I know it’s been awhile since I last posted here, and I’ll get back to posting about what I’ve been cooking sometime soon, I promise, but I want to share some photos David and I took last Sunday on the WCSS Adoption Support group’s outing to Erwin Orchards in South Lyon:
That’s Diane’s little one Marlena hanging with the goats…
Goats + kibble = very sticky fingers!
Riding out to the orchards with Alex and Mike…
Thanks to everyone who made it to the outing–that was fun!
I have been having one godawful time lately getting inspired to do any cooking, much less anything for this month’s Spice Challenge. A few weeks ago I had a gallstone attack, and as a result I’m now on an extremely low-fat diet until such time as the surgeons can be bothered to take my gallbladder out. How low is “extremely low”, you ask? Try 30-35 grams of fat, per day, and not all of it in one meal, so I can’t even save up for one semi-normal dinner, say. 30 to 35 grams of fat may sound like a lot, but when you consider that one tablespoon of oil contains 9 grams of fat, even something as healthy-sounding as simple salad with vinaigrette, or a grilled, skinless and boneless (and might I add flavorless) chicken breast suddenly becomes worrisome. Veggie burgers and fat-free Jello tapioca pudding cups with fat-free Reddi-Wip have become my lifeline. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it?
So, this month, I’m resorting to an old favorite, a Moroccan spice mix, which comes from a recipe for braised Moroccan chicken that’s probably my husband’s all-time favorite of all the dishes I’ve ever made. Of course, making that dish right now would probably not be wise, since it involves fatty chicken thighs (you know it’s bad when even a dish designed by Graham Kerr, ex-Galloping Gourmet and currently a proponent of all things heart healthy, isn’t low-fat enough for you), but maybe I’ll find something else I can make with it. Maybe some Moroccan veggie burgers? At least it smells really good.
Moroccan Spice Mix
(slightly adapted from a Cooking Light recipe)
5 tsp cumin seeds
5 tsp whole coriander
2 1/2 tsp whole allspice
5 tsp nutmeg (freshly ground/grated, if possible)
5 tsp ground ginger
1 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Toast cumin seeds, whole coriander and allspice in a shallow pan over medium heat for a few minutes, shaking the pan now and again. When their warm, spicy aroma hits you, they’re done. Pour the toasted spices into a spice/coffee grinder (use one dedicated to spice grinding–if you use the same grinder you use for grinding coffee beans every day, it’ll just taste like coffee), or you can use a mortar and pestle. Either way, grind the spices into a powder, more or less. Mix with the nutmeg, ginger, cayenne and cinnamon, and store in an airtight jar.
This recipe makes more than enough for the chicken recipe linked to above, even if you double (or triple, or quadruple) the amount of spice mix called for in it (sometimes the folks at Cooking Light are wimps when it comes to spicing dishes). I haven’t experimented a whole lot with different uses for it, but I’m thinking a touch of it might be interesting in something sweet—Moroccan cinnamon toast, anyone?
I admit, I’ve been feeling pretty un-creative this month. I love basil, and the two basil plants I have in a pot on my deck are going great guns this summer, so it’s not like I have any shortage in the supply department, but I just made a pesto (albeit a mostly mint one) for last month’s challenge, so the obvious basil recipe was out, even though this time of year (really, any time of year) pesto is something I could eat morning, noon and night.
Part of why I was feeling less than inspired was that I was (and still am) just plain worn out—it’s been godawful hot ’round here lately, and work has been a gut-buster (we just hired a new person, and will have two more new folks coming on soon, so because others are spending all their time training, or being trained, I’m doing the tasks I hate the most, pretty much all day, to pick up the slack). I’m not a big drinker, but I’ve really been craving margaritas, mojitos, or pretty much any summery drink (preferably on a beach far from here, but I’ll settle for a drink on its own).
So what I decided on for my main entry in this month’s Spice Rack Challenge was a basil-infused simple syrup—like the name says, it’s pretty simple, although there are a surprising number of variations on the recipe out there on the internets. The typical instructions, however, are to combine 1 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. At this point you can add whatever you want to infuse into your syrup—in this case, a generous handful of fresh basil—then simmer gently for awhile. (Sorry I can’t be more specific than “awhile”—the recipe I followed said 5 minutes, but my syrup didn’t seem to have picked up much color or scent after only 5 minutes, so I let it keep simmering, and of course I forgot about it, so I have no idea how long it was on the stovetop. How about we just say “till it looks and smells the way you want it”?) What I ended up with was a greenish-tinged, pleasantly anise-y scented liquid.
When picking out a drink to mix up with my syrup, I decided to keep things simple: basically a gin and tonic, flavored with the basil syrup and a muddled (or perhaps I should more accurately say, brutally attacked with the handle end of a wooden spoon) strawberry. I ended up adding several teaspoons of the syrup (I did say I’m not much of a drinker), far more than the various recipes I consulted asked for, to try to balance out the bitterness of the tonic water, but still I couldn’t taste much basil in it. I think next time I’ll leave out the poor, mangled strawberry (though it did make for a pretty pink cocktail), and maybe add some bruised fresh basil to amp up the basil flavor.
