Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Black Bean 'n' Beer Soup

It's cold out, so hot soup makes a perfect light lunch or dinner.

This version is a different spin on traditional black bean soup. Sure, it contains the usual ingredients like beans and salsa. But it's thickened with pumpkin, adding flavor, color and nutrition. It also benefits from the addition of beer, rather than using just only plain ol' water.

This is vegan, but is substantial enough to satisfy even those who think they'll miss having some meat (i.e.: salt pork or bacon) in their bean soup. Served with some good crusty bread, you've got an ideal comfort food for a chilly day.

Black Bean 'n' Beer Soup

2 tablespoons oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
1/2 small yellow pepper, chopped fine
2/3 cup salsa
1-1/2 cups beer
1 cup water
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained, rinsed
juice of 1 lime
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablepoon sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and pepper; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened. Add the salsa, beer, water, beans, lime juice and salt; bring to a boil, then cook over low heat for 15 minutes.

Whisk in the sugar and the pumpkin; continue cooking for 15 more minutes. Stir in the cilantro, then serve hot.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sauteed Apples à la Mode + Giveaway Winner

So, who won the Hodgson Mill certificate that I offered as a giveaway last week???

Well, on Sunday morning at 8:05, I counted entries. I plugged numbers into's Sequence Generator, and out rolled #7. (Chris, of Nibble Me This, offered a great suggestion for capturing the results. But I don't use Firefox and I'm a Neoluddite technodolt, so we're still doing the cheap copy/paste method ... sorry!)

Random Sequence Generator
Here is your sequence:


And who is Seven, other than a character on "Star Trek: Voyager"???

The Domestic Diva - Mazal Tov!!!

I wish I had enough certificates to give to everyone, 'cause it would have been fun to play Santa! But alas ....

So now, on to the food!

I was in the mood for something apple pie-ish the other night, but didn't want the crust from a pie. I also didn't want to wait for something to bake; I needed immediate gratification.

So I essentially cooked up something reminiscent of a pie filling, and I plopped an incredibly generous scoop of butter pecan ice cream on top of it ... because I'm worth it!

In about 10 minutes - less time than it would have taken me to drive to the grocery store to get my fix - I was able to create a warm, fragrant, homemade dessert featuring beautiful fall apples in a rich caramel sauce.

Is there anything better on a chilly evening?

Sauteed Apples à la Mode

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 Honeycrisp apples, cored, peeled, cut into 1/2" dice
1/2 cup caramel ice cream sauce
2 scoops butter pecan ice cream

In a medium skillet, melt the butter and the vanilla together over medium heat. Add the apples and stir to coat them with the butter. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, until the apples are just tender. Uncover the skillet and stir in the caramel sauce; cook for 1 minute.

Divide the apples among 2 serving dishes and top with the ice cream. Serve immediately.

Serves 2.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Iraqi Salad

Okay, we've enjoyed our indulgence. We've eaten turkey and stuffing and yams and mashed potatoes and gravy and green bean casserole and rolls and cornbread and pie and more pie and just one more sliver of pie. We're ready to burst!

The Thanksgiving leftovers should be gone by now. Today, we return to moderation and restraint. Today, we reaquaint ourselves with vegetables.

But who said that vegetables have to be boring? Why do salads have to be bland bowls of lettuce, carrots, and croutons?

To demonstrate that plain ol' vegetables can be transformed into something amazing, today I'm offering a gorgeous and flavorful salad featured in the beautiful cookbook Ma Baseema: Middle Eastern Cooking with Chaldean Flair. As I wrote in my recent post about Cardamom-Scented Shortbread Cookies, Chaldeans [kal-DEE-uns] are Iraqi Christians. They cherish their extended families, sharing large meals with multiple generations of loved ones, and they are noted for their hospitality.

And this Iraqi salad is highly representative of Chaldean cuisine, as it features many vegetables but gives them a unique twist. The familiar cucumbers and beets and onions are taken into a new realm of flavor with a simple but vibrant dressing, as well as the addition of a sprinkle of mint.

Rather than feeling deprived today as you recover from the holiday feast, try this salad and enjoy something that's nutritious but enticing.

Iraqi Salad
(slightly adapted from Edward Korkis' "Zalata d'Iraqia" featured in Ma Baseema)

1 large cucumber, seeded, cut into 1/2" dice
1 small red onion, chopped
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can shoestring beets, drained
3 large scallions, chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, cut into eighths
1 teaspoon dried mint (available at Middle Eastern markets; substitute parsley, if need be)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
juice of half lemon
2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
1 ounce red wine vinegar

Combine all salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Combine all dressing ingredients; mix well, then pour over salad. Stir to combine all the ingredients, then let the salad rest for 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Exotic Bakeries

I have to thank my friend Haran for today's Frugal Floozie Friday recommendation - he recently asked if I'd ever eaten at Exotic Bakeries, a place I've enjoyed many times but hadn't visited in ages and ages. He reminded me that "you can eat like a king for less than $5."

So it only seemed appropriate to eat dinner there recently. I took the opportunity to walk there and back on a gorgeous sunny fall evening, listening to new tunes I'd just uploaded to the ol' MP3 player.

Exotic Bakeries is a small, family-run restaurant featuring fabulous Syrian food; you can either stay and eat at one of the few tables or use the carry-out service. Some of the offerings, such as baklava, are familiar; many, however, are intriguing and unique. It was this latter category I wanted to savor.

So for a mere $2.50, I ordered a s'feeha - a soft, round flatbread topped with an amazingly flavorful spread of red peppers, walnuts, onions, and spices. The friendly gentleman who patiently waited while I perused the display cases and made my decision (we all know this is not something I excel at, especially when presented with too many delicious options!) warmed the s'feeha in a panini-like grill, slightly toasting the bread but still leaving it tender. This was an ideal vegetarian option, as I was in the mood for something light that evening.

For dessert - because, of course, everyone loves to get an entire meal within our Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 per person! - I ordered the namoura for $1.99.

Namoura is a traditional Middle Eastern cake that is also known as babousa. It's eggless and made with semolina; after baking, it is soaked in a citrusy honey syrup, making the treat very dense and lusciously sweet without being overly sugary. Topped with toasted pistachios, this was truly a delicious indulgence!

