Friday, September 28, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - The Broken Egg

Craig and I enjoyed a spur-of-the-moment lunch at The Broken Egg the other day, when my office closed early and I had some free time in the afternoon. Comfort food was calling; and so we enjoyed a meal at a place which excels at it, and which serves breakfast all day.

The Classic Belgian Waffle was Craig's choice - huge and fragrant and wonderful. Unfortunately, it just exceeds our $5 per person budget at $5.50. It's large enough to share, but I know how folks get a bit testy when I divvy up dishes. We did split a side order of bacon for $3.25.

For $4.75, I ordered The Light Side: 2 eggs, an enormous quantity of hash browns, and a generous serving of toast. I chose to have my eggs cooked "over easy," and I picked the rye bread. Although I'm a good eater - Craig and others can attest to this! - the plate was more than I could finish. It was very good - perfectly cooked. But a lot of food for a tremendous value.

Other breakfast options that qualify for our project are the thick-cut toast, either studded with raisins or with cherries and walnuts. Oatmeal, bagels, and sides of sausage or bacon or ham are other suggestions.

If you're not interested in breakfast, chili and soup both qualify for our mandatory frugal budget, as does the House Salad. Sandwiches are generous, and are served with chips and pickles; they could easily be split, and all come in at under $9 total, for a per person share of $4.50 or less.

We arrived at the restaurant around 2:15 p.m., and were warmly welcomed despite having gotten there just a short time before closing at 3 p.m. We weren't rushed or pressured, and the staff was wonderfully friendly, making us feel like old friends.

The Broken Egg is just the sort of place you'd want to be a regular, with its wide variety of fabulous menu items, many of which are readily affordable on a frugal budget.

The Broken Egg
221 N. Main St
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday - Saturday: 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Sunday: 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.

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Broken Egg on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 27, 2012

CRUSH Birmingham 2012 - A Recap

Craig Rochkind, Paul Kittle, and Gina Kittle enjoying the CRUSH Birmingham fundraiser with me

On Saturday night, I attended the fabulous CRUSH Birmingham fundraiser to support The Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan. So much amazing food! Such lovely wines! So many talented chefs! Such a great time ... :)

Craig and I schmoozed with the folks from The Root Restaurant, who'd made the stellar bacon-crusted caramel apples from Baconfest this past summer; we're hoping to meet up again next year to see what they create with the almighty pig. At CRUSH, they served a lovely, crisp-on-the-outside and tender-on-the-inside pork belly that is one of the contenders for my favorite dish. You already know that indecision is one of my hallmarks; there was so much unbelievably delicious food, how could I choose just one item??? Craig's favorite - he being far more decisive in this area than I am - was the pasta with grilled octopus served by Myles Anton of Trattoria Stella in Traverse City. I just relished being able to eat my way through the party.

We chatted with James Beard Award semifinalist Matt Millar of Reserve, who has redeemed venison for me with his amazingly tender ragout. I'd only eaten venison once, decades ago, and found it gamey once I got past the stench of its cooking. But Matt's stew was succulent and addictive, and gives me even more incentive to make a road trip across the state some time, just for a spectacular dinner.

We also had a lovely opportunity to talk with Luciano Del Signore, another Beard Award semifinalist, who thrilled me by recognizing my blog name when I handed him a card. I'd written up his fabulous Pizzeria Biga this summer, he'd tweeted "mille grazie," I'd swooned .... (In my little food-obsessed world, remember, chefs are the rock stars!) He served a gorgeous vegan pepper and quinoa dish, and told us that Italians have been eating this way for centuries; but give the cuisine a new name, and magically it becomes popular here!

Katherine Camera, the sommelier who'd picked perfect wine pairings to go with the prosciutto dish that Beard Award nominee Brian Polcyn of Forest Grill had created, gave us very specific instructions. She told me to take a bite of the dish and then, before swallowing, to take a sip of the wine so that all of the flavors could meld together, enhancing each other. The red wine was really lovely; and we were very surprised to learn that it had come from ... get this ... Lebanon. I don't know 'bout you, but I don't normally think of Lebanon as a wine producer! But Katherine said there is a long tradition, and Lebanon is on the rise in the wine world.

There was luscious shrimp, beautifully smoked lake trout mousse, crisp potato chips, fragrant sweet honey, tender handmade pasta, crisp slaw, an exceptional pink champagne, a tart German white wine, a distinctive Greek red ... so many tastes, textures, and temptations!

We couldn't stay for the entire evening, as Craig's 13-year-old dog, Sammi - a very sweet little Bolognese (who looks a bit like a Bichon, or a lamb!) - needed care for a nasty cough and tracheal inflammation.

But just before we left, I was so thrilled that Gina and Paul Kittle, who'd won my ticket giveaway, were able to find me in the crowds! In his comment on the giveaway post, Paul had so very sweetly written: "I'd love to win to take my wife on a much deserved Date-Night! We'd enjoy the ride over to beautiful Birmingham!" They came from Muskegon, north and west of here, and spent the weekend downstate; they were able to visit their daughter who lives in the area, as well. So Paul and Gina had a perfect weekend of food, fun, and family - I'm so excited for them!

