Thursday, December 31, 2009

The New Year Meme

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?


I started going to Friday morning @ SELMA, which is one of those guerilla restaurant things....highlight of my week!

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don't know what New Year's resolutions I made last year, but I make some every year.  This year will be no different.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No - I am at the age where the birthing is done, but the grand babies aren't here yet.  Birthing seems so far away from me now.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Not this year, thankfully.  But I expect 2010 to be different.   Many good people sick right now.

5. What countries did you visit?

I don't even think I went to Canada this year.   USA only!  Maybe next year I will travel more.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

World peace.  Yes, I know I am asking a lot.
7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

The month of January - many good colleagues I worked with are no longer. 

July 22 - my best friend's divorce date.   A good 5 years too late, but she gave it her all!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I still have a job, while many don't!

9. What was your biggest failure?

Still want to learn how to play musical instruments better.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I try not to focus on my illnesses or injuries. 

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Many glasses of wine with good friends.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Anyone that made it through the tough times this year without whining. 
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

People that live their lives for their own self gratification first, other people's feeling come second. 

14. Where did most of your money go?

I try not to spend money on one thing - I am thrifty!

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Music

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?

Not many good songs in 2009, so that's hard to come by!

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? 
b) thinner or fatter? 
c) richer or poorer?

happier, same and richer emotionally!

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Made more music

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Not putting exercise higher on my list of things to do

20. How will you be spending New Year?

Best way ever - with family at home.  New Years Eve is for chumps!

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?

I am continually falling in love with my man at the strangest times....wonder how I got so lucky!  Good pickin', I guess!
22. How many one-night stands?

I am still on the same one night stand from many years ago.  Neither one of us left in the morning.

23. What was your favorite TV program?

I don't watch TV

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Hate's a strong word, but I've come to be irritated by some new folks!

25. What was the best book you read?

In 2009?  I really liked many.  Hard to say...

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

It's a rediscovery - I think Cake rules!

27. What did you want and get?

To keep my job.

28. What did you want and not get?

I never give up, so I am not saying I didn't get anything I wanted yet!

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

No Country for Old Men

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I don't remember, but I turned 45. 
31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

More music making!

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

Feeding the hungry

33. Who did you miss?

I miss seeing Ann every day, although we still talk on the phone most every day,

34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"God Only Knows"

35. I wish you all a happy satisfying healthy loving 2010. Have a good celebration and a fun start of the new year. All best wishes to you all!!!!!

Not rocket science: making pizza at home

I've always wanted to make pizza at home that had crust as good as they do at a take out place, but have never been able to do it.   I figured it was because I didn't have a pizza oven that got up to 800 F, but I thought I'd give it my best shot.   So, I asked around on chowhound and on the AnnArborFood group  to see what I'd find out.  What I did find out is that there is a lot of macho talk out there about how to make good pizza.   Probably the most entertaining is this guy's blog about all the techniques he's tried to perfect a NY style pizza since he moved to Atlanta.   Locally, I appreciated reading John Wilkin's blog, which is all about library science and making pizza at home.   Great reads, both of them! 

Getting past the Pizza Doublespeak

Given that I am an engineer, I think I understand men better than most women, because I work in their native habitat and get to observe them on a day to day basis.    Think of me as your "Jane Goodall" of male behavior.   Some day I will write a book about it, but for now, let's focus on pizza.  For some reason, men have been attracted to making good pizza at home more frequently than women, I have noticed.  Just look at the forum discussion on pizzamaking.com.  (it's a veritable "sausage fest", if you will pardon my pun).  The fact is, men are given to using fancy terminology to impress others, and it seems they have applied this to pizza making as well.   Double speak is one of men's charms, but at best, it can get in the way of sharing information and at worst, it can be used as a shield as defense for what they don't know.   So, to combat this, I have this Mark Twain quote framed on my desk:

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please"

which I am prone to gesturing at when I catch my fellow engineers in an argument when they are bluffing by using lots of doublespeak.  (some day, I will write a blog post about the "Columbo" questioning techniques that helps get to the bottom of such discussions)  Not that women are immune to this kind of talk - look at cosmetic advertisements, for heaven's sake!   What the heck does "clarifying shampoo" supposed to mean?  How about paying extra for foundation that contains a "patented blend of hexapeptides and botanicals"?  But in the pizza making world, there is all kinds of fancy talk like autolysing, proper hydration, and Lehmann pizza dough calculator.  Here's the rocket science demystified....

How did my first shot at pizza making go?   I have to say it went pretty well.   After reading through a million pizza dough recipes, I had to lay down some ground rules.  First, I was not going to mail order any ingredients.   That meant buying only flour I could buy locally, no sourdough starter, etc.   Also, I was going to stick to kitchen gadgets I have in my house already.   Against my better judgement, I had purchased a pizza peel last year.  I didn't want to do it because a) I knew it would be a pain to store and b) it's a unitasker.   But there really is no substitute for one, so I bit the bullet and bought one at the Kitchen Port going out of business sale last year.   It's short handled, so I was able to store it with the cookie sheets.   It still is a unitasker though - I guess it could be used as a spanking paddle, if you are into that!    I also have a couple pizza stones that I have gotten over the years at Pampered Chef parties.    But I wasn't going to buy a brick pizza oven or cut the lock off my oven so I could use the oven self cleaning temps.   My max oven temperature was going to have to be 550 F.   Some people recommend grilling, but my grill is propane fired and I wasn't sure if I could get much higher than that, given it is winter here in the Mitten State, and the outside temps were about 20 F and it was snowing to beat the band as I type this.   The grill is out for winter pizza making for me.

There's much talk about proper hydration and weighing your ingredients online.   I am not sure that's totally required - I weighed mine because I have a scale, but I have to think that measuring would work fine if a measuring cup is all you have.   I wanted to try real pizza flour (tipo 00) and was able to find it at Busch's, so I went for it.    I put my stone on the floor of my oven, but it made the kitchen really smoky when the flour I used burnt off.   I think next time I might try putting the stone on a rack and using parchment paper instead on the peel.    Online, there's lots of talk of "autolysing", which is a French breadmaking term that just means to mix your water and flour first, and then let it sit for 20 minutes.   Why not? 

Here's how I made my pizza:

500 g Napoli CaputoTipo 00 flour
325 g water
10 g kosher salt
3 g bread machine yeast

Using a stand mixer with a dough hook, add about 3/4 of the flour and the water and mix it.  Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes.   Add salt and yeast and mix for a couple minutes, and then start gradually adding the remaining flour.   Keep mixing until the dough forms a nice blob - about 5 minutes more.  Let it rise for 1 1/2 hours.  Punch it down and divide dough into 4 blobs, I used my bench scraper but a sharp knife ouwld work.  Roll it into a sphere and pinch the seams to the bottom.   Place the 4 blobs pinch side down on a cookie sheet and cover with Saran wrap.  Let rest for 1 hour.   (from reading, I understand that at this point, you could put the 4 blobs in an oiled covered Tupperware container in the fridge for future use - they can be kept up to a week there).  While the dough is resting, heat up the oven to the max temp you can go with the pizza stone on the floor of the oven or on the lowest rack.   On my oven, that's 550 F.   It takes almost an hour for my oven to preheat to that temp.  

To roll out the dough blobs, put some parchment or flour on the peel and flip the blob over, pinch side up.   Press it into a flat disk, picking it up and let gravity help make it flat.   There's no need to leave a fat lip on the outer rim.  Wherever the topping stops, the lip will form naturally.  My pizzas got to be about 12 inches in diameter.  I made them as thin as I could without making a hole in them.  Place them on the peel and top them as you see fit.   Use less pizza sauce and cheese than you think you should: you should be able to see doughy spots through the topped pizza.  Add pepperoni if you like, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil.   My favorite topped pizza was with olive oil, a minced clove of garlic, mozzarella cheese and some rosemary leaves.   Put pizza on hot stone, and bake it until the bottom is charred nicely - mine took 4 minutes.   Use the peel to take the pizza out - I used a metal spatula to help get it on the peel.  Put the pizza on a cookie sheet to cut and start making another pizza. 

