Friday, June 29, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - The Songbird Cafe

The Songbird Cafe is the newest addition to the dining options on the northeast side of town, and so it's today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature in order to let everyone know that it's open for business and ready to welcome you.

Ann Arbor native Jenny Song and her mother, Youn, have opened this spot that is great whether you want to grab a quick coffee and cake to go or linger for awhile over a latte and lunch.  (A greater variety of food options will be available imminently.  But there are so many other treats that it's absolutely worth an initial visit before going back again once the salad bar, sandwiches, and weekend brunch come along.)

The Hummingbird Cake pictured above - a Southern classic, and a very generous portion for $4 - is a rich, moist banana-walnut cake with a luscious, buttery, cream cheese frosting.  This and other baked goods, such as scones and cookies, are provided by the People's Food Co-Op, letting you support two local businesses at once when you cater to your sweet tooth.

I had heard the Samoa latte calling to me ever since the Cafe had posted about its "caramel, coconut, cocoa goodness" on Facebook a few days before my first visit.  (And let me personally thank Taylor, one of the Songbird's "talented baristas," for creating this treat.)  It was the liquid essence of my second-favorite Girl Scout cookie since, as we all know, Thin Mints reign supreme.  This was creamy and definitely showcased the key flavors - a luxurious indulgence at $4.35.

All of the pastries, teas, coffees, juices, sodas, and specialty drinks fall within our mandatory frugal budget of $5 or less per person, ranging in price from $1.50 to $4.60.  There are unique and intriguing lattes, from the seductive Nutella-flavored one to the Cardamom Rose and the Fig Vanilla Black Pepper varieties.  There is also a Tangerine Lavender Hot Cocoa ... something to look forward to when cold weather returns to Michigan (and sadly, we all know it will).

Another really nice feature of The Songbird Cafe - besides the friendliness of Jenny and the staff, the delicious goodies, and the free wi-fi, among other perks - is the half-off sale on leftover baked goods.  Stop by to pick up some scones or cookies for a midnight snack or for the next morning's breakfast!

Visit The Songbird Cafe and say "hi." With lots of light, it's very cheerful; with wood furniture, it offers warmth.  And with great food and drink offerings, served by smiling staff, it'd be a lovely place to become a regular.

The Songbird Cafe
2707 Plymouth Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
Monday: 7:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Tuesday - Friday: 7:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Saturday: 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sunday: 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.

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The Songbird Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pizzella S'mores and Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Bars

To finish off my Berry Fest, I offered two desserts - one rich and buttery, the other light and sweet - featuring gorgeous organic berries.

The Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Bars were a variation on the crisp I often make because it's a classic that is always loved.  Adding a butter-laden shortbread crust could only enhance things!

And then I had an epiphany for another dessert that I'd never made before.  I was hosting an outdoor event ... I was grilling ... the weather was ideal ... what would be a great send-off?  S'mores!

But why not tweak them a bit ... or, really, a lot.  There were cookies, and there were toasted marshmallows; that's about the only resemblance to the tried-and-true graham cracker and chocolate treats.

I mashed some raspberries and spread them onto delicate pizzelle (waffle cookies).  I toasted marshmallows and placed them over the raspberries.  I carefully folded the cookies in half ... and I found myself with fabulous new creations that were like little crispy, sweet, vibrant, gooey dessert tacos!

Even better, these are something that even those who are watching their diets can eat.

There are only 23 calories per pizzella (singular of pizzelle ... and yes, I know I'm particular about such matters!), while the marshmallows have 25 each; raspberries possess 1 calorie each.  Thus each Pizella S'more comes in at barely over 50 calories each, just about 1 Weight Watchers' point (for those who are following this excellent health plan but still want to enjoy some treats).  Whee!  These goodies are sweet, tart, light, bright, and wonderful!

And because s'mores and raspberries are perfect summer foods, here's a song by - of course! - the Raspberries to suit the mood:

Pizzella S'mores with Toasted Marshmallows and Mashed Raspberries

8 Whole Foods lemon zest-flavored pizzelle cookies
1 cup organic raspberries
8 marshmallows

Set out 8 cookies.  Mash the raspberries, then spread a bit onto each pizzella.

Toast the marshmallows to desired doneness.  Place 1 marshmallow onto each cookie, then gently break the cookies in half and fold together to make a sandwich.

Makes 8 s'mores.

Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Bars

2-1/2 cups Whole Foods 365 brand unbleached all-purpose baking flour
1/4 cup Whole Foods 365 brand organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup Whole Foods 365 brand organic salted butter, softened
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease an 8"x8" baking pan.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, and salt.  Use your fingers to mix in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.  Stir in the eggs, then press dough into the prepared pan.  Bake for 15 minutes.

1-1/4 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups chopped organic strawberries
1/3 cup Whole Foods 365 brand organic cane sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and translucent; press lightly to smush fruit a bit.  Pour over base.

2 cups Whole Foods wild blueberry flax granola (from bulk foods)
1/4 teaspoon Whole Foods 365 brand organic cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup Whole Foods 365 brand organic salted butter, melted

Combine granola, cinnamon, and ginger; stir in melted butter.  Spread streusel over fruit, pressing lightly.  Bake for 25 more minutes until filling is starting to bubble around the edges.

