Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy Honey Day!

OMG, I knew it... via

Dear God! I almost missed celebrating Honey Day! And no, I'm not being sarcastic. I love bee juice. Incidentally, this post isn't going to be about the urban bee-keeping trend, or a lament about "where have all the bees gone?", or maybe even about honey, much...

That stuff is neat, but I'll let you guys Google it. I'm actually just really excited about a recipe I found. I haven't made it yet, but one of the ingredients is condensed milk, the most delicious form of milk on the planet. My family and I pour it on everything (Peruvians do that). Oh, and the recipe calls for honey, too.

Peach and Orange Honey Pops, from L.A. Times Test Kitchen.

  • 1 1/2 cups full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup honey (preferably orange blossom)
  • 4 cups sliced peaches (4 to 5 peaches)
  • 2 tablespoons apricot preserves

    1. Place the yogurt, milk, condensed milk, honey, peaches and preserves in a blender. Blend until smooth.

    2. Divide the mixture evenly among the pop molds, pouring so that you leave about one-half inch of headroom at the top. Once they are filled, tap the molds gently against the counter, allowing the liquid to settle evenly into the molds and dislodging any air bubbles that may have formed. Cover the molds and fit with popsicle sticks, if necessary. Freeze the molds until completely firm, at least 5 hours. For easy unmolding, run the frozen pops under warm water for 10 to 15 seconds before removing them.

    Each of 8 popsicles: 170 calories; 5 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 6 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 12 mg. cholesterol; 24 grams sugar; 34 mg. sodium.

Wow. They even break down the calories for us. Bravo, L.A. Test Kitchen. Bravo.

MasterChef Kind of Sucks

He's full of whimsy. via

There are way too many cooking competition-type shows these days, but I'm giving MasterChef a chance because I need a show to work out to.

The main draw for me is not the contestants, though. I'm wasting my precious time on it for Gordon Ramsay, because anything involving G.R. in a cooking version of American Idol is bound to be bawdy, entertaining, and informative- most of the time.

In case you've never heard of it, MasterChef is a quest to uncover the best amateur chef in the U.S. (why, yes, it IS a rendition of a show from England!). Each contestant has to earn a MasterChef apron to compete for the prize; thirty made it out of thousands of applicants, and there can be only one MasterChef. The winner gets gets $250K, a cookbook, and all of the glory in all the land.

Ramsay is joined by Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich, no lightweights in the restaurant world. If you're wondering which one will be the Simon Cowell of the show, you'll be happy to know this show has two of them! Hint: it's not sweet pushover Elliot.

We luck out with two versions of Cowell: Joe B's version is the metro serious business dude with the poker face who has trouble hiding when he has the hots for someone. Ramsay's version is a mood swinging, fire-breathing, yet lovable one.

Aside from watching the hosts have fits over both the great and terribly-composed dishes, there's nothing much going on as the show is trite and a little behind the times (nothing tops the classic Iron Chef, and we already have Top Chef and a slew of other knock-offs).

Every contestant gets his or her own little heart-rending background story, replete with slow motion shots of hugs with family members. The tearful close-ups cultivate a sense that surely, so and so will win because they have enough trauma in their lives to fuel them to success (that worked well for Batman, anyway)... least the judges keep you guessing. Cue the contrived suspension during judgments: "I need you to take off your aprons....and tie them back on again, tighter, because you've made it on to MasterChef!".

That's priceless.

It also induces viewer rage, and we all know rage is the best fuel for work outs.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Angelo's | Reuben


What makes a reuben fantastic? Thick layers of corned beef, melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, (rich) thousand-island dressing, and dark rye bread soaked in butter. It sounds simple, doesn't it?

The perfect reuben is simple! It is also simple to ruin.

Enter: Angelo's of Ann Arbor, MI.

The Angelinos want to make a good reuben, and the effort shows. They use thick layers of fillings, but where's the rye? The substitution of thick, crusty bread white bread is a huge misstep, and utterly ruins the sandwich.

No matter how you slice it, though, Angelo's reuben sandwich is a flop. There in't enough meat, sauerkraut, or dressing in the world to hide that thick, white bread crust, or Angelo's soul-deep disdain for proper Jewish deli fare.

Zingerman's | Best Ribs Ever

Where's Swayze?

The best ribs I have ever tasted were the "pit smoked spare ribs" served to me at Ann Arbor's beloved Zingerman's Roadhouse this past Monday.