I could see how having another pizza peel would be nice, but I don't think I want to buy another unitasker!  It's bad enough that I have one already.  The pizza came out great!  I could see making the dough on the weekend and putting it in the fridge for weekday use.    I am looking forward to making pizza again, and this time trying the parchment.   It's more work than calling Classic Pizza (my favorite nearby pizza joint) but it came out really well.

 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday meme

1.. What is your favorite holiday show/animated show?

I loved a show called "A House Without a Christmas Tree" when I was a kid.  It was a movie stat starred Jason Robards and it was about a young girl growing up in the forties.   It's never played on TV anymore, but I look for it every year.
2. Which holiday character do you think you’re most like?

Ralphie from "The Christmas Story"

3. Which holiday character does your spouse think you’re most like?

The Heat Miser

4. Favorite Christmas/holiday song?

"The Holly and the Ivy" or "Lo, How a Rose 'Er Blooming"

5. Most hated Christmas/holiday song?

"O Holy Night" as performed by Celine Dion

6. If you have an all-holiday music radio station, when do you start listening to it?

Right when it first comes out....I love holiday music.

7. If you have an all-holiday music radio station, do you love it or hate it?

I hate it when they start playing too much of #5, which they invariably do.

8. Have you ever wrapped yourself as a Christmas present?

Yes, when I was a kid.  It was my  job to wrap everyones

9. Who is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’s father?

I think it was the one that was the football coach like character, that wouldn't allow Rudolph to join in any reindeer games.   I think his name was "Dasher"

10. Do you drive your neighborhood or one near you at night to look at other people’s holiday decorations?

Yes

11. When you see a heavily decorated house do you think, “Oh that’s lovely”? Or do you think, “Oh criminy, that looks like Christmas threw up all over their lawn”?

The more decorations, the better.

12. Do you count the days to Christmas with excited anticipation or dread?

I count the days to Xmas vacation!

13. When was the last time you had your photo taken with Santa? Did you sit on his lap?

I never have taken a photo with Santa, because it just wasn't done when I was a kid.  We always went to the Santa at Tech Plaza, a strip mall on 12 Mile at Van Dyke across from the GM Tech Center.   Santa was in a trailer in the parking lot.   He gave out Christmas nougat candy (the one with the tree in the middle) that I still love to this day.   I remember one year, he had on black framed glasses and I thought that wasn't right.

14. Do you make a Christmas list for your spouse or significant other, or do you rely on them to pick your gift(s) without a clue from you?

He always asked for what I want, and then I say I don't know, and then he gets me jewelry, which is nice.

15. When do you put up your tree?

First weekend in Dec. this year, which is late for me.  We usually do it Thanksgiving weekend

16. Real or fake?

Real

17. When do you take your tree down?

New Years Day, even though good Catholics are supposed to keep it up until Twelfth Night/Epiphany. I can't wait to get it put away that late, because I am back at work by then usually and I don't want to deal with it then.

18. Do you shop the day after Christmas sales? What do you shop for?

Yes, Christmas decorations

19. Did your work/office have a holiday party this year? Did you attend?

Yes, we went out to lunch and I always go.

20. Do you have your New Year’s Eve Plans set yet?

I plan to cook!  I'll either make posole or hoppin' john

Friday, December 25, 2009

Note to self

What I want to do some time before the end of 2009
Need to resubscribe to Cook's Illustrated
Get The Martha Rules out of the library
Find Alison's recipe for rouladen and try it out
Shop for supplies to make LED christmas tee sculptures

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Beef...its whats for dinner cheap!

Fifteen years ago, I was fortunate to be in the National Beef Cookoff for my recipe Beef Sirloin Salad with Dried Cherries.   Sadly, I didn't win the national contest, but I won for the state of Michigan and got an all expenses paid trip to the National Beef Cookoff which was in Little Rock, Arkansas that year.   I was pregnant with my eldest then, and in my days before kids, I was really into "contesting" as it is called among the cooking contest community.   This contest was my last major effort: then I got too busy with kids and work and never seem to find the time to do it.  Every year at this time I think I am going to get back into contesting heavily, but then life manages to get in the way.   Back in the day, if you were heavy into contesting, you subscribed to the Cooking Contest Chronicle newsletter to know about the upcoming contests.   But with the advent of the internets, much of the info can be found online.   However, actually getting something in the snail mail might be more inspiring if you are so inclined.  I am not even sure if Karen Martis still publishes it anymore.

Everyone remembers the "Beef: Its Whats for Dinner" ad campaign - I still love Aaron Copland's Rodeo Suite 3: Hoedown.   While the Cattlemans Association is responsible indirectly for bringing Dr. Phil into our collective conciousness (he was hired by Oprah Winfrey during her infamous beef trial as a jury consutltant), I have nothing but fondness for America's beef farmers.  They have some terrific recipes on their website...including this one, Stir Fry Beef with Spinach which is something a busy parent can whip together after a long day at work with ingredients she probably already has in her pantry.   Even if you forget to take the round steak out of the freezer in the morning, it still works because beef is easier to cut when it's semi frozen.   Just nuke it for a few minutes on defrost so you can get your knife into it.  Also, fresh spinach is spendy this time of year, so it's okay to use frozen for this recipe if you are on a budget and fresh spinach is hard to come by on a budget.   Just nuke it to defrost and squeeze it out.  Use dried hot red peppers if that's all you have in your pantry, too.  It works!

The recipe calls for beef round tip steaks, but any inexpensive cut of round can be used.  Whether you use grocery store beef, or buy grass fed organic beef raised by a farmer you know personally, round steak is always a good value.  When round steak goes on sale, or ends up marked way down because it's near it's expiration date, I buy it in bulk and freeze it.  Nobody knows how to cook round steak, so it ends up on sale often.  Round steak can be used for a multitude of purposes - it can be used for stir fries or beef stew or salisbury steak, or beef stroganoff, etc.   The key to making any beef recipe for less than $2 per serving is to keep an eye out for beef when it is less than $5 per lb.  For this recipe, look for round steak at a price of $3/lb or less, because some of the ingredients like hoisin sauce can be a little pricy.   I haven't tried it this way, but I bet this recipe would even taste good with ground beef in it.  Just skip the marinating part.  I have to remember this for days when I don't feel like making the usual suspects out of ground beef - i.e. spaghetti, tacos, hamburgers, etc.  So, the bottom line is that I can make this recipe for $1.89 per serving.  Take that, Wal Mart!  And, no matter how you feel about Dr. Phil,  if you are in the mood to try your hand in contesting, the next beef cookoff is in 2011.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Slow food?

The other day, I posted some thoughts about why I have trouble calling myself a locavore, but I realize I should share why actually do eat local/seasonal/heritage foods. I have been eating this way long before it became fashionable. Believe me, eating "slow foods" weren't always in style. Growing up in the 1970s, it was something we didn't want to do. I just wanted to be like the other kids eating Ding Dongs and drinking Tang. But no... instead, my dad always took us to Eastern Market during the summer months, when there was a lot more local produce there than there is now. And he'd buy tons of tomatoes and cukes and stuff. In the winter months, we always went to Randazzo's Fruit Market and got great fruit and vegetables to eat cheap. The Italians always had the best fruit markets! I can still remember getting roasted peanuts there in a paper bag that were still warm when we got home. My parents didn't have a lot of money, but at Christmastime, my dad always made sure we had nuts in the shell to crack in front of the tree, and easy to peel tangerines. We always had an orange in the foot of our stocking. He would buy us pomegranates then, too, long before we were all drinking POM and extolling their antioxidant properties. He would call them "love apples" with a twinkle in his eye.

