Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good Luck in the New Year

New Year's Eve is for chumps, I am sorry to report.   It's full of hollow promises and fake fun - everyone pretending they are having a great time, but not really.  From my high school days, when my best friend (who was cheating with my boyfriend on me) vowed on NYE that girlfriends were more important than a guy and she would dump him..which she promptly didn't do, starting the very next the new millenium, where Y2K was supposed to cause an apocalypse and it didn't,   I just don't buy into any of it.   I much prefer to stay home and ring in the New Year, although we used to fake midnight when the kids were younger and pretend it was midnight at 10 pm so we could go to bed early.   They are teenagers now, so we will probably stay up until the clock strikes 12.    I do look forward to hearing Auld Lang Syne, which has got to be the most depressing drinking song ever.  This version I find particularly beautiful - by Dougie MacLean....

My parents rarely went out on New Year's Eve because they didn't drink much and we lived in a neighborhood full of raging alcoholics.   We usually stayed in and and at midnight, we kids would bang on pots and pans on the front porch.  However, I can remember one time my family went to visit our old neighbors who moved "up north" to Shelby Township, which we considered very far away from Warren and out in the wilderness somewhere.   In the 1970s, it probably was very rural, now Shelby Township is just another strip of urban sprawl.   I can remember my sister Sandy and I listening to Casey Kasem's countdown for the year.  We'd write down every song in order in a notebook while my parents played euchre or pinochle.  

There are many food traditions for the New Year, although I wasn't raised with any in particular.  So I adopted one -  Hoppin' John, which is best described as "soul food" - it's black eyed peas and considered even better luck if one eats it with collard greens.    I make Hoppin' John every New Year's Eve....because I like to eat it for lunch the first week back at work.   It's so good for you - a serving of black eyed peas has w whopping 10g fiber.  I'm going to skip the "Master Cleanse" detox fad that everyone seems to be doing these days and instead pledge to eat more legumes for the New Year.   I'm going to make mine with kale today, and kielbasa.    My Hoppin' John recipe can be found here....and my tasty collards recipe can be found here.   So instead of going out tonight, how about staying in with those you love and making some really good food?   Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dark Days Challenge Week 6: The Wolverine Cocktail

It's the holidays, so why not have a cocktail party for your supper?    This week, I wanted to experiment with some of the cherry brandy I made with a recipe from Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves.   The cherries were late this year, so I didn't miss them in their entirety as I often do, since we go out of town for the 4th of July week.    I made cherry berry spoon fruit and I also made (and remade) cherry preserves with cherries I bought at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. I don't remember exactly where they were from - most likely they came from the west side of the state, because we get a lot of vendors during fruit season from the more temperate side of Michigan, but I can remember buying sour cherries locally years from a place I drove to that had a cherry pitter, which was totally cool!  I really hate pitting cherries.

Late in July I bought more cherries from a roadside stand somewhere between Manistee and Traverse City.   My husband and I camped at Orchard Beach State Park while the kids were at their respective camps - the eldest at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp for art and the youngest at Boy Scout camp in Ohio.   We went wine tasting and canoeing and had a great time.  I'll say I got the cherries in Empire, because I remember stopping by the Grocer's Daughter to sample the fine chocolates.   Inspired by Melissa Clark in the NY Times, I made some real maraschino cherries. By the end of the season, I was really sick of pitting cherries, so the cherry brandy was a recipe that didn't require it, which appealed to me.

The recipe is pretty simple - and if you live in Michigan and want to make some right now, you can buy frozen sour cherries from Traverse City right now at Meijer.  The cherries are edible when it's done, but they aren't at their prime visually.   The maraschino cherries definitely look better.  

2 lb stemmed sour cherries
1 cup sugar
3 cups brandy (I used cherry brandy made at Black Star Farms in Traverse City)

Layer cherries and sugar in a 2 quart jar.  Cover the cherries with brandy.  Close the jar with a tight fitting cap and shake to dissolve the sugar.  Store the jar in a cool dark place, shaking occasionally.   The brandy will be ready in about 3 months. 

I developed this Michigan cocktail that I dubbed "The Wolverine" because Michigan is the Wolverine State.   I hope the Spartan fans aren't offended....I didn't name it the Wolverine because I went to the U of M Business School.  My heart lies with my beloved Michigan Tech Huskies, where I went to undergrad and graduate school to study engineering. 

