Monday, October 31, 2011

Hallowe'en Treats for the Grown-Ups

We've all done it - we've all raided our kids' candy stashes after they've gone trick-or-treating for Hallowe'en. We'd hang our heads in shame, but we're actually performing a mitzvah ("good deed") by saving our precious children's teeth from extra sugar and premature rotting. Be proud of your efforts! You've done well!

But, quite frankly, you can do better ... better than the sickly sweet mass-produced candies that are handed out, that is. (Don't even get me started on the party poopers who nobly give those little mini boxes of raisins; that is not an option!)

I'm here to tell you that you don't have to steal from your kids, because you can have luscious chocolates of your very own. And the kids can't have any of these, because of the alcohol used for flavoring. They're all yours!

While traditional chocolate truffles are rolled in cocoa powder, the confectioners' sugar gives these a bit of a ghostly aura. A few Hallowe'en-themed sprinkles tossed into the coating just makes the candies a bit more fun.

Hallowe'en is a festival of sugar and frivolity. There's no reason adults can't celebrate along with their children, but with a treat that's a bit more sophisticated than what the kiddies will be hauling home from their rounds.

And after the chaos of getting the kids' costumes ready, schlepping them around the neighborhood, and then trying to get them to bed despite the sugar high, don't you deserve a reward when it's all over???

More Hallowe'en Ideas:

Jack-o'-Lantern Pizza
Hallowe'en Dipped Marshmallows
Sweet 'n' Salty Caramel Corn Mix
Jack-o'-Lantern Cheeseburgers

Chocolate Truffles

(With many, many thanks to my friend Doris, who's recently moved to California but who left me with some priceless food-related gifts - including the cherry cordial - to remember her by whenever I cook with the lovely items ....)

1 cup chocolate chips
3 tablespoons whipping cream
2 tablespoons cherry cordial (or other flavoring)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon seasonal sprinkles
12 paper candy cups, optional

Melt the chocolate, whipping cream, cordial and butter together in a small saucepan; whisk until smooth. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap against the chocolate; chill until firm, 2 hours.

Combine the confectioners' sugar and the sprinkles in a small bowl. Using a 1" scoop, scoop balls of chocolate. Roll each ball into the confectioners' sugar mix until lightly coated, then place into paper candy cups. Refrigerate, then let the truffles sit at room temperature for 5 minutes to take the chill off before serving.

Makes 12 truffles.

Note: The cherry cordial is a lovely complement to the chocolate, but you could also use Kahlua or rum or even non-alcoholic options like coffee or the juice from a jar of maraschino cherries.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Great Plains Burger

After running some errands on a chaotic afternoon, Jeremy and I were in need of sustenance. We were hungry, and we were a bit frustrated after not accomplishing everything we'd hoped to. So we sought the comfort of a great burger with all the fixin's. We went to today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature - Great Plains Burger.

For $4.89 - perfectly within our mandatory $5 per person budget - you can get a single burger with either a beef, turkey or black bean patty. (Carnivores that we are, Jeremy and I both chose beef.) But then there are the freebies: mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, Thousand Island dressing, BBQ sauce, steak sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, green olives, jalapenos, grilled onions, and sauteed mushrooms. For less than $5, you can have quite a feast!

I piled on the toppings, maximizing the value for my frugal meal. The patties are hand-formed, the vegetables are all fresh and crisp, and the burgers are made only when ordered rather than loitering under lamps for awhile. Messy, flavorful and abundant ... this was a great burger!

Great Plains Burger also serves milkshakes and fries that fall within our Frugal Floozie Friday limits. The fries are hot and crisp and perfectly cooked, and the shakes are unbelievably rich and creamy, featuring local favorite Guernsey ice cream.

So for a quick and hearty meal that doesn't cost a lot of money, Great Plains Burger is absolutely a fabulous choice!

Great Plains Burger
1771 Plymouth Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Indiana Cream Pie for the Purdue Game

Hoosier Pie, Cream Pie, Sugar Pie ... whatever you call it, it's still the same sweet, luscious treat. A rose, as they say, by any other name ....

Since Michigan is playing Purdue this weekend, it was only fitting to make a traditional treat from the state of Indiana. Pie needs no occasion - it's always welcome. But it's a great thing to serve while tailgating or even just watching the game at home.

This recipe is going to seem ridiculously ordinary; trust me, it is rich and luscious, utterly decadent. That it's so easy to make with such simple ingredients only adds to its charm.

Because the pie is kinda beige, I spiffed it up a bit by decorating the crust with colored "leaves" made of leftover dough (instructions below). But this is completely unecessary; the pie is perfectly capable of shining with its flavor alone.

Purdue at Michigan (Homecoming)
Saturday, October 29 at 12 p.m.

Indiana Cream Pie
(slightly modified from Marcia Adams' recipe for Velvet Custard Pie in Cooking from Quilt Country)

1 9" pie crust
1-3/4 cups half-and-half
3/4 cup skim milk
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350F. Place the pie crust into a pan. With a knife, trim the excess dough.