In Warren, everyone was either Polish or Italian. I can remember wishing I was Italian then - it was more cool because the Italians got to wear dresses that looked like wedding gowns for their First Holy Communion and the movie "Rocky" was really popular, and they had cool food everyone loved like lasagna. We Polish kids didn't have anything cool like Sylvester Stallone, and we ate stuff everyone said was "bogue" (that was the term we used - it meant "gross") like sauerkraut. True, we eventually had a Polish Pope, after hundreds of years of Italian Popes, but he wasn't like he was in the movies or anything. However, one thing we did have was great butcher shops and delis. While we didn't get to wear an Italian horn gold necklace like our grade school counterparts, at least we had good lunch meat! Almost every Saturday, my dad would take us to the Kowalski on Van Dyke and 10 mile and we'd get lunch meat like Krakus Polish ham and Kowalski kielbasa loaf (if you can get your hands on some of the stuff, buy it. It is SO GOOD. They have it in Ann Arbor at Hillers) and we each would get a little hot snack sausage that has a Polish name I forgot, but it means "hunters sausage" to eat on the ride home. And we'd get a jar of horseradish and a loaf of Russian rye bread the likes of which you just can't get in Ann Arbor. Zingerman's Jewish Rye pales in comparison to it....but you can find it in Hamtramck (or any place where there's a lot of Polish people hanging out still). We'd also have dill pickles my dad made at home to go with our lunch.

Eating a lunch like this would only be done in the privacy or your own home, however. The only kind of sandwich you'd dare bring to school would be bologna or PB and J on white bread. I used to lie and tell kids at school that my bologna had a first name, and it was "Oscar" and my bologna had a second name and it was "Meyer" but that wasn't true. My bologna's last name was actually "Kowalski" and it reeked of garlic. I'd try to eat it fast so no one could smell it and guess I was actually Polish. I wasn't dark complected enough to pass as an Italian, but my dad changed our last name to make it easier to spell than it's eastern bloc roots, so no one could ever guess that I was really Polish. Sometimes, I'd bring a ham sandwich, but I'd cut the ham into the shape of a square so it looked like someting that was bought at a normal grocery store instead of the telltale rectangular shape of Polish ham.

Another Saturday "locavore" adventure involved my grandpa. He didn't speak English and lived in Hamtramck, but about once a month or so he'd come out to Warren to stay with us and he used to make chicken soup. Shopping for soup chicken was an experience I am sure the Italians never enjoyed. We'd go to a place on Outer Dr. on the east side and pick a chicken out live and they'd butcher it right there while you wait. He'd feel up all the chickens until he'd find one he thought was fat enough, and pronounce it "Dobrze" which means "good". Then they would weigh it by laying the chicken on the pan of what looked like a baby scale and crossing it's leg over side of the tray on the scale. Chickens aren't smart enough to figure out how to uncross their legs, so they would just lay there and complain. Then, off the chicken went to the back, and after a few squawks, a thump of a cleaver and some feathers flying around , it would be returned to us wrapped in butcher paper. We'd get extra feet to add to the pot! They also had ducks if you wanted to make the Polish soup called "czernina" which is made out of duck's blood. They'd butcher your duck and then give you a steaming canning jar full of it's blood if you were making soup.

But all the Polish people (and the Italians, too) moved from Warren north to Shelby Twp and Romeo and such, and lots of the east side's Polish delis and butcher shops have been replaced with soul food joints and Thai restaurants or just plain vacant, so I am not sure where you can get this stuff today. Hamtramck still, if you venture south of 8 Mile, but I bet you can find it north on Van Dyke. Heck, the Polish and Italian folks are even moving their dead from cemeteries up that way, so I am pretty sure you can find a good loaf of Russian rye. (not sure the health department allows while you wait butchering of chickens anymore, though). It's hard to find good Polish food in Ann Arbor outside of the Copernicus Deli on Main. So, why am I a locavore/slow food advocate?  It's because it's what I always have known.  Grow it, pickle it, eat it.  I like to support local farmers, too, but not because I think there will be a post petroleum apocolypse or anything. I want to support the local economy because I love the state of Michigan and it's people. And I eat seasonally because I like the rhythm of the seasons and the food just tastes better. I've got no problem eating citrus in the winter, even though it wasn't grown in Michigan.   So what?  Eating local food/seasonal food/ethnic foods just tastes good, period.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pasty making 2009

Alison and I made a total of 79 pasties today for the freezer.  Pasties are labor intensive, but worth it for those days where you have no idea what to make for dinner.   This year, we used lard instead of shortening - 1 lb container of lard is equal to 3 cups shortening in this recipe.   The crust was definitely flakier, and lard is much cheaper than shortening.  I am a lard convert! We made 3 batches of filling, and since we made smaller pasties this year, we actually used 6 batches of crust.  This is an extremely thrifty recipe - only 67 cents per pasty!  Serve that pasty with some ketchup. like they do in the U.P.  at  10 cents per ounce or some store bought gravy like the "trolls" do  (people who live south of the Mackinaw - under the bridge, get it?) at 35 cents per serving, and you still have enough grocery budget to add a tossed salad with home made Italian dressing at 52 cents a serving and a magic brownie like they make at Zingermans (only for a smaller portion) for only 44 cents.  The meal is only $1.98!  Take that, Walmart! 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Locavores

I guess you could call me a locavore...I do try to eat local foods seasonally, but I find that I am so often at odds with just about everyone else that defines themselves that way that  I avoid using that term to define myself.   I once sat next to someone I just met at Fridays@SELMA (where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a self professed locavore) and confided that "it's not like I am a real locavore or anything".  This woman asked me why I thought that I wasn't - she had read my blog and certainly thought I fit the bill, but I was quick to set her straight.  This got me thinking about why when you put me in a group of locavores, one of these things is not like the others and I am certainly the thing that doesn't belong.  Here's why I don't fit in:
  • Cooking is a major hobby to me, and I understand most other people don't love it as much as I do.  Locavores don't get this.   It came to light for me a few years ago when I was taking some training for camping with the Girl Scouts, and I was matched up with another woman and we were handed a can of chicken broth, some frozen vegetables and a box of barley and were told to make soup for lunch out of it on a propane camp stove.   My partner confided to me that she had no idea how to cook, let alone fire up a propane camp stove, because her family eats carry out food exclusively.  Every day!  So I had to show her how we could put together something edible with the ingredients we were handed if we could get an onion, garlic and some spices from the camp box.   I was totally shocked that she had never seen barley before, or didn't know how to cut up an onion.   She just never learned how - her mom did all the cooking when she was a kid.   I really loved this story in the NYT Magazine by Michael Pollan that talks about the demise of cooking in our culture.  The average American spends 27 minutes on food preparation per day.   That's it!   Perhaps the best thing we can do to encourage eating locally is to help more folks learn how to cook.  
  • I hated Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.   Yep, it's true, I didn't like this book, and I adore ever word Barbara Kingsolver has ever written.   I think the book borders on whiny and is sanctimonious.  Of course, Barbara can do what she did in AVM - eat locally for a year.  She's a best selling author and is rich and doesn't have to go to a job every day.   If the only book you've ever written by Barbara Kingsolver is AVM, I encourage you to read another book she wrote that certainly inspired me to want to get back to nature - it's fiction, though, and it's called Prodigal Summer.   Sadly, I think AVM made Barbara Kingsolver far more famous than even being Oprah's book club selection for The Poisonwood Bible.   AVM isn't her best work...so if you read it and loved it, try Prodigal Summer and tell me what you think.
  • Locavore types are always fantasizing about starting some food related business without looking at the practicalities of things.  My mind is always drawn to that side of things - I can't help it, I am an engineer.   It's what I do for a living - try to figure out how things might not work out and address them.  To non engineer types, this makes me a real buzz wrecker!  I hope my locavore friends have forgiven me for these transgressions.  Here are some conversations I have recently ended prematurely by asking practical questions.   The "I'd love to raise fingerling potatoes to sell at the farmer's market " discussion was stopped in it's tracks by asking about whether the MSU Extension Agent thinks about the market for fingerling potatoes in our area.  The  "I want to quit my job and spend a year at the Culinary Institute of America and become a chef" discussion was ended with my simple inquiry "Have you ever worked in a restaurant before?"  Then,  I am still shamed about my behavior with the "It's my dream to own a fancy bakery in Ann Arbor" chat that was halted by my recitation of all the fancy bakeries that already exist in this town and pondering if another could possibly make a go of it.    Sorry folks!  If you really want to start a local food business, you need to think more about the business end and less about the food end. And I know that's not very fun.  And for God's sake, don't quit your day job.  Do it in addition to your day job.  When you own your own business, it's gonna be 24/7 job, so you might as well get used to working that second shift now.  Good jobs are hard to find in this state - love the one you're with!   And I don't want to see you in that homeless commune (see item below) in a few years.
  • My understanding of Michael Pollan's "eat less, spend more" philosophy is different than other locavores.  In his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto Michael Pollan reminds us that eating locally and seasonally really is an elitist discussion, but somehow, that thought is lost on many preaching the gospel of eating locally.   What he is saying is that those of us that can afford to eat locally should do it, but for many people, it's out of reach.   Why?  It costs more to eat locally, but for some reason, that point is often lost on the locavores.  Here's an example - if you are working 3 part time jobs and taking care of your grandbabies because their momma is on crack, and there are no grocery stores in your city and you have to buy your food at what we call a "party store" here in Michigan (liquor store),  your version of "local food" might be a frozen pizza and a bag of Doritos.    If you are mentally ill and living in the homeless commune near M-14 like the guy who I see every day begging for money on my way home from work at the Jackson Road exit, perhaps eating locally might not be your top priority.  From volunteering at Food Gatherers, I learned that one of the greatest things you can donate to a food drive is protein rich foods in pop top cans.   (think Campbells Chunky Soup or Dinty Moore Beef Stew).  The homeless don't often have can openers.  I honestly hadn't thought about that.  
So, I guess I'm a locavore, but I hope that my locavore friends will forgive me for being different.   I think together, we can do some great local food things. 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Linzer Cookies...my way