CRUSH Birmingham was an exceptional event for an even better cause. I was so happy to be able to support it ... :)

Shrimp with Michigan Sweet Corn and Zucchini Pudding and Sweet Potato-Ancho Chili Cream
Jim Barnett, Executive Chef of The Westin Book Cadillac in Dettoit

Hand-Rolled Pasta with Grilled Octopus, Mushrooms, and Fresh Tomato
Myles Anton, Executive Chef of Trattoria Stella in Traverse City

Sourdough bread spread with cheese and drizzled with local honey
Myles Anton, Executive Chef of Trattoria Stella in Traverse City

Broth with Sheep's Milk Ricotta Tortelli, Kabocha Squash, Spiced Heirloom Apple, and Toasted Pepitas
Daniel Campbell, Executive Chef of Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro and Bellapiatti in Birmingham

Crispy Braised Michigan Pork Belly with Roasted Butternut Squash Puree and Corn
James Rigato, Executive Chef of The Root Restaurant and Bar in White Lake
Venison and Wild Boar Terrine
Matt Millar, Executive Chef of Reserve in Grand Rapids

Venison Ragout with Gnocchi
Matt Millar, Executive Chef of Reserve in Grand Rapids

House-Cured Salmon with Potato Galette and Truffled Creme Fraiche
Paul Grosz, Executive Chef of Cuisine in Detroit

Quinoa Livornese-Stuffed Roast Pepper, Sauteed Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, and Braised Baby Artichoke
Luciano Del Signore, Executive Chef of Bacco Ristorante in Southfield and Pizzeria Biga in Royal Oak

House-Made Prosciutto with Olive Oil-Poached Mediterranean Salad and Pecorino Romano
Brian Polcyn, Executive Chef of Forest Grill in Birmingham and Cincos Lagos in Milford

Lake Huron Smoked Trout Rillette with Red Onion Relish
Steven Gostick, Executive Chef of Toasted Oak Grill in Novi

Lamb Tartare with Cream of Blue Cheese
Guillaume Hazael-Massieux, Executive Chef of La Becasse in Maple City

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yom Kippur 5773

My family has a 20+ year history with alcoholism, and the wretched disease has recently flared up with yet another member.

So just as I've been working long hours each day through the summer and six days each week for the past month to get ready for the Jewish High Holidays, I've also been dealing with stress on the home front. We all have our holiday traditions, and mishigas ([mish-ih-GAHS] = Yiddish for "craziness") in my personal life seems to be one of mine at the Jewish New Year. Last year, I walked out on a nearly 2-year relationship; this year, I took a loved one to rehab. I need some happier ways to celebrate!

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest and most somber day on the Jewish calendar. It is a time of reflection, of fasting, of assessing, of making amends ... kinda like a 4th Step in Alcoholics Anonymous, I realized last night. Several steps after that one are also applicable.

For those of you who are blessedly unfamiliar with the 12 Steps, here they are:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

At Yom Kippur, steps 4-10 are expected to be followed. We are to search deep into our selves and into our souls. We are to not just apologize but, where possible, to atone - to make amends, to compensate, to make right. We are to do this with God and with our fellow humans. Some things we've said or done simply can't be put back together or forgotten ... perhaps can't even yet be forgiven. But that doesn't absolve us of the mandate to try.

In "Babette's Feast," one of my most cherished favorite movies (it's about food, I admit it, but it's about so much more than food), there is a line that states "Mercy imposes no conditions."

Having been raised Catholic, with the sacrament of confession to a priest who then offered absolution and an act of penance to perform, I admit I'm still in favor of some form of action even when granted mercy. Not necessarily that anyone needs to do this for me, although I don't begrudge anyone's personal need to feel as though a particular situation has been righted in a way that makes him or her comfortable. But I feel it's necessary for myself, to not just apologize but to take active steps to right any wrongs, to the extent that I can.

And so, as I'm whipped back into the A.A. fold - with its steps and slogans and wisdom - I feel that Catholic confession, Jewish atonement, and the 4th Step are all variations on the same thing: taking personal responsibility for my actions, for my words. This is something I strive for on a daily basis; but it's meaningful to have a special day assigned for it, to prepare for this assessment and the humility required to do it properly.

I'm not a fasting kinda girl, even though it's supposed to be required from sundown last night until sundown today - I think it's medically unsound to go without food and water for 25 hours, although I do at least set limits for myself. But the rest of the day's expectations - the moral inventory, the acknowledgement of wrongdoing, the apologies, the atoning - these are all essential.

Thus, there's no food offering today, unless you consider the reference to the movie or, perhaps, food for thought ....

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Yesterday: Recap of the Girl Scout Cookie Bake-Off
Today: Raspberry Mustard Marmalade Sauce

Monday, September 24, 2012

Beer 'n' Cheese Soup with Croutons

It got cold here in Michigan. Fall is coming. The days are beautiful and sunny; the nights are chilly, dipping down 'round 40 degrees. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm cold all the time anyway. Others vie to be the first to turn on the air conditioner in the spring; I'm the girl who beats 'em all to turning on the heat at the end of summer.

So one day, I was in the mood for soup - something warm and comforting. I'd gotten home late after work and an evening of running errands, so I relied upon convenience items to expedite my dinner. And in just about 5 minutes I found myself with a hot bowl of thick, rich, luscious cheese soup - a perfect way to end a long day, and to combat the chill in the air.

Beer 'n' Cheese Soup with Croutons

  • 1 10-3/4 ounce can Campbell's Cheddar Cheese soup
  • beer
  • 2 ounces medium sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • garlic croutons

Place soup into a small saucepan. Pour beer into the empty soup can - fill it halfway, then pour the measured beer into the saucepan. Heat soup and beer over medium heat, whisking until smooth.

Add the cheeses and pepper; whisk until smooth, and cook just until soup bubbles. Pour into two soup bowls and top with croutons.

Serves 2.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Pita Pita

Jeremy and I ran several errands recently, and decided afterwards - frankly, even before we were done - that we were hungry. We decided to stop in at Pita Pita.

