

Volunteers from the congregation can be hosts, serving dinner and sharing a meal with the residents; they can stay overnight and be a friendly face and resource if needed in an emergency; or they can provide the entrees, side dishes, salads and desserts that comprise a home-cooked meal for people who've lost their own homes.

Alpha House is one of my very favorite charities, and I'm always happy to contribute to the meals. This time, I was assigned to make a dessert; healthier options are preferred, rather than junk food.

Well, let's just say I compromised between the two extremes! I made cookies, which are hardly considered healthy; and yet, I added oats and dried fruit to them, in order to boost the nutritional value. The raisins, I already had on hand. But the apricots were a lovely marketing gift from Peeled Snacks. (And I also need to thank Tom for delivering the treats while I was at work!)

Whether served at dinner or packed in a lunch if there are leftovers for the next day, I hope these soft, cinnamony treats provide comfort to those who've lost so much and are working so hard to regain stability for their families.

(Click on this link to find ways you can support Alpha House and its residents.)

Soft 'n' Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups flour
1-3/4 cups quick-cook oats
1 1.5-ounce packet instant Maple & Brown Sugar oatmeal

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

lace the raisins and the apricots into a small saucepan and cover with water; bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let rest.

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, shortening, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in the flour, then stir in the oats and oatmeal.

Drain the dried fruit, then add it to the bowl and combine well.

With damp hands, roll ping pong-sized balls of dough and place them 2" apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes until cookies are lightly browned and still slightly soft when pressed in the middle. Continue until all of the batter is used up.

Makes about 48 cookies.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- La Fiesta Mexicana

I had a fabulous dinner recently at La Fiesta Mexicana. My entree didn't fall within the Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 per person; but the dessert I ordered definitely did.

I simply couldn't resist when the charming, friendly waitress suggested flan for dessert, which qualifies perfectly for our mission at only $3.50. The treat appears to be small, but it is so rich and luxuriant that it was a perfect finish to an excellent meal.

Whether it's called crème caramel in France or flan in Spain and Mexico, this is absolutely one of my very favorite foods! It is a custard topped with a thin sweet sauce, but this really oversimplifies things and doesn't make the dessert sound as enticing as it actually is.

Sugar is melted until golden and poured into a baking dish before a milk mixture is added; the pudding is then baked until set. Then the contents are tipped out onto a dish with the caramel sauce slinking down the sides of the custard ... it is absolutely sublime, rich and creamy. La Fiesta Mexicana adds a bit of cornmeal to the custard, thus creating a sturdier but no less seductive dessert.

So head on over to Ypsi for a truly decadent treat for not very much money!

La Fiesta Mexicana

529 W. Cross
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

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La Fiesta Mexicana on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad for the EMU Game

Last week's game against Notre Dame was AMAZING!!! A come-from-behind touchdown with 2 seconds left gave Michigan a 35-31 lead, and Notre Dame had no time or opportunity left. This was a game so big that ESPN's "College Game Day" show was based here in Ann Arbor, the Goodyear blimp was hovering over the stadium, and scalpers were seeking as much as $4000 for some tickets! And we won!

Now, this week, next door neighbor Eastern Michigan University - from just 5 miles down the road - is coming to The Big House on Saturday.

Sadly, this isn't particularly a fair play date: Eastern is a small school from the MAC conference rather than Michigan's Big 10. Eastern also doesn't have a particularly stellar football history, though they did beat Howard University in style in their season opener, 41-9. They're also 2-0 for the first time since 1998 after beating Alabama State last weekend. I'll spare you my rant about these uneven match-ups; I'm just here for the food, after all!

So, what food to offer for a game between Eastern and U of M? And what to serve when the weather 'round here can go from morning temperatures in the 90s to thunderstorms in the afternoon, followed immediately by days of highs in the 60s?

