Category Archives: Entertaining

in the red {les culinettes}

After a few months’ hiatus, les culinettes (a potluck dinner club of like-minded ladies) was back in full force a few weeks ago with a red-themed dinner at Emily’s beautiful Woodbridge home. Because of the length of time that passed since the last dinner (September! yoinks…), we were all extra-excited and inspired this time around. Since the green-themed dinner went over so well, Emily decided to do a similar theme but with red food. Once again, I was impressed by the variety and breadth of people’s contributions- red pepper hummus (Emily), an African curried chickpea stew (also Emily), Spanish stuffed ancho chiles (Abigail), a salad with lots of red accents (Meghan), beet ravioli with brown butter & sage (Sarah), roasted red pepper & tuna tapas (Amy), fries with homemade ketchup (Christina), a red onion vegetable tart (Molly), and even cherry-pomegranate bourbon jello shots (Molly again)! You’ll forgive my phone photos, I hope… I forgot to bring my camera, but can’t resist sharing some shots of this amazing food.

I had a bunch of pitted tart Michigan cherries in the freezer left over from some Beau Bien jam-making, so I offered to bring dessert. I made a buttermilk ice cream, and to go on top, cherries in a light syrup infused with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. I thought it might be nice to have something to soak up all the sauce, so I also made shortcake-type biscuits, and sprinkled them with a little red sugar to get in the spirit of things. By the time we got to dessert, I was shocked anyone had room left, but then again, I always am! Luckily everyone rallied, since it would have been a difficult dish to take home for later.

Sarah had a couple visitors in town from Chicago who were couch-surfing for the weekend, so she asked if she could bring them. Of course with that much food, it was almost a relief to have extra mouths to help us eat it. I was seated next to Romain, a visitor from Berlin who is spending a few months in Chicago. We chatted about European vs. American schools, travel, and how cheap cities facilitate art and musical creativity and entrepreneurship (he’s originally from an industrial town that also has suffered from lost jobs and subsequently abandoned areas of town). It’s always interesting to see Detroit through a first-time visitor’s eyes, especially one from another country; the point of view around here can verge on myopic (tending to eternal pessimism on the one side and relentless boosterism on the other) and it’s great to get some perspective.

Dessert was served with some exciting news from one of the guests, which I won’t divulge here but which had us all toasting and cheering. Ending the evening on that high note, we bundled up and headed to our cars with the warm glow of contentment.

If you can’t wait for tart cherry season (and who could blame you), try to hunt down some frozen tart cherries for this. You could use sweet cherries, but I’ve always found them rather insipid for cooking, and the tartness of the sour cherries pairs so well with the buttermilk. I used this ice cream recipe from Smitten Kitchen via Claudia Fleming’s book The Last Course, using 6 egg yolks and adding about a half teaspoon salt, and a recipe for shortcake biscuits from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.

Tart Cherry Sauce for Ice Cream
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1 lb pitted tart cherries and their juice (fresh or frozen and thawed)
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
pinch of cinnamon

If using fresh cherries, place them in a bowl with the sugar, mash lightly with a fork, and allow to macerate 30 minutes or so, until they begin to release their juices.

Place cherries, sugar and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Simmer gently until the cherries begin to break down and the liquid becomes slightly syrupy, about 20 minutes. Remove vanilla bean and add a pinch of cinnamon to taste.

Serve warm over buttermilk ice cream and shortcakes.

soup swap III: a porky good time

A couple weekends ago, the soup swap was brought back to life after a one-year hiatus. What were we thinking, skipping a year? I do not know. My only excuse is that we moved last January and at the time, I probably didn’t think the house was “ready” to have people over. I can’t say that it’s that much more ready now- we still have a long way to go and the list of home improvement projects is long- but fortunately I’ve forced myself to get over it and lower my standards; otherwise, I’d never have any guests!

It’s a well-known fact that a little pork can enhance just about any soup, and we found it amusing that everyone’s soups, without specifically planning it that way, had pork in them. Michelle’s was the meatiest, a pork and tomatillo stew with big chunks of tender, falling-apart meat. Kate brought a delicious split pea with bacon, perked up with the addition of fresh rosemary. Molly made a hearty chickpea and sausage soup with some Hungarian sausage she’d been gifted from a neighbor, and Sarah made a fantastic wonton soup with homemade, pork-filled dumplings.

