Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Appetizer Hacks

Here are two great holiday appetizers that you can make with kitchen staples. These are great for when you forgot you needed something to bring for a potluck. Everyone loves them, and they are so easy!

Bacon Wrapped Dates -
24 pitted dates
12 slices bacon, cut in half lengthwise

Preheat oven to 400 F. Roll each date in bacon and place on a parchment covered cookie sheet with the edge down. If it won't stay rolled up, fasten it with a toothpick. Cook until bacon is browned nicely, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, wrap those gifts you forgot. These taste great warm or cold. People are totally impressed.

Deviled Eggs

7 eggs
2 T. yellow mustard
2 T. mayonnaise
paprika and capers for garnish

Use old eggs for this recipe - if you only have fresh eggs in the house, buy some at a party store. (translation: "Party Store" means "Liquor Store" in Michiganese) Eggs at party stores are always old - who buys eggs at a party store? They are guaranteed to be not fresh. While you are there, buy a bottle of sparkling wine to give to your host.

Check out my method for how to make easy to peel hard boiled eggs,

Put eggs in a pot of water filled to a depth of 1 inch more than the egg tops. Heat the eggs until the water is boiling, shut off the pot and put a lid on it for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, do your hair and makeup. After 10 minutes, peel the eggs under cold water. Stale eggs peel easily, fresh do not, but you've got one spare egg in case there's a bad peeled eggs. Eat that egg with a little salt on it - it will make sure you don't eat too much at the party you are going to...a little protein will fill you up.

Slice the remaining eggs in half, and then remove the yolks and mash them in a bowl. Add the mustard and mayo - equal proportions are important. That is the key of a successful deviled egg. Stir up the mixture - it should be just moist enough to hold the yolk mash together - if you need more mayo/mustard, add it, but it should be equal proportions.

Spoon the yolk back into the whites. Sprinkle each with paprika and garnish with 3 capers. People love deviled eggs. I have a special Tupperware deviled egg tray I bought at a garage sale and it's the best thing I found to transport them to the party. I put them on a pretty plate when I get there.

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tamales for Christmas Eve

Let me start out by saying I am not a ethnic heritage is a veritable gamut of Eastern Bloc nations. To make it simple, when people ask, I say I am "half Polish and half Russian". On Christmas Eve, my nationalities dictate abstaining from meat - as a kid, we'd have fish of some kind. In recent years, I have put on a veritable seafood fest for my family. But this year, I decided I'd try to make tamales.I love tamales. I first had them at a now defunct Ann Arbor restaurant called La Pinata. They had a menu item that said "Tamales - In Season". I had no idea when tamale season was...but as it turns out, tamale season is Christmas time. Any chance I see tamales on a menu, I have to order them. I decided this year was the year I'd give them a try - there was a wonderful article about tamales in this month's Cooking Light magazine. By the way, if you haven't yet started reading Cooking Light, I'd highly recommend it. For years I resisted it because I thought it would be full of recipes that included stuff like Splenda and light margarine, but it isn't. It's got wonderful recipes, as well as exercise ideas and food related travel. If one of your goals in the new year is to lose weight (mine is - I currently have a bad case of muffin top), it will inspire you!

Anyway, back to tamales. I improvised them based on a couple recipes - the one in Cooking Light, which featured corn kernels and ancho chilis in the masa, and the one on the package of corn husks I bought. I actually used lard, as Cooking Light suggested, to improve the flavor. Their philosophy is using fat judiciously as a flavor enhancement, therefore, they use real butter, olive oil, bacon, etc. whenever possible. I had some corn kernels that I preserved by freezing last summer, so I used those in my masa. For the filling, I used a recipe based on the one in the corn husk wrapper, but I used chipotle chilis instead of the New Mexico ones it called for, because I didn't have any, and I used pork tenderloin, because it is a leaner cut than the pork shoulder the original recipe called for. I also modified it to make it in the slow cooker, which worked really well.

I found all my ingredients at Meijer - they have a huge Mexican food selection, much better than any other grocery store in town. My guess is because they were founded on the west side of the state, where there is a higher migrant worker population. I really liked the Mexican tomato sauce I found there - El Pato brand.

Making tamales is a two day affair. On the first day, make the filling. Here's how I did it:

Tamale filling
7 lb. pork tenderloin
4 medium onions, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 chilis in adobo sauce, cut in small pieces
1 T. cumin
2 t. oregano
2 T. salt

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover with water. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred pork, reserving broth. Add pork to broth and refrigerate.

On the second day, make the masa dough and the tamales.

1 16 oz. pkg. corn husks
8 c Masa Harina
1 1/3 c. lard
2 tsp. salt
2 cans beef broth
6 dried ancho chilis
3 c. corn kernels
Mexican tomato sauce

Soak corn husks in water in a bowl weighted down with a can for 30 minutes. Place anchos and broth in a microwave safe bowl and cook on high for 4 minutes or until chilis are soft. Reserving broth, remove stems, and place peppers in a blender with corn kernels and salt. Blend until smooth. In a large bowl, mix together lard and masa. Add ancho blend and reserved beef broth and mix with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

To make tamales, separate corn husks, removing any corn silk. Put a dish towel on the counter top and lay down a leaf. It will be triangle shaped. Scoop a couple spoonfuls of masa on the wide end of a corn husk, and form a 3 inch wide inch bar that lines up with the bottom of the husk. The bar should be about 4 inches tall. Along the right hand side of the masa, place a couple spoonfuls of the pork filling. Roll from right to left, and then fold own the pointy top.

Place tamales on a rack (broiler rack, cookie cooling rack) that has been covered with an old wet dish towel. When you have the rack full, cover it with another wet dish towel. New cloth diapers are just the right size for this, by the way. Place the rack over a jelly roll or broiler pan. Put the pan in a 450 F oven and add water to the pan to steam the tamales. Steam for 55 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve tamales peeled from their corn husks covered in Mexican tomato sauce. Or, tamales are an ideal food to make for the freezer. To reheat a frozen tamale, reheat in a microwave on high while wrapped in a damp towel. This recipe makes about 50 tamales - plenty to freeze!

For those of us that will be starting back on the Weight Watcher's Points program come the new year, by my estimates, two of these tamales are 6 points.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The best chocolate frosting ever

After a particularly bad tasting box cake mix/container frosting experience that I had earlier this year, I have vowed to master cake baking from scratch. I have never considered myself to be a fabulous baker, but I am getting better at it. My one experience with baking a cake from scratch was when I was dating my husband. I tried to bake a cake for my future inlaws, and the cake came out tough and I overbeat the whipped cream frosting and it had butter chunks in it. Yuck!

For my son's birthday, I decided to bake a cake from scratch. I figured a group of middle school boys will eat just about anything. I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Can you remember when Ina was a protege of Martha Stewart's? I the early days, she frequently contributed recipes to her magazine. This cookbook is a compendium of the best sellers at Ina's now defunct gourmet take out food store of the same name. Every recipe I have ever tried in this book has been great. On the back cover of the book is the recipe for a chocolate buttercream cake. I made it for my son's birthday, and it was wonderful. The cake is really, really chocolatey - too chocolatey for kids, but the frosting is wonderful. It is a meringue icing - which means it uses whipped egg whites in it. It tastes deceptively light despite the full pound of butter it requires.

For my daughter's birthday, I made the same frosting, but instead made a devil's food cupcakes. I followed the recipe in the classic BH&G cookbook. It was's the recipe I followed, making a few changes to make it be a little more streamlined and less spendy than the original.

4 and a half (4 oz.) bars of 60% cacao Ghiradelli chocolate
3 egg whites
1 c granulated sugar
Pinch cream of tartar
1/2 t salt
4 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature (this is important - must be at room temp)
2 t vanilla extract
2 t instant coffee powder

Break up chocolate bars in squares, and then break in half again. Microwave in a plastic container (not glass - it holds the heat for too long) for 1 minute on high and stir. Return to microwave and heat on high for 10 second increments, stirring after each heating, until it is about 75% melted. Set aside to finish melting and cool.

Mix the egg whites, sugar and the cream of tartar in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Heat a pan of water to simmering, and place the metal mixing bowl in it. Heat the egg white mixture about 5 minutes, until they are warm to the touch. Return the bowl to the mixer and whisk on high speed for 5 minutes, or until the meringue is cool and holds a stiff peak. It will be like marshmallow creme.

