Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Tale of the Failed Macaroons

Today is National Macaroon Day.  So, of course, I'd planned to make macaroons.  What else would you expect from someone who celebrates holidays for literary figures, religious events, food fests, and any other occasion that amuses me?

I had hoped to make airy and crisp macaroons, rather than the ones that are rounder and taller and softer (which are loaded with coconut, usually, rather than being primarily made of egg white).   According to Wikipedia: "A macaroon is a type of light, baked confection, described as either small cakes or meringue-like cookies depending on their consistency."  So I beat the egg whites, stirred in the flavorings, and baked away.

But instead of seeing delicate white cookies tinged with just a hint of golden color at the edges, holding their shape in lovely little circles, this is what I found when I took the macaroons out of the oven:

Groan ....

But I don't waste food - nope.  I don't throw things out, I simply re-purpose them.  I tell people all the time that if a recipe doesn't work out as intended - if a cake falls, if a pie doesn't cut nicely, whatever - simply toss some ice cream or whipped cream onto the still-delicious mess, rename it (trifle? crumble? parfait?), and move on as though this was what you'd intended!

And thus, my failed attempt at making Coconut Rum Macaroons turned into a beautiful fruit-laden Pavlova instead.

Pavlova is a dessert with a meringue base, topped with fruit and whipped cream.  There are several variations on its origins, but it is thought to have been named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.  It is light, sweet, and utterly enticing.  It was a perfect way to put my pathetic little macaroons to a far more noble purpose.

And if I hadn't told you this little tale of failure and redemption, you'd have never known that even food bloggers, chefs, cookbook writers, and other culinary professionals have their bad days in the kitchen, too.

Coconut Rum Meringues

2 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon dark rum
1/3 cup ground almonds
Manischewitz coconut macaroons, crumbled (2/3 cup crumbs), part of a lovely marketing gift sent for me to cook/bake with and sample

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly greased foil.

In a large bowl, combine egg whites, sugar, and rum; beat for 3 minutes, until the consistency of paint.  (Not an enticing description, but an accurate one.)  Stir in the almonds and macaroon crumbs.

Place tablespoon-sized dollops of batter onto the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 15 minutes, until the macaroons are set.  Let cool completely, then carefully peel from paper or foil.

Makes 21 macaroons.

To make Pavlova: Crumble 2-3 meringues into a bowl.  Top with whipped cream and chopped berries.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Remembering Julia Child with the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor

I've just joined a group I should have belonged to ages ago: the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor.  Long on my "to do" list, real life just kept getting in the way.  I was often unable to attend monthly meetings, and I could read the newsletter online.  And so, procrastination and inertia ruled ... I never got around to connecting with these wonderful people who share my passion - to degrees that others sometimes consider to be overly zealous (a polite way of saying "boring!") - for all things food-related.

But this is my year to reach out, to try new things, to accomplish goals, to meet new people, to move beyond my comfort zone, and to have excellent adventures.

So, I'm now a dues-paying member of the group and attended my first meeting recently!

Jan and Dan Longone, esteemed and revered in the food world for their knowledge of antiquarian cookbooks and wine (among many other talents and gifts), presented their personal remembrances of their dear friend Julia Child.  I had met Jan just a few days earlier, while doing research, and she has graciously offered to continue working with me as I delve into my work.  She personally invited me to attend this meeting and to join the group ... how could I refuse such a welcome???  The right moment had come.

I grew up watching "The French Chef" with my mother.  And when the Smithsonian Institution opened a permanent exhibit of Julia's kitchen in 2002, Jeremy was inordinately patient as I stood gawking, remembering, reminiscing, and just communing with the famous space that had been completely rebuilt at the museum. So if my first meeting with the Culinary Historians was one dedicated to Julia Child, this was most fitting!

Julia - at the meeting, everyone referred to her by her first name alone, as though we were all personal friends despite most of us having had no relationship other than holding her dear in our hearts - was represented by a cutout (pictured above) that one of the group's members had acquired many years ago.  She brings Julia out for special occasions, like this meeting that paid such loving tribute.

Dan and Jan both spoke with such love for Julia, and told wonderful stories about her.  Julia Child was truly an icon, and yet was so generous of spirit and "a lady," according to Jan.  Despite being very famous, she would introduce herself to groups rather than waiting for them to approach her worshipfully or expecting that they already knew who she was; she identified herself by name in greeting new people.  Julia also wrote "thank you" letters - a lost art these days - personally offering gratitude for gifts or work on her behalf ... she showed appreciation for any and all kind gestures.

Julia even maintained a listed phone number, of all things!  And if someone called her directly with questions about recipes, particularly on holidays like Thanksgiving (before the days of the Butterball hotline), she would answer patiently with genuine and sincere concern.

One interesting quirk that Jan told us about is that Julia didn't like to share dishes; instead, she felt you should simply order something yourself if you wanted to try it.  And she gently chastised Jan at one point, when Jan felt she was too busy to sit on the board of the then-forming American Institute of Wine and Food; Julia pointed out that she, herself, was busy, but that this was a cause worth dedicating the time to.  Needless to say, they both became board members!

At the end of her life, Julia wasn't able to eat much.  But someone made a batch of onion soup from Julia's own recipe, to encourage her to eat.  According to Jan, this turned out to be Julia's last meal.

Julia was so wonderful, so haymish (a Yiddish word meaning "warm, welcoming") that everyone loved her.  In fact, Jan noted that not liking Julia Child was "like not liking ice cream or chocolate!"

Lovely desserts were also brought in Julia's honor, prepared by group members from recipes in Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Malakoff Tortes with either strawberries or raspberries, as well as a Queen of Sheba cake made with lots of chocolate, butter and rum ... a perfect way to remember Julia and her fondness for such rich ingredients!

The Culinary Historians take the summer off from meeting, but then gather in August for an annual picnic - the theme of which will be a celebration of Julia Child's 100th birthday, featuring a potluck filled with dishes prepared from Julia's own recipes - before another year of monthly programs.

My heart will still be with them, though, as I prepare an article for the group's quarterly newsletter, Repast, about The Molly Goldberg Cookbook. I was even able to finally meet Randy Schwartz, Repast's esteemed editor, with whom I've been corresponding for a few months.

