Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tricky Turkish Taffy Treats

I've been on a mission to make non-dairy caramels. I know that the word "buttery" is usually used in conjunction with the word "caramel," so a version that doesn't contain any milk-based products sounds a bit ... well, odd, to be very polite about it.

But those who keep kosher - many of my friends - don't mix meat and dairy products; therefore, they wouldn't eat a caramel apple, for example, after eating a chicken sandwich. One of my co-workers has a very severe dairy allergy, and many people are lactose intolerant.

And so, it seems to me that being able to make a good non-dairy caramel would be a mitzvah ([MITZ-vuh = good deed]), enabling all of these people to enjoy treats that are currently verboten.

I first tried this project last year, using a non-dairy version of half-and-half; my "caramels" - I use the term with a roll of my eyes and a groan - separated into a layer of goo topped with a layer of grease. This was not one of my finer moments in the kitchen.

But my friend Emil Boch - The Kosher King of Ann Arbor, for those who remember my interview with him - told me that coconut products might be helpful, eliminating the chemical factors of pseudo-milks.

In all honesty, by the time I got around to trying this little venture again, I couldn't remember precisely which coconut product - milk? water? cream? - Emil had recommended. My brain has gone beyond being a sieve, and now qualifies for "burst dam" status. Age will cause your brain cells to implode ... I'm living proof.

But I am determined to make this work! So I bought one of the new coconut milk-based So Delicious non-dairy coffee creamers that are all the rage. I had some pareve ([PAHRV] = neither meat nor dairy) margarine. I had brown sugar. I had the last little dribble of my bottle of Drambuie, for flavoring. I was ready.

I put the margarine, corn syrup, brown sugar, Drambuie, and vanilla extract into a saucepan. I brought it to a boil. It looked beautiful.

I added the creamer, and brought the mixture back to a boil. It was much lighter than my dairy caramels had ever been; but I also knew that the mixture would darken as it cooked down.

From having made caramels before, I knew that it takes a loooong time to boil the ingredients down into a candy. You stand, you stir, you stir, you stand, you wait. Fifteen minutes ... liquid. Fifteen more minutes ... liquid. Fifteen more minutes ... thickening, kinda gooey. But still not looking like caramel. Still not the right consistency.

Since my candy thermometer broke and I haven't yet replaced it, I used the cold water test to see if my candy was even remotely approaching the right state. I dropped a little dribble into ice water, and tested to see if it felt like a little rubber ball ("soft ball" stage).

It was well beyond that. The candy was hard.

So I stopped stirring, I turned off the heat, and I poured this beige, marshmallow-y goo into a greased pan.

It wasn't looking particularly appetizing. But I thought perhaps I could call it "nougat," since it was clearly not even remotely resembling caramel. It might be lighter and fluffier than I'd planned, but that wouldn't mean it wasn't good.

But after I wiped up the grease bubbles and let it cool, it was hard. It was a rock. Seriously, this stuff could've scratched a diamond.

So, obviously, I wasn't going to cut it into little squares, wrap it in pretty papers, and give candies to anyone! What to do, what to do ...?

Well, I picked off a little bitty shard that was thin and fragile. I dared to taste it. And ... it was really good! It was sweet, an indescribable hint of the Drambuie and vanilla shining through, a wisp of butterscotchy-ness. I let my boyfriend, Craig, taste it, and he agreed that it was really nice.

He said, "It reminds me of that taffy you used to get, where you'd smash it and break it into little pieces."

That's it! I didn't make non-dairy caramels, I made non-dairy Turkish taffy (which is hard, rather than the chewy salt water taffy).

So, since today is Hallowe'en, I'm offering both tricks - caramels that magically transform themselves into an entirely different entity! - and treats, which are lovely little sweet taffies.

Once the taffy is broken up, larger pieces can be served as a candy; crumbs can be pressed into a shortbread cookie base, mixed into chocolate chip or oatmeal cookie batters, sprinkled over ice cream ... there are countless possibilities!

Always remember: if your recipe doesn't work out the way you'd originally conceived of it, just rename it, re-purpose it, and pretend that's what you'd intended all along ... :)

Turkish Taffy

  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Drambuie
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pint So Delicious dairy-free French Vanilla coconut milk creamer

Place margarine, corn syrup, brown sugar, Drambuie, and vanilla into a 3-quart (minimum) saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Add creamer and return to a boil; cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes. Skim foam from top, then continue to boil for 30 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Prepare a glass of ice water, and dribble a very small amount of the sugar mixture into the water; if it solidifies and is quite hard, the taffy is ready. Remove the saucepan from heat.

Line an 8"x8" pan with foil, extending the foil beyond the edges of the pan, then grease the foil with margarine. Pour the taffy mixture into the pan, and let cool completely.

Pull the taffy out of the pan by using the foil; peel the sides of the foil down. Place the taffy into a sturdy plastic freezer bag, then smash it against the countertop to break up the taffy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sausage-Apple-Yam Shepherd's Pie

It is incomprehensible to me, but my son - yes, Jeremy, who's usually such a cooperative eater - doesn't like Shepherd's Pie. It has all his favorite foods in it: meat, gravy and, particularly, mashed potatoes. I often top it with grated cheese. He hates it. What's a mother to do???