Cut the butter up into tablespoon sizes pats. Add the butter a pat at a time while mixing at medium speed. Scrape down the bowl and add the melted chocolate, vanilla and coffee powder. Mix until the chocolate is blended in. If it seems too soft, put the bowl in the fridge for a while and beat it again.

Makes enough to frost a double layer cake.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jewel Cookies

I hate to be "bah humbug" and all but Christmas cookies are very often not as good as they look. Years ago, I used to sit next to a gal at work that baked a ton of cookies for everyone during the holidays, and gave us all beautifully wrapped plates of them. She spent days on it - and the cookies looked fantastic, but tasted really bland and had a tough texture. I bit into one that was so bad, I actually had to fake blowing my nose so I could spit it out into a Kleenex! I tried to put them out by the coffee pot at work - engineers are notorious for eating any free food they can get their hands on, but even these beauties were left uneaten. When she wasn't looking, I threw most of them out in a garbage can on the other end of the building. Like Santa does each Christmas eve, I left a couple cookies on the plate with a few crumbs so that she thought that her cookies were well received. She had spent so much time on them.

A recipe for a cookie that's often featured in Christmas cookie platters - the "jewel" or "thumbprint" cookie is a frequent Christmas cookie offender. I've had many terrible versions of this cookie - tough dough, rancid nuts, fluorescent red and green maraschino cherries placed in the centers (a sin committed by yours truly in junior high). But done right, these cookies are sublime! Did you preserve some raspberry jam last summer? Now's the time to crack open a jar and make this cookie. Strawberry jam would work well it it, too. I got this recipe years ago out of Martha Stewart Living.

Jewel Cookies

printer friendly

3 sticks unsalted butter
1 c light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, separated
2 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
2 2/3 c flour
2 c pecans, finely chopped
1 c raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg yolks, vanilla, salt, and then flour. Shape into 1 inch balls. Brush each ball with beaten egg whites, then roll in chopped pecans and place 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets. Press center of each ball with your thumb, and fill with 1/2 teaspoon jam. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until just golden around edges. Cool on a rack.

Makes 5 dozen

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Yes, we are in for a snow storm tonight, so says the National Weather Service. I admit it - I loved the weather. I even am a trained weatherspotter for my county. We're supposed to get 6 - 10 inches, which would be wonderful for Christmas. The kids are doing all the practices that currently are rumored to guarantee a snow day for tomorrow, which include:

  • wearing your pjs inside out
  • putting a spoon under your pillow
  • putting an ice cube in the toilet
  • placing a quarter on your windowsill
  • dancing in front of the refrigerator

I tried to explain that having a snow day tomorrow would be a bummer, because it's the last day before holiday break and there won't be much education going on anyway, but they don't care. They're already planning on sledding at our neighborhood hangout, which is called "Cardiac Hill" or simply "Cardiac" in the neighborhood vernacular. I think it's called that because it is a fast hill, but I know that I have felt near chest pangs hiking up it when the kids were small and I had to pull the sled up with them on it.

The whole thing is putting a wrench in my Christmas machinery, because I planned to take the afternoon off to finish the shopping. Fridays are my telecommuting work day, anyway, so I won't have to worry about the people that forgot how to drive in snow. This is Michigan, folks! You should now how to drive in it by now.

A favorite book of mine as a kid was "Snowbound with Betsy" by Carolyn Haywood. I should get that out of the library and reread it again. I wonder if my kids will have the fond memories of certain books like I still do from my childhood.

Bring on the snow - hope I am not disappointed.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Raspberry Liqueur

I bought a book for 25 cents at a garage sale last summer called Cordials from Your Kitchen by Pattie Vargas and Rich Gulling, and in September, I made raspberry liqueur from rasps (as the British call them) that I bought at an apple orchard in Romeo when I was there for work. Here's my recipe, adapted from one in the book, that I made. It came out fantastic. Next summer, when you are looking for ways to preserve all those raspberries, this is a great one to try.

I was interested in figuring out what proof this liqueur was, so I did the math. Proof is just double the number of the percentage of alcohol in a beverage, i.e. 100 proof alcohol is 50% alcohol. Wine is generally about 12% alcohol, which is 24 proof. A typical mixed drink, such as a vodka and tonic, would be about 15% alcohol, which is 30 proof. I calculated the proof of this liqueur to be 34 proof, which 17% alcohol. So it's a bit stiffer drink than a typical mixed drink or wine, but it doesn't taste strong at all, so be careful! Drink it in small cordial glasses to pace yourself.

Raspberry Liqueur

Makes 4 wine bottles

4 pints fresh raspberries, washed

2 cups sugar
2 bottles of cheap white zinfandel wine, or any white wine will work, too
A fifth of the cheapest vodka you can find. Nowadays, I guess a 5th is called a 750 ml bottle. Don't waste your Grey Goose on this liqueur.
4 cups water

Crush berries and sugar in a bowl and let them macerate for about an hour. In a gallon sized container that has a lid (I have a big glass jar that I make picked eggs in that has a cork lid that I use for this) add berries and remaining ingredients. Cover and let stand in a cook, dark place, for a week. Shaking the container at least once a day.

After a week, use a fine mesh strainer to strain out the solids and discard them. Rinse out your gallon container and put the liqueur back in it and let it stand for another week. Then you have to filter the liqueur, read this post I found for a veritable epistle on all the ways you can filter liqueurs. I rack filtered mine, which is fancy talk for using a hose like you would use to drain an aquarium to clean it. I might do a second filtration the next time I make this as I ended up with a little bit of sludge in my bottles. I put my final product in some pretty wine bottles I had been saving, but you can put it in whatever you have - canning jars, liquor bottles, whatever catches your eye. I used old wine corks to close my bottles - I closed them lightly in case there was any gasses that might be generated, but there didn't seem to be any. Let it age in the bottle for at least a month.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Don't buy bargain brand plastic wrap or aluminum foil

Life's too short for cheap aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Chintzy foil results in tears....always buy the heavy duty stuff...I prefer Reynolds Wrap. I also prefer Saran Wrap because it sticks to most everything and is thick. But the best reason to buy name brand wraps is the box locks.
See the tab on the end of the box? If you push it in, it will hold the roll in the box so it won't go flying out of the box when you try to pull it out. Check out your favorite brand and see if it has box locks before you buy it again.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Note to self: what I did for Thanksgiving this year

1. I cleaned out the fridge last weekend, to make room for the turkey. I've got to remember to do that every year. This was a great help and a joy every time I opened up the door. I hate cleaning the fridge, but it was well worth it.

2. I bought an 11.5 lb. Bell and Evans bird this year and brined it in 2 cups kosher salt, 1/2 gallon of water and 1.5 gallons of ice cubes. It fit in a Playmate cooler and I started the brine about 2 pm yesterday afternoon.

3. I made the dough for rolls using my blogging friend TennZen's recipe in my breadmaker, but had to clean out the entire pantry to find the little paddle thing that mixes the dough in the bottom of the machine. It had an inch of dust on it, too. I think I can move the bread maker to the downstairs storage. On the plus side, the pantry closet is now clean. This dough was fairly wet - I cut it into balls and am making cloverleaf rolls out of them in a muffin pan.

4. I got the bird in the oven at 12:30 pm. I rubbed it with poultry seasoning and butter and started it out face down on the V rack for 45 minutes at 400 F.

5. I listened to "Turkey Confidential" on the Splendid Table and I am psyched that Nora Ephron made a movie based on the book "Julie and Julia" which is an inspirational book to read. However, I highly recommend Nora's books "Crazy Salad" and "Heartburn" which are much better.

Gotta go for now. Time for cocktails - the bird is in the oven!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Note to self: items I buy that can support the school

Since I am a vocal opponent of school fundraisers and have convinced my PTO to partake in ones that build community or don't require spending money on things I don't need, it's my obligation to clip coupons for the products I buy. Our school collects Labels for Education, Box Tops for Education and Tyson A+. I don't think I buy a great deal of prepared foods, but there are some things I do buy. Here's a list of what I buy so I can remember what to clip - check on the links for items you buy and start clipping! I figure I am excused from having to buy gift wrap ever again....

