Friday, November 30, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Old Town Tavern

Craig recently joined me for dinner at a restaurant that neither of us had been to in ages: Old Town Tavern, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature. Good ol'-fashioned comfort food just sounded like the right choice that evening, and the cozy, friendly atmosphere at the Old Town was the perfect place to go.

I'd first thought of having a burger, which Craig then ordered and enjoyed thoroughly although it exceeds our mandatory $5 per person budget; it was a platter large enough to share, if we'd felt so inclined. We were very hungry, though, so we decided to each get our own meal.

The burger is made with nearly a half-pound of exceptional ground beef from Knight's Market, plus toppings and a generous side order of thick-cut fries. (Craig couldn't even finish the fries, so I happily snagged a few.) A perfect meal!

As I started to peruse the menu, I heard the gumbo ... no, the Curried Pumpkin Soup (that day's special offering) ... no, the hummus with fresh vegetables ... no, the .... Oh, everything was tugging at my heartstrings!

There was one stand-out, though, that was calling more loudly than any of the others: the chili. Rich, thick, hearty, and with a bit of a kick, it showcased beef, beans, tomatoes, and a nice gooey topping of cheese and green onions. At only $4.50 for a bowl, it was a good value. I also ordered a house salad for a mere $3.95, which brought an entire plateful of greens, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrot shreds, and an exceptional thick, garlicky blue cheese dressing so good that I've even written to the restaurant to see if they might share the recipe with me.

Of course, I still ordered dessert because I'd seen the day's special written on a chalkboard and simply couldn't resist. I had given very serious consideration to ordering the cherry pie as my dinner, but had determined that perhaps some vegetables and protein might make a better meal, with pie as a reward.

Craig is not a huge fan of fruit pies - and especially doesn't worship at the altar of cherry pie, as I do - but this was so exceptional that he happily enjoyed it with me. And because I'm a nice person, I shared with him rather than hoarding it just for myself. But the pie really is good enough that you'll want your own slice. And at $3.95, that's a deal you can't refuse!

The Old Town Tavern has been "a part of downtown Ann Arbor for over 40 years," and takes "pride in serving quality food and drinks at reasonable prices. It’s also important to us to support other Southeast Michigan businesses; we buy local as much as possible. We serve Michigan products like Faygo pop, Better Maid potato chips and four draft selections from Bell’s Brewery. Our sandwiches are made on bread from Ed’s Bread in Saline and Metro Bakery in Detroit. Nearly everything that comes from our kitchen is made from scratch."

And when they say "reasonable prices," they really mean it. The Soup of the Day can be had for $3.50 (cup) or $4.50 (bowl); gumbo costs only $3.35 or $4.35, depending upon the serving size; and chowder, available only on weekends, costs $3.50 or $4.50. Appetizers - from corn chips served with either salsa or guacamole, to sweet potato fries, to hummus served with your choice of pita bread or fresh vegetables - are all within our $5 budget per person. And nachos, found on the late night menu, cost only $4.95. Other appetizers can easily be shared, as can the generous sandwiches (because remember, you must leave room for dessert!).

For comfort food and a comfortable atmosphere, all at great prices, be sure to eat at the Old Town Tavern sometime soon.

I'm hosting a giveaway: go check it out, and maybe you could win a $25 gift card from Whole Foods Market!

Old Town Tavern
122 West Liberty Street
Ann Arbor MI 48104
Monday - Friday: 11:30 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Saturday: 4 p.m. - 2 a.m.
Sunday: 4 p.m. - 12 a.m.

View Larger Map

Old Town Tavern on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 26, 2012

National Cake Day + A Whole Foods Giveaway

It's National Cake Day - gotta love it!

You've also gotta love today's giveaway! Many thanks to Whole Foods Market for its generous offer of a $25 gift card, so that one lucky reader can try some of their new products!!!

"This month, Whole Foods Market is debuting more than 30 NEW frozen foods under our Whole Foods Market™ line (appetizers, entrees and desserts – oh my!). With gourmet flavors at value prices, these items offer easy dinner and entertaining solutions -- just in time for the holiday madness ....

Be prepared to change the way you think about frozen foods. Taking cues from cuisines around the world, Whole Foods Market’s offerings include everything from Tandoori Chicken Samosas and Vegetable Egg Rolls to Wood-Fired Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza with Cherry Tomatoes and Gnocchi alla Sorrentina. We have decadent dessert options, too, like Chocolate Lava Cakes and Caramelized Panna Cotta for a sweet finish to every meal.