I was torn on what to make and, as before, prepared two soups- one to eat for lunch that day and one to take home. I had found a borscht recipe in Molly O’Neill’s One Big Table* that used slab bacon as the meat rather than beef, and I just happened to have some homemade un-smoked bacon in my freezer, so I made that as the soup to swap. For lunch, I created a soup that brought together elements of Eastern European peasant food (or at least, what I imagine it to be): sautéed cabbage, leeks and mushrooms in a light chicken and mushroom broth, with kasha (buckwheat) for an earthy flavor, and venison & pork meatballs. The final touch was some homemade yogurt stirred into each bowl for a little tang. It went perfectly with the homemade crusty rye bread Molly had brought. For dessert, I made a rustic apple tart- no recipe, just thawed out some graham cracker dough from the freezer, made a sort of custard from eggs and yogurt, sugar and cinnamon and poured it over sliced apples. Because of the yogurt, the custard didn’t have a perfectly smooth texture (the ladies said it reminded them of bread pudding), but that didn’t bother anyone.

I kind of fell down on the job this year as compared to soup swaps past, where I photographed every soup and posted recipes for each one. I’m going with the excuse that I now live with a hungry male and the soups disappeared much faster than they did when it was just little ol’ me consuming them. Not only that, but ironically my schedule as a freelancer has, so far, left less time for blogging and photography than before! But as you can see, I did snap some photos of the borscht and will provide that recipe. I hadn’t made borscht in a few years but I had a pretty specific taste memory of what I wanted, so I used the recipe from One Big Table and tweaked it a bit, using the same ingredients but altering some quantities (more beets, less potato) and the cooking method (dirtying only one pot instead of two). I like my borscht to have a nice punchy sweet and sour flavor, so I added quite a bit more vinegar, and used my homemade red wine vinegar instead of the white vinegar called for. The only other change I’d suggest is cutting the carrots in something other than matchsticks, unless you have pro knife skills. It took me half an hour to cut 2 carrots! D’oh.

Anyway, borscht recipe below, and here are links to the previous two soup swaps if you want to check out those recipes. And of course, I highly recommend hosting a soup swap of your own: you get a fridge full of soups and only have to do the work of making one, and all that time you save can be spent in a pleasant afternoon eating, chatting and sipping wine with girlfriends. Total no-brainer.

*Incidentally, as of press time this great cookbook is on sale for 60% off- get it while you can!

Beet & Cabbage Borscht with Pork (adapted from One Big Table by Molly O’Neill)
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½ lb salt pork or slab bacon, preferably unsmoked
2 quarts beef broth or bouillon
2 small or medium onions, roughly chopped, ok to leave skins on
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs neutral vegetable oil or olive oil
1 lb beets (about 3 medium), peeled and shredded
2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks (or small coins)
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ small head green cabbage, cored and shredded
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½-inch dice
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
sour cream for garnish
chopped fresh parsley, dill or chives for garnish

In a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, cover the pork with water by 2 inches, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the pork and pour out the water. Return the pork to the pot with the beef broth, onion and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook about 2 hours, until tender.

Transfer the meat to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle separate the meat from the skin and fat, and chop into bite-sized pieces. Strain the cooking liquid and discard the solids; reserve the liquid.

Heat the oil in the pot over medium heat. Sauté the beets and carrots until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes, adding the garlic after about 5 minutes. Raise the heat slightly and add the cabbage; cook, stirring frequently, until slightly wilted. Add the tomatoes, potatoes and reserved cooking liquid; bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are done to your liking.

Add the meat, sugar and vinegar to the pot. Stir well and taste for salt and pepper, adding as needed, and add vinegar to taste– you’re aiming for a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. Beets and carrots are quite sweet, so I added much more vinegar than the original recipe called for (I used ¼ cup as opposed to 1 tablespoon), but taste and adjust based on your own preferences.

Serve with a spoonful of sour cream stirred in, and garnish with chopped herbs of your choice.

smoked salmon deviled eggs for book club

For the last 4 years, I’ve been in a book club with about 5 friends. The members have shifted slightly, with a couple people leaving and returning because of school or other commitments, but the core group has been meeting every few months since spring of 2008. We’ve focused on classic literature for the most part, but have also sprinkled in some sci-fi, current fiction, children’s literature, and will soon add a graphic novel to our list.

I always look forward to our meetings, which combine spirited and sharp but unpretentious discussion of the books with wine, friendly company, and typically some good snacks! Sometimes we meet at a restaurant or café, but more often we meet at someone’s house. The last meeting was at Ian & Michelle’s, and Ian had made profiteroles with caramel sauce; the one before that was at Sarah’s and we had smoky, marinated grilled shrimp and other goodies. See what I mean?