Labels for Education:
Save just the UPC code for this stuff - we don't get money, just points
  • Campbell's soup
  • Swanson broth
  • Pepperidge Farm
  • Franco-American gravy

Box Tops for Education:

Save the coupon - each one is worth 10 cents

  • Betty Crocker or Pilsbury mixes or refrigerated/frozen dough
  • Cheerios
  • Cascadian Farms cereal
  • Old El Paso taco shells
  • Hefty trash bags
  • Hefty paper plates
  • Totino's pizza rolls
  • Chex snack mix
  • Fiber One bars
  • Zip-lock bags and containers
  • Saran Wrap

Tyson Foods - worth 24 cents

Cut on dotted line and include Tyson A+ label

Pretty much every chicken product they sell!

Who doesn't have to buy an occasional chicken nugget every once in a while? Or some Campbell's soup? Or pizza rolls for slumber parties? I guess I buy prepared food more often than I realize.

The Day Before Thanksgiving Ritual

Here it is, the day before Thanksgiving. Time for brining the bird, baking the pies, cleaning the house, etc. Also time for my annual recipe reading. Every year, without fail, my good friend Ann will call and ask me to read to her some of her own recipes because she can't find hers. I know what this feels like - that's why I started blogging my favorites so I'd know where to find them. Sure enough, I got the call this morning. Ann is looking for her mother's recipe for layered cranberry salad. I had to dig deep into the kitchen junk drawer, but here it is, in her mother's beautiful 80 year old lady penmanship. Her wonderful mom's been gone for several years, but her cranberry salad recipe lives on.

It is a wonderful recipe for Thanksgiving - I made it once, but making Jello based recipes are always a challenge for me. It's embarrassing to admit, but I suck at making Jello. Anyway, when I made this cranberry salad, it came out wonderful, but I couldn't stop freaking out about whether it would come out of the pan. I think I have some kind of Jello post traumatic stress disorder or something. I'm definitely blocking some repressed Jello memory. Maybe I tried to make jello with fresh pineapple and it didn't set up right? Perhaps it was the year I made a red white and blue striped jello for a 4th of July picnic and it melted because it was 102 F outside. I don't know what it is, but the thought of making jello makes me want to hide under the kitchen table and rock back and forth and suck my thumb.

For Ann and the rest of you brave souls out there, looking for a great cranberry recipe for Thanksgiving, here's the recipe:

Layered Cranberry Salad

Cranberry Layer

2 envelopes Knox gelatin
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. boiling water
1 c. chilled ginger ale
1 1/2 c. ground cranberries

Cream Layer
3 envelopes Knox gelatin
6 T. sugar
1 1/4 c. boiling water
3 c. sour cream
2 1/2 cups lemon or lime sherbet, softened
1 1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts

For cranberry layer: mix gelatin and sugar in a medium bowl. Add boiling water and stir. Stir in ginger ale and cranberries. Pour into a fluted tube pan that you've sprayed with cooking spray. Chill until almost set.

For creamy layer: mix gelatin with sugar in a large bowl. Add boiling water and stir with a wire whip or rotary beater, blend in sour cream and sherbet. Let stand until slightly thickened. Fold in walnuts and spread over cranberry layer and chill until firm. Makes 16 servings.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Olga's Kitchen Bread

Do you love the bread from Olga's Kitchen? We do, too. I worked at Olga's when I was in high school as a waitress/hostess, and during that time, the Detroit Free Press printed the recipe for the bread. I clipped in out way back then and still have the yellowed recipe 30 years later. It went away with me to college; it survived undergrad, grad school and the 3 moves I've had since graduating. Now I must blog it so I can have it for perpetuity! Did you know that Olga's started out in Birmingham, Michigan?

Olga Bread

1 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup margarine (I use butter)
1 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 egg

Scald milk, remove to large bowl. Add honey, margarine and salt to milk; stir until margarine is melted. Set aside to cool until lukewarm. Combine yeast, warm water and sugar; stir until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour to lukewarm milk mixture and beat well. Mix in egg and yeast mixture. Add remaining flour, a little at a time, until sticky dough is formed. Turn out on a floured surface; knead about two minutes. Dough will be sticky, but don’t add more flour. Place dough in oiled bowl, turning once to oil whole surface of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down dough; divide into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece to a thin rough circle about 1/8 inch thick and 8-10 inches in diameter.

Heat a large dry skillet over medium-high heat; do not use any oil. Bake 15 seconds, flip and bake about 10 seconds on other side, until mottled brown spots appear. Do not over cook. Cool and store in a plastic bag, use them at once or refrigerate or freeze. Makes 16.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pie Crust Rehab

Okay, the planets have aligned. Time for my long overdue post about getting over your fear of pie crust. Yes, you too can make your own pie crust. You don't have to order pie from Zingerman's Bakehouse (the pecan pie cost $50) or Grand Traverse Pie Company (cherry pie is $25), and last time I checked, Jefferson Market didn't make pies, just cakes. Goodness gracious! You can do this yourself. I am here to talk you through it.

A couple blog posts ago, I talked about making pasties as a way to get through your pie crust phobia. It's still a good thing to try. But Thanksgiving is next week, so maybe you don't want to take a day out of your life to make pasties. I get, let's apply the pasty "lessons learned" right to a pie crust.

First, let us start with the recipe. It is the same recipe I used in 1978 in Hartsig Junior High Home Economics class, taught by Mrs. Ensley in Warren, Michigan. It is from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and I don't think it has changed since then. It's what I call "Old Reliable" Pie Crust.

Old Reliable Pie Crust
Double crust

2 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
2/3 c. Crisco, cut up into pats. Buy it in stick form and keep it in the fridge
Cold water - maybe about 1/2 cup

Mix the flour and salt and then add Crisco, and mix it up with a fork, smashing the blobs of Crisco into the flour until the blobs are pea sized. Add some of the water and mix it in with the fork, and keep adding water until you can get the flour to hold together well. Don't be afraid to add too much water, despite what my 8th grade home ec teacher said. It's just as bad not to add enough. Form two balls that don't have a ton of cracks in them. If they have fissures in them, you need more water.

To roll it out, put a liberal amount of flour on the counter top. and flour your rolling pin. Smash the ball into a hockey puck shape, working it with your hands to avoid creating any cracks in it. If you can't get it into a puck, this is a sign that you haven't yet added enough water. Work some more in.

Gently roll it out. After every couple rolls with the pin, flip the crust over, adding a little flour if it is needed. If you have trouble flipping it over because it sticks, you're adding too much water during the mixing of the dough. On the other hand, if it is cracking up a great deal, you still haven't added enough water. A couple cracks are okay - just put some water on the fissure and gently put it back together and re-roll. However, more than a couple cracks, or if it is sticking a ton, no matter how much flour you've sprinkled, just scrap it and start over. Rerolling pie crusts makes them tough. If you were making pasties, I'd let it slide but pie is different. Shortening and flour are cheap. You can afford to make mistakes. Do you know how many pie crusts you could have made for the $50 you spent at Zingerman's for one pecan pie? Probably 100!

The perfect crust will just be on the verge of cracking, but won't actually crack if you handle it gently. That is the key to good pie just be on the verge of cracking. I roll out my crust right on my stone countertop, with lots of flour on the counter and sprinkled on top the puck to start. As soon as you've rolled out the crust, fold it in half and bring your pie pan next to the folded side; pick it up quick and put it in the pie plate and unfold. Voila!

Fill it, and similarly roll out the top and put it on; if your pie has a top. Hope this helps...if it doesn't, I'll be around on email this weekend. Give it a shot!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Authors I once really enjoyed...where are they now?

Robert Fulghum - His book "All I Need Really to Know I learned in Kindergarten" almost made me jump from Catholicism to Unitarianism. I haven't read the book since 1986; I wonder what I might think of it now. He is still around and lives in Seattle and Crete. If I ever find the book in the bookshelf, I'll have to give it a shot again.

Jeff Smith, a.k.a. The Frugal Gourmet. I loved his cookbooks and his show on PBS. My friend Ray and I would just refer to it as "Frugal", as in "Did you watch Frugal today?" He passed away in 2004, after he lost his PBS gig because of multiple accusations of sexual harassment and pedophilia. He denied it, and settled out of court. I still have some of his cookbooks somewhere. I should dig them out.

Garrison Keillor - yes, I know he is still in St. Paul. I currently listen to him every weekend. However, in the 1980s, I despised him and thought he was only for old geezers to listen to on the radio. Give me my Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, my Hoodoo Gurus, my TPOH instead of listening to that boring show out of the Twin Cities. Why would anyone go see the Prairie Home Companion there when you could go see The Replacements? However, somewhere along the way I read Lake Wobegon Days and got hooked on the tales of Norwegian bachelors, tuna hotdish and the Chatterbox Cafe. I guess, quoting a song I once liked by TPOH, that I'm an adult now. While TPOH, the Gurus and the New Bohemians are no longer making music that gets played on the radio, Keillor and his crew soldier on.

Martha Stewart - I mean the 1980s incarnation of her, not today's vintage. Back then, there was much pomp and circumstance. Very serious. Still Married to Andy Stewart. Just wrote "Entertaining". Her daughter Alexis wasn't a snotty radio host then, she was just a high schooler. Do you remember this version of her? My 20 year old self really loved her. She was so not my own mom. I loved how she wrote about growing up in Nutley, NJ and what good food should taste like. I couldn't wait for the magazine to show up in my mail box. My almost 45 year old self respects her, but I don't idolize her anymore. I haven't gotten her magazine for years, but I do get "Everyday Food" which is one of hers. And I really don't like her TV show. And after all these years, I've come to appreciate my own mom's , who could probably outgarden Martha Stewart and she doesn't even need a gardening staff to do it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Upper Peninsula Style Pasty

If Michigan ever declared a state food, what would it be? Cherries? Morels? Coney Dogs? Vernors? Pasties would be in the running. A pasty (rhymes with "nasty", but it definitely isn't) is like a beef pot pie, and you can buy them all over the place in the U.P. Yoopers usually eat them with ketchup, but I like mine with beef gravy or mustard on them. They are a wonderful filling meal for fall and winter. Labor intensive to make; I suggest you get together with a friend and make and freeze a batch. My friend Alison and I do so every November. We did just that yesterday - we started at about 10 am and were finished making a total of 52 pasties for the freezer by 3 pm. We rewarded ourselves with some Oxbow Hard Cider.

If you have pie crust phobia, you can get over it by making pasties. Pasty making is great for people that need "Pie Crust Rehab". The crust is very forgiving, and soon you will get used to what the right texture of crust should be with your hands. Too much or too little water, and you'll have trouble rolling them out. You'll get the hang of it because you will roll out many in the course of making pasties.

Even if you hate rutabagas, they are not optional in a pasty. Don't skip them - they will not turn out tasty if you skip them. You can dice all the vegetables and cut up the meat yourself, but it takes a long time to do so. If I am making 50 pasties, I use a food processor to cut the veggies. In the interest of time, I asked my favorite butcher Bob Sparrow to cut the meat for me. He was able to cut all the meat in 5 minutes - it would have taken me an hour. He also suggested sirloin tip instead of the usual round steak and his suggestion was a great improvement. This year was our best tasting pasties ever!

Pasties are traditionally eaten on Wednesday nights in the U.P. I'm not sure why....downstate, Wednesday was "Prince Spaghetti Night". Any Detroiters remember that?

This recipe makes about 15 pasties - Alison and I usually triple it.

U. P. Style Pasties

printer friendly

7 c. flour
3 tsp. salt
2 c. shortening
cold water

Mix flour and salt together, and cut in shortening until the mixture is pea sized. Add cold water slowly (about a cup) until the dough can stick together to form into a ball. Form into 15 balls about two inches in diameter. The goal is to roll out each pasty crust so it's about 8 inches in diameter.

To roll it out, put a liberal amount of flour on the counter top. and flour your rolling pin. Smash the ball into a hockey puck shape, working it with your hands to avoid creating any cracks in it. Gently roll it out. After every couple rolls with the pin, flip the crust over, adding a little flour if it is needed. If you have trouble flipping it over because it sticks, you're adding too much water during the mixing of the dough. Don't worry; just work some more flour into it. On the other hand, if it is cracking up when you try to flip it, it's too dry and you should try to work a little more water into it. The perfect crust will just be on the verge of cracking, but won't actually crack if you handle it gently. That is the key to good pie just be on the verge of cracking.

Don't worry if you have to rework the pasty dough - it's not critical that it's tender like it would be if you were making a pie. The same roll out technique I've described here will work for a pie crust, too. Pretty soon, you will know by touch if you have too much water or too little. After the first couple pasties, you will be a pie crust pro! Look out Martha Stewart! You can make pie for Thanksgiving everyone will love.

Pasty Filling
1 1/2 lb. sirloin tip trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch size cubes
1/2 lb. ground pork
Half of a large rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch sticks and stood up in the feed tube of your food processor and sliced using the thickest slicing blade you have - the thicker the better.
1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced in your food processor like the 'baga
1 large onion, cut in quarters and sliced as aforementioned vegetables
7 medium potatoes, diced
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
10 pats of butter

Mix all the ingredients together except the butter. Fill each pastry with a handful of filling, and top with a pat of butter. Fold over to form a pocket. Pinch closed and use a sharp knife to cut a couple vents in the top. On a parchment covered cookie sheet or jelly roll pan, bake in a 400 F oven for 30 minutes if you are planning on freezing them, 1 hour if you are planning on eating them now. If you freeze them, I generally thaw them out and heat them up for 30 minutes at 350 F.

Thrifty Saturday: Local Coupons

Times are tough here in Michigan, and saving money is back in style around here. Here's some local coupons I might use this weekend.

$5 off $50 at Morgan & York I wish I could use it on wine, but there's plenty of other things I like to buy there, like Calder Dairy ice cream, cheese and coffee.

Get 2 knives sharpened for free at Downtown Home and Garden I sharpen my own knives but it is always nice to get them professionally done once a year. Now is a good time, because of the holidays.

Get a $25 gift certificate for only $3 for Silvio's, the Earle, Damon's, Senor Lopez, Terry B's (in Dexter) Aubree's (in Ypsi). There's other choices, but these are the only ones I might order. You'll need to buy your gift certificates by Nov. 17 and use the coupon code DESSERT to get this price, but I have used these before and it works. Make sure to check out the details for the particular restaurant you are interested in - when the coupon can be used, etc.

$5 off $25 purchase at Dexter Pharmacy They have a nice selection of holiday items and greeting cards, plus they carry all sorts of various and sundry stuff for band students like valve oil and slide wax. My middle school daughter loves to shop for makeup there, too. Maybe I'll pick up some Christmas decorations.

Friday, November 14, 2008

5 stupid things I do in the kitchen

I was tagged by Kate at 4 Obsessions which is a fantastic Ann Arbor blog I read whenever Kate writes something. I love her taste in cooking and reading, and I sure wish I could knit as well as she does. I currently can only knit scarves. It's because I have the attention span of a gnat. However, I have found that knitting stops me from talking too much and compulsively volunteering for things during boring meetings, so I may need to do more of it! Anyway, Kate would like for me to write about 5 stupid things I do in the kitchen...can I limit it to 5? There's lots I could write about, but here I go:

1) I buy fruit and then let it rot in the fruit bowl. Today, I found 2 rotten apples and a tomato that had turned to soup in the bottom. Yuck!

2) I have two drawers full of food storage bowls, none of which I can find the lids for...but I can't bear to throw any out because they are still "good".

3) I have no idea what's in the back of my kitchen freezer. I really should clean it out and organize it.

4) On top of my fridge is jammed a million Campbell's soup labels and Box Tops for Education. I've been collecting them since my eldest started kindergarten; she is now in middle school. Sometimes, when I slam the fridge door, soup labels fall on the floor like snowflakes.

5) I bought a bottle of Frangelico last year, thinking it would taste good in apple cider. It doesn't, but I forgot I already tried this and bought another and rediscovered the same thing. Anyone have a good recipe that uses Frangelico? I've got lots to use up!

Let's see, who to tag?

