gardening, gourmet, home cooking, kid friendly, Meals, vegan, vegetarian

Tomato Salad, Egyptian Style

We are at the tail end of summer and I, once again, have been a bad blogger.  I am making the effort to right that wrong by posting some lovely, easy recipes that are great for dining in the last few hot weeks of summer.  First on my list is this Egyptian tomato salad.  It’s fairly simple, but packed with flavor, and it only gets better with sitting for a while, so make it today and eat it tomorrow. I will admit, I don’t know what makes it Egyptian, perhaps the garlic and shallots?  In any case, it’s very tasty.

Table of bounty

The original version of this recipe requires that you blanch and peel the tomatoes, and you can still do that, but I find that marinating them, in particular if they are burstingly ripe, as most tomatoes are at this stage of the summer, you’ll be fine without peeling.

If you decide to peel, it’s easy enough.  In a wide deep pot, boil some lightly salted water.  Score the bottom of your tomatoes with a shallow x, as somewhere for you to grab the skin to peel away.  Once the water has come to a rolling boil, take it off the heat and pop your tomatoes in for 5 minutes.  Take them out with a slotted spoon, and plunge into an ice water bath.  Let them sit there until you’re ready to peel them.  Honestly, the peels should slip right off in your hands, fairly easily, especially if they are as ripe as they should be.  Let them sit if they are still warm until at room temperature, and proceed with the recipe.

For my attempt this time, a lovely person I work with (Thank you, Karen Tyler-Ruiz!) gave me a beautiful pint of her own garden fresh cherry tomatoes, and I am using them in addition to some big juicy ripe tomotoes I got from the farmers market.  All you need do is cut them in half.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil, best quality
  • Kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 5 medium ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 lemon, for juicing
  • Maldon or Kosher course (we’re going for flaky and crunchy)
  • 1 handful chopped fresh herbs (chervil, basil, parsley, your choice)

In the bowl of a food processor, place the shallot and garlic, and pulse 4 – 5 times until chunky.  Add the olive oil and process again for 2 – 3 pulses, so everything is combined, but not pureed.  Add in the Kosher salt and pepper, stir and set aside.

Cut your tomatoes thickly, and lay on a platter in one layer.  Use a spoon to top the tomatoes with the shallot mixture, being sure they all are well covered with it.  Cover and set aside to marinate. At this point, you can chill them, but be sure to take them out and set them at room temperature for an hour before serving.  If they’re cold straight from the fridge, you miss the whole delicious flavor!

Once at room temperature, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, sprinkle lightly with the crunchy salt and strew with your fresh herbs, and you’re all set.

I would eat this as a side dish, with grilled chicken or fish, or even a steak, but also would include some crumbled feta to make it a meal all of it’s own.  Now grab some crusty bread and a nice glass of chilled Rosé, sit out in the garden or on your patio, and enjoy!

Marinating the salad

 

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brown, eggs, gourmet, home cooking, homemade cheese, Italian Food, kid friendly, lasagna, marinated artichokes, Meals, ricotta, vegetarian, winter

No pressure!

How many of you live outside of the Eastern seabord?  Ok, so of you, how many have heard of something called mostaccioli?  Am I wrong when I say that it’s the poor younger brother of baked ziti?  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good baked pasta.  My issue here is that the mostaccioli I speak of is a kind of bland, basic, tasteless staple at Michigan weddings, and in hot bars.  Truly, it’s not worth all your effort to turn out something so bland and kinda boring.

So, Michiganders, and Midwesterners, please see below for a few easy, and very tasty tips to turn your mostaccioli into a mouth watering and delicious baked pasta dish.  I am listing them as DO’S and DON’TS.

