I don’t know about you, but my least favorite kind of blog post is the kind that apologizes for being away from the blog for so long. While I feel all kinds of remorseful for not stopping by here for two whole seasons, I’d like to dispense with the “what I’ve been doing these past months” and say that it’s nice to be here, and that I’ve missed this space.

While I get back into the hang of taking photos of food, not to mention reacquainting myself with my kitchen and meal-planning and cookbooks — I’m woefully out of practice, folks — I hope that those of you who are on Twitter will follow my food-related account, shanaeats. It’s been fun to update — in brief, and on the go — my eating adventures around town and beyond, as well as share links and ideas.

The above photo was taken of me sipping a cappuccino at Ann Arbor’s Comet Coffee, my favorite place to get my morning, afternoon, and weekend caffeine fix. I hope that this first bracing winter-esque day finds you sipping something equally warm and comforting.


Although there are some bright spots, Ann Arbor’s never been one of my favorite restaurant towns. But the three of us over here at the Gastronomical 3 have long agreed and argued that it’s a great town for food. You just won’t necessarily find that food in the local eateries.

A lot of other people are starting to notice that Ann Arbor is a great food town too. There’s been a little flurry of attention for Michigan and Ann Arbor of late. For example . . .

  • Ann Arbor was first runner-up for Bon Appetit’s “Foodiest Small Town” award. The magazine describes AA as “full of forward-thinking, smart people who love good food.” We knew that!
  • Mailates Alfajores were named “the treat of the week” over at the Epi-log (the Epicurious blog). The reviewer agreed with my family “”I like it. I could eat 10 million more right now.”
  • Gourmet magazine features an article by Laura Shapiro on Michigan’s Unlikely Food Revolution

A little closer to home, we’re gearing up for the Homegrown Festival on Saturday from 5-10 at the Farmer’s Market on Detroit St. Food, music and fun, all in celebration of local food and community.

And on Sunday, this year’s Kerrytown Bookfest is all about books and food and includes talks from 1-5 in the Main Tent by the likes of local star culinary historian Jan Longone, Ari Weinzweig, co-owner of Zingerman’s, and Jane and Michael Stern, authors of the “Roadfood” books (and frequent contributors to Gourmet and The Splendid Table). Oh, and a 3 p.m. panel featuring, um, me, and some other food bloggers you probably know.

Oh and did I mention the produce is faint-worthy right now?

Sure, some days I pine for the big city or the temperate growing zones of California. But right now, Ann Arbor seems like a pretty good place to eat. And to talk about it. With smart, forward-thinking people.

Mediterranean Grilled Fish

A Dinner for a Hot Summer’s Night

It’s really here now, isn’t it? Summer in all its tomato-eatin’, mosquito-swattin’, water-fightin’ glory. The cicadas are  winding themselves up to a frenzy out there in the night, and there have even been a few days when it’s been almost-but-not-quite too hot to cook. I’m deep into it, reveling in eggplant and ice cream and firing up the grill, but also painfully aware that it’s beginning to slip away already, that the light is almost gone by 8:30, and when I went looking to buy water blasters they had been displaced by school supplies. But I’m an autumnal refusenik right now, digging in my heels against September and stretching each August day to its full length.

In that spirit, I recommend our menu from last night which seems almost too simple to report, but was deliciously and utterly summer. There was gazpacho to start — a very simple gazpacho of tomatoes, seeded cucumber, red onion, some bread crumbs, cilantro, sherry vinegar and water given a quick swirl in a blender (bonus points for a serious dent in the farm share!). There was a bottle of chilled pinot grigio. At the end, there were chilled cubes of watermelon (more farm share, more bonus points).

