Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Strawberry Jam Muffins

Sometimes I go on baking sprees, and I seem to be in the midst of one right now.  Recently, I've written about Peach Pudding Cake with Brown Sugar Sauce and about an Orange-Glazed Pumpkin Loaf Cake.  Today's offering is a simple muffin, but with the added brightness - both for flavor and color - of strawberry jam.

The inspiration for the muffins came from a cute poem found in a book that my very dear friend Marilyn gave me for my birthday - A Taste of Rhyme by Ann Arbor's own Marvin Brandwin:


Coffee and a muffin are a perfect combination
Early in the morning or at any other time of day.
Although pastry, cake, and pie all rate a commendation
It's the muffins that excel in the art of taste creation,
And are the favored gems in every bakery display.
Choices to explore are walnut, raisin, bran, and cherry.
Each can be relied on to deliver eating pleasure.
But strawberry, blueberry, and other kinds of berry
Bring muffins to the height of satisfaction culinary.
Combine them with coffee to discover berried treasure.

Mr. Brandwin speaks truth - coffee and a muffin is such a simple joy!

Strawberry Jam Muffins

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup vanilla yogurt
3/4 cup strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners

In a large bowl, combine butter and brown sugar; stir in egg.  Stir in flours, salt and cinnamon.  Stir in yogurt.

Divide 2/3 of the batter among the lined muffins cups.  Divide the jam among the muffins, keeping it to the center.   (If too much jam gets to the edge, the muffins stick to the liner and are difficult to remove.  The jam also then has a tendency to leak over the edge of the muffin, causing it to stick to the tin as well.  Trust me on this.)  Top with the remaining batter.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let the muffins cool before removing them from the tin.

Makes 12 muffins.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Lunch Room's Pie Party

The Lunch Room, a vegan food cart that is part of the fabulous courtyard array at Mark's Carts here in Ann Arbor, held a pie party last Wednesday evening to share samples of eight new dessert offerings.  The owners and staff have been incredibly busy during the off-season, devising new treats and temptations for their customers to enjoy once the cart re-opens on April 1.

The moment I saw on Facebook that there was an opportunity to sign up for the event, I staked a claim to two spots - one for Jeremy and one for me.  Of course, I didn't tell Jeremy that I was going to feed him a vegan meal; I merely invited him to eat pie for dinner!

The festivities were held in the normally spacious kitchen where the Mark's Carts vendors prepare their food.  But 60 lucky revelers were crammed into the room, happy and hungry, so the space was a bit cramped.  People sat on a few chairs and benches, stood in corners, and even sat on the floor; two of our hosts very sweetly brought stools for Jeremy and me to sit on as they watched us trying to balance our trays on our knees.  Because these were good, kind people who wanted to support a local business and celebrate the beauty of pie, everyone was gracious and cooperative.  It was a truly festive and friendly atmosphere!

But you're ready for me to tell you how wonderful the goodies were - I know!  So let me give you the tour of my tray, clockwise from top left:

- Apple-Raisin Cream Pie: The generous pieces of tender apple were perfectly complemented by the raisins, whose sweetness shone through a very light custard.  The streusel topping infused each bite with a hint of spice.  Zehnder's of Frankenmuth holds an annual contest for the best apple pie in Michigan, and Jeremy stated without hesitation that he believes this one could win it all!

- Key Lime Pie: #2 on Jeremy's list of favorites, the sweet-tart custard was blissfully free - as one would expect of a vegan pie featuring wholesome ingredients - of artificial colors or flavors.  The brightness of the citrus was intense and refreshing.  It pains to me to say that Jeremy doesn't ordinarily like citrus desserts - including one of my very favorites, lemon meringue pie.  But he loved this!

- Strawberry and Kiwi Tart: Jeremy's favorite, featuring luscious fresh fruits, a perfect crumbly shortbread crust, and a rich almond-flavored custard.  The piece shown above does not, unfortunately, do justice to how gorgeous the dessert looks when first presented, with the colorful fruits arrayed like the stained glass in a cathedral's rose window.  One could say that the tart was too beautiful to cut, but it was even better to eat it than to admire its physical attributes!

- Cherry Pocket Pie: Featuring gorgeous bright red fruit and a beautifully flaky crust, this was a delicious sweet-tart treat showcasing the fabulous cherries that our state is so proudly known for.  This adorable square of pastry tied for first as one of my very favorites, and would be perfect packed in a lunch bag or a picnic basket.

- Sweet Potato Pocket Pie: Sweet and spicy, with a filling that was mostly smooth but still offered texture from tidbits of perfectly tender sweet potato, this hand-held pie was substantial and filling and delicious.

- Berry-Ginger Pocket Pie with Lemon Glaze: My other favorite, showcasing intensely colored fruits that were perfectly enhanced by the brightness of the lemon glaze.  The flavors were so vivid!  And one thing I particularly liked about the pocket pies was the charm of their rustic beauty, as the generous fillings seeped out of the tender crust and teased with just a hint of the delicious promise within.

- Chocolate Banana Cheesecake: Dense and rich, the banana flavor shone through and was ideally complemented by the chocolate.  As a native New Yorker, I prefer my cheesecake to be drier rather than pudding-like; The Lunch Room got the texture just right.

- Chocolate Raspberry Tart: Sultry and seductive, with a sharpness from the raspberry flavor shining through the richness of the chocolate custard, this tart was creamy and decadent.