Let cool completely, then trim 1/2" from all edges.  Cut into 4 columns, then cut into 3 rows.

Makes 12 generous bars.

(Note: Whole Foods Market very graciously provided me with a gift card to help purchase supplies.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Greens 'n' Grains Salad with Fresh Blackberries

My BFF Wendy and I particularly loved this salad, with the bright lemony flavor of the couscous and sweetness from organic blackberries, crunch from toasted almonds, and a hint of tartness from the blackberry-fig balsamic dressing lightly coating the greens.

This was substantial enough to serve as a light lunch or supper; it was therefore a nice dish to serve at my Berry Fest for vegetarian guests, since it was supplemented by a variety of cheeses, grilled strawberries, biscuits, and desserts.  There was plenty of food for everyone, regardless of dietary needs!  I also served a fresh fruit salad, because these beautiful organic berries are a wonderful ingredient but also shine on their own without any adornment.

The lemon-herb couscous with stir-ins could even be prepared and served without the lettuce, as a complement to any number of entrees.  It's quick, simple, and delicious - what more do you need for a perfect summer dish?

Greens 'n' Grains Salad with Fresh Blackberries

2 5-ounce packages Whole Foods 365 brand lemon & herb pearled couscous
1 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
finely grated zest of 2 organic lemons
1/2 cup chopped fresh organic parsley
8 ounces mixed organic Spring greens
2/3 cup Bella's organic blackberry & fig balsamic dressing
1 cup organic blackberries

Prepare couscous according to package directions; let come to room temperature.  Stir in almonds, lemon zest, and parsley.

Toss greens with dressing.  Place greens onto a serving platter, then place couscous into the center of the greens.  Sprinkle berries over the top.

Serves 6-8.

(Note: Whole Foods Market very graciously provided me with a gift card to help purchase supplies.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Grilled Chicken with Spiced Blueberry BBQ Sauce

Chicken is particularly well-suited to serve with fruit, so it only seemed natural that my Berry Fest should feature some poultry complemented by a sweet sauce.  But not too sweet - it should have some zest.

So I took my basic homemade barbecue sauce, which is universally loved and has a fabulous flavor, and cooked some blueberries in it to enhance it.  Brushed onto chicken as it grilled, to set the sauce and caramelize it a bit, this entree was an ideal summer food!

This grilled chicken was fork-tender, sweet, spicy ... perfection!

Blackberry-Fig Marinated Grilled Chicken with Spiced Blueberry BBQ Sauce

5 pounds Pine Manor Farms free-to-roam Amish chicken thighs with skin
1 cup Bella's organic blackberry & fig balsamic dressing

Place chicken into 2 gallon-size freezer baggies; pour 1/2 cup marinade into each baggie.  Seal tightly, turn to coat chicken, and refrigerate overnight.

BBQ Sauce:
2/3 cup organic blueberries
1/4 cup water
1 12-ounce bottle chili sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Whole Foods 365 brand organic honey mustard
splash of cayenne pepper sauce

Bring blueberries and water to a boil over medium heat in a medium saucepan; cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently and mashing the berries.  Add remaining ingredients and bring just to a boil; simmer 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Preheat grill to medium-high.  Remove chicken from marinade and drain, then place onto grill.  Cook for 8 minutes per side.  Baste with sauce, cook 5 more minutes.  Turn chicken over, baste with sauce, cook 5 more minutes or until firm.

Serves 8-10.

(Note: Whole Foods Market very graciously provided me with a gift card to help purchase supplies.)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sweet-Tart Grilled Strawberries and So Much More at Berry Fest

I recently received a lovely email from Whole Foods Market, inviting me to enjoy some beautiful organic berries and encouraging me to share the bounty:

"Summer means getting together with friends and loved ones to celebrate longer days, warm (sometimes too warm!) weather and relaxed schedules. At Whole Foods Market, it’s also a time that we rejoice in the fresh goodness of organic berries .... (We're) celebrating organic blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, and we’d like to invite you to join in on the fun by hosting your own berry bash!"  (Note: To that end, Whole Foods very graciously provided me with a gift card to help purchase supplies.)

Well, how could I refuse such a charming offer?  I adore berries, and I'm always happy to feed my family and friends.  Count me in!  I've been to Baconfest, then BRU Fest ... the time had come to be the hostess with the most-est for Berry Fest!

I didn't want to just make strawberry shortcake, although I love it; I wanted to expand beyond the expected.  At the same time, though, I didn't want to make anything overly complicated or exotic; rather, I wanted to serve dishes that would let the berries shine, and dishes that are easy enough to make that you can enjoy your berry fest after a long day at work or a busy weekend full of chores and errands.  I also wanted to be sure there were treats to enjoy even on those days when it's just too hot to cook.

And so, I devised the following menu:

Mini Toasts with Goat Cheese and Fresh Blackberries
Blueberry Sausage Puffs with Raspberry Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce
Antipasto Platter featuring salami, cheeses, and Pomegranate Molasses-Basted Grilled Strawberries

Blackberry-Fig Marinated Grilled Chicken with Spiced Blueberry BBQ Sauce

Greens 'n' Grains Salad with Fresh Blackberries

Strawberry-Rhubarb Streusel Bars
Pizelle S'mores with Toasted Marshmallows and Smashed Raspberries

I also served raspberry iced tea and a bottle of raspberry-lemon sparkling water - easy but delicious beverages to complement the theme du jour.  And to keep the drinks cold, I offered ice cubes that had raspberries frozen into them, for flavor and for color.

