Posted: November 29, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

I am embarrassed to confess that I do not have a go-to potluck dish.

I plan for the potluck with the best of intentions. I think about it for a few days, imagine what I might make, and bask in the accolades of my fellow partygoers. Key word: Imagine.

The reality is a bit different. Take my most recent potluck, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. last Saturday. I was supposed to have a dish chosen by the morning and shopped by the afternoon. Instead, I slept in, went directly to a UM football tailgate and then the game. When I returned home, I took a nap. I imagined it was because of all the fresh air, and had nothing to do with the tailgate party.

I awoke an hour and a half before the potluck. I had no dish chosen, none shopped for, and of course no time to cook. So the food writer was going to go to the party with store bought food. Nice. (At least he wasnt chintzy; a couple pounds of cocktail shrimp did the trick.)

But the hit of the buffet was someone elses crab stuffed mushrooms, still sizzling from the oven a dish that I had thought of fleetingly, and then discarded as reality intruded on my dreams.

A go-to potluck dish has to fit many criteria. It should be fast to shop, simple to make, and easy to transport. It must also be tasty, hot, lukewarm, or cold.

Many of my favorite Greek dishes meet the latter standard, like spanakopita and moussaka. You know them as spinach pie and, well, moussaka. The problem is that theyre a pain to make. Sure, if youre a Greek shepherds wife, and hes out in the field with the sheep all day, youve got all the time in the world. You can individually paint the phyllo dough with butter and layer it carefully, all while humming the theme music from Never on Sunday. When he comes in from the fields, dusty with wool and looking a little flush in the cheeks, hell be grateful for your effort.

But we busy lawyers dont have time for that. We barely have time to stop by the overpriced deli counter at Whole Paycheck on our way to the party.

Which leads me back to, whats my potluck go-to dish? Lets ask a different question. When you go to a potluck, what guilty indulgence are you happiest to see on the table?

For me, before I got squeamish about factory chicken, my answer was KFC. It fit all the criteria. You could have it ready to serve without leaving your car, and it was tasty right out of the bucket or the next morning, say, if you found a stray drumstick on your front seat during your morning commute.

Dips are another one. Im a sucker for dip. I swear, take a bag of good potato chips and some homemade sour cream dip to your next potluck and youll be the hit of the party. Another easy one is pimento dip with crackers. Cheddar, canned pimento, mayo, and maybe a touch of jalapeno in the food processor. Whir. Yum.

Boursin cheese is another idea in a pinch. Its about $9 for a portion the size of your thumb, which contains 3,000 calories, but its so good and a rare indulgence.

Ive never been much for making desserts, but if I see a well-placed cheesecake or homemade raspberry chocolate torte on your table, Ill be sleeping overnight.

Which leads me back to the opening question what is my go-to potluck dish? (Yes, Im getting to that, your honor.) If I have time to prepare something, itll be mac and cheese, or the following chicken dish, which is very easy. Forgive me if its light on specifics.

Nicks Go-To Dazzling Holiday Chicken Potluck Surprise
Ingredients:
A few pounds of chicken breast,
   cut up into nugget-sized cubes
Chopped garlic
Olive oil
Lemon
Salt and pepper
Your favorite herbs, like chopped
   flat-leaf parsley
Cherry tomatoes

Directions:
Toss the chicken with olive oil, chopped garlic, kosher salt, pepper and lemon. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes until cooked through but still tender. Let cool.
Toss with more olive oil, garlic, lemon, cherry tomatoes, and chopped parsley. Taste and if needed, season with salt and pepper.
Put on a plate. Its surprisingly pretty. Slap a serving spoon on there. Serve hot, room temperature, or cold.
Its good with dip, too.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine.

Posted: November 20, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

The impulse item at the bookstore got me. Sitting on a rack by the cash register, there it was: Secret Ingredients, The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. The cover blurb said You couldnt ask for a more diverse, dazzling collection of writers. The back jacket promised Woody Allen on dieting the Dostoevski way, Chang-rae Lee on eating sea urchin, Alice McDermott on sex and ice cream, and the eminently quotable Dorothy Parker on dinner conversation.

Only $18, and yes, Uncle Sam, I can write it off. So I took it home and dug in.

What I didnt expect was that the very first essay was about something Id never heard of. A cultural and political event that flourished in New York City around the turn of the 20th Century, so hot that it had rival East Side and West Side versions, and there is even a revival today.

