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Archive for April, 2008

Sifting the web

Image taken by Flickr user Crysti and used under a Creative Commons license.

Image taken by Flickr user Crysti and used under a Creative Commons license.

Something that a number of the blogs I frequently read do very well, but which I almost never do, is sift the web. When all else fails, link!

Watching

Ann Arbor Foodie Nation at Concentrate — a nicely produced video about the food scene here in the Deuce, featuring interviews with owners of eve and Logan:

Listening

Food in the Library’s mix of music about food @ foodinthelibrarydotcom.muxtape.com/ . Viva Cibo Matto!

Eating

Way too much junk food, thanks to my discovery of the BTB (formerly Big Ten Burrito) Cantina on South University. Last week saw me there twice. In a row. BTBC is in a great space above Charley’s, and offers the same menu as the classic BTB. The space is awash in natural light and the fare is cheap and good enough. Yes, it caters to the undergrad palate, and yes, it has some arcade games, but it’s easy on the librarian(ish) wallet and the deep red/birch color scheme they have going on is pleasing. As for the burritos? Completely passable.

Reading

This post about fava beans @ The Kitchn

In Defense of Food, which I’m dubbing the Reader’s Digest of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Accounts of kitchen and home remodeling at luckyavocado. You must check out this tangerine.

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It must be spring. I’ve been cleaning the closets and raking the perennial beds and thinking, half-heartedly I admit, about things like juice fasts and detox regimes (they always seem like a good idea in the morning, but by 7 p.m. or so a glass of wine and a hunk of cheese look pretty darn appealing). I’m really drawn toward clean, clear tastes right now, a little palate-clearing between the rich flavors of winter and the sensory riot of summer.

In this spirit, we’ve been going green. There are quite a few greens in the Saturday market right now. I think they’re all still green house or hoop house, but they taste mighty fresh and crisp after a couple of months of gnarly old root vegetables (enlivened by the — very, really — occasional guilty pleasure of imported berries. I know they’re not Right and not Good. But in late February, they’re pretty good). So the past couple of Saturdays have brought big bags of spinach, arugula, and salad mix into the house, followed by the need to figure out what to do with them. In case you’re in the same boat, here’s a couple of things to do with them that feel virtuous but still pleasurable, in keeping with spring feelings of both renewal and celebration.

As you’ve probably gathered if you check in on this site with any regularity, Maria’s household is pretty serious about its pizza eating. But even there, we’ve wanted to lighten up lately. This one was very simple — crust spread with a mix of fresh ricotta and mozzarella cheeses from Zingerman’s (be a bit sparing with the cheese), a handful of crisped pancetta and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper — the panel of tasters later decided that a heavy scatter of red pepper might have been better. While the pizza bakes in its hot, hot, hot-as-you-can-get-it oven, wash (and stem if necessary) a bunch of arugula and toss it with a little lemon juice, black pepper and coarse sea salt. When the pizza comes out, drizzle it with some olive oil and scatter the greens on top. Let the whole thing rest and meld a bit while you finish cleaning up and put some music on. Slice and eat.

Also in the spirit of warmer days and new life, this little beauty of a recipe from The Sustainable Table, a new-to-me site that, while not lovely, is full of great recipes for using up the farm share. Loyal readers take note, that’s a poached egg on top. At last. It MUST be spring; I’m actually doing new things.

Warm Lentil Salad (adapted from Sherri Brooks Vinton and Ann Clark Espuelas)

Serves 2, with some left-over.

A heaping cup of lentils du puy, rinsed and picked over
5 strips bacon, diced
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 t dry mustard
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 splashes Worcestershire sauce
1 t white wine vinegar
1/2 T Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T chopped fresh parsley
Some bitter greens (I used a mix of arugula and spring greens)
Eggs — number dependent on size of appetite

Place the lentils in a medium pot, add water to cover by 3 inches, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender and some have begun to burst open, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.

While lentils are cooking, place the bacon in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat and fry until crisp. (If this is being cooked for an adults-only dinner, this step should be undertaken after children have been put to bed or are distracted outside; otherwise, the smell of cooking bacon pulls them magnetically into the kitchen and the bacon supply is severely reduced.) Remove the bacon and reserve. Add the onion to the bacon fat in the pan and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and dry mustard and sauté 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the wine and reduce until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Add the Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste, and whisk to combine. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly to make a vinaigrette. Add the lentils and parsley to the pan and toss to coat with dressing. Add the reserved bacon. Set aside and review several online guides to poaching eggs. Poach a few and feel pleased with yourself while still internally pledging to keep the whites more together the next time around. On a plate or shallow pasta bowl, lay out a bed of greens, then top with the lentils. Slide one or two poached eggs on top. Very nice with a glass of Cotes Du Rhone and some baguette.

And of course, one of the great benefits of this light fare is room for dessert. Lest you think it’s all green stuff around here. This cake from Nigel Slater is all gooey and chocolate-y and really, really brown. There were some, um, rather a lot of, eggs involved. And a great deal of butter. Heart-stoppingly (in more ways than one) good. Dark chocolate is healthy, right?

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I don’t know about your houses, but in mine it’s pretty hard to slow down. Up sometime around 6:30, an eleven year old (who spends a looooonng time choosing music to get dressed by and then a longer time getting dressed) to get out the door by 7:40, a two and half year old to get fed and clothed and out to daycare (all the time proclaiming “no school today! It’s a snow day!” — this in fifty degree weather), three lunches to make, two adults to get prepared for work and on their way — and if we’re lucky spend fifteen minutes on stretching and sit-ups — by 8:30 at the latest. That’s just the morning. Then somewhere between 5 and 9 or so there are two kids to retrieve, a lot of mouths to feed, a dog to love, often a run to be squeezed in and the usual badgering (of the eleven year old) into practicing piano and doing homework and cajoling (of the willful two year old) into the bathtub and then pajamas and bed. (In case anyone is following toddler fashion tastes, you might want to know that matching pajamas are GROSS, the skeleton top now needs to be worn with the elephant bottoms. Or else.) Oh, and there are multiple stories to be read, and long hair to be brushed, and dishes to be washed. You get the picture.

But, still and all, sometimes, sometimes a slow moment sneaks up on me, and I sink into it, and notice that the evenings are starting to be marked by that long, low light, and that the perennials are about four inches higher than they were this morning, and that shallots really are the prettiest shade of purple-pink and that while there’s a whole lot dust bunnies breeding under the stove, maybe it doesn’t matter so much when the daffodils are starting to open.

Risotto is good for that. It requires a lot of stand-and-stir and if you bother to take a couple of deep breaths in the midst of that and look out the kitchen window, you might find yourself slowing down too. I’m a long-time risotto maker; I’ve turned out pot after pot of it for the past fifteen years or so, and I feel like I’m still getting it right. I started with Marcella Hazan’s basic risotto from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I learned a few things on trips to Italy — for instance, it was served more, um, soupily, there than I had imagined. I got it wrong a few times — undercooking and not getting rid of the chalky center — and I picked up a few more tips from The Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating (the importance of keeping the broth hot so the rice doesn’t cool down in the cooking process). I’m still getting it right, but it’s pretty good.

Last night’s was especially pretty good, and one of those nice meals that happens when there’s nothing in the house. I suspect that for most people reading this blog, “nothing in the house” is probably a pretty ridiculous statement — as it is for me. Because you’re always picking up some olive oil, or a nice hunk of cheese or some risotto or something, well, just in case. You know, just in case there’s nothing in the house. You are, aren’t you?

Last night, the nothing in the house included some meaty turkey broth in the freezer, a stray shallot, and a packet of dried wild mushrooms, as well as the even-present risotto. A good beginning. Put on some music, send the boys up to the bathtub, pour out a little wine for cooking, a little wine for sipping, pet the dog, take that deep breath and slow down. Pretty good indeed.

Turkey and wild mushroom risotto

(If you use dried mushrooms, you’ll want to start them soaking in boiling water an hour or so ahead of time)

About 2T of olive oil and 1T of butter; vary proportions according to taste

1 chopped shallot

1 1/2 cup arborio rice

1/2 cup or so of white wine (red is fine but gives you a darker risotto)

A good handful of interesting mushrooms, dried or fresh, sliced.

Quite a bit of broth. A quart might do, but I’m always more comfortable with 6-8 cups. I get anxious about running out.

To finish: 2-3 T butter, 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

Put the broth on one of the back burners of your stove and bring it to a lively simmer. Control the heat so it stays on the simmer but doesn’t start boiling away.

Put the butter and olive oil, in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot (I used to use my Le Creuset 5 quart dutch oven but have switched loyalties to an All-Clad 6 quart), and warm over medium-high heat until the butter is melted. Throw in the shallots and saute briefly until they turn translucent. Add the risotto and cook for about a minute, just until the grains begin to turn from opaque to translucent. Pour in the wine and stir until it’s mostly cooked off. At this point, I like to add the mushrooms and give them a little time to settle into the rice — maybe another minute or so. Still stirring.

Now you start the process of adding broth. I add something like a half cup at a time. You’ll need to jiggle the heat a bit from medium-high to medium and back again to keep the risotto moving along but not drying out too quickly. On the nights the risotto turns out best, I go about five minutes between additions, but that does make for more time at the stove. So maybe add some broth every three or four minutes. A word on stirring here — I spent about ten years of risotto-making thinking that the risotto Must Never Be Left Unattended — but in fact, if you’re a little liberal with the broth and give the pot a good stir, you can wander off long enough to, say, bring a sippy cup of smoothie and a glass of wine to the boys in the tub, help with an algebra problem or set the table. Just don’t get distracted. You really do need to be back every five minutes or so.

After about twenty minutes of add-broth-and-stir, you’ll want to start tasting to see if you’ve got the desired texture. You’ll probably hit it sometime between 25 and 35 minutes. Turn off the burner, beat in really rather a lot of butter and Parmesan cheese, taste and season with salt and pepper. I like to add a generous last ladleful of broth, cover, and let rest for a few minutes. A good time to round up the household, wash a dish or two or just wander out and see how the lamb’s ears are growing.

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Was it really 70 degrees yesterday? Was I really wearing flip-flops this weekend? Did I haul a load of winter clothes to the storage bins in the basement?

Yes, yes, and yes. What seemed impossible a bit ago is now really happening: everything is sunshine and green and yellow and fresh and new.

I have a bowl of meyer lemons in the fridge and dreams of lemon tarts in my head.

I’m ready for you, radishes. You, too, asparagus. Get ready.

In the meantime, here are some dishes–suggestions about putting good things together rather than formal recipes–that have come out of my kitchen lately that reflect this long- anticipated change in seasons.

1) Chicken, green olives, orange, pimenton

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Mix together some pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika), salt, and coarse black pepper. Sprinkle all over some chicken breasts (from chickens that have had a good life, the best education, wireless internet access, etc.), coating them well. Sear them on both sides in a frying pan with plenty of olive oil. Take them out, and add some chopped shallots to the pan juices. Add some sherry vinegar and reduce a bit. To this add chopped and pitted green olives with fennel from Morgan and York – or any good green olive will do. Warm through, and add the chicken breasts back to the pan. Then tuck in some orange wedges, and put the whole thing into a 350 degree oven till the chicken is done but still juicy.

Be very happy with the results.

2) Pork chops and gremolata, braised fennel

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Cut some fennel into wedges and sautee in olive oil until brown. Add a cup of white wine, some fennel fronds, and salt. Add some thyme if you have it. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the fennel is soft and fragrant.

Coat the pork chops generously with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a pan and fry on each side for about 5 minutes. Don’t overcook ’em.

Chop up some parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.

To plate the dish: arrange fennel on the dish, top with pork chop, and sprinkle the pork with the parsley-garlic-lemon mixture.

3) Seared scallops w/ hoophouse greens

Sear some scallops that you’ve generously salted + peppered (a theme emerges!),

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grab a handful or three of hoophouse greens that you picked up at the Farmer’s Market from ace local farmer Shannon Brines,

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make a little Vietnamese dressing with lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar, and sambal.

Arrange scallops and greens on the plate, douse with the sauce, and serve:

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Taste. Think of spring. Rinse. Repeat.

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Old and New Faces of The Big Ten Market

Our conversation with Jean Henry got us interested in learning what other observations folks around town who work with food and wine might have to say about the local food scene, about the climate for small businesses in Ann Arbor, and, of course about what they’re cooking for dinner. Matt Morgan, of Morgan and York was kind enough to spend some time talking with us about good food, good business and good consumer practices:

Could you talk a little bit about your philosophy in developing Morgan and York and how you see your niche in the Ann Arbor food scene?

What Tommy York and I set out to create was a small shop that did both food and wine retailing well. By that, we were looking to have a discriminating selection of products– not the biggest selection, but products chosen for their special characteristics. Then we needed to properly take care of those products, and deliver them to people with great service. When we started out, we saw Zingerman’s doing a terrific job with the food, and that VC had knowledgeable wine staff, but no one was doing both. When you consider that food and wine are inexorably connected in European food traditions, it makes sense to offer both.We also wanted to represent small producers. The Costcos of the world don’t care about small family wineries or cheese-makers — they can’t make enough pallets of XYZ product to feed the monster. On the other hand, we (small retailers) are not important to companies like Coke, Kraft, or Kendall-Jackson. There’s a natural balance in small, quality-oriented retailers representing small, quality-oriented producers.We see our niche as picking great products and bringing them together in a way that makes sense aesthetically, and providing service based on sharing our enthusiasm for food and wine.

I’m particularly interested in how you balance your obvious commitment to local products and purveyors and to making available quality products from around the world. Could you talk about this a bit?

That’s a great question. The answer stems from the philosophy that I outlined above.We are primarily in the business of selling imported food and wine. Many of these products come from well-established producers and regions where their products, or products like theirs, have been made for centuries. There’s an enormous amount of cultural wealth and history reflected in that, and in many ways our local food industry is still maturing. There are unique and interesting foods and drinks coming from our part of the country, and the best offer a sense of place — something special not easily replicated in an industrial food factory elsewhere.Our job is to pick local products of very high quality, put them out for sale next to the best wines, cheeses, etc of Europe, and get people to take them seriously. Whose eggs we sell, or what wine from Michigan we offer is critically evaluated by our customers — people who have traveled and had the chance to try some of the best food and wine in the world. By putting our (Michigan’s) best foot forward, by showing that these local small-producer products compare favorably to their old world counterparts, we can help build the strength and reputation of our small producers.

How’s business? Can you comment in general about how you see the climate for small businesses in Ann Arbor, particularly food and wine businesses?

You really want the answer to this? It’s a long one, and it includes my thoughts about some bad trends in business, retail, and our culture in general that are finally being bucked by the consumer.
Business is good. You can always hope for more business, especially because it translates in to selling more of those small producers’ products, and more opportunities for your people, but we can’t complain. Our customers are taking good care of us in a tough time. I think the food and wine business in Ann Arbor is well-served. Some people have opined that it is over-served, but I’m not sure. I do think there’s a lot of pressure on people who don’t provide anything special for the customer, and we will see some of those places go away.Times like this can be good for the long-term health of businesses that provide high quality and good service. I see people getting away from amassing things, and focusing on enjoying life with their friends and family. In addition, much of America is having health problems related to over-consuming industrial foods, including factory farmed, hormone-filled meat that didn’t exist when our grandparents grew up, and garbage filled with high-fructose corn syrup. People are craving real food, high quality stuff, and they’re tired of being treated like cattle by demoralized staff in the big-box stores. As a society, we are realizing that the financial bottom line is not the whole picture, and that just because we can pay less for more junk, maybe that’s exactly what we don’t need — low quality food, outsourced jobs, and low-paid, indifferent service. It’s all related, and people are beginning to understand that when you pay less, you always get less, even when it looks like you’re getting more.An example of what I’m talking about is this Aussie shiraz wine my wife and I used to buy ten or eleven years ago for $8 a bottle. Pretty OK stuff from a biggish producer. Well, the US dollar is now worth half what it was worth then, but lo and behold, open the paper on Sunday and you can find someone selling that ‘same’ wine now for $8 a bottle. What in your life is the same price that it was ten years ago? People should be asking why these things are so cheap, and the answer is that they are being cheapened to meet a price.Businesses that follow the model of cheapening products, lowering the quality of their staff by paying less, dumbing things down to the lowest common denominator — those are the businesses that are going to suffer, because people will only put up with that trend of something being lower quality, with lower service for so long.I encourage the people of Ann Arbor to patronize businesses that treat them well and sell good stuff. That way those shops will be there to enjoy in the future. Vote with your dollars, and spread the word.

What sort of things are you cooking and eating at home?

We’re really excited for the new growing season to begin in Michigan. We belong to a CSA (Needle Lane Farms) and get fresh organic produce from them every week. A box of Beverly’s produce and our copy of Chez Panisse Vegetables makes life more interesting. One of my favorite recipes is Alice Waters’ recipe for braised chard. It’s so easy and simple and the results are heavenly.Cookbook wise, I’m really excited about an older one– Richard Olney’s Simple French Food. If you haven’t checked it out, you should — he was brilliant and opinionated, and almost always right, which makes his writing interesting. Many of the criticisms he had about food in America are still valid today, 30 years later.Beyond that, I’ve been telling everyone about this great new (to me) way to roast meat– the Jamison lamb we sell, for example. Alton Brown (yeah, the guy from TV) suggests cooking roasts at 200 until they hit an internal temp of 118, then you take the meat out, turn the oven up to 550, and when the internal temp on the meat stops rising, put it back in long enough to brown (~10 minutes.) We usually season the meat first– garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil, but that’s about it. Fantastic, comes out fully rested, and always perfectly cooked.As far as wine, we’re really enjoying the Beaujolais crus — the wines from the really good parcels in that area. Most people think of Dubeouf’s Nouveau, which is really inexcusably bad — the worst face of industrial winemaking. The crus, on the other hand, especially from the small producers, are really satisfying wines that are great with food. When the weather breaks we’ll be grilling more and popping open some dry rose and muscadet, for sure.
What are some of your favorite Ann Arbor food spots?
My family all like Le Dog for soup and sausages in the summertime, especially. Logan does a great job of ‘haute cuisine,’ with friendly service. Eve’s small plates are good, and we always have good food and service at Pacific Rim. Sorry if I left anyone out– I have to confess we don’t eat out too often– we love to cook, and we have a small child, so that keeps us home more than some. Does Ypsi count? Taqueria la Fiesta is a favorite.

Are there any new developments in the works for Morgan and York that you’d like to share with us? Ever think about doing a Morgan and York cookbook?

We did just launch a ‘shoppable’ web store– we’re showcasing a limited range of items, but you can place online orders, which is new for us.We’d love to open another store. My wife is from Sydney, Australia, and we keep joking about a branch location there. We’re looking at doing some remodeling on the current location, but at this point it’s still under discussion.A cookbook is an interesting idea. I should discuss that with Tommy.
You can find Morgan and York at 1928 Packard in Ann Arbor. Right by the big Cheese, cheese, cheese sign. Phone is 734.663.0798. Stop in. Good advice and good samples as well as a great selection — and maybe a recommendation about what to eat with roasted lamb and braised swiss chard tonight.

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