Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Arrivederci e Buon Appetito, Pope Benedict

Whether you're Catholic or not, you've gotta be fascinated by the drama going on at the Vatican. Abdication, but with no love interest à la Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Mystery. Intrigue. Pomp, circumstance, formality. Tradition, but with a twist. Grandeur. Secrecy. Questions that come with few answers. Anticipation. Who needs soap operas when you can simply watch this saga unfold?

Pope Benedict XVI is leaving his appointed post tomorrow, and will become the Pontiff Emeritus. Truth be told, I can't say that I'm sorry to see him go - he was the expected benchwarmer after the death of Pope John Paul II, and he has been a tremendously divisive force. Benedict is a "my way or the highway" kinda guy when it comes to his flock - and, admittedly, that's a part of his job as head of the Church. But he's a hard-liner who has kept truer to the letter of the law than to its spirit, leaving millions feeling wounded and berated rather than valued and welcomed. There has been virtually no understanding or empathy; there has only been the expectation of blind obedience. There is apparently no realization that the Church is about its people - frail and fragile humans - in addition to its doctrine. And recent documents indicate that while he was persecuting others, he may very well have been neglecting responsibilities he should have been tending to, whether not wanting to confront the issues or not wanting to believe that they could be true. And then, once it has all come to a crisis point, he is running away rather than actually leading the Church he was entrusted with.

So, anyway .... Benedict has chosen to retire - an act so shocking that it is difficult to fully explain its significance to those outside the Church. Catholicism teaches that you "offer up" your sufferings, that Christ took on our burdens; this is supposed to help you endure your challenges, such that you continue through them and meet your responsibilities with Christ's aid. Benedict isn't doing this, claiming instead that his health is an issue but without offering specifics. There are cardinals and administrators who assist with the inner workings at the Vatican - clearly, they helped John Paul II in his final years of poor health - who could have essentially acted as regents here, too, while Benedict remained in his post if, in fact, the medical concerns are valid rather than being an excuse. So why is he leaving, when he could rely upon God's watchful provision and some human intervention? He is viewing this more as a job than as a calling, and feels incapable of adequately performing the duties anymore. But this action makes it appear that he doesn't believe God will give him the strength and resources he needs, whether physical or spiritual. It is inconceivable that the leader of the Catholic Church would set this sort of precedent, one of an apparent lack of faith and trust.

The Church also venerates martyrs, teaching their stories as consummate examples of behavior to emulate; the greater the suffering for Jesus, for God, for the Church (i.e.: St. Lawrence being roasted on a spit, St. Bartholomew being flayed alive), the more noble and admirable one is. So then, why isn't Benedict continuing in his appointed role despite health concerns? Shouldn't he be engaging in the self-sacrificial behavior that the Church so values? It appears - and again, we have no information about his possible illness (or other stresses), given the Vatican's nearly pathological secrecy - that martyrdom is for others, and that Benedict isn't willing or able to follow this example. I have to wonder, is this the sort of model the leader of the Church should be providing: "Do as I say, not as I do?" And then, if the reports of egregious waywardness among priests and others at the Vatican are true, why isn't Benedict cleaning up the Church rather than abandoning it for his successor to rescue? He is choosing to leave a legacy of neglect and failure.

It has been centuries since a Pope left his post, which has led to lots of whispering, debate, discussion, confusion, curiosity, upset, and - in some cases - glee. There is much anticipation, as well. Will the College of Cardinals elect yet another Italian or European pope, or will they realize that a global church requires acknowledgement of other continents? Will they elect someone who is very conservative, or only moderately so? Do they fully comprehend how tarnished the Church's image is, and will they choose someone who will strive for some apology and atonement and redemption, someone who realizes that the suffering inflicted deserved greater care than the Vatican's own reputation? Will they pick someone strident who will "clean house?" Or will they pick someone who is warm and engaging and makes the faithful (and even the not-so-faithful) feel listened to and respected, someone who can be cooperative even while maintaining his party line? There is a great deal of speculation, and there are no exit polls to offer guidance. But there are betting sites offering odds on the next pope!

I try not to be too unkind, even given my significant grievances with Benedict. He is human, after all, like the members of his Church; they - we - all make mistakes. I would love to have been privy to his decision-making process regarding this astounding act, which truly must have been agonizing.

The more forgiving side of me acknowledges that Benedict likes cats, and by some accounts could have the potential to be the male equivalent of a "crazy cat lady" - something Jeremy fears will happen to me, though I am currently cat-less! - so I can muster some fondness for this trait.