Last weekend it was my turn to host. I wasn’t sure what to make because the meeting was at an odd time of day (1pm); I didn’t know if people would have just eaten lunch, or if I should plan to serve a light lunch. A serendipitous combination of eggs on sale plus a small piece of smoked salmon led me to this combination, a variation on some tuna-stuffed deviled eggs I did last year (those were good, but I have to say these were way better). The eggs were on sale because they were a little older- i.e., perfect for hard-boiling (less fresh eggs are much easier to peel). The salmon was too small a piece to serve on its own, but a perfect size to lend its flavor to the egg filling. Add some crème fraîche, capers and shallot or red onion and you’re in business.

I also put out a salad of equal parts roasted squash and beets dressed with lemon juice, shallots, feta and parsley. Super simple but beautiful to look at, and a great flavor combination, the sharpness of the shallot and lemon balancing the sugar-sweet beets and squash. With a couple other contributions from my guests, it ended up being a nice little spread. Food was noshed, wine and tea were sipped, and art history books were consulted as we tried to find images that corresponded to the culture the book was about (we had read Things Fall Apart, about the Igbo people in Nigeria at the start of colonialism).

Despite some people having “already eaten”, the food got pretty well demolished. I’m just noticing that I’ve gotten through this post without really mentioning just how very awesome the eggs turned out, but suffice it to say that I don’t think I can ever go back to “plain” deviled eggs. With the brunch-y combination of smoked salmon, capers and onion, these would be great as part of a brunch buffet if you wanted to serve eggs without having to keep them hot… I can just taste them with a bloody mary. For those of you who partake in football-spectating, they’d make excellent finger food for a certain upcoming big game. Or, you could always start a book club.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs
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1 dozen large eggs, preferably not super fresh
3-oz piece of hot-smoked salmon
⅓ cup crème fraîche (you could try subbing sour cream or labneh)
juice of half a lemon (or more to taste)
3 Tbs capers, drained
¼ cup chopped red onion or 1 large shallot, minced
salt & pepper to taste

Put the eggs in a pot large enough to hold them in a single layer and add enough water to cover completely. Cover and bring to the boil. When water reaches a rolling boil, turn off heat and let eggs sit in hot water, covered, for 12 minutes. Drain and cover in cold water. You can crack the shells to get them to cool faster. When cool enough to handle, peel, cut in half lengthwise, and gently scoop the yolks into a medium bowl.

Allow yolks to cool to room temperature. Mash well with crème fraîche and lemon juice until no lumps remain (for a really smooth, fluffy texture, use a stick blender). Stir in the onion or shallots and capers. Flake the salmon and fold in; do not overmix. You want the salmon to be incorporated but to retain some texture. Taste and season with salt and pepper- how much salt depends on how salty your capers and salmon are- and additional lemon juice, if needed. Stuff the egg whites with as much filling as they’ll hold (if there’s a little left over, consider it the cook’s treat). If desired, garnish with a little minced fresh parsley or paprika.

Detroit food blog bloggers

we got married

It’s been a month and a half since Marvin and I tied the knot on a beautiful September day in Detroit. I’ve been meaning to share, but it was such an overwhelming experience that I needed to process and digest the day first; to savor and keep it to myself for a little while. Besides, the hardest posts to write are the ones where I have the most to say… where to begin, where to end, what to edit in and out.

Challenging as it may be to distill the event into a handful of photos and words, this blog is about the role of food in all parts of my life, and there are few food-related occasions more important than a wedding feast! Sharing a meal, your first as husband and wife, with all of your closest friends and family members… quite a few of whom happen to be pretty particular in the food and drink department. Add to that our reputation as bon vivants and aficionados of good eats, and the bar was set pretty high.

I knew from the get-go that I didn’t want a standard catered meal with a choice of “chicken or beef”. Most of the reception venues around town had in-house caterers or required you to work with a certain caterer, so those were out. We wanted to do a pig roast, but where? The answer presented itself when we went to the Ford Piquette Plant (T-Plex), now a museum, to do a group photo for Gourmet Underground Detroit. I started chatting with Pat, a full-time volunteer, who told me about some of the other weddings and events they’d held. I knew right away from her attitude that this was the right place- she was pretty much willing to let us do whatever we wanted with the space, and the price was right.