Make a variation on the theme, that's what. Use breakfast sausage, chopped apple, cider, and sweet potatoes ... et, voila! One of Jeremy's favorite dishes of all time!

Yeah, technically a "shepherd's" pie is made with lamb. But there's still ground meat for a base, there's gravy, and there's a kinda-sorta mashed potato on top. This dish is sweeter, though, more colorful, and a nice twist on tradition.

Now, this isn't technically a Hallowe'en recipe: there's no candy corn, and there are no spider webs made out of frosting. But the topping is orange, like a pumpkin! So, since "Trick or Treat"-ing comes on Wednesday and you might still be seeking ideas for your dinner or a party, I thought I'd offer this dish as well as some links to previous posts about the festivities:

Jack-o'-Lantern Pizza
Hallowe'en Dipped Marshmallows
Sweet 'n' Salty Caramel Corn Mix
Jack-o'-Lantern Cheeseburgers

Sausage-Apple-Yam Shepherd's Pie

  • 2 very large sweet potatoes
  • 1 pound breakfast sausage, hot or mild
  • 2 large Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2" dice
  • 3 large scallions, chopped fine
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • generous sprinkling freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 425F. Prick sweet potatoes, then bake for 90 minutes until very tender. Let cool until you can handle them.

Place sausage into a large saucepan; break up sausage and cook it over medium heat. When sausage is half done, add apples and scallions; saute for 5 minutes, then add salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until apples are tender.

Meanwhile, melt together butter and cornstarch. Slowly add cider, stirring it into the butter mixture until incorporated before adding more liquid. Once all the cider has been added, bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.

Place the sausage mixture into a casserole dish, then stir in the cider gravy.

Cut the sweet potatoes in half, then scoop out flesh into a mixing bowl. Mash sweet potatoes, then spread over the sausage. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the top.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Serves 6-8.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday at Seva

I had read that Seva [say-VAH] - the long-time Ann Arbor vegetarian institution - had a "Happy Hour" menu with remarkable prices: $1, $2, or $3 for tasting-sized dishes. Well, how could a frugal eater resist?

Craig and I headed there one evening, to sample an inexpensive assortment of foods. So we tried a little bit within each price range.

For $3, we ordered the General Tso's cauliflower, which is deep-fried and served with sliced scallions and a spicy sauce. Another $3 item was the Gouda Tots - breaded, fried cubes of cheese with a creamy herbed dipping sauce.

From the $2 menu, we decided to go for the classic chips 'n' salsa; they were brought later than the rest of the food, by which time I completely forgot to give them their photo op while I grazed and chatted. The chips were thick and crisp, and I liked them best when dunking them into the sauce that had been provided with the Gouda Tots.

Finally, from the $1 menu we tried the spiced nuts, which had a hint of curry to them.

There are also daily drink specials, to complement the food, which could qualify for our mandatory $5 per person Frugal Floozie Friday budget: Tuesdays offer half-price wine, Wednesdays bring half-price draft beers, and on Thursdays and Fridays you can get $1 off all cocktails.

Small bites for a small price, available during Seva's happy hour every Monday through Friday!

314 E. Liberty
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Happy Hour: Monday through Friday, 4 - 6 p.m.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cheese Frenchees - Guest Post by Jenn!

I've gotta thank my friend Jenn - the gorgeous grillin' girl who offers succulent sauces and fabulous flavors on her blog, Jenn's Food Journey - for joining me in our 2nd Annual Michigan-Nebraska Blog Post Exchange!!! Not only is Jenn a great cook and an amazing person, but she's a huge football fan - yay! And the Huskers are her team, Nebraska native that she is.

So it's only fitting that we football lovin' girls have a friendly trade-off when our teams meet each year, feasting during the fray ... :) And oh, my word, is this dish Jenn's concocted a perfect food, or what?!?!?

Nebraska football is life. At least in Nebraska it is. We live, breath, die Big Red football. Considering there isn't much else other than corn and cows, you can see where the love for the Huskers comes from. The funny thing, when I was in college I decided I was going to find a different college football team to love - not that I was giving up on the Huskers (NEVER!!), it's just I wanted to spread my my second love in college football became the Michigan Wolverines. Little did I know that some years later, I would find the most awesome blogging buddy and she would be from Michigan. Not only would she be from there, but she would have a love for the Wolverines like I have for my dear old Huskers. Hence the rivalry began.

With this great rivalry comes the 2nd annual Michigan vs. Nebraska food blogging exchange and I am ever so grateful to Mary for suggesting and hosting this very fun exchange. It's been so wonderful getting to know Mary over the last year or so. I don't have to tell you, her loyal readers, just how amazing she truly is.

