Friday, August 31, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Palio

Palio is the restaurant my BFF Wendy chose for our celebratory dinner in honor of her recent birthday. She hadn't been there for a long time, and I had remarkably never eaten there. (So many restaurants, so little time! And I like to cook, of course, so I don't eat out as often as people think I do.) Wendy had offered to go anyplace I might want to write up for a Frugal Floozie Friday feature, and I'd offered to take her anywhere she wanted to go for our party of two. Turns out, we each won!

Now, a girls' night is a fabulous thing even if you're sitting on the sofa in sweatpants, only eating popcorn and ice cream. But it's an even more wonderful time if you can look out over Main Street on a gorgeous Friday night as the sun is setting, and spend hours talking, hoping, and dreaming while enjoying wonderful food. We were thrilled to find that the rooftop - Palio del Sole, with its own menu differing a bit from that of the restaurant downstairs - had a table for two just waiting for us.

Wendy ordered her favorite dish, the Cannelloni di Funghi [cahn-eh-LOH-nee dee FOON-ghee]; it was a tremendously generous portion, enough to feed at least two people, but the pricing puts it out of our mandatory budget of $5 or less per person. (Worth every penny, but ....) Should you not be striving for budget consciousness, it is a stellar feast of pasta with mushrooms, cheeses, and a Florentine tomato sauce.

I, however, found two ideal frugal options, though one would never know they were inexpensive to see or taste them. I started with a simple Insalata Verde [een-sah-LAH-tah VAYR-day], expecting a small-ish bowl the size of a side salad. As you can see, there was a full dinner plate of gorgeous fresh greens, luscious ripe tomatoes, and my beloved Gorgonzola. This was lightly dressed with good green extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, in a subtle vinaigrette that just coated the vegetables.

I also ordered the exceptional assortment of tapenades pictured above: Roasted Garlic with Olives, Artichoke Lemon Herb, and Goat Cheese with Sun-dried Tomatoes. For a mere $7.95, I received generous portions of each spread, which could easily have been split by two to average out at less-than-$4 per person. I was able to take about two-thirds of this home (having started with the salad, of course), and thoroughly enjoyed them all again the next evening. These are delicious treats that are a tremendous deal!

The olive tapenade was my favorite, with a vivid flavor that let hints of the garlic shine through. The artichoke spread was wonderful, with a chunky texture. It was great to find true artichoke flavor, rather than having it diluted with the ubiquitous spinach. (Not that I haven't eaten my fair share of that famous dip!) The sharpness of the goat cheese shone through in the tomato variety, and it was so rich and creamy.

Now, a birthday party isn't a real celebration without sweets. So, of course, we asked our fabulously charming waitress, Erin, to bring the dessert tray 'round for a perusal. Never underestimate the skinny girl with the sweet tooth or her amazing BFF who runs half-marathons: I ordered an obscenely decadent, brandy-laced tiramisu and Wendy ordered the rich and spicy carrot cake ... and yup, we chose a third dessert and split the unbelievably seductive chocolate-drizzled peanut butter pie.

I think Erin was both appalled and yet rooting for us. But she's also a distance runner, so we all bonded over celebratory eating as a great motivation for either runs (Wendy) or long walks and free weights (me) since one must burn off the calories. Desserts are $5.95 each, but are so large that they are easily split by people who are less ... let's be polite, and say "indulgent." (Yes, we finished every extraordinary bite.) So they can easily come in under the $5 per person budget, and would make a lovely treat after a movie or a concert, or "just 'cause."

So, whether you want a perfect summery salad all to yourself, or whether you want to split a distinctive appetizer or luscious desserts, Palio has a variety of frugal options to choose from. Go! Enjoy!

347 S. Main Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday - Thursday: 5 - 10 p.m.
Friday - Saturday: 5 - 11 p.m.
Sunday: 4 - 9 p.m.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Julia Child's Best Brownies

For Julia Child's 100th birthday on August 15, I celebrated by bringing a batch of brownies to work, having made them with one of Julia's recipes.

The method is a bit more involved than simply "dump 'n' stir," but none of the prep is difficult. And I am here to tell you that every single step is absolutely worth it. I've made some exceptional brownies before - my Hot Damn! Triple Orange Brownies, in particular. But I've gotta say that these may very well be my new all-time favorites.

One of my co-workers declared these "the best brownies ever"; another proclaimed them "divine." I can't argue with either assessment - these are unbelievably rich, decadent, seductive, so wrong and yet so, so right. Of course, with 2 cups of sugar, nearly half-a-pound of chocolate, and a full cup of butter, what do you expect??? They'll kill you, but you'll die blissfully and ecstatically happy!