Exotic Bakeries was a very busy place when I visited, with two customers ahead of me, three already seated at a table, and another five having come in while I ate. And yet, the charming gentleman behind the counter greeted everyone warmly, as though we were all guests in his home. He beamed with pride when I asked for a take-out menu and for information about the website (having worn my sunglasses for my walk, which don't have an updated trifocal prescription, I couldn't read the card I was given!), proclaiming his establishment to be the only one in town offering Syrian cuisine.

There are numerous meat and vegetarian options at Exotic Bakeries that fall well within our Frugal Floozie Friday budget, including a wide variety of salads that are charged at prices per pound. The costs for entrees are so reasonable that you'll still have room for dessert even with only $5 to spend.

(Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a $25 gift certificate to Hodgson Mills' online store! The deadline is Sunday morning!)

Exotic Bakeries
1721 Plymouth Rd
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

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Exotic Bakeries & Syrian on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lemon-Glazed Cherry Pasties

Michigan plays Ohio State on Saturday.

Those who live in one of the represented states know that this is virtually the only game that matters ... really. According to Wikipedia: Despite an overall record of 111–43–4, former Ohio State head coach John Cooper's "2–10–1 record against Michigan, including his failure to ever win in Ann Arbor, was ... a major contributor to his dismissal."

Except that, despite many past glories, Michigan hasn't fared particularly well in this match-up in recent years while Ohio State has been a powerhouse. I hang my head in shame as I note that the Wolverines haven't beaten the Buckeyes since 2003.

But this is our year! We're a Top 20 team, and Ohio State isn't ranked. The Buckeyes are coming to The Big House, and we're not going to be hospitable hosts.

So in honor of this final game - other than our inevitable bowl game - I'm changing things up a bit. Each Thursday since the season began, I've offered a recipe that has been representative of that weekend's opponent: Shredded Pork with Corn Cakes for Iowa, my blogging buddy Jenn's classic Nebraska Runza Bites, Chocolate Guinness Cake for Notre Dame.

But today, it's all about Michigan.

This state is famous for beautiful bright red tart cherries and for a food called "pasties." (And please know that this is pronounced [PASS-teez], not [PAY-steez]!)

Pasties are hand-held savory pies that miners in the Upper Peninsula could easily take with them for a hearty midday meal. They're very simple and straightforward food: chopped meat and vegetables bound with a bit of gravy, encased in a crust. But it's only an authentic pasty if it contains rutebaga ... trust me. This is as serious a matter to the folks in Michigan as the Ohio State game is!

So technically, I'm not providing a recipe today for "pasties" because there isn't any rutebaga in this sweet version. But this dessert - with its filling that bursts with the flavor of Michigan fruit - was inspired by the traditional pasty. Call it an homage!

I first made these years ago for some cooking contest ... I don't even remember which one. I didn't win any prize, but I did win Jeremy's devotion - he adores these treats, and it was his recommendation that I make them in honor of Saturday's game.

So try a dessert pasty that showcases Michigan's gorgeous cherries. And cheer on the Wolverines this weekend - Hail to the Victors!

Ohio State at Michigan
Saturday, November 26

(Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a $25 gift certificate to Hodgson Mills' online store! The deadline is Sunday morning!)

Lemon-Glazed Cherry Pasties

2 cups tart cherries, thawed (if frozen) or drained (if from a jar/can)
1/4 cup cherry juice (reserved from thawing/draining) or water
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Place all ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Cook just until mixture is thickened and no longer white-ish; remove from heat, place into a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cold.

1 16-ounce can butter-flavor Grands biscuits
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350F.

Roll each of the 8 biscuits out into a 5" circle. Divide the cherries among them, placing the cherries in the center of each round.

Beat the egg and brush the outer rim of the dough rounds with egg. One by one, fold the dough over the cherries to form semi-circular pasties. Press the dough to help it adhere, then crimp it and seal it with a fork.

Place onto a baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining pasties. Brush the pasties with the remaining egg and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden. Let cool completely.

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
juice from a half lemon

Whisk together glaze ingredients until smooth, then drizzle the glaze over the pasties. Let the glaze set before serving.

Makes 8 pasties.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Muppet Muffins

The Muppets have a new movie coming out today, which I'm hoping to see tonight. Everyone do your best impression of Kermit flailing his arms and shouting, "YAAAAAAAY!"

I used to love movies. I was raised on all the classics, and I'd see virtually anything that came out - a wide variety, from Hollywood blockbusters to obscure foreign films.

But over the years, I've lost patience with just sitting and staring unproductively. It's a rare movie that I care enough about to bother watching. I saw "The King's Speech," which I absolutely adored; and I've also recently seen "Puppet," about a beautifully poignant puppet show telling the story of an eccentric Depression-era photographer.

So it's on my agenda to see "The Muppets" today, which shows how much I cherish them. The characters are distinctive and idiosyncratic and quirky; they are so very real and so very - dare I say it? - human. Who doesn't love them? I can't let this new movie pass me by!

In honor of today's big event I've baked a variation on Gene Shalit's Movie Crumb Cake, slightly modified from a recipe in In the Kitchen with Miss Piggy - a celebrity cookbook published in 1996 to support Citymeals-on-Wheels, which provides "1.8 million meals to over 16,500 elderly New Yorkers each year."

I found this amusing little book at a thrift shop and just knew it had to go home with me. It features recipes from Whoopi Goldberg, Ivana Trump, Samuel L. Jackson, Willard Scott, and many others. And famed chef Pierre Franey even dares to offer a recipe for Cuisses de Grenouilles Poulette [kwees deh grun-WHEE pooh-LET] - Frogs' Legs in Cream Sauce. I'm quite certain that Kermit is quivering.

Miss Piggy's introduction to the cookbook is priceless:

"When I was aproached to write this cookbook, moi thought: Why not? If Oprah can do it ...."

She recommends a variety of kitchen essentials, such as a curling iron ("For turning spaghetti into rotini"), a dog ("For cleaning the kitchen floor"), and a fire extinguisher ("In case your roast is a teensy bit overcooked").

But on to the recipe!

This was actually supposed to be a crumb cake, rather than cakes; but I found myself with just one egg in my refrigerator, and so I could only bake half of the batter. Since I had no pan that would approximate half of a 9"x9" cake tin, I was left to make mini versions instead. And I used butter instead of margarine, as all good bakers should; but one of Gene's jokes was dependent upon the word "margarine," so I kept that intact when I typed up the recipe.

The instructions below offer the same giddy silliness that the Muppets excel at, so it was the perfect choice for today.