This was a lovely afternoon in so many ways!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"The Kosher King of Ann Arbor"

I recently had a fabulous time talking with Emil Boch, chef/co-owner of From the Hearth Food - a catering service offering kosher, vegetarian and vegan dishes - and chef at the University of Michigan Hillel during the school year.  I'd heard only raves about the food Emil serves, including such stellar accolades as this one, from Jeannie Ballew of entre-SLAM:

"I truly can't say enough of this man's cooking.  It is ethereal, other worldly, intoxicating.  He uses only the freshest locally produced ingredients and produce and just seems to have a magical touch with every dish he prepares."


So many people I know, from friends to acquaintances, were offering such extraordinary compliments about Emil's cooking - simple lunches at Hillel, take-home Shabbat dinners, catering options for special events - that I simply had to meet this man!

A native of Ortonville, Michigan, Emil is a proponent of the Slow Food movement and its dedication to sustainability, local sourcing, organics, and traditional handmade foods.  He engages in cheese making and charcuterie in his spare time, and received specialized training in Europe to further his knowledge of these hand crafts.  As the bio on his catering site states, Emil "draws inspiration from flavors of India, Latin America, France and Asia, but his style would be best described as New American."  Emil is influenced by many cultures and foods, and brings all of these together to create his own fabulous cuisine.

My friend Donna Shewach, one of Emil's most avid devotees, states that "Emil's cooking can be summed up in two words: simply delicious!  Everything he makes - from soups to main dishes, sides to desserts - is packed with flavor.  His creative use of seasoning and spices from all over the world make his dinners unique and irresistibly delicious ... always innovative and memorable."

Like so many others who are tremendously creative, Emil is a former art student; one of the reasons he left the art community, though, is because he felt he couldn't give up his pieces because of a deep "emotional attachment."  His high level of commitment now finds itself invested in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti community - good friends with many other restaurant and brewery owners, a regular chef at Selma Cafe breakfasts, and a volunteer with local food and farm projects.  From the Hearth Food will once again be one of many sponsors at this month's entre-SLAM, a networking event for entrepreneurs, being held at 7 p.m. this Thursday, May 31 at LIVE Ann Arbor (click here to register).

Emil was raised vegetarian and his mother cooked many ethnic foods, so he's well versed in specialized diets and a wide variety of flavors.  Although he's not Jewish, which enables him to work at Hillel during times when work is forbidden to observant Jews, Emil is considered "the Kosher king of Ann Arbor" for the inventive and distinctive dishes he has created in accordance with the dietary laws, as well as for his updates of traditional dishes.  (He can either cook in a home kitchen or in the Hillel kitchen, to certify kashrut standards.)

As Donna, an avowed foodie who keeps kosher, tells me: "When he catered dinner at my home, Emil was wonderful at accommodating all of our dietary preferences, including his delicious vegan dishes that the omnivores enjoyed too."  She also notes that while "Emil's dinners are exceptional by anyone's standards ... if you happen to keep kosher it's an added bonus" that this chef is skilled at preparing meals that go so far beyond the familiar chicken dinner or brisket.  Emil likes to serve "frat boy portions" that are extremely generous, which is great because Donna says "you’re going to want leftovers to enjoy the next day."

Emil is warm, friendly, and immensely likable - if his parking meter hadn't been on the verge of running out, we may very well have kept talking for another hour about everything from Jewish cuisine to the Pixies.  I normally need a flow chart to follow my own tangents, and Emil's quick thinking and gregarious nature even put me to shame!  Not only would you enjoy the food he prepares, but he would be wonderful to work with in planning an event, as well.

Emil very generously shared two different Jewish-influenced recipes: the Carrot Ginger Kugel pictured below and one for Home Cured Salmon, both of which would be perfect for light summertime meals.  From the Hearth Food's website also gives sample menus, to give an even better overview of his abilities and offerings.

You could prepare these dishes yourself, of course.  But as Emil says, because of his very small "family-type business," when you hire him you're "directly supporting" him and his wife and those he hires for events, rather than any large entity or corporation.  So why not let Emil cater a summer event - small or large scale - so you can taste for yourself the amazing dishes that Ann Arborites are so enamored of?

Chef Emil Boch

Easy Carrot Ginger Kugel

4 cups finely chopped carrots, peeled (5-6 medium-sized carrots)
1 cup finely chopped apple, peeled and cored (approximately 1 large apple)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
6 eggs

Preheat oven to 375F.  Grease a 9" round cake pan with butter or oil.

Process carrots and apple in food processor until finely chopped.  Add all other ingredients and process until well mixed, fluffy, and foamy.  Pour mixture into prepared pan(s) and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool slightly and serve warm, or chill overnight and serve cold.

Home Cured Salmon

1 whole side of salmon, 2-3 lbs
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
tablespoons pink peppercorns
1 tablespoons lemon zest

1. Place your salmon filet on a cookie sheet.
2. Rub filet on both sides evenly with the salt, sugar, lemon zest, and spices.
3. Place in a ziplock bag or "brining bag" and place in the refrigerator for up to 24-48 hours, turning over every 12 hours.
4. Rinse the salmon of all of the seasoning and pat dry.
5. Brush lightly with olive oil and garnish with fresh dill and tarragon.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Orange Pomegranate Iced Tea

It's Memorial Day - a time to honor those who have died in service to our country.  Traditionally, parades and events at historic sites take place, followed by picnics and barbecues.  Please don't forget the sacrifices that were made, which are being commemorated today, in the midst of planning for the food and fun later on.

A great drink to serve along with your holiday dishes is iced tea - a classic.  But why serve just plain ol' tea when you can spiff it up a bit?

Although I'm noted for my sweet tooth (teeth!), I have to say that I'm not a fan of the sweet tea that is so popular in the South.  It's just too, too much for me.  I'd rather plain tea, or sometimes I add just a spritz of juice from a lemon wedge.

So this citrusy tea - with hints of spice and a touch of tartness from the pomegranate molasses - will be perfect today and throughout the summer.  Make a pitcher of it, and enjoy!

Orange Pomegranate Iced Tea

4 Constant Comment tea bags
2 orange spice tea bags
12 cups boiling water
1/4 cup sugar
4 ounces pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern markets)

Place the tea bags into a pitcher; pour boiling water into the pitcher and let the tea bags steep for 10 minutes.  Remove tea bags, then stir in sugar and pomegranate molasses.  Refrigerate until cold, then serve over ice.