Last Friday was the 2nd annual Michigan Lady Food Bloggers holiday cookie exchange, and I have to admit I wasn't feeling festive as I left to head to Patti's house.   But I had made my cookies and I was looking forward to the latkes and the fellowship, so off I went.  This year, I made Martha Stewart's Linzer cookies  - I made one batch Martha' s way and then I went rogue and made one batch the way I felt like making them.  This included using some apricot preserves I put up last summer, as well as using pecans in the dough.   Martha's recipe called for seedless raspberry jam (my own is seedy) and hazelnuts that were a bitch to peel.  Plus, hazelnuts are expensive.    I also used a star cut out instead of Martha's fir cut out.   Both of my batches are pictured above.   The cookies on the red tray are Martha style, and the ones with the star in the center are mine. I have to say my variant was much better than Martha's...here's how I did it:

Apricot Pecan Holiday Cookies



1 cup raw pecan pieces
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon table salt

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

2/3 cup apricot preserves

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roast pecan pieces in a cast iron fry pan on the stove until fragrant....don't burn them.  Set nuts aside until completely cool. Place nuts in a food processor, and process until finely ground. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla.

Whisk together groung pecans, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add to butter mixture; beat on low until combined, about 2 minutes. Form dough into two flattened disks, wrap each with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have ready two baking sheets lined with Silpats (French baking mats; see sources) or parchment paper. Also have ready one 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter and one 3/4-inch size star cookie cutter. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out half the dough to a scant 1/4-inch thickness. Using the 3-inch fluted cutter, cut out cookies. With a wide spatula, transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheets. Using the smaller cutter, cut the centers out of half of the cookies. Repeat rolling and cutting with the other half of the dough. Combine the scraps from both batches, reroll and cut.   Keep rerolling until you are out of dough.  Refrigerate it for a while if it is getting too sticky.

Bake until the edges are golden, 12 to 16 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove from oven; place on wire racks until completely cool.

Lightly sift confectioners' sugar over the decorative tops; set aside. Spread a scant tablespoon of preserves on the bottoms of each cookie, and sandwich with the sugar-dusted tops

Despite my Grinch like disposition when I left (caused by too much stuff going on, sick parents, the sun setting at 5 pm, my clock falling off the wall and breaking, and other depressing stuff) I was cured by eating lots of cookies and sharing lots of laughs, not to mention a fabulous white elephant gift exchange.    I felt really blessed this weekend.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Note to self

Stuff I want to do:



Saturday, December 05, 2009

Brownie question answered and making vanilla extract

Betty wanted to know if the recipe for Zingerman's Magic Brownies could be made ahead and when to add nuts if you were going to add them.

The furthest "ahead" I have made these brownies is the night before a school event, and I would have to put a sign with skull and cross bones warning off any samplers.  They definitely get eaten around here fast - no chance for me to make anything ahead around here - especially these brownies!   But I did a little checking, and I read here that to freeze brownies or bar cookies, cool brownies or bar cookies completely, but do not cut into individual servings. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap again with foil. Freeze up to 3 months. When ready to serve, thaw at room temperature before cutting into individual servings.  I think that would work fine.  These brownies are very rich, so I don't think they'd dry out.  Also, Zingermans sells them in sealed cellophane bags, so my guess is that they'd hold up pretty well in plastic wrap outside the freezer for a while, too.  If I were going to add nuts, I'd add them as a last step - mixing them in right before spreading them in the pan.  Or, just sprinkle them on top.  Zingerman's makes them with nuts inside and sprinkled on top. 

At Zingerman's, these brownies cost $4.75 per brownie...it's a big brownie, but yikes!  You can make whole pan of them (about 6 Zingerman sized brownies) for $5.33, per my math.  That's less than a dollar per brownie.  Make them yourself....it's an easy recipe.  By the way, when I was calculating the cost of making these brownies, I was shocked to discover how much a tablespoon of vanilla extract costs - $1.18!  I buy mine in large quantity from Penzey's - it's a little more spendy than the supermarket stuff, which comes out to about 70 cents per tablespoon.  I am wondering if it is cheaper to make my own vanilla....hmmm, let's look at the math:

Penzey's Madagascar Vanilla Beans - $28.65 for 15 beans or $1.91 per bean
Vodka (cheaper the better) - about 50 cents an ounce

To make vanilla extract, use 3 beans per cup of vodka and let steep in a lidded canning jar for 2 months.   Split the beans lengthwise.  For 1 cup (8 oz) of vodka, use 3 beans.  Total cost to make 8 oz of vanilla extract is $9.73.    For one tablespoon, that's 1/2 oz...it costs about 60 cents.   So I guess I should give it a shot some day to make my own. 

Monday, November 30, 2009

My last post of November

This is it - my last post of November.  I posted every day during November, and what I learned is that sometimes, it's really hard to come up with things to write about.  More writing isn't necessarily good writing!  I'll go back to my old approach - writing whenever my muse strikes or at least once a week.  

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas candy making part 1 - making the cookie for the Twix style bar

This year for Christmas, I am going to make candy bars.   I am making the 4 recipes featured in this Chow post, but I am going to do it my own way.   Since I am going to try to dip these all on the same day (to save on chocolate), it's going to take some strategizing.   Here's how I am planning on doing it.  My comments are in italics.   Ahead of time, I am going to need to make make the cookie base for the Twix like candy bar first

Ingredients
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks),  cut into small pieces.  The recipe said "room temperature" but I don't know how you can cut room temperature butter into little pieces.  I am leaving mine cold.

Instructions

1. In a small bowl beat together egg and vanilla, set aside.

2. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to aerate and break up any lumps. Add butter and pulse until mixture looks like sand,  Add egg mixture and pulse just until dough comes together. Form into a flat, rectangular disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until ready to bake.  I might make this a week ahead of time, or some weeknight when I have some spare time. 

3. Heat oven to 375°F. Place dough on a 14-inch piece of parchment paper, lightly flour, and roll into a 13-by-8-inch oval, about 1/8 inch thick. (Work quickly, because the dough will become difficult to roll as it warms up.) Transfer parchment paper with dough to a baking sheet, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

4. Trim dough to a 12-by-7-inch square and cut into 3-1/2-by-3/4-inch cookies (you need at least 24). Pierce each cookie four or five times with a chopstick or the base of a thermometer.    I am troubled by the whole idea of rolling this out into a round shape and then cutting into a rectangle?  What about patting it into the pan.  Some online research indicates it can be done either way.  But since I don't have a 12x7 pan, I guess I will roll.