I don't think the title "Movie Crumb Cakes" does these moist, sweet, cinnamony treats any justice, though. So I'm going to call them Muppet Muffins ... for the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

(Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a $25 gift certificate to Hodgson Mills' online store! The deadline is Sunday morning!)

Muppet Muffins
(Slightly adapted from Gene Shalit's recipe for Movie Crumb Cake)

1. Before going to the theater, preheat oven to 325F. (Note: postheat not recommended.) While waiting, line a muffin tin with 6 paper liners.

2. In a medium bowl, mix:

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/2 tablespoons margarine (this must be exact; do not leave any margarine for error)

Cut in margarine with a pastry blender until it's crumbly. Set aside. (After all that, you set it aside. What a recipe.)

3. In a large (not big, not huge, a large) bowl, mix until very smooth:

1/4 cup soft margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg (out of shell)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

4. Then - and only then - slowly, verrrrry slowly - mix in:

1 cup sifted flour
1/2 cup sour cream (why do they put a date on sour cream?)

Alternate the flour and sour cream additions, starting and ending with flour. Just blend; don't overmix.

5. Divide half of this mixture among the lined muffin tins.

6. Sprinkle half of topping (you remember the topping - that stuff up in the first paragraph marked 2).

7. Place remaining batter (this is the first I hear of "batter." Where did this come from?) on top of crumb mixture (2 - very busy number).

8. Top (that's a verb, i.e., to Top) with remaining crumb mixture (how much of this stuff is there?).

9. Place everything - pans, topping, bottoming, crumbs, the whole business - in oven (which by this time better be at 325F or else you're going to need a new oven) and set timer (I forgot to tell you, you need a timer) for 20 minutes.

10. Test for doneness. (Check dictionary for "doneness.")

Donate muffins to neighbor and go to the movies.

Makes 6 muffins.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hodgson Mill Giveaway!!!

You'll have to go on a bit of an adventure if you want to find my recipe for Asian-Style Lettuce Wraps, which is a great way to use up turkey leftovers after the Thanksgiving feast: it's on's Food & Grocery page.

I write for Monday-Friday, and have been crossposting from ye olde blog in recent months due to a lack of time. But I'm trying to vary the routine a bit, so that you have reasons to check out both offerings! So one site has a recipe today (and lots of other fabulous goodies, too!), while the other - this one! - has a giveaway.

The Giveaway!!!

I'm participating in a food bloggers' baking contest, and one of the rules states that contestants should host a giveaway. And it's a giveaway for a fabulous prize from a great company! I'm proud to offer this opportunity today to U.S. residents (the company's restriction - sorry foreign friends!).

Hodgson Mill - "a family owned company with more than 125 years' experience producing delicious stone ground, whole grain and organic foods ... with no artificial preservatives, additives or colorings" - is offering a $25 gift certificate to its online store for the lucky winner!!! You can choose anything from flours to pastas to gluten-free items to mixes ... it's up to you.

Entry into the fray is easy, trust me. You don't need to "like" me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, though of course you're always happily welcomed there ... :) I'd like it if you followed me here but, truth be told, I don't have time to check up on that.

So here 'tis: all you have to do is leave a comment below saying that you'd like to win, and make sure I can reach you by email to let you know if you've won. That's all! Oh, and only one entry per person even if you leave more than one comment; the first one will be the one that counts. It's easier and more fair that way.

I'd have the grandpuppy pick a number from all the valid entries, but he'd probably eat it. So I'll use to pick the winner. I'm too cheap, though, to pay $4.95 or whatever the fee was to earn entitlement to the winner widget. (I glanced over the seemingly endless terms, so I'm not 100% sure of it all.) You'll just have to trust me when I announce who wins, rather than my being able to post the box that shows the winning number. I hope you all know me well enough to know I'll play nice! And I work at a religious institution, so have no fear - God knows where to find me if I don't do this fairly.

The deadline is Sunday, November 27 at 8:00 a.m. EST. If I notify you of winning, you'll have 24 hours from when I send my email to acknowledge it; if you ignore me, I'll move on down the road to the next in line.

When you leave your comment, you could also tell me whether you're serving "stuffing" or "dressing" at your Thanksgiving feast, as well as how loaded it is or whether you like simpler versions, but that's not at all required for admission to the party. I just like to talk about food and to learn what people's preferences are! And I'm always fascinated by regional language quirks, so I'm intrigued by the terminology.

I'll start the conversation: I make a simple stuffing that's half-cornbread, with pecans and dried cranberries stirred in. It's baked in the turkey, which is why it's "stuffing" at my house - stuffed into the beast - rather than "dressing." My recipe won a prize several years ago in a Rachael Ray contest; if you're interested, it can be found here. (It's my recipe, by the way, even though my name doesn't appear to be found anywhere.)

Good luck to everyone!!! And have a lovely holiday!

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Chocolate Pecan Pie and the Auction Winner's Interview

Back in March, I offered a donation to the Jewish Community Center for its annual auction; my very good friend Fran Martin - a retired medical librarian who is now a professional volunteer, giving so much to so many organizations and individuals! - was chairing the event, and she had used her considerable charm to persuade me to contribute to the cause.

After much deliberation, I gave a package which included a trio of treats as well as the opportunity to have 15 or more minutes of fame via an interview about - what else? - food. A few details of the winner's life, history, and such might also appear. But the overall theme was going to be my favorite topic. You might think I'm obsessive, but I just like to think I'm passionate!

So, after all this preamble, who won the goodies and the chance for stardom? Well, lo and behold! Why, Fran won that package!

We've met for smoothies, we've chatted on the phone, we've emailed back and forth, and after all this time - with a few surprises thrown in on each side of the equation to delay us a bit - our mission has been accomplished. The timing is actually perfect, because Thanksgiving is Fran's favorite holiday and the recipe she's shared is ideal for the feast.

A girl after my own heart, when it comes to food Fran likes "to mix things up a bit to avoid boredom." She was never formally taught to cook, but she believes that anyone can do so if they follow a recipe. I don't know about that myself, having heard stories from others who are literate and who've had good intentions but who still wreak havoc in the kitchen!

But in Fran's case, she has taught herself well with this method; clearly she has talent, as well as a true love for food and for preparing it. She is a kindred spirit who has "been collecting recipes and cookbooks for years." The first time she prepares a recipe, she'll make it exactly; on subsequent preparations, though, she'll "shake things up a bit." Fran has told me that she doesn't create her own recipes, rather relying upon others'. Some of her family's favorite dishes include ricotta-free vegetarian lasagna, roasted redskin potatoes, a cornbread stuffing with apple cider and pecans, and "a wonderful mushroom barley soup."