Zingerman starts with ribs from specially-bred "Niman Ranch" pigs, slow-cooks them for nine hours, then serves them with not-quite-too-tangy "Alex's red rage tomato BBQ sauce", mashed potatoes, and yellow mustard corn slaw. A thin layer of sauce is baked into the ribs (below), and the flavor runs through all of the pork, so that every bite is flavorful and amazing.

The knife means you don't have to share!

The intense flavor comes partly from the slow-cooking and smoking process, which helps to bring out the dry rub. Throughout the process, the ribs are basted in a "Memphis-style" sauce. A crisped layer of pork skin is left on one side that I would gleefully stab my dining companions over, if they tried to take it from me.

Speaking of gleefully stabbing things, a big part of the flavor profile comes the free-range ranch pork; the tenderness of the meat is striking, and I feel better knowing telling myself that the pigs I was eating had lived a lovely life ...

... at $19 per half-rack, those pigs had damn well better lead a happy life - but, whether they do or don't, I'm sure they'd agree that these ribs were to die for!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cures for Boredom | Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Use less salt.

I love Mayan style chocolate, which I like to call "chocolate with a kick" since it's been flavored with savory, spicy peppers. I love the homey warmth of honey in my sweets, as well, so when I had an 11PM sweet craving the other night and ZERO desire to leave my apartment, I checked the kitchen: strawberries, chocolate, cayenne pepper powder, honey.

It's GO time, people.
  • 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tbsp of milk (or cream, if you have it!)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup strawberries

    1. Set up a double boiler for melting your chocolate.
    2. Put the milk, chocolate chips, honey, and cayenne pepper in your double boiler and melt.
    3. Dip your strawberries in the melted chocolate, and set on a cookie sheet.
    4. Cool for 10 minutes, then take out and sprinkle rock salt over them.
    5. Cool for 10-15 more minutes if you can wait, or or just devour all of them as quickly as possible while watching True Blood on HBO.

I added a bit of rock salt to bring out a little more sweetness in the chocolate - but if you know what's good for you, you'll use a bit less than what's shown here ...

... looks good on camera, though. Enjoy!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Slow Train | Reuben Pub Pie

Pastrami is the most sensual of the cured meats.

I tasted my first Gray House Pub Pie at Slow Train today. I, of course, went with the reuben pub pie (because I'm George Costanza).

The experience started off a bit shakily, with the server microwaving the pie right in front of my best "look of horror" face. They claimed the pies were made with 100% sweet butter, however, and there was enough of that to coat my fork in liquid gold when I cut into it. That gave me hope - for a moment.

Something was off with the pastrami. A call to Gray House the next day (Why - yes, I am insane!) confirmed that the company uses roast beef for the pie's filling.

The point is: Gray House does not do reubens well, but does anyone outside of a Manhattan deli?

In any event, the crust good enough that I'm willing to forgive Gray House. I'm so willing to forgive that I've already made plans to drive out to the source and try a freshly-baked Gray House pub pie, despite my experience with the reuben ...

... the microwave, however, was unforgivable. Bad, Slow Train! Bad!

Blueberry Intervention

Stop with the f***ing blueberries.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer | Lemon Blueberry Crumble

All that lemon Pledge is making me hungry!

I grew tired of drinking blueberry smoothies two days into making them. The only antidote to all that healthy eating (while not wasting the blueberries I'd picked) was something extra sugary and buttery.

Enter: the lemon blueberry crumble.

I've adapted a Smitten Kitchen recipe because I don't always have refined sugar or cornstarch at the ready for baking, substituting brown sugar for white sugar without changing the ratios.
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 4 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 6 tsp flour

    1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan.
    2. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. The dough should be crumbly. Place half of your dough into the prepared pan.
    3. In another bowl, stir together the sugar, flour (or 3 tsps of cornstarch, if you have it) and lemon juice. Mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.
    4. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares, or the blueberries will ooze out.
    5. Refrigerate the crumble, or give away to friends who love lemony, tart desserts.

The original recipe simply called it a "blueberry crumble", but the amount of lemon zest and juice involved overpowered my delicious, freshly-picked blueberries, so the name change was a must - but it still tasted good, according to my guinea pigs friends.

A few days in the fridge mellowed out the tart lemon flavor of the crumble. Next time, though, I'll make one with just half a lemon (or maybe none at all) to get more of a blueberry flavor. I'll try some cinnamon on it as well.

Stay tuned!

Summer | Frozen Blueberries

[insert "Smurfs" joke here]

I picked eight pounds of blueberries last time I went to the farm.

Lest I become sick of blueberry smoothies, or lose all of my hard-earned crop to decay, I decided to learn how to freeze blueberries properly.

