Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Chopped" Challenge - Red Pepper, Spinach and Feta Risotto

My fabulous blogging buddies Judee (Gluten-Free A-Z Blog) and Judy (Cranberry Morning) suggested feta cheese and basil pesto, respectively, as items they wanted me to use in creating an appetizer for my "Chopped" challenge, in which I had asked readers to suggest ingredients that I would then have to use in creating something wonderful to eat.

In addition to sharing a name, despite the spelling variation, they also both eat gluten-free diets.  So I thought that this was a match made in cyber-Heaven and that I should unite my friends' items into one great dish!

I didn't want to offer a recipe for pizza or noodles or anything that could contain gluten.  Sure, there are breads and pastas which would accommodate this dietary restriction; but there are also so many, many foods without gluten that it seemed better to showcase them rather than to use substitutions.

The ingredients I was challenged to use made my thoughts immediately travel to the Mediterranean.  In Italy, it is customary to eat dishes in succession, with pasta or rice - a "primo piatto," or first course - served before the main meat dish.  So a creamy risotto, enhanced with the vibrant flavor of pesto and the zesty addition of Feta, sounded like the perfect antidote to a winter day.

I must say, this dish is simply, richly, and addictively delicious; I was so disappointed when I finished the last of it!  And isn't flavor the most important ingredient in any dish?

Red Pepper, Spinach and Feta Risotto

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup Arborio rice (the high starch content contributes to the creamy texture of the dish)
1 cup vegetable stock or water
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon kosher salt
generous sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
2" rind of Parmesan cheese (see note below)
3 tablespoons basil pesto
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup Feta cheese, divided
1/2 cup chopped roasted red peppers
2 cups chopped baby spinach leaves

Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan.  Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to coat the rice in the oil.

Heat the stock and the wine.  Add the liquid to the saucepan in small increments, stirring the rice until the liquid is mostly absorbed and then adding a bit more liquid.  When half of the liquid has been added, add the salt, pepper, Parmesan rind, and pesto.  Continue to add liquid to the rice, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been used up.  Test the rice to make sure it is just tender; if it's a bit on the crunchy side still, add a bit more liquid and continue to stir.

Once the liquid has been almost entirely absorbed and the rice is creamy, remove the Parmesan rind.  Stir in the lemon zest, 3/4 of the Feta, the red peppers, and the spinach; cook just until the spinach is wilted.

Place onto small serving dishes and sprinkle the remaining Feta on top.

Serves 4-6.

Note: Buy hunks of good Parmesan cheese, and always save the rinds!  With the last scraps of cheese on them that are beyond being grated, they add flavor and creaminess to risotto, to sauces, and to soups.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Chopped" Challenge - Meatballs in Mole Sauce with Swiss Chard

It's Day 2 of my "Chopped" challenge, in which I had asked my blog readers to suggest ingredients that I would then have to use in creating an appetizer, an entree, or a dessert.

My fabulously wonderful blogging buddy Jenn, of Jenn's Food Journey (who guest posted about Runza Bites in honor of the Michigan-Nebraska game this past fall), took me up on the project with the following dare:

"Oh my gosh, what a great way to challenge yourself!! Wow, let's see.... I'll suggest dark chocolate in the appetizer round. :) Good luck!!!" 

Well, chocolate - of course! - is usually reserved for sweets.  I had visions of a rich and decadent mousse, of decorative chocolate drizzles tucked into whipped cream, of melting the lusciousness and sprinkling it with lovely little tidbits like glaceed cherries and candied orange peel to make small and sophisticated candies.

But while those would have made exceptional desserts, they didn't qualify as appetizers, did they?

So then my mind meandered down to Mexico, where dark chocolate is a regular ingredient in savory sauces.  I, myself, have been known to toss chocolate into chili, so this wasn't too far-fetched to me.

I started to do some research, and found the following information about
 pipián sauces, which are a type of moleat

"A pipián is a sauce thickened with ground seeds or nuts and Mexican food at its most historical and authentically pre-hispanic. It belongs to the family of the great 'moles' of Mexico, and while the actual word mole, derived from the Aztecs’ Náhuatl language, simply means sauce, today it is almost invariably a sauce containing chillies .... (This sauce is) richly flavoured with spices and dried chillies, and further enhanced by the acidity of tomatoes or tomatillos."

I also found this on Wikipedia:

"The term mole is most often associated with thick, dark, brownish-red sauces, but the term is really more general than that ....  Pipian is a type of mole which mostly consists of ground squash seeds. It does not contain chocolate (though other moles do) ... (and is) served with poultry and pork, and sometimes with fish or vegetables."

And so, armed with this information as well as a tendency to put my own spin on foods by respecting tradition but tweaking it a bit, I started to create my dish.  Some 
pepitas would be necessary ... some peppers, perhaps chipotles in adobo sauce ... some tomatoes ... and don't forget the requisite chocolate!

I somehow had a notion about wanting to serve something small, like meatballs, rather than strips of meat; but I also didn't want to just serve boring ol' rice, or stuff the filling into a tortilla that would just be a drippy mess with the sauce.  Some red chard looked gorgeous at the market on the day I did my shopping, and so it became the accompaniment.  (Yes, that really is how it works sometimes in my brain - no plan, just whatever strikes my fancy!)  It definitely paired well with the sauce and with the pork.

Jenn loves both spicy food and her signature sauces.  So I tried to stay true to her spirit with these tender meatballs and their fabulous accompaniments.

Meatballs in Mole Sauce with Swiss Chard

1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup roasted, salted pepitas, coarsely ground
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1/4 cup chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup beer
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

In a large saucepan, heat the oil, cumin seeds, and pepitas over medium heat; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Combine the tomato sauce and chipotle peppers in a blender; puree until smooth, then pour into the saucepan.  Stir in the salt and beer; bring to a boil.  Turn heat down to "low," then stir in the chocolate until melted.

1 pound ground pork
1 medium scallion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon oil

In a large bowl, combine pork, scallion, parsley, salt, pepper, and chili powder; combine well.  Form generous 1" meatballs.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the meatballs and cook for 6-7 minutes until well browned on all sides and slightly firm.  Carefully add the meatballs to the simmering sauce, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.

Swiss Chard:
1 tablespoon oil
8 ounces red Swiss chard, torn into strips
pinch of kosher salt

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chard and the salt; cook just until wilted.

