Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Treats Exchange

Buddy thinks: "If they just look away for a second...all of this could be mine!"

On Saturday I met up with the lovely Michigan Lady Food Bloggers at Patti's house for a cookie exchange. Well, not really a cookie exchange, but an all-out treats extravaganza. A cookietravaganza? Either way, it was good eats, good treats, and good conversation. I brought three varieties of cookie to the gathering: espresso biscuits, pecan snowdrops, and molasses spice cookies. I came home with my biggest plastic container bursting with about a dozen different kinds of treats. It was another fine evening of merriment. Even the foul weather could not dampen the mood.

The madness begins!

My haul

The aftermath

Molasses Spice Cookies

This was another offering for the MLFB gathering. This is one of my Old Standbys. I make these cookies all the time. This recipe is from Cook's Illustrated New Best Recipe.

  • 2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1/3 cup ( 2 1/3 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup light or dark molasses
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or spray it with nonstick cooking spray (I used my Silpat silicone baking mats, which EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE BECAUSE THEY RULE).

Whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined; set aside.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the egg yolk and vanilla; increase speed to medium and beat until combined, about 20 seconds. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the molasses; beat until fully incorporated, scraping the bowl with a spatula once. Reduce the speed to the lowest setting; add the flour mixture and beat until just combined, about 30 seconds, scraping the bowl once. Give the dough a final stir by hand to ensure there are no pockets of flour at the bottom. The dough will be soft and gooey.

Place some more granulated sugar in a small bowl for rolling. Pinch off wads of dough (approximately 1 heaping tablespoon) and roll into balls about 1 1/2 inches across. Roll the dough in the sugar to coat and place each ball on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.

Bake until the cookies are browned and still puffy, the edges have begun to set, and the centers are still soft (the cookies will look raw between the cracks and seem undone), about 11 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back halfway through the baking time. Do not overbake.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheer for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack. Makes about 20-24 cookies depending on the generosity of your dough balls.

Sugar and spice and everything nice...wait, no sugar in this picture, just spice!

I did not have enough molasses (probably barely 1/4 cup) so my dough was not as dark and gooey as it should have been.

Pecan Snowdrops

This is one of the cookies I brought to the MLFB Cookie Exchange last Saturday. This recipe comes in many guises-- Pecan Balls, Snowdrop Cookies, Snowball Cookies, etc...but whatever you might call them, they are little spheres of crumbly goodness. This particular recipe was my grandmother's. It was on a card, written in her elegant early-20th century upbringing script, nestled in her recipe box for decades.

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp water
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
Cream the butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the flour and salt and combine. Add water, nuts, and vanilla and combine. Chill dough for an hour.

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Pinch off wads of dough and roll into balls approximately 1 inch across. Arrange on baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Prepare a small bowl of powdered sugar. Roll the cookies in the sugar once while still warm, allow to cool completely, and roll again.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Last weekend I picked up my final share of the season from Tantré Farm: the Thanksgiving share. It was so massive I had to split it into two pictures.

Root vegetable bonanza: squashes, potatoes, rutabaga, onions, more potatoes.

More veggies! Brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes, chard, cabbage, kale, spinach, beets, cauliflower, parsley...I know I'm forgetting something...

The whole thing. That's a lot of vegetables!

Obviously, clocking in at over 60 pounds (lowball estimate), there is enough food here to feed 30 people for Thanksgiving. As such, most of this is going into my refrigerator and the cool basement for storage. I am taking some Brussels sprouts to my parents' for Thanksgiving dinner because I am going to introduce everyone to the miracle that is roasted Brussels sprouts. (I can hear my brother now..."You want me to eat what? No way! Ewwwwww!" By the way, he's 31.)

I had to take some close-up pictures of quite possibly the most visually amazing vegetable I've ever seen. This is Romanesco broccoli (a variant form of cauliflower).

The thing that is so interesting about this vegetable-cum-work-of-art is that it exhibits a complex mathematical pattern known as a fractal.

Each of these points is a universe unto itself. The pattern repeats itself into infinity. This is quite the marvel of nature. I'm reluctant to eat it (but better to eat it than let it go to waste).