Last year for the 1st annual M vs N, I featured Runzas - a Nebraska staple. This year... Oh this year I'm getting downright mean. This year I'm sharing a treat with you that is guaranteed to make your cholesterol skyrocket just by reading the recipe! Do you think that stops Nebraskans? Heck no! We aren't afraid of anything..... especially a deep fried cheese sandwich with mayo.... What? Is that wrong? Well, then I don't want to be right.

I will admit to you, this was my first time at actually trying to make these wonderfully heart clogging sandwiches - I didn't quite get the technique down when it came to dipping the sandwiches into the batter mixture, so don't worry if things get a little messy, this is well worth the mess! Great thing about when I made these... my parents were visiting from Nebraska and had surprisingly never had a Cheese Frenchee - so I not only get to share this wonderful treat with you all, but I even got a chance to share something amazing with my parents!!

I don't know a single person outside of Nebraska who knows of these delectable little devils, so make these for friends... and don't forget to cheer on my ... oops, I mean, don't forget to cheer for YOUR favorite (NEBRASKA) football team on Saturday!!


Cheese Frenchees
(Adapted from King's Food Host)


  • 6 slices of white bread
  • 6 slices American cheese (you can use Velveeta if you want, but nothing else!)
  • 3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 cups cornflakes, finely crushed
  • oil for frying


Make three sandwiches, using 2 slices of American cheese and 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise per sandwich. Cut the crusts off the sandwiches and cut each one diagonally making 2 triangles.

Combine the egg, milk, flour and salt together until it forms a pancake-like batter. Dip the triangles into egg mixture and coat with cornflake crumbs. Place on a wire rack and continue until all sandwiches are made.

Deep fry in 375 degree F oil for about 1.5 - 2 minutes per side. Carefully remove from oil and allow to cool for a just a bit. The cheese will be hot and melty, so be careful... but enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Vernors Cupcakes for the Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers are playing in the World Series tonight. They beat my Yankees in a 4-game sweep in the American League Championship Series last week.

Of course, having grown up in New York City, but having spent the past 34 years in Michigan, my interest was piqued in the ALCS: this wasn't just my favorite game, but a match-up of my two favorite teams. I'd be happy no matter which one moved on to the big show!

But I have to admit, I was really rooting for the Tigers ... :)

Because even someone as verbose and effusive as I am can't adequately describe what this means to Detroit.

In New York, it's expected that an enormously talented and exorbitantly costly team will take its division, earn a pennant, and not just get to - but win - the World Series. When this doesn't happen, there is no worse city in which to endure the fans' wrath.

In Detroit, however, there is great happiness when a trip to the postseason comes, rather than a sense of entitlement. There is enormous pride, and nothing is taken for granted. That the Tigers took down, and shut down, the force that is the Yankees was something everyone hoped for and talked about and celebrated. People who aren't particularly interested in baseball even found themselves watching the games and cheering. The enthusiasm was contagious.

New York has split loyalties: Yankees fans, Mets fans, and those who still haven't forgiven the Dodgers for leaving Brooklyn. But in Detroit, there's one team. And the entire city - the entire state - is so thrilled for them!

Often, there's not good news coming from Detroit. But throughout the postseason, visitors and viewers have also seen a new city - one with a vibrant arts scene, a thriving farmers' market, fabulous restaurants, urban gardens, and renovated neighborhoods that hip kids in their 20s and 30s are moving into and revitalizing. All of this will be on display as Detroit welcomes the World Series, and the world.

This trip to the final round of the postseason wasn't a fluke - the spot was earned. This was a matter of hard work, not mere luck. The Tigers have come back from some dismal days, just as their city itself is doing.

Remember, as the famous Chrysler ad, "Imported From Detroit," states:

This isn't New York City or the Windy City or Sin City,
and we're certainly no one's Emerald City.
This is the Motor City. And this is what we do.

We play baseball. We sweep a team whose payroll tops $200 million and which features many future Hall of Fame members. We bring hope and joy to a city that deserves - and needs - it.

And we represent the American League in the World Series tonight ... :)

Vernors Cupcakes

Vernors is a sweet, spicy ginger ale made in Detroit.  It's only fitting to make a treat for tonight's game using this iconic product that represents the vitality of the city!

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 3/4 cup Vernors
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 15 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, brown sugar, salt, and ginger. In a measuring cup, combine the Vernors, butter, vanilla, and eggs; whisk together.

Pour liquid ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients, and stir to combine. Divide the batter among the lined cups, and bake for 20 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Let cool completely.


In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and cookie butter. On low speed, beat in the confectioners' sugar; then beat in the Vernors.

Spread frosting over cupcakes.

Makes 15 cupcakes.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Deconstructed Un-Stuffed Shells

While meandering up and down the aisles at the grocery store the other day - something, as you can well imagine, I do with significant frequency! - I saw that small pasta shells were on sale: $1 for a one-pound box.

Well, I'm a pretty frugal girl. I had to bring some home with me.