While we all love to cook and prep homemade meals, it’s nice to have tasty alternatives for those nights when you just want to kick back and relax without the greasy takeout or the restaurant check. Plus, as with all Whole Foods Market products, you’ll find absolutely no artificial flavors, bleached flours, hydrogenated fats or high-fructose corn syrup in these new products. In short -- your personal chef has arrived!"

So, who's ready to win???

Here are the terms:

- Leave a comment below telling me what your favorite kind of cake is and how you intend to celebrate today's holiday. Only one comment, please; extras won't count.

- Be sure to provide your email address in the comment, so I can let you know if you're the winner.

- The giveaway begins as soon as this post goes up, and will end on Monday, December 3 at 9 a.m. EST. I'll use to pick a winner, then send an email to let you know you've won.

- If I don't hear from the winner by 9 a.m. EST on Tuesday, December 4, I'll go back to to pick a new winner.

- Once the winner has been established, I'll need to get a mailing address to send you the gift card. Then you can shop your little heart out!

I think that's it - I don't have either the time or the inclination to see if folks are sacrificing their firstborn on Twitter or Facebook, so giveaways are always simple here.

Whether you use your gift card to buy the new frozen items or to buy the ingredients to make this lovely cake (which was a huge hit at my Thanksgiving dinner), free food is always welcome!

Pumpkin Streusel Cake
(adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe)

Remember what Julia Child once said: "A party without cake is really just a meeting."

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2-1/2 cups flour

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

In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, and brown sugar; stir in eggs and pumpkin. Mix in baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and flour. Pour batter into prepared pan.

1 packet Maple & Brown Sugar instant oatmeal
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted

Combine oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon; pour butter over everything and stir to mix thoroughly. Sprinkle streusel evenly over cake batter.

Bake cake for 45 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.

1 cup confectioners' sugar
2-1/2 tablespoons apple cider

Whisk together confectioners' sugar and cider; drizzle glaze over cooled cake and let set.

Makes 9 generous servings or 12 more reasonably sized ones.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Zamaan Cafe

I've enjoyed several lovely meals with loved ones, recently, at Zamaan Cafe - today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature. Good food, good service, good prices ... what more do you need?

The Baladi pictured above - hummus topped with tomatoes, red onions, black olives, parsley, and feta - was rich, creamy, and presented beautifully. (Hummus is a fairly bland-looking beige food, most of the time; this was enticing!) Served with a generous portion of pita bread, it was large enough to share but good enough to guard selfishly against those who might want to help deplete your supply. At only $4.99, it falls within our mandatory $5 per person budget either way. Craig was happy to help me polish off the serving, which was larger than I could finish on my own despite my being a hearty eater.

The meat pies are tender, with a soft rather than stiff dough; the filling is enhanced with onions, tomatoes, and spices. Often these can be dry, but at Zamaan Cafe they are very moist and full of flavor. At $3.99, they are an excellent value. Spinach pies are available, too, for the same price.

A plate of grape leaves - either meat-filled or vegetarian - costs $4.99. The latter variety - stuffed with rice, parsley, onions, tomatoes, spices and olive oil - are tender, and feature a bright tartness. Jeremy has never been a fan of these before, and yet helped me devour this plateful.

The falafel, at $4.99, was another excellent value. Jeremy polished these off without even offering me a taste! But since I was enjoying my small - in name only - Greek salad (a mere $3.99), that was okay.

A pastry case offers different varieties of baklava, as well as honey cake; desserts cost less than $2 each, some far less. The walnut and pistachio treats pictured here cost $1.29 each, and are a perfect way to end a meal.

For friendly service, great value, and delicious food, try Zamaan Cafe!

Zamaan Cafe
3580 Plymouth Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
Monday - Saturday: 10:30 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.

View Larger Map

Zamaan Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Max Sussman and Eli Sussman Coming to Williams-Sonoma

(If you missed it on yesterday, here's a post you need to see! Fabulous food, great event ... join me there, if you're in town!)

There's more to life than football. Even in Ann Arbor, even when we're talking about the upcoming Ohio State game, there's more to life than football. Really, there is!

There's food. And I don't just mean tailgating food, although that's very important. I'm referring to food prepared by two of the most talked-about chefs in New York City, who are making their home state of Michigan very proud.

In my obsessive little world, chefs are the rock stars. And two of the hottest acts right now are Max Sussman and his brother Eli, who live and work in Brooklyn but who will be offering a cooking demonstration at Briarwood's Williams-Sonoma store at 3 p.m. on Saturday. They'll also be signing copies of This is a Cookbook: Recipes for Real Life, which has just been published. How can you not love a book written, as they phrase it themselves, "by 2 guys who like to eat"?

