Tag Archives: food

a december to remember

(or, “how I attempt to fit a month’s worth of blogging into one post”…)

Vintage home goods by Hugh at the Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar

Did I really let the whole month of December go by without posting a single time? I guess that’s what will happen when you decide to plan a big event in early December AND take on a few freelance jobs in addition to attempting to supply the metro area with homemade jam for their gift-giving needs.

The main room at Food Bazaar- the Beau Bien table is at lower left

At the risk of sounding like one of those end-of-year holiday letters, allow me to recap for posterity. I brought the Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar back this year, dubbing it the “2nd annual”, so I guess I’m committed to making it a yearly event now! It was quite a bit bigger than last year’s, with 26 vendors (as opposed to 16) and a much larger venue, in an unfinished space above Cost Plus Wines in Eastern Market. The evening wasn’t without hitches (just ask my friend James), but considering my inexperience with event planning and the “rustic”, on-the-down-low nature of the event, I’d say it was a pretty slamming success. We added more prepared-food vendors as well as some tables (borrowed from Tashmoo– thanks Suzanne & Aaron!) where people could take in the city views from the large front windows. It will be an interesting challenge to see where things go next year- I think the Bazaar has already outgrown something that can be sustained as an underground endeavor, so I’ll likely have to figure out how to proceed “above board” (i.e. pulling permits, etc) while keeping the spirit and purpose of the original event.

A selection of chocolate truffles from Pete’s Chocolates

Naturally fermented pickles by Suddenly Sauer

Incidentally, thanks to my pal Evan over at Gourmet Underground Detroit for the food bazaar photos, since I was too busy running around to take any. If you check out this post, you can see a slideshow with more pics from the bazaar as well as the GUDetroit holiday party. The first image in the slideshow is from a fun little photo shoot we did at our house. Update: I just came across another Food Bazaar slideshow on the Drought Juice website here– nice pics, ladies!

A sampling of our jams

Seeing as how Beau Bien sold out of product at the Food Bazaar, the weeks between 12/9 and Christmas were kept busy scrambling to fill holiday orders. Big ups to my partner Molly who really kept the ship afloat while I was tied up at my desk job! We have big goals for 2012, so stay tuned on that.

A shopper browses Marvin‘s (mostly) food photos at the Bazaar

Speaking of desk jobs, as of right now I have 12 more weeks until I will officially be self-employed. Eek! I’ve always felt deep down that I’d be best suited to work for myself; I’m anxious to test that theory. I’ll continue to do freelance writing and recipe development as well as take Beau Bien to the next level… Scary but exciting!

After the blur of Food Bazaar and jam-making, the final days before Christmas were still full-steam-ahead as I got last-minute gifts and planned holiday food. Christmas Eve (or “Puerto Rican Christmas” as I call it) was spent at my mother in law’s and, like always, the food was spectacular (more about this in my next post). The next day we were off to Okemos to see my dad. We had a venison ham, which was new to me, and smoked turkey. Since we had to travel, I opted for simplicity and made a spinach salad and some brussels sprouts. I’ve been making b-sprouts this new way, in a skillet with bacon, mustard diluted with a little stock, and caraway seeds (shredded cabbage is also good with this combo). I like to think it pays homage to my German side, although I have no idea if Germans would put caraway seeds in a vegetable dish. Either way, the dish was well-received even by the brussels sprouts skeptics.

My birthday, 12/27, was 24 hours of fun (ahem… literally). I really am getting too old to celebrate like that anymore! It started off innocently enough, with a small brunch at our place with my siblings and a few friends. After a leisurely afternoon we hit Roast happy hour and didn’t look back… an obligatory trip to the Sugar House was next, followed by the Lager House to see some bands, and ending up at Northern Lights. The party carried on back at the house, where we finished up a previously started euchre game in true Lothamer style.

Gaylord, MI | photo by Marvin Shaouni

After all of that celebrating and running around, it was heavenly to spend a few relaxing days up north with friends for New Year’s (hey, at my age, partying is getting to be hard work!). It was the most down time I’ve had in ages- I actually got to read a fair bit (this and this), we cooked, made fires, went sledding, cuddled with canines, played cards, drank wine, saw a movie, and soaked in the fairy-tale atmosphere of a Michigan winter surrounded by snow-laden pine trees (pretty magical in a place with floor-to-ceiling windows).

