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Tuesday, September 29, 2009


In the kitchen: Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs.
Photo by Sarah Shatz.

Take a look at food52, an innovative new website. Created by New York Times columnist and author Amanda Hesser and her fellow food writer and good friend Merrill Stubbs, food52 has the potential to change the internet and how we use it, while helping preserve the print medium.

According to the site, they believe home cooks are the best cooks. They launched the site to connect with them, and at the end of 52 weeks, create a "crowd-sourced" cookbook, in internet parlance.

Really, it's a modern-day version of those paperback, spiral bound community cookbooks our moms used to collect. But without the canned cream soups and with much prettier photos, of course.

Each week, Amanda and Merrill post two ingredients -- this week it's mushroom soup and any recipe using paprika. Home cooks submit their own, best recipes, A&M test them, select two finalists from each category and the home cooks vote online. The winning recipes will be be published in the cookbook.

It's smart, isn't it? The site is fun, well designed, and truly interactive. They post informative, funny videos and excellent tips and techniques. And, instead of subverting print, it celebrates it with what will surely be a beautiful cookbook. The site is a means to the end, and a way for them to collaborate with people who love to cook on everything from the recipes, cookbook design, photos and more.

I'm especially excited about food52 because it speaks to me as a writer, cook, and devoted print person, but also because I had the honor and privilege of serving as a beta tester before it went live.

That means I reviewed the site, made a list of what I like, dislike, added a few thoughts and ideas and sent it to Amanda and Merrill, who couldn't have been nicer or more gracious.

I hope you will support and enjoy food52 -- I'd love to hear your thoughts -- and see one of your recipes in the cookbook!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Union Woodshop

It was a long day, and I dragged myself home exhausted and ready for some serious R&R.

As I pulled up, Wes met me at the car to carry my bags in (I love when he does this), and said, "Wanna go to the new Union?"

Well, of course I do! I perked up immediately, and we hopped in the car for our semi-annual trek to Clarkston, about 45 minutes from home, knowing I'd be in for a fun night.

The Union, as I've written previously in this space, is a little jewel of a place. And the new Union, officially called The Union Woodshop, a few doors down from the original, promises to add a whole new dimension to Clarkston's tiny downtown.

Owned by friends Curt and Ann Catallo, the interior, designed by Ann, can best be described as "urban rustic" - a modern interpretation of the old fashioned lodge. Customers sit at handmade plank tables and fabulous reclaimed wooden chairs. They drink water and beer in vintage Mason jars. Thin planks of blondwood line the walls, along with cheerful art pieces and artifacts.

Billed as a "handcrafted, woodfired joint," The Woodshop is all about creative BBQ. We started with house smoked mildly spiced chicken wings with bleu cheese dip and woodsticks (aka breadsticks). At each table is a flight of regional BBQ sauces, from Memphis, Texas, Alabama and Chinatown NYC. We tried them all, and deemed the Chinatown the best.

For our entree, we had pizza with arugula, San Marzano tomato sauce, prosciutto and a blend of cheeses, paired with a Santa Martina Super Tuscan. We also had meltingly tender pulled pork with the legendary Union mac and cheese (penne rigate, Vermont sharp cheddar Pinconning, bechamel, parmesan and a crunchy crust), a heavenly creamy sweet potato mash with spicy charred jalapeno and Michigan maple syrup and corn bread, with Kid Rock's Badass beer. Delicious.

For dessert, Curt presented us with an amazing salted butterscotch pudding with fresh cream (this alone is worth the trip) and a deep fried Twinkie with chocolate sauce. Yes, this place has a sense of humor, too.

We ran into some friends, shared a lot of laughs and enjoyed a down-home dinner. Did I say I was tired? 

Friday, September 25, 2009

Very Veggie Soup

There's something about soup that's comforting, soothing and good for your mind, body and spirit. The soup pot is a well-used accessory in our kitchen, and this Very Veggie Soup is a staple. This particular soup is also the perfect way to ease into healthy-eating mode after, say, a period of over-indulging. Granted, it isn't particularly photogenic, but have faith, it's delicious.

My sister-in-law Simona, a former restaurant cook in Italy and one of my kitchen mentors, created this recipe, and I've adapted it a bit over the years. Don't be tempted to use old, wilted or wrinkly veggies - this soup's clean, clear flavors require the freshest, best vegetables you can find.

With this in mind, and since we're at the peak of the harvest, Wes and I decided to use all local veggies this time - either from Eastern Market or our own backyard. Feel free to use whatever veggies you like best if you make this at home.

From Eastern Market: shallots, Italian red onions and cippoline onions, all from my favorite onion farmer at Eastern Market (yes, I now have an onion guy), garlic and carrot (also from the onion guy), celery and zucchini.