Today, I'm offering recipes for the appetizers; the rest of the week will be devoted to the other delicious dishes.  Enjoy the bounty!

Mini Toasts with Goat Cheese and Fresh Blackberries

Jeremy really enjoyed these, telling me that the flavors of the cheese and the berries complemented each other perfectly.

1 6-ounce package Chevrie Fleurie organic soft-ripened goat cheese, at room temperature
16 Whole Foods 365 brand mini toasts
16 organic blackberries

Slice the cheese into 16 pieces, placing one slice onto each piece of toast; top with a blackberry.

Makes 16 toasts.

Antipasto Platter featuring salami, cheeses, and Pomegranate Molasses-Basted Grilled Strawberries

Everyone loved the cheeses and the salami, but they raved about the strawberries - "I didn't know you could grill strawberries," "This really brings out the sweetness in the fruit," and "The glaze really brightens the flavor of the strawberries."  I had wanted to serve something other than the usual olives, and was thrilled that the skewered berries were such a hit!

favorite meats - I served Fiorucci brand all natural hard salami
favorite cheeses - I served Seaside English Cheddar, Fontina, and a blueberry-studded Wensleydale
16 organic strawberries
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Arrange meats and cheese in slices or cubes on a plate, leaving room for the strawberries.

Thread 2 strawberries onto skewers (so they don't just spin on one stick).  Preheat grill to medium-low, then place skewered strawberries onto grill.  Cook for 2-3 minutes per side, basting with the pomegranate molasses, just until slightly caramelized.  Place strawberries onto antipasto platter and serve.

Serves 6-8.

Blueberry Sausage Puffs with Raspberry Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce

I used the blueberry-flavored sausage to keep with the party's theme, but any flavor of sausage could be used for these simple, elegant, and delicious hors d'oeuvres.

1 17.3-ounce package of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry
8 links Whole Foods uncooked blueberry country maple breakfast sausage
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

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

One at a time, roll each of the 2 sheets of dough on a lightly floured surface until it is just over 12"x12"; trim rough edges.  Cut dough into 4 quarters.

One at a time, lay a sausage link onto one piece of dough, at the closest edge to you; roll up, pinch dough to seal.  Cut into 8 pieces and place the pieces onto the prepared baking sheet, cut side up, leaving 2" space between puffs; repeat with remaining dough and sausage.

Combine egg and water; brush lightly over pastries.  Bake for 15 minutes until puffed and golden and sausage is cooked.

Raspberry Honey Mustard:
1/2 cup organic raspberries
4 tablespoons Whole Foods 365 brand organic honey mustard
2 tablespoons buckwheat honey

Place raspberries into a small bowl; mash thoroughly with a fork.  Stir in mustard and honey.

To serve:  Place sausage puffs onto a serving plate, and offer with a bowl of the dipping sauce.

Makes 64 puffs and about 1 scant cup sauce.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday at Bella Italia Pizza and Pasta

A perfect slice - that's what you'll get at Bella Italia Pizza and Pasta, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.  I grew up in New York City eating fabulous pizza.  I expect a certain cheese blend, a sauce with flavor and zest (and just enough sauce, rather than gobs of it), a crisp crust, and the ability to fold my slice without it drooping.  This pizza was perfect!

My friend Jesse Bernstein had recommended Bella Italia to me with such devotion that I simply had to visit:

"The owners are a young couple who have perfected and replicated the Dandy Pizza experience precisely.  Dandy's was a pizzeria on Whitney Avenue run by a Sicilian family who spoke no English, but knew what you were ordering.  My sister said she has been searching for 40 years to find the taste and here it was in Ann Arbor.  This was confirmed by another neighborhood resident who now lives here and confirmed our assessment."

Ah, taste memory - that oh, so elusive and indefinable entity that is rarely satisfied!

Well, let me chime in that the pizza was just like what I remembered eating years ago, as well.  That it perfectly fit our mandatory frugal budget of $5 per person - the 16" pizza with one topping was $14.50, making it perfect for my party of three - only made it better.

Bella Italia has a friendly and welcoming staff, including Jim Millan who owns the restaurant with his wife, Katie.  And it offers lots of great deals that meet our Frugal Floozie Friday budget.  There are even lunch specials for less than $4 - a 10" pizza with one topping, lovely pasta dishes, a rich tiramisu - each a very generous portion.

You can buy two slices of pizza for $5 or less if you pick cheese and/or pepperoni; a slice of a specialty pizza costs $3.  Half salads (Caesar, Garden or Greek) cost just under $5.  And the calzone, stromboli, and hot subs are a great deal - ranging in price from $7.75-$9.75 and easily split with a loved one to meet the mandatory budget constraints without anyone going hungry.

If you fancy yourself a competitive eater, you could either eat for free or earn yourself a share of $200 - even better deals than $5 per person!

If three people can finish a 30" pizza - with any toppings from cheese to an abundance of goodies - you can get it for free if you can eat the entire thing in 30 minutes or less.  Or, if you think you and just one partner can polish off the 30" Meat Lovers' pizza - topped with several pounds of sausage, pepperoni, bacon, and ham - within 60 minutes, you'll win yourselves $200.

