Posted: December 30, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

What was your most successful holiday recipe? Sometimes its just dumb luck. You slave away all day on braised lamb shanks, and everyone goes gaga over the side dish. Thats what happened to me.

Family meals are a challenge. We have vegans, vegetarians, gluten frees, soy frees. And thats not even counting the picky eaters.

The children are another matter altogether. We knock them out early. They eat before the adults (pasta, pizza) then they go play. No whining over strange food; no kids table; and we can actually have what passes for adult conversation. Hows work? Hows school? And how bout those Lions?

But I really want to talk about the food. I want the guests to heap lavish praise on everything I make, ask detailed questions about where I got the ingredients, how I made it, and to ask for the recipe. If they dont, I die a little bit inside. Why arent they saying anything, I wonder? Dont they like it? Why are they still talking about the Lions?!

And was that a gagging noise I just heard?

Not this year. We nailed it, at least with the vegetable paella. Everyone loved it. My wife ate three helpings, and nothing else. My daughter and son-in-law even asked for the recipe, and here it is.

One bit of back story: I dont really plan holiday menus. Instead I whine about how busy I am. I sulk about the picky eaters in our family. I suggest we go out for Chinese.

And thats before I get really obnoxious.

Then, finally, I start going through recipes. Hmm, heres something people might eat. Then I find a few other things with a loose theme that sort of ties everything together. This year it was sort of a Spanish Moroccan Middle Eastern Greek vibe. (OK so if all the people who lived in those places looked in a certain direction, they would all be looking towards the Mediterranean. That was the theme. All right? Now leave me alone.)

And please dont even start on what is a proper Paella. This is certainly not an authentic Valencian version, replete with land snails. Nor is this even necessarily made in a paella pan, although I do have one tucked away somewhere. This recipe is designed for a 4 quart saucepan, for ease of preparation.

Vegetable Paella
(adapted from an old Free Press recipe)
1/4 cup olive oil.
1 1/2 TBS capers.
1 small Spanish onion, diced.
2 TBS currants.
1 clove garlic, minced.
1/2 cup slivered almonds.
1 cup julienne carrots.
4 oz pitted black olives, sliced.
1 cup julienne green pepper.
1 can sliced artichoke hearts.
1 cup canned diced tomatoes.
10 threads saffron.
4 cups vegetable broth.
2 dashes Franks hot sauce.*
1 cinnamon stick.
1/2 tsp. black pepper.
3 cloves.
1 TBS salt.
1 bay leaf.
1 cup calasparra or bomba paella rice.**

* Ancient Greek recipe. Accept no substitutes.
**Or substitute any short grain rice. All these types are high starch and will need a lot of liquid to cook.

Holy shopping list, Batman! I thought you said this was an easy recipe!

Easy, Robin. Once you assemble all the ingredients you pretty much just throw them together. As follows:

In a 2-4 quart saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and saut onions and garlic a few minutes, then add carrots and green pepper and cook a few minutes more until they are braised. Add EVERYTHING ELSE ALL AT ONCE except the rice.

Increase heat to high and boil. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently over high heat until liquid level is just above rice. You will need to keep adding liquid until the rice is just cooked through. At that point, remove from heat, cover tightly, and let stand for several minutes before serving. Dont forget to fish out the bay leaf, cinnamon, and cloves. Good luck finding the cloves; it will be like looking for your wifes engagement ring that you accidentally threw out with the trash. (Tip: use a cheesecloth bag for the cinnamon, bay leaf and cloves.)

You can make this in a wide saucepan or paella pan if you want. The bottom layer of rice gets crusty and is considered a delicacy. Others consider it a pain in the a** to clean.

When all is said and done, this dish is a wonderful mlange of flavors and textures, highlighted by the crunch of the almonds and the creaminess of the rice. Not to mention that whole Mediterranean-ish flavor thing going on.

Hopefully your guests too will notice, and take a welcome break from talking about the Lions.

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

How did holiday fruitcake get to be such a joke? Dont people like dried fruits, nuts, and cake? Yet Nobody likes me, laments the slice of fruitcake on the psychiatrists couch, in a comic I saw. Fruitcake, harrumphs the shrink in his thought bubble.

A 2002 Village Voice article blames some goon who discovered how to preserve fruit in cheap sugar, shipped to the colonies in the 16th Century. This led to an overabundance of cloyingly sweet fruit, both native varieties and imports. All these sugared fruits managed to get crammed into the same cake.

The same cake indeed! Johnny Carson used to joke that there is only one fruitcake in the world, and people keep sending it to each other. His successor, Jay Leno, once sampled a 125 year old fruitcake, preserved through generations by an Alabama family. Slicing off a small piece, he gingerly tasted it. It needs more time, he quipped.

