Friday, December 25, 2009

2nd Annual Cookie Exchange

Oh Lord have mercy--it only took me two weeks, but I am finally posting about our wonderfully fantastic cookie exchange of December 11. I have been off of work this past week and, whenever I'm not working, time kind of stops. That is, I have so little to do that I can't seem to do anything and so nothing gets done. It's very odd and disconcerting and scares the crap out of me but here we are! (I have no similar excuse for the week before last other than sheer laziness).

We had a wonderful get together, full of food, drink, white elephant gift exchanges and, of course, COOKIES!!!! Folks kindly brought appetizers and I know I am going to forget to list a whole bunch of them because I am lame for not posting. So, please post in the comments or edit this post to add what you brought. I seem to recall some fabulous onion dip from Mary S, veggies and dip from Cheryl, a Rice Krispie mix from Mary B, and oh crap! See? I can't remember what all else. So please help me out here, ladies! I made latkes, because it was the first night of Hanukkah. Actually, Mary B. saved me on that as she womanned the frying pan for me.

We may have had some alcoholic beverages as we ate. We then exchanged our "white elephant" gifts and there were some awesome gifts! I coveted Tricia's ice shaver and the cookbooks that folks got. However, I was quite happy with my egg whipper that I got from Nidhi. I've already used it a few times and it is great! (The pretty purple wrapping that it came in still lives on my stereo).

As always, the cookies were fantastic! Of course, I forget much of what was brought except that it was all delicious! We had gingerbread cookies, molasses cookies, Russian tea cakes, Oreo bastards (and their sisters Lemon Bastards and Nutter Butter bastards), chocolate crinkles, sort-of rugelach (that was mine...they only sort of turned out), iced sugar cookies, awesome cookies that had some sort of jam inside, awesome cookies that were extremely light and had some sort of chocolate between them, the official cookie of New Mexico, muffins (that were my breakfast at least one day), the lavendar cookies, the thumbprint cookies, cookies with sprinkles...ack! What else?? They were all fantastic...for real.

In fact, take a look at Kate's picture:

Here is the aftermath:

It was a great time and it was great to see old friends and new faces! Looking forward to our next adventure...and the third annual cookie exchange!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why I eat local 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 locally and seasonally.    I have been eating local/seasonal food long before it became fashionable.  Believe me, eating locally wasn'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 the 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&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 Russian 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) 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"?  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.  So, I will eat citrus in the winter, even though it wasn't grown in Michigan.   Eating locally and seasonally and remembering my ethnic roots just tastes good, period.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Swedish Pancakes

I am always on the lookout for waffle and pancake recipes that don't seem too heavy on eggs, milk, butter. The waffles at the FridayMornings at SELMA are a perfect example and I was buying up the mixed batter when it was for sale. You just added an egg, vanilla and maybe a little bit of milk (I forget exactly), but it made for some yummy waffles.

This morning, I decided to make a nice breakfast for Jeff & me. At first, I pulled out the waffle maker, but then I decided that I didn't feel like waffles. So I pulled out my Joy of Cooking cookbook but everything I saw just seemed too rich. So, I next pulled out the red & white checkered Better Homes & Garden New Cookbook and opened to the pancake section. Something called "Swedish Pancakes" caught my eye and I figured, what the heck? Our Swedish friends have given us some cool things like practical dialysis machines, the three point safety belt, Swedish fish, and the absorption refrigerator (except for the fish, all of this information can be found on wikipedia, so it must be true. Not sure about the fish but it sounds good.) Turns out, the mofos can make a nifty little pancake too.

The recipe is very easy. Take 3 eggs and beat them until "thick and lemon colored" (I just beat them for a few minutes and called it good). Add 1 1/4 cups milk, 3/4 c flour, 1 T sugar and 1/2 t salt. Mix together. The batter will be VERY runny but don't panic! It will all turn out fine, I promise.

Heat up your frying pan and put in oil or a spray of that organic oil crap that I found at the food co-op. Let it heat up over medium heat and pour your batter on. Since it is runny, pour it in quick little "spurts" (you'll see what I mean). Keep a careful eye on things as they cook quickly.

You will end up with lovely thin little pancakes, halfway between a crepe and a pancake. The entire batter is 853 calories (not including oil or the calorie free spray shit that I used) and you get so many per batch that you needn't fret too much about calories. I served mine with my local maple syrup and Locavorious blueberries.

The cookbook says to "pass the Lingonberry sauce", whatever the fuck that is. The blueberry syrup worked just fine and made for a lovely brunch. So, thanks my Swedish friends! Even if you didn't give us the wonderful Swedish fish**, you are still alright in my book.

**oh well damn! I guess Swedish fish do come from Sweden. Okay, nevermind.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dinner on Less than $2 a Serving

Recently, my friend & fellow lady food blogger, Noelle, challenged our Google group to put that stupid "Walmart lets me feed my family for less than $2!!1!!111!!" commercial to shame. She suggested that we try to feed ourselves and our families for $2 per serving...but using good stuff and not that shit that Walmart slops together and calls "food". Tonight, I took that challenge and made homemade multigrain bread & minestrone soup.