And in between? There was an amazingly simple and amazingly good fish that caused us to halt conversation every few sentences and say “oh man! How about this? This is good!” I was inspired by a recipe in Lynne Rosetto Kaspar’s book The Splendid Table. She reports that this is a classic preparation from Italian sea side restaurants. The concept and the execution are simple. A paste of herbs, garlic and olive oil, a little time for the fish to soak in the flavor and a few minutes over a hot grill. We used a $6.00 piece of Trader Joe’s frozen swordfish, and it turned out brightly flavored and wonderfully succulent; I can only speculate and drool over what this would taste like with some fancy fresh fish. We may have been sitting on our citronella-surrounded deck in downtown Ann Arbor rather than a patio overlooking the Mediterranean, but it felt like la dolce vita to me.

Mediterranean Grilled Fish

1 lb. of firm fleshed fish fillets (Kaspar recommends bluefish, mackeral, tuna or swordfish)

4 T minced fresh herbs (I used a mix of flat leaf parsley and basil at about a 1:3 ratio)

1 clove minced garlic

2 T olive oil

Coarse salt

Grind the herbs, garlic, olive oil and salt into a coarse paste using the grinding apparatus of your choice. I used the mortar and pestle because I don’t own a food processor, but that’s not a point of pride. Cut a few shallow slits into the fish and rub on both sides with the herb paste. Wrap the fillets in plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator for 2-5 hours.

When ready to eat (say just before you sit down with your gazpacho), light a charcoal fire and let burn until the coals are covered with grey ash. With the grill approximately six inches from the coals, grill the fish quickly on both sides (about 2-5 minutes a side depending on the thickness of the fish).  Serve with a squeeze of lemon.

We also had some blanched green beans (see farm share, above) tossed in olive oil, lemon. fleur de sel and fresh marjoram, my new favorite way to eat green beans. I spent the better part of my life despising green beans and now I have a favorite way to eat them!

This menu best if eaten while crickets carry on and the stars shine overhead.

And the winner is . . .

Many thanks for the great suggestions and even more the great conversation about cookbooks to start with. We had such a wealth of options that I had to turn over the choice to the girl herself.  After reviewing the suggestions, she selected “How To Cook Everything.” When I asked why, she said “because I want to cook everything!” Good girl.  There was a little grumbling about lugging the book home (even in the handsome yellow bag, above), but lug it she did, called up her friend who taught her to make hollandaise the other day, pedaled over to the grocery store for ingredients and made gazpacho and chocolate mousse for lunch.  Chalk one up for Mr. Bittman. Now I just have to convince her it’s really better to buy butter than margarine, even if margarine is half the price and she’s spending her own money. All in good time.

Help Wanted

With the latest cooking project around Maria’s household . . . The girl, thirteen, has expressed a desire to learn to cook.  She can actually already turn out a classic vinaigrette, microwave a quesadilla, scramble an egg and produce a tomato salad with basil picked from the garden (and she knows how to identify the basil plant) which is probably a better arsenal than that with which many college students are armed. And she has started to learn her way around a knife and has naturally good hands with dough, perhaps because of several years of “Clay on the Wheel” at the Ann Arbor Art Factory.  She has to be coached through the lighting of the gas burners, though, and has dropped a pan on the floor on occasion because the use of potholders does not occur to her and handles do, well, get hot. And we have been sadly deficient in some of the basics. She does not, for example, know how to cook up a pot of pasta, although, oddly she could probably get pretty far in making fresh pasta, having helped her father do so several times.

I’m of course naturally inclined to encourage this interest (the boy — four, next week! — knows he can con me out of almost anything by telling me he wants to be “a cooker” when he grows up). And  having read Michael Pollan’s NY Times magazine article last week about the demise of home cooking (with which I’m not sure I entirely agree — see  Michael Ruhlman for some kitchen-counter-thinking), I’m more determined than ever to get my kids into the kitchen. So, to the point, I want to get Naomi a good first cookbook and am struggling a bit with the choice. There are some nice looking teen starter cookbooks, a wealth of college survival cookbooks (and I remember my nineteen year old self poring over one such book in my first apartment — that and Laurel’s Kitchen ), and then there are the classics: The Joy of Cooking, The New York Times Cookbook, and, of course, the currently trendy Mastering The Art of French Cooking (which I myself have never cracked). I’m torn between the quick start that might be offered by inspirational glossy photos and simplified preparations and the last-a-lifetime value and basic education offered by the sturdy handbooks.  My early 1970’s Joy of Cooking is in three pieces now and sits next to my husband’s inherited 1961 Craig Clairborne’s NYT Cookbook annotated by his mother with helpful comments such as “ugh — do not make again.” Both books gets pulled out at least once every couple of weeks.