Thank demon rum for that fruitcakes staying power. Brandy, rum, liqueur and wine might all find their way into this traditional confection. The alcohol prevents mold, and moderates the sweetness. This wont happen in certain parts of the Bible Belt; most Southern recipes are strictly for teetotalers.

Paradoxically, the pious Trappist Monks of Kentucky lace their famous fruitcakes with fine Kentucky Bourbon and red wine; they boast the Wall Street Journal once called theirs the best overall with quality and value. A five pounder will set you back a cool $65.75.

Fruitcakes are a tradition throughout the world, from German Stollen, to the rum soaked black cake of Trinidad and Tobago, to English and Canadian Christmas Cakes, to the ubiquitous mass produced varieties from Southern companies such as Claxton. The addition of cheap nuts, available in the South, prompted someone in 1935 to coin the phrase nuttier than a fruitcake.

Lately, a food list serv to which I belong has been fiercely debating fruitcake recipes. One quoted Laurie Colwin of Gourmet Magazine, who said that a Jamaican Black Cake was to fruitcake as Brahms piano quartets are to Muzak.

This recipe from Alton Brown is a no-shortcuts, rum soaked delight. Given the amount of time he recommends to macerate the fruit and to allow the finished cake to steep, you might want to think about this one for next year. (Or 125 years from now, if youre so inclined.)
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup currants
1/2 cup sun dried cranberries
1/2 cup sun dried blueberries
1/2 cup sun dried cherries
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
Zest of one lemon, chopped coarsely
Zest of one orange, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
1 cup gold rum
1 cup sugar
5 ounces unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks)
1 cup unfiltered apple juice
4 whole cloves, ground
6 allspice berries, ground
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted pecans, broken
Brandy for basting and/or spritzing

Combine dried fruits, candied ginger and both zests. Add rum and macerate overnight, or microwave for 5 minutes to re-hydrate fruit.

Place fruit and liquid in a non-reactive pot with the sugar, butter, apple juice and spices. Bring mixture to a boil stirring often, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for at least 15 minutes. (Batter can be completed up to this point, then covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before completing cake.)

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients and sift into fruit mixture. Quickly bring batter together with a large wooden spoon, then stir in eggs one at a time until completely integrated, then fold in nuts. Spoon into a 10-inch non-stick loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Check for doneness by inserting toothpick into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, its done. If not, bake another 10 minutes, and check again.

Remove cake from oven and place on cooling rack or trivet. Baste or spritz top with brandy and allow to cool completely before turning out from pan.

When cake is completely cooled, seal in a tight sealing, food safe container. Every 2 to 3 days, feel the cake and if dry, spritz with brandy. The cakes flavor will enhance considerably over the next two weeks.

Brown closes his recipe with the tip, If you decide to give the cake as a gift, be sure to tell the recipient that they are very lucky indeed.

And if you dont feel so lucky to have a fruitcake? Go to Manitou Springs, Colorado, which hosts the Great Fruitcake Toss on the first Saturday of every January. Competitors engage in several events, including the hand toss and one permitting technology. The all-time record was set in January 2007 by a group of Boeing engineers who fashioned a pneumatic cannon, that shot the fruitcake into the mountains, a reported 1,225 feet according to a Global Positioning System.

Contest organizers also take pride in recycling fruitcakes. Says one, We pick up the pieces, patch them back together, wrap them in Saran Wrap, and try to preserve them for another year. We have some pretty scary looking fruitcakes that are 10 or 12 years old.

Nice, but too young for the Tonight Show.

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

I belong to a gym that is owned by the adjacent market, that gives a discount to gym members. The TVs in the gym, across from the elliptical trainers and the treadmills, are often tuned into a cooking show. I find this to be insidious, and ingenious.

As it happens, I am often there the same time as Paula Deens show. For those unaware, Deen and her sons run a Savannah restaurant, Lady and Sons, that she has parlayed into fame and a Food Network show. Deen features traditional Southern cooking (including deep fried Twinkies), and often parodies her own obsession with butter. This has not been without criticism. When Deen was interviewed by Barbara Walters about a cookbook she had written for children, Walters asked, You tell kids to have cheesecake for breakfast. You tell them to have chocolate cake and meatloaf for lunch. And French fries. Doesnt it bother you? Comedian Maria Bamford has compared Deens recipes to a suicide note.

At the gym, we watch Deens show with horrified fascination, as she caresses her sticks of butter, or, as I once saw, engages in sexual innuendo with her sons (I kid you not). Still, her down-home recipes do sometimes make me hungry. And after the most recent show I watched, I am only partly ashamed to say, I decided to try her recipe.