Benedict also seems to have a sweet tooth, as one of his favorite items is a baked good called Pizza Ebraica: a traditionally slightly-charred slab filled with nuts and dried fruits that bears no resemblance to what we know as "pizza." Translated, the name means "Jewish Pizza," but it is really sort of a bar cookie-ish fruitcake (or fruitcake-y bar cookie) that is reminiscent of biscotti in that it would be perfect for dunking.

Pope Benedict once wrote a letter to the bakers/owners of Pasticceria Limentani [pahs-tee-chay-REE-ah lee-mehn-TAH-nee] in Rome's Jewish Ghetto, complimenting them on their goodies. Well, what better way to acknowledge his retirement than to bake a batch of these treats that the bakery specializes in? I adapted the recipe a bit, and the resulting treats are perfect for enjoying, along with a cup of tea, during an afternoon of petting purring pussycats and not worrying anymore about little administrative details at the office.

Arrivederci, Papa Benedetto. E buon appetito. [ay BWOHN AH-pay-TEE-toh]

Pizza Ebraica

This recipe is loosely based upon one found in Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen by Joyce Goldstein, which was a gift from my very dear friend Mary Schuman, "The Other Mary." I didn't char my version, and I turned it into more of a dessert bar than a flatter patty.

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup shortening, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of cinnamon
2 cups flour, divided
2 cups white whole wheat flour, divided
1/4 cup almonds, chopped fine
1/8 cup pine nuts, chopped fine
1/2 cup candied cherries, chopped

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease a 9"x9" baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine orange juice and cranberries; let rest 10 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, shortening, and sugar; stir in eggs, salt, and cinnamon.

Stir in 1 cup flour and 1 cup white whole wheat flour.

Stir in cranberries with all of the orange juice. Stir in almonds, pine nuts, and cherries.

Stir in remaining 1 cup flour and 1 cup white whole wheat flour.

Press batter into prepared pan; bake for 35-40 minutes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the "pizza" is golden brown.

Let cool completely, then trim 1/4" from the edges. Cut into 12 small or 16 larger bars.

Note: A glaze is not traditional, but it would be a lovely addition. Stir together some confectioners' sugar and either freshly squeezed orange juice or brandy until the mixture is of drizzling consistency; dribble over the cooled "pizza" before cutting, then let the glaze set.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Grilled Cheese Sloppy Joe Sandwiches

I hadn't eaten Sloppy Joes for ages, until very recently. Remarkably, there was a bit of the filling left over - how'd that happen? That never happens!

But this time, it did.

Sure, I could've made one more of the same ol' same ol' ... but why? Why not spiff it up a bit, make it extra ooey, gooey, messy, and delicious?

And thus, the Grilled Cheese Sloppy Joe Sandwich!

Grilled Cheese Sloppy Joe Sandwich

2 slices sourdough bread
schmear of brown mustard, to taste
very thin slices of red onion, to taste
2 slices Pepper Jack cheese
2/3 cup leftover Sloppy Joe beef

Schmear butter on outsides of bread; lay butter-side down onto a plate. Schmear insides of bread with mustard, and top with cheese and onion.

Spread beef onto one piece of bread, then carefully top with the other piece to make the sandwich.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and grill the sandwich for several minutes per side until the outside is golden and the cheese has melted.

Makes 1 large sandwich.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - The Bread Basket Deli

Craig and I both grew up eating exceptional deli food - he in Southfield (a Detroit suburb with a large Jewish community, for those who don't know the area; it even has a kosher Dunkin' Donuts!) and me in New York City. We're kinda snobs about it.

Fortunately, Ann Arbor has a number of great delis, including today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature - The Bread Basket Deli.

There are so many sandwiches to choose from that easily come in under our $5 per person budget (and many of them are deli classics: pastrami, tongue, chopped liver). And yes, we're sharing today - the portions are so generous that a half sandwich is very filling and more than sufficient. Eat the entire thing, if you want to; but you'll certainly be satisfied with a more reasonable serving.

Craig and I split a regular corned beef on rye with a schmear of mustard, which cost $8.99. (A small sandwich is only $6.99.) Thinly sliced meat which was exceptionally tender, a good chewy bread with a crisp crust ... sigh. We both felt right at home, and happy.