  • DON’T refrain from salting your pasta water.  The Italian tradition says your pasta water should taste as salty as the sea.  Listen to them, if anyone knows of what they speak, as far as food, it’s the Italians!
  • DO add luscious cheese and some good ricotta to your casserole.  Now, I am making an assumption here that most people know how to make baked ziti, or mostaccioli?  If not, I’ll give you a run down at the end of this list.
  • DON’T over boil your pasta before you put it in the dish. (Self explanatory.)
  • DO add vegetables, and all kinds of meat or proteins to your dish.  As a matter of fact, I use the very best jarred sauce I can find, or you can make your own.  (You hear me?  No sweet, sugary jarred Prego here, please!)
  • DO be liberal with seasoning, with the exception of salt.  Remember, you have made your pasta cooking water “like the sea” so the salt will be an inherent part of your dish.  I usually add ricotta cheese, and salt that rather liberally too, so there is that salt to remember.  Too much salt isn’t what you’re going for here, it’s mellow, cheesy and luscious.  (Maybe I should just call this Luscious Bake.)
  • DO use a large enough pan.  I was lucky enough to be gifted a set of new bakeware this Christmas (Thanks, Pop!) and it is non-stick and comes with silicone inserts, so no need for the pot holders or oven mitts to get it out of the oven!! My point is, even cooking and enough crunchy brown stuff to go around makes for maximum deliciousness!
  • My final DON’T is, DON’T NOT make this!  It’s so good, and so easy, and will feed you and your mid-sized family for several days.  This, a salad, and perhaps a good glass of wine and some bread?  That’s what will keep you warm in these ridiculously cold days!

Sooo, I forgot to mention above, have you heard of ziti?  Don’t we all know what that is?  It’s a tubular pasta, with ridges, although, I have to say that might be rigatoni, I’ll have to check my pasta shapes book.  But, you can use either, you can also use any stuffed pasta, like tortellini  (I would refrain from ravioli, simply because it will bust open and make a mess, trust me on this one)  I am also imagining how great this would be with elbows, spirals, pretty much anything that will catch the filling and sauce.

Here is the basic recipe.  You can add anything you like, but the bake time should remain fairly the same.  If you’re super adventurous, you can use fresh pasta.  In that case cut back the pasta cooking time, but then you’re probably experienced enough to know when fresh pasta is ready to go.

Bep’s All Purpose Baked Pasta (aka Baked Ziti)

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Prep a large baking dish, about 12 inches long by 3 deep.  You can rub it with olive oil, but you really don’t have to.

  • 1 pound uncooked pasta (ziti, rigatoni, etc) Usually one box/bag
  • salt, olive oil
  • 1 large jar spaghetti sauce (or 4 cups of your homemade. I really prefer Newman’s Own, or Barilla here, but it’s up to you) (*Not a paid sponsor)
  • 1 15 oz tub of ricotta cheese (whole or skim, makes no difference)
  • 1 whole egg, per container of ricotta (you can leave out, but it makes a huge flavor difference)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 16 oz shredded mozzarella (I have used provolone too, really good)
  • 8 oz Parmesan, shredded or powdery

Any or all of the below:

  • 1 pint cooked mushrooms (sliced thin, sauteed in olive oil with garlic until soft)
  • 1 jar artichoke hearts, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large bunch fresh spinach (or a packet of baby spinach leaves), washed and sliced fine (if using baby leave, just leave them whole)
  • Bunch of fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, sage, to taste) washed, dried, chopped
  • Meat (1 lb ground meat, chicken cooked, pork sausage diced, you get the idea)

Bring a large pot full of water to the boil.  When it comes to the boil, add enough salt so the water is well and truly briney, taste it (probably about a tablespoon of Kosher, 2 tsp of table salt).  Add a good glug of olive oil, and let it come back to the boil.  Once it’s rolling boiling, add the dried pasta.  Cook it to the packet’s instructions, but my rule of thumb is, stir it until they’re all rolling around in the water.  Once you make the other preparations, it will be ready to drain and sauce (close to 12 minutes.) Now, I said above, don’t overcook it, and I mean that.  You should feel slight resistance when you taste and bit into it, but not crunch, just a nice solid resistance to your teeth.  It should above all be cooked through.

While your pasta is cooking, place your ricotta cheese into a medium sized bowl and add the egg, beaten, and salt and pepper.  Use a fork to beat this until it’s fully incorporated.  Now, you will need to taste it for seasoning.  A little tiny bit of raw egg won’t kill you.  Adjust the salt and pepper so it tastes good to you.  At this point, if you’re using the herbs, add them, and beat again into the ricotta mixture.  Reserve a tablespoon or so for later.  Set this mixture aside.  Prep all the other ingredients you’re adding, if any.  Check if your pasta is done, and if it’s ready, drain it in a large colander. Once the pasta is drained, it’s really just a matter of plonking everything in the baking dish, adding cheese and baking it.