To serve: Place the chard onto a serving platter.  Top with the meatballs and the sauce.

Serves 6 as an appetizer.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"Chopped" Challenge - Triple Treyf Mac 'n' Cheese Soup

Today is the first day of reporting back about my "Chopped" challenge, in which I had asked readers to suggest ingredients I'd have to use in preparing appetizers, entrees, or desserts.

I had originally intended to just pick four options to write about; but I received several extra suggestions that were just too much fun to resist.  How could I leave anyone out?  So I'll be offering my concoctions this week and part of next, as well - everyone's ideas were used for inspiration!  Thank you for making me go beyond my culinary comfort zone; it's easy to get into a rut sometimes.  This really was a lot of fun.

Because this is Day 1, I'm featuring Jeremy's suggestion: to make an appetizer using shrimp, bacon, and Co-Jack cheese.  It doesn't get much more treyf [TRAYf] - non-kosher - than this!  Bacon is taboo.  Shellfish is verboten.  Mixing meat and dairy products is a violation of the Jewish dietary laws.

And yet, they are all required ingredients.  Good thing I don't keep kosher, huh?

Jeremy loves comfort foods, particularly macaroni and cheese.  So I thought I'd make him a soup based upon that dish, incorporating the shrimp and the bacon and the Co-Jack into a luscious, creamy starter to a meal.  Of course, this is so rich that you might not even need the rest of your dinner by the time you finish a serving!

The smokiness of the bacon and the sweetness of the shrimp combine beautifully with the mild Co-Jack cheese; Pepper Jack and cayenne pepper sauce contribute just a hint of a kick.  And the macaroni adds substance, because Jeremy doesn't like soups that are primarily broth.  Whether serving a cup of this as an appetizer or making it the mainstay of your meal with a larger portion, this is a perfect solace on a cold winter evening.

This soup readily passed Jeremy's exacting standards - he loved it, and even thanked me for making it!

Triple Treyf Mac 'n' Cheese Soup

5 strips bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup chopped cooked shrimp
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups skim milk, divided
generous splash cayenne pepper sauce
8 ounces Co-Jack cheese, shredded
3 ounces Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
1-1/2 cups macaroni

In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat until just lightly brown but not crisp.  Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute.

Add the flour and stir to coat the ingredients; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add the salt and pepper.

Slowly add 2 cups of the milk, stirring well after each addition to incorporate it.  Add the cayenne pepper sauce and heat just until small bubbles start to appear.

Add half of the cheese and stir until melted.  Add the rest of the cheese and stir until melted.  Add the remaining 1 cup of milk.  Cook over low heat for 20 minutes.

While the soup heats, prepare the macaroni according to package directions; stir into soup.

Serves 8-10.

Note: If this isn't served right away or if there are leftovers, you can eat it as macaroni and cheese or you'll need to thin it a bit for soup; the macaroni absorbs a lot of the liquid.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Cuppy's Best Soulful Deli

I'd driven by so many times, yet had never managed to get to the small soul food restaurant on Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti no matter how good my intentions were.  "I need to eat at that place."  "I should really stop by and pick up a little something to take home."  And yet, it didn't happen until just recently.  I always seemed to be whizzing down the road to some destination other than food.

So, I'm here to tell you: don't wait to go to Cuppy's Best Soulful Deli!  It offers generous portions of great food, homemade desserts, and fabulously friendly service.  Jeremy and I are so sorry that we didn't try it sooner.

Admittedly, many of the good ol'-fashioned dishes - smothered pork chops, ribs, catfish, oxtails, chitlins - cost more than our mandatory $5 per person Frugal Floozie Friday budget allows, unless you share them.  But Jeremy ordered a generous cheeseburger with all the trimmings for $3; it came with fries for an extra $1, and his bottle of water cost $1.  He hit the target perfectly.

I wanted a bit of variety, so I ordered two of the small (in name only) side dishes for $2 each: macaroni and cheese and collard greens.  Side dishes at Cuppy's are all vegetarian, as one of the owners doesn't eat meat.  Yes, even items that are normally cooked with pork products, such as black-eyed peas, are made without the usually traditional ingredient.

The collards were tender, not too salty, and ever so slightly sweet.  They were very good, and didn't even need hot sauce (though it was provided on the table).

The macaroni and cheese was ideal comfort food.  It was creamy, and the pasta practically melted on my tongue.  There were generous flecks of black pepper to add just a hint of zest, and the caramelized cheese on top complemented the rest of the dish perfectly.  Jeremy actually dared to tell me that he thinks Cuppy's mac 'n' cheese is better than mine!

We also ordered dessert because ... well, who needs a reason?  They call to you, tempting you, luring you in.  For only $3, you can happily indulge in your seductive sugar fix.

I picked the gorgeous, rich red velvet cake pictured above, and was even nudged to choose a corner piece featuring more of the creamy icing by a server after my own heart (and sweet tooth).  Jeremy thought the banana pudding sounded most enticing, and it was really an effort to restrict myself to only one taste of it. 

The pudding was as thick as frosting, lusciously decadent.  It featured generous slices of bananas and whole cookies that had softened into the perfect texture.  When Jeremy had finished, I'm not ashamed to admit that I scooped up the last remnants of this treat from the corners of the container.

Cuppy's is clearly enormously popular, as there were easily a dozen customers placing take-out orders while Jeremy and I sat and ate.  There is a small counter with stools, and also two larger tables; you're welcome to stay while you enjoy your food, which is brought out to you by exceptionally friendly staff members.

A great deal is the Early Bird Special for only $4.99, offered Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  You can choose one of the following dishes for a great lunch: 4 wings, 1 pork chop, meatloaf, or 1 piece of fish, and each is served with a side dish and bread.  Or you could order a sandwich with fries, choosing among the chicken breast or the pulled pork.

As we paid for our lunch, Jeremy and I raved about the food.  A very nice man in the kitchen said, "Tell a friend."  I said, "I'll do better than that, I'll tell all of Ann Arbor!"

If you haven't yet been to Cuppy's, you must rectify your negligence.  You'll find excellent food cooked with love and served with smiles.  And you can eat very well for only $5 per person!

Cuppy's Best Soulful Deli
1396 E. Michigan Ave.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Monday: Closed
Tuesday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sunday: 12 - 7 p.m.

