Sunday, February 23, 2014

Kosmo's Hot and Sour Soup

There is a lunch counter in Kerrytown in Ann Arbor that is known the unofficial cafeteria of nearby Community High.   It serves an eclectic mix of Korean and diner food, most notably bi bim bop, which my children, who are now teenagers, still call "Korean breakfast", because that is what I told them it was when they were little.  It has a fried egg on top, so why not???

They do make outstanding bop (I prefer mine "Old School" style, sans egg but I get the pickled daikon instead) but I am sad to report they no longer offer the VERY BEST THING on their menu, which was their hot and sour soup.   Years ago, I wrote into the Ann Arbor News Kitchen Mailbox to ask them for the recipe - it's the one and only time I wrote into the Ann Arbor News for a recipe, and they came up short.  The owner of Kosmo wouldn't divulge it; so instead they offered up some weird recipe that included "wood ear" and other exotic ingredients.   I used to eat that soup every Saturday morning at about 7 am when I was doing my A2 Farmer's Marketing, and so when I perched on my usual stool at the lunch counter, the owner of Kosmo, whose name is Don, came out and asked me why I ordered it.  I told him it was my favorite and that I even went so far as to write the A2 News for the recipe.   He is a super nice guy and he took pity on me and told me the basics how to make it.    Just yesterday, I went there to get my usual breakfast and it's no longer on the menu.   That makes me sad, but the bop is SO GOOD, I just got that instead.   Here's how to make it at home, since you can no longer get it there....

Kosmo Style Hot and Sour Soup

1 lb. pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut in 1/2 in dice (I often just use pork tenderloin)
4 14 or 15 oz cans reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup grated carrots
2 small onions, sliced thin
3/4 c. white vinegar
10 small Thai chili peppers, diced  (you can use any hot pepper and it will work fine)
1 t. fresh ground black pepper
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 brick extra firm tofu
1.4 c. reduced sodium soy sauce

Put the pork and the chicken broth in a crock pot and cook it for about 4 hours on low. Add the carrots, onions, peppers and pepper and let it cook for another 4 hours on low. Add the tofu and soy sauce and mushrooms and let it cook until the tofu was heated through.  Serve!  Warning: this stuff is habit forming.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Good Winter

I have been letting this winter wear me down, with it's 2+ hours of commuting time back and forth to the office every time we've had a storm, and the bitter cold.  I've not been appreciating this winter as much as I should.   Actually, it's been a good winter; when I say that I mean that we've finally had a winter like I remember from my own youth.  I have always loved snow since I was a little kid. My mom would always take us sledding.  Growing up in West Virginia, she loved the snow we got in Michigan that she never had.  Winter was her favorite season.  We'd go nearby our house in Warren and sled on the under construction embankment for what was going to become the I-696 freeway (these were perfect steep hills that were really hard to scale) or we'd go for a drive up to Stony Creek Metropark with a thermos of hot cocoa and peanut butter and crackers.  We really wanted Swiss Miss powder and prepackaged store-bought snacks with the fluorescent orange "cheese" crackers packaged in cellophane, but Mom thought they were a rip off.  Instead, we had hot cocoa that she made with Hershey's syrup  and saltines that she smeared with Velvet brand peanut butter.  We'd be all bundled up in our various and sundry snowpants and scarves or snowmobile suits, but my mother would wear a big white 1970s style fake fur hat, complete with fur balls on the ties, and a celery green leather coat she bought back in the 50s because it matched the paint color of Ford Fairlane she once owned.  Underneath, she'd wear pantyhose (she swore that they made her feel warmer) layered with my dad's hunting long johns and some ski pants she had left over from her '"swinging single" days skiing up north at Nubs Nob.

We were really embarrassed to be around her because she didn't use a sled - she would dive down the hill face first, sliding on her leather coat and emitting a "rebel yell" of delight, with her fur balls flying in the wind behind her.   I remember a teenager standing at the top of the hill with his toboggan remarking to his friend "Look at that chick!...I mean...uh...lady....look at that Mom!!!" as she hurled herself down the hill one more time.  I begged her to wear a winter coat like all the other moms and stay in the car like they did while we went sledding but no dice.  She always insisted that the leather coat was better because it really "cut the wind".  I pretended I didn't know her as I pulled my sled back to the top again.  Speaking of sleds - we had either a saucer or a toboggan made out of plastic my mom picked up on the clearance rack at Kmart.   I coveted a wooden toboggan or a sled with runners like my cousins Linda and Teddy had - they would often come along with us because they lived close to us, but the fact was our sleds were always faster because we were constantly spraying them with silicone.   My dad sold auto parts for a living, so we always had a garage full of chemicals, sprays, paints and mysterious elixirs used in auto shops.   I was an adult before I realized that everyone didn't have a can of spray silicone to use to make whatever they were doing go faster.   In the summer, we'd even spray it on our backyard slide so you could shoot down it like a rocket. I'm not even sure a person can buy a can spray silicone anywhere these days.  There is probably a giant hole in the ozone layer right above our house on Hanford St. from all of our frivolous use of the stuff.