Our charming hosts for the evening were The Lunch Room's owners Bill Shea and Phillis Englebert, who had worked tirelessly with their staff to prepare for the party and yet were vivacious and enthusiastic all evening.  They offered warm welcomes, huge smiles and big hugs for everyone.

I offer rounds of applause to Bill, Phillis, The Lunch Room staff, and everyone who played a part in the pie party.  Jeremy and I can't thank you enough for welcoming us to eat pie for dinner ... and wonderfully delicious pies, too, which had clearly been made with great care and love.

Until April 1, when we can indulge in all of your wonderful dishes and baked goods again!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Conor O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub

A pint o' Guinness - or, at least, a pint of Guinness ice cream - for $4.95: that's the fabulous dessert Jeremy chose for his 21st birthday recently at today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature, Conor O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub.

The Guinness Ice Cream Sundae falls perfectly within our mandatory $5 budget, and is an enormous, luscious concoction: 3 scoops of ice cream topped with chocolate fudge, caramel sauce, pecans, chocolate chips, whipped cream and the crowning cherry.  The birthday guest can choose either a dessert or a $10 card as the restaurant's gift.  Jeremy had chosen the latter last time, as Conor O'Neill's is where he asks me to take him every year for his celebration, so he decided to indulge in the sugar rush this time.

Several of the desserts fall within our budgetary constraints for individual servings, but could happily be shared.  The appetizers, which range in price from $6.50 to $8.50, are easily split as well so that they meet our $5 per person limit.

For as long as we've been going to Conor O'Neill's, we've ordered the Galway Bay Mussels appetizer, so I was astounded not to see it on the lunch menu at our visit; apparently it's only available at dinner now.  But our very sweet waitress, Jennifer, checked with the kitchen and told us that they would make it in honor of Jeremy's birthday.

The cream sauce that the mussels are served in is rich with mustard, garlic and sherry; the dish also comes with slices of baguette and some hearty brown bread.  At $8.95, this is a fabulous dish for two - far more than one person could eat alone, particularly before a meal.  The real treasure is the sauce, though, which is just sublime!  Order extra bread to sop it up, because you truly won't want to leave one tiny morsel on the plate.

I have never ordered anything at Conor O'Neill's that I haven't thoroughly enjoyed, from the Irish "fayre" (fish and chips, shepherd's pie, boxty, etc.) to the sandwiches, from the salads to the desserts.  While they exceeded our Frugal Floozie Friday budget, our entrees - the Big House Burger (with cheese, bacon, mushrooms and onion rings) and Ploughman's Sandwich (grilled vegetables and cheddar) with a side salad - were so fabulous that they warranted a photo op, and a few moments of fame, nonetheless:

In addition to the excellent food, Conor O'Neill's also offers entertainment several evenings each week, from trivia contests to Irish jam sessions - you can find both food and fun for $5 or less per person!  How great is that?

Conor O'Neill's Traditional Irish Pub
318 South Main Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
(734) 665-2968

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Orange-Glazed Pumpkin Loaf Cake

Winter has arrived in Ann Arbor, both officially and weather-wise.  That means it's prime season for cocoa or tea, something to help us all stay warm.  And who wouldn't want a piece of cake to go along with that?

This pumpkin loaf cake is so easy to make, and offers a great way to disguise the health benefits of whole wheat flour.  A sweet treat with some redeeming nutritional value - how fabulous is that?  And the orange glaze is so vividly flavorful - a perfect complement to the cake.

You could easily add some dates and/or some walnuts to the batter, if you'd like.  Sometimes I want a bread or a cookie or ice cream with lots of goodies stirred in, but sometimes simplicity rules the day.  The day I baked this cake, I was in more of a minimalist mood.

No matter how you serve it, or what you serve it with, just be sure to try this.  It's really lovely!

Orange-Glazed Pumpkin Loaf Cake

1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup light-flavored oil
1 cup pumpkin puree
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/3 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

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

In a large bowl, combine butter, oil, pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt.  Stir in the flour, and pour batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 45-50 minutes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let the cake rest for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and let cool completely on a rack.

In a small bowl, combine the glaze ingredients; pour over the cake and spread glaze to the edges, letting it drip down the sides.  Let glaze set before cutting.

Makes 1 cake.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Neeps 'n' Tatties with Drambuie Sauce for Robbie Burns Day

Last year, my Robbie Burns Day post about Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread was selected as one of the "Best of the Blogs" for January 25, 2011 by the prestigious Food News Journal - a huge thrill!  That's a hard act to follow, I have to admit.  But I think I may have done it today with this traditional dish - Neeps 'n' Tatties.

"Neeps" are turnips and "tatties" are potatoes.  Boil 'em, mash 'em ... good, simple, hearty fare for a bitter winter's day.  To translate, so to speak, what Robert Burns - the national poet of Scotland, born on January 25, 1759 - wrote in Up in the Early Morning, "Cold blows the wind from east to west."  Warmth and comfort are what we seek these days.

But why not dress up this basic dish with a bit of glam from Drambuie, "A secret elixir of herbs, spices and heather honey, crafted with aged Scotch whiskies"?  Why make a boring gravy with broth if I could celebrate my heritage - one-quarter Scottish, and my maternal grandmother was proud to be descended from the Rob Roy MacGregors - with a more flavorful addition?  The Drambuie's sweetness is a nice balance to the sharpness of the turnips; and potatoes, of course, are perfect with virtually any gravy.

Robbie Burns is usually honored on his birthday with Burns Suppers featuring the dreaded haggis - sheep innards (heart, liver, lungs) mixed with oats, onions, and spices and then cooked in a sheep's stomach.  Even if I could find all of the ingredients, I can assure you I have no interest in serving anything this authentic for the celebration!