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Cuppy's Best Soulful Deli on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Puffs

Regular readers know that I don't watch television, movies, or anything other than a very few shows: baseball, Michigan football, royal weddings, and the Academy Awards.  And the Oscars are this Sunday night!

So a few loved ones are coming over to watch, debate, be catty about dresses (though it's not as much fun now that they all have stylists), and - of course! - eat.

It doesn't matter that the only nominated movie I saw this year was "The Muppets" - it's about the spectacle.  And I've read enough about the other movies to have opinions, and to know that "Hugo," "A Cat in Paris," and "The Artist" are the only ones I really want to see.  Something has to be very enticing for me to devote time to just sitting and staring at a screen.

The menu for my little soiree is still a work in progress, but the dessert is going to be rich, sophisticated and delicious: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Puffs filled with ice cream.

I recently received a very generous marketing gift of the new Peanut Butter-flavored Multi-Grain Cheerios, and had promised to use them in recipes.  I was tempted to eat them for breakfast in the morning, but I'm a woman of my word so I didn't devour my stash!

Chocolate and peanut butter are a classic combination, as we all know; it only made sense that if I was going to be making a chocolate dessert that the Cheerios should somehow be incorporated.  So I ground them and mixed them into the cream puff batter, adding both flavor and texture.

These are ridiculously easy to make, but make such a dramatic presentation!  They're perfect for your Oscar party, or for any other occasion when you want a special treat.

Be sure to check back next week for my "Chopped" challenge, in which Food Floozie readers suggested ingredients for me to use in creating appetizers, entrees and desserts!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Puffs
(adapted from the recipe for Chocolate Profiteroles in Mainstreet Ventures' Distinctive Recipes from Distinctive Eateries)

6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup skim milk
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup flour
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups Peanut Butter Cheerios, ground
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or greased foil.

In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and milk; bring to a boil, then remove from heat.  Add the cocoa powder, flour, salt and Cheerios; stir vigorously until the mixture forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pan.

One by one, stir in the eggs until each is fully incorporated.

Using a 1 tablespoon ice cream scoop, drop batter onto the baking sheet.  (These won't spread, so you can place them fairly close together.)  Bake for 15 minutes, then turn heat down to 350F and bake for 10 more minutes until firm and glossy.  Let cool completely before slicing and  filling with ice cream or pastry cream.

Makes about 48 puffs.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Chili Cook-Off

I was thrilled to be one of the judges at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's 3rd Annual Chili Cook-Off this year!  This is one of the most fun events I attend - it's lively, it's festive, there are both silent and live auctions with fabulous items to bid on, and everyone associated with the theatre is just wonderful to work with.

Buying a ticket earns you the right to taste chili samples provided by contestants, as well as beer samples provided by the Corner Brewery which very graciously hosts the cook-off each year.  Chili and beer on a bitterly cold winter afternoon - how great is that???  Do you need much else in your life?

I've attended this event all three years, now: I was a contestant the first two times, but was given the honor of being named a judge this year.  I was nervous - I've never officially worked in this capacity before, although we're all amateur judges with our own opinions, aren't we?  But as I drove to the competition, I heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "By the Way" on the radio ... it was bashert [bah-SHAYRT], otherwise known as destiny!

I tried to be particularly conscientious about my responsibilities on the other side of the ballot.  I watched as chili chefs decorated their stations and greeted each other (there is a core group of regular participants, so you get to see friends each year), but I kept some distance so that I wouldn't schmooze and lose my objectivity.  I was here to judge chili, after all, without being swayed by charm or humor, both of which were evident in abundance.

Some of the names for the chilis were most entertaining: Grown-Up Mutant Ninja Mock Turtle Chili, Gator Flame Chili, White Hot Tear Jerker, Jealousy - The Green-Eyed Monster, and even Slow Poked Smork (try saying that a couple of times, fast!).

My fellow judges - John Fischer of Gratzi and Eve Aronoff of Frita Batidos (yes, it was Eve's churro sundae that won first place as the best thing I ate in 2011!) - and I sat down to begin our mission.  Samples of each chili were brought to us one or two at a time, so that they would still be hot when we tried them and to lessen our confusion.

We agreed with John's suggestion to set up a point scale from 1-5 (low to high) and critique the chilis on four criteria:

- flavor
- balance
- body/depth
- creativity

We were seeking the Best Traditional Chili, the Most Creative Chili, and the Best Overall Chili among 16 entries.  Among 16 wildly varying entries.  Among 16 wildly varying entries that people had put so much pride and love into.

Judging may be fun, but it's also really challenging work!

I'm not going to gossip about who liked which chili, which chilis received high or low marks, why we picked what we did, how long or intense the debates were, or anything else like that.  I grant that this wasn't an A.A. meeting or confession to a priest with expectations of discretion!  At the same time, discretion is the better part of valor.  I truly applaud every contestant, even if - obviously - there were favorites among the entries.

So, who won?

After smelling, admiring, studying, tasting, scribbling, palate cleansing, discussing, debating, defining "chili," re-tasting, tasting yet again, etc., here were the winners:

- Best Traditional Chili: Three Dog Night Chili by Linda Kentes

- Most Creative Chili: White Hot Tear Jerker by Mike Sielaff

- Best Overall Chili: Sister Maria de Agreda's Soup of the Devil by Mike Mangrum

- People's Choice: Victor's Chili by T.J. (This was determined by having guests put money into "tip jars" at each table to vote for their favorites.)

After the judging, I was able to sneak over to the silent auction table and buzz in at the last minute to win my chosen item: a gift certificate to Mainstreet Ventures restaurants (of which Gratzi is a member, I must point out, since I plan to head over there after discussing potential Frugal Floozie Friday options with John!), as well as a cookbook from the organization which features some of its eateries' fabulous recipes.

It was great fun to watch the live auction, as guests bid against each other for a vacation up north and - even better, to my baseball-loving heart! - tickets to see the Tigers play the Angels in August ... a coupla potential contenders battling at the end of the season with the playoffs looming.

Best of all, though, was hearing the winners' names announced and seeing how happy and excited they were to have triumphed!  I made sure to meet each of the four winners, to congratulate them and to let them know how difficult a job it had been to choose them.  (Even though I had no influence over the People's Choice, I know the people had a tough time, too!)  I wanted each to know that his or her prize really was well-earned, and I wanted them to know how thrilled I was for them.