I hadn't gone in looking for a Frugal Floozie Friday feature; I was just looking for lunch. But as Jeremy and I perused the menu, it was clear we'd serendipitously found ourselves a place to post about!

Just as Jeremy will order a Reuben if he sees it on a menu (with one exception: he will never again order what he deems the worst Reuben he's ever eaten, which he'll readily rant about if you just ask him about it!), I will order fattoush if I find it. It's so simple - just vegetables, toasted pita bits, and a light dressing - but it's so, so good! The sumac that is integral to the vinaigrette is what makes it perfect, with just a hint of sourness. I ordered the small portion for $3.95, and you can see that it was an enormous plateful! That alone could have kept me happy, but this was just a portion of my meal.

For $4.95 - just under our mandatory $5 per person Frugal Floozie Friday budget - I also ordered the large Sujok sandwich, filled with spicy Lebanese sausage, tomatoes, garlic sauce, and pickles. There is another sandwich listed on the menu with this very same description, the Mecanik Sausage sandwich; but our waiter very nicely explained that the Sujok is less intense, so I thought I'd give it a try. Jeremy doesn't like very spicy food, and this would give him a chance to taste the dish, too.

Sandwiches are easily a foot long, and can readily be shared; if you split the fattoush and a sandwich with a dining companion, you've still come in under budget and feasted on a generous quantity of fabulous food for a stellar price. The sausage was very flavorful, not at all lost among all the other tastes. And while Jeremy raved about his own sandwich, he liked the sausage so much that he actually debated trading the remaining halves so that we could each have a portion of both delicious treats.

Jeremy had ordered the beef shawarma, filled with tender beef, tomatoes, onions, pickles, and Tahini sauce. It, too, was an ideal balance of tastes and textures, with no one flavor overpowering the others. It was exceptionally good.

I had to ask for a take-out box, as I couldn't finish both the fattoush and my sandwich. As a waitress brought this to me, she asked if we'd like any rice pudding. Oh, it sounded wonderful! But there was no more room at the inn for dessert. She explained, though, that there was simply a large quantity still left, and she was generously offering to give some to us.

Scented with rose water, sprinkled with cinnamon, and drizzled with honey, the rice pudding was creamy and fragrant and wonderful! I had brought it with my lunch the next day, and enjoyed it at my desk after just warming it up slightly in the microwave. At $2.50, this is another great option for a treat that costs very little while offering enormous satisfaction.

Pita Pita's menu features hummus and bana ghannuje that cost $3.95 for small servings; six different salads that come in at under $4 for small sizes; 20 different sandwiches that cost less than $5 for large portions; and an extensive vegetarian menu. There are many, many options that will allow you to eat well for very little money!

Pita Pita
2649 Washtenaw
Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Lone Ghost Pepper

Not sure why I only have one little lonely pepper, when there had originally been so many flowers on this plant.  But given that the Ghost Pepper is one of the world's very hottest peppers, frankly I think one will be more than sufficient!

This one's just waiting to be added to a fabulous spicy chili ... ;)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Beef Stroganoff - Progresso Recipe Starter

I received a very generous gift last week, that couldn't have come at a better time. Progresso has a new line of products, called Recipe Starters; they're prepared sauces which only need the addition of meat, vegetables, maybe a pinch of this or that ... et voilà! Dinner is served.

In the height of the final crush at work before the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah, which just ended last night, and the upcoming Yom Kippur and Sukkot), I've worked long hours and 6-day weeks. Dinner has not exactly been a priority! Potato chips and blue cheese dip had become standard fare. Yeah, I know better; I have lots of fruits and vegetables on hand, I have a beloved crockpot ... it just wasn't happening.

So along came the big box of dinner assistance - yay!!! I sauteed, chopped just a bit, stirred, and sat down to a lovely hot dinner of Beef Stroganoff. Jeremy helped me to polish it off, and we both ate very well with minimal fuss.

I still love my chips 'n' dip, but a hearty, substantial meal was really, really nice ... :)

Our giveaway winner for tickets to Saturday night's CRUSH Birmingham, the fundraiser for The Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan, is Paul Kittle - Mazal Tov!!!

Check 'em out on
Yesterday: Brown Sugar Baked Bananas
Today: Raspberry Coffee Cake

Beef Stroganoff à la Progresso
  • 1-1/4 pounds ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 roasted garlic cloves, chopped
  • 8 ounces small white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 18-ounce can Progresso Recipe Starters Creamy Portabella Mushroom Cooking Sauce
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • generous splash of Tabasco sauce
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • prepared noodles, for serving

In a large saucepan, brown the ground beef over medium heat; drain.  Add the onion, garlic, and mushrooms; saute until vegetables are tender.

Combine Progresso cooking sauce, salt, pepper, mustard and Tabasco sauce; pour over ground beef and cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat, to thicken sauce a bit.  Stir in sour cream and cook 5 more minutes.

Place noodles onto a serving platter, then top with stroganoff.

Serves 4-6.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Southern Honey Cake for Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish new year - began last night at sundown.  While December 31st is an utterly secular celebration - champagne, someone special to kiss at midnight, noisemakers, confetti, designated drivers - this is an occasion both for joy and for introspection.

As John Lennon sang in "Happy Xmas (War is Over):

And so this is Christmas and what have you done?
Another year over, and a new one just begun.

Well, just change that Christian holiday to this Jewish one, and the question is the same.  Universal truth.

What have you done - accomplished, succeeded at, failed at, tried to do, not worked sufficiently hard at, disregarded, excelled at?  What have you done - been generous, been unkind, been helpful, been curt, been patient, been understanding?  What have you done - taken from the universe, given back to it?