Leave your pasta to drain for a few minutes, and add the sauce to the bottom of your baking dish.  Add the pasta to the baking dish and mix until all the pasta is covered with sauce evenly.  Take 1/3 the ricotta mixture and mix it through the pasta and sauce.  If your using the other ingredients, with the exception of the artichokes, swirl them into the pasta now too.  Once everything in incorporated, add the artichokes to the ricotta and mix well.  Then spread the mixture evenly over the pasta, it doesn’t have to perfect, it will get covered with cheese at this point!.  Sprinkle the Parmesan over it, then cover the whole thing with the mozzarella.

Once everything is done, put it in your oven and bake for 45 minutes, and allow at least 10 minutes of cooling time to be able to cut through it.  If you reserved any herbs, sprinkle them over the plate when you’re serving.  For the two of us, this will make 3 dinners, or at least 2 dinners and 1 lunch.  It’s so good, and honestly, isn’t that easy?  Mostaccioli, FEH!!

This is what ours looked like tonight!

YUMMY!  And so easy!

YUMMY! And so easy!

For all of you that will be getting into Winter Storm Ivan, be safe, and don’t spend much time outside if you don’t absolutely have to!  Cook something instead!

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Detroit, Meals, Not for Profits, Philanthropy, Thanksgiving, Volunteering, Volunteering

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is the big day! I wish you all the happiness, food and family and friends  you can imagine. I hope, on this day when we are thankful for so much, you will indulge me a bit as I ask you to think also about those that are doing without.

Simply, look into your communities, I can give you examples in the community I live and work in, and then look into your hearts.

Most people that know me know that I work at United Way for Southeastern Michigan where our call to action is to “Give, Advocate, Volunteer.” What most people don’t understand about the United Way is that, after years of analysis, community interviews and research, we have focused our work to align on three critically important issues – education, family (financial) stability and basic needs like food and shelter.

There are many critical issues facing Detroit, but United Way believes, and truly, I believe that these three are at the core of the many ills facing our city right now.  If you look around you where you live, you’ll probably agree that it’s the same in many communities.

When looking at what is most critical in the education arena, we focus on Early Childhood Education (children from 0 – 5 years of age) and High School graduation rates. I’m particularly proud of our work in the High Schools! We work in 16 schools through Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties – many in the city proper – through the gracious support of the GM Foundation and the Skillman Foundation, among others.

In just four years the graduation rate in these schools, which once hovered around 40% is now upwards of 80% and in a few of the schools, it at 100%!  Isn’t that amazing, and wonderful?  Five hundred students graduated this last June that, statistically four years ago, would have dropped out.  And although five hundred doesn’t sound like a lot consider that each high school graduate represents the equivalent of $127,000 saved in extra tax revenues, reduced costs on public health and crime, and decreased welfare payments.  Do the math… that’s $63.5 million saved in just four years!  It truly boggles the mind!

The one thing that made the biggest difference in the schools was such a simple solution – we deliberately worked to create a family atmosphere by breaking large schools into small schools and assigning one teacher to one class for all four years. Teachers and Principals really got to know the students and understand the challenges they were facing at home, and on the streets. In too many instances, it was the first time anyone had cared about the student. School became much more than “just school” – it was a window into a different way of life where there was a possibility that they could work hard, be successful, and go one to, one day, create a better life for their future children. A literacy-rich life, healthy and living above the poverty line.  I was delighted to be a part of the celebration this past June for the  young men and young women that graduated through our programs.  I was so proud, I could have crowed!  They’re genuinely special people, with the right path ahead of them now.

Please take a few minutes to watch this video and see, first-hand, what that “simple” change looked like. It was profound! Much Love: The story of the Detroit school turnaround

Now I know that just because I mentioned the words “United Way” you are expecting me to drop the bomb any minute and ask for a donation and I’m not going to lie, “Give” is part of our call to action for a reason… this work is costly. But, relax… I’m not going to ask you for money. I just ask that today, while you and others all over the country are indulging in your well-deserved turduken, six desserts, gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and White Castle stuffing, take a moment to consider the contrast of what life is like for so many of the students in those high schools today.

·         In the city of Detroit,over 57% of children,  about 233,250, live in poverty.

·         By comparison, 1billion of the world’s 2.2 billion children live in poverty.

·         Statistically, children in Detroit live at a higher level of poverty than the world’s poverty rate.

Isn’t that stunning?  In the United States of America there is a population of children that is living below the statistical worldwide poverty level! It’s nothing short of a travesty.