So I ask you, what books got you going as a cook? If you were thirteen and starting to plan a dinner for and with a friend, what would be your menu planning resource? I want something that will both inspire and last.  Thanks in advance for any suggestions. I hope the interest holds in the fickle adolescent mind, and we’ll have some early cooking adventures to report soon.

Let's get the party started

Let's get the party started

I recently returned from a week-long “vacation” with my family up at the house my mom shares with her husband on Lake Michigan. The whole Karle clan came, including my brother and his boyfriend Brian from NYC, and my Michigan brother with his family, plus my mom and her husband Tom. Since my two brothers and my sister-in-law all have birthdays around this time, we usually celebrate when we are all together in the summer. I had separately decided to plan ahead this year and take a day to cook a special meal for the food-lovers among us. As it turned out, the foodlover dinner ended up being combined with the birthday celebration, for the major food event of the week.

I knew off the bat I wouldn’t make everyone happy with every offering, as the group included two children, one diabetic on a strict diet, and one all-around lifelong picky eater. Happily, there were four of us who are genuine foodie-types, and two others who love good food – they are just married to diabetics/lifelong picky eaters. So I wanted to indulge us adventurous types but not make the others feel left out of the party.

Clams and Oysters (not from Lake Michigan!)

Clams and Oysters (not from Lake Michigan!)

I decided the basis of the meal would come from my longstanding favorite summer menu, which appeared in a piece called “Picnic In The Vines” in the May 1995 issue of Gourmet magazine. (I keep my tattered, splattered copy in a box of old cooking magazines in the basement – one of the few issues that didn’t get weeded when I moved from NYC to Michigan.) I usually try to do this menu once a year in some form as it is great for entertaining. Since it is meant to be for a picnic, all the dishes can be made ahead and served at room temperature. For this particular incarnation I decided to only make four of the cornerstones of the menu. The add-ons (deviled eggs; clams and oysters cooked on the grill, crabmeat dip, and a store-bought ice-cream cake for dessert) were a bit of a mishmash, but they added to the celebratory vibe – again, I wanted to make sure there was something special for everyone present.

For the main dish, I served spiced poussins. Well, they were not really poussins, since it would be a challenge to find poussins around Ann Arbor, let alone up north. In any event I was able to procure some very nice whole chickens from a great market in Traverse City called Burritt’s, which is also where we found the oysters and clams (fresh from the Atlantic – not the Great Lakes! Brian is from Boston, so it’s become his little tradition to make the midwesterners eat shellfish). I had the butcher cut the whole chickens into serving pieces, and after marinating for several hours in the Moroccan spice mixture, we (well, Lenny) cooked them on the grill. I chose the grill over the oven (as instructed in the recipe) as the size of the pieces varied greatly, so “we” needed the freedom to move them around to cook them all evenly.

Spiced Poussins

Spiced Poussins

The sides included fingerling potatoes with green beans, and eggplant with a basil vinaigrette. For the potatoes/green beans, I used a mixture of parsley, mint, thyme, and oregano for the herbs. My sister-in-law has since asked me if she thought it would be ok to do this recipe without the potatoes, which I’m sure would be great. I think the key is to make sure you add enough herbs, enough salt, and then let them sit at room temperature for a few hours before serving so the flavors can really blend. (I might think about adding some toasted nuts or maybe even some prosciutto, depending on what else you are planning to serve along with them).