Yes, Im talking about the Beefsteak. Not as a food item, but as a cultural event. I learned this from my new book, and Joseph Mitchells 1939 historical essay (All You Can Hold for Five Dollars) about these meat orgies, that featured gluttonous displays of all you can eat steak, served with no utensils, no chairs or tables, and copious volumes of beer. They began to flourish as Tammany Hall (Democrat) and Republican fundraisers, They were strictly stag until about 1920 when women joined the fray, adding feminine touches, as Mitchell describes, such as Manhattan cocktails, fruit cups, and fancy salads to the traditional menu of slices of ripened steak, double lamb chops, kidneys, and beer by the pitcher.

Mitchell described one Beefsteak where the chief butcher had finished cutting the meat for an anticipated crowd of 350. He had carved steaks off 35 steer shells, had cut 450 double-rib lamb chops, and 450 lamb kidneys. Mitchell describes the classical beefsteak as sliced off the shell, or a section of the hindquarter of a steer, called short loin without the fillet. At the butcher, a rough comparable is a thick Delmonico. The shells were sliced into six boneless, fatless steaks, each three inches thick and ten inches long, which are broiled. Then each steak is sliced further into about ten slices, which are served on platters to the crowd with a traditional butter-Worcestershire gravy, over slices of day-old bread or toast, depending on whether you are East Side or West Side school of thought.

Men were encouraged to eat like pigs. Mitchell says that pre-prohibition, The life of the party at a beefsteak used to be the man who let out the most ecstatic grunts, drank the most beer, ate the most steak, and got the most grease on his ears. Men sat on beer crates and ate off the tops of beer barrels. They were not allowed napkins or utensils, but were given butchers aprons to wipe the grease off their faces. They rinsed their hands with beer when they were ready to grab a fresh steak from the platter.

Entertainment ranged from Irish or German storytellers to drunken German bands, until the aforementioned women came and insisted on dance orchestras with their fruit salads. Mitchell notes, Women do not esteem a glutton, and at a contemporary beefsteak it is unusual for a man to do away with more than three pounds of meat and twenty-five glasses of beer.

Perhaps because of Mitchells article being revived in the new book, Beefsteaks are enjoying a renaissance. The New York Times reported in April about the new trend, but also noted differences, like: Instead of jowly union men, there were cosmetics representatives in skinny designer jeans. An artist had been hired to sculpt a golden calf out of day-old bread from Whole Foods. And there was chimichurri sauce.

But shades of old-fashioned gluttony were also in the house: platters of steaks passed around and plucked off with greedy fingers; a woman named Beefsteak Betty exhorting the crowd with chants of Beef! People refused to eat their bread, but instead stacked the pieces in front of them to show how much beef they had consumed. 

And of course, the beer flowed freely. Some things never change.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine.

Posted: November 15, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

The past couple of weeks have found me going over my old recipe collections, and my mind drifted to a website that features Weight Watcher recipe cards from the 70s (www.candy*****.com/wwcards.html). Warning: do not open this site in the office, unless you want your co-workers to come rushing in to see why youre writhing on the floor making gagging noises. Try recipes like Cabbage Casserole Czarina, Fish Balls, Snappy Mackerel Casserole, and Slender Quenchers. Or better yet dont try them.

What really makes this site are the pictures dishes posed bizarrely with ceramic animals and other random knickknacks and the snide commentary, such as this one for Caucasian Shashlik I have no idea what shashlik is. All I know about this dish is that its meat. And that the meats, uh... caucasian. And these words with Fluffy Mackerel Pudding Once upon a time the world was young and the words mackerel and pudding existed far, far away from one another. One day, that all changed.

And then, whoever was responsible somehow thought the word fluffy would help.

Where can you find bad recipes in your own home? Try the oldest cookbooks you have, preferably the ones from the church ladies who try helplessly to translate their family favorites into something orderly. Or the ones that evoke an earlier era when people ate things that today would make your jaw drop (e.g., my version of the Joy of Cooking includes recipes for squirrel and muskrat).

My own cookbook collection has a few gems. I have The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook that features someones Uncle Bill, a former New York delicatessen manager who was apparently forced by hippies in a commune to cook vegetarian recipes. He got his retribution by giving them Uncle Bills Turnip Appetizer, Uncle Bills Sauerkraut Soup, and pickled lox made with eggplant, which reminds us to serve on bagels with soy cream cheese.