So, what do these numbers have to do with everything else I just wrote about?  Children, and by extension their families, who are in poverty, generally, don’t eat well – or at all (1 in 6 of don’t know where our next meal is coming from). And it is scientifically proven that a lack of nutrition alters your ability to learn. So undernourished children statistically, under-perform in school.  Think about it this way, when you’re in a meeting, and you’re hungry, aren’t you distracted, and have trouble concentrating on the meeting?  Imagine a child who has that feeling chronically?

Lack of proper nutrition = lack of learning = learning disabilities = High School drop outs = increased poverty, increased crime, increased substance abuse, increased strain on the welfare system. Not always, but more often than not.

The most frustrating part of all of this is that it is easily solved!

So, in this season of so much giving and gratitude, please take a moment to funnel some of that energy back into your community and the greater good. Raise your hand and volunteer. Raise your voice and advocate for hungry kids (psst… the majority of food stamp recipients are children – so it is important that we don’t cut them because it only perpetuates a vicious circle!). And, if you are so inclined, raise your pocketbook and give to an institution like United Way that spends day in and day out doing everything they can to solve these issues.

Remember that every great societal change has started with small, incremental changes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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gourmet, Holiday cooking, home cooking, homemade desserts, kid friendly, Meals, spatchcocked poultry, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized

Thanksgiving is here (almost)!

Every year the Hubby and I host his family for Thanksgiving.  The attendance numbers fluctuate year to year, but it’s usually no less than 16 people.  In the old house, it was super easy to accommodate the number, but since we have only just moved, we opted out of hosting this year.  We just don’t know how many people we can fit into our little dining room, although I am SURE we will have no problem, once we get settled.

I find myself completely at odds with myself, not having any planning to do, other than making a cake for the gathering we will be attending.  So, I thought I would spend a few days of blogging going over a few of the tried and true recipe’s for what we normally do, and share a few photo’s of the beautiful tables we have set over the years.

Each year, I try to do a completely different table from the previous year, and we do everything real.  Real plates, silverware, glasses, all from a stock I have accumulated over the years.  It was the big tradition of Hubby’s Uncle Henry and Aunt Max to have huge family gatherings at their house for the holiday, and we try to keep that tradition alive.  Henry built basic folding tables, with a T at the top, that would seat over 20 people in their basement.  But they were easily stored for future use, and we did use them last year!

The race to decorate the tables is usually something I really think through carefully.  One year I made my own table runner and loved the material so much, it became the pattern for our wedding announcements and party invites.

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I loved that table, and it got rave reviews!  You can see how long the table was, it went from our dining room all the way into the living room, and I think we had 18 that year for dinner.

Here is a typical menu for our Thanksgiving:

Roasted turkey

Gravy

Mashed potatoes

Sweet potatoes (with Red Hot’s sauce)

Fried or creamed corn

Stuffed celery

Olive puffs

Pickle and olive plate

Roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts

Coleslaw

String bean casserole

Stuffed mushrooms

Dinner rolls

Tofurkey

Cranberry sauce

Pecan pie

Pumpkin pie

Lime Bavarian

Blackberry cobbler

It’s a lot to put on the table, but generally everyone makes one thing, or more, and brings it.  I do the turkey and mashed potatoes every year, along with the pies and the Tofurkey.  Can’t have Thanksgiving with out that for the Hubby!

So, I’ll miss making all that this year, but through you, dear blog readers, I will virtually make a great deal of it for you in this blog this week!

What are some of your family favorites?  Do you have the same group each year, or does it vary?  I used to do a lonely hearts Thanksgiving every year, for people that had no family locally, or just wanted to be somewhere other than with family (you wouldn’t believe how many peeps I had with that reason!) The Hubby’s Aunt Max used to call it her “Mystery Guest”, and I am thrilled that we do keep up with that tradition as well!

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Chef Greenhill, Detroit, Events, gourmet, kale salad, Meals, Not for Profits, Philanthropy, The Children's Center, Uncategorized

Pop Up Dinner with Chef Greenhill to Benefit The Children’s Center of Detroit

I can’t wait to tell you about the event we just attended!  The Hubby works at a company called Team Detroit and a few weeks ago, he got an internal email about an event they were sponsoring called Pop-Up Dinner with Chef Brad Greenhill to Benefit The Children’s Center.  I had heard of The Children’s Center before through the work we do at the United Way.  But the chance to go to an event that was sponsored by my hubby’s company, that also benefits the kids of Detroit, how can I say no?