After mixing everything together and pouring the batter into the pan, I set the timer for the recommended 23 minutes. When the bell rang, I inserted a knife into the center to test for done-ness. The recipe stated that "they'll be perfect if they're just barely set and still pretty gooey." Well, the brownie mass jiggled when I shook the pan a bit, and the center was like chocolate pudding - far beyond gooey, and still raw.

So I set the timer for another 5 minutes, only to find little progress.

I set the timer for another 15 minutes, in a fit of impatience and knowing that the brownies were still far from where they needed to be.  Only after that much more baking did I find the perfectly gooey center. So be sure to start with the minimum baking time, but don't worry if it takes longer.

There is no occasion where brownies would be unwelcome - be "Employee of the Month" by bringing them to work, make picnics and barbecues more festive, devour them at a "girls' night in" while watching a movie, serve them after a romantic dinner ... any time, any place, these are perfection. You know you'll want them for Saturday's season opener, The Cowboys Classic, when my #8 Michigan Wolverines take on the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide!

Makes these brownies. I'm serious! Do it now ... you'll thank me for being so insistent, I promise ... :)

Julia Child's Best Brownies
(very slightly adapted)

  • 8 ounces butter, softened
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 ounces milk chocolate chips
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9"x9" baking pan with foil, letting some hang over the edges for easier lifting, and grease the foil.

Melt the butter and chocolates together in a small saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup of the sugar, cook for 30 more seconds, then remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl.

Place remaining 1 cup sugar and the eggs into a medium mixing bowl; mix just to combine.

Little by little, pour half of the egg mixture into the chocolate; whisk after each addition to combine thoroughly.

Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining egg-sugar mixture on "high" for 3 minutes; the mixture will become much lighter in color and thicker. Fold this mixture into the chocolate.

Add flour and salt; fold into batter until completely incorporated. Pour batter into pan and bake for 23 minutes; check with a knife to see if center is mostly set and gooey. If too wet, continue cooking in 5 minute increments.

When brownies are done, remove from the oven and let cool completely. Remove from the pan using the foil, peel down the sides of the foil, and trim 1/4" from edges. Cut into 4 columns, then turn brownies and cut into 4 more columns.

Makes 16 brownies.

Note: You could add nuts to the brownies if you want to. But they're so dense and so fudgy that nuts could almost be disruptive - crunchiness that interrupts the bite, and which requires chewing rather than just letting the brownies dissolve on your tongue.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Baked Tomatoes with Lemon-Matzah Crumbs (

Jeremy and his dad have many tomato plants in their back yard, so they've been generous in sharing the bounty with me. And my friend Rebecca had given me some whole wheat matzah, knowing I would find a good use for it since I cook so often.

Matzah - it isn't just for Passover anymore! It worked beautifully in this recipe, ground to make a lovely topping for baked tomatoes. The whole wheat variety offers not only more nutrition than standard matzah, but also a lovely toasted, nutty flavor.

I also added some ground lemon pizzelle cookies, though any simple lemon cookie (with no icing) would work equally well. Their sweetness, combined with fresh lemon zest, definitely added brightness to the dish.

Served as a side dish, these baked tomatoes would complement virtually any entree. But they even made a fabulous light lunch, along with a salad. They could be chopped and served over pasta, or stuffed into a sandwich.

Simple to make, fabulous to eat!

Baked Tomatoes with Lemon-Matzah Crumbs

6 ripe medium-sized tomatoes, halved
kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1 square whole wheat matzah, ground
1/4 cup lemon cookie crumbs
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
few springs of fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F. Place tomatoes into a 9" glass pie pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, combine matzah and cookie crumbs, lemon zest, and parsley; sprinkle over tomatoes. Drizzle oil over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes, until tomatoes are softened and topping is golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

Wordless Wednesday - Friendship ... :)

Go check 'em out on
Yesterday: Grilled Brie with Cherries and Almonds
Today: Baked Tomatoes with Lemon-Matzah Crumbs

Monday, August 27, 2012

Grilled Bacon, Parmesan, and Fig Sandwich

I've been thinking about a fig 'n' Parmesan combination for some time now, though I just haven't managed to act upon it before this.

But it's stuck with me. And it's stuck with me because it is bashert [bah-SHAYRT], which is Hebrew for "destiny."