We also split a small order of onion rings, which were nice and crunchy. A small order costs only $2.75, and could make a great snack or side dish.

Craig and I decided to enjoy some dessert, as well - a thick, dense slice of cheesecake for a mere $3.79. This is so rich that it could have been a single-serve lunch! It was definitely an ideal portion to share with a loved one. Dry, almost crumbly - as a proper New York cheesecake should be - and not too sweet, this was a fabulous indulgence.

All of the Bread Basket Deli's desserts - which are enormous - cost less than $5 each. Vegetarians can order vegetable or egg salad sandwiches. You can even find a knish, one of my favorite foods, for $4.25. The deli has something for everyone!

So, for good food and a great value, head over to The Bread Basket Deli.

The Bread Basket Deli
4003 Carpenter Rd.
Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Strawberries 'n' Cream Hamantaschen

Every year at Purim [POOR-im], which begins at sundown on Saturday night, there is a debate among Jews about hamantaschen [HAH-men-TAH-shen], the triangular cookies that are traditionally served at the holiday.

Some people think that ones with a poppy seed filling are most authentic, as Queen Esther - the heroine of the Purim story - survived on nuts and seeds while she debated whether to "out" herself as a Jew in order to save her people when they were under threat of extermination by the evil vizier Haman.  (Since she was married to the king, she hoped to have a bit of influence.)

Others, however, feel that the prune ones, with a nod to the Old World, are the only true version.

And then ... well, then there are folks like me who respect tradition but always have to tweak it.

In the past, I've made hamantaschen filled with homemade berry preserves, and even made a lemon-poppy version with poppy seeds mixed into the dough and a bright center of lemon curd.

And this year, I decided to try something really different: a variation on coconut cream pie, which you can find today on, and a strawberries 'n' cream version ... sigh.

This post, from two years ago, gives the dough recipe and instructions for making the hamantaschen; I didn't want to reinvent the proverbial wheel, and take up time and space by putting it all on here, too, when I know not everyone is actually going to make these. If you're feeling ambitious, go right on over to the more thorough description!

But this non-dairy strawberry filling could also be used for thumbprint cookies, so it made sense to just offer this part of the whole. You could even drizzle your cookies with a bit of melted chocolate, and relish a luxurious variation on chocolate-covered strawberries.

And just look at how pretty and pink the filling is!

Strawberries 'n' Cream Cookie Filling

8 ounces strawberries, chopped into 1/4" pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon So Delicious dairy-free creamer

In a small saucepan, combine the strawberries and the sugar; cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, mashing berries with a fork.  (The berry mixture will boil.)

Combine cornstarch and creamer in a small cup; pour into berry mixture and cook for 30 seconds or so, just until the filling thickens.  Pour into a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold.

Makes about 1 cup.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The 4th Annual Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Chili Cook-Off

Joyce Casale, one of the friendliest faces I look forward to seeing at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Chili Cook-Off each year. She brought "Joyce's Tiger Chili - The Return of Victor" in honor of Detroit Tigers star Victor Martinez, who didn't play last season after knee surgery but who is coming back for 2013; Joyce herself took last year off from competition, but was back to feed us all this time. Steve Raymond, another regular without whom the event wouldn't be the same, is in the background.

I was thrilled to be invited to judge the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's 4th Annual Chili Cook-Off last weekend at the Wolverine State Brewing Company, my second time being so honored. This is truly one of the best parties of the year - food, fun, chili, beer, chips, friends, and frivolity abound!

The first three contenders.
My fellow judges - John Fischer of Gratzi and Theresa Rickloff of Beezy's Cafe and Riki Tiki Pies - and I were entrusted with 15 different varieties of chili, from traditional to seafood and from vegetarian to Texas-style.

We sampled in groups of three, assigning values based on taste, texture, creativity, and balance. Well, until you've been faced with this daunting prospect of seeking notes of spices and underlying flavors, or of debating what precisely constitutes "chili," you have no idea how difficult this seemingly enviable job is!

But we discussed, chatted, analyzed, and parsed until we determined a winner in each round; this left us with five finalists, plus a couple of candidates for other prizes.

From those finalists, we were able to finally determine the following winners:

Overall Winner: "Soup of the Devil" from Mike Mangrum, who was also last year's winner ... he's a force to be reckoned with! He told me that he's been to other chili cook-offs, but that this prize means a great deal to him because it's judged by "foodies" who appreciate his fabulous chili.