Here's how I made my cocktail:

1 shot cherry flavored brandy (home made)
1 shot vodka (I used vodka from New Holland Brewery in Holland, MI - 155 miles)
1 shot apple cider (Wasems Orchard - 23 miles)

Shake with crushed ice and serve up in a martini glass.   Or, add some club soda (Faygo - Detroit MI 50 miles) and serve on the rocks in a highball.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chickpea and Leek Soup

I have been a longtime fan of Christopher Kimball.   I always liked when he was a part of "Turkey Confidential" with Lynn Rosetto Kasper.    For some reason,  I don't like him so much on TV,  when he hosts America's Test Kitchen on PBS.  I don't want to sound superficial, it's just that he is rather nerdy looking with his Harry Potter-esque glasses.   The effect is that he comes off as the annoying guy you knew from college that sits in the front row of every class, brown nosing the professor, like   he knows more than you do.  Heck, he probably does know more than I do, but I don't want to feel that way. I much prefer Kimball's writing - as the editor of Cook's Illustrated, I've always enjoyed his essays at the beginning of the magazine entitled Letter from Vermont, which are more about Vermonter's life philosophy and less about knowing everything.   I realize I am applying a double standard - maybe those celebrity chefs that are also "eye candy" can get away with talking like they know more than I do. 

Over the holiday break, I got lots of cookbooks out of the library and a big stack were Chris Kimball books.  I am liking the tone of his cookbooks - much more user friendly and personal than the magazine or the TV show.   In the one I am reading now, Kitchen Detective,  he writes about what recipes inspire him, and then he goes out to make them even better.   That's how I like to work in the kitchen as well.    Plus, there's little folksy witticisms laced's a great cookbook.  I might have to buy it.   He said he was inspired by Jamie Oliver's chickpea soup recipe from the Naked Chef, another cookbook I need to get out of the library soon.   Talk about eye candy!  You be the judge....somehow, even though Jamie's always telling me how to cook and eat as well, I seem to take it better. 

Looks notwithstanding, I tried Kimball's chickpea soup and I liked that he used dried chickpeas instead of canned (or "tinned", as Jamie Oliver called them in his recipe), and he garnished his with the stuff you put on top of osso bucco, a dish made of veal shank I once made that no one but me would eat here at our house.   The official name of that stuff is gremolata and it is wonderful with this soup.  Kimball insists that the soup is better with homemade chicken stock, which is how I made mine because I had some in the freezer, but the "tinned" stuff would do just fine.    Here's my take on it:

Chickpea and Leek Soup
printer friendly recipe
Makes enough for about 6 people

2 c. dried chickpeas, rinsed, picked over and soaked overnight
1 t. kosher salt
2 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
2 leeks - white and light green parts, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
3 cans chicken broth - like Cook's Illustrated, I like Swanson's Natural Goodness (low sodium)
4 medium potatoes, peeled diced in 1/2 inch pieces

For the gremolata
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
zest of 2 lemons
2 cloves garlic, minced

Fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare the chickpeas by draining them and cooking them in a quart of cold water with the salt until they are tender - about 30 minutes.  Drain.   Melt the butter and olive oil in a dutch oven and add the leek and saute until soft.   Add chickpeas, chicken broth and potato pieces.  Cook until the potatoes are tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

To make the gremolata, chop parsley and add lemon zest and garlic, and chop together until fine.   Garnish soup with gremolata and fresh grated Parmesan cheese.    This soup was wonderful on a cold winter'd day like today.   I can't call it a "pantry soup" like Chris Kimball did - because I had to run out and buy some leeks.  I had some leftover flat leaf parsley from another recipe, but that isn't something I'd have on hand.   I did have some Meyer lemons, which I keep in the fridge, just as Cook's Illustrated told me to.  They stay fresh a long time in the fridge.   Thanks for the tip Chris, maybe YOU DO know more than I do!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Stuffed Cabbage

I'm on a Polish food cooking kick these days...earlier this week, I tried my hand at kotlet grzyby (mushroom cutlet) and of course I have eaten plenty of kapusta this holiday.  Today's creation is golabki, commonly called stuffed cabbage or cabbage rolls.  When we were kids, we always called them cabbage "trolls" or "pigs in a blanket" and my mom made hers Campbell's tomato soup and her "secret ingredient" she used in almost all of her cooking....Lipton's French onion soup mix.  She would make them in the pressure cooker, but it's not really required.  They will cook up well in the oven or in a slow cooker.   Here's how I make them...make sure to season with enough salt and lots of fresh ground pepper.    When I was a kid, I would eat mine "naked" - I'd peel off the cooked cabbage, but I love cooked cabbage now.   I'd recommend doing that still for kids or adults that don't share the cooked cabbage love.  

Makes enough for at 4-6 people

1 medium head cabbage
2 onions, chopped fine
2 T butter
2 lb ground beef or 1 1/2  lb ground beef plus 1/2 lb ground pork or veal
1 cup rice
2 eggs
2 large cans tomato sauce - preferably no salt added
salt and pepper

Remove core from cabbage and scald the cabbage in boiling water to soften the leaves.  Remove cabbage a few leaves at a time, cutting away any tough stems.   Put cabbage back in the water to scald if the inner leaves are still hard.   Let cool.

Meanwhile, saute onion in butter until soft.  Do not brown.   Parboil rice in 2 quarts of rapidly boiling hot water for 10 minutes, drain.    Mix onion, rice, ground meat, eggs and half a can of tomato sauce for the filling.  Add at least 2 teaspoons coarse salt salt and plenty of pepper.    Fill leaves with meat and rice filling, rolling leaves around meat to make a small package.  Place seam side down in a large crock pot.   Pour remaining tomato sauce on top of stuffed cabbage leaves, add salt and pepper to taste. Cook on high for about 4 hours (or low for 8 hours).   Adjust seasonings.  Serve stuffed cabbage with tomato sauce spooned on top.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mushroom Cutlet

When asked about our nationality, I always answer "Polish and Russian"...but I am not exactly sure what part of the cultural stew of eastern bloc countries denotes my actual lineage.  A Lithuanian coworker has told me that my maiden name means "brain" in Lithuanian, and my aunt claims my dad's mother was from Lithuania.   My dad spoke fluent Russian and Polish because his parents were Russian and his father died when he was 10 years old and my grandmother remarried a Polish guy, so at his house, they spoke only a combo of Russian and Polish (many of the words are similar).   Even though my dad was born in Hamtramck, he didn't know how to speak English, so he and his twin brother were held back a year from starting kindergarten until they could speak it.   In Hamtramck in those days,  you could easily get by without speaking English.   The newspapers were in Polish, the store signs were all in Polish, and Mass was said in Polish.  But in school, one had to speak English, so my dad learned.  On my mothers side, my Grandmother was Polish (we never called her bapcia, only "Grandmother") and her husband was Polish and Czech.  I never really knew my dads mother (she died before I was born) or my mom's dad (he was hospitalized most of his life) so the grandparents I best remember were Grandmother and Tata (my father's step dad).  And they both spoke Polish all the time - in fact, Tata  spoke very little English.  My Grandmother spoke English with her West Virgina twang, and only lapsed into Polish when the adults were talking about something they didn't want us kids to understand.  I picked up some words here or there, but sometimes my dad could never remember if a word was actually Polish or Russian, so it was kind of a blend.  But we definitely ate lots of Polish food when I was growing up.

It recently dawned on me that I am the matriarch of my family. I am the eldest child of my parents, who both passed away in 2010. I'm now the "old lady" at the family gatherings - although I don't have the bapcia look about me quite yet. I'm not wearing a babuschka yet, but the least I can do is always make sure I bring some Polish food to family gatherings.    The other day, my coworker Greg and I decided to go to Hamtramck for lunch.   The city of my own birth is still a Polish stronghold, but there are lots of other cultures there now too.   On the menu at Polish Village was an item that caught my eye - kotlet grzybowy.  I was sad to find out that the mushroom cutlet was sold out for the day, but I was determined to try to make it myself at home.   It wasn't a dish we regularly made at my house, but my mother found a cookbook at a garage sale for me entitled Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans.  It was the first Polish cookbook published in the U.S. in English in 1948, I have the 1958 printing - it might still be in print can buy it new on Amazon.    Of course there was a recipe for mushroom cutlets in the book.   Mushrooms are a beloved Polish food and as a kid, we always went mushroom hunting every fall with my dad and uncle. Mushroom cutlets would be a great meatless dish to have during Lent or for the traditional Polish meatless Christmas Eve dinner Wigilia Since it was Christmas eve,  I tried making some last night for our dinner with the neighbors.   They came out great - I can't wait to make them for Lenten Fridays.  I tweaked the recipe a bit after I did a little more reading online.  It was hard to find a recipe in English, so I am happy to put this on the interwebs for the next soul looking for a Polish mushroom cutlet.  Smaczne!