I'd originally considered a savory bread pudding with shavings of Parmesan and some fig jam stirred into the custard; that may still find its way into my repertoire this winter, when the warmth of bread pudding is the perfect thing to counter the cold. But after a long day at work, I needed dinner ... and I needed a meal that didn't require too much effort. If it were going to be time-consuming or complicated, I'd have ended up just eating chocolate chips. (You think I'm kidding, but I'm really not. It had been that kind of day.)

So, fortunately for my pancreas, there was a better idea: a grilled cheese sandwich combining the Parmesan and the figs. And as I gathered ingredients together, I had an epiphany ... bacon.

There was a bit of leftover bacon flirting with me as I routed around in the refrigerator. I could hear it blowing kisses, whispering sweet nothings.

Well, how could I resist such seductive charms? I succumbed. I'm "that" kinda girl.

And I have no regrets.

This sandwich exceeded my expectations beyond my usually verbose ability to describe it. The crisp crunch of the buttery, toasted bread ... the first bite bringing sweetness, then the tingle of the mustard ... the nuttiness of the creamy Parmesan came through in the next moment, contrasting with the chewiness of the bacon. It was a perfect union of tastes and textures.

It was love at first bite.

Grilled Bacon, Parmesan and Fig Sandwich

  • 4 slices good quality multigrain bread
  • butter, at room temperature
  • very light schmear of Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 4 strips bacon, cooked, cut in half
  • 2 fresh Black Mission figs, ends trimmed, chopped, mashed lightly

Lay the bread slices out on the countertop, and schmear some butter onto one side of each slice. Place 2 slices butter-side down in a medium skillet; lightly schmear them with Dijon mustard.

Divide half of the cheese among the bread slices. Top with the mashed figs, the bacon, and the remaining cheese. Place the remaining 2 slices of bread on top, butter-side up.

Cook over medium heat until cheese is melting and the sandwich is golden on both sides.

Makes 2 sandwiches. I won't blame you if you eat them both yourself, in one sitting.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Fat Philly's & Burgers

Jeremy and I recently ate at Fat Philly's & Burgers, which serves precisely what it promises, with some barbecue, salads, and side dishes offered on the menu as well. On a recent evening, good ol' comfort food just sounded like the perfect option, and Fat Philly's was a great place to go to satisfy the craving.

As soon as we walked in the door, we were greeted by a welcoming chorus of "hello" from the staff. It wasn't one of those orchestrated requirements (i.e.: an official greeter at a big box store or an embarrassing round of "Happy Birthday" meant to mortify both recipient and performers); rather, there were genuine smiles, and one waitress even recognized Jeremy from the spot where he regularly hangs out with his friends. We were greeted as though we were regulars.

Our waitress, Dora, was wonderfully cheerful, and she even tried to save us money by suggesting that I order a combo instead of piecing together a meal. Of course, I was considering photo ops and wanted to see what an appetizer's quantity of food would be, rather than merely a side order's worth; but I truly appreciated her thoughtfulness.

So while Jeremy ordered the Bacon Blue Burger combo (with fries and a drink) for $7.89, I ordered the Philly Steak sandwich pictured above for $6.89. It featured generous quantities of tender beef, and just the right amount of peppers and onions. I'm on record as not being a fan of green peppers, but I'm also on record as someone who vehemently disapproves of special orders, so I ate it "as is" with the thought that I could pick a few extra peppers off if they were too strong. But these were not overwhelming or pervasive, and the sandwich did not skimp on the meat; so the usually-offending item actually was perfectly portioned to enhance my meal.

Now, I know that there are some zealous purists who adamantly claim that serving the sandwich "wit Wiz" (with Cheez Wiz, that is) is a sign of authenticity, and there is no Wiz to be seen here. But mild white cheeses are also a favorite for cheesesteaks, and Fat Philly's melts Swiss into their beef-onion-pepper mix. So many aspects of this iconic sandwich are subject to debate - the roll, whether the meat is chopped or sliced, the type of cheese - that virtually everyone has his or her own opinion.

Suffice it to say that I have eaten and enjoyed many versions, regardless of which side of any argument the ingredients may fall on, and Fat Philly's sandwich is excellent. And taste is, of course, the primary concern. This was so good that while I'd had every intention of saving half of it for breakfast the next day, I couldn't resist finishing it. It's definitely large enough to split, so that it falls within our Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 or less per person.

Or you could stay within the mandatory limits if you order a basket of the crisp onion rings; they cost only $3.89 for a large quantity. While many places make great-tasting onion rings, these have a tendency to fall apart. At Fat Philly's the coating adheres beautifully, so that you're actually eating onion rings rather than onions and batter that have lost any contact with each other.