Aaron & Riley

So now it’s back to the grind, at least until April, and then it’ll be a hustle instead of a grind. As one of my goals for 2012, I’m going to try my best to get back in the swing of regular blogging- as my friend MK likes to say, “It’s easy to start a blog; it’s hard to keep one going”. In fact, I’m working on a new layout and design and hope to launch the blog under my own URL in the next couple months (I’ve owned simmerdownfood.com for over a year but for the time being it just redirects here).  Lots of things in the works, people. I hope all of you have exciting plans and projects for this year as well, and I wish you all a happy New Year! More recipe posts coming very soon.

chilindron (spanish stew) and a book event with hank shaw

This summer, Hank Shaw of the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook announced he was going on tour to support his new book Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast . Much like the tours organized by many of my friends in fledgling bands over the years, this was a DIY, couch-surfing, cross-country jaunt, with Hank scheduling the events himself sans (at least to my knowledge) the aid of his publisher. Curious to see if there was anything in the works for Detroit, I emailed him and offered to help out. We went back and forth a bit as far as what type of event it should be, and Hank suggested a potluck. Marvin generously offered up his studio in the Russell Industrial building as a gathering place. I had hoped Hank might be able to spend the afternoon prior to the event foraging around the area to bring in examples of things people could find locally, but it didn’t pan out that way- the weather was already getting a bit too cold to find many wild plants, and Hank had other plans for hunting woodcock up north.

I put the word out about the event, and was pretty pleased with the response, given that I’ve worked many, many book signings where only a small handful of people show up and even less actually purchase the book. We had about 20 in attendance and probably would’ve had more if not for the really nasty freezing rain that night. But despite the inclement weather, we had quite a spread: home-cured prosciutto, lardo and lonzino, a few kinds of homemade pickles, jams, and home-brewed spruce beer were some of the contributions, in keeping with the spirit of the evening (Hank covers many curing and preservation methods on his blog in addition to hunting and foraging). Not to mention this beautiful pie that my friend Abigail (one of les culinettes) brought!

I decided to make a recipe I’d recently seen on Hank’s blog- a Spanish stew called chilindron, which I could make ahead and warm in the slow cooker. For side dishes, I put together a garlicky raw kale salad with pecorino, and a plateful of the nuptial ham. Last but not least, I was able to make paw paw ice cream thanks to a gift of some foraged paw paws courtesy of my friend Ian. I was super excited about this since I had never tried paw paw before. I wanted to do a full post just about the ice cream, but I didn’t use a recipe and it turned out a little too icy and hard, although the flavor was good. If you ever get a chance to eat a paw paw, they’re wonderful- the texture is sort of like mango but with none of the stringiness, and the flavor is delicately tropical and custardy. Some people compare it to banana but I didn’t particularly get that. Paw paws do have large seeds that are somewhat obnoxious to work around to get all the fruit off, but the effort is well-rewarded. I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life in Michigan without trying one until now, and I’m definitely going to seek them out next year.

As folks filtered in for the event, the table grew heavy with food; I think I sampled everything at least twice (you know, not wanting anyone to feel slighted!). We decided to eat first, and then Hank talked for a while about what hunting means to him, sharing some stories of hyper-local meals and other hunting-related experiences. Afterward, he stayed signing books and chatting with guests before heading off to Slows for a beer. I’m not sure how he felt about the event- it was a much more modest affair than many of the fine-dining events he’s been a part of- but the attendees were all thanking me profusely for putting it together, so I’m calling it a success. It was cool to be able to share something I’ve been a fan of for a while with a bunch of people who had never heard of it (I think maybe one or two people had been aware of Hank’s blog prior to that night), and have them react so positively.