Fran, apparently, did not derive her kitchen talents from her mother: "Her specialties ... I could not eat for the life of me. These included sweet and sour cabbage soup and Romanian style eggplant salad. It wasn't until I started making my own that I realized that meatloaf was good! I also didn't realize that brownies didn't come out of a box until I was in my twenties and actually made them from scratch."

Growing up in Northwest Detroit, in a predominately Jewish neighborhood "in the area called The Avenue of Fashion," Fran's family kept kosher ... sorta. Her mother "only allowed kosher meat in the house, with the exception of bacon or Canadian bacon. Yeah ...." Only when she attended religious school did she learn that "no, bacon was not kosher." Fran hasn't eaten it since.

Despite these early quirks in the family's level of kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws), Fran and her husband Irwin, an associate professor at Eastern Michigan University "who bleeds maize and blue" - The University of Michigan's colors! - keep a not-quite-strictly kosher kitchen in their home. Fran considers herself kosher, and does not eat pork or shellfish; and she doesn't mix milk with meat which, in her case, is specifically chicken since she doesn't eat red meat. She also doesn't eat veal "because I have a conscience," despite breaded veal cutlets having been the one food her mother made which Fran loved.

Many of Fran's childhood food memories echo my own, and I found myself wistful and nostalgic upon learning of them: "Since I was not a fan of my mother's cooking, my special memories of food came from elsewhere. I have fond memories of my dad taking me to the Michigan State Fair (may it rest in peace). Our big treat was hot corn on the cob dripping in butter and the best glazed donuts I ever had."

And just as I remember special trips to Schrafft's - a nice but not fancy restaurant in New York City - with my mother, Fran told me about visiting the Detroit equivalent, Sanders:

"Another favorite treat was going downtown and having lunch at Sanders. It always consisted of their amazing tuna sandwiches (who knew they could be good?) and Sanders had a yellow cake with buttercream frosting that also had crushed nuts on the outside. It was heavenly .... (My) favorite treat as a kid was the Sanders hot fudge cream puff: French vanilla ice cream in a cream puff shell covered in hot fudge." Sigh.

Sanders closed its stores some time ago, but a new one has opened not too far from Ann Arbor: "I understand there is a Sanders store where one can again get this amazing treat. I haven't made it down there, however." Perhaps a girls' road trip is in order ...? Because my grandmother used to bring Sanders hot fudge sauce when she came to visit us in New York, I have my own treasured attachment to this fabulous delicacy.

So, after talking about all of these wonderful comfort foods, what is the most exotic thing Fran has ever eaten? Seaweed, in a Chinese restaurant in London. "I'm not into exotic foods. Andrew Zimmern, of TV fame, is the polar opposite of me. I've watched his show as he travels around the world and eats stuff I don't even consider food. YUCK." The rest of the family, however, "will eat virtually anything, and has as we have travelled." Fran's son joined Irwin in eating emu steaks in Australia; and Irwin tried snapper soup in Grand Cayman, but only after agreeing to Fran's terms - they had to adopt a snapping turtle to release into the sea.

Although Fran loves to cook, and especially enjoys preparing big meals for her extended family when they come home to visit, her primary culinary disappointment is the limited palates of her two gorgeous toddler granddaughters who live in Massachusetts. "Unfortunately, their favorite foods are Dunkin Donuts chocolate donuts, Kraft macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets and anything with Nutella on it."
Oy! But they have time ....

I hope you've enjoyed meeting Fran, whom I love dearly. After all, how could I - of all people! - not adore a woman who says "I like my fish cooked. Hence, I am not a fan of sushi."? That is just one of my dear friend's stellar qualities.

You absolutely must try Fran's Chocolate Pecan Pie, the recipe she offered when I asked for one to share with everyone. As she says, "I can only make (it) on special occasions, because we truly could eat it every day, which would not be a good thing .... Served warm with whipped cream is ecstasy. OMG."

Well, it's hard to beat that kind of endorsement! But if - like Fran - you'd like to offer "at least two different types of pies" at your Thanksgiving meal, here is a selection to choose from that could complement the recipe below:

Indiana Cream Pie

Peach-Raspberry Streusel Pie

Brownie Ice Cream Pie

Caramel Apple Crisp Pie

Peanut Butter Pie

Chocolate Pecan Pie

1 crust for a 9" pie
4 tablespoons butter
3 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 cup corn syrup
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
3 eggs
6 ounces pecans
whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F. Lay crust into a pie pan and trim excess.

In a small saucepan, melt together butter and chocolate.

In a large mixing bowl, combine corn syrup, sugar, vanilla, salt and eggs. Slowly whisk in the chocolate mixture.

Place the nuts on the bottom of the crust. Carefully pour the chocolate mixture over the nuts.

Bake the pie for 1 hour, until puffed and a knife inserted 1" away from the edge comes out clean. The pie will deflate as it cools.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Kilwin's

Today's Frugal Floozie Friday post features the consummate, classic Fall treat - caramel apples from Kilwin's.

These aren't just any ol' caramel apples, made with little cellophane-wrapped squares ... nope. These are hand-dipped into caramel that has been tended in copper kettles, from the original recipe developed by Don Kilwin himself.

To their credit, Kilwin's uses Granny Smith apples, whose tartness perfectly complements the sweetness of the caramel, which tantalizes with just a hint of butterscotch. The texture is perfection - firm enough to adhere to the apple, soft enough to bite or cut directly into the sublime treat without resistance.

The apples that are dipped into nuts are just over our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget; but the plain ones - a term which is woefully dismissive of a truly luxurious indulgence! - are a perfect $5.

I walk by the windows at Kilwin's on a regular basis, gazing at the beautiful rows of caramel apples each time; they are lined up in formation, ready to go to a good home. It is easy to be seduced by them when you see them in their beautiful simplicity. And once you've eaten one, you'll want to return again and again and again ....

107 East Liberty Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Runza Bites for the Michigan-Nebraska Game

One of my favorite blogging buddies - Jenn of Jenn's Food Journey - grew up in Nebraska, is a tremendous football fan, and is one of the kindest, friendliest, most vivacious people! Her joy and charm shine through in her posts, which you'll see as you keep reading.