2nd Place: "Raymond's Rockin' Red" from Steve Raymond, who was also honored with the People's Choice Award - a big day for Steve, who clearly has many fans!

Honorable Mention: "Hippie Vegan Soy-rizo Chili" from Mary Kowalski, who accomplished a nearly impossible feat - making a meat-free, dairy-free chili which was able to take on the traditionalists with great flavor and texture!

Most Creative: "Lamb, Bam, Thank You, Ma'am" from Nancy Koziol, her husband Kris, and their exchange student Naomi Put. Nancy squealed with delight when their rich, spicy chili was announced as a winner - she was so cute, and it was so sweet to see her so excited!

Our 2013 winners: Mike, Naomi, Nancy, Kris, Mary, and Steve - MAZAL TOV!!!

The Cook-Off also featured Wolverine's exceptional beers, which attendees could sample along with the chili, and an auction offering fabulous prizes ranging from handmade/homemade cookies to a weekend in a lake-front cottage, from dinner with the Civic Theatre's president (Darrell Pierce happens to be a gourmet cook and wine connoisseur) to tickets to see the Detroit Tigers take another stab at getting to the World Series after last year's success in getting there. (We won't talk about that sweep by the Giants ....) I was even given the honor of drawing tickets for raffle winners, which was a lot of fun!

With many thanks to the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre for welcoming me to its fundraising party, and with abundant congratulations to all the participants - whether planning the event, donating to the event, hosting the event, making chili for the event, attending the event, and all other contributions - for making the Cook-Off such a grand success!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Grizzly Peak Brewing Company

My friend Ruth Kraut "won" me last fall at Gimme Shelter, the primary fundraising event for Alpha House, which provides shelter and other support services to homeless families. I had donated a gift certificate to the silent auction, offering a chance to join me for a Frugal Floozie Friday write-up. When offering these donations, one wonders who's bidding and who'll come out victorious. I was thrilled to learn that Ruth and I would be sharing a food tasting adventure!

We were finally able to schedule our lunch date, and had a fabulous time - and a great meal - at Grizzly Peak Brewing Company. We were seeking vegetarian options, and my auction package had included an offer to order - and perhaps share, dependent upon price - an assortment of treats. So we debated among the bruschetta topped with tomatoes, basil, olives, garlic, and parmesan; the polenta fries served with housemade "catsup," recommended by our charming waiter; several varieties of the hearth-baked pizzas; and cheddar and ale soup. Each dish was tempting, each had merit.

We settled on three things, sharing each not only so that we could both have tastes, but because the servings were more than generous.

As Ruth and I talked about our children, about blogging, about work, about barbecue competitions (Memphis in May as well as the kosher answer to this "Super Bowl of Swine," the ASBEE Kosher BBQ Contest), and about many other things, we started our meal with the soft warm pretzels pictured above, served with a hard cider-infused cheddar dipping sauce. With four large, tender breadsticks in the basket, as well as the rich cheese accompaniment, at $8.95 this was a great appetizer for two within our mandatory $5 per person budget.

Next we shared a pizza which, as Ruth noted, was truly large enough to have been our entire meal without any other dishes. We chose the one with roasted bell peppers and artichoke hearts, which was beautiful and flavorful all at once. For only $7.95, this was an exceptional value for a large amount of food.

We couldn't leave without dessert, especially since an reader who posts as DBH had recommended that I try the restaurant's cherry bread pudding.

At $4.95, Ruth and I could each have ordered our own and stayed within the budget; but it was rich enough - and we'd already enjoyed enough other items - that splitting it was perfect. (Our waiter even brought us individual plates, each with its own half-portion.)

If you ever just want coffee and a little sweet "something" to share with a date, I would highly recommend this. Featuring white chocolate, toasted pecans, and numerous tart cherries, the pudding is drizzled with a bourbon-caramel sauce that was an ideal accompaniment.

For attentive and friendly service, warm ambience, and excellent food that offers great value and numerous frugal options, Grizzly Peak is a wonderful place to enjoy a meal with loved ones.

Grizzly Peak Brewing Company
120 West Washington
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Monday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Friday - Saturday: 11 a.m. - 12 a.m.
Sunday: 12 p.m. - 11 p.m.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Paczki, Polkas, and Pictures

Last year, I wrote about various food-related adventures I wanted to have, from taking a road trip with my best-est blogging buddies to immersing myself in sensory and digestive overload at the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest (a.k.a.: "The Super Bowl of Swine").