Eli cooks at the Mile-End Deli, and is also the marketing director for Taste of the Nation NYC, an event that benefits the exceptional charity Share Our Strength, which fights hunger and particularly promotes feeding children. Max is a chef at Roberta's, the very trendy pizzeria that has received 2 stars from The New York Times; and he was a semifinalist for this year's James Beard Foundation Awards, on the radar for Rising Star Chef of the Year. Both brothers made Zagat's 2012 "30 Under 30: NYC's Hottest Up-and-Comers" list of food professionals to watch.

The Sussman brothers are passionate about excellent, but not pretentious, food. Their cookbook offers recipes for everything from dishes to impress your girlfriend when you first cook dinner for her to midnight snacks after a long night with friends (or, in their cases, at work). And there is a recipe for a Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pie that only requires baking a graham cracker crust, while the filling is merely mixed, poured, and refrigerated. "If you're capable of reading this cookbook, you are capable of making this dessert look as insanely good as the picture."

Max and Eli's philosophy is simple, as they noted in an interview with The New York Times:

“For us, it’s not about a concept, it’s about making stuff that people are going to enjoy eating,” Max said. “We wanted the recipes to be immediately useful.”

Eli said: “It sounds a bit obvious, but we really wanted it to be a cookbook — like a cooking book. It’s not a coffee-table book. If this book just sits on people’s coffee tables, it’s basically a failure.”

The Bacon 'n' Blue Cheese Pizza featured below - found in a section that berates people for relying upon the sacrilege that is frozen pizza - would be an exceptional offering for today's tailgating feast. Go Blue, after all! Jeremy and I adore both blue cheese and bacon, so this was absolutely our first choice when selecting a recipe to try from the Sussmans' cookbook. My boyfriend Craig is not a fan of blue cheese, however he did promise to at least try it; almost anything is improved with bacon, after all, and pizza is probably his favorite food.

Well, I used a different crust recipe than the one in the book because I'd committed a cardinal sin of cooking: I'd failed to read Max and Eli's recipe ahead of time, and didn't have the necessary 1-2 hours available to let their dough rise. But I quickly buzzed their sauce around in the blender, and followed their recommendations for the toppings.

"Ooh"s and "Ahh"s, and much anticipation, preceded the first bites. And I'm here to tell you that this was one fabulously amazing creation! In fact, of the 12 slices of pizza I offered for dinner on the night I served this, I was granted only two; the rest was devoured by my two dining companions ... even by the one who didn't previously like blue cheese.

So, you should come with me to see Max and Eli at Williams-Sonoma this Saturday. They know how to cook, and they want to show you how easy it is and how much fun it can be.

You can watch endless replays of the game later on. But how many opportunities will you have for these two handsome, charming guys to feed you?

Max Sussman and Eli Sussman Book Signing and Cooking Demonstration
Saturday, November 24 at 3:00 p.m.
808 Briarwood Circle, Ann Arbor

Bacon 'n' Blue Cheese Pizza

  • 1 packet quick-rise yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups flour

In a large bowl, combine yeast, sugar and water; let proof for 5 minutes. Stir in salt and flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and then a dish towel; place in a warm place to let rise for 30 minutes.

  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients into a blender; puree until smooth.

  • cornmeal
  • 1 pound bacon, cut into 1" pieces
  • 8 ounces Mozzarella, shredded
  • 2/3 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 6 ounces crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 425F. Sprinkle a bit of cornmeal onto the bottom of a 15"x10" baking sheet.

Cook the bacon in a skillet until crisp; drain on paper towels.

Punch down the pizza dough. Place onto the prepared baking sheet and carefully stretch the dough to the edges of the baking sheet. Spread some of the sauce over the dough, reserving the rest for another purpose. Sprinkle Mozzarella and Parmesan over the top.

Sprinkle bacon and blue cheese over the top of the pizza. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is bubbling and crust is crisp. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting into slices.

Makes 12 generous slices.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sweet Potatoes Baked with Rosemary and Salt

My BFF Wendy told me recently that she'd eaten a fabulous dish at a party recently: "sliced sweet potatoes with a thin coating of oil, lots of rosemary, a little salt, baked." Several times, she insisted that I had to make it.

And so, I did.

I adore sweet potatoes - baked, fried, whipped, candied, whatever. Rosemary emits an extraordinary aroma. In this dish, the two combine in a beautiful, simple preparation that lets the ingredients shine.

These sweet potatoes are tender, sweet, slightly caramelized at the edges, fragrant, and delicious. They're easy to make for Thanksgiving, and could even be made ahead of time and reheated to make your preparations easier.