In a medium saucepan, bring the half-and-half and milk just to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt. Slowly whisk in the milk, then pour the custard into the prepared pie crust. Sprinkle top of pie with just a pinch of nutmeg.

Bake for 45 minutes until the pie just wiggles slightly when jostled gently. Let cool completely, then refrigerate.

To decorate pie crust:

Roll out trimmings from the pie crust, not too thin. Cut 1-1/2" leaf shapes, then use the knife to make markings upon each one.

Combine 1 drop of food coloring with 1 tablespoon of water; use this to paint the leaves.

Rub a bit of corn syrup onto the pie crust, then lay the leaves onto it in a decorative pattern.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hillary Clinton's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

In 1992, Hillary Rodham Clinton caused quite the stir by making the following statement:

"I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life."

Well, I was one of those cookie-baking stay-at-home moms who took significant offense to her seeming dismissal of our work as less than important and a waste of her time. But over the years, my annoyance has been tempered ... somewhat. In fact, it's dissipated to the point that I am here to acknowledge Hillary's birthday today by baking a batch of cookies from her own family recipe.

After this incident, Family Circle magazine leapt into the cookie-baking fray by sponsoring a recipe contest between the spouses of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates each election year. Each woman - 'cause they're always women - provides a recipe for cookies, and readers theoretically bake a batch of each to compare them before voting ... yeah. Even with regard to cookies, you know folks are still voting along party lines!

Hillary rose to the challenge that she'd instigated by offering a recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, which competed with Barbara Bush's family favorite of plain ol' chocolate chip cookies. Margot Perot, Ross' wife, had been invited to compete too, but did not toss her spatula into the kitchen.

These cookies, I have to say, are really very good - they deserved their win! They rise nicely instead of spreading, they're tender, and they've got a really good flavor, which surprised me. I followed the recipe exactly, rather than using butter or cinnamon or nuts which I would normally have added to compensate for the Crisco.

I have to say that while I've never voted for her, I would definitely vote for Hillary's cookies if given the chance.

Hillary Rodham Clinton's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheets.

2. Combine flour, salt and baking soda on waxed paper.

3. Beat together shortening, sugars and vanilla in large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs, beating until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour mixture and rolled oats. Stir in chocolate chips.

4. Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Grandpuppy Treats

I'm old enough to be a grandmother (God help me!), but Jeremy is only 20; therefore, he is not old enough to be a father yet. He is, however, the proud "dad" of a 3-month old Jack Russell terrier named Poochiee ... I am bubbe to a new grandpuppy!

Poochie is so cute, and quite the "chick magnet". He's sweet, he's friendly, he's playful, he isn't yappy, he likes to grab hold of Jeremy's pant legs and wrestle with them ferociously, he runs back and forth and forth and back. Oy, he can be exhausting!

But I love him anyway, as he's just doing what puppies do.

As we all know, I like to feed people. I like to feed critters, too. We've never - and I do mean never - had an animal (from guinea pigs to cats to hamsters to dogs) that didn't gain weight in my household. That's just the way things are.

So, of course, I had to bake treats for my new grandpuppy! And these are very easy to make, with no specialized ingredients; they could actually be "people food," if anyone were inclined to try them.

The grandpuppy adores these, and devoured three of them as soon as they were cool enough to eat. He knows how to wiggle his way into Bubbe's heart!

Beefy Peanut Butter Doggie Treats

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons cornmeal
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup beef broth
1 large egg
2 tablespoons peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, and salt. In a measuring cup, combine broth and egg; pour over dry ingredients, add peanut butter, and stir to combine everything.

Form 3/4" balls of dough and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Using a fork, press down to flatten the cookies a bit. Bake for 25-30 minutes until very firm, then let cool completely.

Makes 28 treats.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gorgonzola Polenta with Spicy Vegetables

This is a ridiculously easy dish to make, and very fast to prepare when there's not a lot of time to make dinner. It's rich, sophisticated and nutritious ... what a great reward at the end of a long day at work!

Polenta is actually supposed to be cooked slowly, like risotto; but this faster version is still great, especially with the Gorgonzola stirred into it to make it even creamier.

Bright both in color and in flavor, this is a great meal to serve to take the chill off an Autumn evening.

Gorgonzola Polenta with Spicy Vegetables

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups chopped broccoli
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon pesto

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic and red pepper flakes until the onion is translucent. Add the broccoli and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Stir together the tomatoes, salt and pesto; pour over the broccoli and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal
2 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola

Meanwhile, bring the water and the salt to a boil. Turn the heat to low and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Stir constantly until thickened and creamy, then remove from heat and stir in the Gorgonzola.

To serve: place 1 cup of polenta onto a serving dish, and top with one-quarter of the vegetables. Sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired.

Serves 4.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Sabor Latino

My BFF, Wendy, and I went out to dinner on a cold, dreary, rainy evening recently. We had planned to perform Tashlich ([tahsh-LEEK]: a symbolic casting off of sins represented by tossing bread crumbs into a river at the Jewish new year), but it was postponed because of the muddy conditions near the Huron River.