And now, I can officially say that I've knocked one item off my "to do" list ... YES!!!

My BFF Wendy and I went on one of our "Thelma and Louise"-style trips yesterday, and we reveled in pączki [POONCH-key] - gorgeous, obscenely rich, filled pastries - from the New Palace Bakery in Hamtramck [ham-TRAM-ick], a traditionally Polish city which is mostly-but-not-entirely surrounded by Detroit.

In Polish communities, all the butter, eggs, sugar, cream, lard, and other items that are about to become verboten during Lent - as Christians prepare for Easter through a combination of sacrifice, abstinence, fasting, and penitence - are embedded into sturdy, luscious pączki. (Please note: pączki is the plural, pączek [POON-chek] is the singular. And yes, I'm the only one with a sufficient language OCD to make this distinction; everyone else calls them pączki no matter how many they're talking about ... or eating.  But hearing the English-y non-word "pączkis" - pluralizing the plural - makes my brain want to scream.)

Pączki may look familiar, as though they're merely glorified jelly doughnuts. However, to refer to them as such is to commit a sacrilege - these are a decadent delicacy all their own!

So Wendy and I set out first thing in the morning to purchase pączki, which can admittedly be found at bakeries in Ann Arbor as well as at grocery stores (though these are of such lesser quality that they don't really count). But Hamtramck is the heart and home of pączki - it's only right to shop there.

But truthfully, for reasons far more important than simply acquiring excellent pączki, Wendy and I schlepped off to wait in the cold to have ourselves an experience.

Rather than regaling you with a long-winded tale of amusement, diversion, sugar, and whatnot, here is a photo essay of our Pączki Day adventure:

Where we started in line; the bakery door is still around the corner and down the street a bit. Fortunately, the weather was 32-ish: cold enough to know it's February in Michigan, warm enough not to lose any toes while waiting outside for an hour.  We made friends, chatting with a man behind us who was buying treats for his co-workers, with a woman who had the good sense to wear boots and snowpants to help her stay warm, with a presumed drug rep who was buying pączki to take to doctors' offices (and help keep the docs and drug companies in business!), and with a man who'd just moved to Michigan and was immediately ready to assimilate by joining - beaming with happiness - in our traditions and rituals.

Our host/doorman, who would have served as a security guard if folks hadn't been so giddily well-behaved.  He was a true character!  Numerous times, just for the festivity of it, he called out "One ... two ... three ... HAPPY PACZKI DAY!!!"  And, of course, everyone joined in with him.  (Be sure to notice his sparkly belt slathered in rhinestones.)

Channel 2's news cameras were covering the show live.  The Detroit News had a cameraman inside, shooting footage for its website.

Another shop offering a different type of pre-Lenten treat.  Note that they are "beignet-skis," rather than the better known "beignets," because Hamtramck is traditionally a Polish town ... ;)

All of the staff were wonderfully friendly, despite having worked since 3 a.m. yesterday and undoubtedly having worked very long hours in previous days, as well.  The plan was to close only when they ran out of supplies to continue the pączki-making fest.  Notice the "I Survived Pączki Day" t-shirt hanging in the window, though its message isn't at all legible - Wendy and I each bought one.

Just a few of the fillings being offered.  Caramel Cream was the new flavor for this year, so I had to make sure I bought some (4).  I also ordered Custard (6), which is Jeremy's favorite, and Raspberry (2).  Yes, I bought one dozen pączki and am proud of it!  Frankly, when I think of the flavors I didn't get to try - Cherry coated with chocolate, the Strawberry/Custard Combo, Lemon, the Pink Custard in honor of breast cancer awareness - I wish I'd bought more.

In the door!  We took a number (#16), then waited for nearly 2 hours.  They were at #77 when we got in; they went up to #100, then went back to #1 again.  Remarkably, there was no pushing, no shoving, no cutting, no complaining, no whining; everyone chatted, danced a bit to the polka music being played overhead, told stories of how far they'd driven and whether it was their first or fifteenth trek to Hamtramck ... it was a great, big, happy, pączki-loving family!

My favorite chuckle of the day!  In the display cases, which offered beautiful cookies and cupcakes and breads and such (that, of course, were being ignored because the pączki were stealing the spotlight), I found hamantaschen - Jewish cookies!  Hamantaschen are served at Purim, but they've been assimilated and are now also considered a German Christmas cookie.  When I asked a very nice woman if I could sneak past her to take this picture, I explained my reasoning; the man with her leaned in to listen to my story, then his neighbor came closer ... then the folks further back asked what I was saying, and the men were passing the message along.  Everyone came for Polish-Catholic treats, but also left with information about Jewish ones!