But neeps 'n' tatties is not only fun to say, it's a delicious dish to eat since "I'm sure it's winter fairly."

Up in the Early Morning (1788)

Cauld blaws the wind frae east to west,
The drift is driving sairly;
Sae loud and shill's I hear the blast-
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are covered wi' snaw,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

The birds sit chittering in the thorn,
A' day they fare but sparely;
And lang's the night frae e'en to morn-
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

Neeps 'n' Tatties with Drambuie Sauce

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1" pieces
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
pinches of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fill a medium saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil.  Add the potatoes; boil for 10-15 minutes, until tender.  D
rain the potatoes and mash with the butter, milk, salt and pepper.  Place onto a serving dish.

1 pound turnips, peeled, cut into 1" pieces
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons milk
pinches of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fill a medium saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil.  Add the turnips; boil for 5 minutes, until tender.  Drain the turnips and mash with the butter, milk, salt and pepper; place onto a serving dish.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour

pinch of kosher salt
1/3 cup Drambuie
3/4 cup milk

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat; whisk in the flour and salt, then cook for 1 minute.  Slowly add the Drambuie and the milk, whisking until smooth.  Cook for 5 minutes over low heat.

Serve the Drambuie sauce over the neeps 'n' tatties.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Peanut Butter Pudding for National Peanut Butter Day

It's National Peanut Butter Day, which is different than National Peanut Butter Lovers' Day and National Peanut Butter Cookie Day.   Don't worry - there's enough love for peanut butter to cover every one of these celebrations!

Today I'm offering a luscious, creamy pudding to show case the fabulous flavor of the star ingredient.  And who could go wrong by adding a bit of chocolate as a garnish?  Especially when the chocolate comes in the form of Reese's peanut butter cups!

Whether you enjoy this rich dessert, an Elvis peanut butter and banana sandwich, some Asian noodles in peanut sauce, or some other dish, just be sure not to miss the party today!

Here are some other recipes for your festivities:

Peanut Butter Milkshakes

Fluffernutter Cupcakes

Peanut Butter Pancakes

Peanut Butter No-Bake Treats

Elvis Muffins

Peanut Butter Pie

Peanut Butter Pudding

2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 Reese's peanut butter cups, halved
whipped cream

In a 1-quart saucepan, combine cornstarch, brown sugar, salt and water; cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until it becomes translucent and gelatinous.  Lower heat to medium.  Slowly whisk in the half-and-half.  Stir in egg and vanilla and cook until thickened, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter.

Divide the pudding among 4 small dessert cups, then cover with plastic wrap.  Let cool completely in the refrigerator.

To serve, top with whipped cream and garnish each with half of a peanut butter cup.

Serves 4.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Scallion Pancakes for the Year of the Dragon

Today is the Chinese New Year, so I'm serving something special in honor of the holiday.  According to Wikipedia, celebrations involve buying "presents, decoration, material, food, and clothing. It is also the tradition that every family thoroughly cleans the house to sweep away any ill-fortune in hopes to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red colour paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of 'good fortune' or 'happiness', 'wealth', and "longevity'."

Because this is the Year of the Dragon I'd entertained an odd notion of making something with dragon fruit, which I adore.  I don't care so much for its flavor, which is fairly bland (in my limited experience, anyway, of trying it once), but I love its gorgeous colors.  It's also filled with tiny seeds - reminiscent of poppy seeds - which would offer perfect symbolism to hope for many blessings in the upcoming year.

I'd thought about pureeing the fruit and perhaps making a sweet filling for dessert egg rolls.  But since I couldn't find any fresh, frozen, or canned fruits despite searching through grocery stores and ethnic markets near my home and asking my very helpful friends at The Produce Station if perchance they had any, I had to make a new plan.  (This photo was taken at a market in Pittsburgh in October ... a bit premature.)

I didn't want to resort to boring ol' fried rice - it's a great way to use up leftovers, but it's hardly celebratory or festive.  I wasn't feeling adventurous enough to make steamed buns.  I found numerous variations on red bean paste that I could have played with; but that wasn't particularly striking my fancy, although I do like red bean ice cream.

And then it hit me: Scallion Pancakes.  I could devour entire batches of these, crispy, chewy and delicious as they are.  They're easy to make, and can be eaten on their own or with a dipping sauce or wrapped around a filling ... they're perfect!  They require no unusual ingredients or equipment, so anyone can make them.  And with their many flecks of onion, I could also say that they offer symbolic hopes for bounty.

I asked my BFF Wendy's daughter Alison, who is studying Chinese (and who is fluent in English, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese as well) how to say "Happy New Year" appropriately for this post.  She gave me the common greeting in Mandarin, the most widely spoken dialect:


The four characters are xin ([SHIN] = New), nian ([nee-EN] = Year), and kuai le (pronounced to rhyme with "why the" = Happy/Wonderful).

May the Year of the Dragon bring you much happiness and good fortune!

Scallion Pancakes with Garlic-Ginger Dipping Sauce

Garlic-Ginger Dipping Sauce:
1/3 cup teriyaki sauce
1 teaspoon minced candied ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

Combine all ingredients and let rest at room temperature while making the pancakes.

Scallion Pancakes:
1 cup cake flour
1 cup bread flour + extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups boiling water
4 tablespoons sesame oil
2 bunches scallions, chopped fine
4 tablespoons light-flavored oil, for frying

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours and the salt.  Slowly pour the boiling water over the flour mixture, stirring until it forms a ball.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 portions, and keep the remaining ones covered while you work with one at a time.