Now, I love stuffed pasta shells, filled with rich ricotta cheese and smothered in a lively tomato sauce. But as much as I love to bake from scratch, shell peas, or pit cherries, I don't want to fuss over shoving spoonfuls of the cheese into a giant pasta shell that's modestly trying to keep itself closed. Too much bother. And I don't want to wait for my dinner while it bakes, either, especially when I'm really hungry after a long day of work and errands.

So it occurred to me that I could cook up these smaller shells, top them with the sauce, and just plop a dollop of cheese on top - all the same great flavors, none of the tedious work!

The zesty sauce enhanced the sweetness of the cheese, and the creaminess of the cheese complemented the warmth of the sauce. It was a perfect easy dinner that seemed far more luxurious than its simplicity would normally offer ....

Deconstructed Un-Stuffed Shells

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • generous pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 6 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 pound pasta shells, prepared according to package directions
  • 1/3 cup Ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup Cottage cheese
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, onion, and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, wine, and salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook for 5 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Place the prepared shells onto a serving platter, and spoon the sauce over them. Stir together the Ricotta cheese and Cottage cheese; place a dollop onto the center of the sauce, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 generously.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday at Angelo's

I recently asked Jeremy where he wanted to eat, on a morning when we were both free to go out for a late breakfast. I offered a couple of suggestions, but he immediately countered with "Angelo's." We hadn't been there in so, so long - what a fabulous choice!

We set off with our mandatory $5 per person budget in mind. And so, Angelo's is today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.

This Ann Arbor institution is justly famous for its handmade raisin toast, which Jeremy knew he would order no matter what else he saw on the menu. At $2.50 for an order of two thick slices, this was a substantial and delicious treat. This is not a fluffy Wonder bread or a cinnamon-y sweet variety; and it's clearly not made in a box (otherwise known as "the sacrilege that is a bread machine"). It's real bread - the kind you'd make at home with your own two hands, if you had either the time or the inclination. (But since you likely have neither, you can also buy a loaf to take home.)

To supplement the toast, Jeremy also ordered two eggs, scrambled, for $2.30. This was an ideal portion, and together the two items came in at $4.80 for a simple, but really good, breakfast.

I debated whether to get the $4 oatmeal served with raisins, brown sugar, and cinnamon; one egg for $1.30 and an order of breakfast potatoes for $3; or one egg served with potatoes and toast, for an even $5.

But I decided to order the enormous, fluffy short stack of 2 plate-sized pancakes for $4.75. I sprinkled them with some of the cinnamon sugar served at each table, which was a perfect accompaniment to the dish.

At lunchtime, sandwiches are very generous and could easily be split by those who are inclined to do so. Lots of "extras" that fall within our mandatory budget - from regular and sweet potato fries to a scoop of chicken salad to chili cheese fries - can be ordered a la carte for prices ranging from $1.25 to $4.75. A bowl of soup is available for $3.75; and a $4.50 bowl of beef chili can be supplemented with cheese ($4.75) or both cheese and sour cream ($5). Another option is the house salad for $4.

The portions at Angelo's are huge, the service is friendly and efficient, the restaurant is bright and cozy, and the food is fabulous. What more could you ask for, especially at such reasonable prices?

1100 E. Catherine
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday - Saturday: 6 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Sunday: 7 a.m. - 2 p.m.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Whole Grain Pancakes with Spiced Apple Syrup

I love to bake on Sunday mornings, or to make special breakfasts. It's often the only day I don't have to be up, out the door, doing something, accomplishing something. It a time when I can luxuriate, not just grab some salami slices to go with my coffee or rush around trying to get ready on time.

This past Sunday, I debated whether to bake a coffee cake or whether to make something that I could eat more quickly, since I woke up hungry. Needless to say from the photo, speed of preparation won! Pancakes just sounded good, and adding a lovely autumn touch with the apple syrup only made the meal more delicious.

Whole Grain Pancakes with Spiced Apple Syrup

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 large Honeycrisp apple, peeled, cored, cut into 1/3" dice
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup

Place the butter, water, apple, and cinnamon into a small saucepan; bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low. Cook 8-10 minutes, until most of the water has been absorbed. Add the syrup and turn heat to low; keep syrup warm while making pancakes.

  • 1 packet instant oatmeal, Maple & Brown Sugar Flavor
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 egg
  • squirt of lemon juice

In a medium bowl, combine oatmeal, flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk together half-and-half, egg, and lemon juice; let rest for 1 minute, then pour over dry ingredients. Let batter rest 1 minute.

Brush a large skillet or griddle with butter, and turn heat to medium-high. Drop batter by the 1/4-cupful and cook until top is covered with small bubbles; carefully flip and cook 2-3 more minutes until done.

Serve pancakes with warm syrup.

Makes 8 pancakes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kasha Varnishkes Soup for National Mushroom Day

I'm a mushroom lover with a history of being surrounded by mushroom haters. Jeremy has only just found affection for them; of course, even he chuckles that his new enjoyment is for morels and truffles, among the most expensive varieties available! And I used to go out with someone who would only eat small amounts of the little white button mushrooms, nothing with more flavor ... groan.