Other items which qualify for our frugal budget are the Fries Basket at $3.89, as well as side dishes of cole slaw or BBQ baked beans or chili or soup for $2.89. The House Salad and the House Caesar Salad cost only $4.89. And the hot dog, chili dog, and chili cheese dog all qualify for our mission, as well. You can eat at Fat Philly's or get a carry-out order, and calling ahead is welcomed.

So for great comfort food, hearty servings, and exceptionally friendly service, head over to Fat Philly's and welcome them to the neighborhood!

Fat Philly's & Burgers
2224 Washtenaw
Ypsilanti Township, MI 48197
Monday - Saturday: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Sunday: 12 - 9 p.m.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sander's Cream Puff Sundae

My very dear friend Fran joined me on a girls' day out recently. (You might remember that I featured an interview with Fran last year, in which she offered an amazing recipe for Chocolate Pecan Pie.)

The primary goal of our adventure was to go to the Sander's store at a mall about half-an-hour away from Ann Arbor. It's the closest we were going to get to reliving one of Fran's best childhood memories:

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

If you grew up in Detroit, as Fran did, or if you had relatives in Detroit who would bring presents when they visited, as I did, then you know about Sander's. It was a very special luncheonette and candy store, noted for an assortment of sweets and - in particular, for me - the hot fudge sauce that my grandmother would bring as a gift when she came to see us in New York.

So, why order a salad or a sandwich or something nutritious while enjoying our day out???  Fran and I ordered cream puff sundaes for lunch! Anything else would have just been excess calories. The sundaes had been a significant raison d'être for our trip, after all.

When given a choice of ice creams, there was no reason to go with plain ol' vanilla or even one of my favorites, mint chocolate chip. Because the quintessential core of a Sander's cream puff sundae would, of course, be a variety of ice cream featuring another Sander's classic: the Bumpy Cake, a devil's food cake with rows of buttercream frosting on top that are then covered in chocolate. Sigh with me ....

The sundaes were enormous, and I couldn't even finish mine. While you might think this was excessively and cloyingly sweet, it actually was perfectly balanced - the cream puff seems to offer sufficient substance and breadiness to counter the sugar high of cake-infused ice cream with an abundance of hot fudge sauce. This was a pure, decadent indulgence!

So, although the beautiful new dress that I bought for Rosh Hashanah was a definite perk (a $100 dress on sale for $25!), the cream puffs - and spending time with my beloved Fran, of course! - were absolutely the highlights of the day ... :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - More Amusement at the Thrift Shop

Long-time followers know I always smirk when I see copies of this book languishing on thrift store shelves.  (Here's a previous post about it.)  So many bought the book, so many have discarded it ....

Go check 'em out on
Yesterday: Moroccan Bread Salad
Today: Vegetable-Stuffed Baked Yellow Squash

Monday, August 20, 2012

Guest Post: Spicy Lamb Sausage with Beans

I'm very happy to introduce Bobby Hoffman, guest blogger du jour! I met Bobby and his friend Johnny recently, while having dinner with Johnny's and my friend Ingrid. Bobby's passion and enthusiasm for food shone brightly, and I immediately knew that all of you would want to meet him, too. Read this post enviously, wishing you'd shared in such an amazing dinner. Quite frankly, and with no shame (well, maybe a little bit - 13 years in Catholic school and all that Jewish guilt, after all!), after pining over all of this, I just simply violated every rule of etiquette and practically demanded an invitation to a future meal!

Since moving to Ann Arbor from Chicago this past month, I have been sampling and savoring everything that the city has to offer! I’m a sensualist whose passion for food and drink knows no bounds. As soon as I’m done with a meal, I immediately begin planning what, and where, I’m going to eat next!

I had a few friends over for dinner the other night, and planned a menu which showcased the ingredients that I picked up at the farmers' market and Biercamp. (Mary's note: Biercamp is a fabulous shop that specializes in artisan sausages and jerky. It was recently featured on Frugal Floozie Friday.)

Blackberry Mojitos: I keep homemade simple syrup infused with fresh mint in the fridge all summer long. I’m always prepared to whip up a batch of Mojitos or Mint Juleps in seconds!

Wedge Salads: I love to serve cool, crisp iceberg lettuce on a hot summer day. I updated this classic by using Biercamp’s pea meal bacon.

Spicy Lamb Sausage with Beans: Some recipes are particularly successful, and the star of the menu was definitely this dish. It was fresh, hearty and bursting with flavor! I did all my prep in advance, and assigned the task of grilling the sausages to a friend while I began assembling the dish tableside. I kept the ingredients cool and added the hot sausage at the last minute. The last step before plating was to sprinkle the feta cheese on top.