Teh interwebz told me to scatter the blueberries I wanted to freeze across cookie sheets, one blueberry thick. Google also warned that washing the berries would toughen their skins, but since I would be using most of them for smoothies, I didn't consider that a deal breaker.

It takes at least half an hour to freeze the berries, and it I'd read that freezer burn took about 2 days to set in, so I went out to a movie and separated them into freezer bags when I got back.

You can see the finished sheet of frozen blueberries in the photo above.

Finally, there was one thing my web-based lessons in blueberry freezings did not prepare me for: I absolutely LOVED the taste and texture of the frozen blueberries!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer | Blueberry Picking

Peaceful and scrumptious.

Ready for the most important rule for picking blueberries? "You must eat while you pick", according to the cute jail bait working the shed. If you're going to do that, you'd better pick organic blueberries.

I went to Chance Creek Blues. You can eat them while you pick and not choke on pesticides. Chances are you'll be chowing on some all-natural fertilizer and insect larvae in the process, but that's part of getting back to nature!

Rule two: pick the darkest berries. Have you ever heard someone say, "The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice"? Well, they know their blueberries.

Red means stop, green blue means go.

Rule three: Blueberries are blue. See the red blueberry in my palm above? Don't pick blueberries that look like that. It's tart, waiting to ripen, and it isn't even blue! Blueberries are one of those pain in the ass fruits that don't ripen off the vine, so it's a totally wasted berry, and if too many people pick unripened berries they can ruin the farm's future prospects - ruining the fun for everyone else.

One last note: while I was at the farm, the jail bait advised me to "stick to one bush" and get all the ripe fruit. That may not seem like the most efficient way to pick berries, but I almost filled my bucket picking on just two bushes. That's FOUR POUNDS OF BLUEBERRIES!

Oh well ... at least I won't have to buy any more blueberries for a while!

If you want to try your hand at picking berries, check out PickYourOwn.Org for local growers who will let you get your hands dirty while you eat healthy.

The Dangers of Blueberry Picking

Picking fruit in Florida can get really ugly. We hang with gators, sun-bathing cotton mouth snakes, rattlesnakes, an assortment of mean spiders, and we all spray poisonous chemicals on our bodies to deter disease-carrying mosquitoes. You can imagine my surprise when, while picking blueberries down at Chance Creek Blues, I observed this warning:

They forgot to mention "butterflies" and "sunshine".

My first reaction was that the notice was a joke. The farm is located on the outskirts of Oberlin, a liberal college town full of hipster, ironic Millenials, after all.

I tested my hypothesis on the gentle college graduate manning the shed. I told him I'd been chased by a bee for a couple of feet. He looked startled and asked (very cutely and earnestly), "Ohmygosh, are you okay? You weren't stung, were you?"

I laughed all the way to the blueberry bushes, high on being the biggest predator in Ohio. My competition that day consisted of a couple of fat beetles and grandmothers. I have to admit, I'm loving it here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ohio City's Bounty

You can lead a horse to water, but he can't drink if the river's on fire!
Photo credit: John Kuntz, The Plain Dealer

I'm just tickled that Cleveland, ranked consistently as the most miserable city in America, has joined the national restaurant trend toward locally-sourced food, and created green and (hopefully) profitable spaces for its urban population.

Pat Conroy, owner of Great Lakes Brewing Company, has upped his karma points by 1000%. Not only does his company make great local beers (I'm looking at you, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter), he's now recycling the barley left over from the brewing process into compost on one acre of Cleveland's new six acre urban farm project, Ohio City Farm.

The farm sits mere blocks away from the historic West Side Market and just behind the projects, making it accessible to a wide demographic range. The latter will be sold deeply discounted produce, according to Debbi Snook at the Plain Dealer, while the former will get really fresh produce and some good stories.

The Ohio City Near West Development Corporation, the creator of the project, is hoping the farm will re-energize the city, providing jobs and educational opportunities to locals as well as refugees from Bhutan, Bhurma, and Burundi (and local farmers, too)- all lofty, worthwhile goals.

Keep on truckin', Cleveland! Forget Lebron, the corruption scandals, crappy night clubs, and the population loss. You're doing great.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ready, Set, Stockpile

This may cost a fortune in the future...

Last week, an international hedge fund made a huge purchase of the world's supply of chocolate (roughly 7%). That amounts to the entire European stock of cocoa.

Prices for chocolate have already risen 150% in the past two years, and should anything go wrong in luxury vacation destinations like the Ivory Coast or Nigeria, the hedge fund's purchase could exert a huge influence on the price of chocolate.

Ready, set, stockpile that chocolate and start investing in cocoa futures!