Kotlet Grzyby (GZHIH-bih) or Mushroom Cutlet

3 cups stale bread cubes
1 lb fresh mushrooms (any kind - I used crimini) chopped fine
1 onion, chopped fine
3 T parsley, chopped fine
1 T butter
3 eggs
salt and pepper
More butter, for frying

In a dish, soak 2 cups of the stale bread cubes in enough milk to get them soft.  Squeeze the milk out of the bread....the bread need to be as dry as possible.  In a blender, process the remaining cup of bread cubes into fine crumbs, and set aside.

In a skillet, fry mushrooms, onion and parsley in 1 T butter.  until the mushrooms are slightly dry and the onion soft, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add mushroom mixture to a bowl with the soaked bread and eggs, stirring to combine.   In the skillet, heat some more butter to fry cutlets.  Form the cutlet by making a patty in the palm of your hand, pressing reserved dried bread crumbs into each side.   The cutlets are difficult to hold together before they are cooked, so be gentle.   Working in batches, carefully place them in the skillet, and fry on each side until well browned.  Add more butter as needed.   Season with salt and pepper.   The cutlets would be excellent with a dollop of sour cream, but we ate them as they were. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

RIP Borders 2011

Yesterday, I was rushing around trying to find my last 2 Christmas presents.   I walked in Kohls, and the place was swarming with shoppers grabbing things off the shelf in a feeding frenzy, staring at a pair of Batman slippers with a panicky look in their eyes.....Will this work for Jimmy???  I know that feeling.  All I want to do is buy a calendar, and I can't figure out where to get one.  I always used to buy my kids calendars at Borders, and Borders is no longer.  They didn't have any books I wanted to buy, but they had tons of calendars in the end. 

I went back out to the car and looked up at the empty hulk of the Borders store next to Kohls.   This version of Borders was a last gasp retail setup trying to lure customers with it's modern layout.   I hated it - I could never find whatever book I was looking for.   I can remember shopping at the original Borders - it was a tourist destination in Ann Arbor, where it was founded.  The cool part of going there was they stocked any book you wanted.   It was known for it's unique inventory system, which involved an index card that was stuffed in the back cover of your book and removed when you bought it.  Sort of like a library card.   The staff at the original store were all bookish types, and that, combined with the card, always left me feeling like I was in a library.  But instead of checking books out, I'd be at the checkout counter, buying a hundred dollars worth of books before I even knew what was happening.   Ever since I was a library aide back in 1975 at Rinke Elementary School and at St. Sylvester's Church library, I have always loved libraries.   I adore the smell of books, and walking through "the stacks".  As a kid, I found the Dewey Decimal System comforting.  There was a place for everythying, and everything had a place.   I could walk into any library and know exactly what aisle I needed to go to find what I wanted without glancing at the card catalog.  Despite being told otherwise, I did judge a book by it's cover.   Looking back on things, I probably should have been a librarian.   So I had to be very careful when I went into the original Border's store, or I would spend too much money before I realized that the lady with the graying hair pinned up in a Gibson girl type bun and cat eye glasses behind the counter wasn't actually a librarian, she was a cash register clerk,  Still, I'd feel proud of myself when she complimented me on my astute book selection.   The clerks all  knew their books.

But then, Borders grew and they lost that "library feeling" - they started carrying more stuff, like calendars, and less books.  And they started employing people that didn't love books like I loved books.    I found myself not going there any more.   Given my book hoarding tendencies, I have learned never to buy a book retail unless I have read it first.  If I am not careful, I find myself buying books I already own.     I might buy a book at a book sale or at a garage sale without reading it first.   For example, last weekend, I picked up Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" at the Ann Arbor Kiwanis sale for 50 cents.   It was a pure impulse buy - I would have been disappointed had I paid list price for it because it took me about 45 minutes to read.  That works out to less than a penny a minute...well worth what I spent.   Out of it fluttered a receipt from Borders - the book was bought for $11.00 exactly a year earlier - from the "flagship" store on E. Liberty.   I can remember when that space was Jacobsens, a defunct Michigan based department store.  Maybe the spot has a bad juju?    I thought of the person that bought the book last Christmas - did they know that Borders was going to go under a few short weeks later when they bought it?  Was it a Christmas gift?   I finished reading that book quickly and moved on to another book I had on my shelf - I wanted to reread Ruth Reichl.   I pulled down a garage sale copy of "Tender at the Bone" and still stuck to the back was a Border's price tag - $13.00.  Like Borders itself, Reichl's book is full of memories of how Ann Arbor used to be.   She went to college at U of M in the late 60s before she became famous and a large part of the book is a love letter to a more funky, earthy Ann Arbor than we have today.  

I wonder how many books on my shelf came from Borders originally?  Looking at my bookshelf, apparently there was a lot.  Evidently, I own 2 copies of "Tender at the Bone" - both with Borders tags on them.  I'll give one to my sister for Christmas.    I was a sucker for their remaindered book bins, where I'd find books I didn't know I needed until I found them sitting there waiting for me on clearance.   Did I buy them there, or did I find them at a tag sale?  Don't know, but they started their lives at Borders.    I remember I started a book club that still soldiers on without me 16 years later that used to meet at Borders on Liberty.  They'd give us a discount on the book we'd select, and a free beverage in the cafe.  I wonder where my old book group meets now?   I still have books on my shelf from that book club that I haven't yet read, all with Borders price tags still affixed.

So, where to get a calendar today on Christmas Eve?   There is no Borders left, and Barnes and Noble is way on the other side of town.   Why did Barnes and Noble stay in business, but not Borders?  They are both essentially the same kind of store.   If I go into B&N, it will be a soul killing experience for sure.   There will be a bunch of people there trying to buy a last minute Kindle or Nook or whatever their e-reader is called.   I just don't understand the allure of the e-reader.    But I am pretty sure there will be people lined up holding one in one hand and a credit card in the otherand staring at it blankly....Do you think Mom will like this???? 

On second thought, I better go elsewhere for my son's calendar. Wonder if the library is open today?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dark Days Challenge Week 5: Work Lunch

This last work week of the year has been a busy one for me.  I made a turkey breast from Peacock Farm (60 miles) that I bought when it was on sale right after Thanksgiving and I put it in my deep freeze for future use.  We had the turkey for Sunday dinner - the leftovers became my turkey sandwich served on Farnsworth Farms bread from Avalon International Breads - a great bakery in "some say Midtown, we call it Cass Corridor" Detroit. (46 miles).   I opened my last jar of cranberry mustard that I put up last December as my last entry of Tigress' great Can Jam 2010.   My lunchtime sides were my own McClure's style pickles that I put up last summer during a daylong power outage from cukes I got from my friend Ann Ruhlig's farm in Dexter (5 miles) and peaches my friend Ellen and I put up one hot Friday night after work.   The peaches came from Wolfe Farm in Tipton (38 miles).     It was a great lunch for a busy week!  
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dark Days Challenge Week 4: Kraut and Kale Salad

Making kraut and kale salad
I have been eating lots of rich food lately - it's that time of year.   We had a work potluck last Friday and besides all the wonderful dishes brought in by coworkers, we also had BBQ brisket, smoked chicken and pulled pork catered by Detroit's legendary Slows BBQ, along with some of their fantastic mac and cheese.  Then, there's the plate of Christmas cookies sitting on the counter.   All of this heavy food has left me feeling more than a little weighed down.   I am yearning for something light and healthy - like salad.

This time of year, it can be a challenge for many in Michigan to be able to make a local salad.   I'm blessed to live in Ann Arbor, where we have one of the best farmer's markets around.  It's a year round market and it's a producers-only market, which means that all of our wonderful items are grown, baked or crafted by the vendors who sell them.  It used to be only a few of the farmers had hoop houses to be able to grow produce in the winter time...I can remember having to be at the market no later than 7 am just to be able to get a bag of Shannon Brines greens to make a local salad in the depths of winter.  But now, thanks largely to a great group of people involved Four Season Farm Development Program, we have a lot more vendors that can provide salad fixings at the market, which is great!