Peach Almond Cobbler: Not wanting to get stuck in a hot kitchen while my friends enjoyed the sultry summer night, I baked the cobbler in the afternoon. I used firm peaches and grilled them first. I added finely chopped, toasted almonds to the dough, made fresh whipped cream with a couple drops of almond extract, and finished each dish with toasted almonds.

I hope you enjoy!

Spicy Lamb Sausage with Beans

  • 6 links of spicy lamb sausage
  • 1 can of Garbanzo beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 can of small white beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 medium Vidalia sweet onion (chopped)
  • 2 medium tomatoes (diced)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • coarse salt (to taste)
  • 1 cup of crumbled Feta

Grill the sausages while preparing the rest of the dish.

Combine the beans, onion, tomatoes, rosemary and thyme. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, pepper, and salt; pour over the other ingredients and toss gently.

Slice the sausages and mix into the other ingredients; place onto a serving platter, then top with feta.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Red Rock Downtown Barbecue

Red Rock Downtown Barbecue came with a tremendous reputation; I had heard nothing but stellar reports about its offerings. Sometimes, when you have such expectations (for a book, a movie, whatever), you can only be disappointed by reality. But I am here to say that Red Rock more than met my hopes, and is deserving of every rave review it's received.

Not only is this Ypsilanti restaurant serving great food, but it offers exceptional Frugal Floozie Friday deals, too. The Boulder sandwich Jeremy ordered - filled with beef brisket, pork, and bacon - is definitely large enough to split, so that it will come in at an even $5 per person. But you might want to save that for another time, because there are other items that cost even less ... I'm serious!

The side dishes cost $3 each, and are generously portioned. The Country Potato Salad pictured above was very good - creamy, zesty, crunchy.

But the star of the show - the star of the entire meal - was the Macaroni and Cheese. What you see above is the small version ordered off the side dish menu; it was enough that I could very well order it for a full meal! And I'd be lucky to finish it ... though it was so exceptionally rich and smoky and luscious that leaving any behind would be unforgivable. Jeremy and I literally scraped the bottom of the dish to make sure we didn't miss any of the goodness!

I also ordered two of the sliders - beef and pork - for $2.50 each. But guess what? During Happy Hour, all appetizers are half-price! So that means each slider is $1.25. One slider + one side order of mac 'n' cheese = $4.25, which is obviously well under our mandatory frugal $5 per person budget. And such amazing food, too, for such a meager amount of money!

Our server was very friendly and helpful, telling us a bit about the history of the restaurant and how recipes were developed, as well as letting us know about each of the four fabulous sauces. The meats are prepared with a dry rub and smoked; then you can mix 'n' match with more flavor to your heart's content. From sweet to spicy, and not neglecting the all important North Carolina vinegar sauce, there is a condiment to suit any taste.

Despite being a shrine to all things carnivorous, Red Rock also offers a number of vegetarian options, from the spectacular macaroni and cheese to a variety of salads and side dishes. A meal could easily be made from all the choices, and would offer an ideal "do it yourself" buffet either for those who don't eat meat or those, like me, who can't decide which fabulous option to choose.

I had heard rumblings that Red Rock could even rival what has become a Detroit institution: Slow's. I was dubious, and yet .... Jeremy and I both agreed that while we adore Slow's, Red Rock - particularly the mac 'n' cheese - wins the showdown.

So, what are you waiting for?  Go eat!

Red Rock Downtown Barbecue
207 W Michigan Ave
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Kitchen Hours:
Sunday: 12 - 11 p.m.
Monday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Friday - Saturday: 11 a.m. - midnight
Happy Hour: 3 - 6 p.m., 9 p.m. - close

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Julia Child Week: Mustard-Herb Baked Chicken

Today's Julia Child tribute is more in keeping with what most people associate with her style, thanks to a generous helping of butter. But really, not that much butter! Most of the flavor in this amazing dish actually comes from a sauce that's brushed onto the chicken, coupled with crisp, toasty bread crumbs.

Poulets Grillés à la Diable [pooh-LAY gree-YAY ah lah dee-AH-bluh] - Chicken Grilled in the Style of the Devil, with a good dose of zest - is a truly fabulous dish!  It smells so amazing while it bakes, and meets every tidbit of anticipation by tasting just as exceptional as you expect it to after you've been tormented by the tempting aroma.