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Modern Alchemy

I am convinced that olive oil, salt, pepper, and 35-40 minutes at 400 degrees can turn anything into edible gold.

Case in point: Brussels sprouts. Most people cringe in horror at their name, fearing mushy, steamed green blobs. However, since I transformed a previously-hated vegetable (broccoli) into something I ate as fast as I could shovel it into my mouth by the holy trinity of olive oil, seasonings, and heat, I thought perhaps I could do the same with Brussels sprouts.

Enter the Barefoot Contessa and a pound of Brussels sprouts from Tantré Farm.

Result: I ate half a pound of these delectable morsels all by myself. John commented, "That's a lot of Brussels sprouts."

Yes. Yes it was. And they were wonderful.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Harvest's End: Tantre Farm Week 23

The last share (sniffle).

Last Wednesday I picked up my final share of the year from Tantré Farm. I opted for the three-week extension to the regular 20-week season because I just could not bear the thought of being without my glorious vegetables. However, there is nothing more I can do now as the season is officially over. Once I have worked my way through what is left in my crisper drawers and freezer...

I am...going to...have to buy vegetables...


Oh dear.

I admit I have become 100% utterly and completely spoiled beyond rotten when it comes to produce. I now take it for granted that my vegetables are actually going to have flavor and taste like they're supposed to. How on earth am I going to deal with pallid, mealy grocery store tomatoes after being buried in avalanches of the most luscious, robustly-flavored tomatoes I could ever imagine?

This was a memorable summer of vegetables. I discovered the wonders of the chocolate beet cake, the kale-banana smoothie, the eggplant hummus. I made my own tomato sauce, froze green beans, and even learned to like squash again.

The CSA experiment was a success. I can't wait to do it again next year.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Meat and Cabbage Stew: Stew Secuiasca

I received an enormous head of cabbage with my farm share in early October. Confronted with this nearly soccer ball-sized sphere, I wondered what on earth I was going to do with it. I said something to this effect at work one day and my co-worker, who is from Romania, found for me this recipe for a meat and cabbage stew in the style of the Secui (Székely) people of Romania.

Pork steaks from our Back Forty Acres hog.

Mancare de varza cu carne (Stew with cabbage and meat):

  • 1 lb pork chops or steak, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large head of cabbage (about 2 lbs) thinly sliced or shredded
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil (vegetable or olive)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp fresh dill, minced
Heat the oil in a large braising pan or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and pork and cook for 6 minutes or until the pork is browned. Add the paprika and stir to combine. Add the sliced cabbage, bay leaf, thyme, dill, pepper, and water, and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until the cabbage has wilted down and the pork is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Spoon into bowls and serve with sour cream if desired.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Food, Fun, and Friends

Yesterday afternoon I was delighted to attend a gathering of foodies and food bloggers from the area. We convened on Shayne's home in Livonia, ten "lady food bloggers" and assorted husbands and children, for an afternoon of homemade goodies and lively conversation.

Shayne's homemade mojitos with fresh mint from her garden. Yum!

I had been unable to attend the previous gathering due to being on vacation so I was looking forward to this one. I managed to snag a quick catnap on the car ride from Ann Arbor; the 20-mile training run I had done that morning was weighing heavily on my body. I didn't want to nod off at the table once we arrived!

Kate's contribution to the feast.

Shayne had prepared a stupendous buffet of fixings for homemade pizza grilled on a slate slab. Individual balls of dough were hand-formed into little rounds and spread with homemade tomato sauce, prosciutto, salami, grilled chicken, onions, basil, hot peppers, a variety of cheeses...whatever one's heart desired.

We talked, drank, ate (and ate, and ate), laughed, and had a grand time.

I'm so glad I was able to attend this gathering and I look forward to the next one!

Good food and new friends make for a lovely afternoon. And we were serenaded by the local high school marching band practicing across the street. Live music and dining outdoors-- what could be better?

I brought two items: chocolate beet cake and sauteed summer squash pasta salad.


  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups pureed beets (can be more or less; it really doesn’t affect the taste. 3-5 beets depending on size will work.)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour (all-purpose, whole wheat, or a mixture depending on your preference)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • confectioners’ sugar for dusting (if desired)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a 10-cup Bundt cake pan (other baking pans will work as well).