Form the dough into a ball, then roll it out on a heavily floured surface to an 8" circle.  (A fair amount of flour is required to keep the soft dough from sticking to everything.)  Brush with sesame oil, then roll it up into a cylinder.

Twist the dough into a spiral, then roll out again into an 8" circle.

Brush with sesame oil and sprinkle with one-quarter of the scallions.

Roll it up into a cylinder again.

Twist the dough into a spiral, then roll out again into an 8" circle.  Repeat this procedure with the remaining dough to make a total of 4 pancakes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the frying oil in a large skillet, over medium-high heat.  Cook one pancake at a time for 2-3 minutes per side, until it's crisp and golden brown.  Repeat with remaining oil and pancakes.

Makes 4 pancakes.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Tower Inn Cafe

My BFF Wendy and I ate a great dinner recently, at a place that she's been to numerous times but I hadn't been to in ages. Today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature is the Tower Inn Cafe, an Ypsilanti institution.

There is an extensive menu of appetizers, pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, salads and burgers ... needless to say, it took a bit of time to decide among all the fabulous options. Each of us ordered something that could be readily split and shared, and which could come in at $5 or less per person to meet our mandatory budget.

The Parthenon-Greco pizza featured garlic, herbs, gyro meat, yellow peppers, feta cheese and Kalamata olives ... sigh. The small pizza cost $10.99; it's 10" in diameter, so the servings are very generous even if shared with three others to bring it within our Frugal Floozie Friday budget. It was rich, salta, zesty, and exceptionally good.

The Spinach Pie Bourekitos, for $7.99, were flaky and delicate; they also came with a lovely rice side dish featuring spinach and herbs for flavor.

And then there was dessert:

For $3.99, Wendy chose the Snickers cheesecake and I was fortunate enough to snag the very last piece of the Oreo variety. Rich, creamy, and utterly decadent, these were so incredibly good, and a perfect way to end our meal.

The Cafe has a wide range of options for Frugal Floozie Friday or for any time. As the owner, Rois Savvides, writes in a note on the menu: "Our food is made with tons of love and we are trying to win your hearts as well, every day."

Tower Inn has, indeed, won Wendy's and my hearts.

Tower Inn Cafe
701 W Cross St
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Peach Pudding Cake with Brown Sugar Sauce

Jean Stapleton, who was so beloved as Edith Bunker on "All in the Family," is celebrating her 88th birthday today. In her honor, I'm offering a recipe that uses peaches ... cling peaches, specifically.  Cling peaches in heavy syrup.

Some of you are just reading along, waiting to see what Jean Stapleton and cling peaches have in common with each other.  Others of you, though, are showing your age (just as I am!) and your good memories. You're humming along, saying "mmm MMMmmm."

Now, let me explain by having you watch a short clip from the show.  (It's much, much funnier to watch than it is to read about - trust me.  And you only have to watch the first 5 minutes.)

Now, of course, you understand that I had to honor Edith's integrity and Jean's comedic talent today by showcasing the mmm MMMmmms!

Edith wasn't a sophisticated woman at all, though she had a heart of the purest gold; what she lacked in education and intellect, she more than offered in genuine kindness.

A simple dessert seemed fitting, then - the kind of treat Edith might enjoy with a neighbor while chatting and sipping coffee as they took a break from their household chores.  And then I had an epiphany: I looked to see if there might be a celebrity cookbook, or one "written" by the fictional character that could offer a recipe ... et, voila!

I found that there is, indeed, an "All in the Family" Cookbook and it contains a recipe for Peach Pudding Cake!  Since I don't have the actual book though, unfortunately, I had to finagle my own version.  Pudding cakes are very easy to make, and usually involve mixing dry ingredients in a baking pan and then pouring hot liquid over them; while baking, a layer of cake and a layer of pudding are then formed.  This turned out to be sweet and spicy - a lovely treat.

For decades, I haven't been able to see a can of cling peaches without thinking of Edith and hearing her say "mmm MMMmmm" in my head.  (I'm sure that says something very distinctive about me, though I won't take any guesses about what, precisely, it says!)

But I think my very dear friend Rob and I are the only ones who remember this episode.  Rob teaches a regular "Lunch and Learn" class each week, and each spring he offers them as "Lunch and Laugh" sessions to focus on humor of all varieties.

One time, he was going to discuss integrity and honesty by using Edith's shining example as an illustration.  He and I chuckled, remembering the scene with such fondness - it was so funny!  We were sure the class would be a huge hit.

And yet, he came back a bit disillusioned afterwards.  Many people in attendance - retirees, primarily, who were definitely old enough to have seen the cling peaches hilarity when it actually aired - didn't remember the episode, or they only remembered it vaguely.  They laughed while watching the video in class, and they enjoyed discussing it.

But, c'mon!  They should have known it as well as Rob and I did!  So today, in Jean's honor, I'm making sure that this classic scene isn't forgotten.

And every time you see a can of this fruit from now on, remember that they're not "cling peaches" - they're "mmm MMMmmm ... in heavy syrup."

Peach Pudding Cake with Brown Sugar Sauce

1 15.25-ounce can cling peach halves in heavy syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
whipped cream or ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a 9" pie pan.

Drain the peaches and reserve the syrup.  Chop the peaches into 3/4" pieces and place into the bottom of the prepared pie pan.