It was a spectacular and small event at Detroit Farm and Garden, the last place you would imagine a pop up restaurant, but it was the perfect locale!  DF&G is a barn like structure, near the I-75 service drive in the periphery between Corktown and Mexican Town.  It’s kind of a no-man’s land.  But the DF&G is there, and is a lovely local provider of everything you can imagine for the home farmer, as well as landscaper… in season.  Tonight it was transformed into a delightful foodie wonderland, with fairie lights and lovely mismatched settings all over!

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We were greeted by lovely hostesses and an even lovelier young lady bearing a plank of what looked like cedar with a delightful rum punch provided by the local cocktail emporium, Sugar House.  Any drink from there is worth it!  This was followed shortly after by the lights going out.  But the long farm-style, butcher paper covered tables were dressed with votive candles, which kept the ambiance, and the talk going.  Eventually the lights went back on, and we were drawn to the cheese plates.  Let me tell you they were practical and attractive!

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Once we had had a drink, and were seated, we listened to Tammy Zonker, who is a former colleague from the United Way.  She left the United Way to join The Children’s Center as Chief Philanthropy Officer.  She talked to us briefly about what the organization does, and introduced a video, which I am linking it below.  Talk about powerful!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0E9hXyBsCk

After that very serious film, we started talking at the table, and we all realized we were very excited about the food.  The wine was lovely, and poured liberally, so we were really happy.  The Chef, Brad Greenhill is a genius, we were delighted each step of the way.  Honestly, this is the perfect fundraiser, lovely people, a great mix of old, new and some odd people thrown in.  The food was masterful, and honestly, we are supporting a wonderful organization, that is truly making a difference in some children’s very difficult lives.  The Children’s Center serves up to 7,500 children each year, with a multitude of issues, mainly relating to neglect and abuse.  I got a fantastic meal in aide of the cause.  The kids got some recognition and some funding.  That’s worth the price of admission surely!

Next up was the starter, grilled bread, apple butter, strachiatelli and apple salad.  Refreshing, delicious and even the picker eater in front of me was wide eyed with how good the pairing was.  It was paired with a bubbly rosè sparking wine.  The perfect foil to the lovely buttery and rich crostini.  I have never seen apple butter paired with anything but bread, so this was an unexpected delight.

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Next up, after lots of lovely conversation and another glass of wine was the Golden Beet Soup.  On the menu that the Hubby had gotten from work, it said Golden Beef Soup.  We were both puzzled by that, but it turned out to be a lovely silky golden beet pureé, with some lemon scented greek yogurt, and pitachio’s, perfect crunch and lovely fatty mouth feel.  there was definitely a spicy finish, which trurned out to be a red chile roasted and pureed with the beets.  All around a success, although I unfortunatley didn’t get a photo before devouring it!

Then there was a kale salad with mint and pomegranate.  I got the opportunity to share my long term secret for seeding a pom!  Cut in half, hold over bowl, thwack with a wooden spoon.  The seeds rain down like bejeweled beads!  The combo of Lachinato kale, lemon, olive oil, pom seeds and mint was classic and refreshing, and so delicious!  Normally I am all preoccupied with the dressing, I don’t even remember thinking about that tonight.

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Isn’t that pretty!

Next up was the main course.  For me it was lamb shank with pine nut gremolata.  For the Hubby, it was mushroom ragu with polenta, and the same gremolata.  Generally the husband hated line nuts, but here he didn’t seem to mind it! the lambwas perfect, fall off the bone tender, and the polenta was light and fluffy, not at all the way I can ever get it.  I ate every morsel, and I heard a few at the table saying they would like to pick the plate up and lick it!

Mine:

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The Hubby’s ragu:

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Considering that the dinner was to aid children, we were so engrossed with talking about food and the food we were eating, I swear the night ran by us.  Dessert was a salted caramel ice cream by Treat Dreams in Ferndale.  Even the Hubby was smacking his lips and lamenting that we couldn’t take boxes home!

Did you notice that not one dish matched another?  That was totally the charm of the evening.  That and viewing an actual Banksy at 555 Gallery.  Also worth trekking down to Mexican Town!

Bravo Children’s Center on a wonderful event, and to Chef Greenhill.  You’re a genius, and I don’t care who I tell!

Yay, kewl night, great food.  Such a great place Detroit is!

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