The Hungry Masses Long time no is the time!
Dog Hill Kitchen
Life at the Burrow

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cockaigne Cookbooks

One of my favorite blogs to read is TennZen, and recently, she wrote a post about her top 5 favorite cookbooks. I collect vintage cookbooks, and so I have more of them than any person rightly should, but I only keep a handful in the kitchen and use them often. Here's my list:

1. Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. I used BH&G in my 8th Grade Home Ec class at Hartsig Junior High School in Warren, Michigan, and it became the standard for me. The one I have in my kitchen is the one I got at my bridal shower in the early 1990s, but just yesterday, my sister in law gave me my mother-in-law's version from the 1950s. I love that hers features a recipe for a "liverwurst pineapple" - an appetizer that was liverwurst molded into a pineapple shape and covered with American cheese and olives. She also underlined the potato chips in the calorie counter section (7 chips contains 108 calories), which I am sure bummed her out. Also, on the back cover is the distinctive crop circle like brand of an electric stove burner, from accidentally setting the book on an uncooled coil. It was her well loved cookbook, and the 1990s version is one of mine as well. It's where I look first for any recipe.
2. Barefoot Countessa - the original cookbook. Every recipe in this book is a winner. The photography is beautiful, too. Try the French potato salad featured on the cover or the coconut cupcakes. Thank you Ina Garten.
3. I'm Just Here for the Food. I love every Alton Brown recipe I ever made, and I adore his show on the Food Network. I still need to get his second volume "I'm Just Here for More Food". Try the "No Backyard Babyback Ribs" or "Alabama Alchemy" recipe for collards to start.
4. The Ball Complete Book to Home Preserving - I usually buy a Ball Blue Book every year it changes - it's like a magazine for me, but this book is a great reference with many unique recipes.
5. Joy of Cooking. I have many versions of this book in my collection, but the one I keep in my kitchen is the one I got for my bridal shower. If you want to cook anything, you can find a recipe for it in this cookbook. I love that they used the term "cockaigne" - in medieval times meant a "mythical land of peace and plenty" to indicate their favorites recipes.
So, what are your Cockaigne cookbooks?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween - my favorite holiday

I went to the funeral of a work friend that died of a brain tumor way too young with two little kids on Thursday. I got the news that our remaining cat is dying and we need to put her down and a friend's marriage is dying and it's also getting "put down". I was really sad yesterday. Halloween is always my favorite holiday and we'd invited the neighbors over for dinner. I really wasn't in the mood.

Pagans believe that the dead intermingle with the living on Samhain (Halloween). We Catholics saw a good marketing opportunity in capitalizing on pagan feasts, so in 835, Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all the martyrs (later all saints) from May 13 to November 1. The night before became known as All Hallow’s Even or “holy evening.” Eventually the name was shortened to the current Halloween. On November 2, the Church celebrates All Souls Day. The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the “communion of saints,” which reminds us that the Church is not bound by space or time.

Interestingly, among all this sadness, there was joy. We had a lovely dinner of scary looking food and it was such a warm starry night we sat outside while the kids trick or treated for the first time all by themselves. Our house is in the darkest part of the neighborhood, deep in the woods and up the hill, so we don't get lots of trick or treaters. They tend to congregate in the "pasture palace" close packed end of the subdivsion where there's no trees and a greater return on their labor. As a kid, I would have done the same thing. Despite this, I still fire up the smoke machine, carve the pumpkins, hang up the orange lights and hope someone can enjoy the show. Sitting on a kitchen chairs drinking one of my favorite wines with my neighbors and later on eating Dexter Cider Mill donuts around the bonfire, I certainly found life among the dying.

Here's a recipe from last night...

Monster Dip

1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 pkg. ranch dip mix
1 10 oz. box frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 can water chestnuts, diced
1/2 cup red pepper, diced

For serving
1 round loaf sourdough or Italian bread
1 baguette, sliced

Mix all dip ingredients together and chill. In the round loaf, carve a large mouth and hollow it out. Make a face out of garnishes, and fill the monsters mouth with the dip. Serve with baguette slices.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Curried Lentils, or being like Martha

It seems everyone is tightening up their spending these days - even Martha Stewart is preaching the gospel of frugality. I read an interview of Martha herself in last Sunday's Detroit Free Press. In the article, she described herself as a very frugal person - you know I never thought of her that way, but she really does espouse frugality. Long before it was fashionable, she was big into re purposing things, and making things yourself from scratch. I don't care if our president won't admit it, but we are most certainly in a recession and we should all be saving money. A great way to save money is by making food for your family yourself.

In the article, Martha has some words of wisdom for mothers and how we should all know how to cook. She said in the interview ".... I think mothers, especially, should know how to prepare variant, nutritious dishes for their families," she said. "I mean it's their obligation. Don't have a family if you don't know how to feed them." I agree - I think at least one adult in the family should know how to cook. It doesn't necessarily have to be Mom.

In the spirit of saving money, I'm including a recipe that's thrifty. I first had curried lentils in college, I think I may have made a recipe out of either Laurel's Kitchen or Jane Brody's Good Food Book. I had never tried lentils before, but I knew that I liked curry, since I had recently found I liked Indian food. My friend Ray said he loved them with Major Grey's chutney. I usually buy Patak's, but this winter when mangoes are in season, I might try my hand at preserving my own. The chutney, at over $3 for a small bottle, although you only need a spoonful per serving, is the most pricey ingredient. Otherwise, the recipe probably costs less than $1 to make, and it serves at least 8 people. This recipe isn't genuinely Indian, it is just what works out with things I normally have it my pantry.

Curried Lentils (aka Dal)

2 T. butter
1 1/2 cups sliced onions
2 cloves minced garlic
2 small red peppers, minced (pick the heat you like)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 lb. lentils
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons Garam Masala (I buy mine online from Penzeys)
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 15 ounce can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
4 cans low sodium chicken broth

In a large pot, heat the butter and stir-fry the onions just until wilted, do not brown. Add the garlic, peppers, cumin, lentils, ginger, curry powder, salt, pepper, and sugar. Saute for 1 to 2 minutes, until the herbs and spices bloom (aromatic). Add the tomatoes and deglaze to pot with their juices. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning with cumin, salt, pepper and sugar.

Serve over hot rice with Major Grey's chutney, and sausage or ham for the carnivores.

Monday, October 20, 2008

7 random facts about me

TennZen has tagged me - actually, she tagged anyone that reads her blog and I do read it and like it so I consider myself tagged.
Here's my 7 - I'll keep them food related (but my tagged people don't have to):
  1. I don't like mayonnaise.
  2. I love to make homemade candy - I'm looking forward to spending time this winter doing just that - as soon as canning season is over.
  3. I'm not great at baking, but I am good at making all kinds of pie. Ever since I was a kid, I have made great pies.
  4. The one dessert I can't turn down is cannoli. I'm not Italian - I can't explain it - but if I am faced with cannoli I must eat it.
  5. Parsnips are my secret addition to most roasts and stews. They have a wonderful flavor - sort of like parsley.
  6. I have yet to find the ultimate meatloaf recipe. Please send me a good one if you have it.
  7. The trick to great guacamole is kosher salt - make sure to taste it and add enough. Guacamole without enough salt tastes terrible.

Here's how I am going to tag:

Teacher Patti

64 sq. ft Kitchen


Alpaca Farm Mom

Dog Hill Kitchen

4 Obsessions

Farmer's Marketer

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dinner in Hell

....Michigan, that is. October at our house wouldn't be the same without a color tour/dinner at the Dam Site Inn in Hell, MI, one of our favorites. Yes, it is a biker bar and yes, if you have a Harley you'll fit right in, but we drive our car there ever year with pride. And we bring the kids, too, because they really like the Ice Scream Parlor over the Hell Creek bridge next door. You can't beat the Halloween decorations at the Dam Site Inn, and the food is pretty (damn) good, too. Just plan on eating your food while smoking a few cigarettes vicariously from your neighboring diners. I'm not brave enough to ask if there is a non smoking section, and I am not sure if it would matter because most of the patrons smoke quite a bit. Despite that, the food is pretty good and the drive there is wonderful. BYOA (bring your own albuterol)....

Our Harley Davidson tube top clad waitress was really sweet to the kids. The food runs through the standard bar fare, plus they offer some homey favorites like pasties and hot beef sandwiches. I ordered the Dam Site Inn Burger. I'd recommend the place to anyone that wouldn't be uncomfortable in such an environment. There's plenty of good natured bikers - last time we were there, our daughter was in awe by the large group of self described "dyke bikers". that were there. How often do you see a large group of women actually piloting some awesome bikes?

