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Friday, June 26, 2009


Jordana, my friend and fellow food blogger, has nominated me for a blog "award" -- okay, it's not a Pulitzer but I'm quite honored and excited just the same. Many of you know and follow Jordana at menu maniac, but for those who don't, I hope you'll take a look, because I think you'll enjoy it a lot.

So, before passing on this award, one must follow the rules:
  • Accept the award, post it on your blog wtih the name of the person who gave it you, plus his/her blog link.
  • Pass the award to other blogs you've newly discovered and tell them you've chosen them for the award.

I read quite a few blogs, but here are a few I really enjoy:

Danni & Ted's Adventures at: My friend Danni, a ultramarathoner, runs like 100 miles a week. Nope, not kidding. Her race reports will both inspire you and make you wince. Plus, she's the perfect combination of fiercely smart and wacky.

Alexandra of I just discovered her this week. Be sure to check out her former blogspot site, as well.

Mardi at, another new find for me.

and Julie, at, yet another new one for me.

And, I'd like to give a shout-out to another marathoner friend who writes a secret running blog. She knows who she is, and her blog is indeed award-worthy.

Next week, watch for a list of "oldie but goodie" food blogs I've been reading for longer than these.

Thanks, Jordana!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer's Here!!

It's summer, which means it's time for Caprese salad. But wait, you say, it's still too early for caprese. The tomatoes, they aren't ready yet. No worries, I bought some beautiful little cherry tomatoes at the farmers' market worthy of this classic dish and I could wait no longer. 

You're right, though. Caprese, or salad in the style of Capri, the Italian island, is a late-summer meal, meant for when the tomatoes are in season and fully ripe. To use pale, mealy, grocery store tomatoes will deliver sad, sad results, and is not recommended.

In my opinion, the secret to Caprese, and to just about all good cooking, is to use the best ingredients and season everything separately. Start by slicing your tomatoes, then drizzle with really good extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Let them sit for a bit.

Then, slice your fresh mozzarella into cubes, and repeat the process. It's really important to season the cheese, otherwise it will be bland. You can mix the tomatoes and mozzarella together at this point. Slice some fresh basil and add to the mix. If you'd like, you can stop here and eat.

But, I also had some local lettuce, so figured why not top it with the Caprese. You don't even need to add dressing, since the marinade from the Caprese will dress the salad. The final touch? A squeeze of fresh lemon or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, to brighten the flavors.

This is what summer tastes like. What are you favorite summer dishes? I'm looking for some inspiration.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Plate of Springtime

Garlic scapes are a little-known delicacy. In season for a few short weeks in spring, chefs covet them, scooping them up from farmers markets and backyard gardens.

A scape is an immature garlic flower -- a long, thin shoot that grows from the garlic plant this time of year. They are meant to be picked and eaten, and doing so helps ensure bigger, more hearty garlic bulbs come harvest. Scapes, like garlic, shallots and onions, are a member of the Allium family. They have a milder, sweeter, more delicate flavor than garlic, and can be used like a traditional garlic clove in all kinds of dishes.

I've only cooked with scapes once before, so I wanted to experiment this year. I decided to make Dorie Greenspan's Garlic Scape Pesto, and paired it with sauteed shrimp, minced scapes and fresh spring peas. I plated the shrimp and pesto atop butter lettuce from my garden and mixed in some additional minced raw scapes.

I can only describe this meal as a plate of springtime. Light, clean and as fresh as it gets, it was like a long draw of cold lemonade on a sticky summer afternoon. I added a few teaspoons of fresh lemon juice and some cracked black pepper to the pesto, for brightness. The almonds and parmigiano reggiano add body and depth without cutting the sharp tang of the scapes. I also cut the olive oil by 2 T. to 1/3 cup. We paired the dish with a crisp pinot grigio.

Scapes are inexpensive, running about $1 for a bundle of 5-6. I bought two bunches from Eastern Market and picked about eight from my garden, and still have a few left for other dishes.

If you run across a tangle of garlic scapes this June, pick them up, chop 'em up, green stems and all, and use them in salads, sautes, pastas, eggs or even soups. They are a fun alternative to traditional garlic cloves.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tim's Garden

I've had a backyard vegetable garden for a number of years. Nothing too elaborate -- a few tomato plants, some herbs, salad greens, and whatever looks delicious or intriguing.

Every year, I get great satisfaction from the process of planting the seeds or seedlings, caring for them, and eventually harvesting, cooking and eating the final results. Circle of life and all that.

This year, my son Tim, 12, was by my side when we planted the garden. I love his curiosity and enthusiasm, and his willingness to throw himself wholeheartedly into anything he enjoys. 

Tim jumped out of bed at 7 a.m. on a Saturday to shop for plants at Eastern Market. He toured the stalls with us, inspecting the vegetables and helping us choose the best ones. He lugged the plants around the market, loaded up the car and helped unload when we got home.

And together, we planted heirloom tomatoes, romaine, mixed greens, spinach, swiss chard, green beans, broccoli, lemon thyme, rosemary, basil and a few giant sunflowers (which were immediately destroyed by a critter). He dug, he got his hands dirty, he asked a million questions. Good, thoughtful questions. Then he hand-watered the beds with a watering can, twice.

As we moved through the day, side-by-side, it occurred to me that I've never had more fun in the garden, and I felt honored and privileged to connect with him in such a meaningful way.

Because, yes, planting a garden puts food on the table, but really, it's about feeding the soul. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kitchen Secret: Shallots

My cooking improved immensely after I started using shallots. In my opinion, shallots are the forgotten Allium, and it's a shame, because they add wonderful depth and sophistication to just about any savory dish.

These small, purple orbs cook more quickly than onions, and are sweeter and milder. The flavor is reminiscent of onion and garlic, but more delicate and urbane. They're used often in French cuisine, but are popular in Asian cuisine as well.

The writings of David Lebowitz, former Chez Panisse pastry chef and author of "The Sweet Life in Paris" inspired me to start using shallots regularly, and I'm forever grateful.

Plus, Alliums such as shallots, onions and garlic are healthful as well as delicious. You can find them in any grocery or independent market, and local shallots are available at Michigan farmers markets right now.

I slice them thinly and saute for soups, stews, pastas and vegetable dishes -- almost anywhere you'd normally use onion. You can also quick-fry them and top all manner of dishes with crispy shallots, a lovely gourmet touch.

If you've not used shallots in your cooking, I encourage you to give them a try.

Turkey Tacos

Feeding my family can be challenging. My three kids are good eaters, and enjoy a variety of foods, but their tastes are, shall we say, very individual. Rarely do they all agree on a given dish.

Tacos, however, always create consensus. And Detroit Mexicantown seasoning is my secret.

This mix will transform your Mexican or Southwestern dishes. Created by The Detroit Spice Co, it's available at local, upscale markets, like Village Market in Grosse Pointe, Papa Joe's in Birmingham and Pure Detroit stores. Detroit Spice Co. also has a stand at Eastern Market and sells several other terrific blends inspired by the ethnic communities that make up Detroit.

Mexicantown seasoning combines traditional flavors like cumin and chilis and ditches the excessive sodium, preservatives and artificial flavors found in grocery store taco kits.

I add a tablespoon or two to the lean ground turkey or sirloin, and season to taste with sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. I usually add a healthy dollop of salsa to the meat mixture as it simmers.

I also use shredded romaine lettuce, the best tomatoes I can find, locally made salsa, kalamata olives, black beans, reduced fat cheese and light sour cream. To get really authentic, take a trip to Mexican Town and buy freshly made tortillas from their markets.

This healthier, more natural take on tacos is always a hit in my house.