This dish is sublime when it's served hot from the oven; but it's just as delicious served cold, for a light supper or a picnic ... or, in my case, a breakfast of beloved leftovers. Mustard, green onions, and herbs all work together to provide a complex, vibrant flavor while the chicken remains consummate comfort food despite its sophistication.

Gotta love Julia Child, and the French!

Poulets Grilles à la Diable (Mustard-Herb Chicken)
(slightly adapted from Julia Child's recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I)

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2-1/2 pounds chicken thighs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced green onion
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (I used basil and parsley; tarragon would be lovely)
  • 3 cups fresh white bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 450F. Grease a 9"x13" casserole dish.

In a small saucepan, melt together butter and oil; brush onto chicken, then place chicken skin-side down into the prepared dish. Bake for 10 minutes per side, basting every 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt.

In a small bowl, combine mustard, peppers, green onion, and herbs; mix with 2 tablespoons basting juices to make a sauce with a mayonnaise-like consistency. Schmear the mustard sauce onto the chicken skin.

Place the bread crumbs onto a plate and roll chicken in them. Place chicken back into the baking dish, skin-side up, and bake for 10 more minutes, until juices run clear when chicken is pierced.

Serves 6 ... well, really 2-3 'cause everyone will want seconds.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Julia Child's 100th Birthday Picnic

This past Sunday, Jeremy and I attended a fabulous picnic hosted by the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor - a group I've recently joined which is devoted to all things food-related. Because today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday, of course the potluck celebration featured an entire buffet of Julia's recipes, prepared by members!

Among two dozen offerings, there was a gorgeous terrine of veal and pork ... a luscious dish of chicken in wine ... an old-fashioned American meatloaf ... a French potato salad dressed with vinaigrette ... lovely cucumber and corn and Cobb salads ... beautiful hand made cherry and apple pies ... delicate blue cheese crackers ... refreshing cucumber soup ... tender rice ... summery ratatouille ... my chocolate mousse (recipe on today) ... and the extraordinary apricot-praline cake pictured above (baked by Sherry Sunderling).

I don't have names and/or titles to go with every dish, but was astounded by the quality and variety of offerings. Everything was so amazing! Fabulous friends and food ... what better way to celebrate a birthday? Julia Child herself would have been thrilled.

Bon appétit! Et bon anniversaire, Julia!

[bohn ah-pay-TEE! ay bohn ah-nee-vair-SAIR]

Go check 'em out on
Yesterday: Courgettes Sautées au Beurre ([koor-ZHET soh-TAY oh burr] = Zucchini Sautéed in Butter)
Today: Chocolate Mousse

A fragrant Julia Child rose in front of a cut-out - the guest of honor had to attend, after all!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Julia Child Week: Onion Tart with Anchovies and Black Olives

It's Julia Child Week! Wednesday would have been Julia's 100th birthday, so there have been many tributes: special dinners at restaurants around the country, a lovely new children's book about Julia and her cat in Paris, a panel nominating her top 100 recipes, a picnic I enjoyed yesterday (which will be Wednesday's features here and on ... oh, the festivities! Oh, the food!

I remember watching "The French Chef" with my mother many moons ago; I'd be eating my pb&j, watching as this charming woman made lovely dishes and made us all feel that we could tackle each of these steps, as well. With Julia, cooking elaborate and sophisticated meals wasn't intimidating ... it was fun!

So this week, I'm featuring a variety of Julia's recipes. I looked over the list of the top 100, but many of them were too rich and heavy for hot August days, or they would require specialized equipment or techniques. And I've written posts about lighter dishes - such as souffles and cream puffs and potato salad with vinaigrette - already, so I wanted to offer new items.

So - dedicated soul that I am! - I perused cookbooks to find recipes that struck my fancy, that were easy to make, that were flavorful, that were summery, and that were representative of Julia Child herself: at their essence, a few simple ingredients that shone when prepared properly.

Today's offering is a simple tart, which looks very contemporary - bruschetta-like, reminiscent of foccaccia. And yet, it comes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, which was originally published in 1961. The classics will always be perfect and timeless ... just like Julia Child herself.

Pissaladière Niçoise (Onion Tart with Anchovies and Black Olives) [pee-sah-lah-DEEAYR nee-SWAHZ]

(adapted from Julia Child's recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I)

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 basil leaves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 8" piece naan (or other prepared flatbread)
  • 8 anchovy fillets, drained of oil
  • 8 Kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

In a small skillet, heat oil over very low heat.  Add onion, basil, parsley, and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes until onion is tender and caramelized.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Place the flatbread onto a baking sheet; arrange the anchovies and olives decoratively on top.