Not only did I have a fun evening with great food and company, but I now have a new recipe in my repertoire to boot. The original recipe leaves a lot of leeway for different types of meats, but I just used bone-in chicken thighs, not having access to any game meats at the time. It calls for the meat “in serving pieces”, so I’m not sure if that means bone-in or boneless. Because it was a potluck, for ease of serving and eating I took the meat off the bone, but if serving at home you could leave it on. I also went against the “use white wine with chicken” suggestion and stuck with red, as I felt it would go better with the heartier flavors. Besides, I cook dark meat chicken with red wine all the time and it pairs just fine (hello, coq au vin?). I made a few other tweaks, prepping and adding ingredients where it made more sense to me, but the essence of the dish is the same. Hank’s feedback was that it was good, but “needed to be spicier”. I had followed his recipe measurements for the hot paprika, so maybe the brand he uses is just spicier; I would say, taste as you go and add more if you want a bit of a kick.  I had thought about doing rice or polenta as a starchy accompaniment, but due to time constraints wound up making couscous, which was just as suitable. Potatoes or crusty bread would, of course, be a couple more options.

Photos of stew and paw paws are mine; all other photos this post by Marvin Shaouni

Chilindron (Spanish Chicken & Pepper Stew) adapted from Hank Shaw’s blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
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3 ½ pounds chicken thighs (or a combination of thighs and drumsticks), trimmed of excess fat
salt and pepper
5 roasted red bell peppers (see note)
½ oz dried porcini mushrooms (feel free to use up to an ounce if you’re feeling flush)
1 cup boiling water
2 large onions
10 cloves garlic
¼ cup olive oil
2 slices bacon, cut into strips
2 cups red wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
a couple sprigs fresh thyme (optional- not in Hank’s recipe but I had some lying around and it’s a nice addition)
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon hot paprika
4 bay leaves
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Note: To roast peppers, broil or put directly on a gas burner, turning until blackened and blistered all over. Place in a covered bowl or paper bag rolled shut to trap the steam. When cool enough to handle, remove skins, stems and seeds.

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and set aside at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prep the vegetables: Put dried mushrooms in a small bowl;  pour in 1 cup boiling water and cover. Roast the peppers as indicated above. Slice the onions in half-moons and mince the garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot with a lid over medium high heat. Brown the chicken in two batches, adjusting the heat as needed. Follow Hank’s advice: “Take your time and do this right”. You want the meat to be really nicely browned. As each piece is done, remove it from the pan to a plate covered loosely with foil.

Sometime during this process, you should have time to deal with the mushrooms and peppers. Lift the mushrooms from the liquid and roughly chop, reserving the soaking liquid. Peel the peppers and remove the stems and seeds; cut into strips.

Cook the bacon over medium heat until it begins to render some of its fat; if there is a lot of fat in the pan, you may want to pour a little off. Raise the heat slightly and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook until they begin to soften, stirring well to dislodge the browned bits. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Return the meat to the pan, along with any collected juices. You can either take the skin off first or leave it on, your preference- I don’t care for soggy chicken skin so I remove it and nibble on the crispy parts while I cook. Increase the heat to high and add the wine, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme sprigs (if using) and paprika; boil rapidly until the wine has reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, roasted peppers, stock and reserved mushroom liquid, pouring it slowly and carefully to leave any debris behind. The liquid should come about 2/3 of the way up the meat; if necessary, add more stock or a bit of water. Cover the pot and cook at a very low simmer for about an hour.

If desired, remove the chicken pieces from the pot and allow to cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones, tearing into bite-sized pieces, and return to the pot. Alternately, you can leave it on the bone, your choice.

Just before serving, taste the stew and season with salt and pepper as needed- it will most likely need at least another 1/2 teaspoon salt. If you want it a little spicier, add more hot paprika to taste. Remove and discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Chop the parsley and serve on the side to be sprinkled on top of each diner’s dish.

book review & book signing: “a tiger in the kitchen” by cheryl lu-lien tan

I’ve been remiss lately about updating my “books” section of the blog, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading! Despite the busy schedule, I usually read at least a few pages at lunchtime and then again at night before bed. I recently devoured Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (it took me all of 2 days to plow through that) and was wondering what to start next, when I got an email from Cheryl Tan, author of the cooking memoir A Tiger in the Kitchen. She’s going to be doing a book event at Leopold’s in Detroit this Saturday, August 13th at 7pm and wondered if I might be able to help spread the word. Consider it spread!