As we ate dinner with Motown classics playing in the background, it was a perfect warm Spring evening.  We had a great time at Bella Italia for a very reasonable price, and look forward to eating there again.

Bella Italia Pizza and Pasta
895 Eisenhower Pkwy. (in the Colonnade)
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Monday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Friday: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Saturday: 12 - 11 p.m.
Sunday: 4 - 10 p.m.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hungarian Sour Cream Cookies

These tender, delightful cookies are surprisingly addictive; I found myself eating a couple ... then grabbing just one more ... then sneaking another one.

Sometimes you want a cookie with all the chocolate, nuts, caramel, and other goodies that you can cram into the dough.  Other times, simplicity rules the day.  And the rich flavor of these seemingly plain cookies definitely shines.

These are perfect for picnics, barbecues, afternoon tea, or any other occasion you can think of ... especially "just because" ....

Hungarian Sour Cream Cookies
(slightly adapted from a recipe in The World of Jewish Entertaining by Gil Marks)

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar; stir in egg, sour cream and vanilla extract.  Stir in flour and baking powder.

Form the dough into 1" balls and place 2" apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes until cookies are set but still very pale.  Remove to a rack and cool completely.

Makes about 52 cookies.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Moroccan Spiced Carrots

I love Moroccan food, with its vibrant and exotic flavors.  It doesn't have to be complicated to prepare, even if traditional recipes might require special equipment or long cooking; techniques can be adapted and modernized.

But this gorgeous, simple recipe requires nothing fancy or expensive.  And it rewards you with a slightly spicy tingle complementing the sweetness of the carrots, and the ease of being able to serve it at any temperature - it can therefore be prepared right before serving or well ahead of time, whatever suits your schedule.

These spiced carrots can accompany virtually any dish, and are perfect for a picnic or a barbecue.  Try them!  Who knew plain ol' carrots could be so easily transformed into something so delicious?

Moroccan Spiced Carrots
(slightly adapted from a recipe in The International Kosher Cookbook by The 92nd Street Y Cooking School)

1/2 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2" slices
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed
generous pinch of kosher salt
generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon snipped fresh parsley

Place carrots in a medium saucepan and cover generously with water.  Bring to a boil, then cook for 10-15 minutes until tender; drain.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl; add the carrots, stir to coat.  Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mongolian Tartar-Style Steaks

At the internationally-influenced picnic I recently served, I veered from my tendency to cook foods from my favorite cuisines - Jewish and Italian.  I cooked some tremendously flavorful steaks that were so easy to make that they hardly warrant a recipe.

Marc Cramer's Imperial Mongolian Cooking: Recipes from the Kingdoms of Genghis Khan is one of the more unusual and interesting cookbooks I have in my collection.  I bought it at the late, great, and much missed The Savvy Traveller bookstore that used to reside across Michigan Avenue from The Art Institute of Chicago.

When Jeremy was younger and our family would take weekend trips to Chicago, it was simply understood that I would visit the bookstore.  And I would spend a long time there.  And if anyone wanted to meander off to grab a snack when they got bored while I perused, they were welcome to leave and then come back ... everyone knew where to find me.  I'd be looking through books about year-round trips around the world, books about volunteering in exotic locales, books about quaint towns in foreign countries, and cookbooks devoted to ethnic cuisines.

But, as you can well imagine in a day and age that can't even support the behemoth that Borders once was, a little bookstore devoted to all aspects of travel and foreign locales couldn't possibly survive.  It closed in 2007.

Thus, not only did I take a culinary trip to Mongolia in preparing the recipe I'm going to share with you, but I also travelled back to Chicago, back to my favorite bookstore, and back to the many dreams and vicarious adventures that were fostered there.

Mongolian cooking is not just about choosing proteins, vegetables, and sauces, then stir frying it all together - a la Mongolian Barbecue - on a searingly hot surface.  The Mongol Empire once stretched across land now known as Poland and Hungary, across Armenia and Iraq, as far south as Vietnam and as far north as Russia.  Therefore, it incorporates a wide variety of influences and ingredients.

But typically, Mongol cooking is very meat-oriented; vegetables did not grow readily in the cold center of the territory, so only hardy varieties (potatoes, onions) would have been available.  Yak was popular, but beef and lamb make excellent substitutes.  Dairy products, as well, are essential to the diet, and yak milk is the base for cheeses and beverages.

These steaks, then, which are grilled and then accented with Asian flavors and scallions, are very representative of Mongol cooking.  They take just a few minutes to cook and a minimum of ingredients, but they offer a maximum of flavor.

Mongolian Tartar-Style Steaks (Tatar Uhriin Mah)
(slightly adapted from Marc Cramer's Imperial Mongolian Cooking: Recipes from the Kingdoms of Genghis Khan)

1 pound, total weight, thin-cut round steaks
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 green onions, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard
1 teaspoon sesame oil
pinch of red pepper flakes

Preheat outdoor grill to medium.  Lay the steaks onto a platter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Grill 3 minutes per side, or to desired doneness.

While steaks are cooking, combine remaining ingredients.  Remove steaks to a serving dish and drizzle sauce over them.