Each of us has done every one of these things.  We've all tried, we've all had moments where we gave all we had, we've all had times when we were filled with regret.  That's life.  That's our humanity showing, frail, fragile, and fallible creatures that we are.

5772 was a remarkably good year for me, after the "annus horribilis" of 5771.  I had - dare I say it? - fun!  A speaking engagement that led to membership in a group of wonderful women ... an exciting writing assignment for culinary historians ... three judging gigs (and an invitation for a fourth, this Thursday) ... valuable and critical time with Jeremy and with beloved friends, attending seders and services, playing Mahj, just chatting over dinner or a cup of coffee.  And I've welcomed new friends into my extended family.

I'm slowly reclaiming the condo I moved to last fall after Jeremy and his dad moved out, painting it a lovely shade of yellow with plans to make the kitchen fabulously festive with red cabinets.  I'm also making it my own with whimsical touches like a rubber duckie collection in the half-bathroom.  My cookbooks are back on shelves, readily accessible, after being boxed up for most of the year before.

My health has been good, after being diagnosed the previous year with high blood pressure.  Although I've always gone for long walks, I've taken to riding the bus and then walking a mile to/from the bus stop to get either to work or to home.  Let someone else deal with the orange barrels and with the college students whose sense of immortality leads them to walking directly in front of my 2000-pound Suburban; I'll get my exercise, thank you, while reducing my stress levels.

I'm proud to say that I've met every single deadline for my numerous projects - daily deadlines, weekly deadlines, monthly deadlines - no matter what is going on in my life.  It's a matter of honor, and it's a matter of respect.

I've had all sorts of adventures with some of my bestest girlfriends, in Pittsburgh and in Detroit and in Chicago.  And I have a new boyfriend, Craig, who's very sweet, creative, kind, generous, a good listener, true blue ... :)

I've had ample opportunity to assess how I got to, and through, 5771, such that I've evaluated all I can to accept my own responsibility for where I've been and where I want to go.  I've mourned, I've ruminated, I've forgiven, I've made progress.  It has been a year in which I've tried not to be selfish while still protecting myself.  I've tried to acknowledge it when I've failed to be the person I strive to be.  There is, of course, much - MUCH - room to grow.  It's been a year of reclaiming - things, places, space ... me.  This is what I've done.

I'm me ... and I'm not perfect.  But I try.  The angel said to try, more than two years ago, when I met him in Detroit.  Each day, I remember his words: "You've gotta try."  It's hard.  Sometimes it's so, so hard.  There have been days when I've walked around feeling like a raw, gaping wound ... but I've still tried.

Because what's the alternative?  Letting others down, and letting myself down.  Incompletion, failure.  I can't succeed at everything, and sometimes circumstances just conspire against me.  I'm known in the real world as "The Girl with the Crisis du Jour" for a reason: I'm a kinda flaky chick who just cooks and bakes and takes pictures of everything she eats, but who is often caught up in others' whirlwinds.

But I want to at least be able to say I tried - that I used my talents, my gifts, my abilities, my best intentions - and tried.  Yoda said "Do or do not do, there is no try."  This is wrong.  You've gotta try.  Sometimes trying is the best you have to offer, and trying should be appreciated gratefully rather than dismissed as insufficient.  With hope, with effort, with strength you might not have known you had, you've gotta try.  If you don't try, you get nowhere, you have nothing, you give nothing ... and you've done nothing.

"Every year, there descends and radiates a new and renewed light which has never yet shone. For the light of every year withdraws to its source in the Infinite One who is beyond time ... (but) by means of the prayers we utter, a new and superior light is elicited ... a new and more sublime light that has never yet shone since the beginning of the world."
Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in the Machzor Lev Shalem

That light? It shines upon us, and also within us.

And so, the question to ask in assessing the past year is, "What have I done?"

And the question to ask as we begin a new year is, "What will I do?"  Where will I find light, where will I shine light?

Everywhere I can.  I will try ....

Sister Sadie's Honey Cake
(slightly adapted from Marcie Cohen Ferris' Matzah Ball Gumbo - it's not particularly photogenic, but it's moist and sweet and really lovely)

  • 3-1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups honey
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Coca-Cola (must be flat before using)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • butter pecan ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Grease 2 9"x5" loaf pans.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  In a medium bowl, combine the honey, sugar, and eggs.  Whisk in the Coke and the oil, then pour into the dry ingredients and combine well.  (Batter will be very thin.)

Divide the batter among the loaf pans, and bake for 45-50 minutes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool completely.

The recipe warns that "cakes may sink slightly in the center."  "Slightly" is an understatement - there's a big ol' dent.  But that's why God gave us ice cream, so we can plop a scoop of it over that part of the sliced cake!

Makes 2 cakes, 12 or so slices each.  Serve with ice cream.

You can read more about Southern Jewish food in my Washtenaw Jewish News article this month - "Southern Cuisine, Jewish-style."  (Click here, then scroll down to page 33.)

(The card behind the pictured cake says: L'Shanah Tovah Tikitevu [lay shah-NAH toh-VAH tee-kee-TAY-voo] - May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.  This is the long version of the traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting; you can shorten it simply to Shanah Tovah.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Chela's

I'd heard so many wonderful things about Chela's from friends and readers that when Craig - making his debut here on ye olde blog as "the new guy," a nice Jewish boy (with emphasis on the nice, since he seems to think I'm more Jewish than he is!) - was craving Mexican food, I thought this would be the perfect place to go for a Frugal Floozie Friday post. I'd been told that the prices definitely met my $5 per person mandatory budget, so we went off on an adventure.

