Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Insulation

Can you believe that this gorgeous thing came from my own little oven?! I hardly can. And when I brought two loaves to a Thanksgiving gathering last month, it was mistaken for Zingerman’s bread. I’ll take that as a sign of success; my first after a long history of stumpy, leaden loaves that cost me hours of patience with minimal reward. I know many of you must feel the same about slaving in the kitchen to produce home baked bread—after all, that’s how Zingerman’s, Panera, and all the others stay in business!

While reporting on a story for Edible WOW magazine, I became acquainted with fellow Ann Arbor foodie Jeff McCabe. Not only was I treated to a fabulous sampling of his home-cured charcuterie, he also shared with me a ridiculously simple method of baking bread. No kneading required. No fancy equipment. No meticulous supervision translating into hours standing vigil by a bowl of dough.

This method is no secret, really. The New York Times did an article about the No Knead Dutch Oven method in 2006. So maybe I’m behind the curve—I don’t care—it’s worth admitting because this bread is just so damn good. It’s got that perfectly browned, hard crust, plenty of air in the crumb, and a lovely flavor that deceives the taster into thinking some kind of starter must have been involved.

Several factors come together to make this bread what it is. First, the time line between mixing the dough and eating a hot slice is nearly 24 hours, so there is plenty of time for the dough to proof, developing a richer flavor than anything a three-hour cycle in your bread machine could ever produce.

Second, the bread is baked in a very hot oven, inside a pre-heated cast iron Dutch oven with a lid for the first thirty minutes of baking time. Contained in the Dutch oven, steam creates that desirable crust; the calling card of artisan breads.

Third, this bread rocks because the time line is perfect for someone that has a life outside of their kitchen. Also, there are several similar recipes out there, containing various flours, beer, vinegar, etc. After testing several, this one topped my list because there are only four ingredients; flour, salt, yeast, water. So if you have the hankering, these ingredients are (almost) certain to be on hand, requiring no advanced planning.

Now is the perfect time for home-baked bread. Picture it with pots of soup, simply roasted vegetables, winter salads, or sopping up the rich, winey sauce of a good bœuf bourguignon. But seriously—don’t just picture it—make it.

No Knead Bread (recipe taken from NY Times, November 2006)

3 cups flour (plus more for dusting)
¼ tsp yeast
1 ¼ tsp salt
1 ½ cups water

Cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting (I use cornmeal)
1. In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt.
2. Add water, stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and very sticky—way too
sticky to handle.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest for 12-18 hours at room
4. After 12-18 hours, the dough’s surface will be dotted with bubbles and look
quite wet. Lightly flour a work surface and turn out dough onto surface. Gently
shape dough into a ball (Tip: fold it over a few times to make this shape,
rather than rolling it or kneading it into a ball). Generously coat a cotton
dishtowel with flour or cornmeal (I like to use a bit of both) and place dough
seam-side down on the towel. Dust again and cover with another towel. Let rise
for another 2 hours (Dough will grow to double in size and firm up)
5. ½ hour before baking, preheat oven to 475° F. Heat Dutch oven in the oven as it preheats, then carefully remove. Carefully place dough in pot, seam-side up.
Jiggle pan to distribute dough if needed. Bake 30 minutes with the lid on, then remove lid and bake another 15-30 minutes until done and browned. Turn out onto rack to cool.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Alone. Pregnant. Starving. Kimchi.

We had open campus lunches at my high school back in Columbia, South Carolina. When my friends insisted on going to Burger King for the hundredth time, I’d take off in my crappy little Ford Tempo and drive around the corner to the O-bok, a Korean joint that looked more like a Laundromat from the outside than a restaurant. I always ordered their kimchi pancake. Cheap, hot, crispy on the outside, and filled with tangy, spicy kimchi on the inside—it was the perfect meal to eat quickly while studying for next period’s French test.

These pancakes are so darn good, totally comfort food, and an excellent dish to break someone in gently to Korean food. (In pancake form, the kimchi isn’t nearly as spicy or potent as when eaten straight.)