Pasta. Everyone loves it, it's easy to make, it goes with almost everything and is appropriate no matter what the weather is. I even made it green and white to honor Eastern's team colors. A girl's gotta have some fun with feeding the masses for the football games, after all!

Eastern Michigan University at University of Michigan
Saturday, September 17 at 12 p.m. EDT

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

6 asparagus spears, cut into 1" pieces
1 cup green beans, cut into 1" pieces
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
12 ounces green and white rotini
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup jarred pepperoncini, drained, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pesto
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400F. Place the asparagus and beans into a pie pan; toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Roast for 20-25 minutes until tender and slightly caramelized.

Prepare rotini according to package directions; drain and rinse under cold water, then place into a large mixing bowl.

Add the roasted vegetables to the mixing bowl, along with the feta, pepperoncini, oregano, pepper and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Combine the pesto, lemon juice and remaining tablespoon of oil; pour over the salad and toss to coat.

Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Curried Lentil Soup with Tomato

Last week, we went through some sort of time warp. We were thrust without warning from 100-degree days of summer excess to days so chilly and rainy and reminiscent of late fall that we debated turning on our furnaces. (For the record, mine went on almost immediately. I'm always cold anyway, so it only took a brief moment for me to make that decision.)

So I made the leap from sauteeing zucchini and making refreshing peach desserts - utilizing gorgeous end-of-summer bounty - to making standard cold-weather food. I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to make soup.

And so, I offer a recipe for one of my favorites. This comes together so quickly that I made it while I waited for my morning coffee to brew, and was able to bring it to work for lunch. The small orange lentils - rather than the larger brown or green ones - are the key ingredient; they cook down without any pre-soaking. The Numi Organic Toasted Rice tea bags (which I'd received as a gift in order to sample the product) added a subtle flavor to the soup, but they aren't essential if you don't have them.

Nutritious and delicious, this Curried Lentil Soup is supreme comfort food.

And there's even a lovely fresh tomato in it, for color and flavor. It's still officially summer, after all, even if that was hard to remember last week!

Curried Lentil Soup with Tomato

1 tablespoon ghee or butter
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cup small orange lentils
3 cups water
2 Numi Organic Toasted Rice tea bags, optional (a lovely marketing gift!)
1 cup light coconut milk
1 tomato, chopped

Melt the ghee/butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the salt, curry powder, garam masala and red pepper flakes; cook for 1 minute. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the lentils, water and tea bags; cover and bring to a boil, cooking for 5 minutes until the lentils are softening. Add the coconut milk and tomato; cover and simmer for 15 minutes until lentils are tender.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cinnamon Roll Sundae

I recently ate at The Avenue, a family restaurant in Royal Oak (a Detroit suburb), which serves good old-fashioned comfort foods: enormous omelettes and other breakfast staples (with such generous portions that there are often 1 or 2 side dishes to provide all the food!), burgers, sandwiches, pasta dishes. There's a tremendous variety, and everything I've eaten there has been very satisfying.

Although I wasn't hungry by the time I'd finished my meal, I still had to peruse the dessert menu and sigh a bit over it. Pies and ice cream desserts were happily offered; but then I saw something a bit different. It was a sundae, but it wasn't just a standard issue one. There was a base, and then it was topped with the requisite sundae makings.

And what, precisely, formed the base of this intriguing dessert?

A cinnamon roll, slightly warmed so that it would transport anyone nearby with its enticing aroma.

Well, I immediately stated to my dining companions that I would have to replicate this thing of beauty that I didn't even order and was still seduced by. And so, the next day, I did!

I took a purchased cinnamon roll, as I wasn't quite motivated enough for my fix to actually wait for yeast dough to rise for a homemade version. A scoop of French vanilla ice cream, a drizzle of caramel sauce ... and each of these simple ingredients worked in perfect harmony with the others.

This is one of those recipes that is fun and festive, but which also can be thrown together incredibly quickly if you're ever in a bind. Everyone will be so impressed by how fabulous it is that they won't care in the slightest that it only requires 3 ingredients and a brief minute of your time to put it together!