Measure the syrup; add water to make 3/4 cup liquid.  Pour the syrup into a small saucepan and add the brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla; bring to a boil, stir to combine, then remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Combine the buttermilk and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla; pour into the flour mixture and stir to combine well.

Pour the cake batter over the peaches and spread to cover the peaches as much as possible.  Pour the syrup over the cake and bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the peach sauce is bubbling.

Let cake rest for 5 minutes, then serve.  Top with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Buffalo Celery Sticks

Cool and crisp, these blue cheese-filled celery sticks are a great snack.   The crushed corn chips on top offer a bit of contrasting spice, too, with Cajun flavoring.  These are not necessarily photogenic, but they're fabulous nonetheless!

The notion for this recipe came to me in a flash as I perused all the lovely goodies at the new Michigan General Store in Ypsilanti.  Oh, it's so much fun to shop there!  My favorite treats so far are the Great Lakes kettle cooked potato chips, made with potatoes grown in the state, and buttery, creamy tart cherry-flavored caramels ... sigh.  Garlicky pickles, hot sauces, beers, shortbread cookies, candies, smoked fish dips - there are so many amazing products, all proudly made right here in Michigan.  And the wines you can buy there are lovely served in beautiful glasses etched with the famous mitten shape of our state, which you'll also find just waiting for you at the shop.

As I admired the bounty, I saw Cajun tortilla chips made right in Ypsilanti ... I heard them calling to me.  With a clear vision, I thought of combining these treats into an homage to all the flavors of a traditional plate of Buffalo wings - cooling sticks of celery, blue cheese dip, spicy sauce - but without the chicken part of the equation.

Whether serving these while watching a sporting event or a movie, or serving them at a party, they're an easy and fun food to offer.  Buy dairy products and celery from Michigan to go with the tortilla chips when making this recipe, and your entire feast can celebrate the Great Lakes State!

Buffalo Celery Sticks

1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
several splashes cayenne pepper sauce
2/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
pinches of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large stalk celery, cut into 5" ribs
1 cup Cajun-flavored corn chips (see note below)

Combine sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, blue cheese, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl; cover and let rest overnight.

Spread the blue cheese dip down the center of the celery ribs. Crush the corn chips and press the celery ribs upside-down into the crumbs to coat the dip with them. Place onto a serving dish.

Makes 12 or more Buffalo Celery Sticks.

Note: If you don't have access to Cajun-flavored chips, you can use either corn or potato chips and sprinkle them with Cajun seasoning.

Michigan General Store
44 E. Cross Street
Ypsilanti, MI 48198

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Reaching ....

As I wrote in both of my New Year posts - the one for Rosh Hashanah and the one featuring my word of the year - the past years (5771 on the Jewish calendar and 2011 on the English one) were wretched. Really, truly, they brought some bad juju!

But the fall and early winter have brought a bit of an upswing, a pretty good lead-in to a new year with fresh hope.    And I always want to share good news with my friends, who've supported me through all the bad stuff and kept me going.  In many ways, it was the professional invitations I received at the end of the year that helped me to choose REACH as my word for 2012; but these are helping me to extend my reach on a personal level, too.

I was the entertainment at Temple Beth Emeth's annual Sisterhood dinner, speaking about how I meandered from Catholic school to Jewish food.  I had a marvelous time - and without embarrassing myself!  (I'm not a natural public speaker by any means.)  I made wonderful new friends, I've been invited to judge the temple's annual brisket cook-off in March (what a great gig that will be!), and I had a lovely time as Cinderella at the ball.  I've also got judging duties at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's chili cook-off in February, so my taste buds are going to be busy!

An excellent opportunity to write for the Washtenaw Jewish News, Ann Arbor's Jewish newspaper, was offered to me - reviewing the cookbook Ma Baseema with its fabulous Chaldean/Iraqi recipes.  I recently finished work on that, and the piece will appear in the February issue; another article I'm working on for the WJN has a publication date yet to be determined.

And then I received the most incredible email inviting me to a brand new project; even re-reading it, I'm still in shock!  Let me edit/shorten it for you, and cut to the proverbial chase:

Allow me to introduce myself as editor of Repast, quarterly publication of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor.

I'm beginning to plan a Fall 2012 issue of Repast on the theme of "American Cookbooks and Cookbook Writers, 1900-1945". I'm writing to see if you might be able to contribute an article? What I had in mind is a piece on The Molly Goldberg Cookbook, which you wrote about briefly in your 10/29/09AnnArbor.com column. I think this topic would greatly interest our readers ....

We feature stories about the history and culture of food: its production, its preparation, its enjoyment, regional culinary traditions, the evolution of gastronomy and of food discourse, kitchen lore, etc.... Your article would make a valuable contribution to the culinary history community of scholars, writers, and readers. Thank you for your time and interest.

OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG!!!  I've been invited to write for a respected journal devoted to the history of food!  Me - the flaky chick who takes pictures of everything she eats (with an adorable little pink camera, no less) and then babbles and blathers about it (after taking notes in an equally adorable pink notebook)!

I'll be writing about a Jewish cookbook and the amazing woman, Gertrude Berg, who created the character of Molly Goldberg whose name the book was written in - does it get any better than that???

I'll get to reach back into history, reach out to friends both old and new as I do my research, reach deep into my skill set ... keep reaching and, most importantly, growing ....

For today's recipe - Roasted Fennel and Mushrooms - go to the Food and Grocery page of AnnArbor.com ....