We got the meat locked in- a pig roast by J&M, a farm out of Almont, MI (I’m heartbroken that no one to my knowledge took any photos of the pig- if you did, please send them my way!!), and mesquite-grilled chicken from Los Gallos in Southwest Detroit. But what to do for side dishes? I knew I didn’t want to go “barbecue” or picnic-style sides; not that I don’t like coleslaw and mac & cheese, but for this special an occasion, I wanted something a bit less ordinary. I checked with a couple caterers and the prices were ridiculous, so I approached my friend Will Branch, who owns Corridor Sausage Co. Although he doesn’t do catering on a regular basis, I knew that he had catered events here and there in the past and the food was always great. Plus, instead of picking from a set menu of items, we were able to totally customize things by meeting with him and his partner Tenley Lark a couple times to brainstorm and then refine the menu. It was really a collaborative effort, which worked out well- we wanted to contribute ideas, but trusted Will and Tenley to carry out their vision for the actual recipes. We ended up going with a slightly tropical/Latino theme, incorporating dishes like arroz con gandules (Puerto Rican rice made by Marvin’s family), black beans, chimichurri sauce, pineapple-jicama salad and corn on the cob with ancho-lime butter (which I was afraid to eat, not wanting to tempt fate with staining my dress!) along with a couple summery items like heirloom tomato salad and green bean salad, taking advantage of the local harvest.

Will and Tenley did a great job with the hors d’oeuvres as well as the side dishes- this is Will’s forte, as most of his catering gigs have been cocktail parties. They did mini Spanish tortillas de patatas which they cut into little circles and served with a dab of creme fraiche, dates stuffed with blue cheese and Corridor Sausage’s lamb merguez, and the classic combo of melon and prosciutto, using the ham that I cured earlier this year (which we affectionately began referring to as “the nuptial ham”).

If the bar was set high for food, it was even more of a challenge in the beverage department- how to do drinks on a budget for that many people without serving swill? Luckily, thanks to some friend connections, we were able to get the wine and booze at near-wholesale prices, which helped immensely. We also saved money by offering two signature cocktails (a Manhattan and a Rum Swizzle, created for us by Dave at the Sugar House) rather than a full bar with standard mixers. Jarred helped out with wine suggestions that would compliment the food and please a large cross-section of palates. For beer, we went local with Bell’s Lager of the Lakes and hard cider from Motor City Brewing Works.

The evening wasn’t without hitches- we ran out of cava (3 cases- damn, people!) in less than an hour; a couple friends (Hi Evan! Hi Dave!) had to pitch in with bartending; dinner was slightly earlier than Will had planned for because people were  wandering upstairs to their tables ahead of schedule (maybe something to do with the booze running out?); but the guests didn’t seem to notice anything amiss; luckily, the unique setting was enough to distract them from any small snags. I found it really hard to just step back and enjoy myself and not go into Hostess Mode (“We’re out of cava?!” “There’s no water on the tables!”), but once I sat down, I tried to relax, mostly successfully. Given the fact that our reception venue had no kitchen or catering facilities, I think everyone did a remarkably good job!

After we were announced, we decided to cut the cake and do the first dances right away to buy Will and Tenley a little more time to set up the buffet. Dick, a volunteer at the museum, had the cool idea to wheel our cake out on the back of an antique flatbed truck. It was positioned in the back of the room and as soon as we walked in, they brought it to the center of the dance floor for us to cut. My mom had decorated the truck with “Just Married” signs and streamers… very cute! Our cake was from Pinwheel Bakery in Ferndale and we did two flavors, coconut cake with lime cream (like a curd but not quite as intense), and pistachio with chocolate and dulce de leche. I told Ann, the baker, to do whatever she wanted with the design of the cake since I was suffering from decision fatigue at that point and didn’t really care what it looked like. I was pretty happy with the result- to go with our “vintage travel” theme, she created little postcards to decorate the cake- although it was kind of funny because all night I had people asking about our trip to Hawaii (we’re actually going to Spain, but Hawaii would have been nice too). I didn’t get a chance to have a piece of cake, but all of the guests were raving about it; based on our tastings prior to the wedding, I have no doubt it was fabulous.

As most married couples will probably tell you, the evening was a blur. By the time we made the rounds of all the tables, it was probably 10:00 or 10:30- time to finally let loose a bit! My sympathies go out to brides like my friend Diane, who said she was so busy talking to her guests during her reception that she never got to dance at all. I don’t think that would have even been an option for me, since people kept dragging me onto the dance floor. Even Marvin, who “doesn’t dance”, was out there most of the latter part of the evening. A couple of those Manhattans may have had something to do with it! I was happy to see our guests working up their appetites for the taco bar we put out as a snack, pairing the leftover roast pork with some salsa and guacamole from Mexicantown’s Honeybee Market.