Have no fear - we went to the Detroit River a few days later to cleanse our souls and affirm efforts to strive for "the highest light" (as the Indigo Girls sing in "Galileo").

But since our spiritual plans had been thwarted, we took care of nourishing our bodies instead. We headed to Sabor Latino, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature that offers excellent Latin American food.

Wendy ordered the Empanadas Argentinas (pictured above): "Two Argentine style turnovers stuffed with ground beef, raisins, green olives, peppers and onions." These were served with a vibrantly colored and flavored chimichurri sauce on the side, which was so good it would have been ideal served with almost anything! The empanadas cost a mere $4.25 - well within our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 per person.

I chose a tostada topped with chorizo, which cost only $4.55. The fried tortilla was crisp, and loaded with all the fresh and delicious goodies one would expect: lettuce, onions, beans, tomato, cheese, avocado and sour cream. It was very good, and our waitress told us that it's one of her favorite menu items; she was sufficiently tempted by my order to even consider eating one during her break that evening.

In addition to the items we chose, Wendy and I also shared a basket of excellent chips and fresh salsa to round out our meal. And despite lingering as we chatted about life and love and loss, we were warmly welcomed to stay as long as we wanted to.

Sabor Latino offered us excellent food and a haven from the dreary weather, and I recommend it as a great Frugal Floozie Friday option!

Sabor Latino
211 N. Main Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Raspberry Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

There are a lot of ways to use up stale bread: turkey stuffing, Panzanella, feeding it to birds and squirrels (because, of course, if you feed it to the former you inevitably also share it with the latter!).

But truly, without exaggeration, I have to tell you that this pudding recipe I'm sharing with you today is probably the best re-purposing of stale bread that you will find.

It's sweet, but not too sugary. It's substantial, but not heavy. It's rich, but not obscenely so. And since the custard that the bread soaks in is flavored with instant cocoa, you can even vary the flavor of the pudding to suit your whims.

This is a perfect dessert to serve on a chilly Fall evening.

Raspberry Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

3 large eggs
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1-1/4 ounce packet Chocolate and Raspberry Instant Cocoa
1/8 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups half-and-half
6 cups of cubed challah (1" cubes)
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 10" round baking dish.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, confectioners' sugar, cocoa, sugar, and half-and-half. Stir in the bread cubes, and let soak in the custard for 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish, and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. Bake for 45 minutes until pudding is puffed and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 10-12 servings, and is ideal with either ice cream or whipped cream.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pepper-Onion Dip for the World Series

I adore baseball - anyone who knows me can vouch for this.

So even though I don't watch television (no "Dancing with the Stars", no "Mad Men," nothing), having access to t.v. is critical at this time of year. Having just moved into a place with no t.v. - either the physical entity or the service to provide the shows - I had to do something about this void.

I couldn't spend each afternoon or evening of the playoffs loitering in restaurants and bars just to watch the games. And I could hardly impose upon friends for a month's worth of watching all the various rounds, either. I had to act. I had to get a television and a satellite dish ... and so I did.

So I got to watch my Yankees lose in the first round, I'm sorry to say. But they lost to the Tigers, and I've lived in Michigan for more than 30 years, so that was absolutely okay. The success means more to Detroit. New Yorkers are complacent and - shall we politely say? - arrogant, expecting their team to simply take it all. (Not Mets fans, of course, but ...!)

The Tigers, unfortunately, didn't make it to the World Series, which begins tonight. But the game will still be on at my house, more than likely, even though I could not possibly care any less about the two teams that have earned the honors. It's baseball, and a long drought awaits me 'til Spring Training. And it's mandatory to enjoy snacks while watching, especially when none of my chosen teams are playing; there has to be some consolation!

So today I'm offering an all-purpose chip dip recipe, which is appropriate for any occasion. With its red, yellow and orange peppers, it's not only flavorful but it features beautiful seasonal colors, too - perfect for the Fall Classic!

Pepper-Onion Dip

1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup finely diced red pepper
1/4 cup finely diced orange pepper
1/4 cup finely diced yellow pepper
1 small onion, finely diced
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the peppers and onion; cook for 5 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low, add salt and pepper, and cook the vegetables for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and lightly caramelized.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sour cream and mustard. Stir in the vegetables, cover, and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors develop.

Makes 1-1/2 cups dip.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cranberry Bran Muffins with Orange Marmalade Butter

Sunday mornings, in my opinion, are an ideal time to bake.

And usually I find I want to bake something breakfast-y, since I actually have the luxury of time to loiter in my jammies without having to rush anywhere. I can sip a second cup of coffee, and then enjoy a warm, freshly baked treat along with it.

These muffins are full of nutritious whole grains, but don't present themselves as being terribly virtuous. Moist and delicious, they are exceptional at any time of day but ideal for a lazy weekend morning.

The sweet-tartness of the marmalade butter offers brightness in both color and flavor ... a perfect complement to a weekend treat.

Cranberry Bran Muffins with Orange Marmalade Butter


1 cup bran flakes
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup oil
1 large egg
1/3 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a muffin tin with 8 paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine the bran flakes and buttermilk; let soak for 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and brown sugar. Combine the honey, oil and eggs; stir into the dry ingredients. Stir in the cranberries.

Divide the batter among the paper liners, and bake for 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool on a rack.

1/4 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 tablespoons orange marmalade

Combine the butter and the marmalade. Serve along with the muffins.

Makes 8 muffins and 1/4 cup butter.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Grub Crawl

Grub Crawl. These are two of my new favorite words, which go beautifully with the very best word in the English language: happify (to make happy).

I have to thank 7 fabulous eateries in Ypsilanti - Corner Brewery, Harvest Kitchen, Aubree's, Cafe Ollie, Sidetrack, Ypsilanti Food Co-op and Haab's - for the immensely wonderful quantities of both food and fun I enjoyed on October 5 when each place was offering hospitality at the very first area Grub Crawl. The event was sponsored by the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber, and I have to commend everyone involved for friendliness, organization, and even perfectly sunny and balmy Indian summer weather. Everything about the evening was ideal!

Now, what is a Grub Crawl, you ask? Why, a food lovers' equivalent to a pub crawl! Buy a ticket, get it stamped at each of the participating locations, and enjoy portions of the eateries' very best goodies all evening long. This is a Food Floozie's dream come true!

I rounded up Jeremy and his dad, my ex-husband Stuart, for the evening's entertainment. Not only are they endlessly amusing when they're behaving themselves (though extremely trying when they act like competitive siblings), but they're also two of the best eaters I know. A grub crawl isn't the sort of event to bring a picky or a restrained person to, after all.

So we began our adventure by walking to the Corner Brewery. We were greeted very warmly, and invited to sample either a beer or some butterscotch pumpkin pudding. I don't drink beer and the boys don't drink at all (Jeremy won't be legal 'til January anyway), so this was an easy choice: pudding all around. It was lusciously thick, rich, and slightly spiced with a hint of the butterscotch shining through. I am never averse to starting dinner with dessert, so we were all happy after our first stop and ready to move on through town to the next place.

We wandered on over to Harvest Kitchen, a subscription meal service offering wholesome, organic meals prepared with locally sourced ingredients. The appetizer offering here was an eggplant egg roll; then there was a choice of pepper steak, Italian wedding soup or bacon macaroni and cheese to accompany it. Jeremy and I leapt at the pasta, while Stuart - still following the low-carb Atkins protocol, but not with 100% rigidity - chose the steak. The egg rolls were a huge hit: "This egg roll is fantastic! I can't even taste the eggplant!" (from Jeremy), and "I think that was the best egg roll I've ever eaten" (from Stuart). The mac 'n' cheese was creamy, smoky, rich and delicious. We were happy campers, indeed.

Our next stop was Aubree's, where each Grub Crawler could sample a slice of either cheese or pepperoni pizza as well as a cheesy breadstick. The pizza was fresh from the oven, gooey, and perfectly foldable for this native New Yorker who still eats her slice the way she did while growing up in the city. The breadsticks were almost like pizza themselves, but without the sauce - doughy, chewy, generously covered with cheese. The portions were full-sized, not just samples. This one could have been dinner all by itself!

Our next stop was Cafe Ollie, which offered an entire smorgasbord of treats: spicy red pepper hummus with garlic toast, 5-cheese macaroni and cheese, coffee roasted almost-locally in Wyandotte, and ice cream from nearby Guernsey Farms Dairy ... oh, my! The hummus was thick and vibrantly flavored, and the garlic toast was a perfect accompaniment. The coffee was excellent, and the mac 'n' cheese - topped with crushed potato chips, no less! - was exceptionally creamy and delicious. The ice cream was a perfect closer. Stuart ordered Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, which he liked very much. I chose Choco Malt Chip, which was sublime. And Jeremy picked McGuire's Irish Mint, a chocolate-mint option, which he pronounced to be the very best sample of this variety that he's ever eaten.

Now, I had known going into this that I was going to have to engage in some serious portion control no matter how good the food was. I only tasted my samplings with a bite or two (well, sometimes three!), hoping to get through my tour of the eateries without feeling as though I might explode. My hearty and hardy companions, though, ravenously devoured what I didn't finish because everything was so wonderful. I warned them to be careful, but ....

At this point, we were starting to feel the effects of our multi-course meal. We were not complaining, oh no! We fully intended to see this adventure through to the end and to taste every tantalizing tidbit offered to us. But we were going to have to be a bit more restrained, a bit less voracious and enthusiastic.

But then we got to the Sidetrack. Oh, my word! We were graciously greeted by owner Linda French. When I introduced myself and told her that I'd written about how much I'd enjoyed the monthly "Opera on Tap" extravaganza and the exceptional carrot cake (prepared by the amazing pastry chef Bryant Stuckey of Decadent Delight), she gave me a big hug and welcomed my little family as though we were a part of her own.

There were 3 different beer samples being offered at one end of the bar, with rich and spicy tastes of pumpkin pie waiting at the other end. But the grand attraction was the buffet table in the center of the room, hosted by Linda's daughter Jessica and by long-time master chef Walter Love. There we found yet another variety of macaroni and cheese, this one also very rich and featuring thick slices of kielbasa. Next to it was cheeseburger soup, hearty with ground beef and creamy with lots of cheese in the base; it was our unanimous favorite.

Then there was tender Yankee pot roast served atop perfectly lumpy - so you know they're real! - mashed redskin potatoes. And the final offering was barbecued pork sliders that Jeremy declared to be better than my own famous-among-friends shredded pork. Rather than one single taste, we were informed as soon as we arrived that we could eat as much as we wanted to - seconds, thirds, whatever. The boys had seconds on one or two items, but I couldn't finish everything although I tried each item and enjoyed it all immensely. I can eat more than most people think a skinny girl can, but this was quite a test of my abilities!

We walked (waddled?) across the street to the Ypsilanti Food Co-op for eatery #6 of the 7 on our list. Since this is primarily a grocery store that offers some prepared foods, I wasn't quite sure what to expect; so I was delighted to find a buffet table laden with gorgeous, nutritious items! There was a roasted root vegetable salad of vibrant orange and green that featured a dressing with a subtle hint of cumin. Excellent roll-up sandwiches were filled with spicked chickpeas. A vegan walnut spread was a great complement to the crisp-crusted whole grain bread baked by the River Street Bakery next door. The pumpkin bread was a very nice accompaniment to everything; however the orange-glazed gingerbread was so stellar - moist, spicy, and with a perfect citrus glaze - that it easily won my heart. There were also crispy sweet potato and quinoa fritters topped with a brightly flavored yogurt-cilantro sauce. It was truly a feast!

Finally, we took the trolley that was so conveniently offered to help transport Grub Crawlers from site to site. It was provided by Golden Limousine International for those who chose not to walk either because of distance or because of feeling sluggish from their gleeful ingestion of goodies. The boys fell into both categories, as our final destination was a bit further away than the cluster of the other restaurants (four of which were in the same block, with another across the street). I would have preferred to walk off some of the overload of calories I was happily fortifying myself with, but I kept Stuart and Jeremy company for the ride on the quaint and charming trolley.

Although it's an institution, I have to admit that I had never eaten at Haab's before ... and that's quite a shame. I can't explain it, I've just never had occasion to go there; but that has now been rectified, and happily so. From the very flavorful black bean burger with a spicy chiptle sauce to the crispy fresh salmon cake, the food was very good. The zesty gazpacho was full of vegetables; and the butternut squash soup - which is only available from September 1 through January 1, because it is made with Michigan produce in the prime of its season - was so rich and creamy that I had thought there might be cheese in it. (There isn't.) The cream cheese apple blondie was sweet and spicy, and a lovely way to end both the tasting and the evening.

The Grub Crawl was so much fun! I highly recommend enjoying treats and meals at each of the participating restaurants; they offered such exceptional fare and so proudly represented Ypsilanti at this fabulous event.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- The Ugly Mug

On a blustery day recently, I dropped Jeremy off at an appointment. I could have parked myself in the waiting room for an hour-and-a-half, but that seemed pretty dreary. So I took myself out for a treat at The Ugly Mug, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.

It was warm and cozy inside, and very welcoming. It was also kitschy and quirky, so I felt right at home immediately! I perused the numerous options, from bagels to coffee to desserts, but settled pretty quickly on one of my favorite treats: hot Caramel Apple Cider. And who was I to deny myself a scone to accompany my beverage? It was a Friday afternoon, I'd worked hard all week ... I deserved it.

My truly delicious, perfectly satisfying treat cost exactly $4 ($3 for a small cider, $1 for the scone), making it an ideal Frugal Floozie Friday option within our mandatory $5 budget. The change from my $5 bill was placed into the tip jar.

When my drink was ready, I was asked if I wanted whipped cream on top of it. I can't even begin to imagine refusing such an offer, but the kind gentleman who gave me a very generous portion of cream said people actually do so ... wow!

I gathered up some newspapers and took a little while to read and decompress while enjoying my afternoon snack. Warm, sweet, fragrant cider, a freshly baked crumbly scone ... I was transported from the stress of the previous hours, days, weeks and able to relax happily.

The Ugly Mug has lovely treats, a welcoming atmosphere, and offers many potential Frugal Floozie Friday goodies. I highly recommend it!

The Ugly Mug
317 W. Cross
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Greek Spinach Dip for the Michigan-Michigan State Game

I'm a proud graduate of the University of Michigan; my ex-husband, Stuart, attended medical school at Michigan State University. Needless to say, the intra-state rivalry has always been a lot of fun for us! When Stuart and I were married, we hosted a party each year in honor of the big Michigan-Michigan State football game.

After we met, Stuart used to follow me around, offering to take me to the game. It didn't happen that year, 'cause the tickets are extremely popular and hard to come by ... and expensive.

Stuart did get tickets for the game in 1990, when we were expecting Jeremy. I had to buy a large sweatshirt to wear to the game, to go over the "baby bump". We still consider it Jeremy's first Michigan-Michigan State game, even if he didn't get to see anything that time.