Years later, I learned that you can just make these guys at home, so long as your home is in reasonable proximity to an Asian grocery store. Tonight, with a husband away, a child asleep, and a growing belly demanding all sorts of crazy things, the kimchi pancake made a long overdue appearance on my dinner plate. It was consumed with joy and soy (sauce) while watching Iron Chef America.

Kimchi Pancake for One

½ cup Korean pancake mix
½ cup water
1 egg (optional)
¾ cup to 1 cup kimchi, chopped, juice reserved
Chopped green onion
Vegetable oil for pan frying

1. Heat a skillet to medium-high heat.
2. While skillet is heating, chop kimchi and reserve juices
3. Combine in a bowl: pancake mix, water, egg, kimchi and juice. Stir until well
4. Heat oil (1-2 Tbs should do it) in skillet, then dump pancake mixture into the
pan, allowing it to spread across the entire bottom.
5. Fry until well browned, flip and fry again until browned.
6. Plate the pancake and serve with soy sauce. (Eat with knife and fork, or cut
into squares and eat with chopsticks.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gee, I Sure Love...

Tantre Farms' giant bag of mixed baby salad greens. The best salad I've ever had, with a nice mix of spicy, bitter, and sweet leaves of at least 6 different varieties. Why no picture? Because we ate it all, that's why.

And Tantre's French Breakfast Radishes with butter and salt. Snow is falling outside my window. It's dark, and cold enough now for the snow to stick to everything, even my sidewalk.But my kitchen is warm, and my plate is (was) full of verdant, fresh vegetables that leave my family happy and well-fed. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Early Fall Raspberry Tart

I sure do enjoy our Lady Food Blogger Parties! This time around we grilled pizza, sipped cold drinks under a backyard tent and listened to the musical stylings of a local high school band as they practiced across the street. There were many delicious treats, but being pregnant, I stereotypically zeroed in on Cindy’s homemade dill pickles. I ate three, and could have eaten three more.

Below is the recipe for the Early Fall Raspberry Tart- my humble contribution to the evening. Regrettably, I forgot to take a picture before it hit the serving table. It disappeared quickly…a good sign.

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (one box), thawed
8 ounces Mascarpone Cheese
8 ounces (give or take) Lemon Curd- recipe follows
2 T powdered sugar
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 T milk or cream
2 pints raspberries

Prepare Puff Pastry Crust
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out pastry sheet (still folded) to an 8-by-14-inch rectangle. Use a sharp paring knife to score a 3/4-inch border around pastry (do not cut all the way through). Carefully transfer pastry to a parchment lined baking sheet.

NOTE: Alternately, you can create a more narrow tart with a higher border by trimming ¾ inch all the way around, then replacing the strips on the outer edge of the rectangle (trim to fit), building up a higher edge. Just make sure that you carefully brush the outer edge of the pastry before pressing on the strips—that will help glue the strips to the base of your tart and it makes for a more formal presentation.

2. Avoiding the ¾ inch perimeter, pierce the pastry all over with a fork. Combine egg yolk and milk/cream, and then carefully brush over the pastry. Avoid letting any egg wash touch the parchment or baking sheet- it will glue your pastry to it and make it more difficult to move later.
3. Bake for 15-20 minutes until browned and puffy. Midway through baking, use the back of a spatula to press down on the middle of the tart, deflating it a bit so that it doesn’t rise nearly as much as the outer edges. Once pastry is done, remove from oven, deflate the middle again, let cool 5 minutes, and move tart shell to a wire rack to cool completely.

While tart shell is cooling, combine Mascarpone cheese, lemon curd and powdered sugar, stirring until smooth. Use more or less lemon curd to suit your taste. Refrigerate until you are ready to fill your tart.

1. Once tart is completely cooled and you are nearly ready to serve the tart, place tart shell on your serving platter.
2. Use an offset spatula to spread filling into the middle of the tart.
3. Cover the middle with raspberries; you can pile them in, creating a more rustic look, or arrange them neatly in rows for a more classic French effect.
4. Get your piece first before your guests devour it all.