Streamlined (i.e. no knead; use a mixer) Bread (from Betty Crocker's 1960 cookbook)
You simply take 3 c of flour (from Westwind Milling via By the Pound cost $2.19 per pound and I used 1.5 pounds, or $3.28), 2 T shortening (okay you got me here...hadda use Crisco, probably about $.20 worth), 2 T of Pioneer sugar (let's be generous and say $.50 worth), 2 t salt (negligible) & 1 packet of yeast (out of a jar that cost $8.00 and has lasted me forever but I'll be generous and say it was $.75 worth).

You dissolve the yeast into 1 1/4 c warm (not hot) water and then add everything else. Using your dough hook, knead for about 4 minutes on medium speed. Put a towel over the bowl and let it rise in a warm place. The recipe said to let it rise about 45 minutes but I fell asleep and it ended up rising for 1.5 hours. It still turned out great!

Put it into a greased bread pan and let it rise about 40 minutes. Bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes.

I cut it into 8 slices (188 calories per slice, btw). Rounding up, this costs about $.60 per slice.

Minestrone Soup (from Cook's Illustrated)

I didn't follow the recipe exactly, so let me tell you what I did! I took some carrots & kale from my garden (grown from seed so the cost is negligible), an onion (I bought a bunch from the farmers market and I think the whole bunch cost $3.00, so let's say the onion was $.30), green beans and peas from Locavorious (I paid $200 for the subscription and I think I will get about 30 bags of produce, so I guess each bag costs about $6.67 and I used about 1/4 of each bag so I am thinking that would be about $3.00 for both?), 1/2 cabbage from the farmers market ($1.00 for the head; I used $.50 worth), celeriac from my garden (free--a gift from my friend and fellow food blogger, Vivienne), 1 cup cannelloni beans from the Ypsi farmers market (I think the whole bag cost $2.00 and I used about 1/2 at $1.00), the rind of my Parmesan cheese from Morgan and York (the whole shebang cost me like $10, so let's say the rind was $1.00 of it), a quart of my canned tomatoes (about $1.00 worth), 4 cloves of garlic from the farmers market (I got the reject garlic and I think it cost me $.25 a head) salt, pepper, a dash of red pepper flakes, fresh basil and parsley from my basement stash. I used 2 c beef broth (frozen in an ice cube tray) that I made from farmers market idea on the cost but let's say $.50. I also used about 2 T of olive oil from a jar that cost me $8.00. I would guess I used about $.50 worth?

I boiled my 1 c of beans in 2 Q of water for about 10 minutes and then turned off the heat, covered it and let it sit for a couple of hours.

After the beans had been softened, I sauteed the onions, celeriac, carrots, peas, green beans and kale in the olive oil for about 10 minutes. I then added the garlic, dash of red pepper flakes and chopped up cabbage and sauteed for about 2 minutes. I then set that aside in a pan.

Now, I put the beans, 2 c of beef broth, 8 c of water and a bay leaf (I used a leaf from the Detroit Eastern Market pack that I bought; the whole pack cost $1.00) and the Parmesan rind. I brought the whole batch to a boil and let it simmer for about an hour. I then added the veggies and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. I served it with some Parmesan cheese.

There are at least 8 cups of soup in there, probably much more. Jeff did the math for me and it came out to $1.00. I canz add so I know that $1.00 + $.60 = < $2.00!

Now, to be sure, I had some help in the veggie department, thanks to growing my own and getting the celeriac but I still think that the cost would be fairly cheap, even if I had to buy a carrot and some kale leaves.

So!! Walmart, peeps, you can eat your partially hydrogenated high fructose sodium biocarbonickityickityick heart out!

Eat up!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rice Griddlecakes for Leftovers

As a frugal cook who hates to throw food away, I'm always looking for creative ways to use leftovers so they don't taste like leftovers. So I was pleased when this idea of incorporating goodies into rice griddlecakes worked out. They have now become a standard item in our household.

Even dedicated cooks "order out Chinese" sometimes. But what do you do with tiny amounts of leftovers - one shrimp, a couple of pieces of stir-fried Napa, two slices of beef? I've often stirred them into scrambled eggs or made up some fried rice (there is usually leftover rice too). But sometimes that just doesn't appeal.

I was given a copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything for my birthday and found this griddlecake recipe, which I have modified to accept my leftovers. My changes are marked with an asterisk.

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, Gruyere, Swiss, or crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
salt, cayenne, and black pepper* to taste or whim
1/2-1 cup of leftover vegetables (relatively firm) and cooked meat, chopped fine*
2 scallions, chopped, or onion*
herbs to taste* (I favor cilantro or parsley)

Whisk eggs, milk, rice and cheese together. Add other ingredients except for vegetable/meat mixture and mix. Then add the vegetable/meat mixture.

Use a cast-iron skillet, griddle, or other nonstick surface. Add small amount of oil (I don't recommend butter because of smoking, though Bittman has it as an option). Use about one large spoonful for each griddlecake, baking several at once; turn and bake until nicely tan/brown. You'll have to add some oil between batches. You're not frying them, you're using a hot oiled surface to bake them.

Bittman recommends tomato sauce but we like these for breakfast with homemade applesauce on the side. They are nicely savory and don't really need much more, though sausage or bacon is never a problem. Note: we put the cakes onto a cookie sheet and into the oven so all are hot at once. This also guards against a gummy not-quite-done interior.