I am a huge fan of sauerkraut, and in October, I made a big batch out of 2 giant heads of cabbage that I bought at the market from Todosciuk Farms  which is just up the road (28 miles) from me in Howell.   I fermented that cabbage myself, which is one of the easiest pickling projects ever.  It's a good pickling project for the cold weather.   We ate most of it at Thanksgiving, made the traditional Polish way and my brother and sister love kraut, too.  My immediate family hasn't yet found the kraut love, so I am always on the lookout for other kraut recipes.   Wild fermented kraut is loaded with "probiotics" that are great for your digestive health, and so when I heard about a kraut salad that is popular in Poland that uses uncooked kraut as a starting point, I was interested in adapting that idea for a recipe in my kitchen.  Enter kraut and kale salad.   Eager for more ways to include kale in my diet, as inspired by my friend Diana Dyer who is a huge kale fan - she writes a blog called 365daysofkale and sports an "Eat More Kale" bumper sticker on her car, I decided to add some raw kale to the salad that I got from Goetz Farm in Riga (55 miles), along with their tasty sweet hoophouse carrots.   I think hoop house carrots taste sweeter than the ones grown in the summer.  Also, there's onion from Tantre Farm in Chelsea (20 miles).  

Making raw kale taste good can be a challenge, because it has a slightly bitter aftertaste, but I find destemming it and cutting the leaves in ribbons into a "chiffonade" style works well for a salad.  When kale is mixed with wild fermented kraut, which has a natural, mild tangy taste that is different than vinegar, I find that it cancels out any of the bitterness of the kale, leaving the sweet taste.  Carrots provide some more sweetness, and then the flavor is rounded out with grated onion and lots of fresh ground pepper.  I find I can grate the carrots and onion and rinse off the box grater faster than hauling out the food processor.  I save the food processor for big jobs

Kraut and Kale Salad

2 c. sauerkraut, undrained
1 c. kale, stemmed and sliced thin
1 c. grated carrots
1 onion, grated
1/4 c. olive oil
Fresh ground pepper

Mix together - tastes better the next day

This recipe tastes better as it ages, so I made a big bowl that I plan on eating every day for lunch at work this week.   After all, there's still more Christmas cookies and candy to be eaten and another potluck scheduled for Friday.  That's when the last of us that are working until the bitter end of the work year gather together to feast in a conference room and wait for this guy that works somewhere in our building shows up in a kilt playing his bagpipe. He never says a word, he just comes by and plays Christmas carols on the bagpipes and leaves, unannounced.  Now one knows who is is - we have over 2000 people in our building alone, so we don't know everyone.   Every year I try to memorize his face so I can recognize him dressed in a shirt and tie or polo shirt in the hallway, as an engineer or project manager, but I never seem to see him except dressed in his kilt. 

Once the bagpiper plays, we call it a day and a fitting end of another work year, because most people in automotive business have the time off between Christmas and New Years Day. We'll be thankful for a great year in a tough business and to spend some well deserved time with family and friends.   The year ain't over until the bagpiper plays!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dark Days Challenge Week 2: Vietnamese Chicken Sausage

Busy times for me this week - I attended the Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar and got this wonderful sausage from Corridor Sausage Company.  For sides, we had home fries made from Michigan potatoes....Michigan potatoes can be bought at any Michigan grocery store, and broccoli from Goetz farm.

The home fries were made using a technique I just read about in Cooks Illustrated, where they are boiled in water with a 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for a minute, and then "pan fried" in the oven.   It worked well. 
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Spice Rack Challenge November Round Up: Cinnamon

This year's spice rack challenge is almost complete.  We started out 2011 a few participants, but blogging continuously is difficult, and the discipline of writing monthly about a specific subject even more so.   Reading through the list of the original participants, I can see that many have stopped blogging all together.   Blogging regularly is difficult!  Personally, I found the Spice Rack Challenge difficult as well, but very fun and I enjoyed running it.   I am hoping that it can continue in 2012, but I have to hand off hosting it to someone else.   If you are interested in hosting, won't you let me know? 