May you have a peaceful, blessed, and happy Thanksgiving with all your favorite loved ones and a feast of fabulous food!

In case you still need some ideas, here are some other suggestions for your holiday menu:

Applesauce Pie

Pomegranate Molasses-Glazed Carrots

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Butterscotch Pumpkin Pudding

Buttermilk Biscuits

Cranberry-Pecan Stuffing

Quince-Glazed Baked Yams

Orange-Glazed Pumpkin Loaf Cake

Brown Sugar Tea Cake with Moscato Glaze

Sweet Potatoes Baked with Rosemary and Salt

  • 2 very large sweet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cut the ends off the sweet potatoes, peel them, and cut them in half lengthwise; place into a large mixing bowl.

Drizzle the sweet potatoes with the oil. Add salt and rosemary; stir to coat.

Place the sweet potatoes into a 10" pie pan or casserole dish. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes, then stir carefully. Cover with foil and cook for 30 more minutes, until sweet potatoes are very tender.

Serves 8-10.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Cafe Habana and Lena

It was Girls' Night Out recently, and my BFF Wendy and I headed to a new restaurant - Lena - which is today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature. A sophisticated place, some have been surprised to hear that we found options that would qualify for the mandatory $5 per person budget. But if you share an appetizer or a dessert, you can definitely find value on the menu. Sometimes it's important to focus on the quality of the dishes, and on the social aspects of going out with a friend, rather than seeking gargantuan quantities of food.

Our evening began by heading downstairs to Cafe Habana, to visit my friend Bobby Hoffman who was tending bar. Although they are technically part of the same facility and share a chef and some staff, Habana and Lena are different spaces both physically and in terms of atmosphere. The latter is sleek, bright, trendy but welcoming; the former is darker, lively, and particularly giddy once the DJ starts playing and the salsa dancing begins.

Bobby didn't just bring us whatever beverage we'd ordered, but instead took the time to talk with us about what types of drinks we like, what sort of delicious treat we were in the mood for on an oh, so rare evening of frivolity. He brought us tastes of several liqueurs - as they came up in our conversations about food, travel, and amusement - telling us that Habana even makes many of its own from scratch. Bobby is passionate about food, about drink, about experiencing life - definitely a bon vivant. Be sure to ask for him when you go to either Habana or Lena, as he will spoil you rather than merely serving.

Bobby recommended a lovely appetizer to go with our Strawberry Mojito (me) and Posion de Bruja (Wendy, who was tickled to order a Witch's Brew): Baked Goat Cheese. This was a rich, creamy, indulgent treat topped with salsa and served with an abundance of tortilla chips. At $8, it was far more than one person could eat, and it was the perfect dish to go with our potent drinks. (Unfortunately, the bar was so dark that there was no way to get an acceptable photo.) It was an ideal dish to nibble at while talking about life and love ... the kind of stuff Wendy and I always tend towards when we go out.

Although we weren't particularly hungry anymore, we couldn't resist the temptations of Bobby's other menu recommendations; so we walked upstairs to Lena to continue our evening and try a few more treats.

Both Bobby and our waitress had recommended the Ecuadorian Humitas, which are fresh corn cakes with lemongrass-tomato stew and melted chihuahua cheese; essentially, they are layers of polenta filled with rich cheese and topped with a lovely light sauce. At $9, and with two portions served, this is another dish that meets our budgetary standards.

Because it was Girls' Night Out, dessert was mandatory. And who could resist a luscious chocolate treat, especially when it only cost $9 and offered plenty of decadence for two? Pasion de Chocolate, pictured above, is a gorgeous and delicious serving of chocolate cake that is filled with white chocolate mousse, topped with chocolate ganache, and accompanied by sweet lychee ice cream. This was ideal for Wendy's and my evening, and would also be perfect to share on a date.

There are a significant number of options on the Habana and Lena menus which cost only $7-9, such that you could share them with a loved one and still stay within our mandatory budget: the Ceviche Trio, beef or cheese empanadas, plaintain tostones, fried yuca rolls with queso fresco, the charred vegetable platter, and duck confit. Vegetarians will find that they have not been neglected, and that many inspired dishes await them.

For a lively and energetic party, head downstairs to Cafe Habana. And for a quieter, but no less delicious, option, stay upstairs and eat at Lena. But either way, stop by, say "hi" to Bobby, have a drink, socialize, and enjoy some lovely food.