Cinnamon Roll Sundae

1 4" cinnamon roll, slightly warmed in the microwave
1 scoop French vanilla ice cream
1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping
whipped cream, if desired

Place the cinnamon roll on a dessert plate, and top with the ice cream. Drizzle with caramel, and top with whipped cream if desired.


Serves 1, but can easily be multiplied.

Monday, September 12, 2011

National Chocolate Milkshake Day

More apologies to my friends, followers and other fabulous folks who stop by here! First I moved ... oy! And I'm still unpacking, 'cause after moving a loved one in my extended family passed away, immediately followed by a family member being hospitalized and still not doing well. And the Jewish High Holidays begin at the end of the month, so I'm working late and working 6 days/week. No excuses - I'm trying to keep up, trying to stay in touch! Just please don't take it personally if I seem neglectful ... you're all in my heart and in my thoughts, even though I seem to have gone a.w.o.l.!

Thankfully, it's warmed up again after last week's distinctly Fall-like chill. Because today is National Chocolate Milkshake Day, and it's much more fun to enjoy a cool drink on a warm day!

You can make a basic version of this rich, delicious treat by using chocolate ice cream and plain ol' milk; but why not make it a bit more special?

Taking inspiration from the beloved Mounds bar - sweet coconut dipped in dark chocolate - I added coconut milk to my milkshake. After all, it's a fabulous flavor combination in any form!

Whether you glam up your drink or rely upon the old favorite in its beautiful simplicity, be sure to celebrate National Chocolate Milkshake Day somehow!

Chocolate Coconut Milkshake

2 cups chocolate ice cream
3 tablespoons chocolate syrup
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup chocolate milk
whipped cream, for serving

Combine ice cream, syrup and coconut milk in a blender; puree until smooth. Pour into a tall glass, top with whipped cream, and enjoy!

Serves 2.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- \aut\ Bar

On a warm, sunny evening recently, Tom and I enjoyed a lovely dinner on the shaded patio at the \aut\ Bar, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.

We stood for quite some time perusing the menu's numerous options before settling on our choice; better, we determined, to have the staff wait a few moments to seat us than for our poor server to come back to our table multiple times as we tried valiantly to make a decision among so many delicious choices.

Ultimately we decided to split the fabulously flavorful and feisty Italian Roll-Up: Hard salami and spicy Italian cappicola rolled in a large sun-dried tomato tortilla with provolone, pepperoncini pepper, lettuce, tomato, olive relish, and Italian seasonings.

It was a tremendous amount of food for an exceptional value: $7.25, thus less then $4 each - well within the Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 per person. And there are also lots of desserts, appetizers and other sandwiches which would have qualified for our mission, too.

The sandwich was tightly packed with so many colors and sensations! Each meat offered its own blend of spices, the vegetables were crisp and cooling, and the relish offered a salty touch. It was a unique and perfect combination of textures and tastes. The fries were crisp with just the right amount of salt, rather than bland or overly seasoned - an ideal complement to the zesty roll-up.

Our dinner at the \aut\ Bar was a wonderful start to a great evening enjoying the sights, sounds and scenes of downtown Ann Arbor.

\aut\ Bar
315 Braun Ct.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chocolate Guinness Cake for the Notre Dame Game

Well, last week's match-up between the University of Michigan and Western Michigan University was certainly an odd one! Michigan won 34-10, once both teams agreed to end the game in the third quarter after two weather delays and an eventual evacuation of the stadium because of storms and lightning. And this was on a day that had started out with bright sunshine and heat advisories!

But hey, a win is a win! And especially when it turned out that Western - from the MAC conference rather than Michigan's Big 10 - was up for the challenge and even scored first. But the game took a turn for Michigan when we intercepted Western near the end zone (they were on the 7-yard line), and Brandon Herron ran it back 94 yards for a touchdown!!!