Sprinkle cheese over the flatbread.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese has started to melt and tart is heated through.

Cut into 4-6 pieces and serve immediately.

(Feel free to leave off the anchovies and substitute a few more olives, if desired.  But they really marry well with the olives - strong flavors working together to enhance the whole ....)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Mark's Carts, The Sequel

Mark's Carts - Ann Arbor's food cart sensation - keeps growing and offering even more fabulous items. I leapt at the opportunity when my friend Ingrid Ault, the force behind Think Local First, suggested that we meet at the courtyard on a lovely sunny evening. I'd visited last year, the opening season, and I was looking forward to going back in order to enjoy great treats from some of the new vendors.

At entre-SLAM a few weeks ago, I was able to try a grilled cheese sandwich with corn relish from Cheese Dream and healthy Indian street food from Hut-K Chaats, since several of the entrepreneurial cooks offered dinner options for the event. Last summer, I ate a bratwurst from eat (which now has its own physical building instead of a cart) and a rich chocolate dessert from Darcy's Cart. I've also tried vegan foods - a salad and a variety of pies and cookies - from The Lunch Room. I've eaten very well, but there was more tasting to do!

It is very easy to eat at Mark's Carts within our mandatory budget of $5 per person. Salads, cookies, ice cream, entrees, beverages ... all sorts of options abound for nutritious, locally sourced, creative, fun, and delicious food.

I ordered breadsticks from A2 Pizza Pi for a mere $3, thinking this would be a small snack while I debated my other options among the carts that were open; these were prepared in a wood-fired stove right next to the cart by a very charming young man named Nick. (Each cart keeps its own hours, with some open throughout the day, though they primarily serve lunch and dinner). Not only did I find myself with a serving the size of a dinner plate; but the breadsticks were crisp, chewy, tender, and utterly addictive. I offered Ingrid a taste, but she declined as she was waiting for a pizza; I proceeded to devour the entire serving myself, then, although I'd planned to only nibble.

The Margherita pizza - a classic with simple but stellar ingredients of tomato sauce, cheese, and basil - cost only $8 and could easily serve four. It was a great value, which was prepared fresh to order in a matter of mere minutes, and thoroughly enjoyed.

A friend of Ingrid's, Johnny, and his friend Robert who'd recently moved to town from Chicago, joined us for some great conversation and more amazing food. We chatted about gardens, nightclubs, where to eat, what to eat, and all sorts of fun topics. Food, of course, was at the core; all of us want to support local restaurants, run by our friends and neighbors. And turning this into a social event to share makes it all the better.

I found that Robert is, remarkable as it sounds, as obsessive about food as I am. He stops by every menu posted in a restaurant window to evaluate the offerings and determine what he wants to try (yup), admits to using a bit of lard in pie crust for the flakiness and tenderness it offers (yup), and wholeheartedly agrees that Grade B maple syrup, in all its dark and rich glory, is the only appropriate choice rather than the lighter - in both color and flavor - Grade A (yup). A kindred spirit!

So when Robert and Johnny ordered the Sunrise Cauliflower Bowl (pictured at the top of the post) from The Beet Box for an even $5, and then proceeded to rave about it, I knew it was great. (I had hoped to order the Watermelon Salad, but this cart hadn't been open when Ingrid and I first arrived, and I'd already filled up on the excellent breadsticks by the time the salad became available.) Baked cauliflower is topped with a yogurt-feta sauce, dried cherries, and mint to create a unique and vivid dish. It's innovative and nutritious, and Robert declared that he has now become a fan of this underappreciated vegetable.

Ingrid and I had also ordered refreshing $1.50 limeades from The Lunch Room, and Johnny had selected their Pad Thai for his main course. Robert chose a banh mi from San Street to accompany the cauliflower.

And this showcases one of the best parts of eating at Mark's Carts: there is something for everyone, regardless of food and dietary preferences. Not only can each person in your party order something different, but you can make an entire meal for yourself from a variety of carts and cuisines. How perfect is this for someone like me, who likes so many foods and who is so notoriously indecisive?

Grab some family and friends, and head on down to Mark's Carts for great frugal dining options. And on Friday evenings from 7-9 p.m., there's even live music. Food and fun for $5 or less ... just what I promise every week!

Mark's Carts
211 W. Washington
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Brown Rice Pudding with Cherries

It's National Rice Pudding Day, and I'm happy to celebrate the occasion!  Except that I try not to eat too many refined carbs.  And really, given my own preferences, I try to stick to lean protein and lots of fruits and vegetables.