The campechana taco pictured above - made with a combination of chorizo and carne asada on a corn tortilla - cost a ridiculously measly $1.85 ... I'm serious! And yet, there was no skimping on the filling, which was very flavorful and tender. Accompanied by horchata - a creamy, sweet rice-almond drink - that cost a whopping $1 for the equivalent of, say, an average medium-sized drink, this would make a great light lunch or substantial snack. (Those who quibble about my portion sizing could order a second taco and still come in at under $5. I might order a second taco too, just 'cause it was really good.)

We also ordered a pork tamale, yet another treat for a mere $1.85, simply because I love tamales. I've always wanted to go to a tamale-making party, and have yet to receive an invitation; I was so jealous when my blogging buddy Jenn, of Jenn's Food Journey, wrote about her own opportunity to do so! I order them whenever I can, and was impressed again at the generosity of the serving and the filling at Chela's.

Complementary accompaniments to the dishes are offered at the counter: sour cream, a mild green sauce, and a vibrantly spicy orange hot sauce.

Craig had not only been dreaming of Mexican food, but specifically of a burrito. So he ordered the black bean variety, also stuffed with rice, cheese, guacamole, lettuce, and hot sauce; this is a great value at $6, even if it's just out of our mandatory price range for one person. It was a nice, fat, happy, round offering that could satisfy one hearty appetite, or two hungry people for only $3 each.

Our final dish to sample was the cheese and vegetable quesadilla for exactly $5. It would be a lot of food for one person to finish, in all honesty, but would be great to share along with other inexpensive dishes. Filed with bright, colorful zucchini and peppers, this was far more than a mere serving of a tortilla and some cheese.

There are many varieties of each dish, as well as salads; and virtually everything on the menu comes in at under $5 period, not just per person. Desserts - cookies, rice pudding, and flan - are also available. And vegetarians can eat happily with lots of options. Brunch is served on weekends, and Huevos Rancheros as well as chilaquiles and a breakfast burrito all meet our budgetary requirement, too.

So, go try Chela's, a welcome addition to town!

I'm hosting an amazing giveaway: you could win 2 tickets to CRUSH Birmingham on Saturday, September 22 at 6:30 p.m., to be held at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan. A fabulous party featuring food, wine, area chefs, and master sommeliers, it's a benefit for The Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan. But you - yes, you! - might be able to win 2 tickets. Click here for more information.

683 S. Maple Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Monday - Saturday: 10:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Sunday: 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.

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Chela's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Best Ticket Giveaway Ever!

I am offering the best giveaway ever, if you either live in the Detroit area or are willing to travel here for an exceptional event!

The Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan - "an independent nonprofit foundation whose mission is to provide and promote compassionate, personalized support to people in Michigan affected by leukemia and other related disorders" - is preparing for an exciting fundraiser.  (This is the same amazing charity that benefited from BRU Fest this past summer.) The event will feature fabulous food, world-class wines, award-winning chefs, and an opportunity to have fun while supporting an exceptional cause:

What a way to cork-off the season! The CRUSH MICHIGAN signature series of events will celebrate its fifth year with the CRUSH Birmingham 2012 Wine and Food Classic to be held on Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan.

There will be 12 local executive chefs in attendance, featuring gourmet dishes. Wine personalities and Master sommeliers will describe, advise, and recommend some of the year’s most exquisite wine choices and pairings. There is also a CRUSH After Hours following the main event.

The mission of CRUSH MICHIGAN continues to be that of creating world-class regional wine and food fundraising events for the benefit of Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan, an independent non-profit foundation serving families throughout the state of Michigan.

Did I mention that several James Beard Award finalists and semi-finalists are among that stellar crowd of chefs who'll be feeding guests? Look at this unbelievably impressive list of participants:

Brian Polcyn
Brian Polcyn, Chef and Proprietor, Cinco Lagos, Milford, and Forest Grill, Birmingham

Michael Laiskonis, Chef, The Institute of Culinary Education, New York

Myles Anton, Executive Chef, Trattoria Stella, Traverse City

Jim Barnett, Executive Chef, Westin Book Cadillac, Detroit

Jim Bologna, Executive Chef, The Rugby Grill, The Townsend Hotel, Birmingham

Daniel Campbell, Executive Chef, Tallulah, Birmingham

Luciano Del Signore
Michael Connery, Executive Chef, Capital Grille, Troy

Luciano Del Signore, Executive Chef, Bacco Ristorante, Southfield

Steven Grostick, Executive Chef, Toasted Oak Grill, Novi

Paul Grosz, Executive Chef, Cuisine, Detroit

Guillaume Hazael-Massieux, Executive Chef, La Becasse, Maple City

John Korycki, Executive Chef, Zazios, A Modern Italian Experience, Kalamazoo and Birmingham

Matt Millar, Executive Chef, Reserve, Grand Rapids

Bartholomew Broadbent
James Rigato, Executive Chef, The Root Restaurant and Bar, White Lake

Ron Edwards, Master Sommelier, Wine Consultant and Educator, Wine Talk Radio Host

Madeline Triffon, Master Sommelier

Claudia Tyagi, Master Sommelier

Bartholomew Broadbent, Broadbent Selections, San Francisco, California

Tickets to this extraordinary event cost $250 ... unless you can win a pair.

That's right: I've been given the opportunity to host this giveaway so that you - yes, you! - might win 2 tickets to CRUSH Birmingham 2012, so you and a date, partner, friend, loved one, whomever can join me at the party and enjoy swoon-worthy dishes and wines while supporting a great cause!!!