So, what to serve this year in honor of the game? My family's traditions have changed, as has the family unit itself; but the need for appropriate food for this important occasion remains a constant.

Michigan State's mascot is a Spartan, named for the famous warriors of the ancient Greek city of Sparta. So it only made sense to make a spinach dip - which would feature MSU's team colors of green and white - and to give it a Greek flair with oregano and lemon and feta.

This is gooey and rich, with a vibrant lemon flavor that is distinctive and shines through. And if you serve it with maize- and blue-colored chips, you've got Michigan's team colors invited to the party, as well!

Greek Spinach Dip

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
5 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 lemon
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
8 ounces mozzarella, shredded
5 ounces feta, divided
chips or crackers, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a flat 3-cup baking dish.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, salt, pepper and oregano; saute until the vegetables are translucent. Add the spinach; saute until wilted.

Zest the lemon, then juice it. Add the zest and juice to the spinach, then place the spinach mixture into a large mixing bowl.

Stir the yogurt, mozzarella, and 4 ounces of the feta into the spinach mixture; place the spinach into the prepared baking dish, then top with the remaining feta.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is starting to brown and the dip is bubbling. Serve hot, with chips or crackers.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Harvest Stew

I love my crockpots! I only have two now - Mama Bear and Baby Bear, as I call them. I gave the enormous Papa Bear one away to someone in need. But the ones I have left are perfect for making dinner and for keeping dips warm, respectively.

It takes almost no effort to put together the ingredients when using a crockpot, and then to let your dinner simmer away - without the need for monitoring - so that it can be ready for your return home after a long day.

This stew is a perfect way to eat something warm and nutritious on a chilly Fall day while also celebrating the bounty of the harvest; it's a stellar example of seasonal cuisine, featuring pumpkin, sweet potato and apple cider.

This hearty dish is vegan - yes, vegan! - if you use the soy chorizo noted in the recipe; carnivores are welcome to substitute a spicier treyf ([TRAYF] = not kosher) pork variety of the sausage, though.

Either way, it's a great meal to come home to. The house smells amazing, and your dinner will warm your soul.

Harvest Stew

2 tablespoons oil
1 12-ounce package Trader Joe's soy chorizo
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 cup corn
1 15-ounce can pureed pumpkin
1 sweet potato, peeled, cut into 3/4" dice
1 15-ounce hot chili beans, undrained
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons coriander
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 cup Uncle Ben's Whole Grain Brown and Wild Rice Medley
1 32-ounce container Imagine creamy sweet potato soup
1/2 cup apple cider
generous splashes of cayenne pepper sauce

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat; add the chorizo and saute for 5 minutes; place in a 6-8 quart crockpot.

In the same skillet, saute the onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and seasoned salt until the vegetables are softened; add to the crockpot.

Add the corn to the same skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is lightly toasted and some of the kernels are golden; add to the crockpot.

Add the remaining ingredients to the crockpot. Cook on "low" for at least 8-10 hours, and serve hot.

Makes 10-12 servings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mini Peanut Butter Milkshakes

I grew up eating peanut butter virtually every day of my life. PB&J was always the sandwich du jour. As I got older, though, I expanded my horizons; now I rebel almost ferociously against tedium and monotony in my diet.

So after going through a long period of sharing peanut butter toast far too often with someone who eats it every morning (every single morning for the past 3 decades, no less), last year I got to the point where I simply couldn't stand the sight, smell or taste of it anymore - neither the toast nor the peanut butter. Toast - meh, I can live without it. Peanut butter, though??? I had to find a way to reclaim it. I haven't eaten it for more than a year now ... something must be done about this!

Ironically, awhile ago my recipe for Thai-Style Peanut Noodles with Cucumber was a finalist in a contest sponsored by the Southern Peanut Growers' Association. And what, pray tell, was my exciting prize??? Why, a year's supply of peanut butter, of course - 12 jars of the stuff! As Depeche Mode sings in "Blasphemous Rumours": "I think that God's got a sick sense of humour ...."

So I gave jars to Jeremy and to friends. I kept two for myself, because peanut butter does still make a fabulous ingredient for cupcakes, cookies ... and now milkshakes.

Slowly but surely, I am trying to ease myself back into eating peanut butter. I'm making mostly sweet treats with it, but also an occasional savory one. At some point, I hope to be able to schmear some on a piece of bread or on an apple and eat it straight.

Until then, though, a rich, lusciously decadent milkshake is a great way to reacquaint myself with the fabulous flavor of peanut butter. But these are so intense that they need to be offered in mini servings rather than as a full shake. They make adorable desserts!

Mini Peanut Butter Milkshakes

2 cups vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup skim milk
whipped cream

Place all ingredients in a blender and whiz them together until smooth. Pour into small glasses, top with whipped cream, and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Parmesan Puffs

I had prepared a simple chicken and rice soup one morning, which would have all day to linger in the refrigerator developing flavor while I worked and then be ready for reheating at the end of a long day. And then I found out I'd be having company for dinner, with little time to make anything more glamorous to substitute for the soup.

What to do, what to do?