Success!  The fabulously seductive and sublime Caramel Cream pączek - split and filled with a light, fluffy, sweet frosting.  This variety is the one that was most coveted by folks who saw my Facebook post yesterday; it's the one at the bottom-left corner in the picture at the top.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Berger Cookies

I love a day when I learn something new! And I particularly love a day when I learn something new about food, obsessive that I am. (Really, truly - if you only knew how my brain spins ....)

So, in making plans for my Super Bowl array last week, I started out by thinking of where the game was being played - New Orleans, one of the great culinary cities on the planet. And I looked at the two football cities being represented by the Harbaugh brothers, the head coaches who were raised in Ann Arbor (we're so proud!) before meeting up in the biggest game of their careers: Jim, former quarterback for the University of Michigan, and John.  Their teams hailed from San Francisco and Baltimore, respectively. I started to pore through recipe ideas from each place.

And that's when I learned about a new cookie - whee! Apparently Berger cookies are a Baltimore classic ... who knew? I sure didn't. But now I do.

According to Wikipedia:

"Berger Cookies are ... vanilla wafers topped with a thick layer of chocolate fudge that derives from a German recipe, and are a cultural icon of Baltimore."

Well, what better dessert to go with my California-inspired sourdough grilled cheese sandwiches??? Both coasts found a home at the party!

Simple and delicious, Berger cookies are perfect for any occasion. The cookie base is very tender; the chocolate glaze is stellar - shiny, rich, smooth. And the cookies are very easy to make, with a tremendous reward awaiting you once they're ready to eat.

The entire batch of these cookies - all 60 of 'em - was devoured within 48 hours. They are really, really good!

Berger Cookies
(adapted from a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website)

1 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups + 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
4-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup skim milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, salt, vanilla seeds, and 1-1/2 cups sugar. Stir in eggs, one at a time. Stir in 2-1/2 cups flour, then stir in milk; stir in last 2 cups flour.

Roll dough into golfball-sized rounds. Place 2" apart onto prepared baking sheet.

Place remaining 1/4 cup sugar into a small bowl. Dip a glass into the sugar, then use the glass to flatten one of the balls of dough. Repeat dipping glass and flattening dough with remaining cookies.

Bake for 12 minutes until cookies are set. Cool on a rack and repeat with remaining dough.

  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 2-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Place chocolate, corn syrup, and half-and-half into a small saucepan; melt chocolate over low heat and stir until smooth.

Whisk in half of confectioners' sugar until icing is smooth; whisk in remaining confectioners' sugar, and let cool to room temperature. Whisk again when ready to spread icing onto cookies.

One by one, generously spread icing onto cookies. Let icing set, then serve.

Makes approximately 60 cookies.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Quickie Burger Bar and Grill

I got out of work early one afternoon recently, so Craig and I went on a lunch date to the Quickie Burger Bar and Grill, today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature. Easy to find, in its signature maize 'n' blue, both the sun and the parking gods shone upon us as we found a spot for the car just across the street from the restaurant.

There are many options on the menu that qualify for our mandatory $5 per person budget. The 1/3-pound Minor Cheeseburger costs $5, and comes topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, the Secret Quickie Sauce, and a choice of cheese. Hot dogs, Italian sausage, and bratwurst range in price from $2.50-$4. Vegetarians can have homemade macaroni and cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich for $3 each; hummus with pita chips or spinach-artichoke dip cost $4 each.

There is also a wide variety of side dishes, if you're just in the mood for a quick snack: fries, battered mushrooms, jalapeno poppers, and mozzarella sticks all range from $2.50-$4. Shakes cost $3.50, malts cost $4, and each comes in a variety of flavors from the expected chocolate to the decadent Reese's Pieces or brownie or cookie dough (and many more).

Craig ordered the excellent grilled chicken sandwich which just exceeded our mandatory Frugal Floozie Friday budget, and we shared the crisp, freshly prepared beer-battered onion rings, which cost only $3.50. The restaurant's owner, who had greeted us very cheerfully and was patient as we sorted through our many dining options, recommended a special spicy sauce his wife prepares, which was a perfect complement to this treat.