Cafe Habana
226 South Main
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday - Saturday: 5 p.m. - 2 a.m.
Sunday: 5 p.m. - Midnight

226 South Main
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. - Midnight
Sunday: 12 - 10 p.m.

View Larger Map

Lena on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wordless (sorta) Wednesday: Baklava

I know I said I was only going to post on Mondays and Fridays, but I couldn't resist - I'm so proud of both the photo and the recipe! Check it out here on ... :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Turducken Has Landed!

Most people, I think - when not receiving emails from friends, family, or colleagues - find their inboxes filled with pictures of cute animals, prayer requests, and promises of grand fortunes if they'll only forward the chain mail to 12 of the most fabulous women they know. And, of course, there's obscene spam. All of that finds its way to me, all day, every day.

But one afternoon, I also received this:

"As families across the United States prepare for the up-coming holiday feasts, Echelon Foods’ Original Turducken is giving home cooks the ability to present gourmet fare without the chaotic preparation normally associated with sophisticated food offerings ....

The Original Turducken has been quickly gaining converts amongst bloggers and journalists across North America. We would love for you to consider featuring the Original Turducken on Food Floozie, so please let us know if you are interested in speaking further."

Well, a girl doesn't see that every day! So, of course I leapt at the opportunity.

After a few more emails back and forth, and waiting a couple of days, I found a very large box of perishable goods at my door.

The Turducken had landed!

While I'd heard of these creative concoctions, I'd never prepared a Turducken before - either deboning and stuffing my own or even just roasting a ready-made one. But I was surprised to find that many people I know had no idea what a Turducken was. So, here's the scoop: a Turducken is a chicken stuffed into a duck, which is then stuffed into a turkey. Similar dishes have been served for hundreds of years, particularly during Medieval times when elaborate feasts were all the rage among the nobility.

All of my family and friends were intrigued, fascinated by the prospect of seeing and - even better - tasting something this unique.

I let the bird (yeah, there are actually three of 'em; but it looks like one) defrost for the requisite 5 days in the refrigerator. And then, on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning when I had the time to devote to the slow cooking required for the density of the meat, I roasted a Turducken for the very first time.

The instructions indicated that I should cook it at 220F for 7+ hours ... that seemed very low and slow, even if acknowledging that the company knows what it's doing and gave an appropriate recipe. But I thought I'd raise the temperature to 350F, crisping up the skin a bit more. I could always turn the temperature down. I could always cover the bird with foil if it was browning too quickly. But you know me - I always have to tinker with things, tweaking protocols or techniques or ingredients or something. I cooked my Turducken for 4.5 hours, and it turned out perfectly.

I have to say that this was much easier to prepare than a regular ol' stuffed turkey. Although it's not a lot of bother to mix together bread and broth and then shove it all inside a bird, the fact that my Turducken came pre-stuffed and prepped to unwrap and place directly into a baking dish - that is a tremendous boon on a busy day like Thanksgiving. The bird is ready to cook, there are fewer dishes to wash ... it's all good!

And oh, when is the "scratch 'n' sniff" app coming for bloggers??? The house smelled amazing as the Turducken roasted! Not quite turkey, not quite chicken, but familiar and comforting and enticing. Those who were here to keep me company for the adventure kept remarking how fabulous the aroma was when they walked in, kept asking me when - oh, when? - would it be time to eat. It was seductive.

Once the Turducken is cooked, you have to be careful to let it rest a bit, letting the juices settle to keep the meat from drying out just as you do with other poultry. And because it's several delicacies in one rather than a solid piece, carving and slicing need to be done carefully in order to retain the integrity of the servings.

Everyone who joined me in this adventure was thrilled to finally enjoy the feast. Comments like "amazing" and "rich" and "delicious" poured forth. The meat was tender, succulent. Folks wanted leftovers; and because the Turducken is solid meat - rather than meat and cavity and stuffing, like a turkey - there is plenty of it to send home with loved ones who want to indulge some more. And you'll still be left with an abundance for making sandwiches, casseroles, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

I was so giddy to have this adventure with the Turducken, to have a new culinary experience, and to share the gift with family and friends. If you'd like to liven up your Thanksgiving (or other holiday) meals with something decadent, look no further than the Turducken!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday at Chef Restaurant Mediterranean Grill

Jeremy and I had a great dinner the other night, stopping by a new place I hadn't known of that we just serendipitously drove by: Chef Restaurant Mediterranean Grill. The bright, friendly restaurant is tucked into a strip mall across the street from Eastern Michigan University. Its convenient location, coupled with its excellent prices, make it today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature.

We were greeted by a very warm and friendly hostess/waitress, who let us pick whichever table we wanted. As we perused the menu, it was clear that there were many items which would qualify for our mandatory frugal budget of $5 per person: soups, sandwiches, salads, desserts ... an entire array.

Jeremy chose the Fried Kibbe sandwich for a mere $3.75. Longer than a dinner fork, it was tightly wrapped and fully stuffed with a generous quantity of lamb and vegetables. Jeremy loved it, and I think was even tempted to order a second one simply because it was so good!

He also ordered a side of fries for $2.95, which would make a nice snack with a soda or juice. The small order was still quite a good size, so I can't imagine how much you'd get for the large one!

I decided to start with a cup of the lovely lentil soup, which cost $2.50. It was rich, but not heavy, and subtly spiced. It was a perfect serving if you were going to help your son to eat the copious quantity of french fries he'd ordered.

But I also heard the sandwiches calling to me, as Jeremy had, and ordered the Chicken Shawarma variety which cost $3.75. It was tender and garlicky, with crisp, fresh vegetables to complement the other flavors and textures.

The chef, who is originally from Lebanon and has an impressive background of international travel and culinary experience, came out to the dining area briefly and smiled happily as Jeremy and I told him how wonderful his food was. Our waitress then brought over a laptop, after watching me take the necessary pictures of our dinner, and showed gorgeous photos of elaborate displays that the chef has prepared. Had we ordered more expensive meals - none very highly priced, but more than our $5 budget would allow - our plates would have been works of art.

There are many vegetarian options at the Chef Restaurant, and everything we ate was fabulous. The next time you're craving Middle Eastern food, be sure to stop by and indulge for very reasonable prices!

Chef Restaurant Mediterranean Grill
1098 N. Huron River Dr.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Monday - Friday: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Saturday: 12 - 9 p.m.
Sunday: closed

View Larger Map

Chef Restaurant Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Scaling Back a Bit More

I hate to do it ... really, truly, I've been debating it for weeks. I've gone over the permutations, the ramifications; I've discussed it with loved ones, spent hours distracted by trying to figure out a better way. But the reality is that there's a lot of mishigas ([mish-ih-GAHS] = Yiddish for "craziness") in my personal life right now, with family medical issues and too many deadlines and stresses looming over me. My brain spins with trying to keep track of dates, posts, photo ops, errands, meds, and I don't even know what else. But I do not - repeat, do NOT - want to give up the blog or, far worse, lose touch with all my friends and extended family here in cyberspace.

But I do need to cut back, and so I'm only going to be posting on Mondays and Fridays for awhile. I'm hoping things will calm down, once some obligations are met and events are attended and celebrated. I'm hoping even more that the health concerns sort themselves out and there is a return to normal ... whatever that might be. "Normal" isn't a state I'm particularly familiar with!

I'll still be posting on on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so come find me there on the Food & Drink page, where there will usually be recipes (unless I get dibs on a really great interview, or some other amusement). That frees me up to blather about whatever strikes my fancy here: recipes, cookbooks, experiments, holidays, events, ingredients, photos, and even appalling items I find in the grocery store (consider yourselves warned - a rant is brewing!). That's part of the fun of the blog, vs. my other writing assignments: it's mine, all mine, and there are no constraints or expectations. And I also get to meet the nicest people here ... :)

So I will do my very best to keep up with everyone, and will come back to more regular posting as soon as my schedule permits it ....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pasta con Peperoni e Pomodori

It was cold. It was starting to rain as I walked back home from the bus stop. I had stayed an extra hour late at work. I was hungry.

This was not the time to start a lengthy cooking marathon. But I was also determined not to give in to eating ice cream for dinner just because it would be ready quickly.

So I relied, once again, upon the generous gift of Progresso Recipe Starters that had been sent to me awhile ago - ready-to-use sauces to make dinner preparation ridiculously easy.

I chose the Creamy Parmesan Basil variety. But, of course, I didn't just follow the directions on the label. I never do.

I cooked up some lovely bow-tie pasta, which just makes me happy; it's so much nicer than simple spaghetti.

I sauteed some red pepper, as well as one last tomato from the garden that Jeremy and his dad grew this summer. I added a splash of white wine ... well, do I really need a reason for that??? And I added a bit of the Progresso sauce, to make a rich, creamy, delicious, pasta sauce without relying upon simply opening a jar.

I was really thrilled with how well this dish turned out! It was bright, it had a bit of spice, and it was a perfect dinner for a chilly, windy, dreary evening.

Pasta con Peperoni e Pomodori

This is actually just Pasta with Peppers and Tomatoes. But doesn't it sound more elegant in Italian??? [PAHS-tuh kohn pay-pay-ROH-nee ay poh-moh-DOH-ree] ... sigh. Even the simplest dish sounds more exotic and sophisticated in Italian!

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small red pepper, finely diced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • generous pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 cup Progresso Creamy Parmesan Basil Recipe Starter
  • 12 ounces farfalle, cooked according to package directions
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add pepper, tomato, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes; cook for 3 minutes, until vegetables are becoming tender. Add the wine, turn heat to medium-high, and cook 5 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the Progresso Recipe Starter and cook over low heat for 5 more minutes until heated through.

Place the farfalle onto a serving platter, and pour the sauce over it. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.

Serves 2-4.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chili 'n' Cornmeal-Crusted Fried Green Tomatoes

I'd never cooked fried green tomatoes, before making them for this post. I'm not entirely sure if I'd ever eaten them before this, either.

I'm a Northern girl: I was born and raised in New York City, I've spent the past 30+ years in Michigan, and even my ancestors all come from Canada and from Northern Europe. Southern food is a beautiful thing when it comes to barbecue or cornbread or pimiento cheese or pecan pie! But items like grits and okra ... not a fan. Although I knew it was possible to cook them, unripe tomatoes always seemed to find themselves on my "naughty" list, too.

And so, I would usually just let my green tomatoes ripen rather than making use of them "as is." I lumped them into a category with other foods you need to be raised on to really enjoy.

But you know what? These were pretty good! I was missing out on a quick, easy, lovely side dish all these years!

A sprinkle of chili powder in the cornmeal coating added a bit of "oomph," and complemented the sauce - a simple mix of sour cream and pico de gallo - perfectly.

Who knew? I guess you just have to keep trying new foods, to see what you might like, what you might have developed a taste for, what enticement you might be depriving yourself of ....

Chili 'n' Cornmeal-Crusted Fried Green Tomatoes

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • generous splashes of Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, medium grind
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 medium green tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup pico de gallo

Combine the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a small flat bowl. Combine the egg, water, and Tabasco sauce in a second flat bowl. Place the cornmeal, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and chili powder into a third flat bowl.

Slice the tomatoes about 1/3" thick, discarding ends.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Slice by slice, coat the tomatoes first in flour, then in egg, then in cornmeal; add to the skillet. Cook for 2-3 minutes or so per side, until coating is golden and crisp.

Stir together sour cream and pico de gallo.

Serve the tomatoes topped with the sauce.

Serves 2-4 as a light lunch or a side dish.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - The Brown Jug

The annual battle for the little brown jug is tomorrow: Michigan vs. Minnesota. They compete for the oldest trophy in college football, which is literally a jug whose value is indescribable to those of us who watch the games each year. It might not seem like much to outsiders to gain possession of an ancient, scruffy container! But we take great pride in winning it.

And so, in honor of this annual event, it only seemed fitting that today's Frugal Floozie Friday post should honor the tradition. Today, we visit an Ann Arbor institution: The Brown Jug!

This restaurant has been in Ann Arbor since 1938, and its walls are lined with pictures and miscellany relating to the Wolverines. Many people who've been in town for as many decades as I have remember it as a dark but convenient place to grab a burger and a beer. But both the dining room and the menu have been updated, and many options are available for those of us who are looking for frugal finds that cost $5 or less.

My very dear friend The Other Mary (each of us is "The Other Mary," by the way) joined me for my adventure, as neither of us had been to the Jug for years and years. Mary used to work there, back in the 70s, as a waitress; oh, the stories she can tell! It was a different time ....

But I digress ....

Mary and I looked over the surprisingly extensive menu and found so many options that would qualify, whether for individual portions or as split dishes, for our mandatory $5 per person budget. Like me, she's happy to share: you can try more foods, and you can avoid over-eating due to abundance and generosity of servings.

We started with the Feisty Feta, pictured above: "A mix of feta cheese, tomato puree, green onions and Serrano chili. Served with pita bread." It was creamy, spicy, and really delicious! At $4.99, it falls within our mandatory budget for one serving. But it was also a lot of food, so splitting it was a nice option that would allow for drinks or dessert or other dishes in addition to the appetizer.

Red's Grilled Chicken Sandwich was our next course: "Grilled chicken breast topped with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Served on Ciabatta bread." This very large sandwich - which comes with potato chips and a pickle and costs only $6.99 (a mere $3.50 per person when you share it with a friend) - is named in honor of legendary hockey coach Red Berenson.