Serves 4-6.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Italian Baked Rice for International Picnic Day

It's International Picnic Day - what a perfect celebration for June!

I could have served an American-style picnic today, complete with fried chicken and potato salad.  But I thought that "international picnic day" should be interpreted not as a universal day for picnics, but rather as a day for a meal filled with foods from around the world.

So my international backyard picnic lets us travel to Italy with a baked rice and cheese dish that is reminiscent of risotto, but requires less attention.  Dream of Morocco with fragrant spiced carrots.  Enjoy vibrant Mongolian seared beef, complemented with some simple feta-topped grilled vegetables, then finish the meal with light and tender Hungarian sour cream cookies.  Add a bottle of Spanish wine, and the picnic is complete!

Since I served so many lovely foods at my picnic, I'm going to make them the focus of this week's posts.  Today I'll share the recipe for Bomba di Riso [BOHM-bah dee REE-soh], the rich rice dish, with the other recipes to follow in subsequent days.

To make this casserole - which could easily serve as an entree, served with fruit and salad - all you need to do is cook some rice, stir in some eggs and cheese, and bake ... that's it!  It's a great change from plain ol' rice or potatoes, and there's a hint of nutmeg to offer an exotic nuance.  Some fresh spring peas or asparagus would be a lovely addition, stirred into the rice before baking.

Bomba di Riso
(very slightly adapted from Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen by Joyce Goldstein, from my good friend Mary Schuman)

1-1/4 cups white rice (Arborio preferred)
2 eggs
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
very generous sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
3 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into small dice
1/8 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a 1-quart casserole dish.

Prepare the rice according to package directions.  Remove from heat, then stir in eggs, shredded Parmesan, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Place half of the rice mixture into the bottom of the prepared casserole dish.  Spread the ricotta over the rice, then top with the mozzarella.  Spread the rest of the rice mixture over the top, then sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

Bake for 30 minutes until bubbling and starting to turn golden.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Roger Monk's Yappy Hour

Roger Monk's is today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature for many reasons.  It's got great food, and it offers a wide variety of appetizers, drinks and desserts for $5 or less - our mandatory per-person budget - during its weekday Happy Hour.

But not only does this casual, comfortable, but still sophisticated restaurant welcome humans, on Thursdays it also welcomes dogs at its fabulous Yappy Hour.  Yes, well-behaved humans and their adorable leashed owners can gather on the back deck for food and fun - a chance to chat with fellow animal lovers and furry friends.

So, of course, I had to bring my grandpuppy, Poochie, one gorgeous sunny afternoon.  He's a very sociable beast - a veritable party animal!

Jeremy, Stuart (Jeremy's dad, my ex-husband), Poochie, and I recently took advantage of a perfect summery day to enjoy some fabulous food.  We started with appetizers, each of which costs $5: a very generous portion of chips with a slightly spicy salsa, crisp-coated and tender chicken satay with a creamy peanut sauce, and enormous mussels braised in a lemon-wine sauce.  These were delicious, as well as being perfect for sharing.   The two other options we could have chosen were hummus served with toasted pita bread and a duck liver mousse served with crackers.

We drank water - as did Poochie, who was given his own personal bowl of water even before the humans were taken care of; and it was served refreshingly with orange rather than the ubiquitous lemon.  But if you're in the mood for something a bit stronger, 20-ounce pints of draught beer cost $4; glasses of wine and drinks such as Martinis, a Daiquiri, or a Cosmopolitan cost $5.

And then there was the temptation of dessert.  Desserts, too, cost an even $5 - perfect for our budget.  As good as the appetizers were - and they were very good - these were absolutely the stars of the show.

Jeremy order the utterly decadent chocolate mousse pictured at the top of the post.  It was as thick as ice cream, rather than pudding-like as some can be.  It was intensely chocolatey and simply addictive.  You'd be tempted to keep eating if the portion were larger, but the full coffee cup of this treat was a perfect and generous serving.

As soon as I heard a few of my very favorite words - "bread pudding," "cherries," and "caramel" - all in the same sentence, as our server recited the dessert options, I knew that this would be mine.  Bread pudding featuring tart cherries and a bourbon caramel sauce ... oh, be still my heart!  This was rich, sweet, had a bit of a kick, and was just perfection.  I loved the dessert, but would happily have just taken a spoon to a jar of the sauce and eaten it "as is" even without the tender, fabulous pudding base.

Stuart was in the mood for a hot fudge sundae, which isn't on the menu; but our very kind and helpful server, Dennis, offered to bring a serving of vanilla ice cream (which is a standard offering) topped with the bourbon caramel sauce.  Although one of my personal pet peeves is customers who make special orders - hard-working restaurant staff are not personal chefs - I was very pleased to know that great service and keeping customers happy was high on the agenda at Roger Monk's.

There are many public places that dogs aren't welcome, so it's wonderful that on Thursdays you can linger over great food and cool drinks at Roger Monk's while your dog gets to play with new friends.  Poochie was fussed over by the staff and by other customers enjoying the fabulous weather, and he just loves being the center of attention!

We had a grand time at Roger Monk's, and highly recommend its Happy and Yappy Hours for fabulous treats at reasonable prices.  What a great opportunity to unwind at the end of the day!