Green Beans and Fingerlings

Green Beans and Fingerlings

Eggplant Salad

Eggplant Salad

The eggplant, which is drizzed with a basil vinaigrette and topped with chopped fresh basil and some toasted pine nuts, tasted great – although as a primarily-brown-food-thing I realize maybe the photo doesn’t look so enticing. We also did those on the grill, although I’ve also followed the recipe and done them under the broiler and they are just as good.

And finally, the piece de resistance, the tomato onion tart:

Tomato Onion Tart

Tomato Onion Tart

The keys to the tart are 1) use uniform size tomatoes so they lay out evenly, 2) cook the onions until there is no moisture left in them (otherwise you end up with a soggy crust), and 3) use a good quality gruyere. People seem to love this tart for its combination of sweet and savory, and it goes great with those spicy poussins. Now I have to confess my dirty little secret: if I don’t feel like making pie crust (I’m not the pie crust queen that Shana is), I just use one of the Pillsbury pie crusts that you find in the refrigerator section of the grocery store (in the long red box). You can just thaw and unroll, place in the tart pan, and you are ready to add the filling.

Vincent's Ice Cream Cake

Vincent's Ice Cream Cake

For dessert we had an ice-cream cake that my sister-in-law purchased in Manistee at a little ice-cream shop called Vincent’s. I personally would probably have preferred the Plum Almond Cobbler that is part of the Picnic in the Vines menu to finish off this meal, but I have to admit, as ice cream cakes go this was pretty wonderful.

The items that make up this menu all seem to be available on Epicurious, they just aren’t associated back to that “Picnic in the Vines” article. Here are links to the recipes for all the dishes I made, plus a couple others that are part of that menu that are also great.

Spiced Poussins

Green Bean and Fingerling Salad

Eggplant Salad

Tomato Onion Tart

Fig, Ham & Nectarine Salad

Plum and Almond Cobbler

A Taste of Summer

Those of you who live around Ann Arbor may have noticed something surprising the past week or so. Finally, in its last official month, summer seems to have arrived. Summer of porch-sitting without sweaters, of kids in sprinklers, of downtown strolls for ice cream, of tossing back the covers at night, of sometimes even seeking out shade, that kind of summer.  It’s not dog days yet, not air-conditioning or swimming after work summer, but still . . . it’s a lot more summer than we’ve had this year. And I’ve been so ready for it.

Among the pleasures of summer, have been winetasting on the “patio” (um, sidewalk) at Vinology . . .

Accompanied by lovely little tastes, like handmade pasta with clams and breadcrumbs and just a touch of anchovy . . .

And making mint ice cream with the out of control chocolate peppermint from the front garden and lots of lemonade from scratch (a favorite occupation and beverage for the almost four year old boy) and never, ever being without peaches in the house.

But  mostly, of course, more and more time consumed by consuming the contents of the CSA box, working our way with patience and fortitude through all that Tantre Farm throws at us (duck! more beets! incoming!). With gratitude too, of course. A lot of gratitude.

When the crisper drawer becomes difficult to shut, the Big Salad often comes to the rescue. This one was particularly pleasing to both the eye and our collective palates, first because it was broken down into its constituent parts and not mixed (allowing picking and choosing of ingredients by those who must pick and choose ) and because of this zippy vinaigrette from Bobby Flay’s Grilling for Life.  We made it first to serve on grilled lamb chops, but the drizzle required by that dish left plenty for salad a couple of days later. The oregano gives it a nice punch that paired well with the strong summer flavors in the salad.

We made up this salad, sat on the back deck in our t-shirts and shorts, all four of us shoeless and slightly sunburned and slowly picked the platters clean and watched the fireflies come out.  Summer indeed.

Oregano Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Combine vinegar, oregano, garlic, honey, salt, and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in oil and blend until emulsified.