Lemon Curd

I’m not going to give you the impression that I always make lemon curd from scratch. Dickenson’s brand Lemon Curd is just fine if you can find it (in the jam and jelly aisle alongside the other Dickenson’s jams). Last time I needed it, however, Kroger only had some other imported brand that was $8.99 for a jar. Hell no. I used Martha Stewart’s recipe for lemon curd instead. It is crazy good, and honestly only took about 20 minutes to make.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lazy Sunday

There are times when one just needs something rich, sweet, and comforting. There are also times when one is suddenly gifted with a dozen perfect croissants from Ann Arbor’s Croissant Shop. They are crisp. They are fragrant. They melt in your mouth. Two or three can be consumed more quickly than one would like to admit.

What to do with the remaining pastries to avoid plummeting into a complete shame spiral? The answer: freeze them, and then turn them into Baked Croissant French Toast the next time you have friends over for brunch. Puffy, golden, delicious. Have yourself a hearty portion- with no regrets.

•6-8 plain croissants, cut in half lengthwise
•6 eggs
•1 1/2 cups whole milk
•1 1/2 cups half-and-half
•1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
•1 teaspoon vanilla
•2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
•1 orange, zest of
•1/4 cup packed brown sugar
•1/2 cup white sugar
•1 pinch salt

1. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Arrange the croissant halves in the baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, half-and-half, nutmeg, vanilla, Grand Marnier, orange zest, 1/4 cup brown sugar, white sugar and salt. Pour this mixture over the croissants. Cover the baking dish and chill until all of the liquid is absorbed, at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until puffy, golden brown, and set in the middle.

3. Serve with: warm maple syrup, homemade preserves (I used my own blueberry-lime jam), or a dusting of powdered sugar and a squirt from a lemon wedge.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Why did I ever think that a calorie free, fat free marshmallow dip would taste good?

Because I’m a sucker, that’s why.

The cheesy brand name alone should have sounded alarm bells in my head—Walden Farms??!! As if this dip would provide the consumer with some sort of bucolic, poetic transcendental experience.

Needless to say, it was horrible- thin, gummy, mostly flavorless on the front and with a unidentifiable chemical aftertaste. Walden Farms also makes fat free, calorie free “creamy peanut spread”—pair that with the “marshmallow dip” and you can have yourself the worst Fluffernutter conceivable.

So ok- I want to drop a couple pounds…but not like this…NOT LIKE THIS!!!
A question for the blogosphere: What horrible diet foods have you tried in the noble pursuit of less junk in the trunk?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Empty Your Veggie Drawer

We have a bountiful supply of vegetables from our CSA this time of year, and so it was very cool to get wind of this recipe for Quinoa Risotto that Project Fresh gave out this season. (Project Fresh is an income-based program that provides participants with vouchers for locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmer's markets. They also educate families on how to store and prepare fresh vegetables in order to encourage increased consumption.)

This is a two pot/pan dish, helps you get rid of a LOT of veggies in one fell swoop, and encourages improvisation.

(NOTE: Quinoa is a powerhouse of a food. Though not technically a grain, it’s cooked the same as you would rice, but it provides much more fiber. It contains the right combination of essential amino acids that makes it a complete protein, and also contains a substantial amount of calcium.)

Quinoa Risotto (makes 2 giant meals or 4 large side-dish portions)

1 cup dry quinoa
1 ½ cups water

4-5 cups chicken broth (give or take, because that’s how risotto works)
2 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced sweet onion (about 1 medium sized)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 lb. veggies of your choice (pictured here, I used 8 oz. halved and seeded grape tomatoes, and about a pound of chopped mustard greens and Swiss chard)
1-2 T fresh herbs of your choice (Basil used here)
Salt and pepper to taste
Two palmfuls grated Parmesan cheese

For the Quinoa:
1. Rinse off the quinoa and drain in a fine-meshed strainer. Combine quinoa and water in a medium to large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Bring heat back up to medium-high. Add chicken broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring. All broth must be fully absorbed before the next cup is added. Continue in this pattern until the quinoa is fully cooked, tender, but still springy, and has a nice, thickened “sauce” about it. Add more broth if necessary.
3. Cover, keep warm.