Makes 12 cups.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday: Revive

This toasty, creamy, gooey treat is the Nutella Bagel - Nutella and sliced bananas on a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel - that you can find at Revive, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.  A luscious snack, I've been craving it since the day I tried it.  At only $3.95, it falls well within our mandatory budget of only $5 per person, too ... that's pretty hard to resist!

But if you'd like to eat more nobly when you visit this bright and welcoming spot that offers light meals and snacks, then enjoy a creamy yogurt parfait - a sweet concoction of vanilla yogurt combined with lovely cut fruits and organic granola - that you can find for only $3.50.  It was rich and brightly flavored, a perfect size without either being too generous or causing me to wish it were larger.

Fresh fruit, bagels with cream cheese, a wide variety of pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and many beverages (coffees, tea, sodas, and smoothies) are also available for less than $5 each.  Many of these are provided by local businesses, too, from Mighty Good Coffee, Barry BagelsZingerman's Bakehouse, and the Pastry Peddler.

There's even a "create your own salad" option, starting with a base of $2.95 for greens and dressing; then you can choose from a wide variety of fresh options (priced individually) - vegetables, cheeses, proteins, nuts, fruits - to make your own unique dish.  Revive is very vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, and also serves beer and wine, which are 50% off from 3-6 p.m.

So stop by this bright, friendly, welcoming spot conveniently located on Central Campus to revive and refresh yourself with a treat or a beverage or a light meal.  You'll be so glad that you did!

619 E. University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Monday - Friday:  8 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.

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Revive + Replenish on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Victoria Sponge Cake

Queen Victoria was born on this day in 1819, and lived to be England's longest reigning sovereign.  She enjoyed a simple sponge cake with her afternoon tea; and thus this very easy, light, and buttery cake was created.

I'm a huge fan of afternoon tea, but am usually leaving work or running errands or doing something at 4 o'clock other than sitting down to a nice cup o' tea, some finger sandwiches, scones, and sweets. This is a shame - a little break in the afternoon is so restorative! I'd rather have a lovely afternoon tea followed by a small snack later on in the evening than to have a full dinner.

I've even been known to bring all the accoutrements - the cucumber sandwiches, some fruit, a few cookies - with me for lunch at the office, but that's just not the same.  There is beauty in the ritual and the tradition of having tea and treats at the appointed time, before transitioning into the evening's chores and duties.

Perfect with either hot or iced tea, easily transported without worrying about frosting, this sponge cake is ideal for virtually any occasion ... and for no occasion at all, but "just because" ....

Victoria Sponge Cake
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Angela Hynes' The Pleasures of Afternoon Tea)

3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1-1/2 cups self-rising flour*
1/2 cup Solo raspberry filling
powdered sugar, for dusting cake

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease two 8"-round cake pans; line bottoms of pans with foil and grease the foil.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, then beat in the extracts.  Gently fold in the flour and divide the batter among the prepared pans.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until a tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Let rest for 10 minutes, then turn cakes out onto a rack to cool completely.  Remove the bottom layer of foil.

Place one cake layer (the least attractive one) upside down onto a serving platter; tuck strips of waxed paper underneath it, covering the edges of the platter, to keep the platter clear of dusted sugar.  Spread the raspberry filling over the cake, just to the edge, then top with the other layer right-side-up.  Dust with powdered sugar, then carefully remove the waxed paper.

Makes 8-12 servings.

* If you don't have self-rising flour, use 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour + 2 teaspoons baking powder + 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Raja Rani for Mother's Day

Jeremy gave me a lovely present for Mother's Day: he joined me at an Indian restaurant for lunch.

Now, let me give you the history, to understand the magnitude of this gift.  Jeremy and I have a deal when we take turns picking where to eat: he won't make me go to White Castle, and I won't make him go to Indian restaurants.  Although Jeremy has eaten and liked a fair amount of Indian food, he holds a grudge against it; it's often too spicy for him, and buffets rarely identify what the offerings are so there's no clue what you might be eating.

But he was lured in on Mother's Day.

As we walked downtown past Raja Rani, Ann Arbor's oldest Indian restaurant with a famous lunch buffet, I thought, "Oh, man, that smells so good!"  I didn't say it, though; I'm a woman of my word, and I wasn't going to violate our long-standing agreement.

But then Jeremy said, "What do you think about having Indian food for lunch?"  Gasp!  Bestill my heart!  He said, "That smells really good!"  I told him that I wasn't going to pass up this momentous millisecond, and we immediately turned around to partake of a fabulous meal.

First and foremost, virtually everything at the buffet was not only labelled with a name, but there was also a brief description; so one could readily know, for example, that the Malayee Kofta were "cheese and vegetable balls in creamy sauce" and that the Navrattan Korma was a dish offering "nine vegetables with yogurt sauce."  Tandoori chicken, with its gorgeous red tinge, and breads hardly needed labels.

So, needless to say, I filled my plates (first helping shown above, the second was a bit more sparse) with a bit of everything: spinach with homemade paneer, potatoes, chicken, eggplant, dumplings, vegetable fritters, and all sorts of wonderful foods.  Nothing was particularly spicy, which was perfect for Jeremy; he enjoyed naan, rice, and several varieties of chicken, along with one of his favorite drinks - mango juice.

Beyond the generosity of spirit shown in granting me an amazing Indian feast for Mother's Day, Jeremy also had another shining moment that day: he ate goat.

Curried Goat, in a spiced tomato cream sauce, was on the buffet table.  And Jeremy, a braver man than I am, tried it first.  In fact, he couldn't believe a good eater like lil' ol' moi wouldn't have immediately leapt at it.  But whereas Jeremy wants his food identified for him, I do better if I don't know what's on my fork and headed for my mouth, so that I have no preconceived notions.  Not that there's anything wrong with goat - it's not like eating pussycat or something!  It's just not a staple in this country, or in my household, so I started with all my favorites - which were in plentiful abundance - before trying the less familiar offering.

But Jeremy went right for it: "I saw goat, I had to try it."  At first he thought it was "unique," but after a few moments he decided that "The goat is delicious!"  So I took a taste, and thought it was okay; it wasn't lamb-like at all, as I'd expected it to be.  I would eat it again if it were offered, but I decided that sweets were more enticing.