After reading Cheryl Tan’s memoir A Tiger in the Kitchen, I would venture to say that no one would be more surprised at the turn of events in the author’s life as Tan’s own girlhood or teenage self, if such a thing were possible. Born under the fierce and headstrong sign of the Tiger, she grew up in Singapore, moving to the States after high school to attend college and build a career as a journalist. As a child, she was pushed to achieve academically, but was never expected to learn “womanly” tasks such a cleaning and cooking- there were maids for that. Her paternal grandmother, however, was a powerhouse in the kitchen, not only doing the family’s daily cooking while she was alive, but churning out tarts and dumplings by the hundreds during holidays and festivals. The family recognized that Tanglin ah-ma (Tan’s nickname for her grandmother) was a great cook, but it was also taken for granted, and Tan simply didn’t possess any curiosity at the time for anything taking place in the kitchen.

Tan makes sure to emphasize the difference between an interest in cooking (or lack thereof) and an interest in food. Somewhat ironically, she echoes Calvin Trillin’s characterization of Singapore as “the most food-obsessed nation on earth”- in one passage, she tells how she’d visit the computer lab late at night in college to go online just to look at photographs of Singaporean food (surely one of the earliest instances of online food porn!) because she missed it so much. But it didn’t occur to her for several more years that she might actually be able to learn to create the food she so desperately craved.

Tan’s culinary exploits started slowly and humbly, with meatloaf and other dishes “built on the salty shoulders of a can of Campbell’s soup”, and evolving through her twenties as she met her husband-to-be and they began cooking together. She developed a fondness for baking, which she found calmed her after particularly harried days at work. 2008 brought about a turning point- her job was becoming increasingly unbearable, and stress-related health issues were signaling to her that she needed a change. She decided that she would spend a year traveling back and forth between the US and Singapore, spending time with her Aunties and learning to make her grandmother’s recipes. Her grandmother had passed away when Tan was a child, but fortunately, her father’s sister-in-law had spent years cooking with Tanglin ah-ma and knew how to produce all of the key dishes the family had grown up with.

Tan’s journey is an enjoyable one to tag along with, as we follow her from tentative observer to capable cook able to serve her family a multi-course meal (the ambitiousness of which would have sent even the most experienced cooks into a panic). In the beginning, she insists on measurements for everything, which her aunts laugh off: “Just agak-agak“, they insist, a phrase that roughly translates as “guesstimate” or “adjust as you go”. As someone who has observed and taken notes of my future mother-in-law making her Puerto Rican rice without measuring anything, this scene made me chuckle with recognition.

Although Tan displays the characteristic cockiness of an oldest child at times (and a Tiger at that), she also doesn’t hesitate to portray herself in a sometimes unflattering light. She admits that anything still resembling the animal it came from makes her squeamish, and confesses that she messed up a batch of dumplings for being too stingy with the filling. The pressure she felt as a child to achieve is ever-present, as her family are all harsh judges of food and don’t hesitate to let her know when her efforts are “sub-par”. Still, she is willing to put herself on the line by exposing herself to their critiques for the sake of learning.

The book is a great read not only for food lovers, but for anyone interested in Singaporean and Chinese culture. Through Tan’s stories of her childhood and her interactions with her parents and older family members, we glimpse the chasm between the older generation and the new, the cultural gap between Singapore and mainland China, and the struggles of being a modern, Westernized woman in a culture that has contradictory expectations for women (Tan’s parents push her to succeed in her career, while her aunts all nag her about having babies!).

One of the things that struck me most about the book is exactly how much it can take to overcome the notion that one “can’t” cook, or the fact that it never occurs to many people to even try to learn. If it takes a major cathartic event for someone who grew up eating amazing home cooked food to want to learn, what will it take for the average American? How do we get the average person back in the kitchen, so that narratives like Cheryl Tan’s are the norm rather than the exception? I hope to be able to get her thoughts on this and other questions at her book event this weekend- hope you in the Detroit area can make it!