5. Place on a baking sheet and cook until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Tomorrow, I will write about making the centers. 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tempering Chocolate

Everything I ever learned about chocolate I learned from a truffle making class I took from the ever-talented Tammy at Tammy's Tastings.    She is going to retire from chocolate making, but assures me she will still offer her truffle making class.  Like home canning, I think it helps to temper chocolate once with someone else that knows how to do it to get over your fear of doing it wrong.  When she offers a class, I will be sure to let you know.   Here's my perspective on chocolate tempering.....

Why temper chocolate?  Because chocolate is a lot like steel.  When melted chocolate becomes solid again, it's important that it has the right crystal structure.   It's been 25 years since I took metallurgy, and I don't remember much, but one thing I do remember about tempering steel is that the different phases of tempering results in different crystallography, and thus different material properties.  Different kinds of steel are used for different things - you might want to use a certain kind of steel to make a car door, a different kind to make an I beam, etc.   Steel has all different kinds of properties, and that's a good thing.  Same with chocolate.

When melted chocolate returns to solid form the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms a crystal structure, and the crystal structure it takes on depends on the temperature at which they are formed. If the chocolate is allowed to cool on its own, the crystals of fat will be loose, resulting in a chocolate that is dull in appearance, soft & malleable, and greasy to the touch. It won't "set up right", in candy speak.   While tempering,  the goal is to keep the chocolate above that temperature so that the cocoa butter actually forms a dense crystalline structure. Holding the chocolate at this temperature and stirring will allow a whole bunch of these stable crystal structures to form providing a lot of seed crystals to form in the chocolate. When the chocolate is finally allowed to fully cool, if there are enough stable seed crystals, then the chocolate will harden into a very stable hard chocolate with a slight sheen, snap when broken, and hold a nice shape.  In candy talk, it will "set up well" and it will also prevent blooming of the chocolate -  unsightly light brown streaks.  So to make candy, you can't just melt chocolate any old way.

Some other things to know about chocolate for candy making:

  • You have to use real chocolate for chocolate making - not a bag of chocolate morsels to use for baking. At the grocery store, you can buy bars of Ghirardelli baking chocolate at various percentages and those have worked really well for me.  I just recently bought some on sale at Busch's that were 3 for $5.   That works out to about  $6.66 per lb.  It's a little extra work, because you will have to chop it up into small pieces.  Chocolate for chocolate making comes in drops, but if you are just getting started with chocolate making, I'd suggest going with bars from the grocery store.
  • Don't bother with the double boiler.   The microwave is a much better tool for chocolate making.   Double boilers are a pain to do anything in, especially chocolate tempering.  At my house, the microwave is just sitting there, waiting to reheat last night's dinner leftovers or to make a bag of popcorn.   It's good to have another use for it.   (by the way, making rice is also another great use for the microwave, but I will save that for another post).  
  • Great tip I learned from Tammy - use a plastic bowl for tempering chocolate - it retains less heat than glass.   I have some Tupperware Rock and Serve containers that work well for me. 
  • To temper a pound of chopped up dark chocolate, microwave it for a minute and stir, and return it to the microwave for about 30 seconds and stir again, and keep doing this (reduce how many seconds you wave it as it gets closer to being done) until is about 75% melted.  Once it's that far melted, just keep stirring it until  it's all melted.   Check the temperature....the goal is to get it to 90 F without going over.
  • If you blow it and go over 90 F, all is not lost.  Return the chocolate to the microwave and heat it to 115-120 F.  Don't go over.   Then add about 4 oz. of finely chopped chocolate that is already tempered (this is called seed chocolate).   Bars of baking chocolate are already tempered, so that will work.  This gives the cocoa butter some crystals of the already formed chocolate to glom onto.  Remember back in high school chemistry where you made crystals?   No, of course you don't!  Anyway, what you learned and forgot is that crystals beget other crystals.   Once a crystal has formed, it's easier for others to form on it.  Crystals need friends!
  • How to know if your chocolate has tempered?  Dip your finger in and smear it on a piece of parchment paper.   It should set up and get hardin a couple minutes.  You can put it in the fridge to hasten the process. If not, go back and do a redo like described above.   Chocolate is very forgiving. 
I did a little research and the right temperature for milk chocolate is a bit lower than the 90 F max for dark chocolate.  Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking provides says 86-88 F for milk chocolate, so that's what I will use when I use some milk chocolates this year for dipping.  I found a lot of great info about tempering chocolate on this blog - Cooking For Engineers.   It helped me to understand chocolate tempering by relating it to metal.   Not sure anyone but me would care, but I am an engineering geek myself, so I sure appreciated the comparison. 

Friday, November 27, 2009

It's official....

....I have nothing left to write about.   So much for writing during the whole month of December - I can't think of anything to write in the remaining days of November. 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Season

I guess it's official - we're in the holiday season.  This Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent....in years past, I have tried blogging for the Twelve Days of Christmas.   It got me thinking - should I try to blog for all of Advent this year?   I think I will!  I've enjoyed participating in NaBloPoMo for November, which is National Blog Posting month.   It required me to get up a little earlier in the morning, which was nice.  I also started making the kids a hot breakfast every morning.   So, I guess I will continue on for the first 25 days of December as well. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What I am making for Thanksgiving

Roasted Brined Turkey and Pan Gravy - Cook's Illustrated
Pioneer Woman Style Dinner Rolls - see below
Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole - with canned green beans and mushroom soup, because that's how it is supposed to be made
Home Made Cranberry Sauce
Dill Pickles - made last summer
Sweet Potatoes with Ginger Syrup
Pecan Pie - from Grand Traverse Pie Company (school fundraiser)

I quit reading the Pioneer Woman Cooks blog because I just want recipes, not all sorts of photos.   It's a nice blog, though, and it got the Pioneer Woman a book deal, and if you want to see all her pretty pictures, click through to the blog.   So I can remember what I am doing tomorrow,  here is the recipe that I discerned from her post, simplfied and changed to make it more user friendly (at least to me) and reduced in size to a "normal" amount of rolls.  It's a lot like the camping bread dough recipe I use in that for the first rise, you could make it ahead and put it in the fridge for days until you use it.   I have never seen a recipe that used both baking soda and baking powder before, let alone with yeast, so I did a little research.  Cook's Thesaurus says that recipes that call for both baking powder and baking soda are probably using the baking soda to offset extra acidity in the batter (from ingredients like buttermilk or molasses) and to weaken the proteins in the flour.   Since I don't have acidic ingredients, I got to wondering how acidic actual bread dough was after the first rise, and I found out that the amount of sugar at the start affects the the final pH of the bread dough.  This dough does have sugar in it.  However, the yeast doesn't really care about what the pH is.  (I found all of this out in this paper.)  So maybe the baking soda or baking powder is just there to weaken the proteins in the flour.   Further research indicates this recipe is an old Betty Crocker recipe.   Anyway, I'm going to give it a shot.

 

Dinner Rolls
2 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/2  c. vegetable oil
4.5 c. flour
2 t. dry yeast (or one envelope)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt


Scald milk, sugar and oil and cool to lukewarm in a dutch oven.  Add 4 c. flour and yeast, stir.  Put lid on dutch oven and let rise for 1 hour.   Add 1/c  cup flour, baking soda, powder and salt.  Stir to combine.  Butter a muffin pan and form dough into 1 inch balls and put 3 in each to make cloverleaf rolls. Allow to rise again 1 - 2 hours.  Bake in a 400 F oven 17-20 minutes, or until golden.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Note to self: bulbs planted in the garden

Every year, Downtown Home and Garden prices their remaining spring flowering bulbs half off during mid November.  This year, I bought hyacinths for forcing and then some unique bulbs for planting in the garden.   I'm documenting it here because I will forget what it was and where I planted it come spring.  Along the steps, I planted oxalis adenophyla (Shamrocks) and ornithalgum nutans (Drooping star of Bethlehem) by the stairs and muscari golden fragrance hyacinthoides otisponica pink (can't find a picture of this pink bluebell) and muscari saffier down by the Pink Promise hybrid tea rose bush my daughter planted.  I'll try to rmember to post later about how these all turn out!  I hope the rose bush makes it - I've never had much luck with roses.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Making candy this year for Christmas

I love to make candy - it's a dying art...no one does it any more.   Looking through my blog, I've posted about making toffee and making peppermint patties, which are two fairly easy candy recipes for the newbie candy maker to start out with.  If you can find either of these cookbooks - long out of print, but can be found online and at tag sales and book sales sometimes, they are great to learn how to make candy:

  • "The Candy Cookbook" by Mildred Brand
  • Farm Journal's "Homemade Candy"
Everything I learned about tempering chocolate I learned from Tammy Coxen. of Tammy's Tastings.  If she teaches some truffle making classes this holiday season, take one!  It's great.  Stay tuned here for more of my holiday candy making ventures.   This season, I think I am going to make these candy bars.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Less than $2 per serving...take that, Walmart!

My blogging friend Noelle has started something wonderful - the Anti Walmart Challenge.  Not that I'm against Wal Mart...I haven't ever really shopped at one since they have been drummed out of Ann Arbor every time they propose to build one around here, but I really take issue with their commercials.  If you watch any TV at all, you’ve probably seen one of Wal Mart’s recent ads that feature a mom bragging about how she can feed her family on food from Wal Mart on less than $2 a serving. One of the ads is at breakfast time, and the products featured are a sugary yogurt targeted at kids, toaster pastry, and some soy milk.  Why soy milk when she's feeding them the neon colored yogurt?  The other ad takes place at dinnertime and the meal consists of frozen garlic bread, bagged salad, bottled Wal Mart brand salad dressing and spaghetti.   What Noelle has proposed is for food bloggers to post about how cooking from scratch can save money.   I really like this idea....plus she is going to donate $2 for every post she gets to Gleaners Food Bank, which helps feed the hungry in the Detroit area.  Detroiters really need the help right now...many people out of work, many families are struggling to put food on the table.

I decided to go right for the Walmart jugular and start with spaghetti.  Yes, it might take a little less forethought to just use a jar of Walmart sauce and a bag of salad and a bottle of Walmart salad dressing and some frozen garlic bread.  With a little forethought, this meal can be made by a working person after a long work day.   First, in the morning, get a head start by making my crockpot spaghetti sauce with 4 lbs of ground beef and an additional can of tomato puree.    The good news here is that it makes enough for 4 meals, so the rest can be frozen for another 3 days worth of meals.  This results in homemade spaghetti that actually has meat in it for $1.17 per serving.  Note that I didn't sale shop for these prices - this is just what happened to turn up at Busch's this week.  $1.99 per pound isn't a great price for ground beef....you can sometimes get it for $.99 cents/lb in a 5 lb tube which would even make this price even better.   I am sure Walmart sells it that way...check it out.   Then, serve the spaghetti with home made garlic bread made from a grocery store baguette for $.21 per serving.  This price could even be reduced more by baking a frozen bread dough loaf instead of using a baguette from the bakery.    Lastly, a salad made from half head of iceberg lettuce, a quarter head of red cabbage and 2 grated carrots, and my son's salad dressing for $.52 per serving.

Without even trying hard, my meal is $1.90 per serving.   The hardest part about this venture was tallying up the costs - it certainly wasn't cooking it!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winter food preservation projects

I was just reviewing all that I canned this year to see what I might like to use for Christmas or hostess gifts this holiday season.    I was surprised to see how low I am already on strawberry jam.   Technically, it's not even winter yet and I am almost out.  Last June, I made 15 pints of Natural Strawberry Jam.   It gets eaten every day around here - next year I need to remember to make more.  I also made salsa and a couple kind of ketchups, brined dill pickles, fresh dill pickles, and pickled green beans.  I made lots of liqueurs...strawberry, blueberry, cherry, raspberry.  But it is nearing winter in Michigan and there's not much local food to put up.  What would be some good things to can for the holidays?

I still have some Major Grey's Chutney left from last April - mangoes come into season in winter and it is the best time to can this chutney.  Another great food preservation project for winter is to make your own vinegar.  I bought some Michigan blueberry, cherry and raspberry wine from the Leleenau that I think will make some great vinegars.  I better get them going today.  Here are some recipes I might try for winter canning.  These would make great Christmas or hostess gifts:

Champagne Grape Jelly

Pickled Garlic, Shallots and Pearl Onions

Friday, November 20, 2009

8 things every Michigan Lady Food Blogger should do...

Today, I put a post on our group blog to discuss 8 things every Michigan Lady Food Blogger should do....check it out!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Next time I can't figure out what to make out of chicken breasts...

Here's some ideas:

Lynn Rosetto Kasper Ginger Shallot Chicken

Lucinda Scala Quinn's Vinegar Glossed Chicken

America's Test Kitchen Skillet-Roasted Chicken Breasts with Potatoes that came to me via a newsletter from the Splendid Table.    Since it's a pain to link to it, here's my interpretation of the recipe:


4 (10- to 12-ounce) bone-in, split chicken breasts
salt and pepper
olive oil
1-½ pounds red potatoes (4 to 5 medium), or any kind of potato cut into 1-inch wedges
juice from 1 lemon
1 medium garlic clove
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves - I'm going to use dried because that's what I have on hand always
Pinch red pepper flakes

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a cast iron frying pan over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook until deep golden, about 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, toss the potatoes with 1 more tablespoon of the oil, salt, and pepper in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high power until the potatoes begin to soften, 5 to 10 minutes, shaking the bowl (without removing the plastic) to toss the potatoes halfway through.  I use this technique often for making potatoes.  I learned it from Cooks Illustrated.   Great with added rosemary!
4. Turn chicken skin side up and put it in a baking pan in the oven and bake until the thickest part of the breasts registers 160 to 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes.
5. While the chicken bakes, pour off any fat in the skillet, add 1 tablespoon more oil, and return to medium heat until shimmering. Drain the microwaved potatoes, then add to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and tender, about 10 minutes.  I'll probably try putting the chicken in the cast iron pan in the oven for 10 minutes, and then adding the potatoes 10 minutes through to the pan.  One less pan to clean.
6. Whisk the remaining some oil, the lemon juice, garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes together. Drizzle the oil mixture over the chicken and potatoes before serving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I don't read AnnArbor.com often....

There is plenty of bad things to say about it, but I will try to find the good in it.   Here's a couple things worth reading:

The Fart Story - Ann Arbor thought it would be cool if they had bike racks that supported the arts, but then this happened....

The Kitchen Mailbox - Marge Biancke was the Ann Arbor News longtime food writer.   Her recipes are always good.   She doesn't get featured often in AnnArbor.com - I am not sure why - but her kitchen mailbox is still a classic. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce

I have been making spaghetti sauce in the crock pot lately, and wanted to jot down how I am doing it so I won' forget.    I haven't priced it out, but making it this way has got to be cheaper than buying the jarred stuff.    One batch made 4 8x8 lasagnes that I then froze for eating later on busy days.

Spaghetti Sauce
printer friendly

6 lbs or so of ground beef
3 onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 large cans tomato puree
3 bay leaves
3 T. Italian seasoning  (I've been using Penzey's pizza seasoning because I have several free samples)
Salt, pepper and sugar, to taste

Brown ground beef in a skillet and place in the crock pot, draining grease.   After last batch, add onions and garlic to pan and saute until softened.   Add tomato puree, bay leaves and Italian seasoning, stir until everything is well mixes.  Cook on high for 4 hours or low on 8 hours.   Add salt and pepper and sugar (about a couple tablespoons) to taste. 

This makes a very rich meaty sauce that the whole family loves.  I'll do some investigating later to figure out how I could pressure can it safely, but for now, I am not sure yet.   It can be frozen instead.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Some interesting facts about my blog....