Here are the details:

- Leave a comment below telling me that you'd love to win tickets to this fabulous party and would be able to attend.

- Make sure you leave an email address, so I can let you know if you've won.

- The giveaway begins today, and will end at noon on Sunday, September 16.

- I will use to pick a number, then send an email to the winner; you'll have until 8 a.m. on Monday, September 17 to respond, or I'll choose another number.

- The folks at Identity P.R., who are so generously providing tickets to CRUSH Birmingham, will contact the winner by email to confirm names and ages for you and your guest.

- You've gotta find your own way to Birmingham (it's a suburb of Detroit, for non-locals); sorry, no air fare or gas money included in the deal!

- The winner's name will be added to the VIP list, so all you'll need to do is check in at the door when you arrive.

So leave a comment and try to win the tickets! Post this on Facebook and Twitter and whatever other social media you can think of! Send it in an email! Get the word out, because The Children's Leukemia Foundation of Michigan is such a great cause, and this is going to be an amazing party to benefit sick kids and their families.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pasta with Broccoli and Salami

This is one of those "got home from work late, need to eat NOW" type of dinners.

And yet, it's also one of those "toss in whatever you find in the 'frig, and it comes out fabulously delicious" dinners.  Don't you just love when that happens???  There's no grand plan, you're essentially using up scraps and leftovers.  And yet, somehow the finished dish transcends its meager ingredients.

I had found broccoli on sale at the store that week, and of course it's a perfect complement to pasta.  I also had a few slices of salami waiting to be invited to the party.  And instead of fresh garlic, I used pre-purchased roasted garlic which had been calling to me at the store while I'd been shopping.  I don't usually buy it, preferring to make my own; but it just seemed to be a good thing to have on hand, and so I made excellent use of it in this dish.

Mangia bene!  [MAHN-juh BAY-nay]

Pasta with Broccoli and Salami

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 large scallion, chopped
  • 6 cloves roasted garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 5 thin slices of salami, finely chopped
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces farfalle (bow-tie pasta), prepared according to package directions
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the broccoli and saute for a few minutes, until turning bright green and just caramelizing in a few spots.

Add the scallion and garlic; saute 1 minute. Add the wine and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is becoming tender and the wine is mostly absorbed.

Add the salami and pepper; cook 3-4 minutes, until the salami crisps a bit.

Drain the pasta and divide among two plates. Top with the broccoli mixture, and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Serves 2.

Check 'em out on
Yesterday: Rosh Hashanah dishes
Today: Indian Chickpeas with Tomatoes

Monday, September 10, 2012

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

My friend Haran wrote to me awhile ago, telling me that his girlfriend, Nikki, was putting together a cookbook to raise money for NAMI - National Alliance on Mental Illness - and he went on to explain what it is.

Well, little did he know that I've been involved with the group because a number of my very dearest loved ones over the years have been diagnosed with mental illnesses (from depression to anxiety to bipolar disorder, and more), and NAMI is a resource so valuable that my usually verbose self can't adequately describe it. I even served briefly as a support group moderator, though unfortunately my schedule has become too chaotic to maintain that level of activity right now.

NAMI has groups for those who've been diagnosed, as well as for their family and friends. It offers support, understanding, compassion, friendship, and an entity so elusive sometimes, when mired in a crisis with a loved one or distraught over a recent frightening diagnosis ... it offers hope.

So I was thrilled to be asked for contributions to the cookbook, as well as honored and grateful to be able to give back even a bit of what NAMI has given to me.

The cookbook has just been published, and it's fabulous! Not only is it fun to recognize names of friends who also sent in recipes, but it's great to flip through and find an extraordinary number of tempting goodies that are all calling to me at once. I want to make this appetizer, that soup, this other entree, and - of course! - desserts.

How to choose? What to choose? Well, for once - an exceptional rarity, given my famous indecisiveness! - this was easy. I needed a dessert recipe to serve for an evening of watching football. It needed to be quick, easy, and a sure-fire hit. And if I could make something from a friend's recipe, even better.

And so, I chose Nikki's Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting because ... well ... what could be better? "Banana," "cake," "peanut butter," and "frosting" - some of my very favorite words in the English language! I did toss in a few chocolate chips, just 'cause. Do you really need a reason to justify chocolate chips?

If you'd like a copy of Whatever It Takes: NAMI Metro Cookbook, please let me know; I'll put you in touch with Nikki for ordering. The book costs an amazingly reasonable $10 plus $3 shipping if you don't live in Ann Arbor. (If you live here, Nikki has very graciously offered to deliver the book personally.) Your contribution will help the branch which serves Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb counties - suburbs of Detroit, for those not 'round here.

But far more importantly, your contribution will help individuals who are my family, my friends, my neighbors, my community ... people who have illnesses that can be debilitating and disabling, but people who also have extraordinary abilities and unbelievable courage. Yes, sometimes a mental illness can impact a life severely; other times, you might never know someone has been diagnosed.

NAMI offers support, and it also seeks to fight the misconceptions - fears, confusion, ignorance, and stigma - that people diagnosed with mental illness can often face. One of my own personal pet peeves in that regard, for example, is hearing the word "schizophrenic" when speaking of a person with schizophrenia - never, ever let someone's diagnosis be what defines a human being. And never set limits, presuming that a mental illness will prevent someone from living a full and fabulous life.

But I'll get off my little soapbox now, and go eat cake. Really good, moist cake with extra frosting - I couldn't resist!