I also chose the Double Egg, Sausage and Cheese Sandwich - two fried eggs, a sausage patty, and cheese all on a whole wheat bun that made me feel more virtuous than I should have. At $4, this was a very good value for a hearty lunch, which I was able to enjoy even in the afternoon because breakfast is served all day.

For fast, very friendly service, free wi-fi, t.v., and lots of comfort food at a reasonable price, be sure to stop by Quickie Burger!

Quickie Burger Bar and Grill
800 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Sunday and Monday: 11 a.m. - 12 a.m.
Tuesday and Wednesday: 11 a.m. - 3 a.m.
Thursday - Saturday: 11 a.m. - 4 a.m.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake

I baked a chocolate cake the other night. Does anyone really need a reason to do this??? I think not!

It's very easy to make a one-layer cake - bake it before dinner, let it cool, frost it after dinner, enjoy it for dessert. Really!

I took my basic chocolate cake recipe, which I'm proud to say won a Grand Prize in Taste of Home's cupcake contest in 2007. The magazine called them "Special Mocha Cupcakes," and they're great whether baked into individual servings or into one larger cake.

So whether you're looking for a contribution for a bake sale, a birthday cake, or just a treat 'cause it's winter and it's cold and it's dreary ... well, here's just what you need!

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake


  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract


  • 6 tablespoons milk chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brewed coffee
  • 1-2 tablespoons half-and-half

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8" cake pan, line the bottom with foil, then grease the foil.

Make the cake: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and sugar. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the coffee, oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones, whisk just to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake rest for 15 minutes, run a knife around the edge to loosen it, then turn it out of the baking pan. Remove the foil, turn the cake right-side up, and let cool completely.

Make the frosting: Melt the chocolate chips, then place into a large mixing bowl with the butter. Using an electric mixer, beat the chocolate and butter together. Add 1 cup of confectioners' sugar, and beat on "low" just to combine. Add the coffee and beat to combine. Add the rest of the confectioners' sugar plus 1 tablespoon of the half-and-half; beat on "low" to combine, then beat on "high" to whip the frosting. If it's still a bit thick or dry, add the remaining tablespoon of half-and-half.

Place the cooled cake onto a serving platter. Tuck small pieces of foil under the cake and over the edges of the platter, to catch dripping frosting. Spread some of the frosting along the sides of the cake, then spread the remaining frosting over the top. Carefully remove the foil strips, and serve.

Makes 8-12 servings.

Monday, February 4, 2013

French Apple Tart

For Jeremy's recent birthday, Craig very sweetly gave a gift not only to Jeremy but also to me, since I played just a bit part in the reason for the festivities ... :)

He gave me a cookbook - one of my very favorite things, of course! Simca's Cuisine was written by Simone "Simca" Beck, who co-wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking with the beloved Julia Child. The book "gives us her own cuisine in delectable recipes ... arranged in menus for every occasion."

I selected a recipe from the section entitled "Un Diner à la Compagne" [uh dee-NAY ah lah cohm-PAHN-yuh] - A Dinner in the Country. The apple-almond tart Simca recommended serving for dessert was perfect for my Tu B'Shevat [TOO bay sheh-VAHT] dinner, celebrating the Jewish New Year of the Trees.

Trees are very important in Judaism, as is tikkun olam [tee-KOON oh-LAHM], which is "repairing the world." Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai even taught the following lesson: "If you have a sapling in your hand and someone tells you the Messiah has arrived, first plant the sapling and then go out to welcome the Messiah." Planting trees is a means to providing food, shelter, and many other benefits to both current and - especially - future generations.

And so, on the 15th day of the month of Shevat (on the Hebrew calendar), it is customary to eat fruits, particularly those which come from trees. Many people partake of a seder, a formal celebration, in which ritual foods are eaten; these include fruits with an inedible shell, those with an inedible inner pit, and fruits with no shell and no pit.

Thus, this beautiful French tart with almonds, apricots, and raisins, as well as apples, combines traditional representative foods in one lovely, sweet, delicious dessert. It was perfect for the holiday, and would be ideal at any time that a simple but sophisticated dessert is needed.

On a completely unrelated note: in the past I've mentioned my fixation upon the Bocuse d'Or, the bi-annual culinary "Olympics" which took place in France last week. Here are the final results, for those who weren't parked in front of their computer screens obsessively watching the streaming presentation of meat and fish platters while sipping their morning coffee before work!