Deen got me by featuring my favorite food, potatoes, in a shrimp-potato chowder. She suggested corn as a substitute for the shrimp, and that is the version I made. This rich concoction, made with butter, milk, and cream, is not sufficient by itself in a bowl. Oh no. Deen is compelled to finish the dish with a heap of shredded cheddar cheese and bacon bits. It was like a deconstructed loaded baked potato, or less charitably, a bowl of Elmers Glue with toppings. Yet, it looked delicious, and its ridiculously easy to make.

I tried to tone her recipe down slightly by substituting broth for milk and milk for cream, and emphasizing other vegetables over the potatoes. But I stayed fairly true to the original. My version with corn was quite satisfying, and fed me dinner through three straight rainy fall evenings.

Paula Deens Shrimp
(or Corn)
Potato Chowder

1/2 stick butter
1 small onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced about the
   same size as the onion
1/2 cup savory or regular celery,
   diced fine
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
6 medium potatoes (feel free to
   substitute some rutabaga),
   peeled and cut into 1 cubes
3 cups milk: whole, reduced or low fat,
   or mixture
2 chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes,
   dissolved in 1 cup water
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb medium shrimp (or kernels from
   3-4 ears of corn)

For garnish:
grated sharp cheddar cheese
chopped green onion stalks
crumbled bacon bits

In a 4-quart saucepan, melt the butter and saute the onion, celery and carrots until both are slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the potatoes, milk, and broth. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are very soft and some of them have begun to dissolve into mush. Add the half-and-half or milk, salt, and pepper.

If using shrimp:
In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups lightly salted water to a boil. Add the shrimp all at once and stir well. Watch the shrimp closely; as soon as they all turn pink, about 2-3 minutes, turn off the heat and drain. The shrimp should be slightly undercooked. When they are cool, peel them, and chop roughly into big chunks. Add the shrimp to the soup and stir well, then serve.

If using corn:
Add the kernels after the potatoes have cooked for 9-10 minutes.
Serve soup sprinkled with grated cheddar cheese, bacon bits and chopped green onion.
After eating this, an extra half hour on the elliptical for me, with more Paula Deen to watch. Let the cycle continue.

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: December 6, 2011 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

I have a friend who shall be referred to herein as Paquetta. I know her from three random connections: fundraisers, reggae dance parties, and baking macaroons. While she is noteworthy for the first two, she is nonpareil in the latter.

Actually finding these macaroons, however, is like stumbling upon Brigadoon. Paquetta, could you make me some macaroons? Sure! Ill have them to you by Friday. A month later, I run into her. Hi! No mention of the macaroons. I am crazy with obsession, but I say nothing so as to avoid offending the master.

There are two kinds of macaroons. There are the delicate French kind, a glazed meringue sandwich with a jam or cream filling. Oo-la-freaking-la. And then there are Paquettas. A heap of sweet coconut, dipped in bittersweet chocolate, as big as a babys fist, and crazy delicious.

Her macaroons are also models of simplicity. Paquetta would brag that they were essentially four ingredients: coconut, egg white, sweetened condensed milk, and chocolate. I became captive to her next batch, whenever it might arrive.

And then I had this amazing idea. I could make my own.

The idea started to take form when I received my December Food and Wine. There is a New York baker by the name of Danny Cohen, who goes by Danny Macaroons. Danny is a devil-may-care risk taker. He says macaroons dont have to be round. Make whatever shape you want. There are no rules. What a madcap.

But I have to admit, Danny knows his macaroons. And now that I have the secret to making them myself, I am not so beholden to the enigmatic Paquetta.

Coconut Macaroons

One 14-oz bag sweetened
    shredded coconut
One 14-oz can sweetened
    condensed milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz bittersweet chocolate,
    melted in a double boiler

1.Preheat the oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or wax paper, lightly coated with cooking oil spray).
2.In a medium bowl, combine the coconut with the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.
3.In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt until firm peaks form.
4.Fold the beaten whites into the coconut mixture.
5.Scoop mounds of the mixture, the size of a babys fist, onto the baking sheets, about one inch apart.
6.Bake about 25 minutes. Crazy Danny recommends shifting the sheets between the upper and middle racks of the oven during baking for even cooking.
7.Cool the macaroons on racks. After cooling, dip the bottoms in the melted chocolate. Return the cookies to the lined baking sheets. Drizzle any remaining chocolate on top and refrigerate for about 5 minutes, until set.

Crazy Danny says the macaroons can be refrigerated for up to two weeks. How would he know? Did he go out of town? Did he forget the combination to the refrigerator?

See you, Paquetta. Maybe at the next reggae fundraiser.

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.