Friday, January 13, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - The Heidelberg

On New Year's Eve, my BFF Wendy and I decided to have dinner at a place that we hadn't been to for quite some time: The Heidelberg, an Ann Arbor institution and today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.

We were bidding "Good riddance" to a wretchedly bad year, and wanted to imbue 2012 with all of our very best hopes and wishes and dreams for happiness.  So we ordered food that was indulgent and celebratory.

The cheesy, bacon-topped decadence pictured above is a plate of the German Potato Skins, which are served with a strong (but not overpowering) garlic sauce.  Rather than finding the usual potato beds stuffed with fillings, these are closer to being roasted potatoes inundated with generous quantities of all the goodies.  At only $7.99, this is an excellent Frugal Floozie Friday deal; it could easily have made an entire meal for two, and would be a great dish to split among four friends and enjoyed with a soda.  This falls well within the mandatory $5 budget per person, as do all of the restaurant's appetizers.

Our entrees were well over that price range, so I'll spare you the temptation of seeing them; they were quite good, though, and so large that they provided us with dinner as well as with the next day's breakfast.  Let's just move right along to another Frugal Floozie Friday option - sharing dessert with a loved one.

The Heidelberg's desserts are $6 each, which places them outside of our budget for individual servings.  But they are so rich that, truly, you could split them - sharing both the joy and the calories - and not feel at all deprived.

Our server, Travis, who was utterly charming (Wendy and I had notions of playing yenta and fixing him up with her daughter, since they're both interested in international economics and are studying Chinese), presented us with an astounding tray of sweets to choose from.  He smiled brightly while leading us into temptation though, really, we didn't need much nudging to find our way there all by ourselves.

Wendy couldn't decide between the carrot cake and the Key lime cheesecake.  So, given that she planned to start training for the Detroit Free Press Marathon once the new year officially began, she decided to provide herself with some incentive to run ... she ordered both.  Atta girl!  Both selections were rich and moist and sublime.

I paid no attention to most of the offerings because I had already eyed one which featured chocolate and caramel and creaminess - the Snickers cheesecake.  And yes, it was as luscious and decadent as it looks!  Snickers + cheesecake ... is there any way to go wrong with that?  It would be a perfect treat to share with a date, sighing happily together as you enjoyed it.

The Heidelberg was warm and welcoming, with very friendly service.  Wendy and I had a grand time there, sending 2011 on its way and happify-ing ourselves for the new year.

The Heidelberg
215 N. Main St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mozzarella-Stuffed Turkey Meatballs

Fresh mozzarella was on sale at the grocery store recently, so I thought I'd buy a container and then figure out what to do with it.  This is often how things work here - I don't head to the store with a plan, but rather find out what's on sale or being offered as a Manager's Special (on the verge of its "sell by" date and thus discounted).  I bring the loot home and then write about whatever concoctions I've devised with my stellar deals.

This is an elegant and sophisticated dish which gives no indication at all of being inspired by a sale item.  An assortment of pantry staples such as bread crumbs, olive oil, and canned tomatoes were combined with some fresh vegetables and wine already on hand.  The result was a spicy sauce and some tender meatballs filled with melting cheese.  It was exceptionally good!

I'm proud of both my shopping skills and also of how wonderful this meal was!  And I'm trying to win a contest that would offer cookbooks, other goodies, AND a phone chat with the fabulous Lidia Bastianich herself as a prize - would that make a great item for the blog, or what???  So please go to this link and vote for me.  Many thanks!!!

Mozzarella-Stuffed Turkey Meatballs

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 small yellow pepper, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine

1/2 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
6 3/4" cubes fresh mozzarella
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Make the sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic, onion, peppers, fresh tomatoes, salt, and peppper; cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the wine and the crushed tomatoes; bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and continue simmering.

Make the meatballs: In a medium bowl, combine the turkey, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and bread crumbs; mix well. Form 6 meatballs. One by one, flatten the meatballs into small patties; place 1 cheese cube into the center, then wrap the cheese in the turkey, making sure to seal it well. Repeat until all of the meatballs have been stuffed.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook for 5 minutes, turning them frequently to brown them all over.

Carefully add the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.

The meatballs and sauce can be served "as is" for a traditional Italian "secondi" ([seh-GON-dee] = second course), or they can be served over rice or pasta. (In Italy, a first course offers pasta, rice, or soup; the second course would offer meat, and then subsequently there would be vegetables, salads, and dolci - [DOHL-chee], sweets.)

Serves 2-4.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

National Voodoo Day

Today is a holiday in the West African country Benin: it's National Voodoo Day.

Now, before anyone starts thinking I'll be offering a recipe for a magic potion, let me assure you that the true practice of Voodoo doesn't involve all the propaganda that is usually associated with it. According to Martine De Sousa, a museum curator and expert on the religion: "People have a negative image of voodoo ... (as) a sort of a witchcraft, where you can put a bad spell on someone when you are jealous of that person."

Instead, Voodoo features a single creator in addition to a hierarchy of major divinities who rule over the Earth, the sky and the water; this then explains the power that fetishes and other inanimate natural objects are believed to hold, imbued with spirituality as they are.  There are also lesser deities which can act as intercessors in a role similar to that of saints in the Catholic church. According to Wikipedia, "about 23% of the population of Benin, some 1 million people," are followers of Voodoo.

In honor of today's festivities, I modified this recipe a bit from one I found in The New York Times International Cookbook by Craig Claiborne. My copy of this classic is ancient and decrepit; in fact, it's so old that it's taped together, it shows evidence of encounters with spilled ingredients, and Benin is still called by its pre-1975 name of Dahomey!