On Saturday, #20 Michigan will welcome #17 Nebraska to The Big House; this will be Nebraska's first visit to Ann Arbor as members of the Big Ten. So, in honor of what will undoubtedly be an excellent match-up between these two teams who are both coming off wins last week, Jenn and I are celebrating by doing guest posts on each other's blogs!

You can find my recipe for Cheesy Cornbread at Jenn's Food Journey. It's easy to make, moist but still crumbly, has great flavor, and is perfect for tailgating; it's great with chili, salads ... almost anything.

And Jenn has offered a fabulous recipe - from her amazing mom, no less, who is an exceptional cook! - for a quintessential Nebraska food.

I'll let Jenn take over from here ... :)

Hello all you lovely Food Floozie followers! I'm Jenn with Jenn's Food Journey and I am very excited and honored to be doing a guest post here on Mary's blog. I adore her and her yummy posts, so this is sort of like having your favorite band/artist ask you to jump up on stage and play a few riffs on the bass guitar with them!! When she told me her idea of having me guest post on her tailgating post day in honor of the Nebraska/Michigan game, I didn't hesitate one minute. "Of course I'll get up on stage and jam with you.. you're a rock star!!"

Ok, feet back on the ground - we can now talk about food :)

I grew up in a small (very small) town in eastern Nebraska. In Nebraska, you only know one thing this time of year: HUSKER football!! And there is nothing like being in Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska on a college football Saturday, let me tell you. Growing up I took pride in being a Husker fan - I still do.

There was only one time in my life when I cheered for another college football team and you know who they were? Any guess at all? Well, this might surprise most people, but it was the mighty Blue, the Michigan Wolverines!! Seriously ... I would not lie!! I think it had something to do with their colors more than their actual football team, but I can honestly say I was a fan, if only for a brief moment. So this post is even extra special to me!

One thing you can get at Memorial Stadium is one of my all time favorite things from Nebraska: a Runza sandwich! (YUM!) Unless you have lived in Nebraska, Kansas, or Iowa, I don't really expect you to know what I'm talking about, but Runzas are these deliciously warm yeast bread pockets stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, onion, cabbage and spices. It is a food that definitely defines growing up in Nebraska, so I thought what better thing to share with you than a smaller little three or four bite version of this for your next tailgating event.

I simplified things by using refrigerated pizza dough and, in all honesty, there wasn't that much of a difference in the final product. The dough wasn't as sweet as the dough for the real thing, but hey, sometimes a little less sweet isn't always bad!

So here's to the Huskers and the Wolverines - may the game be filled with excitement which only college football can bring!!! And thank you once again to Mary - Hope you all enjoy this tasty little treat straight from my home state!

Runza Bites
(Adapted from a recipe passed down to me from my mom)

1 tube refrigerated pizza dough (I used Pillsbury)
3/4 lbs ground beef (80/20 or higher)
1/2 a sweet onion
1/2 a head of cabbage
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
salt and pepper


Roughly chop the onion and cabbage. Place the onion in the food processor and pulse until minced; place on a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap and set aside. Place the cabbage into the food processor and pulse until shredded. Dump onto plate or piece of wax paper and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, add the ground beef, breaking up with a wooden spoon. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook until the beef is no longer pink in the middle, about 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place onto a paper plate lined with a paper towel.

Add the olive oil to the pan and turn the heat down to medium low. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Saute until softened and just starting to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the butter and the shredded cabbage. Heat until cabbage starts to wilt (stirring occasionally), about 3-4 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; stir to combine. Return the beef back into the skillet and stir to combine. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Sprinkle some flour onto your counter and lay out the pizza dough. You'll want to roll it a bit thinner with a rolling pin - roll to about half its thickness. Cut 3"x3" squares. Place a tablespoon or more of the beef mixture into the middle of the square and fold edges over and seal. Place onto a greased cookie sheet; continue until all squares are full.

Preheat oven according to pizza dough package directions - I set mine at 425 degrees F for 14 minutes. Place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until pockets are golden brown. Remove and allow to cool for 5 minutes (inside contents will be hot) and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Honey Mustard Trout

I was in a fast food restaurant a few weeks ago, after I'd lost internet service at my condo due to some confusion over the account; it was transferred to my ex-husband's new house sooner than it was supposed to be. McDonald's had wi-fi, and Jeremy had won a free small smoothie while playing the Monopoly game. He gave me the coupon so that I could have a free treat to compensate for the inconvenience of having to move my writing operation out of my favorite comfy chair.

But normally I drive by these places with contempt and disdain. I will spare you my rant, but I assure you that it can continue for quite some time. You'd get bored and you might not get around to reading the rest of my post, which offers an excellent recipe.

In honor of today's dubious holiday - National Fast Food Day - I'm giving you a recipe that can be made in 20 minutes. Real food, nutritious food, delicious food, prepared from start-to-finish in 20 minutes. Fast food, in the truest sense of the words!

I bought some beautiful trout filets on sale recently. I considered the traditional Trout Almondine, but decided to tweak it a bit; it's usually prepared with breading and butter, and I wanted something lighter.

So I schmeared the fish with a honey mustard, and sprinkled some ground almonds over that. A quick bake, and that was it! The fish was perfectly tender, moist, and exceptionally good. The sweetness of the coating was an ideal complement to the trout.

There is no need for drive-thrus or car-side services, the usual notion of "fast food." On this day, honor the spirit of those words by serving honest, simple, quickly prepared food that you make in your very own kitchen.

Honey Mustard Trout Almondine

2 trout filets, totaling 3/4-pound
pinch each of salt and pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons ground almonds

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a 9"x13" baking pan with foil, then grease the foil.

Lay the filets side-by-side skin-side down in the prepared pan; sprinkle with the salt and pepper. In a small bowl, stir together the mustard and honey; spread over the fish. Sprinkle the almonds over the fish.

Bake for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cardamom-Scented Shortbread Cookies

I don't usually take vacation days for fun, except for Jeremy's and my birthdays. It seems I'm always using them to take loved ones to appointments, or for other utilitarian activities, rather than amusing myself.

So I recently decided to treat myself to a half-day of vacation to do something most entertaining: I went to the Jewish Book Festival to learn about Chaldean [kal-DEE-un] cooking. Chaldeans are Iraqi Christians, and the Detroit area is proud to be home to one of the group's largest communities in the world.

Friends of mine, Shira and Steve Klein, own Huron River Press which has published the gorgeous cookbook Ma Baseema: Middle Eastern Cooking with Chaldean Flair. The book was being featured recently at a lunchtime event at the Festival, advertised for maximum temptation:

"Guests will enjoy a taste of a culture that has one of the world’s oldest cuisines, dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. This culinary journey will show the essence of Chaldean food and delight the palate with a tempting collection of recipes ranging from soups, appetizers, salads, main-course dishes, breads and desserts."

Well how could I resist learning about this fascinating culture and its cuisine, as well as getting to taste samples of the fabulous food?

When I walked into the room, not only did I find many of my friends; I also found an extraordinary sensual experience - seductive aromas and gorgeous colorful salads on display. I knew this was going to be a good time!

Our charming hostesses, Gloria and Lillian, gave a brief history of their community, spoke a bit of Aramaic for us (with some similarities to Hebrew noted), and demonstrated great pride in their culture and cooking. Chaldeans are famous for hospitality and for close-knit extended families; and one way in which their bonds are forged is through food.

"Ma baseema" means "how good it is!" And each item we tasted - from the eggplant and peppers with pomegranate seeds; to the traditional Iraqi salad of chickpeas with tomatoes, cucumbers, beets and onions; to the vegetarian grape leaves cooked in a bright lemony sauce - was amazingly delicious. The flavors are simple and yet complex, familiar and yet exotic, each bite offering hints of new tastes.

This cookbook isn't filled simply with one person's recipes. Rather, the community hosted a cook-off judged by three area chefs with no ties to the Chaldeans, such that there would be no hint of preference or discrimination (i.e.: "This is/isn't how my grandmother made it."). Each recipe, therefore, is not only representative of the cuisine, but it was deemed the best example of a particular dish.

Proceeds from the sale of Ma Baseema are being donated to the Chaldean American Ladies of Charity (CALC), an organization which serves the community in many ways. In recent years, much of the group's efforts have been focused upon resettling Iraqi refugees who have found a home here in Michigan.

I cannot recommend this cookbook highly enough! The presentation is beautiful, and the recipes and dishes are unbelievably delicious. The cookies below are rich and crumbly with just a hint of spice shining through; they're perfect to serve with coffee or tea.

Ma baseema - how good it is - indeed!

Cardamom-Scented Shortbread Cookies

(Very slightly adapted from Nadira Thweny's recipe for "Sugar Cookies/Shekar Bureghi" featured in Ma Baseema.)

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup melted butter
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

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

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cardamom and salt. Combine the butter and oil, and add to the dry ingredients; mix until the dough is crumbly.

Form lumps of dough the size of a golf ball.

Shape the dough into triangles. (It's crumbly, so just futz with the dough until it does what you want. There's no trick to it - you'll get the hang of it!)

Place the triangles onto the prepared cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden. Repeat until the dough is used up.

Makes 36 cookies. Lightly dust them with confectioners' sugar for presentation, if desired.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo

I happen to be one of those odd people who like Brussels sprouts. I may be gauging things incorrectly, because I know so very few others who will eat them, but it seems I'm in a distinct minority.

I'd say that this was okay, leaving all the more for me. But c'mon! They taste good, they're nutritious, and they're so easy to prepare. They're even cute - little baby cabbages that they appear to be (since they belong to the same family).

But if you need a bit more than just butter and salt on the Brussels sprouts to entice you to eat them, then here's a dish that might lure you in.

Simply boil the sprouts to prep them a bit, then saute them with some good spicy chorizo. I happened to still have some toasted pumpkin seeds loitering in my kitchen after Hallowe'en, so I sprinkled a few of them over everything for a bit of extra flavor. The dish is fine without them, but they certainly enhance it.

If you usually dislike Brussels sprouts, or know of others who do, then try this recipe - you may just find you can't resist them anymore!

Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo

8 ounces Brussels sprouts
1 ounce bulk chorizo (pork or soy)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds, finely chopped

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil; add the Brussels sprouts and cook for 10 minutes, then drain. Slice them in half vertically, through the stem end.

In a large skillet, cook the chorizo over medium heat for 5 minutes, breaking it up as you cook it. Add the Brussels sprouts and the salt; cook for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the sausage is well-browned. Sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds.

Serves 2-4 as either a light entree or a side dish.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Dalat

Wendy and I meandered through an evening recently, first attending a class about Rembrandt's representations of Jesus and other Biblical figures, then learning about a cross-country bike ride being planned for this summer by Hazon, the country's largest Jewish environmental group. (That last part was for Wendy's benefit alone - she who recently completed a half-marathon. I cook, I bake, I write, I eat. I like to go for long walks. If I remember, I use free weights ... but that's pretty occasional unless my blogging buddy Sheila, the personal trainer behind Reforming U, is nudging and encouraging me!)

After all of these adventures, we were hungry. We tried to go to one place that had been recommended as an inexpensive option, but it was closed; so we walked over to Dalat [dah-LAHT] - today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature - and enjoyed some lovely Vietnamese cuisine at a family-run restaurant.

Wendy and I could have split one of the many dishes on the extensive menu, but we decided to go for a bit more variety: we ordered one of each of the four appetizers.

The first item we tried was the Vietnamese Shrimp Roll for a mere $1.30: "A salad roll of shredded chicken, shrimp, lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro and rice vermicelli wrapped in translucent rice-paper. Served with peanut sauce." This was not some measly egg roll-sized portion, but rather it was very generous - lacking a ruler and spatial ability, I would guess 7" x 1-1/2". It was packed with all of the listed ingredients, and artfully presented with the shrimp peeking through the translucent rice paper. The peanut sauce was sweet, not at all spicy, and complemented the vegetables beautifully.

Our next treat was the Dalat Special Roll, for $1.95: "A Special salad roll of grilled chicken, shrimp, shredded pork, lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro and rice vermicelli wrapped in translucent rice-paper. Served with peanut sauce." It sounds quite reminiscent of its predecessor, but the flavors of each appetizer were remarkably different. The slight difference in ingredients combined with the modification in preparing the fillings created a taste that was not quite like the other.

Next on our list of taste treats was the Vietnamese Egg Roll for $1.35: "Deep-fried roll of chicken, thin transparent noodles, black mushrooms, shredded cabbages and carrots. Served with Vietnamese sweet and sour sauce." The exterior was just as crisp and flaky as expected, with an abundant filling that nearly fell out once freed when bitten into. The dipping sauce was more sour than sweet, which I liked very much; Wendy, however, doesn't care for anything vinegary. I found that the tartness was an ideal complement to the simplicity of the vegetables.

Our final selection (pictured at the top) was the Steamed Rice Roll with Sliced Pork Loaf, our greatest expenditure at only $4.95: "Steamed rice roll stuffed of chicken, black mushrooms & onions topped with sliced Vietnamese pork loaf, cucumber, bean sprouts & fried onions. Served with Vietnamese sweet and sour sauce." The vegetables were fresh and crisp and vibrantly flavored, while the sliced meat was intriguing and unique. This salad was quite substantial, even when shared, and was quite nice without the sweet and sour sauce but also enhanced by it, as well.

For $10 - right on the mark of our $5 per person Frugal Floozie Friday budget - Wendy and I shared an abundant meal of tremendous nutrition, flavor, freshness, variety and value. What a great deal!

100 W. Michigan Ave.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

View Larger Map

Dalat on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bacon-Parmesan Popcorn

Popcorn is the official state snack food of Illinois. I'm not much of a popcorn fan - I can eat it, but don't really care if I ever do. However, I know I'm in a distinct minority with regard to my lack of affection for this treat.

Michigan will be playing Illinois this Saturday, so it only seemed appropriate to feature popcorn in today's post. But I had to glam it up a bit. I debated whether to make a sweet or savory version, or whether to make cute little football-shaped popcorn balls.

And then I had an epiphany.

I'm offering something completely fabulous which features an utter lack of redeeming nutritional value (which is, of course, why it's so fabulous!). Even though I can usually live without popcorn, I think I could actually start craving this.

Today's recipe is for Bacon-Parmesan Popcorn.

Yup - salty, crunchy, cheesy, and with bacon. Supreme snack food!

This is ideal for tailgating or for watching the game at home. It's a great treat for any occasion, from watching the Oscars to watching a movie. Truly, how can you go wrong with anything that has bacon???

Pass the popcorn, please ....

Bacon-Parmesan Popcorn

1 3-ounce packet low-sodium microwaveable popcorn
4 strips low-sodium bacon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon all-purpose seasoning (i.e.: Mrs. Dash)
1/3 cup very finely grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare popcorn according to package directions, then place into a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, place bacon into a large skillet and cook, turning occasionally, until very crisp. Remove bacon from skillet and crumble; reserve the bacon fat.

Add oil and crumbled bacon to the bacon fat; pour over the popcorn and toss to combine. Sprinkle seasoning and Parmesan over the popcorn, and toss to combine well.

Makes approximately 8 cups of popcorn.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Butterfinger Fudge

When my BFF Wendy and I were in Pittsburgh recently, we met some wonderful people. It's a good-sized city, but it definitely has a small-town friendliness.

We were welcomed everywhere we went, even at Mike Feinberg's bustling souvenir shop pre-Steelers game. If you think we take football seriously here in Ann Arbor, truly, you ain't seen nothin' - these folks had already started their party, in full regalia, on Saturday afternoon before Sunday's game! But still, despite the hectic atmosphere, the employees took the time to talk about the local lingo a bit, and to give us brunch recommendations. They were so, so nice to us!

But the most extraordinary welcome we received was at Grand Brew, a small coffee shop that we found while driving around looking for mom-'n'-pop places to support for dinner. We saw this sign, and immediately followed the arrow to the local eateries and taverns. We ate a nice dinner of mini burgers and pierogi, then meandered across the street to the ice cream shop we'd passed while touring the neighborhood.

Except our plans were thwarted when we found the shop closed.

A few doors away, though, Grand Brew was open. There was a sign in the window proclaiming that we could find both coffee and chocolate there ... well, that was all the invitation we needed!

Howard Todd, who introduced himself as "Todd," was behind the counter serving the customers ahead of us. That gave us time to peruse the beautiful array of pastries, cookies, and other treats. Wendy chose the Pecan Turtle Fudge, rich with caramel; I had planned to get an enormous chocolate whoopie pie, but then we chose a vanilla one for balance.

We sat and enjoyed our sugar rush, and Todd came over to bring us the last little strip from the batch of fudge, laden with dippings of caramel. He talked with us briefly before the next flurry of activity, proudly showing us an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which featured his astounding string of working 4-1/2 years without a day off. Today will be the 1193rd consecutive day that he's worked; he greets and serves customers at Grand Brew every single day, including holidays and weekends.

As we read, ate, chitchatted, and expressed awe and respect for such dedication to a work ethic, I - of course! - brought out my camera. After all, I take pictures of everything I eat. And that prompted conversation about, Food Floozie, the necessity of having a passion in and for life, and sharing our mutual enthusiasm for good food with others.

At that, Todd brought another gift to Wendy and me - a cannoli. As he told us with a broad smile, "This is the reason I married my wife." Patty DiFiore Todd is from an Italian family, and has worked as a caterer in addition to running the ice cream shop two doors away that we nearly went to instead of visiting Grand Brew. The shell of the cannoli was thicker than most, which are often so fragile that they shatter at the first bite. In addition to this, the filling was made with mascarpone, making it lusciously rich.

Todd showered us with still further bounty: he brought us a rich Caramel Latte Macchiato, a Spiced Chai Tea Latte that was deliciously reminiscent of gingerbread with a special secret spice blend, a glazed cinnamon roll so tender - without the ever-so-slight crust found on the surfaces of most rolls - that it was almost like cotton candy when torn apart, and an espresso with just a hint of amaretto. Todd beamed as he bestowed these gifts upon us, filled with pride to show off the fabulous goodies.

And I'm not ashamed to tell you that Wendy and I ate, drank and relished every sip and bite!

Butterfinger Fudge

This is not actual old-fashioned fudge, made with a candy thermometer and lots of monitoring. But it's a reasonable facscimile, and really good! It's also an easy and fast-to-prepare recipe for busy holiday celebrations, for last-minute warning about guests or bake sales, or simply for satisfying a craving. (I'd have made chocolate caramel fudge in honor of my new friend Todd, but there was no caramel frosting to be found while shopping on the day I prepared this.)

1 10-ounce package peanut butter chips
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 16-ounce container chocolate fudge frosting
1 ounce Butterfinger candy bar, crushed (half of a full-sized bar)

Line an 8x7" pan with foil, extending the foil over the sides of the pan, and grease the foil. (If you don't have one, an 8"x8" pan will be fine; the fudge just won't be as tall. I have an odd-sized dish that I found at a thrift shop.)

In a small saucepan, melt together the peanut butter chips, chocolate chips, and frosting over low heat, stirring constantly. Once melted and completely smooth, pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the crushed Butterfinger over the top, then refrigerate for 4 hours or until firm.

Remove the fudge and the foil from the pan; pull the sides of the foil down to expose the fudge. Trim 1/2" from the edges, then cut into squares.

Makes about 20 pieces.

Grand Brew on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chocolate-Glazed Orange Cake

Surprisingly, given his penchant for fame and marketing, the gift shop at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh has virtually no merchandise bearing the man's face, name, signature, or any other connection.

When my BFF Wendy and I were there recently, we found many books, some posters, a lot of kitsch, and very cute "Wonder Woman" and "Super Girl" make-up mirrors (now Wendy's and mine, respectively) in honor of the current featured exhibit: "Heroes & Villains: The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross". But nothing in the shop screamed "Andy Warhol" ... very strange. They kinda missed the point, didn't they ...?

I happen to love Andy Warhol, and spent a weekend in Chicago 20+ years ago with my then-husband specifically to see an exhibit at the Art Institute. That the artistic design of everyday products was respected and elevated to the level of "fine art," and that our modern surroundings - such as grocery store aisles, where I practically live - were deemed as worthy of documenting as landscapes in past times, is an attitude I esteem. That Warhol also threw some irony and humor into the mix ... well, that only makes him more intriguing. The man was fascinating.

At the gift shop, the most representative item I could find to commemorate my having finally found my way to this long-elusive site was a set of "Desserts" note cards. These not only feature Warhol's own sketches of treats, but they also offer recipes for the pictured items ... oh, this was clearly a souvenir meant for me!

I didn't need to make strawberry ice cream or a frozen pink lemonade - it's cold out. But an orange cake? Simple, fragrant, rich, seductively moist ... a slice of this cake is perfect with coffee or tea or cocoa.

I tweaked the recipe a bit, because that's what I do. Warhol took Campbell's soup cans and made them his own; I did the same thing with this cake.

Andy Warhol himself once stated: "Food is my great extravagance." How could I not love the man?

Chocolate-Glazed Orange Cake
(adapted from a recipe developed by Stephen Bruce of Serendipity 3)

1/2 cup butter, softened
zest of 2 oranges
1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup cake flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup fresh orange juice (from the 2 oranges you zested)
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8" round cake pan, line the bottom with foil, then grease the foil.

In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, beat together the butter, zest and sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes until very light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one. Beat in the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. On low speed, slowly beat in the orange juice and buttermilk.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let rest for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the cake from the pan; remove foil from bottom of cake, flip over so the top is up, and let cool completely.

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Melt the chocolate chips and cream together; stir until smooth, then spread over the top of the cake. Let the glaze set for 30 minutes before cutting the cake.

Makes 8 servings.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Primanti Bros. Sandwich

My BFF, Wendy, and I went on one of our infamous "Thelma and Louise"-style adventures recently, spending the weekend in Pittsburgh.


Yes, absolutely - Pittsburgh! It's a fabulous food town, like Chicago, serving unbelievably generous portions of great dishes. And the people are wonderfully friendly, maintaining a small-town neighborly demeanor in a large city. We were welcomed everywhere we went, and enjoyed ourselves immensely while seeing new sights and making new friends.

I was supposed to stop in Pittsburgh last year, on my way to a graduation in Philadelphia; but due to circumstances beyond my control, the trip was cancelled. But then I didn't get to see The Andy Warhol Museum, and I didn't get to eat at the famous restaurant that my friend Ellen - a Pittsburgh native - had recommended.

So, in need of diversion and an opportunity to discuss life and love in great depth during a 10-hour round trip, Wendy and I went to visit a city neither of us had been to in so long that we're not entirely sure whether we'd ever been there before at all.

We set out early in the morning, and arrived just in time for lunch - how perfect! We meandered towards The Strip - a neighborhood with fabulous restaurants and amazing food stores of all types - and staked our place in line at Primanti Bros., an institution since 1933.

The line moved well, as this is not a place to linger at. You order quickly, your food is brought quickly, you eat quickly, you relinquish your seat to the next customer. We sat at the counter, watched Michigan score a touchdown against Michigan State as we soaked up the atmosphere, and then the ham-and-cheese sandwich we were planning to split arrived in front of us.

The schtick at Primanti Bros. is that the cole slaw and the fries aren't served alongside your sandwich: they're stuffed right into it. And this behemoth cost only $6.49 - a Frugal Floozie Friday option, at $5 or less per person, even when I'm away from home!

When the sandwich is placed before you, it is impossible to simply pick it up and start eating. Not only do you first have to assess the situation to determine how to position your hands to keep from having 83% of the filling fall out onto your lap when you take a bite; but you also have to simply stare in disbelief at how huge it is, and how odd it is to see the side dishes crammed into the main portion of your lunch.

Remarkably, Wendy and I managed to get good grips on our food and to eat without having everything ooze out. It sounds like a very strange combination, but I have to say that this mixture really works! The cole slaw was neither too tart nor too sweet, and complemented the saltiness of the ham quite well. The french fries were an ideal pairing with the ham and the cheese. The variety of flavors and textures really united, rather than being disparate and disjointed; these ingredients weren't just thrown together for novelty's sake, but truly formed a whole.

So once we got home, I decided to make my own Primanti-style sandwich because there was really no way to adequately describe the experience of it to Jeremy. He was duly impressed when I presented my creation (pictured at the top of the post); he's a brave eater and will try virtually anything I ask him to. And, needless to say, he loved it!

I have fabulous memories of Pittsburgh; Wendy and I had an exceptional, wonderful trip! And any time I need a refresher, I'll simply make one of these sandwiches and think of how much fun we had on our adventure.

Primanti Bros. Sandwich

1-1/2 cups frozen french fries
4 1" thick slices of soft white Italian-style bread
generous schmears of brown mustard
4 slices American cheese
8 slices salami or other lunch meat
1 cup sweet cole slaw

Prepare french fries according to package directions.

Meanwhile, lay the bread onto the countertop. Schmear each slice with mustard, then place 2 bread slices mustard-side up onto dinner plates.

Place 2 slices of cheese onto each slice of bread, and top the cheese with 4 slices of salami. Place 1/2-cup cole slaw onto each sandwich, then divide the french fries and place half onto each sandwich. Top the sandwiches with the remaining slices of bread, mustard-side down.

Makes 2 sandwiches, feeding 2-4.

Primanti Brothers (Strip District) on Urbanspoon

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