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
(slightly adapted from Nikki Fitlow's recipe)

  • 2 medium bananas
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 cups Cool Whip, thawed
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • dusting of cocoa powder, if desired

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

In a small bowl, mash together the bananas, lemon juice, and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and brown sugar; beat with an electric mixer for 1 minute. Add egg and beat on "high" for 2 minutes until very light and fluffy.

Add half of flour mixture, and beat on "low" until combined. Add bananas, and beat until combined. Add rest of flour mixture; beat until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, until a tester comes out with just a few crumbs on it. Let cool completely.

Combine Cool Whip and peanut butter; spread over cake. Dust with cocoa powder, if desired.

Makes 9-12 servings, depending on serving size.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Curry Up

My friend Ingrid Ault had been watching Curry Up, on Nixon Road, as zealously as I had, waiting desperately for this new restaurant, which serves Indian street food, to open.

Well, apparently so had much of the city. Each time I go by now, and when Ingrid and I shared a fabulous dinner there recently, the place has been filled with diners and also busy with take-out customers. And with good reason - the service is friendly, and the food is exceptional!

There were many options that meet our mandatory $5 per person budget, so it was really hard to choose what to try first. We scoped out what others were eating, and Ingrid approached one group to find out what they'd ordered, seeking guidance to help narrow down the options. Before they left, they also came to visit our table and noted our recommendations. The atmosphere in this small restaurant was very warm, welcoming, and convivial.

Ultimately, Ingrid ordered the Pani Puri, pictured above, for $4.79. These are described simply as "Hollow puris filled with Potatoes & Spicy Tangy Water," a woefully inadequate synopsis for a dish with so much flavor. The crisp puri - the small spheres - are light, and let the flavor of the filling come through distinctly. The tangy water - which you drizzle into the center of the puri - is tamarind-based, and there are two different dipping sauces for creating even more complex flavor combinations. Eight puris make a great meal for one or a snack for two.

I ordered the Vada and Sambhar - "Lentil Dumplings served with CURRY UP Sambhar" - for $4.99. I love this dish, and have even bought inferior frozen varieties at times, just to have a stash on hand for when cravings strike. The dumplings are somewhat reminiscent of dense, savory doughnuts; the sauce is spicy, but not too hot. It's simple comfort food.

Ingrid also ordered the Mysore Masala dosa, a "Crepe Layered Inside with Onion & Coconut Chutneys." To say that the dosa was enormous is quite the understatement! At $7.99, this is a great deal to split with a loved one; even the heartiest appetite couldn't finish it alone. The crepe is stuffed, adding to its substance; and it is also served with the Sambhar sauce, in addition to the listed chutneys.

My other choice was the Samosas, two for $2.49: "Deep Fried Pastry stuffed with Potatoes & Peas." These are very large - the size of a tennis ball - and generously filled. The samosas are expertly fried, very crisp but not at all greasy. You'll want to share, because they're so good; but you'll also be tempted to savor them both yourself, for the very same reason.

There are lots of dishes that cost $5 or less as a whole, as well as others that are easily split to come in under our $5 per person budget. Many, many dishes are vegetarian; those that aren't are made with Halal chicken. Snacks, such as pappadam are available; and you can also find substantial items like wraps and sandwiches, as well as beverages and entrees.

Ingrid and I had enjoyed our meal immensely, so leftovers were fairly scarce. But we did have a lot of the sauces left, which I hated to waste. I asked if I could have small take-out containers for them, so that I could put them to good use at home. Whereas I was once - at a different restaurant - treated as a bit of a kook for this behavior, the staff at Curry Up was more than happy to help me pack things up. (See this coming Wednesday's post for the chickpea dish I made with the Sambhar sauce.)

Curry Up is a most welcome addition to the Plymouth Road corridor, offering great food, friendly service, and excellent prices!

Curry Up
2711 Plymouth Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

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Curry Up on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pizza Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I have a number of skills, but sleeping isn't one of them; anyone who checks emails that I send will see that time stamps can range from 12-4 a.m., which is when I can be very productive since I'm unfortunately not unconscious.  So occasionally I sit down in my favorite comfy chair and doze off when the sleep deprivation catches up with me. Not good, especially when deadlines are looming and I have a lot of work to do some evenings.  Gotta keep moving, to stave off the naps!

But one evening, it was inevitable; I'd been up in the middle of the night for several rounds in succession. However, instead of bemoaning my lack of productivity, for once this was actually inspiring! I woke up with the proverbial start, and immediately a notion flashed in my brain: pizza grilled cheese sandwich. I had bread ... I had marinara sauce I'd bought on sale at the grocery store (not my usual m.o., but apparently I was piecing this together unconsciously before it rose to the surface) ... I had both Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses ... oooh. Dinner!

I debated whether to make a cheese sandwich and then offer a dipping sauce, in a riff on the pairing with tomato soup - one of the great culinary combinations ever! But I decided to go for the full ooey-gooey factor and schmear the sauce onto the bread with a generous helping of cheese. It's not pretty, but you already know it was rich and melty and fabulous! Grilled cheese isn't supposed to be proper and tidy, after all.

I kinda feel like I've seen this before, so I'm not claiming that this is my own divinely-inspired creation. But in doing a very brief search, I'm not seeing it anywhere else, either. So I offer it as my post-doze epiphany, but also offer apologies if it turns out that I'm absconding with someone else's brilliance.