Dont miss the Marinated Kohlrabi recipe, which closes with the advice, Proceed with canning instructions or eat in one hour. Why do I have to wait an hour? Is it like swimming?

That same cookbook has an entire section on cooking with gluten, including Gluten Roast, Oven Fried Gluten, and Janices Barbeque Gluten Ribs. Unfortunately, I didnt notice any gluten-free versions.

I also own Home Drying Vegetables Fruits & Herbs which still features the 50 cent sticker from the Wayne State University bookstore. The premise of the book doesnt sound so bad until you get to the actual recipes, like the one for carrot pudding featuring dried carrots, chopped suet, dried raisins, sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Not sure if thats for people, or birds.

Speaking of which, the Groaning Board cookbook from 1977 has something called Birds Nest that goes like this: On a bed of bean sprouts, spread grated cheese.

Broil or bake briefly, ladel on hot tomato sauce and top with a clump of cottage cheese. Yes, a clump! Boy, does that make it sound good!

Fast and Fabulous Appetizers almost appears normal in spots, but then veers dangerously into the Weight Watcher Recipe Card territory, with Wonderful Onion Puffies, Things in Blankets (watch your guests faces when they see a platter of these dough-wrapped morsels), and Peanut Prunes with prunes, peanut butter, and bacon. How about the politically incorrect name Bombay Babies? which explains: This time the prunes are stuffed with chutney. Delicious.

I must have picked up Potluck Potato Recipes from Ireland in the UK, judging from the price tag in pounds. Every dish, from soup to dessert, includes potatoes. Dont you just want to try Pineapple Potato Delight tonight? Who ever thought up putting Delight at the end of an incongruous matching of food items to somehow tie them together into a delicious whole? If youre not yet convinced, the recipe description says This one adds drama to a dinner menu. Thats supposed to be an inducement?!

The recipe for Friendly Potatoes made me sad. Why would I want to eat my friends?

After all this, Im sure you want some dessert:

Soy Pulp Cookies
The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook

2 cups flour.
1/2 tsp. salt.
4 tsp. baking powder.
2 cups soy pulp ...
... yes, 2 whole cups. You want to be sure to taste that soy pulp.

On second thought, you probably dont.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine in Ann Arbor.

Posted: November 9, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

Last week I published a recipe I found in my mothers handwriting, with cryptic directions and ingredients that were suddenly needed in the sizzling pan with no prior warning. Today I give you that complete recipe.

The Greeks call this Garides Saganaki shrimp sauted in a small frying pan. Picture the single serving shallow cast iron pans in Greektown, where they serve the flaming cheese, which the mustachioed waiters set on fire while indifferently muttering Opa! for the ten thousandth time in their career. Garides Saganaki are served in the same little pan, which is referred to as a saganaki.

But youre just as likely to find this recipe called Shrimp Scorpio, a more tourist-friendly name. This is not a traditional recipe. According to cookbook author Aglaia Kremezi, it was likely created in the early 60s as tourists began to flood the Greek islands, and tavernas looked for something to serve that was simple, but dramatically presented and delicious. It has since become a favorite for Greeks and tourists alike.

What I love about this dish is that its simple (unlike most of the legal briefs I publish in this column, with multiple citations and footnotes). Its also a sure fire crowd pleaser, almost as much so as fireworks, cynical clowns, or pets dressed in costumes. (Well, I guess it depends on your crowd.)

My mother would serve her version over linguini, which she invariably spelled linquini, but I prefer this as an appetizer with crusty bread. My mother also favored a version including dry mustard and dill, which you can find all over the web, but I like this version, with excellent quality shrimp, ripe tomato, and tangy sheeps milk feta.

Garides Saganaki

Ingredients:
1/2 cup olive oil.
1/2 cup finely chopped onions.
1/2 - 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or
    1/4 - 1/2 crushed red pepper flakes.
3 garlic cloves, minced.
1 1/2 lbs. medium shrimp, peeled
    and deveined, tails left on.
1/4 cup finely diced tomatoes,
    drained in a colander for 5 minutes.
salt
2/3 cup coarsely grated Feta cheese
    (If you leave the Feta uncovered in
    the refrigerator overnight, it will dry
    a bit and make grating easier).
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.
Preheat the oven to 400.

Directions:
In a large skillet, heat the oil and saut the onion over medium heat for five minutes, or until soft. Add the pepper or pepper flakes and the garlic and saut for 30 seconds.