From our garden: Broccoli, swiss chard, basil and flat leaf parsley.


Thinly slice a big shallot, 5 red onions (they're small) and about 5 medium cippoline onions. Or, just keep it simple and slice up one big plain onion. Crush and chop four garlic cloves and thinly slice two celery stalks and two good-sized carrots. Season generously with salt, pepper and a pinched of crushed red pepper for an added kick and saute in a big soup pot or dutch oven in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are soft, about 20 minutes. Then add a head of chopped broccoli, 2-3 chopped zucchinis and cook another 20-30 minutes. Throw in a few big handfuls of greens, such as baby spinach or swiss chard and stir.

Next, add enough chicken or vegetable stock to cover the vegetables. Homemade stock is best, it will make this soup amazing, but if you're pressed for time use the best boxed stock you can find.

Simmer until all the veggies are soft, about an hour, or even two if you have the time, stirring occasionally. Add a can of can of drained, rinsed cannellini beans and a couple of handful of chopped fresh herbs about 15 minutes before you take it off the burner. The beans give the soup a rich, velvety texture and added fiber and protein without extra fat.

Let it cool for 15-20 minutes, then puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor.

This soup is a great starter, or if you want to serve it as an entree, consider adding protein such as chopped chicken, shrimp, crab or leftover salmon fillet.

Either way, when serving, drizzle your best extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with high quality parmesan cheese for a healthy, satisfying, comforting bowl of goodness.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Eastern Market Shines

Guest post from Wes, my loving husband, ever-willing market partner and trusty vegetable hauler.

Apparently, it’s fun to pick on Detroit. Read the country’s newspapers and it seems it’s become nearly a national sport.

But at least as far as food lovers are concerned, that would be a mistake, for Detroit has something no other city in the country can boast: The biggest open air market in the United States, according to Detroit Eastern Market officials. This farmers' market has been operating since 1891 and attracts about 26,000 weekly. It's been recently renovated, and is a foodie’s paradise.

Heirlooms from an area urban farm.

Looks like the markets in Paris.

Famous Zingerman's cheese from Ann Arbor. The harissa fresh mozzarella is to die for.
Dried beans grown on a Michigan farm.
Thousands of peppers.

It all comes together once a week, each Saturday, when some 150 farmers and artisans converge on Russell street between Gratiot and Mack in Detroit. You can find an array of locally grown produce, herbs and spices, baked goods, jams, cheese, hummus, pickles, fresh oatmeal and grains and flowers and plants. You won't find anything fresher - most of the produce is picked the day before and is grown just hundreds, rather than thousands, of miles away.

A sampling of the flower selection.
Home decor.
Gourds for your table.
Local apples have arrived!
Squash, arranged just so...
More peppers!

Besides the farmers and merchants there are restaurants and terrific gourmet food, fish and meat shops packed with food lovers and gardeners. Not into food, plants or shopping? Go anyway: Eastern Market offers some of the best people watching anywhere. It’s high entertainment, and right now, during harvest time, is the best time to go. Get there early for the lightest crowds and best selection.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Crazy for Caponata

Caponata is something I never really thought I'd make. As a child and an Italian child at that, I would turn up my nose at such dishes, much to the dismay of many of my relatives.

But I've grown into caponata and now count it among my favorite vegetable dishes. A combination of cooked eggplant, tomatoes, olives, capers and golden raisins, often with a little vinegar and sugar, caponata has a unique sweet, savory, briney flavor. I try to make it each summer, when the vegetables are in season. Unsure about adding raisins to vegetables? I was too, but have faith, they make this dish.

Caponata is excellent plain, with a sprinkle of parmesan, but it's also good as a pasta sauce, or over sliced, baked polenta rounds, or on top of cooked polenta seasoned with parmesan and fresh basil. You can even use it as a topper on grilled chicken or fish, on bruschetta, or in a vegetarian sandwich with some melted provolone or fresh mozzarella. It works as a side dish with just about any recipes. It's super versatile, low calorie and brimming with antioxidents and all that good stuff. It also freezes pretty well.

I usually use Rachael Ray's caponata recipe; she's Italian and I like her version. That's good enough for me. I add fresh basil, but otherwise follow the recipe as written, although I cook the onions until soft before adding the rest of the veggies.

I've found as I get older, my tastes buds have expanded and I love many foods I wouldn't touch in the past. Did this happen to you? What do you eat now that you wouldn't as a kid?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Restaurant Week in Detroit

Yes, that's right -- Detroit's inaugural Restaurant Week kicks off this Friday, and it promises to be a great event for the city. A few years ago, an event like this would've been impossible to pull off, but Detroit's restaurant scene has made major strides and we now have an impressive collection of restaurants to celebrate.

Here's how it works: Ten nights, 17 restaurants, and minimum three-course meals for $27. Plus, some will offer specially priced wine pairings. Beverages, taxes and tip are extra.

The lineup of restaurants:
  • 24Grille Westin Book Cadillac Detroit
  • Andiamo Detroit Riverfront - GM Renaissance Center
  • Atlas Global Bistro - Midtown
  • Coach Insignia – GM Renaissance Center
  • Cuisine – New Center
  • Da Edoardo Foxtown Grille – Fox Theatre Building
  • Detroit Fish Market @ Paradise Valley
  • Forty-Two Degrees North – Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center
  • Iridescence – Motor City Casino-Hotel
  • Mosaic Restaurant – Greektown
  • Opus One - Downtown
  • Rattlesnake Club – Stroh River Place
  • Roast – Westin Book Cadillac Detroit
  • Saltwater – MGM Grand Detroit
  • Seldom Blues – GM Renaissance Center
  • The Whitney – Midtown
  • Wolfgang Puck Grille – MGM Grand Detroit

The event runs Sept. 18-27, and I hear that spots are filling up fast, so it's a good idea to make reservations asap. We plan to get out a few times to experience our first Restaurant Week in Detroit. Hope you do, too. If you go, come back and comment here and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cottage Living

My husband's family has a cottage on an island an hour from our home. His grandparents bought it eight decades ago and it has been, and remains, the heartbeat of the family. Wes' parents met here, as teenagers, when his mom floated by on a boat. They raised their three kids here each summer, and we are carrying on the tradition.

Four generations of history, of memories, of easy summertime living. It is the family home in every sense of the word.

It is a place reserved for lightness, for laughter, for fun. Leave your shoes and your stress at the door, because it's time to relax. There's a sprawling yard for touch football, soccer, volleyball and bocci, plenty of bikes and fishing poles in the garage, a couple of boats, and a long, winding road for walking or running. Two decks, one for sun, the other for shade, with chairs and tables for reading, chatting or watching the boats and freighters cruise by. 

When the storms blow in, the kids set up the card games, Scrabble or crafts. The TV never went digital and no one seems to care. We disconnected the land line years ago.

Certain rites of passage take place. The first delicious splash of the season in the icy canal, sunrise coffee on the deck, generations of kids learning to walk on the soft green grass, out of balance and swaddled in life jackets, their first uncertain attempts to water ski, and, as they grow, learning to tie up the boat, run the tractor, or drive on the quiet island roads.

Friends get in on the action too: slumber parties for the kids, grownup parties for the adults, giant gatherings for graduating seniors. Once a friend comes to the cottage, they become part of it, too. And, a favorite food tradition that spans them all, takeout pizza from the bar "downtown."  

Meals are casual and informal at the cottage. Pure American summertime fare. Eggs, bacon and toast for breakfast. Sandwiches and chips for lunch. For dinner, it's often grilled chicken, burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, mac and cheese or cheesy potatoes, plus farmstand corn on the cob, green salad and sliced ripe tomatoes from our various gardens. 

We might serve six, 16 or 26, we never quite know. There's always enough to go around. We're usually spread out on the decks, a picnic table on the grass, or wherever you can find a spot. No place cards or seating charts necessary.

Some of our meals are decidedly untraditional: chicken and bean enchiladas for Thanksgiving - usually the Saturday after - or spaghetti with red sauce or lasagna for Easter - usually the Saturday before. 

Dessert's almost always on the menu. We'll head to town for ice cream: in cones, cups or in sandwiches surrounded by homemade cookies. Or, we'll buy a couple of half gallons to eat on the deck by the water. Or if we're really lucky, one of our lovely aunts will come for dinner with a homemade concoction, like chocolate cake, or Aunt Esther's fabulous blondies (by way of Julee Rosso of Silver Palate fame) with brandied raspberry sauce and whipped cream.

This Labor Day, the whole family and a number of friends descended on the cottage. It was laughter-filled, gloriously chaotic and a bit bittersweet, because we all know summer is slipping away. And our weekend meeting place, our happy place, will soon grow quiet and close for the season. Inevitably, we move on to school, sports practices, homework and chilly weather. So we inhale one last draw of sweet island air and hope it lasts until spring, when cottage living starts anew.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Yellow Tomato Sauce

Cool weather has led to a tomato blight, so while the season hasn't been the best, I've been blessed with a nice crop of yellow tomatoes that reseeded themselves from last year.

So, I recreated a recipe from last summer - yellow tomato sauce with garlic and basil.

Roughly chop about 10 ripe yellow tomatoes of various sizes, mince six cloves of garlic and thinly slice a red onion. Heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil, add the onion and saute until very soft. Add the tomatoes and after they break down for few moments, add the garlic. Season well with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes over medium heat. Next, add a big splash of good white wine and a handful or two of sliced fresh basil. Then, add a parmesan rind. Simply cut the rind off of a blog of parmesan cheese and throw it in. This is what makes the sauce special. 

Cook for as long as you'd like - hours if you have the time, and stir occasionally. It will reduce and become sweeter and the flavors will concentrate the longer you cook. 

Serve over pasta, as a bruschetta spread or as a base for fish or chicken. Enjoy!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Lunch at The Hill

Wes and I are on a mini staycation and enjoying stellar late-summer weather. We decided to take advantage with a cafe lunch at The Hill.

I mentioned The Hill in my last post - despite a few ownership and name changes over the years, it remains a neighborhood institution. Small, but stately, fancy yet informal, trendy and traditional, it covers a lot of bases.

We started with a cup of their signature tomato bisque. Velvety, tart, flavorful, and not too heavy for a summer day. 

Next, we shared their open-faced tenderloin steak sandwich topped with melted Maytag bleu cheese. The rich, medium rare steak tops crispy white toast points, and the creamy, tangy bleu adds contrast and balance all at once. A glass of Echelon pinot noir was the perfect pairing to our lovely outdoor lunch. 

Lunching out on a day off is a glorious way to spend the time, and I encourage you to give it a try if it's not already part of your vacation repertoire. What are your favorite lunch spots?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Racing for Kids

Last night we attended a fine event to raise money for a wonderful cause, Racing for Kids. According to their site, Racing for Kids uses the popularly of motorsports to focus attention and funding on childrens' health needs.

The drivers spend time with hospitalized children wherever they race, and have visited more than 20,000 chronically ill kids over the last 20 years. Our friend Pat Wright runs the organization, and Indy Car driver/team owner Robbie Buhl is a founder and the face of Racing for Kids. He also visits sick kids at each stop on the racing circuit.

And while the event isn't about food, local restaurants rise to the occasion and put out a lovely spread. Amazing thinly sliced beef with celeriac root slaw and truffle oil from the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe, crispy chicken spring rolls from Bambu, pulled pork sandwiches with a variety of tasty sauces from Fresh Farms market, savory butternut squash ravioli and beef wellington from Cafe Nini, sushi from the Hill Seafood and Chop House, chicken salad from Jumps and more.

With the exception of the market, which is around the corner, these restaurants are tucked together in a three-block "downtown" known as the Hill on the east side of suburban Detroit. They closed the street on the Hill for the evening to do an auction and Indy car pit stop demos, and as we all gathered outside, at dusk, it was gratifying to see our community come together for Racing for Kids. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Seared Scallops

Wes and I plan our menus. Really, we do. Each weekend, we discuss the upcoming week. We break out a few cookbooks, make a list. Put in the supplies.

But sometimes, life gets in the way. Or we're just not in the mood for whatever's in the house.

Does this happen to you?

Last night, though, we had no such plan. Can you say totally scattered? So we stopped in at Fresh Farms market, one of our local faves, picked up some scallops, seared them in a sizzling hot skillet and made a quick pan sauce with white wine and a pat of butter.

A few tips: pat the scallops dry and season with salt and pepper before placing into the pan. Sear in olive oil for about 3-4 minutes on each side. If the scallop sticks, it's not ready to flip. And don't overcrowd in the pan or they won't brown properly.

As the scallops become nicely caramelized, put them on a plate in a 200-degree oven to keep warm, and then start your sauce. Pour a big splash of good white wine in the pan - roughly a quarter to a third of a cup. Let it simmer down and reduce for a few minutes, stirring constantly, and when all the bits have eased off the pan into your sauce, stir in a small pat of butter for silky richness. Plate the scallops, pour on a little sauce and serve.

We paired the scallops with steamed green beans with garlic and lemon, mainly because our garden is completely bursting with green beans.

Sometimes, being disorganized really works in your favor.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Comfort me with crackers

Some days call for comfort food. I trust you understand. 

Today, it was crackers. Plain La Panzanella crackers, crisp and lightly salted, with a pat of real butter and local jam. Strawberry jam, to be precise, from Fuhr's Valley View Fruit Farm in Imlay City, Mich. 

Paul Fuhr is a third-generation farmer who sells a variety of these delicious jams and other goods at Eastern Market, and I encourage you to give them a try. Soon.

A couple of these sweet and salty wonders marked a perfect start to a cool end-of-summer night.