I like to use Google Analytics to find out things about what people read on my blog.   Not that the numbers mean anything, since I blog totally for free, but it is always interesting to me to understand what posts my readers like the most.

  • My blog averages about 100 reads a day.  I am always a little shocked to find out that it's more than a handful of people I know and love.  Whoever you are, thank you!
  • My most popular post has always been one I wrote in 2006 about pickled eggs.  One time the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel featured it, so I think that's why it is so popular.  
  • My top 5 posts are rounded out with the recipe for Olga Bread from Olga's Kitchen Restaurant...(I used to work there when I was a teen), a canning recipe for Major Grey's chutney,  how to can strawberry jam without adding boxed pectin
  • I started my blog in Jan. 2006.  My first post was about how much I don't like eating at McDonalds.   I had to eat there a lot because the kids liked it then.   Note they have grown out of it!  They have seen the movie Super Size me and they don't want to eat it any more.   They much prefer Taco Bell or Wendy's now. 
I have noticed over my almost 3 years of food blogging, many people start food blogs, few continue.   All I can say is to try to write at least once a week.  That has helped me stick with it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Greenfield Village - at the Firestone Farm

One of my favorite places at GFV is the Firestone Farm, which is a beautiful Victorian farmhouse that was the childhood home of Harvey Firestone, founder of the tire company.  When visiting the house, the men and women are re-enacting the typical work day of a farm in the late 1800s. The ladies of the house would follow the rules for housework:

  • Wash on Monday
  • Iron on Tuesday
  • Mend on Wednesday
  • Market on Thursday
  • Clean on Friday
  • Bake on Saturday
  • Rest on Sunday

 
Do you do housework on a particular day?  I think that my schedule would look like this:

  • Work and drive kids to stuff on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
  • Work, Happy Hour and collapse on Friday
  • Try to get all the housework done and fail on Saturday
  • Shop and do the wash on Sunday, swear I will start on it earlier in the week next week, but never do

 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Greenfield Village

One of the best things about my job is that I work right across the street from the Henry Ford in Dearborn.  Henry Ford (the man) was quite an ecletic individual.    Even though he is famous for saying "History is bunk", that quote was really part of a sentence where he was talking about not using the past to justify bad decisions made now.  He opposed the build up of American armed forces before World War I, and the quote "History is bunk" was his way of saying just because it was done in the past, doesn't mean we should do it now.   Here's more information about that quote in this blog post.  

The fact is, Ford was always fascinated with history, and one of the quirky, rich guy things he did was collect Americana.  Rich guys always feel a need to leave their mark on society.  For example, Donald Trump has left his Trump Towers in cities all over.  Tom Monaghan (Domino's Pizza founder) wanted so badly to build a crucifix taller than the Statue of Liberty that he left the left wing politics of Ann Arbor to build his own city in Florida to do it.   So, Henry Ford was just doing what quirky rich guys do all over - he was making his mark.   Here's a better quote from Ford and his feelings about history:

"I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used.... When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition..."

I'm the lucky benefactor of Ford's quirkiness, because as often as I can I can step back in history on my lunch hour.  I most enjoy walking the grounds of Greenfield Village during the summer months on my lunch hour.  In the winter before Christmas, it's only open on the weekends, and this blog post from Kim talks about Holiday Nights at the Village.  I am looking forward to making a visit on a non work day this holiday season.   I will write more about GFV - check back soon....most Michiganders have been to the Henry Ford as part of a class field trip, but check it out as an adult.  And bring your holiday visitors from out of town!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Up to my ears in pie orders


Sorry for the short post today - any spare minute I have is spent tabulating pie orders for the 8th grade class trip to Washington DC.   Our middle school does a fundraiser with the Grand Traverse Pie Company and it really is a great one - the pies taste wonderful and each kid earns $5 per pie.    I am in charge this year. Want to buy some pie?  Send me an email before I have to submit the order on Monday morning...(only if you live where I can get it to you). On the Monday before Thanksgiving, I will deliver it.  They cost $14.50.  They come already baked or frozen, and you can then pop it in the oven and pretend you baked it yourself.  I am fussy about pie, and Grand Traverse pies are the only store bought ones I will eat.  They are very good!

Here's the flavors we are selling - all named after spots in Michigan's Grand Traverse area, where local fruit abound:
  •  Old Mission Cherry Pie 
  • Long Lake Berry Cherry 
  • Front Street Apple 
  • Suttons Bay Blueberry 
  • Lakeshore Berry 
  • Fire House Strawberry Rhubarb 
  • Good Harbor Raspberry 
  • Pecan 
  • Pumpkin 
  • Pumpkin Pecan

 Meanwhile, back to the reckoning....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Weekly meal calendar....

Last year, I tried to make the commitment to a meal calendar, and failed miserably.   I am trying to figure out why I couldn't stick with it.   I was inspired by my family's many camping experiences - you simply HAVE to make a menu plan for camping, or else you aren't going to eat very well on a camping trip.   But somehow it requires more energy than I could summon.   I've had some luck in the past with committing certain days to certain things - i.e. crockpot day, pizza day, etc.   Maybe I should play on that theme and select a main dish style for that day.   At the beginning of the school year, I proposed that the cherubs each take a day of cooking.  That lasted about a week, mostly because of my failure to plan adequately.  By the time I was in middle school, my mother had gone back to work and my sister and I switched off making dinner every night of the week.  If my memory serves me correctly, we made a lot of spaghetti with jarred sauce and hamburger.    What to do?

Here are my options:

  • Monday: Husband cooks - he doesn't work Mondays.  It's a busy night for us. We have trumpet lessons and Boy Scouts.  We have to leave the house at 5:45 pm
  • Tuesday: Kids have catechism, it would make sense for one of them to cook so they could eat before they left. One night a month I have a church meeting
  • Wednesday:  One night a month I have a church meeting
  • Thursday:  Kids have piano - it would make sense for one of them to make dinner because we have to leave the house at 6 pm.  Not a lot of time to cook and eat.
  • Friday:  Most of the time everyone's home and no regular commitments
  • Saturday:  We usually try to go to church at 5:30 Mass...makes for a good dinner that can be in the oven for an hour while we are gone.  Farmer's Market day - lots of good food inspiration
  • Sunday:  Usually my grocery shopping day.  Great day for cooking ahead and big cooking projects.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Various and sundry items

I have used all my blogging time this morning trying to remove some malware from my daughter's computer.  But real quick, here are a few things I want to try doing between now and the end of the year:
And here's some feedback about the cutting up chicken....the video worked!  It was really easy.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Reducing my asshole footprint

A couple years ago, Vanity Fair wrote this great quiz called "Know Your Asshole Footprint" which really rung true to me....check it out - if you can answer 4 or more with  yes for your age group, it is suggested that you take urgent action to reduce your asshole footprint.   I do love these suggestions of what can be do to reduce one's footprint:

How to Reduce Your Asshole Footprint:


1. Read a book to a small child, and not in a "Cool! I read this when I was a kid!" way.

2. Stop gelling, mussing, and spiking your hair. You should part it, and that's that.

3. Refrain from ever using the construction "Mmm, I want me some.…"

4. Do not ever order a Cosmopolitan again.

5. Give in to the aging process, through every step of it.

6. Eat leftovers.

7. Go two entire, consecutive days without using a wireless electronic communication device.

8. Do not ever again refer to an elderly person, to his or her face, as "so cute."

9. All those things prescribed by Robert Greene in The 48 Laws of Power? Do the precise opposite.

I also like the section that suggests how one can purchase "Asshole Offsets".  All I can say is that I am guilty of a few on this list, although I am not rich enough to afford being an asshole in my age group.  (i.e. helicopter to summer camp, etc).   I am going to have to ponder some a little more realistic for people my age that live in the midwest....stay tuned.  Meanwhile, I need to work on reducing my footprint.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cutting up a whole chicken

Around town in Ann Arbor lately, there's been big talk of "reskilling".  There's this group called Transition Ann Arbor whose stated goal is to "build resilience". And by this they mean to teach people things they should already know how to do, but never learned.   One thing I keep hearing about is that people are interested in learning how to butcher their own animals.   There's a class offered by a local farm that charges folks $30 each to let people help them butcher their chickens.  Once again, my country living inlaws would be scratching their heads at this trend...they think we Ann Arbor folks are a real hoot. Wait til I tell them that people are paying money to learn how to butcher animals! This will be a great Thanksgiving table discussion. The last time they laughed that hard at me was when the PETA people protested at the buck pole in downtown Dexter.   That being said, I don't know how to butcher a chicken, nor do I see a need to learn, given that I don't own any.  My brother in law raised chickens for years and my neices and nephews would think nothing of grabbing a chicken and cutting it's head off.  But I really should learn how to cut up a whole chicken.  