And now we're on to a school with which we have a long and exciting history - Notre Dame. According to Wikipedia:

"Michigan football and Notre Dame football are considered to be among the most elite college programs. Michigan and Notre Dame respectively rank #1 and #2 in winning percentage and #1 and #3 in all time wins .... Including the 2010 season game, Michigan leads the overall series 22-15-1; (since 1978) the two teams are 13-13-1."

So, given that the Wolverines are playing the Fighting Irish on Saturday night, I decided to bake a cake using a product that is absolutely quintessentially Irish: Guinness.

But I didn't just use regular ol' Guinness ... uh uh. I used the Foreign Extra Stout, which is "brewed with generous hops and roasted barley for a bittersweet balance & full-flavored, natural bite."

In the bottle, I have to say that the stuff smelled even worse than beer usually does. Out of the bottle, though - and especially with butter melting into it as the first step in making the cake - it smelled like molasses and caramel, and the mixture seemed reminiscent of a hot toddy. The stout flavor isn't noticeable in the final product, but it certainly provides a depth that isn't found in ordinary chocolate cakes.

This unique twist on a basic dessert is fabulously moist and rich and decadent; it makes a perfect treat whether tailgating or watching the game at home with friends and family. It's simple to make, and tastes absolutely divine ... how appropriate when my team is playing one whose home stadium is watched over by Touchdown Jesus!

Notre Dame at Michigan
Saturday, September 10 at 8 p.m. EDT


Chocolate Guinness Cake
(modified from a recipe by Nigella Lawson)

1 cup Guinness Foreign Extra stout
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
confectioners' sugar, for dusting the cake
ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour an 8"x8" baking pan.

In a large saucepan, melt together the Guinness and butter over low heat. Meanwhile, place the cocoa powder and sugar into a large mixing bowl, then whisk in the Guinness mixture once melted.

Add the sour cream and eggs; combine well. Add the flour and baking soda, and whisk until smooth. Pour into the prepared pan, and bake 35-40 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely on a rack, and don't worry if the top of the cake cracks a bit or sinks slightly in the center - that's just its nature, and it still tastes amazing!

Trim 1/4" around the edges of the cake. Cut the cake in half cross-wise, then cut each half into quarters. Place each piece onto a dessert plate, and sift confectioners' sugar over the top.

Makes 8 servings, and is ideal served with ice cream.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Zucchini alla Puttanesca

Zucchini alla Puttanesca is a great dish - hot, fast, saucy and spicy, just like its namesake; "puttanesca" is Italian for, ahem, prostitute.

Just 15 minutes is all you need - 5 for prep, 10 for cooking - and you have an amazingly fragrant and fabulous dish. It can be spooned over rice or pasta, stirred into soup, placed into tortillas, served as a side dish ... the choice is yours.

Tom and I found some of the vegetables we needed for this zesty dish at the Wednesday evening Farmers Market, which offers a wide variety of vendors (farmers, bakers, pizza and tamales) and even live music.

Avalon Housing's Edible Avalon program had a table there, which was absolutely laden with gorgeous produce! Everything had been lovingly tended in a Project Grow garden plot, and was being sold to benefit the non-profit and its residents.

The various area farmers' markets are offering an abundance of beautiful vegetables now, and this dish is an ideal way to put them to good use!

Zucchini alla Puttanesca [ah-lah pooh-tahn-ESS-kah]

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
several splashes of cayenne pepper sauce
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup white wine (I used Flip Flop Wines Riesling, a most generous marketing gift!)
1 fat 8" zucchini, cut into 1/2" cubes
8 Kalamata olives, chopped
1 small tomato, chopped

In a large skillet, heat oil, vinegar, and cayenne pepper sauce over medium heat; add garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, salt and wine; cook, stirring occasionally, until wine is just starting to boil. Add zucchini and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add olives and tomato; cook 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Serves 2-4.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Peach 'n' Pecan Parfaits

It's the end of summer, and there is tremendous bounty at the various farmers' markets - fruits and vegetables abound! Before the cold weather sets in - and sadly, we all know it will - we must relish this opportunity to indulge in fresh produce.

There is little in life as sensual as biting into a juicy peach, fragrant and luscious. But sometimes you just want to glam things up a bit, make them a bit more special or elegant.

And that's precisely what today's recipe is about. These parfaits, featuring gorgeous ripe peaches, showcase the fruit's sweetness but also offer flavors and textures to complement that, as well.

These treats are ridiculously easy to make, yet seem special enough for any occasion ... even just the end of a lovely summer day.

Peach 'n' Pecan Parfaits

4 peaches, pitted, chopped into 1/2" pieces
1 apricot, pitted, chopped into 1/4" pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup white wine (I used Flip Flop Wines Riesling, a most generous marketing gift!)
8 pecan shortbread cookies
whipped cream, for serving

Place the peaches, apricot, sugar and wine into a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring frequently, until the sauce is pink-tinged and thickened. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Crush the cookies - not too fine, but no huge chunks either. Set out two wine glasses. Place 1/4 of the cookie crumbs into the bottom of each glass, and top with 1/4 of the peach mixture in each, spreading carefully. Place half of the remaining cookie crumbs in a layer over the peaches in each glass, then top that with the remaining peaches. Top with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

Serves 2 generously.

Monday, September 5, 2011

National Cheese Pizza Day

Any day is perfect for pizza! And today is an occasion to celebrate the simplest example of this fine food - cheese pizza.

But that doesn't mean we're necessarily resorting to a boring crust with bland tomato sauce and plain ol' mozzarella. Oh, no! Just because it's National Cheese Pizza Day doesn't mean our dinner has to be mundane and dreary, the kind of thing you order for kids who won't eat anything more adventurous than peanut butter and jelly or hot dogs.

Why not vary the crust? A baguette halved lengthwise or a sourdough English muffin would work beautifully, as would a thick slice of an artisan bread featuring, perhaps, rosemary or garlic.

Sauces don't necessarily need to be made with tomatoes. Try pesto, or maybe a lovely tapenade made from beautiful ripe olives.

And cheeses ... well, there are so many varieties of cheese that your only limitations are your imagination, your family's tastes, and your budget. You can enjoy anything from the strongest and smelliest specimens to the most delicate.

So make dinner simple tonight - make the immensely flavorful Two Cheese Pizza below, or even just order out. Make sure you celebrate, though - National Cheese Pizza Day shouldn't be missed!

Two Cheese Pizza for Two

2 6" thick pita breads
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup milk
pinch each of salt and pepper
1/3 cup shredded parmesan
3 ounces crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 400F.

Lay the pita breads onto a baking sheet.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter; whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk, and add the salt and pepper; cook until just thickened. Stir in the parmesan.

Spread the cheese sauce onto the pita breads, almost to the edges. Divide the blue cheese and sprinkle it onto the pita breads.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling.

Serves 2.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Frita Batidos

Tom and I had a lovely date night recently, featuring a treat that he declared to be "the best dessert (he's) had in a very long time."

And where did we find this fabulousness to spotlight in today's
Frugal Floozie Friday feature?

At Frita Batidos, a cheerful and casual Cuban-influenced eatery run by famed chef Eve Aronoff whose late, great restaurant eve was the site of one of my very favorite and most memorable meals.

The small but intensely bright white restaurant was nearly empty when we first arrived, though we watched more than a dozen people stream in and fill the space only a few minutes later. We perused the menu, always a complicated matter with so many enticing dishes from sandwiches to salads to sweets.

But we'd already eaten our dinner and had come prepared for dessert. A batido, perhaps, which is a fruit-based milkshake? Rum-soaked pineapple? The highly recommended cinnamon-sugar plantains that Tom had eaten on a previous visit to Frita's?

Nope. All were excellent possibilities, but there was a clear winner among the choices: a churro sundae - fried pastry strips paired with rich ice cream for dunking.

Now, these were not just some plain ol' doughnuts - ha! The churros were still warm from the fryer, fragrant with a generous coating of cinnamon sugar and infused with the scent of orange. They were crisp upon first biting in, followed by a spongy interior cooked to airy perfection. The ice cream was a lovely complement, rich and creamy and perfect to dip the churros in, but the pastries were clearly the star of this show.

At $7, this amazingly luscious dessert clearly falls within the mandatory $5 per person Frugal Floozie Friday budget because the portion is so generous that it would be impossible to finish it without a loved one to share it with. You could really economize and share it among a group of four, but I don't recommend this strategy; then you'd only get one churro per person, and they're too fabulous to settle for such a measly portion!

Frita Batidos
117 W. Washington
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Beer 'n' Cheese Bread for the Football Season Opener

It's football season here in Ann Arbor!

For several years, we've only experienced the desperation of disappointment as the University of Michigan's first game approached. But now, with new coach Brady Hoke, something unfamiliar and exciting is floating in the air: hope.

And hope is a fabulous thing to have, especially when you've got a football tradition as stellar as U of M's! We have expectations of greatness, and once again a feeling that we can have fun watching our team play.

In honor of both the team we're starting our season with - Western Michigan University - and the great city of Kalamazoo that is home to Western, I decided to offer a themed recipe for this weekend's football game: a beer-based quick bread featuring Amber Ale from Kazoo's own Bell's Brewery.

Bell's was founded in 1985, and continually strives to "brew thoughtfully, creatively and artistically."

"Founded by Larry Bell as a home-brewing supply shop in 1983, Bell's Brewery, Inc. sold its first beer in September 1985 .... After struggling several years to produce and sell robust, full-bodied ales against a tide of a mass-market domestic beer, Bell's began to see the demand for craft beer grow dramatically and expanded into new markets. Bell's currently sells beer across an eighteen-state area through a network of over fifty quality wholesalers."

I have to publicly thank Rod, at Plum Market, for his help in picking a beer for this project. I don't drink beer, though it's a fabulous cooking ingredient, so I know virtually nothing about it; but Rod was exceptionally knowledgeable about the assorted specialty beers, and was able to guide me to the perfect option: Amber Ale.

"Amber Ale deftly balances a mixture of toasted grain & light caramel notes with a range of floral, citrus and herbal hop notes, capped by a clean bitterness. This balance of flavors makes Amber Ale quite versatile as a food pairing option, not to mention being rather tasty in its own right. Whether serving as a jumping point to other styles or as a familiar standby, Amber Ale is central to the Bell’s portfolio."

This beer brought a depth to the bread that was an ideal complement to the cheese. Other choices, such as a stout, would have been too strong and too heavy. This beer 'n' cheese bread has hints of sweetness, a twinge of spice, some saltiness ... an entire range of flavors.

So whether you're tailgating at The Big House (so named because it seats over 110,000 fans) or watching at home with family and friends, celebrate the season opener with a bread that also celebrates our fabulous state of Michigan! It's a perfect accompaniment to bratwurst, to chili, to salads ... virtually anything you might be serving to hungry fans.

Western Michigan University at University of Michigan
Saturday, September 3 at 3:30 p.m. EDT


Beer 'n' Cheese Bread
(based upon a recipe from Cooking Light)

3 tablespoons butter
1 small red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 12-ounce bottle Bell's Amber Ale
8 ounces Colby cheese, shredded

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

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat; add the onion, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes, and cook just until the butter is bubbling and the onions are translucent.

Place the onions into a large mixing bowl, and add the flours and baking powder. Slowly stir in the beer, in increments.

Stir in 3/4 of the cheese, then spread the batter in the prepared pan. Top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting into squares or slices.

The number of servings will depend upon whether it's served in squares or slices, and how generous each is.

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