In southern Benin, corn is the primary starch; in the north, yams are. Fish and seafood play a significant role in the cuisine throughout the country, as do rice, tomatoes, peanuts, and black-eyed peas. Meat - usually goat or pork - is a luxury, so it would be reserved for an occasion such as today's.

This dish offers great flavor, meat served in honor of the holiday, and black-eyed peas which are thought to bring good luck if eaten in the new year.  It's got everything you need for a celebration!

Ham and Shrimp with Black-Eyed Peas

1 cup dry black-eyed peas
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup finely diced ham
1/3 pound pre-cooked shrimp, chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2/3 cup chili sauce
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper sauce rice, for serving

Place the peas in a medium bowl and cover generously with water; soak overnight at room temperature.  

Drain the peas and place them in a medium saucepan; add water to cover generously.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes; drain.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is browning.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the ham, shrimp and salt; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chili sauce, water, and cayenne pepper sauce; cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve the dish over rice.

Serves 2-4.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Just as days on the Jewish calendar begin at sundown and carry through to the next setting of the sun, Jeremy's birthday celebration each year begins with dinner the night before.

Jeremy is going to be 21 tomorrow, so his dad and I are taking him out tonight for our annual feast of Chinese food.

On January 9, 1991, Stuart and I went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant that doesn't exist anymore.  (We also got engaged at a Chinese restaurant that is no longer standing ... it seems to be a theme in our lives!)  Jeremy was a week late, I was enormous and uncomfortable after gaining 60 pounds, and going out to dinner just seemed easier than cooking.

At 3 o'clock in the morning, my back started to ache - the first pangs of labor; it took Jeremy another 17 hours to finally show up to stick his tongue out at us.  Stuart has maintained for all these years that Jeremy loved Chinese food so much that it was the ultimate lure to make him give up his comfy surroundings and finally make his grand arrival!

So tonight will be the 21st year in a row that we've eaten Chinese food on January 9, the night before Jeremy's birthday.  Who knew, that first time, that this would become a tradition that's integral to our celebration???

And who knew that 21 years could possibly go by so quickly ...?

For today's recipe - Waffle French Toast with Apricot Syrup - go to the Food and Grocery page of AnnArbor.com ....

Friday, January 6, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday -- Ron's Roadside BBQ

You've probably passed Romanoff's, on Pontiac Trail near North Territorial, dozens of times and presumed that the storefront wasn't open or that it only served catering customers. It's very unassuming.

But you'd be wrong, as I was until just recently. Because there is a small restaurant on that corner which does, indeed, handle catering; but it also offers take-out service, as well as a large table for family-style seating if you want to eat in.

And trust me - whether you take your meal home or eat it there, you definitely want to indulge in some fabulous food at today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature, Ron's Roadside BBQ.

Ron Philipp is the proud chef behind the barbecue joint, and he's also the force behind Romanoff's, which is his family's long-time business. My friends Ruth and Helaine invited me to join them at Ron's for lunch recently, and we had a wonderful meal and lots of fun!

I ordered the Trio on Brio for $9, so that I could try each of the meat varieties offered: brisket, pulled chicken and pulled pork sandwiches on freshly prepared brioche rolls. Truly, I wouldn't be able to pick a favorite; the meats are all unbelievably tender, with a sweet/spicy sauce that is really, really good. These are much larger than the standard slider, and the order could easily be split so that each of three people gets a sandwich. Add one $2 side dish per person - those, too, are very generous - and you've got a complete hearty meal for an even $5 per person.

Pulled pork or chicken sandwiches are $6, and are the size of a Big Mac - readily halved for sharing. Pick a couple of side dishes - everything from cucumber salad (which Ron recommended when I asked which was his favorite) to pasta to macaroni and cheese - and you've got yet another qualifying Frugal Floozie Friday meal, this one perfect for two.

I highly recommend that you eat in when you stop by for your barbecue fix, because then you'll get to hear stories of Ron's travels in France (he earned a certificate at the famous La Varenne cooking school) and working with Ina Garten at The Barefoot Contessa gourmet food emporium. Be sure to ask him about Barbra Streisand and Martha Stewart, too - Ron's got lots of stories to tell, and was a fabulous lunch companion when he joined the three of us at the table.

The barbecue joint smelled just divine when we walked in; not only had Ron been cooking the meats, but he was also preparing a batch of exceptional and authentic jambalaya which he offered generous samples of. The roux is dark and rich, there's a zestiness from cayenne pepper, and it's loaded with goodies like sausage and okra.

So whether you eat in or take your food home, whether you order a full family meal or a $5 Frugal Floozie Friday feature, whether you choose the brisket or the chicken or the pork, just be sure to visit Ron at his barbecue joint. The food is exceptional, and your host is a really great guy!

Ron's Roadside BBQ
5850 Pontiac Trail
Ann Arbor, MI
Winter hours: Thursday - Sunday, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Corn Chip-Crusted Fish Sandwich with Creamy Cole Slaw

I left work one day recently, ran errands afterwards, came home hungry, but didn't resort to eating ice cream or Almond Joys for dinner. I ate real food - a hearty fish sandwich. And I didn't go slumming at any drive-thru windows to get it, either!

This dish took me less than 30 minutes to make, start to finish. It had crunchiness from both the crispy fish and the fresh cabbage; creaminess and a hint of tartness from the sauce; and a bit of sweetness, too, from the cabbage and the bun. And because I used vegetables and a whole wheat bun, I could even delude myself that I was combatting the calories from the frying oil!