So when Craig told me that he loves "chopped liver and a good mushroom barley soup," I was just tickled. A little bit of "meh" on the former, but I'm very happy about the latter. There's a lot to be said for going out with a nice Jewish boy whose level of observance is far less than my own weird hybrid of practice, but who at least knows and enjoys the requisite foods!

That is, until I found out that Craig only likes raw mushrooms. While he promised to try the soup if I made one, and even sounded enthusiastic about it, he also presumed he would pick out the mushrooms and generously donate them to my own bowl ... aaauuuggghhh!!!

But I was determined to cook a version of mushroom soup in honor of today's "holiday," National Mushroom Day. You know me, though - I can't just leave things alone. There are lots of recipes for good ol'-fashioned mushroom barley soup, so that simply had to be tinkered with.

I thought of another classic Jewish dish, Kasha Varnishkes: buckwheat groats that are cooked in broth and traditionally served with bow tie pasta and, sometimes, mushroom gravy. While buckwheat is not actually a grain, it is reminiscent of one; so it seemed reasonable to substitute it for barley in a mushroom soup.

So I cooked up the kasha, added lots of mushrooms, added extra liquid beyond what the buckwheat would absorb, and added pasta ... and there it was, Kasha Varnishkes Soup! A little beer added some depth to the flavor. This is perfect for a cold, fall day.

Kasha Varnishkes Soup

Please note that this is not kosher, since it mixes butter and beef broth. (Butter has better flavor than any of its substitutes.) You can make whatever accommodations suit your fancy - oil or margarine, using only vegetable broth, etc. - to honor the dietary laws.

  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2/3 cup kasha (buckwheat groats)
  • 1 egg white
  • 4 ounces white button mushrooms, halved, sliced
  • 10 ounces baby Portabella mushrooms, halved, sliced
  • 1 cup beer
  • 16 ounces vegetable broth
  • 16 ounces beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • generous sprinkling freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of sugar
  • splash of soy sauce
  • 1-1/2 cups bow-tie pasta, pre-cooked
  • sour cream for serving, optional

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan, and cook the onion over medium-low heat for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized. Remove onions from saucepan and reserve.

Combine kasha and egg white until kasha is thoroughly coated; add to saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes until the kasha is toasty and has separated into individual grains.

Add the remaining butter to the saucepan; add the onions and both kinds of mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms have softened. Add the beer, both broths, salt, pepper, sugar, and soy sauce; bring to a boil, then cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta and cook 5 more minutes.

Serve hot, with sour cream if desired.

Serves 6-8.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Gourmet Garden

We've been so, so busy lately that Jeremy and I once again found ourselves out running errands and schlepping to appointments one evening, and determined that we needed to get some dinner. Not having had Chinese food in a long time, we stopped by Gourmet Garden, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.

For a mere $5.95, I ordered a platter of Lo Mein with bright, crisp vegetables. It was easily enough to feed 2 or more people, which then allows - within our $5 per person budget - for a fresh, hot, crunchy Spring Roll for $1.25. Since our meal had started with a complementary dish of fried chow mein noodles with a sweet dipping sauce, there was an ample quantity of food.

Jeremy veered from some of his usual dishes, and ordered the Sweet and Sour Pork for $8.50; he'd simply heard it calling to him, so he thought he'd try it. The coating wasn't soggy at all, having apparently been freshly sauced before serving; and the sauce itself wasn't too sweet, and was quite good. Served with rice, this is another dish that could serve two.

The restaurant's dinner dishes are meant to be served family-style and to be shared; and the portions are large enough to serve possibly 3-4 with appetizers. Most of the menu offerings are so reasonably priced - under $10, and often under $8 - that splitting them is a great frugal way to enjoy a good meal.

At lunchtime, you can order the Luncheon Special and get either Buddhist Delight or Broccoli in Garlic Sauce for less than $5 each; and these are served with both soup and with your choice of white, brown, or fried rice.

Gourmet Garden is a great place to go for good food, fast service, and generous portions.

Gourmet Garden
2255 W. Stadium Blvd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sweet Corn with Cumin, Curry Leaves, and Chilis

As you read yesterday - when I posted a lovely recipe for Chicken Curry - my friend Sid, who regularly sends me videos showing how to prepare delicious traditional Indian recipes, told me that I should look into a bloggers' link-up that involved cooking from the fabulous book 660 Curries.

Well, as someone who loves Indian food, you can imagine my glee in perusing the cookbook!!! I had to start cooking right away, after being led into temptation, so I made several recipes with ingredients I had on hand, tweaking ever so slightly to accommodate my pantry.

One dish that I made on a cold, dreary day and brought to work for lunch sounded so simple, so much like a throwaway; but the ingredients had been available, so it won the coin toss.

I was so surprised and delighted to find that this was a fabulous dish! Bright, spicy, addictive - I kept eating and eating, enjoying it so much!

Instead of using the red chilis called for in the recipe, I put a small piece of my lone ghost pepper into the mix. And just before serving, I mixed in some of the Indian snack mix I had recently bought, which contains all sorts of lovely crispy tidbits with a hint of sweetness. (If you don't have access to an Indian market, here's a recipe; just add a handful of golden raisins to approximate the mix I bought at the store.) It was one of the best lunches I'd brought to work in a long time!

You could serve this corn as a side dish with meat, over rice, with naan ... it's up to you. But serve it, even if it sounds a bit unusual. It really is fabulous!

Sweet Corn with Cumin, Curry Leaves, and Chilis

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3 cups frozen corn
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 large curry leaves
  • 1 small red pepper, finely chopped

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and turmeric; cook for 10 seconds. Add the corn, water, cilantro, and salt; bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat to medium. Add curry leaves and pepper; cook for 8-10 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the curry leaves and serve immediately.

4-6 as a side dish.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chicken Curry with Tomato and Coconut Milk

My friend Sid, who regularly sends me enticing videos showing how to prepare delicious traditional Indian recipes, told me that I should "check out" a bloggers' event: cooking from the fabulous book 660 Curries.

Well, cooking from scratch ... Indian food ... curries ... spices ... sigh ... :)

Chicken, lamb, vegetables, lentils, oh my! Familiar favorites were featured, of course. But there were also interesting and intriguing items such as a savory dish combining pineapple, coconut, and coffee; a chili- and fenugreek-infused matzah ball soup; and ivy gourd, a bitter vegetable resembling a mini cucumber, that I'd never heard of.

As I skimmed through the book, there was a swirl of tastes and aromas and fragrant spices dancing in my head. What to cook? What to make?

Well, I needed to do something immediately, tempted as I was. And since my entire freezer door is filled with mostly Indian spices - I'm serious! I've got cardamom, curry leaves, cumin seeds, black sesame seeds, Garam Masala, and others - I had the basics for making a fabulous dish. So, then, I had chicken thighs, lentils, spinach, some leftover coconut milk; what could I find from the 660 options to make right away?

The Chicken Curry, made with coconut milk and a tomato - a classic.

I substituted ground ginger for fresh, and I used chicken thighs rather than the boneless chicken breast cubes that the recipe called for; therefore, I needed to cook the dish for longer than indicated. But it turned out beautifully - tender, flavorful, a wonderful dinner! It was such a nice, easy meal for a cold, cloudy fall day.

Chicken Curry with Tomato and Coconut Milk
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 4 large chicken thighs
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Madras curry powder (tends to be a hotter blend)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • jasmine rice and mango chutney, for serving
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet; add chicken and cook, covered, 10 minutes per side until golden brown. Uncover skillet and remove chicken to a plate.

Drain most of the fat, then add onion, garlic and ginger; cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is softened. Add curry powder, salt, and coconut milk; bring just to a boil.

Return chicken to skillet skin-side up, turn heat down to medium, and add tomato. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until sauce is thickened.

Serve with mango chutney and jasmine rice.

Serves 4.

Monday, October 8, 2012

My Yiddische Nachos (for Daniel Saraga)

In its original incarnation, this was going to be a fun and frivolous post - truly Floozie-ish. A winding tale about a ridiculous but fabulous little concoction of Jewish-style nachos, using potato latkes as the base, that was inspired by my friend and blogging buddy Daniel Saraga of The Haggis and The Herring - the culinary adventures of a nice Jewish boy and his Scottish wife.

I had written on July 30 about Totchos - nachos made with tater tots. They're unbelievable, and also unbelievably good!

Dan wrote to me:

"Walking across the office it hit me: If you can make a really thin latke (thicker than a potato chip, but not too thick - maybe made with pureed potatoes), then you've got a plate of Yiddish nachos .... Dunno if I want to even attempt it - it sounds good, but it also sounds like a heart attack on a plate."

Well, I was hooked! So we bounced ideas back and forth a bit, and decided that instead of chili or refried beans we would use cholent [CHOH-lehnt] - an iconic Jewish stew that cooks slowly over a Friday night, so that Jews can return home from Saturday morning Shabbat services to a hot meal without violating prohibitions against cooking on the Sabbath. And we decided to make it a vegetarian cholent, incongruous as that notion is (since it's traditional to battle over who gets the marrow bones that are often put into it), because we determined we should respectfully honor the dietary laws and thus prohibit any mixing of meat and dairy products despite not keeping kosher ourselves. And it's just not a proper plate o' nachos without cheese, after all.

I'm not quick-witted by any means - it's a gift I admire and envy in others. When I asked Dan what this little taste treat should be called, he immediately wrote back to me: "Well, as long as we can get Mandy Patinkin to endorse them, 'My Yiddische Nachos,' of course :-)" [YID-ih-shuh]

Dan said: "Now we've talked about it enough that I might need to actually do something about it. I might wait until December, tho." I promised to get to work sorting out some details, trying to figure out how to cook the latkes to the proper consistency, how to make a good vegetarian cholent. I wanted to be ready for Chanukkah, when latkes are the mandatory food - fried in celebratory oil as they are - which would be the perfect occasion for our dish.

I left services on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, September 17, and went to the store to pick up a few things. I saw a package of soy chorizo and thought to myself that I should get some, precisely because I intended to work on Dan's inspired nacho notion after the Jewish High Holidays and knew I would need this ingredient for the cholent.

I got home from the store, turned on my computer, and was surprised to find an email from Dan's wife Meredith. I couldn't believe what I was reading - it made no sense, it wasn't possible. Tears started streaming, because what Meredith told me was such a horrific shock: her Darling Daniel, as she always called him, had died suddenly just three days earlier after making dinner for his family, which he loved to do. Sadly, the very heart attack Dan feared from this dish is what apparently took his life. He was only 37.

Meredith wrote that Dan had considered me a friend, which I feel was truly an honor; he was a good, good man, a great guy, smart, funny, with a heart that shone even through a computer screen. He left behind two very young sons - Jacob just learned to ride a bike this past summer, and their Jeremy isn't yet 2 - with a third baby, affectionately known as "J3," on the way. And he left behind Meredith, whom he cherished and who adored him in return. Even though Dan and I never met in the real world so that I could see his face light up when talking about them - we had bonded in cyberspace over food and Judaism - his love for his family was abundantly clear in everything he wrote.

And so, what should have been a silly post about devising a plate of Jewish-style nachos - as two friends bantered back-and-forth from Toronto to Ann Arbor over the nitpickiest, yet critical, details - has instead turned into a bittersweet tribute to my friend Daniel Saraga, without whom this recipe would not exist. He devised the idea and named it; and his combined respect for tradition, love of food, multi-cultural worldview, creativity, and distinct playfulness and humor all shine through in this delicious mishmash.

I debated whether to make these with a Moroccan influence (Daniel's heritage - he teased me when I used my traditional tea glasses to serve peanut butter pudding!) or a Mexican-ish one; instead, I decided to focus on the "Yiddische" aspect, leaning towards Eastern Europe. Dan and I had considered the difficulty of choosing a cheese, but never settled upon anything in particular.

So I am immensely grateful to Simone of Morgan and York, a lovely shop offering exceptional wines and gourmet foods, who took on my quandry and recommended a wonderful Cheddar. She gave me two choices that would honor the ban against mixing meat and dairy products (cheeses without animal rennet), and also a wide variety of others that I could use in further experimenting for my own supremely treyf ([TRAYF] = non-kosher) purposes, such as adding brisket to the cholent before topping it with cheese. (She also provided a personal tasting session for my Jeremy and me, which was so fantastic!) I also offer thanks to Eric the Cheesemonger at The Produce Station, another fabulous specialty food and wine market, who suggested Comté ([kohm-TAY] - a Swiss-like cheese) for its exceptional melting qualities. Together, the cheeses offer the ooey-gooey factor coupled with an "oomph" of flavor.

It makes me so, so sad that I didn't get to share the final concoction with Dan, that he didn't get to try it or share it with Meredith and the boys; I would have waited anxiously, after sending him the instructions, to read his report back about who looked askance, who dove right in, how many days the house smelled after frying all the latkes ... :) I smile as I contemplate it, and as I write this remembrance of my friend.

But he won't be writing to me, won't be making me laugh with his comments, won't be sharing this last stretch of the Yiddische Nachos adventure with me. And I realize that this loss for me so greatly and inconceivably pales by comparison to knowing that Dan won't watch his boys grow up, won't hold his new baby, won't grow old with Meredith.

Dan led me to this dish, and I hope he was guiding me as I prepared it. Either that, or he's shaking his head and offering up a pained, "Oy!" I hope I came close to approximating his vision.

With many, many thanks to Dan for the smiles, the laughter, the thought-provoking questions and comments, and especially for his kindness and his friendship. Never doubt my philosophy that people bond over food, even in cyberspace. The term "blogging buddy" is so woefully inadequate to describe some of the truly wonderful people I've met online, like Dan, but never had the thrill and privilege of meeting in the real world so that we could share a meal. I am so grateful for having known him.

May Dan's memory be for a blessing ....

My Yiddische Nachos

  • 1 egg
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons matzah meal
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 cups frozen hash browns
  • oil, for frying
In a medium bowl, combine egg, salt, pepper, matzah meal, and water; add hash browns, and let rest for 5 minutes. Place into a blender and puree until just a bit of texture is left.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil at a time in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add batter by the scant 1/4-cupful and fry for 4 minutes per side until golden brown. Remove to a plate and continue until batter is gone.

  • 1 cup dry kidney beans
  • 1 cup dry pinto beans
  • 10 cups + 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 large scallions, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 12-ounce package Trader Joe's soy chorizo
  • 1 14.5-ounce can stewed tomatoes, chopped, with their liquid
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2-1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt-free seasoning
  • 1/3 cup quick-cook barley
  • 1 cup beer
Place the beans and the 10 cups water into a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, and cook 10 minutes. Turn off heat, cover saucepan, and let beans soak for 2 hours or more. Drain.

Rinse the Dutch oven, then add the oil. Add onions, scallions, and red pepper flakes; cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chorizo, tomatoes, and mustard; cook for 5 more minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for 5 minutes.

Place the cholent into a crockpot, and cook on "low" for 8 hours or more.

(If you prepare just the cholent, rather than the entire dish, it's a great vegan meal.)

  • 4 ounces grated Comté cheese
  • 1-1/2 ounces grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • sour cream, for serving
Place the latkes on a microwaveable serving platter, and top with 2 cups of the cholent. Sprinkle the Comté over the top and cook in the microwave until the cheese is melted. Sprinkle the Cheddar over the top without heating it. (Cheddar has a tendency to separate, so Simone recommended doing this to preserve its integrity.) Serve immediately with sour cream, a traditional accompaniment to both nachos and latkes.

Serves 4.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Beezy's Cafe

Jeremy and I had a lovely lunch recently at Beezy's, on a beautiful fall day. I hadn't been there in ages, so it was good to have a chance to eat there again.

We were given a tremendous greeting by Jesse, who was wonderfully welcoming and friendly. In just the few minutes it took to place our order, we exchanged names, discussed fashion and thrift shops, and had a grand time!

Jeremy chose the Roasted Chicken Club sandwich for $6.95: "Sliced Amish chicken breast with bacon, tomato, red onion and spring greens with blue cheese pesto mayo."

The sandwich is huge and can easily be split, even among two hungry people. Jeremy - a 21-year-old male, among the world's heartiest eaters - could only finish half of it. And if you buy two bags of Michigan-made Better Made products for 99-cents each, this lunch would, indeed, be "all that and a bag of chips" for two people while staying within our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget of $5 per person.

The air was just crisp enough (for me, anyway, since I'm always cold) that it warranted soup. So I ordered a bowl of the Creamy Chicken and Garlic soup for $3.50. As you can see, it was thick and rich with huge chunks of meat and carrots. Warm and delicious, this was a perfect antidote to the slight chill.

I also ordered a small Washington Street salad for $4.95; this offered "greens tossed in maple vinaigrette and topped with sliced roasted Amish chicken breast, sliced apple, raisins, and spiced pecans." In other words, it offered sweet and savory, tenderness and crunch, a variety of tastes and textures all on one plate.

Beezy's offers a number of options for vegetarians, and each of the salads is available in a small portion for less than $5. They promote Michigan products like the chips mentioned above, as well as Faygo sodas. The Redpops Jeremy and I each ordered were bright and fruity, and just seemed the perfect choice to complement our lunches.

For friendly service, good ol'-fashioned wholesome food, and a genuine feel for community - both in terms of being a gathering place and a supporter of both Ypsilanti and Michigan - Beezy's is the place to go!

20 N. Washington St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Monday - Saturday: 7 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

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Beezy's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Samoa Ice Cream Sauce

After having a fabulous time at the Girl ScoutsCookie Bake-Off Benefit last week and enjoying Samoa-flavored coffee and also buying some Samoa cookies to take home, I have been practically dreaming of the luscious combination of caramel, chocolate, and coconut.

And so, it's hardly surprising that after talking about ice cream sauces with Craig recently - telling him that I make really lovely caramel and hot fudge varieties - I would have an epiphany: combine these two flavors, add some coconut milk, and make a liquid variation on one of my favorite cookies.

The only thing better would be to pour this over Edy's Samoa ice cream, and then crumble a couple of the cookies over the top!

Samoa Ice Cream Sauce
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Bring brown sugar, corn syrup, and coconut milk to a boil over medium-high heat in a 1-quart saucepan; stir constantly and cook for 5 minutes - mixture will foam up. Remove from heat, then stir in butter and vanilla. Stir in half-and-half and chocolate chips until smooth. Return sauce to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes without stirring. Pour into a jar, and let the sauce cool for awhile before serving; if it's too hot, it will burn you and it will simply melt the ice cream instead of turning into a chewy, fudgy sauce when it's poured over the cold substance.

Makes not quite 1-1/2 cups.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Applesauce Pie

My friend Marcy Bishop Kates, of Incu-Bake - her commercial kitchen which rents space, and provides love and support, to an extended family of fabulous food producers - posted on Facebook recently about an applesauce pie. She thought it looked intriguing for fall.

I love applesauce pie, just love it! Sweet, spicy, fragrant, delicious ... I hadn't made it in ages, and had practically forgotten about it. For shame!

This is a deceptively simple recipe that appears to be fairly ordinary; but it is so lovely, so perfect for the season. This pie can be made on the spur of the moment when a craving strikes, or would make an ideal treat during Sukkot (which began last night), for Thanksgiving, or "just 'cause" ....

Applesauce Pie
(slightly adapted from Marcia Adams' New Recipes from Quilt Country)
  • crust for a 9" pie
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F.  Place the crust into a 9" pie pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk in the butter, applesauce, and vanilla. Pour filling into crust, and bake pie for 40 minutes until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. The filling will puff up while cooking, then deflate upon cooling.

Serves 12.

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