For dessert, there was rice pudding with just a hint of spice in a thin cream, and there was gulab jamun - tender fried balls of dough in a sweet, scented syrup.  If I hadn't already indulged to such a degree, I could easily have eaten several helpings of these lovely little treats.  And the syrup was really good when mixed with the rice pudding, too.

So my Mother's Day gift consisted not only of food, but of my very sweet son making a generous concession to join me in one of my very favorite cuisines ... and he enjoyed himself!  He loved it!  What more could I ask for?

Raja Rani Fine Indian Cusine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

National Vanilla Pudding Day

It's National Vanilla Pudding Day, an occasion which celebrates the beauty of simplicity.  There are no bananas or vanilla wafers in this pudding; no chocolate or butterscotch has been stirred in.  This isn't being used as a custard for trifle or for a parfait.  It is glorious all on its own!

Periodically, a debate pops up between chocolate lovers and vanilla afficionados.  I adore chocolate, and will almost always prefer it over what seems to be plain ol' vanilla.  But it's a matter of the quality of the vanilla.  A rich, fragrant, luscious vanilla - using beans or pure extract to impart flavor - is a truly wonderful taste not to be underestimated.

And that's the beauty of this pudding: it lets the true vanilla essence shine through in a creamy, seductive dessert.

This pudding would be perfect for Shavuot [shah-voo-OTE], the two-day holiday celebrating receipt of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which begins Saturday at sundown.  It would be especially lovely served with fruit; then it would honor both the dairy and the harvest traditions of the holiday, though the former is predominantly acknowledged.  (To read my article about Roman food to serve for Shavuot, scroll down to page 25 of this month's issue of the Washtenaw Jewish News.)

Because chag ([HAHG] = the holiday) follows Shabbat ([shah-BAHT] = the Sabbath) and work is prohibited on all three days, here are some recipes that can be prepared ahead of time for your upcoming holiday weekend featuring both religious and secular celebrations.  The recipes are also delicious for those who are still free to cook all weekend, and who are looking for great treats for the three-day break or for a Memorial Day barbecue.

Fried Ice Cream "Torah Scrolls"

Custard with Strawberry Sauce

Ricotta Cheese Pudding

Basil Parmesan Shortbread

Brownie Ice Cream Pie

Berries with Sweetened Sour Cream

Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Tart

Cinnamon Roll Sundae

Fruit and Cheese Tidbits

Vanilla Pudding

3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 cups half-and-half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten

Place the cornstarch, salt, sugar and water into a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly.  As soon as the mixture is translucent, turn heat down to medium-low and whisk in half-and-half, vanilla, and eggs.  Cook, whisking constantly, for about 10 minutes until the pudding is thickened.  Place into a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap pressed against the surface to prevent the formation of a skin, and refrigerate until cold.

Makes 8 servings.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pan-Fried Spaghetti with Olives, Tomatoes, and Swiss Chard

I had a fabulous time at the Dixboro Farmers' Market's opening day this past Friday!  Vendors offered honey, both duck and chicken eggs, baked goods that disappeared so quickly I only got a sample of a pretzel despite arriving within the first hour, fresh greens, spring onions and potatoes, beeswax candles, organic nut butters, green garlic, and other lovely items.  Blessed by perfect sunny weather, crowds gathered, dogs greeted each other, people chatted and shopped, and a good time was had by all.

I bought Swiss chard with gorgeous, deep green leaves from Ferris Farm; I also bought organic green garlic from my friends Dick and Diana Dyer at Dick's Pretty Good Garlic stand.  Green garlic resembles scallions - long green stems, with a white bulb and stringy roots - and is young garlic harvested before cloves form; its flavor is milder than that of the mature form.  The Dyers have always sold their prized supply to restaurants, so to find them with several bunches was a surprise and a treat!  This would be the only week the treasure would be available, so I pounced.

After schmoozing, shopping, and sunburning a bit, I took my prizes home.  Needless to say, I put the bounty to use in my dinner that evening.

I took some cold spaghetti out of the refrigerator.  This could have been baked into a casserole; it could also have been rejuvenated with boiling water, which would make it a bit too soft for my liking, and served with a standard boring ol' sauce.  Instead, I turned it into a lovely, sophisticated dish.

Pan-frying the spaghetti slightly caramelizes the starches, and gives the pasta a wonderful toasted flavor.  Combining it with red pepper flakes, Kalamata olives, the beautiful Swiss chard, a sweet tomato, and the cherished green garlic transformed this basic leftover into a delicious meal to celebrate the end of the week.  A lovely glass of white wine was the perfect accompaniment.

The new market was wonderful, and it's off to an amazingly successful start!  I met old friends and new ones, and am looking so forward to this week's adventure, and the goodies I'll bring home to cook with next weekend.

Pan-Fried Spaghetti with Olives, Tomatoes, and Swiss Chard

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 stalks green garlic, chopped (or 2 large garlic cloves, minced)
3 cups pre-cooked whole wheat spaghetti, chilled, cut into 2" lengths
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 large leaves Swiss chard, cut into 3" strips
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Melt the oil and butter together in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the mixture just starts to bubble, add red pepper flakes, garlic, spaghetti, salt and pepper; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the chard, olives and tomato; cook for 1 minute.

Divide among 2 serving plates and sprinkle with cheese.

Serves 2 generously.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday: Iorio's Gelateria

We're celebrating at Iorio's Gelateria today, because it's a special occasion: Happy 1st birthday to Frugal Floozie Friday!

This is my 52nd post featuring fabulous foods that can be found for $5 or less per person.  The project started on May 20, 2011 by showcasing a lovely Detroit crêperie near the Detroit Institute of Arts, Good Girls Go to Paris.  My BFF Wendy and I thought we'd have an adventure and see if we could find some treats for those who are on tight budgets, so that they could still have some fun without feeling too much deprivation.  Who knew it would turn into such a popular feature?

There was no need for cake at today's party, because there's such luscious ice cream ... but oh, so much more than mere "ice cream."  Iorio's [ee-OH-ree-ohz] gelato is so rich, so vividly flavored, and so luxurious that I could work my way through a thesaurus and still feel I wasn't describing it adequately.  I've tried many, many flavors and have never tasted one I haven't adored.

When Jeremy and I visited recently, he chose the mango and I chose a combination of port wine and bacio [BAH-chyo], which is dark chocolate with whole hazelnuts.  These are the small cups (about a generous half measuring cup) for a mere $3.25; you can get a medium for $4 and a grande for $4.50.  Cones cost 50 cents and biscotti are available for $1.  And you can choose as many flavors as you'd like to combine in your serving.

Jeremy's gelato was as vibrant as if it were a freshly ripened piece of fruit, and there were chunks of mango mixed into it.  The port wine was sweet and very fruity, and its texture was similar to sorbet.  It paired perfectly - as port and chocolate do! - with the chocolate-based gelato, which was decadently rich and creamy.

There is always a wide variety of offerings to choose from: fruit- or chocolate-based, mint, coffee-infused, and even unusual ones like a sweet and intriguing maple-bacon flavor I once tasted just to see how it was.  (You can have tastes of anything that strikes your fancy.)  And the staff is fabulously friendly, greeting customers with a hearty "Ciao!" when they come in.

The great-grandchildren of Italian immigrants, the Iorio family takes immense pride in its heritage and in the delicious treats offered at the shop.  If you haven't visited them yet, you should do so immediately.  Today's a special occasion, after all!  Why not celebrate with me and enjoy some gelato?

Iorio's Gelateria
522 E. William
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Monday: 7:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Tuesday - Friday: 7:30 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Glass Pavilion at The Toledo Museum of Art

My friends from Temple Beth Emeth's Sisterhood recently went on a Sunday afternoon excursion to the Glass Pavilion at The Toledo Museum of Art.  As much as I love art, museums, the women of Sisterhood, and lunch (which preceded our docent-led tour) ...  well, how could I refuse coming along on such a fabulous trip???

I rode with Ruth, Andy and Helaine, who were wonderful companions!  And once we arrived at the museum, we met up with the other 8 members of our group for a lovely lunch in the Cafe.  While many institutions are aware that they have a captive audience in need of sustenance and thus serve less-than-stellar items at exorbitant prices, this menu was filled with wonderful dishes: Italian Chicken Soup and Wholegrain Mustard Chicken Salad (my lunch, pictured above), Smoked Turkey and Brie Wrap with Drunken Fruit, House Smoked Pork and Lentil Salad with Dried Cherries, Oven Roasted Mushroom and Arugula Salad with Crumbled Amish Blue Cheese, and Poached Salmon BLT on Rye with Green Onion Aioli, just to name a few options.  And beautiful glass vases filled with tulips awaited at our table.

After lunch, we walked across from the main building to the Glass Pavilion, an award-winning building that is truly glorious - spacious and filled with light.  We were greeted in the foyer first by a charming host, and then by a gorgeous piece by the artist Dale Chihuly.  This is half of the Campiello del Remer Chandelier #2, one of 14 works Chihuly designed in conjunction with glass workers from the Waterford Crystal Factory for "Chihuly Over Venice" in 1996.  Chihuly subsequently split one of the chandeliers after the installation in Italy, giving one portion to the Kemper Museum in Kansas City while the other came to Toledo.  He and his team rearranged the 243 individual pieces - each with its own intricate cuts - to make the artwork unique to its location.

Our tour was led by the warm and wonderful Brenda Sweeney, who was exceptionally knowledgeable and specifically pointed out some pieces in the collection which had distinctly Jewish history.  She was so sweet that at the end of our visit, Sonny - a 90-year-old Sisterhood dynamo with a radiant smile - even invited her to come up to services at the Temple some time!  They became fast friends.

In the Modern and Contemporary collection, there were some extraordinary pieces, such as the colorful wall-mounted "Vitrana" by Dominick Labino.

But you know my attention was immediately drawn to this charming work by Emily Brock, entitled "The Counterman Diner."   Just look at the minute details, from the straws in a glass to the salt and pepper shakers, from the spatula on the stovetop to ice cubes that fell onto the counter.

In a gallery dedicated to decorative serving pieces, we found this gorgeous vase, created by Norwegian Marius Hammer, who was a contemporary of Fabergé.  However, because of its small size - slightly taller than a champagne flute - there was a consensus that it would make a gorgeous Miriam's Cup at a Passover Seder.

The last piece we saw was so beautiful and extraordinary!  This is "Dress Impression with Train" by Karen LaMonte, who "(probes) the disparity between our natural skin and our social skin, clothing which we use to obscure and conceal, to protect the individual and project a persona."  One of the guards came up to our group to tell us that the process of creating this work involved a live model, 5 hours of body casting, and 24 cans of hair spray to firm up the draped clothing sufficiently for molding.  There is a very clear human form within the fragile glass, and a lovely sense of movement and fluidity despite the solidity of the piece.

Toledo became known as "Glass City" after the  Libbey Glass Company moved there in 1888 and other manufacturers then began working in the area, too.  So it was most fitting that the museum would have an entire pavilion dedicated to the astounding variety of pieces - from ancient bottles to contemporary punch bowls, from painted mirrors to decorative sculptures - displaying the fascinating history and potential of the medium.  If you're ever in the Toledo vicinity, I so highly recommend a visit to this extraordinary place!

After our tour, Ruth, Andy, Helaine and I took a side trip to the Libbey outlet store at Ruth's very wise suggestion, and we were amazed by the array of dishes, glasses, serving ware, and more!  I, of course, saw everything in terms of photo ops; so you'll soon find my red, yellow, and white dishes, not to mention some very simple but festive polka dotted glassware, making appearances here on ye olde blog to serve lots of tasty treats.

The white bowl that my soup was served in at the museum is just one of Libbey's distinctive designs.  I was sorely tempted to buy a few of them, as well as many, many other items ... maybe on another trip.  Yes, there will have to be another trip!  We've already talked about it, since we had so much fun on this adventure.  More glassware, Tony Packo's famous hot dogs and relishes, the Handel's ice cream that another car of Sisterhood members enjoyed while our group was shopping for dishes ... so much more fun - and food! - awaits ... :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Man v. Food Happy Birthday Nachos

Happy birthday to Adam Richman!  He's the host of the Travel Channel's "Man v. Food" and upcoming "Best Sandwich in America" (which will premiere on June 6).

As the mother of a 21-year-old male who thinks that Adam and his Food Network counterpart, Guy Fieri of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," have the greatest jobs on Earth - getting paid to eat rich and delicious dishes all around the country - this occasion simply couldn't pass without notice.

So, what to serve in honor of a man whose fame comes not only from his genial disposition (he always seems like such a nice guy who's just there to have fun regardless of the cholesterol count), but also from eating gargantuan quantities of food - the richer, spicier, and more artery-clogging the better?  Jeremy suggested nachos, in honor of Adam having visited Ann Arbor in 2010 and conquered Mt. Nacheesmo - a 5-pound plate of nachos - at Tio's Mexican Cafe.

So we piled up the chips and loaded 'em with generous quantities of all the goodies: gooey cheese sauce, spicy chorizo, zesty salsa, vivid olives, crisp scallions and tomatoes, cool sour cream and luscious avocado.

And then we indulged.

Utterly, obscenely decadent, these nachos were great!  They have virtually no redeeming nutritional value (though I give credit where it's due to the vegetables!), but it was important to simply have fun during our celebration and honor the spirit of the birthday boy.

Nachos Grande

1 10-ounce bag tortilla chips
1 16-ounce container cheese sauce
1-1/4 pounds fresh chorizo, browned
1/2 cup salsa
1 medium tomato, chopped
4 large scallions, chopped
1 2.25-ounce can sliced olives, drained
guacamole, sour cream, jalapenos, and banana peppers - optional for serving

Preheat oven to 400F.

Place half of the chips into a 9"x13" casserole dish.  Drizzle with half of the cheese sauce, then top with half of the chorizo.  Layer the chips, cheese, and chorizo again using the remaining quantities.

Top with the salsa, tomato, scallions and olives.  Bake for 30 minutes until heated through.

Serve with toppings as desired.

Serves either Adam or Jeremy, or 10-12 mere mortals.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chocolate Chip Macaroon Muffins

On National Chocolate Chip Day, the obvious choice would have been to make chocolate chip cookies.  Not that there's anything wrong with them!  But ....

I debated whether to celebrate with something exotic, say some spicy chocolate-chili concoction ... nah.  I wanted the rich simplicity of the chocolate chips to shine through.

And so I baked a variation on the cookies, and also added an extra sweet touch with crumbled coconut macaroons (a fabulous marketing gift from the Bender Hammerling Group, which handles public relations and marketing for several food producers, including Manischewitz).  As they say, it's the little things.  The topping takes these muffins beyond everyday breakfast food and they become a special treat.

If you'd like to celebrate today's festivities with other options, here are some more suggestions that showcase the glory of chocolate chips:

Krispy Kreme Chocolate Chip Cookies

Butterscotch Pretzel Brownies

Raspberry Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

Chocolate Chip Gingerbread Scones

Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hillary Clinton's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ricotta Cheese Pudding

Ginger Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate Chip Macaroon Muffins

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
6 Manischewitz coconut macaroons, crumbled

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

In a large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar.  Stir in egg and yogurt.  Stir in half-and-half and salt, then mix in flour and the baking powder.  Stir in chips, then divide batter among the lined muffin cups.  Sprinkle the crumbled macaroons over the tops of the muffins.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Monday, May 14, 2012

National Buttermilk Biscuit Day

Buttermilk biscuits - there are few words more beautiful.  With these two words, you immediately conjure notions of flakiness, crumbliness, tenderness, steam rising as the biscuit is split open, butter melting on the freshly baked treat.  Biscuits are perfect accompaniments to so many dishes - eggs, barbecue, chicken, sausage gravy, and more.

Today is National Buttermilk Biscuit Day, an occasion for celebration!  So, of course, I baked biscuits ... and I didn't even tinker with the notion or try to put some spin on it, for once.  They're so easy to make that I should do so more often; I couldn't tell you why I don't; I guess there are just too many other dishes to make and these get left by the wayside.  That's too bad - biscuits should make a more regular appearance at the meals I serve.

Because as Jeremy so eloquently put it: "These biscuits are so thick and so crumbly and so good ... they're better than Pillsbury!"

Buttermilk Biscuits

2-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400F.  Grease an 8" round pan.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Mix the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the flour resembles meal.  Combine the yogurt and buttermilk and stir together gently.

Place everything onto a floured countertop and knead just until the dough holds together.  Pat into a 1"-tall rectangle.  Using a 2-1/2" biscuit cutter, cut out 8 biscuits by pushing the cutter in and pulling it up without twisting; this helps the biscuits to rise better.  Place the biscuits into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top.

Serve hot with butter, jam, honey, gravy, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Makes 8 biscuits.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Banfield's Westside Grill

Banfield's Westside Grill - today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature - offers a wide range of comfort foods, from pizza and burgers to salads and sandwiches.  Many of these can be split, to stay within our mandatory budget of $5 or less per person.

But here's my recommendation for you: order the nachos.  For a mere $9.75, you will be served an entire platter of food that even three hungry eaters - my BFF Wendy, her sister Cheryl who was visiting from New York, and I - couldn't finish.  Not that we didn't try valiantly!  It's just that the portion was so generous that, despite being ravenous because we didn't manage to find our way to dinner until after 9 o'clock on our Girls' Night Out, we still couldn't eat the entire dish.

You'll still stay within our required budget if you share the platter with only one other person; but I promise you'll have leftovers!

You can go to Banfield's to watch sports, to play video games, or - as we did - to sit outside on the patio on a beautiful Spring night to enjoy the company of your friends while eating great food.  You can choose to have bean, beef or chicken nachos, with no extra charge for meat; we ordered the chicken, which was very tender and slightly spicy.  And because our dinner had such quantities of vegetables, with lots of lettuce and tomatoes on top of all the chips and cheese - we didn't even have to feel guilty about indulging in "junk" food!

If you're not feeling inclined to share your food, the soup, chili, sweet potato fries, and small order of onion rings all cost less than $5.There's also a small Caesar salad for $4.25, not to mention desserts.

But if you're feeling more generous and more sociable, none of the appetizers costs more than $10; invite some friends along and order a variety to taste.

Comfortable and very informal with fabulously friendly service, Banfield's is a great place to just hang out and relax while enjoying good ol'-fashioned hearty food.