Disclosure: I received a copy of A Tiger in the Kitchen from the publisher for review purposes.


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.

GUDetroit really gets my goat… (kebabs, that is)

June 11 (only 10 days ago… it seems like months already!) was the second Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic on Belle Isle. I won’t call it the second annual picnic, because I’m secretly hoping we’ll have another one before the year is out. Nomenclature aside, it was a grand old time- you can read my post about it and see some of Marvin’s photos on the GUDetroit website. Some of the highlights were: tree climbing, willow swinging, mint spanking, cornholing (ahem), hula hooping, river gazing, and getting to finally meet Warda (who I wrote about here) and her beautiful family.

My contribution to the gluttony was a platter of kebabs and kefta, with some raita and a sort of tomato-cucumber-herb relish/chutney on the side. I’ve been eating a fair amount of goat meat lately, for a few reasons: first, I just wanted something other than the “big three” of chicken, beef and pork (we’ve run out of venison); second, because goats aren’t a large scale factory farmed animal; and third, because they have a flavor similar to lamb (which I love) but are milder and less fatty (not to mention cheaper). I will say that goat leg meat is a huge pain in the ass to cut up, unless you’re ok with a lot of sinew; I tend to get obsessive and remove as much of it as I possibly can, which explains why my prep time was three times as long as it should have been. But while goat can sometimes be a little tough, mine was pretty tender as a result of the extra trimming. If you’re using it in a long-cooked dish, you wouldn’t need to go to that trouble.

I also made kebabs from ground lamb with a little beef mixed in, and tons of spices and vegetables blended in for flavor. I’m used to anything with ground meat being called kefta rather than kebab, but the name of the recipe was “chapli kebab” or “slipper kebab”, because the patties are in the shape of a chappal, or sandal. The recipe originates from Peshawar in India, not the Middle East or North Africa, but you’d never know it from eating it- the flavors are quite similar to kefta I’ve had in Middle Eastern restaurants but with a little less onion/garlic flavor and more herbs and spices.

Recipes are below for both items, but first, here are some photos from the picnic. Although I’m not the photographer of the family, I think these capture the spirit of the day.

Tikka Kebabs (adapted from Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid)
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This kebab can be made either with lamb or goat. The yogurt marinade adds moisture and its acidity tenderizes the meat, giving even a lean meat like goat a succulent texture. The original recipe did not call for any herbs or chilies, but I had them on hand and I love the way the little green flecks look in the marinade as well as the fresh taste they impart.

2 lbs boneless goat or lamb
½ cup plain yogurt
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 serrano chilies or one jalapeño, de-seeded and roughly chopped
large handful fresh cilantro leaves
optional: 6-8 mint leaves
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
a few turns of black pepper

Cut the meat- if using goat, I’d aim for about ¾-inch pieces; if using lamb, you could go a little larger so the insides will stay pink.

Combine all other ingredients in a blender and pulse until the solids are blended. Combine the meat and marinade in a bowl, stirring to coat all of the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.

Skewer the meat about 4 or 5 pieces to a skewer. It’s OK if it touches, but you don’t want it squeezed one piece against another.  Grill over moderate heat until the outside is nicely browned and the meat is cooked through but still tender (if using lamb, cook to your preferred doneness; we cooked the goat to medium well).

This is traditionally served with flatbread such as naan, but you could serve it over rice as well. I made a cucumber raita (yogurt, shredded cucumber, salt, mint) and a finely chopped salad of tomato, chilies, scallion, cucumber, cilantro and mint to accompany the kebabs.

Peshawari Slipper Kebabs (adapted from Mangoes & Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid)
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Because ground lamb can be very fatty and therefore cook down quite a bit, I like to mix ½ lb lean ground beef in with my lamb to stretch out the recipe a bit. If you choose this option, just adjust the other ingredients upward slightly.

1 lb ground lamb (+ ½ lb ground beef, if desired)
1 medium yellow onion, grated
1/2 cup finely chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons grated or minced ginger
2 green cayenne chilies, minced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chickpea flour (besan)
lemon or lime wedges

Place all of the dry ingredients (salt, spices, flour) in a small bowl and stir to combine.  Put the tomatoes and onions in a bowl and remove any excess liquid by pressing them with a spoon or spatula and pouring off the watery  juices.

Place the meat in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.  Knead or mix in the vinegar, tomato, onion, peppers, ginger and cilantro; then add the dry ingredients. Mix for a couple minutes or until the meat becomes smooth and almost paste-like. Fry up a tablespoon or so in a skillet to check for salt and seasonings, adjusting as needed.

Let the meat rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour to blend the flavors. When ready to cook, form into either small patties and pan-fry or broil, as in the photo at the beginning of the recipe, or form onto skewers in short cigar shapes (2 per skewer) for the grill. The mixture could also be formed into smaller meatball shapes and served as a cocktail appetizer. Whatever your method of cooking, use moderate heat and cook until the surface is well browned and a little crunchy. Serve with lemon or lime wedges.

les culinettes

A few months ago, I got an email from my friend Sarah, inviting me to participate in a cooking club with about 5 or 6 other ladies of her acquaintance. Although I hesitated to add more commitments to my already busy schedule, I’m so glad that I did- these gals can cook!

Although I was unable to attend the first dinner (I think I was playing a show that night), I received a charmingly decorated envelope in the mail from my friend Amy, who had gotten crafty and made us all little badges that said “les culinettes”. I was smitten.

Luckily the next dinner presented no such scheduling conflicts, so a month or so later I got myself to Meghan’s adorable Victorian home in Corktown, where the theme of the evening was “peasant food”. I think any actual peasant would have just about keeled over knowing we considered wild boar ragù, fresh oysters and Pasta Kerchief “peasant food”, but hey, a loose interpretation of the term is fine in my book if it means I get to eat incredible food.

I had gotten back into town that day from a trip and had no chance to shop or cook anything too involved, so I brought a simple green salad and some kale and sweet onions sautéed in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes. There was boar ragù, a beet salad, vegetarian chickpea stew, Scotch eggs, oysters, pasta kerchief, and a gorgeous apple pie. Meghan’s son Cass was (reasonably enough) concerned upon seeing the lot of us, worrying aloud that “those ladies are going to eat up all of the pie!” (Turns out he need not have been concerned- after gorging ourselves on the dinner smorgasbord, we tragically only had room for small-ish pieces of pie.)

The problem, if it can be called such, of a potluck like this is that unlike most dinner parties that feature one or two fancy “centerpiece” dishes and then more humble sides to go along with them, almost all of these dishes were showstoppers in their own right. The Scotch eggs were perfectly browned and crunchy; the ragù deeply savory and tender; the pasta kerchief delicate and rich and utterly delicious. I left feeling like if I never ate again, I could die happy.

About six weeks later, the group met up again, this time at Jess’s cool high-ceilinged second story vintage flat above a gallery in Corktown for a curry-themed dinner. I’m still awaiting copies of the photos from this gathering, having remembered my camera but forgotten to insert the memory card, but hopefully I’ll post on that eventually (along with the recipe for an awesome and easy Malaysian goat curry I made). Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a snazzy spring dish, I highly recommend that Pasta Kerchief recipe, which I’ll be cooking myself at the first opportunity.

We’re getting together again this Friday and this time I’m hosting- I’m a little nervous as this is the first time I’ve had more than one or two guests over in the new house and I still feel like we’re not “ready”, but what better excuse to just dive in. Besides, if this dinner is anything like the others, everyone will be concentrating too much on the food to notice that we haven’t hung curtains or that the bathroom tile needs re-grouting. Right? Our theme this month is “green”, and I was afraid we might end up with mostly vegetable dishes,  but there’s talk of flank steak with chimichurri, ceviche, spinach pesto pasta, basil curried mussels and green tea desserts. Can’t wait to see what the ladies will rustle up!

Thanks to Sarah Burger for photos- we were both taking pics with her camera and I no longer know who shot what, but some of the above is her handiwork!