With many, many thanks to the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre for inviting me to the fabulous party!  I love being able to support a community organization, and having so much fun while doing so.  And also a huge "thank you" to the Corner Brewery (although I don't drink beer, the hospitality in hosting this event is tremendous!), to all the auction item donors, to the sponsors, to the staff, and to all the volunteers and guests.

Until next year!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

King Cake Shake

Whether you call it Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Pączki Day [POONCH-key], or Carnival, today - the day before Ash Wednesday - is a time of fun and feasting before the 40 days of Lent, which ends at Easter.

Today is a day of consummate indulgence before a period of penitence.

I will be starting my morning with espresso and a pączek ([POON-chek] = the singular of pączki) - an ultra-rich jelly doughnut, for those who don't live in or near Polish communities and thus aren't able to join in this annual celebration of decadence.  Never fear the fat or calories, just relinquish yourself to the sugar!

It is also traditional on this day to enjoy King Cake, a New Orleans favorite.  I would have made one of these fabulous pastries, but my stove finally had to be given last rites; it was nearly a week until my new one was installed.

So, necessity being the mother of invention, while I was still oven-less I created a variation on the theme: I made a shake, instead!

I combined three flavors of ice cream to approximate the flavor of the sweet yeast bread.  Ben and Jerry's makes Cake Batter ice cream, which offered a good base.  Butter Pecan added the flavor of the nuts, which are often used in a filling for the treat.  Rum Raisin contributed a hint of the liquor which can be added to the pastry's glaze.  And adding a bit of bourbon could only enhance the concoction, right?

It is customary to bake a trinket into the King Cake - a small baby figure specifically designed for this purpose, or a bean if the other isn't available.  The one who finds the trinket in his or her piece earns certain privileges, perhaps being named king or queen of a krewe.  It is also expected that he or she would host a party or supply the next year's cake.

This rich, creamy shake also lets you hide the trinket by simply dropping it into one of the glasses before serving your guests.  Pay homage to other King Cake customs, as well, by sprinkling your drink with purple, green and gold decorations - they're the colors of Mardi Gras!

If you want to share in the enthusiasm of Pączki Day but without ingesting the calories, watch this cute video from CBS' Sunday Morning show:

King Cake Shake

1-1/2 cups cake batter ice cream
1/2 cup butter pecan ice cream
1/2 cup rum raisin ice cream
1 tablespoon bourbon (or vanilla extract)
1 cup skim milk
trinket: baby figure or bean
whipped cream, for serving
purple, green and gold sprinkles or colored sugars, for decoration

Place all ingredients in a blender and whiz them together until smooth. Place a trinket into the bottom of one of four small glasses.  Pour the shake into the glasses, top with whipped cream and decorations, and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mexican Pizza for Justin Verlander's Birthday

Anyone who knows me knows that I love baseball.  So I'm very excited that the Detroit Tigers' pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in Lakeland, Florida yesterday!

Of course, among that group was Justin Verlander, who's celebrating his 29th birthday today.  I can't imagine what he'll wish for when he blows out the candles on his cake, since this past year brought him both the American League Cy Young Award (winning it by a unanimous vote, too) as well as the American League's Most Valuable Player Award that hadn't been won by a starting pitcher for more than 20 years.  Good luck trying to top those presents!

In Justin's honor, since we're all so enormously proud of him here in Michigan, I'm offering a Mexican Pizza.

When interviewed by Conan O'Brien in January, the amazingly talented pitcher stated that "his night-before-the-game ritual consists of 'three Crunchy Taco Supremes, no tomato; a Cheesy Gordita Crunch; and a Mexican Pizza, no tomato.'"  Justin Verlander is a fan of Taco Bell.  This meal has served him well, apparently ... who am I to argue with success?

I, however, am not a fan of fast food.  So while my Mexican Pizza is a quick and easy dinner, I didn't go slumming at a drive-thru to get it.  I fried my own tortillas, shredded my own cheese, chopped my own vegetables, and enjoyed a flavorful, crispy, rich dinner.  And I made sure to honor Justin's prohibition against tomatoes, too!

May 2012 be good to Justin and to the Tigers.  Just 45 more days 'til Opening Day!

Mexican Pizza

1/4 cup frying oil
4 6" corn tortillas
1 cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup refried beans
1/4 cup hot salsa
1/2 cup finely chopped peppers
4 scallions, finely chopped
avocado and sour cream for serving, optional

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  One at a time, fry the tortillas in the oil for 1 minute total (flip halfway through cooking) until golden; pat dry with paper towels, and place tortillas onto the prepared baking sheet.

Combine the cheeses.  Sprinkle one-quarter of the mixture over one tortilla, then top with another tortilla and press lightly.  Sprinkle one-quarter of the mixture over another tortilla, then top with the last tortilla and press lightly.

Spread half of the refried beans over one of the tortilla stacks, and repeat with the remaining beans and the other tortilla stack.

Spread the salsa over each of the tortilla stacks.

Combine the peppers and scallions; divide them among the tortilla stacks.

Divide the rest of the cheese mixture among the tortilla stacks.  Bake the pizzas for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and gooey.

Serve with avocado and sour cream, if desired.

Serves 2-4.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Taqueria La Fiesta

Taqueria La Fiesta is a bit hidden at the end of a small strip mall.  Despite being near one of the busiest corners in town - Carpenter and Packard - it would be easy to go past it without realizing that the restaurant is there.

So, that's why it's today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature - to make sure you don't drive by, but stop in to enjoy some fabulous authentic Mexican cuisine.

Jeremy, Stuart (my ex-husband, for those who don't remember him), and I decided to eat dinner at the taqueria after a long afternoon of shopping for a new oven once mine was finally in need of last rites.  I despise sorting through the options I don't want and performing mathematical calculations weighing one store's deals vs. another's.  It's utter wretched misery that simply makes my brain hurt!  (I get equally stressed by cell phone packages, as well as orange juice and toothpaste options.  Anyone who knows me has heard my rant about too many dizzying choices!)

So we sought respite at Taqueria La Fiesta, and found not only some outstanding food for exceptionally reasonable prices, but also a tremendously friendly welcome from the owner, George, whose family has run the establishment for the past 5 months.

When we walked in the door, the restaurant smelled so enticing!  Rarely do I walk into a place and immediately find myself immersed in so many tantalizing aromas.  We were warmly greeted and immediately shown to a table, and an appetizer of pico de gallo - a zesty fresh salsa - with chips was brought out for us.

I had a few questions about the menu, particularly about portion sizes for determining what could be shared for $5 or less per person - our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget.  George answered all of my questions while proudly telling how his aunt, the primary chef, uses his grandmother's recipes to prepare the food.  (She usually cooks with love; but she's banned from the kitchen if she's in a bad mood, apparently, as George told us you can even taste the difference in the food because his aunt infuses her cooking with so much passion!)

Jeremy ordered - and loved! - the enormous Burrito Gigante filled with carne asada, a flavorful char-broiled steak; this was large enough to split, and at $6 could easily be a Frugal Friday dish for two.  Stuart and I split the Burrito Gigante platter, which also offered generous servings of refried beans and rice; we chose the tender and well-seasoned birria (marinated beef) filling pictured below.  At $7.75, this was an exceptional value offering almost more food than two people could eat comfortably (but we're good eaters, so we managed just fine!)

George very generously brought two different well-stuffed tacos for us to try, so that I can attest to still more inexpensive dining options.  On the left, in the picture at the top of the post, is the barbacoa [bar-bah-KWAH] taco filled with steamed beef that is spicy without being hot; the meat is perfectly complemented by the generous cilantro, and this is a great value at only $1.80.  To the right is the $2 taco gringo - filled with the lettuce and tomato that we're accustomed to in this country, and served with a genuine smile and affection - featuring a tender, succulent chicken.

To go with my meal, I ordered a tall glass of hibiscus tea - Jamaica [hah-MY-kuh] in Spanish - which was reminiscent of a fruited sweet tea.  Jeremy liked it so much that I let him finish it for me after I'd had just a few sips.  It costs $2, but there are less expensive sodas available, too.

Taqueria La Fiesta offers a number of vegetarian options: traditional Mexican egg dishes for breakfast, potato tacos, bean and cheese tamales, meatless nachos, and burritos filled with grilled poblano peppers or mushrooms.  There are vegetarian fajitas, and also a wide variety of dishes featuring nopales [noh-PAHL-ays] - prickly pear cactus.

George told us that his family removes the cactus needles by hand, rather than the faster method of burning them off which actually causes the cactus to feel traumatized.  Nopales are similar to okra, with a famous "slime" factor if not prepared properly; burning the needles increases this tendency, so the more time-consuming hand preparation is infinitely preferable and makes the salad, cactus in salsa, and the rich stuffed cactus paddles with cheese even more delicious.

There are a number of deals you can take advantage of at the Taqueria: check in on Foursquare and earn a 10% off coupon; enjoy a lunchtime carry-out special between 11 a.m. - 1 p.m., buying one entree at regular price and getting the second for half off; and police, fire and EMS workers get 10% discounts.

So, what are you waiting for?  Go eat!  And eat well at Taqueria La Fiesta, where you'll find a lot of frugal dining options and an exceptionally friendly host.

Taqueria La Fiesta
4060 W. Packard
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Tuesday - Saturday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Piepalooza" to Benefit Perry Nursery School

The Perry Nursery School is hosting its annual fundraising party and silent auction - "Piepalooza" this year, complete with a contest for "best tasting pie" - on March 14 at Washtenaw Community College.  And I am thrilled to announce that I've been invited to be a judge at the competition!  As they say, it's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it.  Happily, one of those somebodies is lil' ol' me.

Perry has been serving at-risk preschoolers since 1934, offering these adorable kids "future academic and social success while providing their parents opportunities for professional, personal, and parental growth."  In other words, they don't just teach the kids the letters of the alphabet and how to play well with others; at Perry the entire family is welcomed and cared for, served in a variety of ways to help ease the stresses that they face from low incomes, single parenthood, and other factors.

Now, of course, we all know that March 14 is Pi Day because it's 3.14!  Could this be a more perfect day to celebrate both the beauty of pie and the fabulous work that Perry does in taking care of its students and their families?

There are three categories in the "Best Tasting Pie" contest, if you want to submit an entry for my fellow judges and me to taste at the competition.  (You can click here for more information about how to do this, because pre-registration is required.)

- Best Tasting Fruit Pie
- Best Tasting Cream/Custard/Meringue/Chiffon Pie
- Best Tasting "Other" Pie - any pie that doesn't fit into the first two categories. No meat pies, please.

In addition to the pie competition that you - yes, you! - can enter, there will also be lots of other entertainment at the party: delicious appetizers and finger foods provided by the culinary arts students at Washtenaw Community College, beer and wine, Perry's famous silent auction (everything from antiques to entertainment to gift baskets and more), a tag team pie eating competition, a pie walk featuring Zingerman's pies as prizes, a baking demonstration by French pie expert Brigitte Romero, raffles ... an entire evening of festivity!

When I went to visit the school recently, a beautiful little blonde girl came up to hug me for no reason other than sweetness; she didn't say one word, but she did smile and show me the gap where she'd just lost her first tooth.  Perry provides her, and all of her friends at the school, with so many benefits: year-round education with extended childcare hours, a 1:8 teacher-to-student ratio, sliding scale tuition, family support services, two meals and an afternoon snack each day, an emergency pantry, assistance with English as a second language (many students speak Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and other languages at home), a social worker and speech therapist on-site, and so much more.  It is an amazing place with such dedicated staff!  Whether you buy a ticket or bring a pie, just be sure to join me in supporting such a good cause.

Since I'll be tasting all the pies rather than competing with my own entry, I thought I'd at least offer some inspiration for everyone else.  I baked this for my parents awhile ago, and my father said it was the best pie he'd ever eaten; considering that he's had nearly 85 years in which to sample the competition, I'd say he's a pretty good authority.

But if you think you've got a pie that's even better, be sure to register for the contest at Piepalooza and let me try it!

Cherry Almond Streusel Pie

1 9" deep dish pie crust in pan

4 cups tart cherries
1/8 cup reserved cherry juice or water
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup cookie crumbs (I used Nilla wafers)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F. Place pie pan on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine cherries, cherry juice, sugar, cornstarch, and almond extract; pour into the pie crust. Dot with butter.

In the same bowl, combine the cookie crumbs, brown sugar, ground almonds, cinnamon, and sliced almonds; stir in the melted butter and spread over the cherries.

Bake for 1 hour, until the topping is golden and the filling is starting to bubble up.

Serves 10-12.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Best Burger in Metro Detroit

A few weeks ago, I was lucky to enjoy excellent food (The Red Coat Tavern's Gourmet Burger, plus side dishes), beautiful weather (sunny and spring-like), and lovely company (a very special friend I hadn't seen since Labor Day).  A good Saturday afternoon ... :)

31542 Woodward Ave
Royal Oak, MI 48073
(248) 549-0300

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Brownie in a Mug" - A Valentine Just for You

Today is Valentine's Day, as I'm sure most of us know.  (If you're the clueless guy who's missed all the ads, all the pink and red decorations in stores, and all the hints from your better half, you'd better run and try to save yourself!)

If you're in a relationship and can expect to receive roses or candy or jewelry or a mushy card - or all of the above - that's great.  But we've all been through Valentine's Days alone, and it's so hard when you feel left out, when there are no heart-shaped boxes of chocolates or bouquets of beautiful flowers for you.

And I think it's undoubtedly hardest for those who've been widowed, who won't ever see the love of their life again in this life.

I know a woman who lost her husband of nearly 50 years this past summer.  I visited with her recently, and her heart is utterly broken.  I can't imagine how difficult the past few weeks of build-up and onslaught have been for her, let alone how painful today will be as society pointedly reminds her, and others like her, of their aloneness.

While others may be offering romantic recipes for candlelit dinners, I want those who are alone on Valentine's Day - those who are wistful about being alone on Valentine's Day, I should clarify - to know that I offer my sympathy.  So much of a fuss is made about this "Hallmark holiday," with no thought to those who are taunted about not being part of the "in" crowd.

And so today I'm offering a recipe that serves one - one very special, one fabulous, one perfectly glorious person ... you!

There's no reason you should be denied your chocolate fix.  There's no reason you shouldn't get to enjoy something special.  This "Brownie in a Mug" recipe offers no expectation that there should be someone else to share it with.  And it also doesn't offer an entire pan of brownies to lure you into the temptation of eating too many.

Today is a day where you'll be thinking of the one you've lost, the one whose hand you wish you could be holding, the one whom you wish you could still say "good morning" and "goodnight" and - especially - "I love you" to.  You deserve your very own personal chocolate brownie, warm and rich, just to make you smile and feel special.

Brownie in a Mug

2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of kosher salt
1-1/2 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon flavoring (vanilla, coffee, rum, liqueur, etc.)
whipped cream, for serving

Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe mug; stir to combine well.  Microwave on "high" for 90 seconds, until the brownie is set and looks as though it was baked.  Let rest for 1 minute; it will sink a bit.  (This isn't a stellar specimen of aesthetic beauty, but it's luscious flavor makes up for that!)

Top with whipped cream, if desired.

Serves 1 exceptional person who deserves a treat today.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Food and Fun at IKEA

My first trips to IKEA, I have to say, were less than stellar; I am on record as actually having called the place "a circle of Hell that Dante never envisioned."  The crowds, the noise, the lack of windows, my utter inability to navigate without getting lost, having been bored while accompanying others on missions of their own ... oy.  IKEA, to me, was nothing but a source of stress.

But then my friend Sassa, a native Swede, invited me on a food tour; she wanted to show me the fabulous items she'd grown up eating.  Sassa is intensely - and justly - proud of her country's cuisine, which showcases the beauty of fresh, simple ingredients and lets their flavors shine without a lot of complication.

Well, an opportunity for food, fun, and friendship?  Of course I accepted!

And so Sassa, my BFF Wendy, and I went on a Girls' Day Out to IKEA, the primary importer of Swedish foods in this area.  And you know what?  I had a fabulous time!  IKEA is now a place where I can truly say I've enjoyed myself - it has been redeemed!

Wendy saved our table - yes, we managed to find a free table in the cafeteria on the weekend! - while Sassa and I gathered up some goodies.  Some of the items, like hot dogs and french fries, were there solely to appease American children; we had no use for them.  Other items, however, were authentically Swedish and thus found their way onto our trays.

Sassa recommended the gravlax - salmon marinated in salt, sugar, dill, pepper, and spice - which came with a thick and tangy mustard-dill sauce and a light salad.  It was rich, meltingly tender, and deeply flavorful without being overpoweringly "fishy."  Wendy is not usually a fan of fish, but even she was won over by the subtlety and luxury of the dish.  (And as a side note, this could even have been a Frugal Floozie Friday feature given that the gravlax cost only $4.99.  The entire rest of our meal - a sweet treat plus beverages - totaled less than $5 as well.)

Our dessert was a fragrant apple cake.  Its shortbread crust was tender and almost bread-like, rather than resembling crumbly cookies; and the apples were sweet, spicy and just crisp-tender (with a bit of extra emphasis on the "tender").  Sassa pointed out that it's typically Swedish to serve a light vanilla sauce as an accompaniment to cake, rather than serving ice cream as is done in the U.S.  I was polite and shared with my friends, but must admit that I probably ate two bites of this for every one that they did!

Lingonberries are a beautiful red fruit with a tart flavor that is somewhat reminiscent of cranberries; they are most noted for being made into jam, but at IKEA there is also a ruby-colored lingonberry-flavored juice drink that is sweet and very refreshing.

Another drink that is classically Swedish is a beverage made with elderflowers, which come from the elderberry tree.  It came in a juice box and was very lightly flavored - almost a bit like a lightly brewed, sweetened green tea.  It was unique and distinctive, and yet also not entirely unfamiliar.  Sassa told us that it's common to take a bunch of elderflowers and soak them in lemon and water for three days before straining the liquid and bottling it.  She said that the tree's berries aren't typically used until after the first frost, which then intensifies their sweetness when cooked into a syrup.

After our light lunch, we meandered through the store a bit admiring the simple beauty of Scandinavian design, the vibrant colors of household accessories, and the inexpensive pricing that seduces a shopper into buying a little of this ... one of those ... oh, and that too! ... because it's all just so enticing and accessible and aesthetically distinctive.  This was the first chance I'd really had to peruse and investigate, rather than being on a single-minded mission.  And it was fun!

But our primary purpose was to learn about the food, and so we then found ourselves in the small grocery section tasting chocolate samples, inhaling the fragrance from the famous cinnamon rolls, and listening to Sassa offer us the proper and beautiful pronunciation of glögg [glOOg] - the famous spiced wine punch.

Sassa told us that the anchovies from back home are distinctly different than the ones available in the U.S., so I made sure to buy a can of them.  (Just as it is with the rest of the items in the store, if you meander around the grocery section of IKEA your head spins as you see 83 different things you want to get!)  The anchovies are a critical ingredient in many dishes from Sweden and - of course! - I intend to try a few new recipes.  Scandinavian shrimp are sweeter than what we usually have access to, so a bag of them came home with me as well.

A mix for a beautiful, dense, dark brown bread was available; all I needed to do was add water to the carton, shake vigorously, let it rise a bit and then bake it.  This is not my usual m.o., but it was admittedly much easier than hunting down the rye flakes, linseed, and barley malt I would have needed to make my own authentic multigrain loaf.  The bread's slightly sour flavor was exceptional when served simply with sweet creamy butter; combining it with the lovely Ost Lagrad cheese, which is firm and also a bit sour, made an ideal breakfast the next morning.  (Needless to say, I'd rushed home from the store and immediately baked the bread so I could play with my new ingredients and enjoy my treats!).

I couldn't leave the store without a jar of the famous lingonberry jam.  And although it's not pictured (I'd already opened the vacuum-sealed bag), I bought some espresso to use in the wonderful new machine Jeremy gave me for Christmas, because coffee is an essential part of Swedish culture.  Sassa told us that coffee parties are a lovely social gathering at which it is traditional to serve seven different types of sweets, from pastries to cookies.  In the past, it was the quaint social custom that a guest would be invited to partake of the goodies three times before finally succumbing to temptation; it would have been considered rude to leap in any sooner.

Many, many thanks to Sassa, who was a most charming hostess, for the grand tour of Swedish foods!  I came, I saw, I ate, I learned, and I had an absolutely wonderful time!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Haifa Falafel

Today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature is Haifa Falafel, a friendly and welcoming restaurant offering "Mediterranean cuisine made the Haifa way."

Several of the salads and sandwiches cost less than our mandatory $5 period, let alone $5 per person. It was difficult to choose among the variety, from a pita burger to traditional falafal to chicken shawarma.

But I was in the mood for something unique and different, so I ordered the Majadara Sandwich for $4.82, which offered nutritious lentils and caramelized onions. Sandwiches also come with a tremendous variety of accompaniments: tahini, hummus, garlic spread, Haifa sauce, tomatoes, onion, cucumbers, pickles, cabbage, lettuce and carrots ... whew! Each bite brought different flavors and textures; it was crisp, salty, spicy, vibrant, sweet, crunchy and exceptionally good!

The sandwich was absolutely enormous, and could easily have been halved and shared with someone else. (As it was, I ate half for dinner and then saved the rest for breakfast the next day; it was fabulous both times.) If sharing the meal, you could also buy a couple of the lovely desserts - baklava, rice pudding or mahalabia (milk pudding) - for $2.50 each and still stay within our budget.
For a quick, nutritious meal at a Frugal Floozie Friday price, I highly recommend Haifa Falafel!

Haifa Falafel
4585 Washtenaw
Ann Arbor, MI 48108

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

National Bagels and Lox Day

I grew up in New York City, so bagels were - of course! - an essential part of my diet.  Bagels, thin-crust pizza perfectly suited to folding, black-and-white cookies, matzah ball soup ... these are just a few of the basic food groups in my world.  I could go on and on, but we'd all just get hungry and wish we were schlepping around in my hometown, eating our way from deli to pizza parlor to food cart.

According to America's Great Delis: Recipes and Traditions from Coast to Coast by Sheryll Bellman: "The modern bagel arrived in America in the early 1880s with a wave of Eastern European Jewish immigrants.  Not long after that, cream cheese was developed and lox met its mate ....  The genius that married the bagel with cream cheese and lox is a mystery, but we do know that it occurred sometime early in the twentieth century."  This is one of those innovations, like duct tape, that warrants a prize of some sort!

I don't normally eat much bread or many foods made with refined carbohydrates (my sweet tooth causing me to make an exception to the rule occasionally, I must admit).  But today is a special day requiring some deviation from my usual preferences.  So bring on the bagels!

And no bagel is complete, of course, without a schmear of cream cheese and some gorgeous lox.

In today's "recipe" (what, a bagel an' a schmear requires instructions???) I advocate for chopping the lox and the scallions and mixing them into the cream cheese, rather than serving the bagel with a slab of fish or a slice of onion.  This allows for the flavors to blend together in each bite, rather than any one ingredient overpowering the others.

But however you slice it (ha!), just be sure you don't miss out on this fabulous food holiday!

Don't forget to read about my "Chopped" challenge: dare me to use ingredients you suggest, and I'll post about my creations! Click here for the terms ....

Bagel an' a Schmear

6 ounces soft cream cheese
2 medium scallions, chopped fine
2 ounces lox, chopped fine
generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper
2 everything bagels (or savory bagels of choice - don't try this with a raisin bagel!)

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, scallions, lox and pepper; mix well, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (and preferably overnight) to let the flavors blend.

Slice the bagels, then schmear them with the cream cheese mixture.

Serves 2.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Orange, Date and Almond Salad

Tu B'Shevat [TOO bay shuh-VAHT] - the Jewish New Year of the Trees - began at sundown last night and continues through today.  It is traditional to celebrate the holiday by having a tree planted in Israel; by eating a new fruit; or by holding a seder in which specific fruits are eaten in a particular order, along with the recitation of blessings.

It is also customary to enjoy dried fruits and nuts - such as figs, apricots, pecans, walnuts, etc. - although eating any type of fruit is a lovely way to acknowledge the beauty and bounty of trees.

According to "The Bible expresses a great reverence for fruit trees as symbols of God's ... beneficence. Special laws were formulated to protect (them) in times of war and ensure that the produce of trees would not be picked until the trees were mature enough and tithes were given from them."  Respect for trees and care for the environment are deeply ingrained in Judaism.

Just because the recipe for today's salad is ridiculously simple and only requires 4 ingredients, don't underestimate the impact of its taste!  The brightness of the oranges, the sweetness of the dates, the tartness of the pomegranate molasses ... it's an intensely flavorful combination.  And the almonds contribute a lovely crunch to contrast with the softness of the fruits.

In honor of Tu B'Shevat, you can serve the Orange, Date and Almond Salad featured below which showcases the glorious produce of trees.  You could also offer some other dishes which feature a variety of delicious fruits and nuts, such as olives, lemons, cherries, chocolate, oranges, quince, bananas, hazelnuts, and more:

Braised Chicken Thighs in Lemony Olive Sauce

White Chocolate and Cherry Brownies

Lemon-Glazed Cherry Pasties

Chocolate Cherry Kugel

Zesty Lemon Spaghetti

Chocolate-Glazed Orange Cake

Quince-Glazed Baked Yams

Banana Nutella Cake

Triple Orange Brownies

Don't forget to read about my "Chopped" challenge: dare me to use ingredients you suggest, and I'll post about my creations!  Click here for the terms ....

Orange, Date and Almond Salad

4 large oranges
3/4 cup pitted dates, chopped
1/3 cup almonds, lightly toasted, chopped
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Cut the ends off the oranges, then stand them upright and slice off the peels.  Turn the oranges on their sides and cut into thick slices, then place onto a serving dish.

Sprinkle the dates and almonds over the oranges.

Drizzle the pomegranate molasses over everything.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Molly Goldberg's Lemon Meringue Pie

I've started work on my very exciting assignment to write about The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook for Repast, the newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor.  I'm doing research to place the work into its historical context among other Jewish cookbooks.  And I'm watching DVDs of the "The Goldbergs" - the t.v. show featuring the character of Molly - to get a feel for the Goldberg family whose matriarch is the "author" I'll be writing about.

I'm also making some recipes from the cookbook.  As they say, "It's a tough job ...."

In its earlier episodes, The Goldbergs began with the exceptionally friendly (and somewhat meddlesome, but in a kind-hearted way) Molly calling out, "Yoo hoo" - a phrase which caught on with viewers who then called that out to their friends and neighbors, as well, when greeting each other.

In later seasons, though, the show's opening was changed to feature this introduction:

"There she is, folks - that's Molly Goldberg, a woman with a place in every heart and a finger in every pie."

So, of course, when perusing the cookbook and trying to determine what to sample from it, it only made sense to bake a pie.  And what better option than the Lemon Meringue Pie that Molly herself was so proud of?

"This pie is my specialty.  Not by me, but by Simon.  When My Rich Cousin was just struggling, he used to eat with us, and his favorite dessert was this pie.  He said that if he ever got rich he would have a cook and the only thing the cook had to know was how to make this pie.  So when Simon got rich he hired a cook and he had her make a lemon meringue pie.  It didn't turn out so so-so, and he sent the cook to me for lessons.  I showed her this recipe and she's been with Simon for fifteen years now, and would you believe it, Simon still says mine is better.  It's the exact same recipe as this one.  Some people are just stubborn.  The Passover lemon filling is so good that I use a pastry crust the rest of the year with the same filling."

Since it isn't Passover, I decided to simply use a standard pie crust rather than the matzah meal crust that the recipe gives instructions for.  But the filling really is so good that this could definitely overcome the very bad reputation that Passover desserts have!  (The prohibition against leavened products has traditionally led to very heavy, dense dishes that are not known for their allure.)

The pie has a wonderfully vivid flavor, and the filling is almost pudding-like rather than being a somewhat translucent gel that seems to be more common now.  It's not a "mile high" pie as we've grown accustomed to these days, thanks to super-sizing and "kicking it up a notch"; it's just a simple dessert showcasing both the vibrancy of the lemon and the secret ingredients - love and care - with which Molly would have made the pie for her family.

The recipe isn't difficult to follow at all, but it presumes some knowledge of baking rather than giving very specific step-by-step instructions.  For example, there is no explanation of a critical technique specific to meringue pies: spreading the egg whites over the edge of the crust to keep the meringue from shrinking while the pie bakes.

Also, the recipe calls for 3 whole eggs in the filling and 3 egg whites for the meringue.  But in whisking the filling as it cooked, I found that it simply wasn't thickening.  I was tempted to add some cornstarch, but instead added the leftover yolks.  The filling set up very quickly after that, so I included the yolks in the recipe below even though that isn't precisely Molly's version.  (Don't think about your cholesterol levels, just enjoy the treat!)

This pie is very easy to make and is a really lovely dessert to brighten a cold, dreary winter day.  I'm tempted to say "Yoo hoo, Mrs. Goldberg!  Thank you for sharing your wonderful recipe!"

Don't forget to read about my "Chopped" challenge: dare me to use ingredients you suggest, and I'll post about my creations!  Click here for the terms ....

 Lemon Meringue Pie (slightly adapted from The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook)

1 crust for a 9" pie

3 eggs
3 egg yolks
7/8 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
grated zest from 1 lemon

3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.

Place the crust into a 9" pie pan.  Line the crust with a sheet of foil and fill with dry beans to help the crust keep its shape and not shrink while pre-baking.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.  Remove foil and beans and set aside.

Prepare filling: Place 1" water into the bottom of a double boiler and set the double boiler onto a burner.  Bring water to a boil, then turn heat down to simmer.

Place the filling ingredients into the top of the double boiler and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens - 10 minutes or so.  When it's ready, the mixture will coat the back of a spoon: you can dip the spoon into the filling and run your finger through the coating, but the mixture won't seep back in to fill the space.  Pour the filling into the prepared crust and set aside while making the meringue.

Too thin - doesn't coat the spoon well, and the filling bleeds into the space

Perfect - filling is thickened and the space remains clear

Prepare meringue: Place the egg whites into a large mixing bowl.  With an electric mixer, beat until the whites hold soft peaks.  Add the sugar slowly and continue beating until the whites hold stiff peaks.  Spread the meringue over the lemon filling, being sure that the meringue adheres to the crust or else the meringue will shrink and not cover the filling.  Bake for 5-10 minutes until lightly golden.

Let the pie cool to room temperature before serving.  Store in the refrigerator.

Makes 1 pie.

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