And, since no cocktail hour would be complete without something to nibble on, I whipped up some pesto to go with some of Zingerman’s Creamery’s fresh goat cheese, to schmear on a cracker. Another confession: I really don’t like the barnyard funk of most goat cheese (hopefully this won’t get my foodie cred revoked). But, last year, some friends introduced me to the wonders of really fresh (mostly non-funky) goat cheese, mixed with basil pesto, which complements the cheese perfectly (any goat-y funk somehow melds with the slight muskiness of the pesto), and I’ve been craving it ever since. (If you want to go the super-authentic, only-the-tenderest-baby-basil-leaves-pounded-in-a-mortar route to make your pesto, you can try Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s recipe from “How To Eat Supper”, but this is a simpler version.)
Ahh. I feel more relaxed already…
I’ve loved mint ever since I was a little kid–my grandma used to grow it next to the steps to her front porch, and she taught me to pick a leaf off and chew it for a sweet, minty treat. Still, I had some trouble coming up with something to make for this month’s Challenge, because most of the things I like mint in aren’t really recipes (or at least not complex ones): I like tossing mint leaves into salads for an unusual kick, and I’m fond of mojitos and mint tea, Moroccan-style. I came across slightly under one metric ton of mint ice cream recipes online, but mint ice cream really doesn’t float my boat (and I made ice cream for last month’s Challenge anyway). So, finally, I decided on Grilled Halloumi and Cherry Tomatoes with Mint Pesto–still not terribly complex as recipes go, but definitely a winner. The pesto is more or less just your typical basil pesto recipe, just with half the basil substituted by mint, which gives it a nice, but not overwhelming, mintiness. Mint and cheese may seem like an odd pairing, but halloumi is very mild, almost sweet, with a pronounced saltiness–in any case, I’d liked all the Greek dishes I’d tried previously, so I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and having tried it, I can say they are definitely on to something. As I was grilling the cheese-tomato kebabs, it occurred to me that if I’d given it sufficient forethought, the pesto would have gone really well with grilled lamb chops, too, or maybe some grilled zucchini and other summer veggies. Oh well–that just gives me an excuse to make it again.
This past Saturday David and I took full advantage of the gorgeous, blessedly sunny weather (it was a really long, godawful rainy week ’round here)–we started out hitting the garage sales (since I’ve already picked up a used waffle iron and an ice cream maker, I passed on getting any more kitchen equipment). Then, for lunch, we headed down to W. Washington in Ann Arbor, across from the parking lot, sort of kitty-corner from Grizzly Peak, and checked out the new food cart courtyard that’s been set up there.
I’ve been reading about the burgeoning food truck/cart trend for quite awhile now, and I’ve been seriously jealous of places like New York and LA and Portland, so when David came across a mention on the web of a new food cart business, Mark’s Carts, that had just started up in Ann Arbor, there was no question, and no waiting: I had to go try it out. We got there at the tail end of the lunch rush, so Darcy’s Cart was out of chorizo for breakfast burritos (which eliminated almost half their menu), and RoosRoast, who had set up their cart just outside of the actual courtyard, were about ready to pack up for the day, but there was still a crowd and plenty of food to be had. We got a pair of sweet, puffy pork buns from San Street, and some chorizo corn dogs with aioli (on the recommendation of Joe Saul, who we ran into there) and zippy patatas bravas from Debajo del Sol, and finished with a truffle from The Lunch Room. It was all well worth the trip and the minor inconvenience of having to eat standing up. (There are a number of benches inside the courtyard, some actually covered, but obviously if you get there during a meal rush you might have to find a perch somewhere nearby.) They’re just getting started, and still filling out their roster, so we have the People’s Pierogi Collective‘s cart and an Indian chaat cart to look forward, too.
On our way back from Ann Arbor, I decided I was having too much fun to just go home, so we decided to go have a look around the new Rust Belt Market at the corner of 9 Mile and Woodward in Ferndale (yeah, I know–that’s a lot of driving; what can I say–in the spring and summer I get a major case of wanderlust). The Rust Belt Market is an amazingly cool artisan market full of funky, crafty goods–yes, there’s a faint whiff of patchouli in the air, but also an incredibly invigorating vibe of creativity. And in amongst the “Detroit Lives” t-shirts and reclaimed industrial furniture and handmade soaps and jewelry and knitted mustaches-on-a-stick, there were cake pops and locally-ground coffee and spices. In fact, it seems like the Rust Belt Market would be a good alternative to the farmers markets for any foodie out there with aspirations of setting up an artisan food business–it was really buzzing on Saturday, and space rentals are fairly cheap and flexible.
Finally, as our last stop before going home, we walked a couple of blocks down Woodward to Treat Dreams, an ice cream shop that was billed on a sign inside the Rust Belt Market as offering “unique” flavors. I could have gone with either the vegan orange-clove sorbet or the “Kooky Monster” ice cream: blue moon ice cream (of course) with a variety of cookies and candies smushed into it. But I wanted ice cream, and didn’t especially want a blue tongue and lips, so instead I went with “Bittersweet”: coffee ice cream with chunks of toffee and chocolate. David had a two-scooper with “Dark Chocolate” and “PB&J” ice creams, which were pretty much what they sound like. All three flavors were good, and I was seriously tempted to grab a pint of their “Breakfast with Chocolate” ice cream to go, just because it sounded intriguing (breakfast plus chocolate has to be good, right?), but given how hot it was outside it would have been a puddle by the time we got it home. I guess we’ll just have to go back…