The November challenge was cinnamon, a spice I know everyone has it their rack.   It's the quintessential holiday spice, so I was hoping by picking it, we'd see a few more participants this month.   Here is what transpired:

jonski blogski

Thanks for letting us know about the existing of cinnamon M&Ms.  I agree they should be avoided due to their potential addictive qualities!  Your recipes for Mayan chex mix and Middle Eastern inspired clay pot chicken could also be addictive.

tracy's living cookbook

Moosewood mushroom moussaka is a great option for cinnamon.  And I'd love to see a Moosewood cookbook challenge next should do it!  I am partial to the original Mollie Katz book, not the ones that came after she left the Moosewood collective.  Have you been to the restaurant in Ithaca, NY?  I have - it's great and just across the hall from a great vintage guitar store and other eclectic shopping opportunities.

prospect: the pantry

I like the combination of garlic and cinnamon in your garnet yams recipe and cinnamon pickled grapes sound wonderful for the holidays.   Hope it's not too late to start some!

una buona forchetta

Glad to see my BFF (Best Friday Friend - she and I meet for breakfast every Friday here) Sarah's back posting with her sauteed butternut squash with cinnamon

mothers kitchen

My post for this month is apple pie, made with a vodka pie crust. 

We're in our last month of the challenge, and it is December, the month of wintry repasts.   To me, nothing tastes more like the holiday than sage, which is our last challenge of 2011.   Please label your post with the words "Spice Rack Challenge: Sage" so I don't miss you.   Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Dark Days Challenge Week 1: El Juice

I signed up for this year's Dark Days Challenge, hosted by (not so) Urban Hennery, a Washington State local food blog, that asks participants to cook one meal each week from November to April  featuring SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients and write about it on your blog.   Since I already cook this way often and I preserve a lot of our food anyway, I'm looking forward to this effort.  I am going to state right now, for the record, that buying certified organic food is not a priority me.  Governmental licensing is expensive and small local farmers can't afford it.  So while I can't officially prove that the foods I will prepare for this challenge are "organic" they meet the spirit of this requirement.  "Local" is suggested to be defined as a 150 mile radius, which I will do but if I can't find something produced within a 150 mile radius of Ann Arbor, I'll make sure it's made in Michigan. 

For my first week,  I decided I wanted to clean out my freezer of the last of the beef I got from my fellow Girl Scout Leader Debbie, who raises the Belted Galloway cattle right across the street from my church.   This means every week, I see my future beef it grows from calf to steer.   This breed is great to look at - sort of like an Oreo cookie.    Anyway, butcher just called me today to find out how I want it cut, so it was time for the last pot roasts to be cooked.

I took them out of the freezer before work at about 5:30 am,  and added some carrots I bought from Seeley Farm, and some Meijer store brand onions that I am hoping are local because most of Michigan's storage onion production occurs on the west side of the state near Meijer's distribution center in Grand Rapids.   I'll try to make sure for my next attempt.

I seasoned it with rosemary I grew myself, and some kosher salt which may be local, but I am not sure.  Michigan has extensive salt mines.    Also used was home brew that my neighbor Larry made last fall.  It was a great effort for his first time brewing.    I popped the frozen beef in the oven at 5:30 am and programmed it to be done cooking at 6 pm when I hoped to be home that evening and headed off to the office, knowing the pot roast would thaw over the course of the day and the oven will fire up about 4 to start dinner.   I planned on serving the beef on baguettes my neighbors Suzanne and Lisa deliver to my door every Monday and Thursday.

I have to tell you the origin of the name of this recipe "El Juice".  It was the way my dad pronounced "au jus", and I guess everyone else in the world calls the dish "French Dip", but not my family.   It's roast beef on a baguette with a french onion soup inspired dip to dunk the sandwich in.   My teenagers love this!    I got home about 6  to wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen and Lisa and Suzanne's baguette was waiting.   I strained the cooking liquid, sliced the beef and the baguette and made sandwiches for everyone.  It was a great meal at the end of a very busy work day for me. 

El Juice

2 -3 small pot roasts
2 onions, sliced
5 carrots, peeled and cut into 3 inch lengths
1 t. rosemary
kosher salt and pepper
1 bottle of your favorite local beer
2 cups water

In a large roaster. place meat and vegetables and season.  Cook at 325 for about 2 hours until tender.  Remove meat, strain broth.  Slice beef and serve on baguettes for dipping.  Serve roasted vegetables on the side.