The Brown Jug offers many, many items which qualify for our budget: pizzas are readily shared, as are appetizers. Many of the latter are priced so well that you could even order them individually: fries or chips and salsa cost $3.99; and hummus, olive pate, tzatziki, saganaki, and fried cheese sticks are all $4.99. There are lots of vegetarian dishes, as well.

The menu is fun to peruse, especially for those of us who are familiar with the folks for whom items have been named. A sampler basket of jalapeno poppers, chicken tenders, onion rings, and cheese sticks honors former UM football player Braylon Edwards; and a Mediterranean salad pays tribute to Dhani Jones, t.v. star and former Wolverine.

Current football coach Brady Hoke receives acknowledgement in the Meat Lovers' Omelet. New England Patriots' quarterback and former UM star Tom Brady gets his tribute with a gyro sandwich. And even long-time rival Woody Hayes - infamous late coach of Ohio State - has a hot 'n' spicy Cajun chicken sandwich to remember him by (as though all the stories we still tell here in Ann Arbor aren't sufficient!).

For very friendly service, good food, excellent prices, and lots of memories and hero worship, stop by The Brown Jug for your next frugal meal.

The Brown Jug
1204 South University
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

The American Lighthouse Cookbook

I received a lovely gift, the other day: a review copy of The American Lighthouse Cookbook: The Best Recipes and Stories from America's Shorelines, by Becky Sue Epstein and Ed Jackson.

In its introduction, this exceptional cookbook states that it "couples food with the romance of the seacoast, adding a dash of history and wrapping it in the very current 'eat local' movement." Lighthouses from around the country - from as far away as Eldred Rock, north of Juneau, to Buck Island, off St. Thomas in the Caribbean - are featured. Fascinating stories are shared about the lighthouses themselves, about their communities, about many of the ingredients, and much more.

In looking through the book - an activity which just draws you in, page after page - I learned about Matinicus Island, Maine, which is "headquarters for the National Audubon Society's Project Puffin, which studies this jaunty-looking (and formerly endangered) bird." I discovered a new treat, the Smith Island Cake: a luscious 10-layer cake that was named "Official Cake of the State of Maryland" in 2008. And I learned a new tidbit about my own state: "Michigan now has more lighthouses than any other state in the country: 124."

The Great Lakes region - from Minnesota to Wisconsin, Illinois to Michigan, and Ohio to New York - is represented with some lovely recipes which highlight the beauty and bounty of the area. White fish, pasties, lake perch, cherry pie ... good ol'-fashioned wholesome dishes shine.

After much deliberation - you know me, I always want to make and eat everything! - I settled upon a simple but stellar dish of fried potatoes featuring a hint of curry. I had each of the ingredients on hand, which of course simplified my decision-making process. And this also meant I could be impatient and just start cooking, without having to plan, shop, and only then start to satisfy my cravings.

Bill's Famous Potatoes are served at the Sand Hills Lighthouse Inn in Ahmeek, Michigan, near the tippy top of the state along Lake Superior. Owners Bill and Mary Frabotta had "dreamed of restoring the lighthouse," and were finally able to finish doing so in the mid-1990s. It's now "a charming inn filled with modern conveniences and historic style, open year-round." And the hearty breakfasts served to guests include homemade Danish Coffee Cake, egg casserole, specially blended freshly ground coffee, and these exceptional potatoes which are tender inside, crispy outside, and perfectly seasoned.

The cookbook is divided by region, and then each lighthouse featured within a regional section offers a menu of several dishes. For example, the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Castle, New Hampshire, offers recipes for a fall supper of Corn Chowder, Mashed Turnips, Baked Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Maple Syrup, Roast Striped Bass with Onion and Fennel, and Upside-Down Apple Pandowdy. And Faro Los Morrillos de Cabo Rojo, on the Morrillos Peninsula in Puerto Rico, offers a "Menú Para el Día de Acción de Gracias" - a Thanksgiving feast of Fresh Fruit Cocktail, Green Salad, Rice and Pigeon Peas, Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Garlic, Roasted Turkey with Puerto Rican Beef Dressing, and Sweet Papaya with White Goat Cheese ... sigh.

The American Lighthouse Cookbook showcases dishes from the familiar to the exotic, all of it delicious.

Bill's Famous Potatoes
(slightly adapted)

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2" dice
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • pinch of sugar

Place potatoes into a large mixing bowl; toss with 2 tablespoons oil, Italian seasoning, onion powder, curry powder, salt, and sugar.

Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and start to brown them for 2-3 minutes. Cover the skillet and turn heat down to medium; cook for 5 minutes, stir, then cook for 5 more minutes 'til potatoes are just tender. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 more minutes until potatoes are golden brown.

Serves 2-4 as a side dish.

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