We'd go sledding until our feet became frozen blocks of ice and we were too tired to climb the hill back up to go one more time.  My mom was always paranoid one of us would get frostbite; she would make us wear ski masks, she'd make us put bread bags on our feet before we put our boots on, etc.  Whenever I smell Chapstick (the original Chapstick, not the flavored stuff one can buy today) it always reminds me of her insisting we slather it on our lips, lest they get chapped.  We always licked it off and they got chapped anyway.    She'd load us in the car and crank up the heat and give us our hot cocoa and crackers and we'd wait until our feet thawed.   She'd crack the triangular shaped side vent window so she could light up a cigarette.   At that point, circa 1974 or so, all the Moms smoked either menthol Mores or Virginia Slims.  My mom preferred Mores....they were wrapped in brown paper; they looked like twigs.  We kids hated cigarette smoke and would beg her put it out, she'd protest and claim that she had cracked the window and everything "was fine".   Later on, when she finally quit smoking through the help of self hypnosis tapes she would play while she was falling asleep each night, she became the biggest anti cigarette smoke zealot and would bitch to high heaven anytime anyone dared to light up a smoke in a car she was in.   As adults, we found this very ironic, given all the secondhand smoke we had inhaled in our youth.  As soon as we thawed out enough, we hit the hills again. my mother leading the charge.

My own children were blessed to live in a very hilly subdivision on a golf course that had an excellent sledding hill that is referred to as "Cardiac Hill" (or just plain "Cardiac", in the neighborhood parlance) due to its heart stopping descent.  As a result, I never really had to drive them anywhere to go sledding because they could load up their sleds on the wagon and walk to the hill themselves, so I never took part in it myself like my own mother did. Grandma always made sure they were well stocked with sleds and snow tubes for Christmas gifts for Cardiac Hill adventures.   Now that they are in their late teens, my kids aren't all that interested in sledding anymore and I am kind of sorry that I didn't go with them when I had the chance.

A delicious bass!
My son isn't going up to Cardiac much anymore; instead, he now uses Grandma's sled to haul his ice fishing supplies down to the lake.  Yesterday, he took advantage of the sunny's a balmy 20 F and it felt like spring, compared to the weather we've been having lately.   I walked down to the lake to check out how the fishing was going right when he was pulling this monster out of the water.   I had to pass the crew fixing our latest water main break and I sunk into a snowdrift up to my knees!  Instead of cursing the weather, I need to get out more.  I haven't yet been skiing this season, either downhill or cross country.   My mother would have been proud that I found a really nice long red leather jacket on the clearance rack at Macy's a couple years ago.   She's right; it really does "cut the wind".  It would be perfect to dive down Cardiac in; why not?  After all there is snow in the forecast for tomorrow....

A good winter deserves a good lunch!  I have prepared this one a few times this season - it's made of vegetables that can be found at our year round farmer's market -- that is, all except the pine nuts that I had stored in the freezer left over from last summer's pesto frenzy where I had so much basil I didn't know what to do with it all.  Instead, I made basil with arugula - it gives it a nice peppery bite.   If you don't have pine nuts, walnuts left over from Christmas baking will suffice.  This salad does take some time to prepare, but it's worth it.   If you have a mandoline, now is the time to use it, but if not, a vegetable peeler will work just fine to make the carrot ribbons.  I saw this recipe in originally in Edible Grande Traverse magazine - it was reprinted from a new cookbook Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes by Diane Morgan.  I've streamlined it to make easier and more adapted to my taste buds....if you are not a fan of goat cheese, feel free to use feta.  I personally don't like really gamy goat cheese so I just use a container of mild goat cheese crumbles.  The carrot ribbons can be made ahead of time and stored in a plastic bag in the fridge until serving, too.

Carrot Ribbon Salad with Arugula Pesto and Goat Cheese

Serves 4


2 T olive oil
2 T rice wine vinegar
1/2 t salt

To make vinaigrette, place all ingredients in a small lidded jar and shake.

Arugula Pesto
This makes more than needed for the recipe, but it is excellent on grilled chicken or baguettes. In Ann Arbor Brines Farm or Goetz Farm will have the produce you need at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market.

2 c. baby arugula leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c pine nuts or chopped walnuts
juice of one lemon
1/2 t salt (or more to taste)
1/2 c olive oil

Put all the ingredients except the oil in the bowl of a food processor, and process until it is finely chopped. Scrape the sides of the bowl a few times to insure everything is well mixed. With the processor running, pour the oil down the feed tube and process until it forms a sauce.  Store the pesto in a lidded jar in the fridge.

Carrot Ribbons
Large pot of boiling salted water
2 lb carrots, peeled and trimmed

Start the water boiling.  Using a vegetable peeler or a mandoline, slice the carrots thinly, try to make them as wide as possible.  Fill up a bowl with ice water.   If you have a salad spinner, it's great to use for this recipe.   Put the basket of the spinner in the ice water.  If not, you can dry the carrot ribbons in paper towel.  Blanch the carrot ribbons in the boiling water until crisp tender, about a minute.  Remove them from the hot water with tongs and cool them off in the ice water.   Spin (or dry with paper towels) the ribbons.

To assemble the salad, place the carrot ribbons in a bowl and pour the vinaigrette over them and toss lightly.  Make a pile of ribbons on a plate, and sprinkle with:

fresh ground pepper
goat cheese sprinkles

Drizzle a spoonful or two of pesto in a circle around each plate.   Serve immediately.