Roger Monk's
5400 Plymouth Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
Tuesday - Saturday: 3 - 10 p.m.
Sunday: 3 - 9 p.m.
Closed Monday
Happy Hour: Tuesday - Friday 3 - 6 p.m.
Yappy Hour: Thursday 4 - 7 p.m.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Strawberry Orange Daiquiri

Anyone who knows me - frankly, anyone who spends 4 seconds with me! - knows that I'm a prissy girly-girl.  (One of my favorite t-shirts even proclaims it!)  I don't drink beer; I don't like it, although it's fabulous to cook with.  I don't drink hard liquor like bourbon or whiskey or tequila, and I loathe gin.  I don't even drink very much at all, although I do like to go to wine tastings and try to learn a bit while having fun.

But if I'm going to drink, I like the froofy drinks that usually come with paper umbrellas or fruit skewers or whipped cream.  What can I say?  They're light, they're festive, they're sweet, they're perky ... they're me!

This is an ideal cooling drink for summery weather, and it offers a flavor as vibrant as its color.  It's easy to make and easy to drink - not very strong at all.

And it's perfect for when you're just relaxing in the backyard, enjoying a beautiful evening with friends.

Strawberry Orange Daiquiri

1 10-ounce package Daily's Strawberry Daiquri, frozen
1 pint blood orange sorbet
6 ice cubes, crushed

Combine all ingredients in a blender and whip into a frenzy until well combined.  Serves 4.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

BRU Fest - Come Join Me!

BRU Fest - a party featuring burgers, wings, 'n' beer (all the important food groups!) - is going to be a great event for a great cause.  And I'm inviting all of you to join me there on Saturday night!

Faithful followers know that I am not only completely and utterly devoted to food - its preparation, its cultural significance, its history, and of course its taste.  But I am also a complete and utter bleeding heart, ready and willing to help causes that are near and dear to me.  I've written about hunger, homelessness, community gardens for low-income families, a preschool for underprivileged children ... I'm just an old softie, and proud of it.

And the cause I'm promoting today is one that touches my heart deeply: sick kids.  BRU Fest isn't just a good time; it's a good time that benefits the Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan, so that it can serve families affected by leukemia, lymphoma, and related blood disorders.  The organization provides information, financial assistance, emotional support, holiday gifts, and so much more to children (and even adults) who are ill, and to their loved ones.

So how can you help, too?  Buy a ticket!  Buy a bunch of tickets and invite your friends!  For $39, you'll get to sample fabulous treats from Bagger Dave's Legendary Burger Tavern and Buffalo Wild Wings, as well as receiving 10 tokens and a 10-ounce BRU mug to use in sampling premium craft beers from Kalamazoo's own Bell's Brewery.  Like I said - burgers, wings, 'n' beer ... wow!

If you need more incentive, let me be the temptress who tells you just a few of the 15 different Bell's offerings you'll be able to choose from:

Oberon Ale: The heart of Bell’s summer lineup, Oberon Ale offers a refreshing mix of malted wheat flavor and fruity notes, wrapped up in a distinctively citrusy hop aroma.

Third Coast Beer: Pale malts and a variety of American hops combine in Third Coast Beer to produce a refreshing, crisply hopped, dry pale ale.

Black Note: A blend of Expedition and Double Cream Stouts, aged in freshly retired bourbon barrels, this stout combines the best features of its parents and enhances them with undertones of bourbon.

Cherry Stout: Matches smooth, malty dark chocolate flavors with the tartness of 100% Montmorency cherries grown in Michigan’s Traverse City region.

Hell Hath No Fury: This was inspired by Belgian Abbey beers and ended up as a truly unique offering - a mixed culture of Belgian yeasts provide distinctive fruity ester and clove notes to a dark, stout-like malt base.

A few other co-sponsors of this amazing event are Treat Dreams (which offered lusciously rich vanilla ice cream swirled with maple syrup, waffles, and bacon at Baconfest Michigan), my buddies at The Hungry Dudes, and the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.  Because, of course, helping sick kids and their families is a cause that everyone can rally 'round.

Just to tantalize you, Bagger Dave's has graciously shared a recipe for one of the great burgers you'll get to sample at Bru Fest.  But don't just make the burger and eat it alone - that's no fun.  Join the rest of us and come to the party!  What an excellent way to spend a Saturday night!

BRU Fest - Burgers, Wings, Beer
Saturday, June 16
7 - 11 p.m.
Royal Oak Farmers' Market
316 East 11 Mile Road (2 blocks east of Main Street)

Bagger Dave's Legendary Burger Tavern Ono Burger

4 beef patties
2 slices bacon, cut in half
2 ounces onions
2 burger buns
2 tablespoons pineapple barbecue sauce

Begin by heating the griddle to 350F.

Place burger patties and bacon on the griddle and begin to cook on first side for approximately 3 minutes.

Saute the onions on the griddle until they become light brown in color, approximately 2-4 minutes.

Flip burger patties and bacon; cook another 3 minutes.

Lightly toast top and bottom buns.

On your toasted bun, place the burger patties and bacon.  Top with the caramelized onions and finish with pineapple barbecue sauce.

Serves 2.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Drambuie Butterscotch Sauce

I made a simple but rich sauce recently, because I wanted something more enticing than just plain ol' ice cream.  Since it wasn't accompanying anything - cake, pie, etc. - the ice cream needed a little bit of dressing up.

I didn't have any chocolate in the house, for some inconceivable reason; but I was in the mood for a change from that routine anyway.  Butterscotch was calling to me ... fairly loudly, too.  I had brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and half-and-half.  I even had corn syrup - not an ingredient I want in my peanut butter or any other of the myriad foods it sneaks into, but one which contributes to the right consistency in this recipe.  I was all set.

And then I had a flash of brilliance: Drambuie, a liqueur made with whiskey, honey, and spices.  A little splash of Drambuie would make this such a sophisticated treat!

Put the ingredients in a saucepan, boil, chill - that's it!  So this sauce is ideal if you get short notice about company coming over, or if you just have a craving for something a little special.

This sauce didn't even need the ice cream ... just a spoon is all that's required.

Drambuie Butterscotch Sauce

  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup Drambuie
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half

Bring sugar, corn syrup, and Drambuie to a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan; stir constantly and cook for 5 minutes; mixture will foam up.  Remove from heat, then stir in butter and vanilla.  Stir in half-and-half; mixture will clump a bit, then everything will combine and smooth out.

Place into a jar, cover, and refrigerate until cold; the sauce will thicken.  Can be warmed up slightly to serve over ice cream, cake, fruit ... whatever strikes your fancy.

Makes about 1 cup.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Five Guys Burgers and Fries

I'd never been to a restaurant's pre-opening "dress rehearsal" before, so I was very excited to be able to take Jeremy to the trial run at the new Five Guys Burgers and Fries that just opened this Monday at Arborland.  It makes a perfect Frugal Floozie Friday feature!

This will be the second Five Guys in Ann Arbor (the other is on State Street), but it was my first visit to one of these legendary burger joints.  I'd heard nothing but good things about them, with significant awe about the generosity and freshness of the servings, so I was looking forward to sharing the feasting and fun with Jeremy.

As we walked up, the door was held open by a wonderfully friendly greeter with a radiant smile.  Everyone, truly, flashed fabulous smiles - the hostesses who handed us menus, the cashier who took our order, the woman who explained the newfangled soda machine, the waitstaff who kept checking to ask if we needed anything, the man who thanked us for coming to visit and wished us a good evening ... everyone.  We felt so very welcome!

The menu is small - burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, fries, and drinks; but it proves the adage that you should focus on a few items and then do them well.  Given the number of happy people who joined us at the dress rehearsal, and the popularity of Five Guys around the country, it's clear they do this very well.

I ordered a little - ha! - hamburger, pictured above, for $3.79.  I could have ordered up to 15 toppings for free, but settled for mayonnaise, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, and ketchup.  This alone was an enormous quantity of food, a tremendous value for less than our mandatory Frugal Floozie budget of only $5 per person.

But then there were fries - a regular order costs only $1.99 and was so generous that many of them had fallen out of the serving cup and were strewn on the bottom of the bag our food had been served in.  Two people could easily split these, each buy a drink for $1.99 (regular) or $2.29 (large), and still come in at less than $4.  And you'd be full.

Fries can be ordered either "Five Guys Style," crisp and golden with a nicely blended seasoned salt, or "Cajun Style."  Jeremy doesn't like spicy food, so I guess I'll just have to go back sometime and try those others for myself, huh?  Gee, what a rough job!

I had never seen a soda dispenser like the one at the restaurant, so I was grateful to have a very patient woman standing near the machine to explain it.  (Jeremy can attest - complete with annoyance, disgust, and a roll of his eyes - how little aptitude I have for new toys.)

There are 125 different beverages available, from the standard Coke products to variations I'd never heard of (peach Mountain Dew).  Touch the screen to pick the brand you want, then touch the screen again to make a selection when the assortment of flavors appears.  As someone who has a terrible time making decisions - particularly when it comes to anything remotely food-related - I could easily have flipped from screen to screen trying to pick something.  Fortunately, Jeremy nudged me along before I found myself taking up space for too long and getting in other people's way.

Just as the staff in the front of the house was tremendously friendly, the kitchen staff was astoundingly efficient.  There were many people lined up preparing food at a furious pace, and everyone worked cooperatively and played well with the others.  It was fascinating to watch them work, especially given that it is a brand new set of co-workers that already formed a cohesive team.

Other Five Guys menu items that meet our tight $5 Frugal Floozie Friday budget are the little cheeseburger and little bacon burger, which are each available with as many of those aforementioned 15 toppings that your heart (and stomach) could possibly desire.  All four hot dogs - kosher style, cheese dog, bacon dog, and the decadent bacon cheese dog - as well as all three sandwich varieties (veggie, cheese veggie, and grilled cheese) qualify, as well.  Even the large order of fries - and I can't imagine how enormous that portion might be, after seeing the smaller serving! - is only $4.99.

There was a very festive atmosphere at the dress rehearsal, and it was great to see many friends who'd also been invited to the event.  If we'd had to wait awhile for our food, Jeremy and I could have shared a basket of fresh peanuts that are available to feed and entertain customers while the cooks do their job.  But our dinner was brought out so quickly that we didn't even need any.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries offers a great value with tremendously friendly service.  What more could you ask for?

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
3601 Washtenaw
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday - Sunday 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Schmoozing, Noshing, and Kibbitzing at entre-SLAM

I attended the latest entre-SLAM last Thursday evening, and had a wonderful time meeting new friends and visiting with old ones.  I even missed the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee for this ... wow!

Jeremy was shocked to hear I was going out that night; he knows I'm a nerdy girl who actually listens to the preliminaries at work, since I can't be home to watch them live.  And I always watch the final round, trying to see how many of the words I can spell myself.  (Very few in the later hours, I have to admit, despite my English degree, despite being a naturally good speller, and despite having studied French, Latin, Italian, Russian, and Hebrew.  I have immense admiration for the kids who excel at this event!)

But spelling bee or not, I had such a good time at the April slam that my friend Marcie Greenfield (hostess extraordinaire of the walking tour company Savor Ann Arbor) and I signed up not only to attend the May session, but also to partake of the pre-event dinner with items that could be ordered and delivered from Mark's Carts.

Now, I could tell you that there were fabulous stories, inspirational stories, heartwarming stories, funny stories, and all sorts of other stories about entrepreneurs living the night's theme of "The Show Must Go On" ... and there were wonderful speakers, absolutely, sharing their experiences in the wild and wooly world of business ownership.  But you know me - I'm all about the food.  And there was plenty of it, including some amazing samples from some of the slam's sponsors.

So let's start with dinner, shall we? 

I visited Mark's Carts last summer, during their inaugural season; but there are new vendors at the food cart courtyard this summer - The Beet Box and A2 Pizza Pi among them.  And there's also Cheese Dream, whose "You Donno Jack" sandwich was calling to me as I perused the menu trying to determine what to order while registering for the slam.  This was a grilled cheese, nicely toasted and crisp, filled with Monterey Jack cheese, poblanos, and a generous helping of corn relish.  With this option, I could eat my comfort food and still get a serving of vegetables, too!

For dessert, I'd ordered a Mexican hot chocolate cookie from The Lunch Room, the vegan cart.  Jeremy and I had attended their pie party this past winter, so I can personally attest to how fabulous their desserts are.  And this crisp, chewy, spicy, rich, delicious cookie was just as amazing as every other treat I've enjoyed from them.  (It's pictured on a plate because I took it home - there were so many goodies that I simply couldn't eat everything in one evening.)

Marcie, who unfortunately suffers from a number of food issues, was giddy to have The Lunch Room's ice cream sandwich: decadent chocolate cookies filled with strawberry-flavored coconut milk ice cream that accommodated both her gluten and dairy intolerances.  She absolutely loved it, and insisted upon my taking its picture and showing it off in all its glory.

Hut-K Chaats, which offers "nutrilicious" Indian street food - healthier, with less fat and sugar than traditional recipes - was one of entre-SLAM's sponsors.  Owner Dr. Mahaveer Swaroop Bhojani, a cancer researcher whose passion is to feed people food that can also help to heal, was offering samples of Shanu Chaats: a fabulous, slightly spicy chickpea and potato dish topped with crispy rice noodles and multigrain chips.  I went back for seconds ... after eating dinner.  And Dr. Bhojani very sweetly made a special sample cup for Marcie, leaving the problematic chips out of the mix so that she could enjoy the rest of the dish.

I was also able to taste two treats from "The Kosher King of Ann Arbor," Emil Boch - another sponsor, with his catering company From the Hearth Food.  Emil and his beautiful and wonderfully friendly wife, Monica, were offering two delicious items, one savory and one sweet.  The former were small crisp and chewy breads topped with blue cheese (one of my very favorite foods) and arugula, which were wonderful!  The flavors weren't overpowering, and they blended very well together; even people who admitted to not being aficionados of blue cheese found these were deliciously addictive.  The sweet option, unfortunately, didn't photograph well in the - shall we say? - romantic lighting; but it was luscious enough to compensate for its lack of photogenic qualities.  It was a soft, biscuit-like shortbread topped with a white chocolate whipped cream and fresh strawberries ... sigh.

I was also thrilled to get more tastes of my beloved Iorio's gelato, which I'd just written up for a Frugal Floozie Friday post a few weeks ago.  This gave me a much-anticipated opportunity to meet owner Mary Lemmer (Iorio's Gelateria was another sponsor) and her friend Carrie, a fabulously enthusiastic store employee who even filled in for an absentee storyteller and participated in the slam.  I couldn't resist the dark chocolate variety, and Marcie was able to taste both the vibrant and luscious mango as well as another wonderfully fresh dairy-free offering - cucumber watermelon.

So, at entre-SLAM I met great new people, lined up a future interview, visited with friends, ate exceptionally well, and was highly entertained ... a great night, even if it didn't involve any spelling!  (And no, despite having been fluent in French before I proved the truth of "use it or lose it," I couldn't spell the winning word: guetapens.  A huge mazal tov to Snigdha Nandipati for being able to do so!)

It's not too early to sign up for the next entre-SLAM at Live Ann Arbor and to join founders Christa Chambers-Price and Jeannie Ballew for another fabulous evening of networking and encouragement on Thursday, June 28.  You can register here and choose whether to watch the festivities, tell a story, co-sponsor the event, partake of dinner, or some combination thereof.  entre-SLAM is a great local event supporting the community, nurturing businesses, and fostering friendships.

And the food is fabulous!

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