For dessert, I recommend walking over the Hell Creek bridge to the Ice Scream Parlor next door. Besides having all sorts of great Halloween decorations, you can make an ice cream sundae with some creepy sounding, but yummy toppings. Plus, for Halloween lovers everywhere, they have some terrific Halloween village displays (and product to sell) by Dept. 56. All and all, it's a great fall color drive to Hell - the trees form a canopy over Darwin Rd., and it is worth the trip. I don't think I've seen more beautiful fall colors in the 17 years I've lived in Ann Arbor as this year. Go to Hell, I say!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No Child Left Behind Breakfast

Don't get me started on standardized testing. I really can't stand that our school has to spend the first two months each year on prepping or taking MEAP testing (Michigan Educational Assessment Program). Note to self: add MEAP to my "Thank you George Bush" list, along with the Iraq War, the decline of the auto industry, the depression we are now in, etc. Okay, I'll stop whining now.

Standardized testing has been around a long time - I can remember taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in the 1970s when I was a kid, but there was less riding on it than there is now. I wonder why the Iowa test is the one we took? Didn't Michigan have its own test? Why was Iowa's so good, anyway? I recall that it was mind numbingly boring. When you reached the end of the test section was a STOP SIGN, and we were warned not to go past it. When we reached it, we were to close our books and put our heads down.

I didn't know then that I was what we would now call "academically gifted". My mother kept my IQ score from me until I was an adult, because she was afraid of putting too much pressure on me. Having a kid that was smart worried her - she thought she'd mess it up somehow. One of the curses of being smart is that I would often reach the STOP SIGN way before everyone else in the class. I can distinctly remember having to put my head down for 45 minutes during one of the Iowa tests - I was done 45 minutes early. That's a long time for a 5th grader to sit still and be quiet. As a result, I'd try to take the test as slowly as possible. It was hard to drag my feet on the math parts, because math was especially dull to me in grade school.

I hated taking the Iowa Test, but it was really prep for a lifetime of standardized tests - later on would come the PSAT, the ACT, the GRE and the GMAT for me. I'm fortunate to be one of those people that do really well on standardized tests. My scores on these tests never matched my grades, which often made teachers and professors proclaim that I wasn't giving school my best effort. My problem with school isn't my intellect, it's that I'm am "OP" - an optimist procrastinator. I often think things will take a shorter time than they actually do, so I put it off until the last minute. I run out of time.

These days, the MEAP tests are treated with much more pomp and circumstance. Kids are supposed to bring in mint gum to chew to relieve stress. There are nutritious snacks served, and parents are supposed to prepare high protein breakfasts. This is difficult for an OP like me. I never have enough time to whip up a fabulous protein laden breakfast in the morning, even though I have the best intentions. So here's a great breakfast idea for the OP's out there.

Breakfast Casserole

Base recipe

12 slices bread
1 lb shredded cheese (for ours I used cheddar for the meat ones and Mexican for the vegetarian ones)
8 eggs
1 ½ c. milk
1 ¼ T. Worcestershire sauce
Filling of your choice (1 lb. pork breakfast sausage or bacon or ham, cooked) or vegetarian*
1 stick butter

Place 6 slices of bread in a 13X9 pan. Top with filling of your choice, cheese and another layer of bread. Mix eggs, milk and Worcestershire sauce with a whisk until blended and pour over top. Cut butter into 12 pats and dot the top with it. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, bake for 1 hour at 350F or until the eggs are cooked through in the center.

Vegetarian Filling
3 green peppers, chopped medium
3 onions, chopped medium
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 T. vegetable oil
3 small cans sliced mushrooms, drained
1 can petite diced tomatoes, drained

Saute peppers, onions in vegetable oil until they are soft, and then add the garlic and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add tomatoes and mushrooms and stir.

When you are done prepping this casserole the night before, you've reached the STOP SIGN. Put your head down. As an adult, this feels really good. Come tomorrow, you can start again. But for now, put your head down and wait for the rest of the class to finish.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Jam and Jelly Tasting Today

Home canning fans - stop by and taste home preserved jams and jellies at Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor today Sat. Oct. 5 from 10 am - 1 pm. I entered my two most unique items I canned this year so far - Green Gage Plum Jam and Canteloupe Preserves. There are over 60 entrants, and it's free to taste all you want on Zingerman's delicious breads. Plus, vist their website before you go and print out their coupon for a free 5 lb. bag of oiled sunflower seeds to feed your birds. DTH&G has lots of great canning supplies and books, too.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yahoo Groups

Whenever I log into yahoogroups, I see these two yucking it up. I am on a good many yahoo groups, but I can honestly say I have never had this good of a time on any of them. At best, they are great ways to find out information. At worst, they are spam havens. I run a few lists, and I find that yahoogroups seems to be totally ignored by yahoo. These two young people have been the face of yahoogroups for as long as I have been on yahoogroups. Don't they have any new people having fun on Yahoo? Also, the ability to post in html has been in beta test mode for at least 3 years. Aren't they ready to go production with it? Lastly, there's a problem with yahoo groups - which happens periodically, there seems to be no quick fix. There's no number you can call, no place you can email. Some have suggested that yahoogroups mess up when Mercury is in retrograde---I am not making this up, there's a pagan on one of my lists that claims this to be true. That's one of the great things about being on a yahoogroup, especially an Ann Arbor based one. You get to "meet" people you never come across in real life.

Here's a list of some Ann Arbor based lists I am on:

annarborfood - This list is about all things food and drink in Ann Arbor. It's got about 200 members. It's good for local restaurant reviews and recipes, generally people are polite and kind on it, but once the group got into an e-fight about BlimpyBurger.

AAHomeCanning - I started this list's just getting started and it's all about food preservation. It's got a little over 50 people on it. I was getting weary of another food preservation list I am on called homecanning, which is nationwide and huge, almost 2000 people. I got tired of it because there is a woman on it that knows lots about canning, but won't share the facts about what she knows, and she's rather mean about it. If you ask her a question , she'll give an answer but not explain why. If you ask why, she takes it as though you are questioning her authority or something. She dispenses her knowledge like the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz - never question the Wizard! I wanted to offer a smaller, local list that's more friendly....big lists get a little crazy, which brings us to....

arborparents - Now over 1500 people, I belonged to this list when it started and was actually about parenting. Now it rarely is about parenting. I have made and met some good friends on this list. Also, thanks to their posts, I have a short list of people that if I ever meet them in real life, I will know to give them wide berth. I'm always amazed at what people will post on this list, and using their real names, too! At it's best, the list is a great place to find out answers to questions about anything Ann Arbor. Are you looking for a place that sells a push lawnmower? Where you can donate your dryer? You can post and find your answer here. At it's worst, it is a microcosm of the darker side of Ann Arbor - sometimes we're smug and self righteous. I encourage local businesses to join the list so they can address any issues they have. There's a small group of folks on the list that will flame local businesses any chance they get, instead of taking their complaints to the owner of the business, which I think is really a sin. All in all, it's a good list to be on, but not for parenting advice. The list is way too big for that now. Every once in a while, discussions turn into wars on this list. Which brings us to the spawn of arborparents, which is.....

arborparents-politics This list was started because some of the arborparents got upset years ago when a member would post about local peace protests and they supported the war. Now it is used by the moderators to move discussions they deem "too hot" for arborparents, but they're pretty subjective about when they actually do this. I really don't like moderation of any kind. It's clear to me that the moderators are behaving subjectively, even if they don't realize it themselves. That being said, arborparents-politics is a much smaller list of about 100 people, and people are much more free about expressing their views about things, so you can get a really good judge of people's character on it. It's really fun when people post something really controversial and they accidentally cross post to arborparents instead. Then the fur really flies! Only post on arborparents-politics if you feel comfortable getting flamed, because you will.

So, what lists are you on?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Meal Calendar

My carpool partner Alison is a very organized person. Each month, she plans out her meals for an entire month, and puts them on a calendar. She tries out new recipes from magazines all the time, too. She is able to do this because she schedules them. I am not making this up. In addition, she plans each day so she can get dinner on the table by 6 pm each night. This means she gets up early if she needs to prep something in the morning, and if we have a late meeting at work she will put the whole thing together so her hubby can pop it in the oven before we get home. For years, I have dreamed of being this organized, but my personality type ENFP does not lend itself to such things. I tend to live for the moment, especially when it comes to cooking.

However, my schedule really can't contain this kind of lack of planning. At our house, we have at least one thing going on every night of the week - here's our list of regularly scheduled meetings Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, trumpet lessons, religious education class, piano lessons, church youth groups, pastoral council and social ministries commission meetings. Just typing all of these regularly scheduled commitments is making me feel panicky!

I'm going to attempt the meal calendar, and it's my hope that by writing about it here will make it happen. Check it out by clicking here. It's my hope that if I indulge my creative side by blogging about it, it will make it more appealing to me. I'm going to try to follow certain themes by doing things on certain days, like my sister. Another organization queen, my sister actually lived by the "wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, etc." methodology. I can remember when she was a newlywed, I asked her to go out to dinner with me on a Friday night, and she turned me down because that was the night she does dusting. Really...she said that....I am wondering if she still does this, now that her kids are teenagers and her schedule is as busy as mine. I personally can't remember the last time I dusted.

So, here we go...
  • Sundays are reserved for big cooking projects because that's the only day I have enough time to do them.
  • Mondays are for crock pot meals - we have to be out the door by 6 pm on Mondays and usually have 2 things on Monday nights. Plus, work always sucks on Mondays and to quote that Bob Geldof song, I don't like Mondays and I want to shoot, shoo-oo-o-o-ot that whole day down. I just want to come home and have dinner be done on Mondays.
  • Tuesdays sometimes have something going on, sometimes it doesn't, so Tuesdays are on a case by case basis.
  • Wednesdays are take out pizza night. The kids have religious education (or as we used to call it in the Kum Ba Ya era 1970s in the Catholic church, CCD) and we carpool. I have pickup duty, and I have to drive right past Classic Pizza to get there. I bought a Varsity Gold Card off of a Dexter HS football player and with it I can get buy one, get one free pizza at Classic, so that means dinner for the family is only $9 total on Wednesday nights. What a deal - and they make their own dough, too.
  • Thursday requires something quick or something that can be made ahead, since that's piano lesson night and we have to drive all the way to Canton for them. Mr. Donato is worth the drive, but he does make dinner hectic.
  • Friday dinner usually accompanies happy hour, so it calls for small plates. On the Fridays where happy hour needs to be delayed a few hours because of other commitments, small plates would still be a good idea. Appetizers can be made quickly.
  • Saturdays can be just about anything - some Saturdays can be big cooking projects, others might require something fast, it all depends. Maybe I'll even want to go out to dinner. It's generally farmer's market shopping day, too, which lends itself to all types of inspiration in the kitchen. I am going to leave Saturdays unplanned, to honor my personality type. I don't want to chafe under too much organization.

Help me fill out the calendar! Please share with me your recipes. Upon review of my blog, I could probably use some more quickies and crock pot recipes. I've added categories to my recipes already posted to help me schedule, and to see where the holes are.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Books to read while camping

My son just returned from a weekend of very rainy camping with the Boy Scouts at Warren Dunes State Park. As we are experiencing the remains of Hurricane Ike here in Ann Arbor, I am packing to camp tomorrow with my daughter's 7th grade class in the Irish Hills. Camping isn't much fun in the rain, but at least I'll be in a cabin tomorrow. I am hoping the rain will stop. If faced with a rainy camping trip, the best thing you can do is to make sure you've got a deck of cards, lots of good books to read, and plenty of whiskey. But not if you are on a scout or a 7th grade trip, of course. On scout camp trips or 7th grade camping trips, you have to rely on lots of hot coffee instead.

Here's some good books to read while camping:

"Anatomy of a Murder" by Robert Traver, aka John Voelker. This week, Northern Michigan University is sponsoring a retrospective on Voelker's writing. This book is a classic, albeit a little sexist. Cut it some slack as it was written in 1958. I love the descriptions of the U.P. in this book.

"The Shining" by Steven King. Yes, I know you've seen the movie, but the book is a million times better, even though Jack Nicholson is great in the movie. I recommend this book to read when you are holed up in a lodge somewhere and the snow's coming down. Ski trip? Winter camping? I read it my freshman year at Michigan Tech, when it seemed like it would never stop snowing and we'd all go insane. Perfect setting for reading about a guy who goes insane because it won't stop snowing. REDRUM!

Fresh Water: Women's Writing on the Great Lakes edited by the appropriately named Alison Swan. This is a collection of nonfiction women writers.

One I'd like to read is Crooked Tree by Robert C. Wilson. Robert C. Wilson was a 29 year old Wayne County prosecutor when he wrote “Crooked Tree” a terrifying horror tale that borrowed from an ancient Ottawa Indian legend about bears exacting revenge against human interlopers. It's long been out of print, but recently reprinted.

I came across an excellent blog that features Michigan writers called Mittenlit. Check it out! I love reading Michigan books while camping. Meanwhile, if you have some books I should add to my camp reading list, please let me know.

Canning jam without pectin

I was eager to find out how I could can jams without pectin because the stuff is expensive. I just got "Ball Complete Book of Home Canning" out of the library and I can't wait to buy it myself. In it, they have a recipe called "Natural Summer Fruit Jams" that rely on a pectin rich apple and lemon puree that thickens the jam without making it too sweet. The puree is made from boiling:

5 tart apples, stems and blossom ends removed and chopped coarsely, cores intact
1 or 2 lemons or limes, unpeeled and chopped fine *

*number and type of citrus depends on the the fruit type, some need more pectin than others

Boil apples and citrus in enough water to prevent sticking for 20 minutes until soft. Force through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon to make 2 cups puree.

Fruit and sugar needed to make different kinds of jams:
  • Blueberry - 4 cups berries, 3 cups sugar, use 1 lime in puree
  • Raspberry - 4 cups berries, 5 cups sugar, use 1 lemon in puree
  • Red Currant 6 cups currants, 5 1/2 cups sugar, use 1 lemon in puree
  • Peach - 6 cups pitted peeled and chopped peaches, 5 1/2 cups sugar, use 2 lemons in puree
  • Plum - 6 cups pitted chopped plums, 5 1/2 cups sugar, use 1 lemons in puree

Add fruit and sugar to puree in a deep pot, bring to a boil and stir frequently over medium heat. Boil for 20 minutes until mixture thickens and mounds up in a spoon. When I made the raspberry yesterday, I stopped boiling it after about 20 minutes. I wasn't sure that I went far enough with the boiling, but I didn't want to overdo it. I didn't see any "mounding up" on the spoon, but the raspberries seemed somewhat set when I ran my finger across the back of the spoon. Earlier this summer, I boiled a no pectin jam that ended up as tough as fruit leather.

Process 10 minutes. Shut off heat on canner and remove lid, and let the jars sit 5 minutes in the water before you take them out. This neat trick prevents the jars from spewing juice out of the lids before they seal like they sometimes do.

This morning, my raspberry jam was the perfect firmness!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

Jen of a2eatwrite asked where I was on Sept. 11.

Just looking at this picture makes me sad:

Most people have touching, heart rending Sept. 11 memories, myself included.  Mine's about leaf springs. While leaf springs might not tug on your heartstrings like they do on my cold, logical, engineering heart, they really are the perfect symbol to me about how life changed as we knew it on that day. Sept. 11, 2001 marked the beginning of the end for leaf springs, and life as we knew it then.

I was at work, just getting ready to start a weekly meeting I led at the time. It was called "Leaf Spring Forum" then - the same meeting still happens today at my work 7 years later and it's called "Leaf Spring Tech Club". It's a much smaller meeting than it used to be. There's only a handful of leaf spring engineers around anymore, largely because of what happened that morning. I no longer design leaf springs myself, but 7 years ago, I was up to my neck in the design of them. Leaf springs were then commonly used on truck suspensions, and back then, we made lots of trucks. Lots of work trucks, in fact. There are less people driving trucks these days for fun because of gas prices, but there are also less people working and building things because of the economy. So, now we make less trucks and therefore, there's less discussion about leaf springs at work anymore.

Steve, who now no longer works on leaf springs either, came up to my desk and said that his wife just called and said a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. My first thought was that it was an accident. I looked out my window at the beautiful day we were having in Detroit and wondered if it was rainy and foggy in New York City. Steve and I went to the conference room to start the meeting of all the leaf spring engineers and our suppliers. Back then, we didn't have work cell phones, we all had pagers that had a news feed on them. We started the meeting.

I remember people that were there - and very few of us design leaf springs anymore. There were some senior engineers that were offered early retirements because of the downturn in the economy because of what happened that day. They no longer work as engineers. There was a couple young engineers who no longer design leaf springs because they have since left the company because of what happened on that day. If you are a young engineer with no ties to Michigan, you think your opportunities are better in another place and career than automotive. So you go back to Seattle or Pittsburgh or where ever you came from and start anew. There's lots of jobs in the defense industry now. Why not be a part of the "war machine"?

There were a couple engineers that weren't at the meeting because they themselves were in an airplane, flying out to the test track we used to have in Arizona. We don't have it anymore, because of what happened on that day. Because of what happened on that day our country ended up in a war that we didn't need to get into, which led to a downturn in the economy, which led to us selling that facility. Out of all the 15 people in the room that were there that morning, only one designs leaf springs today.

We tried to start the meeting, but we kept reading our pagers and it said that a plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Now, that seemed kind of odd. Two big plane crashes this morning? Something was up. There was a commotion in the hallway; we tried to ignore it and talk about leaf springs - plate stresses, u bolts, leaf clips and tip liners, just like we did every week. Leaf springs have been around since the time of the Model T, but we are still working on making them better. Curiosity got to the better of us so we went out into the hall. Back then, we had TVs in the hallway that usually projected "good news" stories about our business, but usually no one paid attention. Now there were easily a hundred men (and a few women; there's not many women automotive engineers) in the hallway watching the screen. The channel was switched to CNN and we were watching the footage of the plane crash in Pennsylvania. That was interrupted by the news about the other tower at the WTC. There was a mild panic that spread through our group huddled in the hall. What was going on? We thought of our friends who were flying west then - could it be possible it was their planes?

We gave up on leaf springs that morning. We went back to our desks and tried to do our work. So many of us were checking the internet, the traffic on our T1 lines slowed to a crawl. I got my first ever email from school that day - it was from the principal of my daughter's school, telling me that they were in lockdown mode for the first time in their history. Students would stay at school until the normal dismissal time, and they weren't told what was happening. My daughter was in her first few weeks of kindergarten. To this day, the clean and shiny newness of the school year is forever marked with the memory of this day. People started to get a little edgy at the office. It was rumored that they were evacuating the north side of our building and our headquarters because of a bomb threat. My friend Sharon was puzzled when I told her this - after all, she was in NYC on Sept. 11, and she thinks it's odd that we would think that terrorists would go after us in Midwest. But no matter where you were on that day, the terror came from not knowing what was going on.

People wanted to go home, but were unsure of whether they should go. We were not yet dismissed by upper management, so we kept trying to work. Engineers, who don't normally get emotional were getting a little frantic. It was worrisome to see them freak out. I kept telling them it was okay to go home, and that I would cover for them. It was then my 3 year old son's daycare in Ann Arbor called. They said he was the last kid left at the center - all the other parents had picked up their kids, but they would stay with him until I could get there. It was then that I started to panic. What did they know that I didn't know? Was something happening I wasn't aware of? I called my husband on his cell, and he was locked in a government building in Lansing. No one could leave. It was then that I decided I had to leave to get the kids - it was about noon. I didn't ask for permission, I just told my boss I was leaving and he said "Do what you have to do."

It was eerie driving past the airport on my way home. When you drive west on I-94, there's normally a bunch of planes landing and taking off over your head. Instead, on this day, it was quiet. There were a bunch of planes parked all catty wampus over the runways. The radio news said planes were being forced to the ground. I kept thinking about my two colleagues flying to Arizona. It was later I found out that they were forced to in Albuquerque, NM. One had forgotten his wallet that morning, so he had no money or ID. Do you remember when we could fly without ID? The other was a Mexican immigrant, and since he looked like he wasn't "American", he was hassled constantly for the days that followed. No one could fly anywhere for quite a while. It was impossible to get a rental car for a week after that day - they finally got one and were able to drive back to Detroit from NM weeks later. It took them weeks to get home.

I picked up my son and went home and put him down for a nap. It was a beautiful day - the sun was shining. I tried do some work at home, but couldn't keep my mind on it. Finally, it was time for the school bus. The bus driver opened the door and said "The kids don't know a thing" and one of them piped up "Don't know a thing about what? The bad guys that crashed the airplane?" Evidently some of the middle schoolers didn't get the message that they weren't supposed to share that info with the elementary schoolers. I spent the rest of the night watching CNN and explaining to a kindergartner about the bad guys.

So, 7 years later, I don't design leaf springs anymore. My work is a much different place than it was back then. Most of the guys that I worked with that day are no longer there. Because of what happened on that day, I felt compelled to sign up to be on the evacuation team for our building and we're all trained on what we're supposed to do when there's an emergency. Every time an alarm goes off, some folks get really scared. I think it is our own little midwestern PTSD. Because of what happened that day, we are at war and that made gas prices go up. People don't want to buy trucks anymore, and so we don't have that many leaf springs to design anymore. There's only a handful of guys that design leaf springs now for automotive applications.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Potluck Pie

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending another gathering of the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers (MLFB) which is a group of Michigan women that like to blog about food (or someday soon would like to blog about food). This is the 4th time the group gathered for a potluck - this time we met in Livonia at Shayne's house. I got there first and got to tour Shayne's garden and she made us some wonderful mojitos from mint she grew herself. She prepared toppings and dough for us all to grill our own pizzas, which is something I've always wanted to try. As a band mom (my kids both play the trumpet in band) I really enjoyed being serenaded by the award winning Livonia Franklin Marching Band rehearsal across the street at the high school. They were practicing when I got there at 4 pm, and still at it when I left around 7 ish. Who says that high school kids are lazy?

I always bring pie to potlucks, because no one bakes pies anymore. I think it is because a pie is a big commitment - a pie serves 8 people, and how many of us cook for 8 people anymore? But a dish that serves 8 is great for a potluck. I buy pie pans at garage and estate sales whenever I see them, so when I make a pie, I can leave the pan in the hopes that someone else will make a pie in it some day. I'm hoping it will make the art and tradition of pie making live on.

The particular pan I brought to Shayne's was one of three from a Dearborn estate sale that my friend Phil and I attended last winter. On Fridays, Phil and I hit garage and estate sales during our lunch hour. At estate sales, it might seem creepy, but we always try to figure out who died - the husband or the wife. You can usually figure out who was the spouse that died last by what is remaining in the house to sell. At this particular sale, it was in mid winter and the kitchen had lemon yellow 1950s style tile on the counters and walls. It was a tiny kitchen in an immaculately kept tiny house. Besides these pie pans, there were yards of vintage fabric, and closets full of women's shoes. Clearly it was she who died, and given the lack of men's stuff, such as fishing tackle and tools (always remaining at a male estate sale) the husband was gone long ago. See, if the wife died, the husband would have gotten rid of the shoes and the fabric and the pie pans already. It's not to say that men don't hang onto their wives things, but they only hang onto items that they think have value. Therefore, at a dead man's estate sale, you will find canning equipment and women's junk jewelry, because he thought they were "worth something".

These lovely glass pie dishes were a bargain at $1, so I bought them for potlucks. One went to Patti at the last MLFB get together, one went to my daughter's friend's house with a pie in it yesterday, and one went to Shayne. Patti and Shayne, please make a pie in them. I am sure the elderly lady who owned them will be thrilled that you did. After all, she hung onto those dishes, because she knew how everyone loves pie. Don't worry that it serves 8 - if you have left overs, you can have pie for breakfast, like I just did.

Here's the pie I made for the MLFB potluck. I actually made 3 of these beauties yesterday, because I had a lot of really ripe peaches. It is from the cookbook of the Family Parish Circle and Friends of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Hubbardston, Michigan. I bought it in the early 1990s at a farm stand near my future in laws house in Carson City, Michigan. I first made this peach pie on that September day at my in laws while we were visiting. It is the best peach pie I have ever had. It's a great "first pie" for a kid or an adult that's never made one before, because it has a press in crust. No rolling required.

Peach Pie
printer friendly

1 1/2 c flour
2 t sugar
1 t salt
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 T milk

Combine ingredients to form a soft pastry dough. It will be really soft, not like a rolled out crust. Press evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9" pie pan with your fingers


1/2 c powdered sugar
1/3 c flour
4 cup sliced peeled fresh peaches

Combine and spoon into unbaked crust.

3/4 c flour
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/3 c soft butter

Combine for form a crumb mixture, spoon over peaches. Also, adding ground mace or pumpkin pie spice to the cinnamon is tasty, too. For the MLFB gathering, I added 1/2 t of pumpkin pie spice just for kicks. I also love adding mace to peach desserts - I learned this trick from an excellent soul food cook named Irene who was a member of the Society of Women Engineers with me in the late 80s.

Bake at 375 for 40 - 45 minutes.