To make beet puree, trim stems and roots off beets and quarter them. Place in heavy sauce pan filled with water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 50 mins or until the beets are tender. Drain off remaining liquid and rinse beets in cold water. Slide skins off and place beets in blender. Pulse until a smooth puree forms. Let cool slightly before using in cake.

In a mixing bowl, cream ¾ cup butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs; mix well. Melt chocolate in a double boiler with remaining ¼ cup butter; stir until smooth. Cool slightly. Blend chocolate mixture, beets and vanilla into the creamed mixture. Sift together the flour, baking soda , salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a separate bowl; add to the creamed mixture and blend until flour is just mixed in. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Cool completely before dusting with confectioners’ sugar.


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 lbs summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Cook until tender, 5-8 minutes; add garlic, squash, red pepper, and 3/4 tsp salt. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, until the squash is translucent and the red pepper tender, about 10 minutes. Add black pepper and additional salt to taste. Stir in the parsley and remove pan from heat. Serve as a side dish by itself or as a filling for a vegetable tart, gratin, or frittata.

I cooked a batch of whole-wheat penne pasta and tossed it with the squash mixture while it was still in my big braising pan. I also added a sprinkle of cayenne pepper to boost the taste because I thought it was kind of bland the first time I had it. I confess I am not a huge fan of squash and this, I feel, is the least "squashy"-tasting squash dish I have ever had. I thought it was delicious, in fact. I've eaten it both hot off the stove and cool as a pasta salad and loved it both times.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Blueberry Pancakes

The end result, served for breakfast at my parents' house in Ohio.

Blueberries ripe for the picking

Last week after work a co-worker, Lori, and I headed out to The Blueberry Patch, an organic blueberry farm in Grass Lake. I have driven past this establishment countless times in the past but never stopped. It was time! Time for ripe, luscious, sweet Michigan blueberries! I had never really thought about where blueberries came from before. I had an incorrect idea that they grew on vines or in watery bogs a la cranberries. Imagine my surprise when they turned out to grow on upright shrubs. I took these blueberries down to my parents' in Ohio last weekend where my dad turned them into fantastic blueberry pancakes. I collected almost three pounds of blueberries and have been eating them all week in my regular morning yogurt. I highly recommend the Blueberry Patch as a berry-picking destination for anyone in the Ann Arbor area.

Entrance to the blueberry bush area.

Ready for picking

Lori elbow-deep in ripe blueberries

Sampling the merchandise

Steve Toth, owner of the Blueberry Patch

Fresh Michigan blueberries, washed and ready to use

Blueberry pancakes on the griddle

Getting closer...

Ahhhh...perfection! Blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon and good strong coffee. Maple syrup courtesy of a neighbor who tapped the street's sugar maples and made her own syrup.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans

The summer's bounty of fresh green beans is upon us. What to do with the flood of beans! Thanks to a generous friend I acquired the book A Canon of Vegetables: 101 Classic Recipes by Raymond Sokolov and in it I found this recipe (page 28). It was just meant to be.

  • 6 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 lb green beans, ends snipped and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 lb ground pork
  • 1 tbsp rice wine (mirin)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp sesame oil
Heat 3 tbsp of the canola oil in a wok or large skillet until the oil smokes. Lower the heat to medium. Add the beans all at once and stir-fry until tender, 6 to 10 minutes. Drain and discard any remaining oil. Set the beans aside.

Heat the remaining 3 tbsp canola oil in the pan until it just begins to smoke. Add the pork and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the rice wine and soy sauce and stir. Return the beans to the pan and stir. Add the sesame oil and stir. Distribute among plates and enjoy!

I had this mystery vegetable in the crisper drawer and decided to shred it to add to this dish. I used my trusty mandoline slicer and julienned the crap out of this thing and added it to the pan with the beans. It browned up nicely and was a pleasant, if slightly bland, addition to the dish. I only found out later that it was kohlrabi. It worked, and that's all I wanted.

I made a batch of brown rice to accompany the bean dish. Everything is better when mixed with brown rice and eaten (clumsily!) with chopsticks. The miracle of the evening was that John ate the green beans without complaining. People. you have no idea how momentous that was!