I'll also apologize for the vagueness of the directions; they're more guidance then precise instruction. We all know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, after all! So I didn't measure anything, I just dipped and swiped and schmeared and plopped and grilled ... and devoured ... :)

Pizza Grilled Cheese Sandwich

  • 4 slices bread
  • butter, at room temperature
  • marinara sauce
  • shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • shredded Parmesan cheese

Lay the bread slices on the countertop and schmear one side of each slice with some of the butter. Place 2 slices butter-side down in a large skillet. Spread some marinara sauce onto each slice of bread, then top with the cheeses. Drizzle a bit more sauce on top, then cover with the remaining bread slices butter-side up.

Cook over medium heat until the underside is golden brown, then carefully flip and cook until both sides are toasted. Cut, eat, enjoy!

Makes 2 sandwiches, serving 1 or 2 people. It's good, you might want seconds ....

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Buttery Pork Chops - Guest Post by Jeremy!

Jeremy likes to visit me when his dad gets on his nerves and/or when he's in the mood to get spoiled and fed well. But the other night, HE made dinner for ME! It was fabulous - luscious, tender, flavorful, sublime. It was consummate treyf ([trayf]= non-kosher), and it was so, so good!

I said, "You should write a guest post for me." And instead of saying, "Meh," he actually agreed! So, after all the pictures, after all the mentions, after all the talking about Jeremy, let me introduce you to him as he shares his inspiration and delicious recipe. He may be 6'3" and 21 years old, but he's still my baby and I'm so proud of him ... :)

Let me start off by saying that I am no chef, but I sincerely enjoy good food. I am also not a gourmet; I'm a 21 year old male and will eat about anything that is put in front of me.

But I believe food can be exquisite without all kinds of sauces like ketchup or mustard or spices, instead using only simple ingredients that will accentuate the flavor of the main source of food in your meal.

I was sitting in my room one day thinking about how much I love meat, but how whenever it's prepared it seems to be drenched in ketchup or other sauces; and I wanted to find a way to prepare a dish where you actually enjoy the flavor of the meat and not what it's soaked in. I decided that I would make a pork chop fried in butter, with diced onions thrown into the pan; according to my rationale and logic, I figured that it would accentuate the flavor of the meat instead of overpowering it.

So in order to make a pork chop like this, you need:
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 3 3/4"-thick boneless pork chops
Turn on your stove and put the butter in the pan. As the pan heats up, the butter will melt and there should be about 1/4" of butter melted in the pan to fry the pork chops in.

Once the butter has melted, place the pork chops in the pan. It should take about 8-10 minutes for the first side to brown to perfection. Then flip the pork chop onto its other side and add the diced onions into the pan. While the pork chop is finishing cooking, the onions will be frying in the butter for the duration of the cooking.

Once the pork chop is done, the onions should be blackened. Place the pork chops on their plates, put the diced onions on top of the pork chops, and pour the remaining butter onto the pork chops.

Now you have a simple and elegant meal that is sure to please. The butter and onions complement the pork perfectly without overpowering it, instead being able to taste the sweet flavor of the pork with accents to the meat that aren't overbearing like a barbecue sauce or ketchup.

I sincerely hope that you all enjoy this recipe and come to love the flavor of the meat instead of relying on a sauce to make the meat palatable.

Take care.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Kielbasa Kabobs for Labor Day

It's Labor Day, the final hurrah for summer. Football season began this past weekend, and Jeremy's class (business for musicians) started last week. Days are noticeably shorter. Fall is fast approaching, and I'm not ready for it yet.

I've definitely tried to take advantage of the summer, even when it was so wretchedly hot; as someone who is always cold and who loathes air conditioning, I don't think the temperatures bothered me quite as much as they did everyone else. I've got freckles and sunburn/tan lines to show that I've torn myself from my computer a bit. I have prizes from the Ann Arbor Art Fairs. I got to Top of the Park (thanks,, for the swell party there!), which features local bands playing outside while families and couples dance and relax and enjoy great music.

I've shopped at farmers' markets, enjoyed outdoor potluck parties with neighbors, gone for long walks in beautiful weather. I've eaten al fresco, celebrated summer berries, cooked for an international picnic, and watched a fair amount of baseball. I've sat in my backyard, on the pretty bench Jeremy gave me several years ago, and worked on crossword puzzles in the shade.  I've baked beautiful lattice-topped fruit pies.  I've lain in the grass in the sunshine. I've enjoyed great fun with loved ones, and made lots of new friends, too. It's been a good time ... :)

But cooler weather will come soon, and I'll haul out my sweaters. It will be time to make soups and stews, to drink cocoa. Local weather forecaster Chuck Gaidica will start issuing "cuddle alerts."

Today, though, is a holiday, and one that celebrates summer.

So, in honor of this day of rest - when even those of us working long hours and extra days in preparation for the Jewish High Holidays in two weeks get the day off - here's a recipe that requires virtually no labor. Grab some skewers, chop some ingredients, light the grill ... that's pretty much the sum of your energy expenditure! One of my summertime accomplishments was learning how to use my new-to-me grill, so let's give it another chance to shine before it gets tucked away.

And in return, you'll be rewarded with a good ol' basic comfort food dish. I sometimes tend to think I need to make things special for the grill - marinades, rubs, etc. But dinner doesn't have to be complicated; it just has to taste good ... which this definitely does.

Kielbasa Kabobs

  • 1 12-ounce package kielbasa
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large red pepper, seeded
  • mustard, for serving

Cut the kielbasa into 1-1/2" chunks. Cut the onion into 1" chunks. Cut the pepper into 1-1/2" pieces. Thread them onto skewers, alternating ingredients.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Place the skewers onto the grill and cook for 6-7 minutes per side until slightly charred and vegetables are a bit softened.

Serve with mustard for dipping.

Makes about 8 skewers.

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