Banfield's Westside Grill
5510 Jackson Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pasta ca Sucu Fintu (Pasta with Fake Meat Sauce)

One of the most memorable books I've read is the late Vincent Schiavelli's Bruculinu, America, the actor's remembrances of growing up in Brooklyn with his extended Sicilian family.  The depictions of the scenes, the characters, and - especially - the elaborate dishes prepared by his grandfather, a retired master chef to a baron, are vivid and striking.  Vincent wrote beautifully and lovingly about it all.

So when he wrote a sequel, about his first visit to Polizzi Generosa, his family's hometown in Sicily, I had to read that, as well.

Both books contain many recipes, and the latter offers a dish with an inexpensive sauce designed to replicate one that contained costly meat.  As Vincent writes: "In Sicilian, pasta cu sucu means pasta with a hearty meat-tomato sauce.  In times past, this luxury was not available to poor farmers very often.  To compensate the palate, they devised their own fintu (false) version."

And so, Vincent offers a recipe for a beautiful, rich sauce which doesn't contain any of the newfangled soy-based products now available for vegetarian dishes, or even any mushrooms that are often utilized for their "meatiness."

Instead, this very traditional recipe uses hard-boiled eggs - coated in an egg wash and cheese before frying - as an inexpensive protein to imitate meat balls.  The golden, cheesy eggs are so unique!  And the simple tomato sauce is very fresh and wonderful.

I not only love cooking, but I particularly cherish opportunities to learn about international and ethnic cuisines - they fascinate me.  So much can be learned about people from their language and from their meals.  As Vincent notes in his first book: "In addition to providing sustenance, (food) served to nourish our heritage.  Food is, after all, edible culture."

Pasta ca Sucu Fintu
([PAH-stuh kah SOO-koo FEEN-too] = Pasta with Fake Meat Sauce.  Doesn't it sound better in Sicilian?)

(adapted from Vincent Schiavelli's Many Beautiful Things: Stories and Recipes from Polizzi Generosa)

4 hard-boiled eggs
1 tablespoon + 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup shredded Pecorino cheese, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup chopped parsley
12 ounces spaghetti, linguine or fettucine

Peel the hard-boiled eggs and halve them horizontally; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat; add the onion and cook until translucent.  Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and sugar; cook until the sauce just starts to bubble

Place the 2 eggs in a small bowl and beat them.  Place the 1/2 cup cheese into a small bowl.

Heat the 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  One by one, take each hard-boiled egg half, dip it into the egg and then coat it with cheese.  (The cheese won't adhere everywhere.)  Place into the skillet, and repeat with remaining eggs.  Cook 2-3 minutes per side until the eggs are golden.

Add the fried eggs to the sauce; simmer while preparing pasta according to package directions.

Place the pasta onto a serving platter, then top with the sauce and sprinkle with more cheese.

"In the traditional style," according to Vincent, "eat the pasta as a first course, then the eggs out of the same bowl as a secondo."

Serves 2-4.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Beard Awards Blathering

The James Beard Awards - often referred to as the "Oscars of the food world" - were given out just a few days ago; the winners in writing and television categories were announced this past Friday evening, with the chef, restaurant, and wine/bar programs being honored on Monday night.

These are bestowed by the enormously prestigious James Beard Foundation, whose "mission is to celebrate, nurture, and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and future."  Here is the organization's philosophy:

"Food matters. You are what you eat not only because food is nutrition, but also because food is an integral part of our everyday lives. Food is economics, politics, entertainment, culture, fashion, family, passion ... and nourishment. The James Beard Foundation is at the center of America's culinary community, dedicated to exploring the way food enriches our lives."

Thus, the Beard Awards are a huge, huge event for those who are fortunate enough to be in the inner circles.  They're also a very big deal for obsessive geeks like me who sit in front of their laptops watching a live stream of the ceremony (since the Food Network inexplicably doesn't show it).

So, what did I think?  Do I have some opinions about the winners, non-winners (it sounds so much kinder than "losers"), and everything else?

Why, of course I do!  I'm the same girl who once ridiculed the absurdity of Gatorade flavors and ranted about wedding cake - or, rather, a lack thereof at a friend's niece's wedding.  Of course I have notions to share and pontificating to do!

So pour a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, depending upon the time of day, and let's chat.  Here's the list of winners for you to peruse, in case you haven't seen it yet, so that you can contribute to this cause in the comments.

In no particular order:

- I acknowledge that big cities tend to have the greatest opportunity for, and ability to support, world-class restaurants.  But the finalists and winners were very New York- and Chicago-centric.  Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin ... they all represented a bit.  But overwhelmingly, those other two nabbed the attention.  I adore both cities - I was born and raised in New York!  But there's a wide world of culinary excellence beyond their skyscrapers.

- I didn't even like Ted Allen on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," one of my very favorite shows in its early incarnation (before they started to whore themselves out to sponsors and were heavy-handed in mentioning brand names).  Ted was supposed to coach the poor schlub guests about cooking and dining.  And one time he actually expected some clueless guy - because, of course, they were all clueless guys who needed to move on from their frat-boy status into adulthood with the help of the gay community's fabulousness - to learn how to cook (cruelly) and eat (messily) a lobster, rather than teaching him how to prepare something simple and classic and neat and tidy.  It was so unfair and embarrassing!!!  So now I see him on "Chopped," for which he won two - two!!! - Beard Awards.  He is the antithesis of dynamic, and so ungifted in stating the obvious; Jeremy and I groan when we watch him, because he is utterly superfluous on the show and makes his lack of necessity painfully evident.  And he - Ted Allen?!? - won two awards???

- I'm very sorry that no chefs from Michigan restaurants made the short list of nominees. (Grant Achatz - culinary superstar, multiple Beard Award winner, inductee this year into the Beard Foundation's "Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America" - was raised in Michigan but owns restaurants in Chicago).  Three had been named as semi-finalists: Luciano Del Signore of Bacco Ristorante in Southfield; David Gilbert of Forest Grill in Birmingham; and Matthew Millar of Reserve in Grand Rapids all received acknowledgement of their gifts and talents in the early rounds.  I'm also sorry that the Michigan-raised nephew of a good friend/co-worker - Max Sussman of Roberta's in New York City - didn't make the final list of nominees for "Rising Star Chef of the Year."  His winning would have been so, so cool!