Best Promotion: Guatemala
Best Poster: Hungary
Best Commis ([coh-MEE] = assistant): Kristian Curtis, United Kingdom
Best Fish Platter: Norway
Best Meat Platter: United Kingdom
Bronze: Japan (the commis was in tears ... it was so sweet!)
Silver: Denmark (gold medalists in 2011)
Gold: France (they almost feel it's their birthright to win this, so they're very happy!)

French Apple Tart
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Simca's Cuisine by Simone "Simca" Beck)

  • 1-1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/8 cup shortening, at room temperature
  • 2-3 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, and salt. With a fork, mix in butter and shortening until mixture resembles meal. Stir in 2 tablespoons water with the fork, until the dough starts to form a ball. Add water by the tablespoon if more is needed. Form into a ball, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

  • 1/3 cup Solo Apricot pastry filling
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup whole almonds, ground fine
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 2 large Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored, grated
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ice cream, for serving (either vanilla or rum raisin would be ideal)

Roll dough out into a 12" circle and place into a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom (or into a 9" pie pan). Press dough into the bottom of the pan and up against the sides, then trim dough even with edge of pan. Spread apricot filling over bottom of crust, then refrigerate while making filling.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, cinnamon, sugar, and salt. Stir in the ground almonds and the raisins. Stir in the grated apples, then pour filling into the prepared crust.

Place the tart pan onto a larger baking sheet, to catch drips, then bake for 20 minutes.

Prick the tart all over with a fork, then pour butter over the top of the tart and let it seep into the filling. Raise oven temperature to 375F, then bake for 15 more minutes until tart is golden and set.

Let cool completely, then remove rim from tart pan. Place tart onto a platter and serve with ice cream.

Makes 12 servings.

Tomorrow, by the way, is World Nutella Day - yay!!! So here are some recipes to choose from, for your celebration:

Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Tart

Peanut Butter Pancakes with Nutella Sauce

Banana Nutella Cake with Coffee Glaze

Krispy Kreme Peanut Butter Dream Sandwich

Chocolate Cake with Nutella Buttercream Frosting

Friday, February 1, 2013

Frugal Floozie Friday - Banfield's Bar & Grill

My very dear friends Mary and Art joined Craig and me for dinner recently, at Banfield's Bar & Grill. A casual place with great inexpensive options, it's a perfect place to feature today for Frugal Floozie Friday.

Burgers were the stars of the evening, as three members of our group ordered them. Art and Mary both ordered the burger "deal of the day" (pictured above), which came in at just under our mandatory budget of $5 per person even with all the toppings - tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, and condiments - that either of them might want to choose from. Crisp french fries and pickles were also part of the deal, which was a tremendous value.

Craig ordered the Black-n-Blue Burger, topped with rich blue cheese and caramelized onions, which crept just over the budgetary limit at $5.95. But it was very good, should anyone have a craving for it and be willing to spend just a little bit extra.

I decided to try some other frugal options, and so I ordered a cup of the very rich, creamy Potato Swiss Bacon Soup for $2.50 and paired it with a platter of the cheese nachos, curious as to how generous the $4.95 serving would be. I was impressed to find that this is something that can easily be shared by a few folks who just want a snack and something to drink while they chat an evening away or watch a sporting event. Craig nibbled at them along with me as I slowed down, and we still weren't able to finish them.

Banfield's offers great, friendly service and a lot of food that meets our strict financial limits: deep fried mushrooms, onions rings, jalapeno poppers, mini tacos, and even a Veggie Tray all cost less than $5 each. The Big B Burger - with cheese, pickle, onion, lettuce, and special sauce - costs only $4.99, served with fries and a pickle. A 1/3-pound prime sirloin burger can be had for $4.75; and a grilled cheese sandwich is available for $4.95, served with chips, cole slaw, and a pickle spear.

Breakfast is served from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and there are a number of dishes to choose from within our budget, as well: 2 eggs with hash browns, choice of meat, and toast for $4.25; a 3-egg cheese omelet, also with hash browns and toast, for $4.95; a breakfast sandwich on a grilled English muffin costs $4.25; and either buttermilk pancakes or French toast can be enjoyed for $4.50. ; Waffles with a choice of meat cost $4.25.

So head over to Banfield's, where you can find lots of comfort food options for great prices!

Banfield's Bar & Grill
3140 Packard
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Monday - Saturday: 11 a.m. - midnight
Sunday: 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

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