Add the shrimp and saut for 2 minutes, or until they start to become firm. (Here you can toss in some ouzo or Greek brandy, light it, and shout Opa! with all the gusto you can muster.) Add the tomato and salt to taste and cook for 2 minutes more, or until the sauce begins to thicken. Transfer to a baking dish or four individual gratin dishes.

Bake for 10 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake for 2-3 minutes more. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.
Linquini optional.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine in Ann Arbor.

Posted: November 3, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

For a long time Ive kept a large 3 ring binder with recipes that Ive cut out of various places, kept in place on ruled 3-hole paper with glue stick. Its organized into 29 different categories, which themselves are broken down further, with names like Pates/Dips/Spreads/Fondues, Sauces/ Dressings, and Spices/Additives/Non-Food Recipes. Yes, I actually have one non-food recipe: Silly Putty 2 parts liquid starch, 1 part Elmers Glue.

Today that binder is bulging with recipes that Ive never made, and never will make, and spilling out into the bookshelf. Its one of those projects you swear youll do one day and never get to. After I die, my children will be shaking their heads wondering why I kept such gems as Soybeans Italiano (spaghetti sauce, frozen spinach, and of course, soybeans), and Tofu Cheesecake.

So what Ive decided to do, rather than give them to my children, Ill give them to you.

How about Tea Smoked Shrimp? The directions say, To smoke the shrimp, line a heavy Dutch oven with foil. Sprinkle the tea, sugar and cayenne pepper on the foil and set a rack over it. Cover the pot tightly; turn the heat to high. The sugar will melt and the pot will start smoking. Keep a kitchen exhaust fan going at all times to clear the smoke.

When I made that recipe, the bottom of the pot got so hot that when I picked it up off the stove, the bottom dropped off and started a little fire on the floor. The tile had a hole for a few years until we finally remodeled.

How about Zesty Nibbles? Combine a box of oyster crackers with one package of dry buttermilk country-style salad dressing mix, 1/2 tsp lemon pepper, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and 1/2 tsp dried dill weed. Makes one quart nibbles. Keeps for three weeks. After which time you will no doubt throw out exactly one quart nibbles.

I cut one out for Nutritionally Correct Cuban Sandwiches, featuring 1/2 lb. low cholesterol, low-fat Swiss cheese. The directions conclude, Enjoy guiltlessly. Sorry, those two words just dont belong in the same sentence.

Herere a few that need no further comment: Merry Dieters Dressing, Peach Soup, Green Roll, Woodsy Fried Goulash, and my favorite, Oven-Fried Gluten.

Our celebrity corner includes Dick Cavetts Bread Pot Fondue and Mr. Rogers Tofu Burgers.

Then theres the recipe for imitation White Castle hamburgers. The ingredient list starts with dry minced onions and hot tap water, and stretches the ground round with 3 1/2 oz. jar of either babyfood strained beef or veal. Yuck I cant pass a White Castle without thinking about that one.

I have lots of Julia Child recipes. In one theres a photo of her making sausage, looking like a mad scientist, with the caption, Sausage casings are pigs or sheeps intestines. Dont say ugh! youve been eating them all our life if youre a sausage or hot dog buff.

I saved a couple of Bisquick recipes for when the girls were small. I believe they preferred Mmm-possible Cheeseburger Pie to Mmm-possible Tuna-Cheese Pie.

When I run across one of my mothers handwritten recipes, I stop and smile. Her recipe for Shrimp Scorpio is a family favorite, scribbled onto notepaper, with an incomplete ingredient list written upside down on the back.

Koula Roomeliotis
Shrimp Scorpio
(with sassy sons comments)

Ingredients:
1 lb. shrimp
1 fresh tomato
1/4 tomato sauce (1/4 what, Mom?)
1 tsp mustard
Directions:
Saute in olive oil 1 onion, garlic. (Wait, those werent in the ingredient list. How much garlic?) Add fresh tomatoes (remove skin) (It was tomato, now its tomatoes? OK, fine.) Add salt and pepper and saut 5 min. Add tomato sauce (1/4, of course), fresh dill & parsley & dry mustard. (Dill and parsley? Whered they come from? How much?) Cook a few min. to blend add shrimp and cook only until it turns pink. Remove to casserole & add feta cheese. (Dont ask. Just wing it here.) Bake 10 min 400. Serve w/linguini.

Now thats what I call a recipe. Way better than Zesty Nibbles, and not a speck of baby food.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine.