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Archive for April, 2009

Sourcing in A2

(Too busy taking pictures of flowers to take any of my food . . .)

In my current being awake, paying more attention mode, I spent a lot of time noticing as I tooled around town on Saturday doing my errands. And I spent a lot more time tooling around town too, what with the warm weather and all. My head was suddenly up rather than  looking down, shoulders hunched against the cold. And I discovered all sort of exciting little bits of news for those of us who love to cook and eat in Ann Arbor. I came home and babbled to my household about my finds. The members of said houshold met my news with reactions ranging from polite enthusiasm to inattention (well, the dog might have been excited about prosciutto ends). So, forthwith, I share them with my perhaps more interested readers

Hollander’s Kitchen and Home is open for business.  The space formerly occupied by the much lamented Everyday Cook and Lunch at Everyday Cook has been taken over by the Hollander’s enterprise and is filling up with simple hardware, everyday cooking utensils and high-end small kitchen appliances. The variety of  spatulas, lettuce spinners, pretty dish towels and kitchen stand mixers (the Viking mixer makes a girl’s heart beat faster . . .) is reminiscent of the old Kitchen Port inventory. The arrangement tilts toward abundance rather the elegant minimalism of Everyday Cook, and while not as easy on the eye as that store, it’s probably more likely you’ll find the, say, candy thermometer you’re looking for. A quick survey of the prices looks like things run a couple of percentage points higher than you might get at the big box stores, but I’m so grateful to have another source for kitchen supplies somewhere I can get to on foot that you won’t find me complaining. (Young Nick, however was VERY disappointed that “the cookers” were not back at the stove and declared “I am very sad. I miss them very much.” As do many of us.)

A much more specific need is being met downstairs, where Monahan’s is now selling homemade coleslaw at $4.95 a pound. And you know, sometimes when you’re grilling on a warm Friday night and there’s not much left in the house, some good coleslaw is just what you need.

You might need it too, if you stop by Sparrow’s and get a look at the Berkshire pork shoulders Bob has stocked in the case at $2.95 a pound. They’ll make most carnivores think longingly of pulled pork. A big pork shoulder, a slow smoking, twelve hours and some of that coleslaw, and you’ll have yourself quite a Saturday supper.

Meanwhile, continuing the pig theme, around the corner at Tracklement’s, T.R. is making his own bacon now (in four flavors to boot).  I had already bought bacon before I noticed this, so I can’t vouch for it, but given the skills at Tracklement’s, I have no doubts. If someone checks it out before I do, please report back.

It must have been a carnivorous kind of day, because I was also pleased to find that Morgan and York are selling pasture raised lamb and pork now.  There’s a decent selection in the cooler, but you can apparently also order what you need/desire.  And as a special bonus, I learned that if you want some prosciutto for pizza, the nice guys at the counter will shave the prosciutto ends into lovely little curls and you can walk away with a whole pizza’s worth for less than a dollar.

All that after having been the proud brewer of coffee for 123 at Selma Cafe on Friday morning and before a dinner of halibut braised with preserved lemon (lemon sourced from Morgan and York), capers and pistachios with a side of fingerling potatoes and flash-sauteed pea shoots (local pea shoots sourced from the PFC) and a brunch of asparagus frittata with tomatilla salsa, couscous and blueberry muffins (great brunch sourced from Jim and Aimee. Thanks guys!) followed by a walk in the woods where garter snakes were caught and many kinds of wildflowers spotted and streams paddled in . . . Life feels pretty good. Ann Arbor, spring, my kind of town.

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I will not vouch for the authenticity–the “Korean-ness”–of this soup. I will, however, vouch for its being the the thing to make for the person you love who loves spicy food and is suffering from a terrible head cold. The very head cold that you gave him.

It’s also the perfect way to say “thank you” for off-the-chain-delicious chocolate chip cookies he made for you last week when you were the one who was sneezingcoughingrunnynosesick.

While ambitious for a weeknight dinner, a shortcut version of this soup could be dashed off with some store-bought broth, or doctored-up stock from the fridge, and some poached chicken breasts.

Korean Chicken Soup
Adapted from Food & Wine

One 3-lb. chicken
3 1/2 quarts water
1 medium unpeeled onion, quartered
2 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 celery ribs, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 large unpeeled garlic clove, smashed
1 t. whole black peppercorns
3 1/2 quarts water
1 bay leaf
A bunch of fresh herbs, like thyme and parsley
Kosher salt
8 oz. thick udon noodles (I buy them pre-cooked in a package from Asian grocery stores, but you could use dried)
2 T. vegetable oil
1/2 lb. shiitake (or other) mushrooms, sliced
1/4 c. finely julienne peeled ginger
One 12-oz. block firm tofu, cut into cubes
1 c. (or more) kimchee, thinly sliced
2 T (or more) Asian fish sauce
1 t. Asian sesame oil

In a stockpot, combine the chicken with the water, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, and herbs and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Discard the skin. Pull the meat off the bones, cut it into 1/2-inch pieces (if you feel like it) and refrigerate.

Return the bones to the pot, partially cover and simmer for 1 hour, until the broth is richly flavored. Strain the broth into a clean heat proof bowl and rinse out the pot. Return the broth to the pot and boil over moderate heat until reduced a bit, about 20 minutes. Season with a generous amount of kosher salt.

If using dried noodles: in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the udon until al dente. Drain and cool under running water. Drain again.

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Add the mushrooms and cook over high heat, stirring, until golden, about 7 minutes. Scrape the mushrooms into the stockpot and add the udon, ginger, tofu, kimchee, fish sauce and sesame oil. Season with salt and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer until just heated through. Ladle into bowls and serve.

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Spring Cleaning

More on getting my kitchen mojo back . . .

The winter had its charms, but, as always, ended up deadening, enervating, driving me beyond necessary hibernation and into immobility. But now, I read the Zuni Cafe Cookbook and the weather warms (sunburn! In April!) and there are those greens in the market, and I wake once more into consciousness, That’s the thing really, the key to my pleasure in the kitchen. Being aware of my choices, of the thwack of the knife, of where the food comes from.

So I begin with the pantry. Reminding myself what’s there; taking out the bottles of oil, the vinegars, and wiping away the accumulated grime; throwing out the fancy little sauces and potions that are beyond possibility of use; making transfers from crumpled plastic bags to clean glass jars. A brief illusion of order.

The scarlet runner beans will pair well with the ham bone left from Easter. The can of Italian tuna in oil should move to the front and go into a salad “soon” (only a year or so after it entered the cupboard). I can not bear to discard the unopened and perfectly fine, if aged, jars of ginger preserves and orange marmelade, so they go back onto the shelf. I may become a jam eater yet, or learn to do clever things involving glazes, tarts and sauces. Right now, these are mostly decorative.

I confront the conflicting desires of abundance and minimalism. I want the pulses and legumes ordered in matching jars, promising delicious meals produced from air and a few staples, but I don’t want their silent reproach as they gather dust and that particular bean density that it will take days to cook to tenderness. How can I keep quinoa so I can say any given night that quinoa will be the perfect complement for the pork chops and at the same time not feel oppressed by the quinoa always on the shelf?

At the same time as I toss out, I plot new acquistions, think about the need for oatmeal and more dried fruit, wonder why there are no roasted red peppers in the cupboard, debate the wisdom of having only jasmine rice.

I know I’m absurd. If I want to create and maintain the perfectly ordered pantry, the perfectly stocked larder, I would have to die because I would have to stop eating (or just go out all the time . . . there’s an idea). Really, after all, both the tyranny and beauty (the terrible beauty) of food production is that it never ceases. Two, three times a day, it is demanded of us that we step up to the plate, belly up to the bar, start chopping. Again. There’s always another chance. Damn. Hallelujah.

No matter how tidy we are, cooking is always kind of a mess. We run out of things, we make do, there are always left-over odds and ends that dog us until we abandon them and move on or, on a lucky day, combine into something new in moment of inspiration and grace.

From the highest shelf, I have pulled half a box of bow tie pasta left over from a Christmas gift basket. There are unevenly cut scraps of ham still lagging from Easter dinner. They might be redeemed with a careful dice. I have two beautiful trumpet mushrooms, each bigger than Nick’s fist. I know the ratio for an Italian cream sauce, learned in the restaurant where I put in my time between college and Europe: 1/2 cup warmed cream, 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, I T butter, per serving, all in a pan swirled over a medium flame. The jar of artichoke hearts rescued from a dark corner of a bottom shelf has potential. These things together might be a dinner. Or they might be a disaster. If so, tomorrow brings yet another chance for redemption.

Photo by Timothy Valentine; used under a CC license.

Spring Cleaning Supper: A Variation on Paglia e Fieno

Amounts are person, multiply as necessary and possible given ingredients on hand:

Farfalle pasta (or other reasonably surface-rich pasta to hold the cream sauce)

Butter for cooking

1/2 cup diced ham

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

2 jarred artichoke hearts

1/2 cup cream

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 T Additional butter to finish sauce

Traditional Paglia e Fieno is made with egg and spinach fettucini (thus the “straw and hay”) and with prosciutto. But I am sure thrifty Italian homemakers would not be ashamed to use farfalle and ham.

Prepare about a quarter pound of pasta per person according to your standard method or the package directions. While cooking, melt a few tablespoons of butter in a saute pan. When the butter is melted, add mushrooms and saute until soft and lightly browned. Add ham and diced artichoke hearts, stirring until warmed through. Pour in the cream and let bubble over medium heat until slightly thickened (about five minutes). Add an additional T of butter per person. When it has melted, toss in Parmesan cheese. Although I learned to do this on the heat, it works just as well to turn the flame off and add cheese immediately. Salt and pepper to taste (a healthy grind of black pepper perks this up quite a bit). I also drizzled some of the oil from the artichoke hearts on top to intensify the flavor a bit.

Take out to the deck and enjoy, with company, while marveling there’s still light out at supper time.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that while the sauce was quite satisfying, the farfalle had probably been hanging around in my cupboard for so long because it was pretty low quality and wouldn’t cook evenly (mushy wings and chewy centers). And the scarlet runner beans are on their 12th hour of cooking and are still hard. But, hey, tomorrow is another meal. And the kitchen smells good.

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And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

You all have been very patient as we have either been not posting at all or writing about wonderful things to eat in places where you’re not. It’s high time to bring it all back home.

March kicked my butt. So many (so many) years of winters, and I still don’t really believe that March is the worst month. I let myself believe that February is hardest and then March will come and it will all start to get better. But it doesn’t. And it always hurts, because I expected something more. In March, I’m tired of braises and root vegetables and wadded up kleenex and sensible footwear. But there are no reasonable alternatives

Except.

The light stays longer. At the market there are a few glimmers of hope; a table full of spinach, a few handfuls of radishes, the soft brush of pussy willows.

And eggs. There are more eggs, as the chickens begin to wake up to the faint possibility of spring. At this house. we’ve been eating a lot of Dragonwood eggs. Paul drops them by the house, the kids fight over the prettiest ones (the speckled ones are particularly prized), I marvel at the intensity of the yellow in the yolks and before you know it, we’ve whipped through another dozen.

Well, ok, eggs, rebirth, we get that. But the promise of coming alive again into the growing season comes in more unexpected shapes as well. Mushrooms, anyone?

Shana brought me a bag of these beauties from the Selma Cafe a couple of weeks ago (she and Anne and I entertained and perhaps mystified our colleagues by spreading out a mixed pound on a table at work and dividing them up while we oohed and aahed appreciatively). The next Saturday I was literally first in line at the market to make sure I got a half pound before they were gone. The first batch went into a deep, rich sauce for a grilled leg of lamb made in honor of the first day of spring. The second round went into one of my single girl suppers (well, not quite single; young Nick was keeping me company, but he doesn’t hold with fungi and ate his scrambled egg unadorned). Leftover polenta, chilled and sliced and lightly fried in olive oil, layered on top of some hoop house arugula. Dragonwood eggs, softly scrambled. Mushrooms sauteed in butter, with a touch of cream.

(hey, I made that bread; I’m overcoming fear of yeast)

Polenta, eggs, mushrooms, supper. Nothing much, but a moment where I needed to believe that the world would be warm again someday, it was oh so much more. And in its down-deep localness, it helped remind me that I love the place I live in. Even though its winters are damn long.

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