I don’t think there’s any other event in life that you prepare for so much in proportion to its actual duration. I wish I could have slowed down time to be able to remember more details. Instead, I mostly remember a series of impressions rather than distinct moments. Luckily, the photographs (taken by our talented friend Elizabeth Conley) help to recall specific points in time. But even watching short video clips, it still seems dream-like, as if I’m watching someone else and not us.

Now that the wedding is over, I thought I would have so much more free time, but I’m just as busy as ever, mostly with planning this year’s Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar. Life marches on! I also have our honeymoon to plan, which I strategically booked for April so that I could have something else to look forward to after the wedding was over. Besides, I actually enjoy travel planning, and wanted to savor that experience without it being all mixed up with wedding stress and deadlines.

In addition to menu planning/ overseeing the food and drinks, I also designed my own dress, tea-stained the lace and my shoes, made about 100 jars of jam (with help from Molly) for the favors, made the place cards and table signs (names of French streets in Detroit), got old family wedding photos together for a display, and took care of several more details I can’t even remember anymore. Although going the DIY route was more work than I could ever have imagined, in retrospect I don’t think I could have done it any other way (ahem… control freak… ahem). I’m actually glad that I didn’t realize how much work it would be when I started, because I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it! In the end, though, it was worth it for all the people who told me it was one of the most memorable and unique weddings they had ever been to. Unless you’re a super-organized Type A person and you start way ahead of time, I wouldn’t recommend doing this type of wedding or event without at least some help- I hired MeMe Design & Events to assist with some of the design and decor elements. She was mainly in charge of the room layout/ draping and put the tables together, but did so much more, coordinating vendors and taking care of lots of little details I may not have thought of. I also had help from many family members and friends- you know who you are, and thank you all from the bottom of my heart! I very literally could not have pulled it off without you.

There’s so much more I could say about the day, the planning, what worked and what didn’t, but this post is already running long- if anyone has questions or wants advice on planning a wedding or event, though, please ask away in the comments, I’m more than happy to share my trial-and-error experiences!

All photographs in this post courtesy of EGC Photography.

summer tomatoes and a savory zucchini bread {les culinettes}

Summer tomatoes may seem like an odd thing to post about right now, as most other North American food bloggers are fully in fall’s sway. But now that I have this silly wedding business behind me, I’m catching up with a few odds and ends- blog posts I’ve been sitting on; photos I’ve been meaning to edit; recipes I wanted to share. Besides, the particular recipe I have for you today- a savory zucchini-tomato bread- is actually more suited to this time of year, because who wants to turn up the oven on a sweltering August day? (Oh, that’s right, I did.) This bread, though- if you still have a glut of zucchini but are tired of sweet zucchini bread, this is the ticket. It’s rich, eggy, cheesy and perfect for a cool fall day, and it keeps for a few days because of how moist it is. Also, if you’re grabbing bushels of Roma tomatoes to make these roasted Romas, this is a great use for them. Mine were from last year (roasted and frozen in olive oil) but they held up beautifully. If you don’t have tomatoes you can throw in a handful of black olives, or even a little diced ham.

The last meeting of our cooking club took place on August 12 and as we have a seasonal bent, we celebrated the tomato. Once again, I wondered how we would pull off 8 or so dishes with the same ingredient in common and not have it be “too much”, and once again, I needn’t have worried. From just-picked to barely cooked to long-simmered to roasted, the permutations were as creative as they were delicious. Sarah skewered fresh tomatoes with melons, basil and mozzarella for a salad on a stick. Molly puréed tomatoes from her garden with peaches and a little yogurt and garnished it with tarragon for a chilled summer soup, a riff on a Mark Bittman recipe. Amy, ever the fancy-pants (I say this with the utmost admiration!), stuffed squash blossoms with seasoned diced eggplant, fried them and set them on a bed of barely-cooked tomato sauce. Heavenly.

Speaking of heavenly, I want to digress just for a moment here to talk about our hostess Abigail and her stunning Ann Arbor home, which you can see a tiny glimpse of in a couple of these photos. I hope it doesn’t embarrass her if I say that I was absolutely enamored with her house and its decor, a perfect blend of old world/antique and whimsical modern. The house itself is in amazing condition, with original woodwork throughout, a gorgeous fireplace and many other cool details. And the landscaping- let’s just say gardening is Abigail’s labor of love, and it shows. Much of Abigail’s decor, including the “most beautiful chandelier in the world” (as she told her husband to convince him they needed to buy it and ship it back) was purchased during their time living in Italy. I’m guessing the heavy linens on the dining table were of European provenance as well- you just can’t buy stuff like that at a department store.

Of course it’s no surprise that such impeccable taste would carry over to the kitchen. Our hostess made two knockout dishes, one an appetizer with multiple components, the other a homey potato gratin (in a vintage enameled casserole, no less). The appetizer was composed of a whipped chive goat cheese and a deeply savory tomato-shallot-vinegar compote topped with a basil leaf, on little almond biscuits. The sweet cookie-like biscuits were unexpected but totally worked. It was a struggle not to devour too many, as we all wanted to save room for dinner.

It’s been well over a month since this dinner and I’m struggling to remember what Emily and Meghan brought- please forgive me, ladies! I believe the roasted tomatoes with capers and mozzarella were Meghan’s contribution, and Emily brought a simple salad of tomatoes from her garden. She was understandably much too busy to prepare anything more complex (not that she needed to anyway), as she was getting married the following weekend. Congratulations Emily! I don’t think I would have even been able to attend any social events the week before our wedding, as I was so busy taking care of last minute details, but she seemed much more organized than I.

As usual, we had a grand old time eating, drinking and making merry. We were privileged to have been joined by Abigail’s old school friend Chiara, who was visiting from Brooklyn on her first weekend away from her kids. I hope we showed her a proper good time. Kids, if you’re reading, she was fighting back the tears pining for you the whole time. Really!

Some say a bride experiences a let-down after the wedding, when there is no longer a big event to focus on, and the attention dwindles. I don’t feel this way in the slightest, at least not yet- on the contrary, I’m really excited to have time once again to cook and have dinner parties. I will of course post about the wedding very soon, once I get our photos and have some time to digest everything, so to speak. The ultra-short summary is that we had the time of our lives and the food was to die for. But I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen, so here’s hoping we’ll plan another Culinettes party ASAP!

Savory Zucchini Bread with Roasted Tomatoes and Parmesan
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The inspiration for this recipe is the savory “cakes” served in France as part of the apéro (pre-dinner drinks and snacks). The first time I made it, I used roasted tomatoes and black olives, but wanted to adapt it to make use of the overabundance of zucchini in gardens and markets at the end of summer. The results are a delicious departure from sweet, muffin-like zucchini breads.

Prep: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 large loaves or 4 small loaves

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
5 ounces Parmesan or other hard cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
5 large eggs
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup roasted Roma tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup grated shallot or onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary (or other fresh herbs of your choice)

Preheat oven to 400°. Grease 2 loaf pans or four mini loaf pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cheese, salt and pepper. In another medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the wine and olive oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the egg/wine mixture in. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet until fully incorporated; do not over-mix. Lumps are fine. Fold in the vegetables and rosemary. Divide the batter evenly among the pans and bake until the top is golden and crusty and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes for small loaves and an hour for large loaves (please note that I didn’t make large loaves so I can’t vouch for the timing- keep an eye on them and test to be sure).

snippets

For those of you who are married, this wins the Obvious Statement of the Year award, and for those of you who are unmarried, take heed: planning a wedding is a LOT of work. Like, feels-like-a-second-job amounts of work. And for someone like me who basically does have a second job (or two or three, depending on how you count freelance work, being a landlady and running a micro-food-business), I barely have time to breathe let alone blog. For those who opt for a “regular” wedding at a place where it’s X amount per head all-inclusive, there’s still plenty to keep you busy (my sister went this route last year and still, a few months out, found herself wishing she had planned a small destination wedding instead). But when you capriciously decide that you want to have your reception at an old Model T museum, with no kitchen or staff, that doesn’t regularly host large events, you’re dealing with a whole new level of coordination.  My chest gets tight just thinking about it.

Somehow in the midst of all this, I’m managing to squeeze in little snippets of normal life here and there- a Sunday supper of grilled salmon with scape pesto; a weekend visit with my mom and sister; a restaurant meal with my old high school friend Kathy and her husband Garrett (longtime readers may remember my posts about my stay with her in Portland, and making her family’s Chinese dumplings).

When Kathy announced a couple months ago that they’d be in Ann Arbor for a couple days and wanted to meet for dinner, I didn’t have to think too hard about where to go. Grange is a restaurant which friends have raved about for its commitment to only serving local, seasonal food and its excellent cocktail menu. We were particularly wowed by the house-made charcuterie platter (trend trifecta- there were even pickled scapes! but who cares because it was REALLY GOOD), which included whipped lardo among its decadent treats. For dinner, I had pork loin on a bed of greens with pickled strawberries. The dish had minor flaws, but the pork itself was juicy and had a nice fatty layer indicating its non-industrial “other white meat” origins. After dinner we went next door and had a couple un-fancy drinks with Fred, another old friend from college. It was an evening that made me happy and wistful at the same time- I’ve met so many great people at different times in my life but despite the brave new world of online social networking, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with them all in any meaningful way. I’m just thankful for times when I do see old friends and we’re able to pick up without awkwardness,  as if no time had passed.

Speaking of things to be grateful for, my family has been so supportive and helpful during this busy time! My mom and sister were in town visiting a couple weeks ago and I was glad I was able to find time to cook them a meal. I deep-fried some stuffed squash blossoms from the farmers’ market, grilled a grass-fed flank steak, roasted some beets and dressed them with a scape & pistachio pesto, and heated up some pasta with fresh tomato sauce I’d made a few days prior. We had a nice leisurely summer supper, nibbling on cheese and salami and white bean dip, then moving outside for a glass of L. Mawby (a sparkling wine from the Leelanau) and the squash blossoms (I took Melissa Clark’s excellent advice about moving the deep fryer outdoors). As dusk settled in, we  migrated back to the dinner table afterward for the rest of our feast.  The roasted beets were so sweet they tasted like strawberry candy, and despite her aversion to the garish magenta roots, my mom consented to trying a bite. Their green tops were chopped and sautéed with some kale for a slightly bitter counterpoint to the beets’ intense sugar. We lingered over these and a few bottles of wine, and after dinner (partially thanks to said wine), Amanda coerced me into getting out an old photo album and reminiscing about a trip we took to New York almost exactly a decade ago, just two weeks before 9/11.

Even on weeknights, every once in a blue moon we have an evening where we’re both home at dinnertime (no small feat with two freelancers in the house) and we take time to make a “nice dinner”. Now, don’t get me wrong- by “nice” I don’t mean complicated- we’re still far off from having that kind of time. I just mean a meal that we wouldn’t hesitate to serve to company, once we can actually have people over again. For example- a beautiful piece of wild salmon, smeared with the aforementioned scape pesto and grilled. If memory serves (yes, it was that long ago! sigh…), we had kale and grilled cabbage on the side, two of our current favorite vegetable sides. The cabbage was simply shredded, tossed with salt, olive oil and smoked paprika, and the kale was bolstered with a paste of anchovies and preserved lemons, with some red pepper flakes for good measure. Incidentally, my dangerously crowded pantry may look like overkill to some, but it’s a saving grace when it comes to cooking anything worth mentioning on a tight time budget.

Tonight I will be working, testing and developing waffle and popover recipes for a client in my 90+-degree kitchen and wishing I was grilling or eating a nice cool salad or chilled soup. But such is life right now. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming after September 17th, and meanwhile, eat lots of wonderful summer meals for me!

it’s so easy eating green {les culinettes}

In June, I had the honor of hosting les culinettes, the cooking club I’ve been participating in for the past few months. Back then- a whole month ago!- my schedule was just free enough to accommodate a dinner party, but as the weeks fly by and freelance work* and wedding planning have been ratcheting up, blogging has sadly been relegated to the back burner (non-intended food pun, I swear).
*I’ve been developing and testing recipes for holiday food the last several weeks… strange but fun!

But rather than lament my absence here, I’d prefer to reflect on what was a beautiful balmy spring eve with good friends and great food. Our theme was “green”, in honor of fresh green vegetables finally being in the markets. Seems funny to think of it now, with temps in the 90s all week, but in mid-June we were just starting to see peas, asparagus and the like. Several people did use spring vegetables in their dishes, but the menu was surprisingly diverse, with others interpreting the “green” theme more loosely.

I had gotten up at 7am that day to get the house in order; in addition to cleaning, I wanted to hang a few pictures and curtains (nothing like company to get you motivated to do things around the house… I should entertain every weekend, I’d be so productive!). I was a machine all day, with just enough time to start getting my dishes ready as the dinner hour approached. Fortunately the theme wasn’t the only thing that was loosely interpreted, as most of the ladies arrived about 45 minutes after the appointed time, giving me a welcome opportunity to chill in the kitchen with a glass of wine and prep my food a bit more leisurely.

We decided to break up the meal into courses and eat the first round outdoors- it was one of those warm evenings with the barest of breezes, that elusive weather we long for in the depths of winter’s chill and summer’s scorch. The food was sublime, in every way a worthy match for the splendid weather. For appetizers, we had pea pesto and pea hummus on crostini made by Meghan, and a gorgeous grass-green fava purée topped with feta and kalamata olives that Abigail made with favas from her garden. The favas, which we spread on Zingerman’s baguette (only the best!), had the most amazing velvety texture that I was obsessed with, and a little spicy kick.

Also served in the first half of dinner were pieces of flank steak with an uber-garlicky, emerald green chimichurri that Sarah made, and a shrimp dish in a light citrus sauce with basil and capers brought by Amy that I had to force myself to stop eating so I’d have room for the remaining two courses. She had gotten the shrimp at an Asian grocer and they were huge and tasty; their heads lent flavor to the sauce, as well as providing some mid-meal entertainment.

As it got dark, we headed inside as the mosquitoes started to make themselves known and spoil an otherwise lovely setting. Marvin had cleared off our little patio (the previous owners had seen fit to use it as storage for a large pile of logs for the fireplace), and set up a table for us as well as some string lights to lend a bit of ambiance. Thanks hon!

There was a short respite from eating while the ladies chatted in the kitchen and I prepared my dish, mussels in a simplified coconut green curry sauce. We ate those with gusto while waiting for the pasta water to boil for the final course of the evening, Molly’s homemade spinach pasta with peas and asparagus. The pasta had a wonderful chewy al dente texture and Molly shared that she uses a bit of spelt flour in her recipe (note to self for future pasta making endeavors). A salad of cucumber and avocado with lemon, probably the easiest salad in my repertoire and so refreshing in hot weather, accompanied. I put cucumber slices in our ice water, too- a nice change from the usual citrus. (And what can I say, I’m a sucker for a theme!)

Our designated dessert-maker Jess was out sick so we missed out on her green tea desserts (those in Detroit can sample her wares here though), but we were all plenty sated by the end of the meal. It being Friday, some of the ladies had worked that day and we petered out a bit earlier than our usual midnight-ish, but between the food, the company and the perfect temperatures I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Greatly anticipating our next gathering chez Abigail to fête the venerable summer tomato!

Mussels in a Quick Green Curry
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I threw this together on the fly because I had some kaffir lime leaves to use up. Technically the summer months are not supposed to be a good time for mussels, but the ones I purchased were fine. If you’re unfamiliar with purchasing, storing or cleaning mussels, this article is very helpful. This sauce could be used to simmer a pound of shrimp or scallops as well if you don’t want to wait for mussel season again. To make it a meal, just add some rice and a grated carrot or cucumber salad.

2 lbs mussels, washed and debearded
1 large shallot lobe, minced
1 medium garlic clove, minced
6-8 fresh kaffir lime leaves
½ tsp brown sugar
1 cup coconut milk
2-3 serrano peppers or similar green chiles, de-seeded and minced (more if you want it spicy)
a dash or two of fish sauce
about 1 Tbs neutral vegetable oil
a couple Tbs each chopped cilantro, basil and/or mint for garnish (cilantro is essential; the basil and mint are nice touches if you have them. If not using one of the herbs, increase the others proportionately.)

Heat the oil (enough to thinly coat the pan) in the widest and shallowest pan you have that has a lid. Add the shallot, garlic and all but 1 Tbs of the peppers and sauté over medium heat until the shallot becomes translucent. Add the coconut milk, sugar  and lime leaves. Cook at a very gentle simmer for about 20-30 minutes to infuse the flavors, stirring occasionally. If the sauce gets too thick, add a splash of water, or cover the pan to prevent further evaporation. After the sauce has cooked down, season with fish sauce to desired level of saltiness.

Raise the heat to medium high and add the cleaned mussels to the pan. Cover the pan and cook, shaking the pan a few times to allow more even cooking. The mussels are done as soon as they have all opened. (There may be a few stragglers that don’t open; these should be discarded.) Sprinkle the fresh herbs and remaining chiles on top of the dish and serve immediately in shallow bowls with some of the sauce spooned over.

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or 2-4 as a main course.