My fish sandwich was a simple meal, but a really delicious one ....

Corn Chip-Crusted Fish Sandwich with Creamy Cole Slaw

Cole Slaw:
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
3 cups shredded cole slaw mix

1/4 cup Egg Beaters
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce
1/3 cup ground corn chips
1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
2 4-ounce tilapia filets
4 tablespoons oil, for frying

To Finish:
2 whole wheat sub buns

Make the slaw: In a large mixing bowl, stir together mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt and lemon pepper; stir in cabbage and set aside.

Prepare the fish: Combine the Egg Beaters and pepper sauce in a shallow bowl. Combine the ground corn chips and seasoning in a shallow bowl. Take each tilapia filet and dip both sides into the egg mixture; then dip the fish into the corn chip mixture, coating both sides well.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Carefully place the filets into the hot oil, and fry for 3 minutes per side until crisp and golden. Pat dry on paper towels.

Finish the sandwiches: Cut the sub buns all the way through, lengthwise, if necessary. Place the bottom of each bun onto the countertop and divide the slaw among the buns. Top with the fish filets, then cover with the tops of the buns. Cut in half, horizontally. Serve immediately.

Serves 2-4; the sandwiches are very generous, and a half-sandwich would be plenty if served with side dishes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Sugar Bowl

In honor of tonight's Sugar Bowl - featuring #13 Michigan vs. #11 Virginia Tech - I'm offering a dessert to enjoy while cheering on my team. When the Wolverines battle the Hokies, there has to be food appropriate to the festivities!

So I made a dessert with pecans and caramel that offers flavors reminiscent of the luscious pralines found in New Orleans, where the game is being played; with banana slices and a hint of rum, it's also an homage to that city's beloved Bananas Foster. And I had to be sure it was served in the perfect vessel ... a sugar(y) bowl!

I offer you something sweet and rich and delicious: a Caramel Crunch Ice Cream Sundae with Banana Caramel Sauce . Enjoy!


Caramel Crunch Ice Cream Sundae with Banana Caramel Sauce

9 caramel-flavored mini rice cakes
6 small sugar cookies
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups butter pecan ice cream
6 ounces caramel ice cream sauce
1/2 tablespoon dark rum or rum extract
2 medium bananas, sliced
4 waffle cone bowls
whipped cream

Place a sheet of waxed paper on the bottom of an 8"x8" freezer-safe dish.

Place the rice cakes and sugar cookies into a food processor or blender; grind into fine crumbs and place into a flat bowl. Stir in the sugar.

Form 4 1-cup balls of ice cream. One by one, roll the ice cream in the cookie crumbs, coating the ice cream very well; place onto the waxed paper in the dish. Place the dish with the ice cream balls into the freezer for 1 hour to firm them.

Place the ice cream sauce, rum and bananas into a large skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, just until boiling.

Place a waffle cone bowl onto each of 4 dessert plates. Place 1 ice cream ball into each bowl. Divide the bananas among the bowls, drizzling with caramel sauce. Top with whipped cream and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Word of the Year: Reach

My very dear friend Leanne, of From Chaos Comes Happiness, picks a new word to inspire her each year. I jumped onto that bandwagon myself for 2011, choosing the word "nurture." I intended to invest in everything from friendships to gardens to myself with love and tender care.

But in the very first week of January, my plans completely imploded.

With whiplash-inducing speed, 2011 went from a year filled with hope to a year of stress and anxiety. I nurtured wishes which had been made upon everything from bright stars to birthday candles, but many of my wishes didn't come true. I nurtured my relationships, astounded that some were even renewed after decades; but some relationships ended, despite valiant efforts to maintain and sustain them. I tried when others wouldn't have. I tried because I believed ... until I could no longer do so.

I found myself spending considerable time nurturing others through chaos this past year, as "real life" reared its ugly head in many different manifestations among my loved ones; I also had my own personal adventures in circles of Hell that Dante never envisioned. Through it all, I was told repeatedly to be selfish, to start taking care of myself ... but how? Sacrifice my favorite people's needs for the sake of my own? Because those whom I most cherish suffered greatly in a variety of ways, causing me stress and anguish as well, and they needed me. I strive to be a person who is committed to my loved ones for better or for worse.

But I didn't nurture myself sufficiently; at the end of the summer and into early fall, I heard a constant refrain of people telling me I looked "fragile." Where I failed myself, though, others took up the slack.

I felt loved and cherished beyond what I can describe when people nurtured me through crisis after crisis and wound after wound this past year. It would have been so easy for them to leave, to abandon me when things were worse rather than better.

And yet, so many, many people showed such a strong commitment to me - they were absolutely and utterly "true blue." They accepted me in my human frailty instead of shying away when things weren't easy. And when they told me they loved me, they also showed me that their words had meaning by virtue of their actions. My gratitude to all of those people is so profound that I simply have no words adequate to the enormity of it. Their nurturing has helped to restore me.

Refreshed and ready, this year I'm starting over in many ways. I debated whether to try again with "nurture," since I didn't have the opportunity to invest in the word as I'd originally intended to. But I feel I'm in a different place - and not just physically, after multiple moves.

So I picked a new word and I set new goals. That doesn't mean I discard my efforts to nurture; it just means I expand upon them.

My word for 2012 is

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

In this brand new year, I intend to reach for the proverbial stars.

For today's recipe - Beer-Braised Peppers and Papaya - go to the Food and Grocery page of AnnArbor.com ....

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