Serve the soup anyway. And offer some tantalizing tidbits to go with it, to make the meal seem more special.

These Parmesan Puffs take just half-an-hour from start to finish. Boil a little bit of milk and butter together, then stir in some flour, eggs and cheese. Bake dollops of the dough, and that's it!

They're rich and delicious, and people will devour them - you might not even need to serve the soup alongside them, the puffs are so popular!

I've had this recipe for more than 21 years - it first appeared in the January, 1990 issue of Gourmet magazine. And whether the puffs are served as hors d'oeuvres or as an accompaniment to soup or a salad, they are a great treat for any occasion.

Parmesan Puffs

1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 cup finely grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, butter and salt to a boil. Add the flour all at once, and stir until it forms a ball. One by one, stir in the eggs; stir in the parmesan.

Using a 1" ice cream scoop, place walnut-sized balls of dough onto the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes until the puffs are firm and starting to turn golden.

Makes about 36 puffs.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Chicago Reds

Chicago Reds is a great place to go for an inexpensive meal, which is why it's today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature. Yeah, we talked about Chicago food yesterday, too, with the famous Italian beef sandwiches. But we've moved on to a different classic food item today; have no fear of redundancy!

My dinner companion ordered the Chicago Style Dog for $2.99: "The Classic Chicago Dog, a Vienna all beef dog topped with tomato slices, Kosher Pickle, Neon Relish, chopped onion, yellow mustard, Sport Peppers & celery salt on a steamed poppy seed bun." It was definitely "dragged through the garden," as they say, and generously so. My friend enjoyed it immensely, taking a sharp detour from his usual healthy diet of steamed vegetables and rice to indulge in one of his favorite guilty pleasures. He's had a difficult time of late, and it was good to see him smile so happily as he ate.

I, however, don't want all of those salad ingredients and funky colors on my hot dog. I'm from New York, born and raised; I want my "dirty water" dog (affectionately named because street vendors keep the wieners in warm water until they're served to customers) with mustard and sauerkraut, period. So for $2.59 I ordered the New York Dog: "Sauerkraut & yellow mustard on a steamed poppy seed bun." Perfect in its simplicity, I felt transported back to my hometown for a little while.

To accompany the mainstays of our meal, my friend and I shared the basket of Garlic Parmesan Fries (pictured above) for $3.49. These were as close to perfection as fries might possibly come - golden, crisp, hot, salty, garlicky, cheesy, but none of these attributes was overdone. The consistency was ideal, and the flavorings were exceptional. And the serving was so generous, especially with the hot dogs, that we had to take some of the fries home.

So our very filling meal plus some leftovers cost the two of us less than $10, falling perfectly within the Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 per person or less. And there are lots of other options within this budgetary constraint, as all of the beef hot dogs are under $3, and the Polish sausages and vegetarian Italian sausage all range from $3.59-$4.79.

For a great inexpensive and casual meal - not to mention some passionate arguments over which city's hot dogs are best! - head to Chicago Reds. And leave me a comment telling me how you prefer your hot dogs: New York or Chicago style? Detroit style, with chili and onions? Southern style, with cole slaw? Or - gasp! - with ketchup???

Chicago Reds
312 S. State Street (inside Amer's Deli)
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Italian Beef Sandwiches for the Northwestern Game

When people think of Chicago foods, they immediately think of deep-dish pizza and hot dogs "dragged through the garden."

But Chicago is equally famous for Italian beef sandwiches, and so that's what I'm serving in honor of the Northwestern-Michigan game on Saturday. Northwestern is in Evanston, after all, which is just outside Chicago. You know those kids hop on the train and commute in to the city all the time!

According to Wikipedia:

"Origins of the sandwich are disputed, but one early vendor, Al's No. 1 Italian Beef, opened its first stand in 1938.

One story has it that the Italian Beef sandwich was started by Italian immigrants who worked for the old Union Stock Yards. They often would bring home some of the tougher, less desirable cuts of beef sold by the company. To make the meat more palatable, it was slow-roasted to make it more tender, then slow-simmered in a spicy broth for flavor. Both the roasting and the broth used Italian-style spices and herbs. The meat was then thinly sliced across the grain and stuffed into fresh Italian bread.

According to Scala's Original Beef and Sausage Company (formed in 1925), this meal was originally introduced at weddings and banquets where the meat was sliced thinly so there would be enough to feed all the guests. It rapidly grew in popularity and eventually became Chicago's most famous ethnic food: the original Italian beef sandwich."

Now, I didn't have time to roast an entire hunk of beef; so I cheated and bought some pre-roasted and pre-sliced meat at the grocery store's deli counter.

But I did marinate the beef in the requisite seasoned broth, added both hot and sweet peppers, and made sure to soak the bun in all those tasty juices, too, before piling up ingredients in the sandwich. Shortcuts, not dishonor!

This is a hearty, substantial sandwich - it's perfect for the game!