However, I think my sweet tooth is pretty legendary, so I'm obviously not a zealot; how many cakes, cookies, and pies have I posted about??? And I definitely make an exception to any dietary guidelines when it comes to indulging in rice pudding, one of my very favorite desserts (and Jeremy's, too).

So when making this pudding, I used brown rice which adds not only a bit of a nutty flavor but also more nutrition and fiber. Sure, its benefits are discounted by the sugar and the half-and-half, but every little bit counts!

The cherries add a really lovely sweet-tartness, and are enhanced by the almond extract, although the traditional raisins would be more than welcome if you prefer.  (You know me - I always have to tinker a bit.) Dates are also wonderful in rice pudding, if you have those on hand.

This recipe is ridiculously easy to make, as are all puddings - sugar, milk, cornstarch, eggs, stir, set, done.  But it's a great luxury and indulgence to enjoy ... :)

Brown Rice Pudding with Cherries

  • 2-1/2 cups water, divided
  • 1-1/2 cups instant brown rice
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • whipped cream, for serving

In a small saucepan, bring 1-1/2 cups water to a boil; add rice, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes or until water is absorbed.  Place rice and cherries into a 2.5-quart casserole dish.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, salt, cornstarch, and remaining cup of water; bring to a boil, whisking until mixture thickens and turns translucent.  Add half-and-half and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes until thickened.  Whisk in eggs; cook, whisking constantly, for 2 more minutes.  Add extracts, then pour custard over rice.  (The mixture will look like rice in milk, but the rice will absorb the custard.)

Cover with plastic pressed against the pudding to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate for 2 hours.  (If it sits longer than that, you may want to stir in a splash of milk before serving.)

Serve warm or chilled, topped with whipped cream.  Makes 10-12 servings.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Fruit Loops and Cheerios

"Be a Fruit Loop in a world full of Cheerios."


Go check 'em out on
Yesterday: Spinach-Feta Turkey Burgers with Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Today: Banana Oatmeal Pie

Monday, August 6, 2012

"Tribute to Michigan" Cherry Blueberry Pie

Pie is one of the great foods in the universe, and it's overtaking cupcakes and macarons as the sweet food of the moment. (Sliders of all varieties and banh mi seem to have jointly claimed the savory category.)

Whereas culinary trends usually start at the east and west coasts and then find their way to the center, in this instance it's going in reverse. Pie - comfort food classic that it is - is working its magic upon those who disparage the middle of the country as a hotbed of hotdishes. The cool kids are all jumping on the bandwagon, but they're actually behind the times. Pie has never lost its popularity here in the Midwest, but those on the farthest edges now seem to have been won over by its charm.  That's okay - the pie clique welcomes everyone.

This pie is a tribute to Michigan, featuring two of my state's finest fruits. It's sweet, it's tart, it's bright, it's intense, it's fabulous. Pie can't solve all of life's problems, but it can certainly provide a great deal of joy!

Cherry Blueberry Pie

Crust (slightly adapted from a recipe on
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup shortening, softened, cut into 1/2" pieces
5 tablespoons (or more) ice water

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Add butter and shortening, mixing with a fork until the mixture resembles meal. Add 5 tablespoons ice water, mixing until the dough starts to adhere and form a ball, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather dough together; divide into 2 pieces, one a bit larger than the other. Form each piece into ball; flatten into disks and wrap in plastic. Chill for 30 minutes.

3 cups pitted tart cherries
2 cups blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, combine all filling ingredients; mix well.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Roll out the larger piece of dough on a floured countertop to about 14" in diameter; gently fold in half and then in half again to help in transporting the crust, place it into a 9" glass pie pan, then unfold. Pour the filling into the crust.

Roll out the remaining piece of dough to about a 12" diameter. Cut into 3/4" strips, and weave into a lattice top over the filling.

(Lay down 5 strips, then fold back two; lay a perpendicular strip, then fold all of the vertical strips back down. Fold back the alternate three strips; lay down a perpendicular strip, then fold all of the vertical strips back down again. Repeat until you have 4 perpendicular strips lying across the original five, all woven together.)

Trim excess dough, then use a fork to press crusts together around the edge of the pie.

2 tablespoons half-and-half
1 tablespoon caster sugar

Brush half-and-half over the top of the pie, then sprinkle with sugar.

Place pie onto a larger baking sheet to catch drips, then bake for 55-60 minutes until top is golden and filling is bubbly.

Remove to a rack and let cool. Serves 8-12, depending upon generosity of slices.

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