Thursday, December 31, 2009

The New Year Meme

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

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

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

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

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

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

4. Did anyone close to you die?

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

5. What countries did you visit?

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

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

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

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

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

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

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

9. What was your biggest failure?

Still want to learn how to play musical instruments better.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I try not to focus on my illnesses or injuries. 

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Many glasses of wine with good friends.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

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

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

14. Where did most of your money go?

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

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


16. What song will always remind you of 2009?

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

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

happier, same and richer emotionally!

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

Made more music

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

Not putting exercise higher on my list of things to do

20. How will you be spending New Year?

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

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?

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

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

23. What was your favorite TV program?

I don't watch TV

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

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

25. What was the best book you read?

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

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

It's a rediscovery - I think Cake rules!

27. What did you want and get?

To keep my job.

28. What did you want and not get?

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

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

No Country for Old Men

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

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

More music making!

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

Feeding the hungry

33. Who did you miss?

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

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

"God Only Knows"

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

Not rocket science: making pizza at home

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

Getting past the Pizza Doublespeak

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

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

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

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

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

Here's how I made my pizza:

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday meme

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

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

Ralphie from "The Christmas Story"

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

The Heat Miser

4. Favorite Christmas/holiday song?

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

5. Most hated Christmas/holiday song?

"O Holy Night" as performed by Celine Dion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The more decorations, the better.

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

I count the days to Xmas vacation!

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

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

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

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

15. When do you put up your tree?

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

16. Real or fake?


17. When do you take your tree down?

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

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

Yes, Christmas decorations

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 25, 2009

Note to self

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Beef...its whats for dinner cheap!

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Slow food?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pasty making 2009

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009


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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Linzer way

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

Apricot Pecan Holiday Cookies

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

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

2/3 cup apricot preserves


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Note to self

Stuff I want to do:

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Brownie question answered and making vanilla extract

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

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

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

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

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