University of Michigan at Northwestern University
Saturday, October 8 at 5 p.m. EDT

Italian Beef Sandwich

2 cups red wine (Flip Flop Wines Merlot - a fabulous marketing gift!)
2 cups beef stock
2 .6-ounce packets zesty Italian salad dressing seasoning
1 pound thinly sliced deli roast beef
1 large red pepper, sliced
4 sub buns
1 cup hot banana peppers, drained

Bring wine, stock and salad dressing seasoning to a boil in a medium saucepan; add beef, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, then refrigerate overnight.

Reheat the beef in the saucepan with the marinade.

Saute the pepper in a medium saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes, until softened.

Slice each of the sub buns not quite all the way through, lengthwise. Spoon some of the marinade onto the sub buns. Add roast beef, making sure it drips onto the bread when you remove it from the saucepan. Top with another drizzle of marinade, and finish the sandwich with both types of peppers.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fluffernutter Cupcakes

This Saturday is National Fluffernutter Day. I've never been a fan of the famous sandwich, I have to admit; so I determined to make a treat that honored the coupling of peanut butter and marshmallow, but without actually spreading the two onto pieces of bread.

So I baked some moist peanut butter cupcakes, which are wonderful for any occasion at any time of year; these have a great distinctive flavor, rather than only a bland hint of the key ingredient. And then I took a basic vanilla frosting and mixed some marshmallow creme into it.

These treats are non-dairy, since I brought them in to work and one of my co-workers is allergic to milk products. You could easily substitute butter and half-and-half, if food intolerances are not a concern.

But whether you can eat dairy products or not, or whether you like Fluffernutter sandwiches or not, these cupcakes are exceptionally good. My co-workers raved about them, which made me very happy. And I devoured two of them all by myself, so I can personally vouch for them!

Fluffernutter Cupcakes

1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
1-1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Wip non-dairy cream substitute
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350F. Place paper liners into a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the shortening, peanut butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and Wip. Stir in the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda; combine well.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Let cool completely on a rack.

1 16-ounce container vanilla frosting
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme

Combine frosting and marshmallow; spread onto cupcakes.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Brown Sugar Tea Cake with Moscato Glaze

I do a lot of baking, particularly in the fall. Cool weather and dreary, rainy days make me want to go into the kitchen, turn on some lively tunes, dance a little bit while I stir batter, and produce something fabulously fragrant and flavorful. Fresh, homemade baked goods can counter even the gloomiest, chilliest of days.

Recently, I wanted to make something simple - not laden with chips and nuts and streusel and such, but just fairly basic. A cake, perhaps, to serve with afternoon tea ... but dressed up just a little bit, maybe with a glaze. So I baked a lovely pound cake, substituting brown sugar for the white to give more depth of flavor.

And then, instead of drizzling a standard milk-based glaze over the top, I decided to use some lovely sweet white wine instead to flavor the icing. Remember that small changes can often have a big impact. If a recipe calls for water or milk, for example, there's no reason you can't substitute coffee or a flavored liqueur, after all. Experiment! Try new things!

This cake makes a lovely snack or breakfast, or even a treat "just because." Served with tea, cocoa, coffee, milk, or a glass of wine, it is simply perfect for any time of day.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Moscato Glaze

Cake (slightly modified from this recipe):
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour an 8"x4" glass loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in the eggs and the vanilla until well combined.

Beat in the flour, baking powder and salt just until combined.

Spread batter in the prepared pan, and bake for 40-45 minutes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 20 minutes, then remove from pan; let cool on a rack.

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons Moscato (a very generous marketing gift from Flip Flop Wines)

Whisk together the glaze ingredients, then drizzle over the pound cake. Let the glaze set completely before cutting and serving.

Makes 12 servings.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kale and Peppers in Red Wine Sauce

Sometimes you want something rich and decadent to eat; other times, you feel a bit ascetic and long for something more noble. And when your cells are calling to you, telling you that they're desperate for food that's good for them, you've just got to listen to them. They know what they're talking about.

Too many long hours and stressful days tend to make even the most conscientious of us eat poorly - quick meals on the run, snacks, chips and/or cookies.

So when I woke up one morning craving vegetables - truly, nothing else sounded at all appetizing! - I knew I needed to give in. I chopped up some peppers and some beautiful red kale, full of color and nutrients, and sauteed them briefly in some good green olive oil. I made a quick sauce of pesto thinned a bit with red wine. And I served it all over a microwaveable package of whole grains and rice.

You'd think that a pile of vegetables on a mix of brown rice and quinoa would be a less-than-stellar meal, but you'd be wrong. Light, fragrant and richly flavored, this was just what my overstressed system needed, and a perfect nutritious dish for any time you need a bit of restoration.

Kale and Peppers in Red Wine Sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped
1 small orange pepper, chopped
6 stalks red kale, stems trimmed, chopped
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons pesto
1/2 cup red wine (Flip Flop Wines Merlot - a fabulous marketing gift!)
2 8.5-ounce packages Uncle Ben's Whole Grain Medley - Roasted Garlic flavor

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onions and peppers for 5 minutes, until softening. Add the kale and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the salt and the red pepper flakes.

Combine the pesto and the wine; pour into the skillet and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Prepare rice/grain medley according to package directions, then serve the vegetables over the rice.

Serves 4.

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