Many years ago, I was inspired by Cook's Illustrated to try to do it myself, and it wasn't pretty.   I bought some Wusthof poultry shears, and my one and only attempt was a mess and left me squeamish.  I really didn't like all the popping of bones out of joints as described in the process.   Last year, I took a class at Williams Sonoma and the guy teaching it promised to show us all how easy it was, and then he proceeded to have a difficult time doing it.  He didn't seem very confident in his skills.  

Why learn how to cut up a chicken?  Buying whole chickens is a great way to save money.  Plus, I try to buy local chicken when it's affordable, and it just doesn't come on a styrofoam tray and in boneless skinless form.   I need some "reskilling".   My mom used to cut up all the chicken we ever ate.   It was an easy task for her, but then again, when she was a kid, she probably butchered them too in her Appalachian homestead.  And she probably did it with a kerosene lamp and no running water, either.  They didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing.   Not sure if she remembers how anymore either.  I'll ask her.

Meanwhile, I found this video on the web and I am going to give it a shot today.  This gal sounds like she knows what she is talking about.   And there is no excessive pounding and popping.   It can be done with a knife - but I can dust off those poultry shears and use them, too.  Stay tuned and I'll let you know how it turns out.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

My monastic fantasy



Ever since I read The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris,  I've been fascinated by the monasticism.  The Benedictine lifestyle of communal living and the lectio divina, the balanced life of prayer and work sounds so peaceful.  Praying the Liturgy of the Hours every day seems so relaxing - I can picture myself in a stone chapel reciting the vespers by candlelight.   The hills are alive with the sound of music, and I could be out there....

Time to make it real - a great deal of monastic life is silence.  Me and silence??? I am a big talker...I am always on the phone, or talking on line or talking to my husband (who probably isn't listening) and talking to my kids (definitely not listening).  And the cloistered life means living with a bunch of other people, some of which are certainly going to be a pain in the ass.  Sounds a lot like living in a college dorm without the partying, or being at work 24/7.   Plus, silent praying is really, really hard for me.   I once heard a comedian say "My mind is a scary place - I try never to go in there alone" and that resonates with me.  Each year at Advent and Lent, I cantor a candelight Taize prayer service at my church which is very meditative.   I dread the part of the service that is actually 10 minutes of silence. I usually spend that time trying not to freak out about the next chant I am going to have to sing.  The Taize music is always really hard, but repetitive, so if you sing it wrong once, it sticks out like a sore thumb.  I suppose there is some kind of "Zen" I am gaining spiritually from this, but I haven't figured it out just yet.  So I know that I am a long way from abbey life, despite my love of the the Sound of Music.   After all, even Maria had to ditch the abbey by marrying the the wussy looking control freak Captain Baron von Trapp.    I don't care how well he could dance the landler....she still traded in one life of rules for another.  How do you solve a problem like Maria?  Evidently it's by telling her what to do. 

I think what I really like about the whole monastic lifestyle is the food and drink.   Where would the happy hour be without Benedictine and Chartreuse, Abbey Ales?   How about those Trappist fruitcakes? Let's not forget the Tassajara Bread Book....Also, I love visiting The Society of St. John in Michigan's Keweenaw for some of the most fanstastic baked goods and jams and jellies I've ever tasted.  The idea of living on Lake Superior and baking and canning all day sounds great, but I know that the reality of it all would likely be different.   After all, I am still trying to get through Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain...

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Michigan Lady Food Bloggers

Who are the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers?  It's a group of women that live in Michigan that blog about food.   We have a google group where we talk about food and blogging, and about every quarter or so, we get together for potlucks.    The MLFB started a while ago when there were a few of us that lived in Ann Arbor got together for tea because we read each others blogs.  We've gotten together to shop at the farmer's market, we've held cookie exchanges, we've had outdoor cookouts,  we've tasted French wine and made French recipes featured in MTAOFC a la Julie and Julia.   We've drank many a mojito together.   We've attended folk music festivals together.  We've canned together.  A group of us eats breakfast most every Friday together.  Some of us have moved from Michigan - one now lives in Denver, another in Mexico, but once in MLFB, always in MLFB.   We've got more bloggers outstate now - as far north as Traverse City.  (I'd love to find a Yooper woman blogging about food to add to our group - know anyone?)   Some of us work in the food industry, as food writers or chefs or farmers.  Others are civilians that like eating and cooking.  Some of us are fabulous cooks, and some, like me, are always working on honing their skills.   Being a great cook or a great writer isn't a requirement to join - just a love of food and writing about it.  We write a joint food blog together called My Food Tribe.

Why is it all women?  Early on, we took a poll - because there are many fine food blogs written by men, we wondered if we should include both sexes.   I voted "no" - mostly because I work with all men and most of my friends are men and I wanted to make some more women friends.  The majority decide to keep it all women, so that's the way it is today.  What's the best thing about MLFB?  Blogging can be a lonely endeavor if you never actually get to meet any of your readers face to face - that's where the MLFB comes in.  We comment on each others posts, we link to each others posts.  Also, many people start food blogs, few people keep at it.  Being part of a blogging group inspires me to keep the blog fires burning.    So, are you a woman that lives in Michigan that writes a food blog?  I invite you to join us.   Are you thinking about starting a food blog?  We'll let you join, but you have to promise to start one ASAP, or we will gently nag you about it.   To find out more about joining, send me an email at momskitchen at comcast dot net.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lard pie crust



For years, I have been reading about how lard makes for a better pie crust, but I admit, I was more than a little squeamish.   I was worried it would taste meaty, based on this article from the NYT.  For years, I have made my pie crusts with Crisco, following my old reliable pie crust recipe.   Last year, I made tamales that called for lard, so I remembered that the lard wasn't as gross as I thought it would be.  It was a lot like shortening, but the texture feels more greasy.  It didn't smell like I thought it would - it didn't smell at all, in fact.

I made two apple pies the other night with lard.   Sure enough, the BH&G pie crust recipe says I could use shortening or lard....I had read that some people use half butter, half lard but I was going "all in".  It was easier to cut in the lard than shortening, and the crust was easier to roll out.   When baking, the crust had a slightly different smell - it didn't smell like meat or anything, it just smelled a little different.  It tasted great!  The crust was more tender than a shortening crust.   Everyone loved it - I didn't confess my little lard secret.   Plus, lard cost about 1/3 less than Crisco.   I am now a lard convert! 

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Some interesting things I came across lately....

The other day, while eating some bi bim bop at Kosmo's Deli in Kerrytown, I picked up a copy of Natural Awakenings  which is one of those free alternative publications that you can pick up in newspaper boxes around town.    As much as I wish I could pick up a paper copy of  The Onion  in Ann Arbor, like you can in Chicago, I'm still grateful for the plethora of alternative news publications we do have offered.   Normally, I don't find much of value in Natural Awakenings, but this month, I found some things that caught my eye:

  • Sacred Essences - this is a local company that specializes in flower essences.   I'd love to learn more...I've added their blog to my reader list.
  • Simplicity - I really do need to read Thoreau - this winter is the time.   Meanwhile, how many of these items on Linda Breen Pierce's Recipe of Simplicity can I start doing and when?
  • If I can't make it to my yoga class...I should at least try these suggested holiday yoga poses...but maybe I need to figure out a way to get to a Sweet Suhka Yoga class once in a while. 
Your thoughts?