- I was so happy to see the warm and wonderful Laurie Colwin welcomed into the Cookbook Hall of Fame, many years posthumously.  She writes as though she's chatting while the two of you are making dinner ... precisely the tone I strive for.  Nothing glamorous or complicated, just simple lovely recipes.  If you haven't read her work, I highly recommend her collections of food essays - Home Cooking and More Home Cooking - in addition to her fiction.

- Why was everyone wearing black or grey, with the exception of Duff Goldman who wore a mustard-colored t-shirt which was inappropriately informal for the occasion despite being worn under a dark suit?  Yeah, it was New York and it was a semi-formal affair.  But still!  When I go to the awards ceremony some day - when, not if!  Be positive! - I will wear pink.  Maybe red, maybe purple, but most likely pink.  With sparkles, of course ... :)

- I love that there are awards specifically for newcomers - such as the afore-mentioned "Rising Star Chef of the Year" award that my friend's nephew should have won (though it was no surprise whatsoever that Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar, famous for her addictive Crack Pie, won that prize) - as well as for those who are well-established and have produced and served at a consistently exceptional level for a minimum of 5 or 10 years (depending upon the category).  Everyone gets a chance.

- The ceremony didn't run very smoothly, and there was a fair amount of "down time" between presentations.  The show needs some form of transition ... possibly a band, so they also have a means to play off the long-winded folks (though there were thankfully very few of them).

- I'm so impressed that the winner of "Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic," Maricel Presilla of Cucharamama, is also an academic with a doctorate in Medieval Spanish history.  However, she was one of those long-winded winners who needed to be played off the stage.  I, of course, say this as someone who would also undoubtedly get played off the stage.  Judge not, lest ye be judged.

- It's so important that while there are many accolades for sophistication and pretense, there is also celebration of comfort food and old-fashioned favorites, acknowledging culinary and style diversity while appreciating talent and fabulous flavor wherever they may be found.

- And that leads me to my favorite category of the evening: "America’s Classics."  This category honors establishments ranging from steak houses to back woods shacks that are "beloved in their regions for quality food that reflects the character of their community."  This year's honorees are:

Jones Bar-B-Q Diner (Marianna, Arkansas)
Nora's Fish Creek Inn (Wilson, Wyoming)
Shady Glen (Manchester, Connecticut)
St. Elmo Steak House (Indianapolis, Indiana)
The Fry Bread House (Phoenix, Arizona)

Each link features the video that was shown at the awards ceremony, demonstrating how cherished these establishments are in their towns, letting you meet the owners who give so much of themselves each day and who maintain valuable traditions.  I highly recommend that you watch each segment - they're only about 2 minutes long.  But if you only watch one, watch the one for Jones Bar-B-Q Diner ... I intend to make a pilgrimage there some day.  Others go to Mecca, I'm going down to Marianna, Arkansas, for some seriously old-fashioned, "if it ain't broke why fix it?", secret recipe, this is how it's done barbecue.  And I love that an older couple - the barbecue joint's owners - from a podunk town of 4000 right smack in the middle of the state was wined, dined, and celebrated in the big ol' city!  This was my favorite award - and my favorite recipient - of all!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pomegranate-Glazed Sweet Potato Spears

Sweet potatoes aren't just for Thanksgiving.  One of the guests at the first Seder I attended at Passover brought a rich, sweet casserole featuring this gorgeous vegetable; and my very dear friend Candace, of Mi Chiamo Candace, recently posted about a flavorful spiced Roasted Sweet Potato Salad.  So with all this attention being paid to them, I've been craving sweet potatoes, which I adore.

This is a ridiculously simple preparation in which the sweetness of the main attraction contrasts with, and complements, the tartness of the pomegranate molasses.  And the house smells so, so good while this dish is baking.  These spears were fabulously delicious; I was sorely tempted to eat the entire batch instead of sharing!

This is an easy accompaniment to chicken, pork, burgers ... even turkey!

Pomegranate-Glazed Sweet Potato Spears

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, cut lengthwise into 3/4"-wide strips
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 cup pomegranate molasses
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line a baking sheet with foil.

In a large bowl, toss the sweet potatoes with the oil and the pomegranate molasses.  Place in a single layer onto the baking sheet and sprinkle with the salt.  Bake for 1 hour until the sweet potatoes are glazed, caramelized, and tender.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Almondina Crunch Coffee Cake

I love getting packages in the mail, because they're usually food-related!

And one I received recently was no exception.  It contained a generous sampling - for marketing purposes - of Almondina cookies, which are similar to very thin biscotti.  They have only 30 calories per cookie, feature nutritious almonds, are both kosher and pareve ([PAHRv] = neither meat nor dairy), are made without cholesterol and preservatives, and are very adaptable.  I've eaten several of the sweet varieties (Gingerspice, Chocolate Cherry, Choconut) on their own, as desserts and snacks; and I've eaten a couple of the savory varieties (Brantreat, Sesame) with cheese and as croutons.

Over the weekend, I felt like baking; I heard a coffee cake calling to me ... a bit of comfort after several very stressful weeks.  Instead of the usual cinnamony streusel topping, though, I thought I'd add a bit of crunch instead.  So I crumbled some of the Almondina cookies, mixed them with just a touch of sugar and butter, and sprinkled them over the batter.  Oh, the house smelled so fabulous as this baked!

And the cake turned out beautifully, with lots of flavor from the addition of the crumbled Almondina cookies that contributed ginger and nuts to my coffee cake.  Such a simple pleasure!

Almondina Crunch Coffee Cake

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg
2/3 cup sugar
grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup apricot all-fruit spread

6 Almondina Gingerspice cookies, crumbled
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 cup butter, melted

1/2 confectioners' sugar
1-2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a 9" round baking pan.

In large bowl, stir together butter, sour cream and egg; add sugar, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Stir in flours and spread into prepared baking pan.

Dollop the jam over the top of the batter, then swirl it in gently with a knife.

Combine the Almondina crumbs and brown sugar; stir in melted butter.  Sprinkle topping over the batter.

Bake coffee cake for 30 minutes, until golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool completely.

Combine confectioners' sugar and orange juice; drizzle over the coffee cake.  (Add a bit more juice or a bit more sugar, as needed, to make it the right consistency.)  Let glaze set, then cut and serve.

Makes 12 servings.

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