For the Vegetables:
1. In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic, onions, and red pepper flakes, and sauté until onions are soft, translucent, and just beginning to brown.
2. Add remaining vegetables and sauté until cooked. (NOTE: if you cooking greens, add them last. Turn your heat up to high before adding them—the trick here is to cook them fast so that their liquids evaporate. You don’t want a juicy mess with your veggies.
3. Add the quinoa to the veggies, throw in the Parmesan cheese, stir, and season with salt and pepper.

Other combinations to try:
- thinly sliced cabbage, chopped red bell pepper, greens
- zucchini, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, basil
- roasted butternut squash, fresh thyme, lots of sweet onion
- toss in other cheeses like cubed mozzarella or goat cheese
- add ½ cup red or white wine into the quinoa/broth process

Monday, July 28, 2008

Homecoming, Part Deux

It’s been a month since the trip back home to SC, but since I posted a “Part One,” I thought it best to make good on the implication of more Carolina goodness. Well, y’all, here it is.

Tasting the "New" South

(Cornmeal Fried Green Tomatoes)

The first outing of the vacation was an excellent dinner at a well-known Columbia spot, Mr.Friendly’s New Southern Café. Located in the Five Points neighborhood near the University of South Carolina, Mr. Friendly’s was the place to go on a nice date when I was in college—as opposed to the Pita Pit across the street.

(Needless to say, none of my romantic interests ever took me to Mr. Friendly’s.)

What does New Southern cuisine mean? Well, as far as I can tell, it means tasty Southern staples, prettied up on your plate with a garnish of micro-greens…the general idea being for you to enjoy the fried, fatty goodness without thinking about the sweaty people back in the kitchen who man the fryers all night long. I’m only half kidding.

We shared an appetizer of the Cornmeal Fried Green Tomatoes, which were served stacked—crispy, tangy bricks held together with a generous mortar of applewood bacon-cheddar pimento cheese. Heaven.

My entrée, Peach Mustard BBQ Glazed Atlantic Salmon, was also delectable, and definitely exemplary of what “New Southern” cuisine is all about—an homage to South Carolina’s undying obsession with mustard-based barbeque sauce (I could take a bath in it!), served with restraint on salmon instead of the standard (beloved) pork. The peach element in the dish was a candied pecan-peach salsa spooned over the top, which needed a more acid and spice. But the creamed grits served on the side made me forget any other possible criticism of the dish. Full of cream, butter, and garlic, the grits were like bites of pure nostalgia for me.

My Greasy Lover

My other meal of note was at Bojangle’s Famous Chicken and Biscuits. It’s a chain that’s been around the southern states since 1977, and I love it without shame. What makes it famous?

For one, their Cajun fried chicken is awesome, with spicy seasoning rubbed underneath the skin so it has direct contact with the meat. Then the chicken is hand battered and fried to perfection. They make buttermilk biscuits from scratch all day long, and their side dishes, called “fixins” are also quite tasty—especially the dirty rice, Cajun pintos, and spicy Cajun seasoned fries. A diehard will enjoy her chicken dinner with a nice diabetic coma-inducing sweet tea, which is like a whole separate food group in South Carolina.

Don’t cringe—Bojangle’s is worlds away from KFC, and if you’re ever in the South I highly recommend it. (There’s even one in the Charlotte International Airport, for those just passing through.)

(The Real Deal)

(Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, c.1878-1949...no relation)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I Heart Tarts

Currants are still at the Ann Arbor farmers market, and the jewel-like translucence of the red currants is just too seductive for me to pass up. While red currants are quite tart and are typically cooked with plenty of sugar, the black currants are just sweet enough to eat fresh. The addition of sugar (not too much, but not too little) cuts past the assertive tartness to allow the fruits’ real flavor to shine through—unique, refreshing and a bit wild and hard to place.

Wasem Fruit Farm sells them, and the gal at their table at the market today said that they have large groups of Russians out to their farm lately, picking masses of currants and gooseberries. (What do the Russians know that we don’t?!)

The web is full of all sorts of recipes using currants. I based the red currant tart recipe below on a European site, making the metric conversions and finding a simpler version of the classic paté sucrée. (Why fuss around rolling out a crust if you can just press it into your tart pan?) This recipe is dead simple, and in about an hour you can have a gorgeous tart that will taste as good (and French) as it looks.

Red Currant Tart

2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
8 Tbsp chilled butter, cut into small cubes
4 Tbsp heavy cream

14 oz red currants- stemmed, washed, and dried gently on a paper towel
2 eggs
5 Tbsp brown sugar
3.5 oz heavy cream
½ of a vanilla bean, scraped (if you want to get fancy with it—and make sure to save the pods to make vanilla sugar! Never let a perfectly good vanilla bean pod go to waste.)

1. Preheat oven to 350°
2. Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Using a hand-held pastry blender (you could probably just as well use a food processor), completely combine butter into flour mixture until the texture is fine grained and is like barely damp sand. There should be no gobs of butter visible.
3. Drizzle in vanilla extract and cream, then use a spoon and then clean hands to fully combine, forming a crumbly pastry dough.
4. Press dough evenly into a 10-inch tart pan. You can also use a pie pan of any size, but you’ll probably find yourself with more pastry than you need—or a thicker crust. Using a fork, pierce the dough all over to prevent puffing up in the oven.
5. Bake in the oven for 10-20 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned. Keep watch over your crust, as baking time will vary depending on the pan you chose.
6. Remove crust from the oven to cool a bit.
7. While crust is baking, in a medium sized bowl whisk to combine eggs, cream, brown sugar and vanilla to combine.
8. Once crust has cooled a bit, lay currants in the bottom of the crust in a single layer. Gently pour egg mixture over currants—the liquid should be about three quarters up the pan, and not completely covering your currants. The custard will rise a bit as it cooks.
9. Bake tart at 350° for 30 minutes, or until the custard is set in the center and the crust becomes a nice golden brown. If crust is brown but the center is not fully set, cover the tart very loosely with a piece of foil. Remove from the oven to cool. Serve warm or chilled.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Luke...I am your fava.

Today I hit the market nice and early to meet fellow blogger and friend Kim (aka: The Farmers Marketer) for shopping and coffee. She pointed me toward the baskets of fava beans that Tantré Farms was offering, and after discussing the probability that these could be more trouble than they’re worth, we each bought two boxes.

With my market bag filled with local edibles, I headed home to figure out lunch, committed to making something easy but fabulous with the favas.

A Note: Fava beans may be the ultimate “slow food” vegetable, considering that a pound or so of whole fava beans, once shelled, only yields about a cup and a half of beans. Once shelled, the beans need to be blanched and then popped from their skins, yielding about a cup of edible food.

Once prepped, fava beans are quick cooking and easy to use in all sorts of tasty recipes from soups to dips to sautés, as I did below.

Sauté of Fava Beans, Artichokes, and Pancetta (Yields one generous serving)

1-2 pound of unshelled fresh fava beans
8-10 ounces of artichoke hearts, quartered (I used frozen ones, defrosted)
3 Tablespoons diced onion
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
3 jarred Pepperoncini peppers, drained, left whole
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
Parmesan Cheese, for sprinkling

1. Prep the fava beans: Remove beans from their pods. Drop beans into a pot of salted, boiling water for 3 minutes; drain, then transfer to an ice water bath for 5 minutes. Remove skins from each bean. Discard pods and skins.
2. In a large frying pan, fry pancetta over medium heat for 3 minutes or so, until it starts to crisp a bit and a good bit of the fat is rendered to liquid. Pour off some of the fat if desired.
3. Add onions and Pepperoncini, sauté until onion is soft and translucent.

(Onion, pancetta, and pepperoncini- what wouldn't taste good after mingling with these ingredients?)

4. Add artichoke hearts, sautéing over medium-high heat until heated through and lightly browned.
5. Add fava beans, stirring lightly for 1-2 minutes. Add lemon juice, toss lightly.
6. Transfer vegetables to plates, topping with black pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Homecoming Part One

They say that everything moves slower down South. Whoever ‘they’ are, they’re right. The thick summer heat sucks the energy right out of your body as soon as you step out the door. There’s no use putting a spring in your step, lest you be drenched in sweat within minutes.

The service down South is noticeably slower, as are speed limits on the interstate. Even the southern drawl is lazy, turning a one syllable word like, “Hi” into the extended two syllable greeting, “Hey.”

On my recent vacation back home to South Carolina, I decided to surrender to the lackadaisical ways of the American South and just enjoy- stifling humidity and all.

A few early culinary highlights of my SC vacation:

Fruit and Cheese- A Perfect Beginning or End.

Dad’s fig tree was heavy with ripe fruit. We improvised an appetizer by stuffing the figs with fresh ricotta cheese, and drizzled on some local honey and cracked black pepper.

It was also blackberry season during my vacation—but with a heat index of 102 degrees, firing up the oven for a cobbler or pie lost all appeal. Instead, we folded tangy lemon curd into mascarpone cheese and spooned the mixture over fresh blackberries. Cool and lazy, it was the perfect dessert to follow pimento cheeseburgers on the grill.

More to come, but in the meantime:

South Carolina Fact-O-the-Blog: SC's official state beverage is...milk.

Monday, June 16, 2008

On the Table

Peas have always been a favorite of mine.

Growing up, my brother and I constructed miniature forts out of slabs of meatloaf, held in place by a mortar of mashed potatoes. We shingled our little roofs with green peas before we dug in to eat--a perfect dinnertime combination, in both form and function.

Every summer we were put to work in the family garden, picking rows of sugar snap peas--not just for our table, but for the half dozen neighboring tables along our cul-de-sac. They were always worth the work, and while I haven't found sugar snap peas as sweet and tender as my dad's, peas are easy to find right now at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

This salad is made from Brines Farm arugula, fresh peas (blanched first) and mint, tossed in a bit of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and topped with shaved Parmesan. It hit the spot for dinner tonight, with the sweet peas and mellow mint providing the right foil against the spicy greens.

Below: (Summer 2006) My dad gets an early start on breaking in the next generation of pea-picking slave labor.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Can't Be Beet!

I had never eaten a beet that wasn't pickled until just a few summers ago, when I resolved to start revisiting all the vegetables that I avoided in my youth. This was the first recipe I tried and it remains a favorite. It is from Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian cookbook, and the combination of ingredients hits your palate just about everywhere. The season is right for spicy arugula and tasty new beets, but truthfully you can pretty much make this salad any time of year with tasty results. I recommend some nice Zingerman's Creamery goat cheese!

Beet and Goat Cheese Arugula Salad

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 medium beets, cooked and quartered
6 cups fresh arugula
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries
1/2 avocado, peeled, pitted, and cubed
3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, coarsely crumbled

Line a baking sheet with foil. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

1. Whisk the vinegar, shallots, and honey in a medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in the oil. Season the vinaigrette, to taste, with salt and pepper. Toss the beets in a small bowl with enough dressing to coat.

2. Place the beets on the foil and seal them up in the foil, creating an envelope. Roast until 25 minues, then open the foil envelope, toss the beets a bit, then roast uncovered for another 20 minutes or until they are tender and caramelized. Set aside and cool.

3. Toss the arugula, walnuts, and cranberries in a large bowl with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season the salad, to taste, with salt and pepper.

4. Mound the salad atop 4 plates. Arrange the beets around the salad. Sprinkle with the avocado and goat cheese, and serve.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Tasting Summer

Despite the fact that last week we actually had a few days with highs hovering in the upper 50's, it seems that summer is finally coming to Ann Arbor. I spotted the first flower on my sugar snap pea plants, the nasturtiums are finally leafing, and the Ann Arbor Farmers Market is starting to look like genuine eye candy.

There are still heaps of greens (spinach, spring mix lettuces and baby swiss chard) and plenty of farmers peddling asparagus spears ranging from pencil thin to dangerously thick. But this week the strawberries, baby squashes, and even the delicate squash blossoms made their debut.

We dove into the strawberries right away--who could resist? And the patty pans and baby zucchinis will be sauteed and served alongside some roasted fingerling potatoes. Bon apetit!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chocolate Fix

My dear friend, Nikki Two-Beers, stumbled upon a Michigan beer (which shall not be named) while vacationing near Asheville, North Carolina this past fall. I was so excited that she got a hold of something craft-brewed from my new home state- so you can imagine my disappointment when she informed me that in her book, it rated "slightly less appealing than a Killian's" (I trust her book, by the way- the woman is a beer goddess- a Modern St Pauli Girl, if you will).

So this entry is meant to redeem that horrible review. If you like beer...if you like chocolate...this is the beer you will wish you'd known about sooner. Bell's Special Double Cream Stout is absolutely rich, creamy, and turned out to make a darn good afternoon snack while I watched the snow fall outside my office window on the first day of Spring.

Heavy on the roasted malt, barely a whisper of hops, and sporting a velvety beige head, this gorgeous beer was what I've always secretly wished Guinness was- utterly drinkable, instead of nearly chewable. It was an ideal accompaniment to my belated St. Patrick's Day dinner of corned beef, sauteed cabbage, and homemade scalloped potatoes. The next night I drank one for dessert with some dark chocolate flecked with cocoa nibs.

Bell's Bewery sells this brand seasonally, November through March- so get on the horse and scavenge around for a six-pack- or three. You won't be disappointed.

Check out Bell's Brewery here:


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oh, the chasm that separates farmstead cheese from Cheetos

Just a personal observation: For many people, a day can potentially take a turn for the better or worse (and thus be quantified) based solely upon what they ultimately chose to fill their belly's with.

For example, last Thursday ended on a high note for me, largely due to tasting fresh goat curd cheese that, early the previous morning, had still been inside a goat.

The following evening, the day was summed up (poorly) in terms of the generous portion of Cheetos I ate, chased by three canned Diet Cokes.

Now I will say that for the average twelve year-old boy, the above pairings of food/appraisal of day would probably be reversed.

(ie: Fresh-from-the-Teat Goat Curd = Creepy Day
Copious Amounts of Cheetos and Soda = Awesome Day)

Then there's the frustrated dieter, for whom eating minuscule quantities of food- usually of questionable quality- compels them to view their day in terms of simultaneous juxtaposition.

My mom calls me and says, "I just finished my lunch. I only had two carrots with some hummus and three Wheat Thins." The tone in her voice rings of both victory, and a sense of longing that will probably go unrealized (until she hits the Edy's Cookies and Cream later on that night.)

Pictured above: Manchester Cheese at Zingerman's Creamery Ann Arbor. Young on its journey to aged perfection, it smelled alive.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Elfin Goodness In My Cup

How surprised was I to find a package of Gnome Brew at my doorstep this past Tuesday! Kudos to my dearest friend for giving home coffee roasting a try- and then sharing her finished product with me. Nikki Two-Beers (as I may from this day on refer to her...Nikki Two-Beers, your input is welcome on this issue), who in collaboration with her hubby is already producing covet-worthy home brewed beer, employed a humble stove-top popcorn popper to roast her own beans. Great choice to use peaberry beans-and dig that gold foil package!

The verdict on the taste? I'll agree with Nikki that it is indeed "quite drinkable". My husband and I, upon closer scrutiny had slightly dissenting opinions. He felt that it needed to be roasted longer. I felt the opposite. But honestly, I don't really know enough about how roasting time impacts flavor to comment in any artisinal capacity. The best evaluation I can offer is that the first flavors on my palate were rich and very tasty. The final "aftertaste" was a tad strong, certainly not a burned flavor, but a little like over-browned edges on an English muffin. But this wasn't a hard negative, because it reminded me of going camping, and drinking coffee that's been boiled over a campfire. Kind of nostalgic, actually.

So great first shot, Nikki Two-Beers! I am so proud that you have turned your kitchen into a laboratory for gastronomic experiments of all sorts. You are part of the next generation of happy homemakers who dare to step outside the box of condensed soup and JELLO pudding in favor of craftsmanship and innovation.